My intention today had been to talk about Emersyn, whose baptism we will celebrate today, and the gift that she is giving us through her baptism. When we baptize someone into the family of faith, we also take time to remember our own baptismal covenant. We remember the promises we make about how we will live our lives, promises we just renewed last week at another baptism. One of our promises is to respect the dignity of every human being – to respect human life.
We respect human life because we learn to do so in Holy Scripture. Today, Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz teach us how to respect life. If you remember, Naomi is a widow who has not only lost her husband and her two sons, but who is left shepherding two foreign daughters-in-law; she is so shattered, she asks people to call her Mara, which means bitterness, instead of Naomi, which means pleasantness. Ruth, one of those daughters-in-law, is equally bereft; having married into a foreign family, widowed herself, she pledges allegiance to a people who point out her foreign identity at every turn – in fact, she is regularly called, “Ruth, the Moabite from Moab” – or in common language, “Ruth, the foreigner from a foreign land (a land the people hated, by the way). Boaz is an upright man, put into a precarious situation by Naomi, who sends Ruth to lay at his feet so that he might serve as their redeemer. But despite the fact life is hard, life brings sorrow, and life treats us like a hated foreigner, Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz respect the dignity of each other. They respect life.
We need people like Emersyn, Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz because we have been doing a pretty horrible job of respecting life lately. In just the past two weeks, we have had four “soft target” attacks in our country. “Soft targets” are attacks that happen in simple, everyday life – where people are having a cup of coffee, celebrating with friends over food and drink, picking up groceries, or worshipping in their house of worship. In the last two weeks, 27 people were slain in soft target areas: Two shoppers were gunned down in a Kroger parking lot in Kentucky; Eleven people were gunned down while worshiping in a synagogue in Pittsburgh; Two women were gunned down in a yoga studio in Florida; and twelve people were gunned down in a bar in California.[i] We can pray for the victims, and attempt to find motives behind shootings, and even bemoan the mental health system. But until we are willing to make concrete changes, we as Americans disrespect life. We as Christians fail to respect the dignity of every human being when we do nothing to change our culture of acceptance around gun violence.
Our Veterans helped us understand this failure many years ago. One-hundred years ago, this day was marked not as Veterans Day, but as Armistice Day – the day we were able to stop a war, to stop aggression, to stop the denigration of life on both sides. Armistice Day was a day to honor the end of World War I, but perhaps even more powerfully, Armistice Day was a day to honor the dignity of every human being. On that day, after 8.5 million soldiers had been killed, 100,000 of which were American, you could see the sheer joy in people’s faces as they flooded the streets, realizing death would be no more – that human life would be honored once more.[ii]
Today we have the opportunity to celebrate too. We have the opportunity to honor and respect the sanctity of life – the life of beautiful baby Emersyn, the lives of our Veterans, and the lives of those shattered by unrestrained gun violence. The question is whether we will accept the invitation. Scholar Cameron Howard says in the book of Ruth, we do not experience God in the story as some divine physical presence, as a booming voice from heaven, or as a visible mover of events; instead, we experience God through the characters in the book – God is revealed to the world through the actions of the characters of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz.[iii] The world is not that much different today. The world needs to see God through us too. Emersyn needs to see God through us. Our community, state, and nation need to see God through us. The growing population of those scarred by gun violence need to see God through us. The only question remaining is whether we will say “yes,” to the invitation, or at least, “I will with God’s help.” I promise God’s help is waiting for you when decide to respect the dignity of every human being through your actions, revealing God’s presence in the world. Amen.
[i] Eliott C. McLaughlin, “This is the 4th ‘soft target’ Attack in 2 Weeks,” November 8, 2018, as found at https://www.cnn.com/2018/11/08/us/soft-targets-thousand-oaks-bar-shooting/index.html on November 9, 2018.
[ii] Alexis Clark, “In Photos Unpublished for 100 Years, the Joy of War’s End on Armistice Day,” The New York Times, November 9, 2018, as found at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/09/world/europe/armistice-day-100th-anniversary-photos.html on November 10, 2018.
[iii] Cameron B.R. Howard, “Commentary on Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17,” November 11, 2018, as found at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3890 on November 8, 2018.