“Risking for Peace: Honoring Veterans with Lasting Peace”
Rev. Kelly Jane Caesar
First Congregational Church of East Hartford
November 11, 2018
Today’s lectionary scripture is from the book of Ruth.
At first glance it does not seem particularly relevant to Veterans’ Day.
However, in this scripture we discover a truth that veterans likely know well.
The story begins when Naomi and her husband leave Israel because there is a famine,
You might remember that scripture from a few weeks back when we looked at immigrants in the Bible.
In the foreign land of Moab, Naomi bears two sons who later marry.
Sadly, Naomi’s husband and sons die, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law.
A famine hits Moab and so Naomi decides to return to Israel, whose land is fertile again.
Ruth, one of Naomi’s daughters-in-law, decides to follow –
Even though leaving Moab means abandoning the future of marrying again in her native land.
In Israel, Ruth gleans the left-over crops from her neighbors.
Again, you may recall the law in Israel that calls for farmers to leave a portion of their crops to the “widows, orphans and resident aliens (immigrants)” may glean the leftovers for food.
Gleaning the left-overs is no easy life – worse than living paycheck to paycheck.
There is a way out of this life, however.
Naomi is too old to marry in ancient Israel,
but if Ruth marries, her husband will care for her.
If Ruth marries a next-to-kin of Naomi, then both women will be cared for.
Obviously, this was before the time when women could own land and sustain themselves.
Our scripture picks up when Naomi tells Ruth to go on a risky trip to secure peace for both of them.
There are some code words in this scripture that are important to know.
In the Bible, when a woman “knows” a man, it implies a sexual encounter.
(ex. Adam knew Eve and Eve bore a child)
Also, “feet” is a euphemism for what you find between your legs. (ex. Isaiah 7:20)
Let’s listen for how Ruth and Naomi go about securing peace for themselves.
Scripture: Ruth 3:1-5
Naomi tells Ruth to go to Boaz and present herself as a potential wife,
Which would bring security to both women.
Ruth risks her reputation and her livelihood to bring lasting security to her and Naomi.
In the verses between the readings today, we hear how Boaz does not take advantage of Ruth,
But protects her reputation, makes sure she is adequately fed, and discusses the marriage with the elders.
After which we come to the second portion of scripture:
Scripture: Ruth 4:13-17
Ruth risks her reputation and livelihood, not to mention her body and emotions, to bring lasting security and peace.
Boaz not only fulfills his duty, but respects her and takes her as his wife.
The entire family is rewarded with the birth of child, a symbolic and literal means of continuing the lineage –
A lineage that brings to life King David and eventually Joseph, the foster father for Jesus, the Messiah.
On this Veterans’ Day we honor the risks women and men who have served in the armed forces have made.
They put their lives on the line –
Their physical bodies, as well as their emotional and spiritual health.
Too many veterans return home with not only severe physical injuries, but deep emotional trauma.
After witnessing the violence and cruelty of war, emotional trauma is a rather human response.
For those veterans who return home without injuries,
The mere act of having risked everything can weigh on the spirit.
We have a number of veterans with us today.
Would those who have taken great risk to work for peace please stand?
One veteran church member could not stand today.
Al Rhodes was a 100-year-old veteran who served in WWII.
He was a member of this church until last winter when he died in his home not far from here.
My visits with him were mostly joyful, as he shared about his wife and showed me pictures of good times.
While coming to worship was not physically possible in the last few years of his life,
He had a stack of church newsletters and bulletins.
He delighted in hearing what was going on.
One special visit we were talking about his time in the service.
Well, I was listening and he was talking – in that way where someone just speaks from their heart,
He was not really looking at me, as he was reliving the memories,
For awhile his eyes were glassed over with an image of the past.
Until a spark lite up and he turned to me,
Eyes awake with hope,
“Why does it keep going?
I thought when I came home from the war that it would be peace.
But the fighting goes on.”
One of the most profound ways we can honor our veterans is by working relentlessly for peace.
Working for peace is profoundly risky business.
