Your People will be My People

The Rev. Robert P. Travis Pentecost 23rd Sunday Sermon  – 9:00am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown, RI Revised Common Lectionary Proper 26 Year B 10/31/2021

Fr. Rob’s Last Sunday at St. John the Divine and last Day as Head Pastor of the Partnership

Scripture Text: Ruth 1:1-18, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, Mark 12:28-34

Sermon Text:

As you can maybe imagine,

I struggled more with how to preach to you this last time,

than perhaps any other time that I’ve been with you as the Head Pastor of this partnership.

I want to leave you with a good word,

and in many ways I have to simply trust that the teaching

that I gave you through these years will be like seeds

that will grow in you and bear fruit,

fruit that would lead you deeper into our relationship

with our Lord Jesus, through the power of his Holy Spirit

and through that growth, you will continue to worship the Father in spirit and truth, for that is what he desires.

But if that fruit is truly effective, it will also be the kind of fruit that will lead you to feed others with the same teaching, and even if times get difficult,

you will continue faithfully to share the good news

with those around you.

For what our community needs most, these days, is good news, people who follow the way of Love,

and share the good news.

 

I know you know, that the greatest commandments,

as Jesus shared with the scribe in our gospel this morning,

are the core of what we need to do as Christians.

But in my Lectio Divina this week,

the word that struck me in that passage was the recognition that the scribe had when he said to Jesus

“You have truly said.”

I hope that everything I have spoken among you is true,

For the Lord Jesus we follow is the Truth,

Truth with a capital T.

 

And if we truly believe that,

then we can do little else,

but love the Lord our God, with all our heart,

mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves

for this is what Jesus stood for and what he taught.

 

But I want to focus more on the story of Naomi and Ruth,

that we read in our lesson from the Old Testament.

What is so inspiring about what Ruth says to Naomi at the end of the passage, beginning with “where you go, I will go,” is that it’s in the context of great loss.

Naomi had lost her husband,

and found wives for her two sons of whom Ruth was one. There had been a famine Naomi’s home country, which caused them to have to leave Bethlehem in country of Judah, to go to Moab.

So before Naomi’s husband died,

She and her sons found themselves as refugees in a country that didn’t worship their God.

 

And we don’t know much about the relationship between Naomi and her daughters-in-law, but we do know that there was more loss yet to come as both of Naomi’s sons died, and she went from being a widow with two sons, to being a widow who lost both of her sons, and found herself caring for her daughters in law.

So while there was some hope that there might be food back in the home country, and Naomi decided to head home,

Her track record of safety and security wasn’t very good. Some might have thought she was cursed, and she even said herself, “the hand of the Lord has turned against me.”

And she did what probably anyone would do, and encouraged her daughters in-law to stay in their home country, and make a new life for themselves.

For she felt that she had nothing left to offer them, or even anyone else. She was just trying to survive.

 

The reason it struck me,

Ruth’s loving comment to Naomi, that convinced her to bring Ruth with her back to her own country.

is because this is an example for all of us about what you need to be doing with each other in this time of difficulty.

No doubt as we are slowly emerging from a pandemic that has challenged our very notion of community and taken away many of the things that we held dear, we find ourselves traumatized in many ways by the last 19 months.

 

You might be inclined with my departure

to think there is nothing left for you here and to go in search of another place. I hope none of you are here just because of me, and that what keeps you here is this loving group of people. It still might even seem reasonable to you to go and find another place to worship where you might able to sit and partake of the ministry of others, without facing the difficulty of carrying on in an interim time.

But that is a temptation and not the truth.

The truth is what Ruth said to Naomi, “your people shall be my people and your God will be my God.”

Even though you come from different families, and even different neighborhoods, these people right here today are your people, and their God is your God.

What binds you together, here is much more important than anything that you could find out there

and this church,

these people

need you the way Naomi needed Ruth,

even though she imagined she could go out on her own.

 

So I want to encourage you this morning to stick together through this time.

This is surely a place where one person makes a huge difference.

The blessing of the small church is that each of you matters so much more here, than you would in a bigger place,

and that your very character and contribution to this community,

your personality, your likes and dislikes,

your sharing of yourself is hugely significant here.

This place would be impoverished without you so stick together as you move into this time and you will find great strength in this small community.

 

There will always be a place in this world for the small church even if it feels like bigger churches with glitzier productions have it better remember the church started with a group of 12 men and a few women.

It continued to grow and spread through small house groups and that continues to be the lifeblood of Christianity worldwide.

 

And I want to remind you of the church I told you about, a few years ago, that I got to visit with my dad in Thessaloniki, a city in northern Greece.

It was a church whose Greek name translates to “Our Lady of the Barrel-Makers”,

because the neighborhood it was in was originally the place where the barrel-makers lived.

When I went to worship there,

I found they had a church building,

about the size of this Chapel.

And there were about 25 or 30 people present for the Eucharist that morning, whose numbers were greater than usual because there was a baptism.

They had been there for more than 900 years,

worshipping in that same community while the city grew and changed around them. In fact, you had to walk down a flight of stairs to get into the church and it’s courtyard because the street level had been raised a full story over the centuries. They worshipped there through pandemics, through wars, through foreign occupations by people whose religions were hostile to Christianity.  They went through their ups and downs, but they continued to celebrate the sacraments and preach the good news to families who came into that neighborhood.

If Our Lady of the Barrel Makers can continue to be faithful to their call as that small community for 900 years, certainly this Chapel, even going through rough times, has a long future ahead of it.

 

I pray that you will continue to be a loving community of believers, that encourages deep spiritual life,

unashamedly following Jesus,

right here in Saunderstown,

and that you will reach out to those who come into this area, as well as those we’ve lived here for generations,

to share this good news that you have come to know and love.

 

Amen.

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SCRIPTURE:

The Rev. Robert P. Travis

Father Rob has finished his ministry as Head Pastor of the Partnership between the Chapel of St. John the Divine and Church of the Ascension on the Eve of All Saint's Day, October 31, 2021. He thanks everyone involved in More details