Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Life Goes On?

Devotion: Ruth 2:1-3

As I drove home last night I listened to radio interviews with people traveling to Las Vegas for vacation after the tragic events of October 1 (if you do not know what happened, here is a link to a summary article, but, fair warning, it is deeply troubling and upsetting). One couple being interviewed noted the horror of the recent events, but then said, "Tough as it is to say, life goes on." I turned the radio off after that and thought and prayed the rest of my way home. Truly, life does go on for most of us. After three massive hurricanes did untold damage to property and claimed dozens of lives of our countrymen in Florida, Texas, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the truth is that some of us can just shrug and move on.
As a young student of economics and political science I was enraptured by Adam Smith, the 18th century Scottish economist. I loved his famous The Wealth of Nations (widely considered the foundation for modern market economies) and read through it a few times. Then, I had a professor ask if I had read his earlier work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, and of course I had not. In that earlier work I found questions that I could not answer. Is it right or good for us to feel distant and impartial to the suffering of others? Smith seems to thread the needle explaining both how we can feel sympathetic and how we can feel distant. Famously, he discusses a man being tortured and an observer. So long as the observer keeps his thoughts on the self and does not let his imagination drift toward the other, he can be impartial, distant, unaffected, even cold toward the other's suffering. Once the imagination places him in the position of the other, however, such distance and impartiality is not only impossible, but wrong. Smith's religious affiliations are hotly debated, but I do want to note how thoroughly he was a product of the Enlightenment and Modernity. Smith seems to dismiss the idea that the suffering of others OUGHT to impact the self. His concern, it seems, is to illicit sentiment for the self while remaining impartial to the other. In the end, Smith, like so many of his generation and the generations that have been raised up following him in the sham of Modernity, falls into the trap of the sovereign self. It is the self that is the final arbitrator of what is right and wrong for the self. This is the position of the old man, the flesh, the carnal one who presumes the seat of judgment over others, but yet acquits the self for the same things (see Romans 2:1-11).
Now, you may be asking, what does any of this have to do with the opening of the second chapter of the Book of Ruth?
"Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, 'Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.' And she said to her, 'Go, my daughter.' So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech." -Ruth 2:1-3
We cannot be indifferent to the needs and crises of others. Indeed, life goes on, but it is precisely because of this that we need to care for the needs of others. Ruth and Naomi are destitute. They have returned to Bethlehem with nothing. They must presume on the kindness of Naomi's husband's kinsman, Boaz. The Lord commanded his people to give thought even in their business practice for the needs of the sojourner (Ruth, as a Moabite), the widow (Naomi) and the fatherless (see Deuteronomy 24:19-22). Hence, we do not have the option of indifference as followers of Jesus Christ. While we can and perhaps ought to disagree about how BEST to serve the needs of the vulnerable in society, we cannot debate God's will on this topic. God judges our society not on how the best of us are doing, but on how the least of us are doing (see Matthew 25:31-46). For the ancient and contemporary people of God, this continues to hold sway.
John Donne, a great Christian thinker once wrote in journal entry (we turned it into a poem):
"No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend's were.
Each man's death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Donne's point is that we cannot dismiss the suffering and death of others (here signified by the tolling of a church bell calling the community to a funeral service). No life is insignificant for every human life bears the image of God. We weep with those who weep.
As followers of Jesus we insist that every life matters and that every death matters as well. This is why at CPC we stand for the lives of the unborn with our partners at CareNet. Ruth and Naomi's lives matter to God. We cannot be calloused to the suffering of others. Those wounded and the families grieving for those killed in Las Vegas cannot be dismissed by the Christian. Our countrymen suffering in Puerto Rico cannot be ignored and dismissed by the Christian (by the way, if you want to help financially in Puerto Rico by working through our local EPC churches, you can do so here).
Ruth tells Naomi she is going to go at great personal risk because Ruth takes seriously that the embittered life of Naomi matters. She holds out hope that Boaz will do likewise. Friends, may we do the same for the suffering of others in prayer and support of various kinds. We can do this on a grand scale together, but perhaps, even more importantly as Ruth demonstrates, we need to do this on a personal level. Do you know someone who weeps? Do you know someone in need, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual? Do you know someone who is suffering in any way? Come alongside him or her and be a listening ear, a prayer partner and a pointer to God who loves us and walks with us even in the midst of tragedy, crisis and pain.

News for You:

  • CPC is seeking to fill our church secretary position. A successful candidate will be proficient in Microsoft Word and Excel with experience in database programs. The position will be 25 hours per week (9-12, 1-3) Monday-Friday. Applications can be obtained at the church office. Call the church office for more information.
  • Women's Bible Study launches Sunday, 10/8, at 6 p.m. in the Memorial Parlor at CPC. The study will cover Kay Arthur's "Ignite Your Passion for God." Copies of the study book are still available. Sign up at the Welcome Center at CPC.
  • Youth Group Meals are needed. Our middle and high school youth group meets at Kurt and Jennifer Fudge's house at 6 p.m. The youth group shares a family style meal, a devotion and activities. Be part of the joy by getting involved.
  • CPC's annual Trunk-or-Treat will be October 31 from 5-7 p.m. There are many ways to get involved:
    • Bring candy and your decorated vehicle to the church parking lot by 4:30 p.m. and provide some joy and community
    • Donate bags of candy to the church (we had over 400 kids last year, so we went through a LOT of candy)
    • Volunteer to help cook hot dogs or donate funds to help purchase hot dogs/buns.
    • Provide portable lighting to help light up the parking lot
  • Operation Christmas Child boxes are available starting next week at CPC. The deadline to submit boxes will be Sunday, 11/12.

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