Most of us will not risk our physical and mental health for peace in the way many courageous veterans have.
Most of us will not need to risk in the way Ruth had to in Ancient Israel.
However, we each have a role to play in creating peace,
For peace comes by many means.
Force may remove a cruel dictator or end a harmful law,
But to last, peace requires another element.
Albert Einstein pointed to it when he said,
“Peace cannot by kept by force,
It can only be achieved by understanding.”
Lasting Peace comes with understanding,
For when we understand one another,
Understand not only in our minds, but in our hearts as well,
When we truly understand, we can cease to fight and harm our neighbors.
When we understand one another, we can be reconciled into one body, one people.
Building understanding and lasting peace calls us to risk in a unique and spiritual way.
First, to build understanding, we must risk our pride and our status.
For in building understanding we may discover we were wrong.
When I seek to learn and understand how another thinks or feels,
I may find they think differently than me
AND that they have a valid view.
In seeking understanding, I may learn new information that changes my perspective.
In seeking understanding, I may find I am wrong.
And so, to build understanding and find peace,
I need to risk my pride and accept that I could be wrong.
Such understanding opens the way to reconciliation and peace.
Second, to build understanding, we must also risk being emotionally uncomfortable.
For in building understanding we must face conflict and disagreement.
No understanding can be had if opposites stay in their own corners, refusing to talk.
There is this false belief that peace is not having any struggle or challenges.
Platitudes and niceties are not real peace.
People are different. There will always be disagreements and challenges.
As a former president famously said:
“Peace is not the absence of conflict,
it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.”
President Ronald Reagan
An anonymous author alters this famous saying in a way I quite like:
“Peace is not the absence of conflict,
But the presence of God no matter the conflict.”
If we can risk being uncomfortable and face conflict,
We have a chance at lasting peace –
Because lasting peace is from the holy within the conflict.
Peace ultimately comes from God;
We call Jesus the Prince of Peace because it is the Divine that brings us lasting peace.
It is grounding ourselves in the holy that we can work through conflict and find real peace.
When we ground ourselves in the holy,
We are better able to see how connected we are.
When we see how connected we are,
The disagreements have less power and peace becomes possible.
Mother Theresa said it beautifully:
“If we have no peace,
it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
When I see that my “opponent” is a real person, a child of God,
with their own challenges and gifts,
They become far more difficult to ignore,
And understanding and reconciliation becomes possible.
When we ground ourselves in the holy
We remember that we are one body
And doing so builds understanding and lasting peace.
There is no secret to how to ground ourselves in the holy in the quest for peace.
It’s the same spiritual practices that have been passed on for thousands of years:
We grounds ourselves in the holy and find peace through:
Prayer – talking to God, sharing anger, hurt, hear and then listening
Scripture – reading the holy word and how others have experienced God
Worship – praising God in community, practicing being in a diverse community
Service – practice caring for others, to care for another is to see them as worthy/
Start with those who are easy to care for and then move to those more difficult
These ancient spiritual practices ground us in the holy,
Especially in times of conflict, and in doing so
and fosters lasting peace.
We may not be negotiators on the world stage,
But practicing peace benefits our families, our workplaces, and our communities.
If we cannot practice peace locally, we surely will not have peace globally.
The spirit moves and expands to reach the national and international stage.
Are we willing to risk for peace?
Are we willing to risk being wrong?
Are we willing to risk being uncomfortable, facing differences and conflict?
Are we willing to risk our time and energy and resources to pursue regular spiritual practices?
May we be so willing.
There is a balm in Gilead –
There is hope amid the struggles –
it is the peace and love of Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior who showed us the way to lasting peace.
The Prince of Peace showed us a way of compassion – embracing all people, calling each one beloved.
May we be willing to take the risk and follow his call.
May we gather hope from the courage of Ruth, who risked so much for peace and security.
May we gather inspiration from the courage of veterans who have risked so much.
May we honor those who have gone before by working for peace,
In our world, in our community, in our families, in our hearts. Amen.