Sunday sermon - November 4th
The Red Sox sent me to the oral surgeon
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
So I had a temporary crown procedure at the dentist about 3 weeks ago. It takes about an hour a half. The first thing the doctor does is place some topical Novocain on your gum and then he shoots two needles full of the stuff into the gum. I couldn’t feel the needle going in because of the topical stuff, but I sure saw him pushing and wiggling that needle around.
After all that kicks in, he starts grinding away at my tooth to prepare for the temporary crown. There’s all this stuff flying out of my mouth. When I had the chance, I told the dentist it looked like smoke coming out of me. The doctor tried to reassure me that it wasn’t smoke. Instead, he said, “it’s only tooth dust.” Well, “tooth dust” flying out of my mouth didn’t make me feel any better.
But then, several days after this procedure, I start getting this terrible pain in my jaw. I even had to go see an oral surgeon. It seems that I strained my jaw muscles. But the pain didn’t start right away. I think the procedure aggravated the muscle, but I think the Red Sox sent me t the oral surgeon.
All of this was during their Post Season run, and I yell at the television. I yell for the good and I yell at the bad. I think that wide-open-mouth-yelling led to all my pain.
For as bad as the mouth was, it was cool to feel the connection with the team and with other fans, and even with complete strangers. It was something as trivial as a baseball cap or a tee-shirt that connected us.
And then I posted on my Facebook page a reprint of the full-page, colour ad purchased by the Dodgers and run in the Boston Globe that congratulated their opponents for a great season. I tagged it with the word “classy.” Even the opposing team and their fans were part of this extended community, and that connection felt wonderful, but it also felt out of place.
It felt weird because we’re too often no longer a people that go looking for connections with strangers and with opponents. Too many relish the divide among us. Too many characterize other people in ways that make connections impossible.
This is nothing new. And I’m not talking about only 50 years ago when Martin Luther King got a lot of people nervous because African-Americans were asking for voice and equality. I’m not talking about only a hundred years ago when my grandparents came over to America and faced discrimination for the way they looked and talked. I’m not talking about only 150 years ago when voter restriction laws were passed in the south so that the newly freed slaves were intimidated and couldn’t vote. I’m not talking about only 250 years ago when there used to be marches right here in Colonial Massachusetts on November 5th, tomorrow, marking Pope Night, when the people would march and burn the Pope in effigy and attack all things Catholic because Catholic was different and evil.
We’ve been surrounded by this constant need to put up walls that divide and separate. Even when we’ve been on the receiving end of these attacks, too often we turn around and do the exact same thing when the tables are turned.
This is such a constant of human relations that it’s already found in the Bible from about 25 hundred years ago. I’m talking about when the Jews were living in Exile after being completely defeated and deported. They were trying to protect their identity by rejecting all things and people different. And in the midst of this fear of all people different, someone inspired by God wrote the Book of Ruth, whose introduction we just heard read by Jonathan.
The Book of Ruth tells the story of a foreigner from a different land and different religion who became the great-grandmother of King David, the greatest Jewish king. For all of those Jews in exile trying to remain perfectly pure, the story of Ruth reminds them that a foreigner, a stranger, a heathen is part of even David’s ancestry, and that Ruth was in the words of the Bible a “worthy woman.” This story must have greatly upset the leaders trying to preach purity, but this story made its way into the Bible anyway.
A man walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue last weekend in Pittsburgh and started shooting with his AR-15 rifle. He was upset by a group called the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. He hated them to the point of another mass shooting because they were helping foreigners enter the United States and they were the enemy of “our people.”
His are the actions of evil. What impresses me, on the other hand, about the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society is that it doesn’t fall into this trap. It was organized almost 150 years ago in order to help Jewish immigrants fleeing for their lives from regimes in Eastern Europe and Russia. Because of their own experience of suffering through the trials and tortures of a forced and fearful immigration, they now actively help other suffering immigrants – whoever they may be. They translated their experience into the situations of others.
I don’t know if they point to the Book of Ruth when talking about their work, but it’s that same message of appreciating the value and the personhood of others, which is especially important because they’re talking about the value of others who are different than they are and who are strangers to them. They are living the message of Ruth.
And let’s not forget that Ruth is part of our Bible story too. Let’s not forget those absolutely remarkable words in today’s Gospel when Jesus repeated the same message. Jesus was asked what the single, greatest commandment was. He cheated a bit because for Jesus His two answers were inseparable. They really weren’t different at all. They were one.
Jesus said we must love God and we must love each other. If we follow the first commandment, then we have to live the second commandment. There’s no choice. The two are one. When the scribe, the lawyer, got it, when he didn’t argue with Jesus over the rules that may have been broken, when he got it and said this was more important than “burnt-offerings and sacrifice,” Jesus told this man so different than He, “‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’”
The Book of Ruth must have startled the leaders of its day. Jesus had to shock the people around Him with the equality of loving God and loving each other. And hopefully they both can continue to startle us awake in our own day and age where fear of the stranger and the different is on the rise again, and hatred is so common, and violence no longer surprises.
Let us pray in Jesus’ name that He may help us to value community and each other and fight the constant tendency to divide. May the invitation to donate to our Thanksgiving food drive for people we probably don’t know and also the invitation for any and all to join us and Christ at the Communion Table, may these help us to better live those two commandments that are but one – to love God and each other. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
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