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Ordinary Sunday 30, Year B
Preventing Child Abuse
and Supporting Adult Survivors
South Sydney Uniting Church
October 28, 2018

Ruth 1:1-18; Mark 12:28-34

‘Saints united in love’

The Book of Ruth is a precious short story in the Hebrew Bible. At just four chapters, it’s just about the story of solidarity, overcoming adversity by way of persistence and ingenuity. It’s also a story, for Jews and for Christians, of the outsider (Moabites were regarded unworthy, untrustworthy) without whom there is no salvation, without whom there is no Saviour. Ruth is the great-grandmother of King David, and a distant great-grandmother of Jesus. God be with you 

The Hebrew name, Ruth, means “Beloved”. We shouldn’t miss the more harrowing aspects to the story, however. Ruth is the foreign daughter-in-law of the Ephraimite, Naomi. Two newly widowed women traveling, walking to Bethlehem. Very vulnerable. Naomi is the more forlorn. On arrival in Bethlehem, Naomi (her name means “Joy”) will call herself Mara, “Bitterness”.

The story is about Ruth’s love – in spite of sadness and bitterness. Ruth will accompany Naomi home, and will ensure, by way of work and remarriage, that both women find security – a future together.

Israel’s own future also turns on the courage, creativity and collaboration of Ruth and Naomi – which is why, presumably, future generations preserved the book, and why it is a treasured part of holy scripture for us. It inscribes within the story of God’s people (a familiar story, a comforting story for insiders), the story of the outsider beloved of God.

It’s hard to overestimate its importance. The Book of Ruth is a story for anyone who has ever known the pain of disconnection, isolation, desperation. The Book of Ruth is a thorn in the side of cultural arrogance, a thorn in the side of triumphalism, a thorn in the side of institutional self-regard.

Ruth’s love – let’s be theological – is akin to the love of God: She empathises, She accompanies, She commits to another, She sees it through. When Ruth says to Naomi, “Your God will be my God”, I hear that on a number of levels. It may be heard as meaning that the God of Israel, the God of liberation, will be the model for Ruth’s own commitment to liberation.

Three simple words – courage, creativity and collaboration – are apt terms for the holy, for God. All around us are signs of this courage, creativity and collaboration – the presence of God, which, in the experience of hurt, is felt as the persistence of hope.

Courage. The National Apology on Monday October 22 to victims of institutional child sexual abuse (violations, loss of dignity and neglect) by the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition was delivered to a full chamber with many survivors and advocates looking on. Many others watched online or chose not to watch. For many it was incredibly tough to be there as the words of the apology acknowledged their pain, distress and anger.

Creativity. Both leaders acknowledged that words are not enough and committed to continue to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission. The Prime Minister committed to establishing a National Centre of Excellence around child abuse and a national museum which will not only act as a memorial for victims but become “a place of truth and reconciliation”.

Collaboration. Speaking at Parliament House, Uniting Church President Dr Deidre Palmer said: “Our Church has some important commitments to live up to … We have created a single national entity to deal with redress applications across the six synods and the Assembly of the Uniting Church and other agencies that have chosen to join the National Redress Scheme … Listening to children in our care and instilling in them the confidence to speak out and be taken seriously is a crucial principle of a child-safe organisation. The more children are empowered to participate in decisions affecting them, the safer they’ll be …”

While not explicitly about abuse, the Book of Ruth is about support and recovery. The colour-in illustration is strongly apt, on a number of levels. Saints united in love, whatever the circumstances.

A scene to share with our children, that they might fill it with their own bright colours; that they might grow to understand, to empathise, to encourage, to believe and to live fully ... “Fill our lives with new courage,” we pray, “and make us a community where justice can happen.”

Again this year, we dedicate today’s offering to the work of the Blue Knot Foundation (formerly ASCA). The work of Cathy Kezelman, Blue Knot Foundation staff and volunteers, is proof that childhood trauma can be resolved, that those who have experienced childhood trauma can recover. This good news comes by way of professional support, education and training, and advocacy for a public health response to the trauma of child abuse and neglect.

Ruth means “Beloved”. It’s not a coincidence that we refer to Jesus as Beloved, nor that we make a sign of the cross and refer to the Triune God as Lover, Beloved and Spirit of Love. To know oneself beloved is to be gathered up, with Jesus, into the very life of God.

I’ll conclude with a comment about the gospel for today – something noteworthy about the commandment to love. The grammar is a little unusual. 

What the Inclusive Bible renders as “You must love …” is more accurately rendered “You shall or you will love …”. Greek scholars call it a future form with an implied command. The command is softened by something with a hint of promise to it. 

The whole command reads: “Hear O Israel, God, our God, is one. You will love the Most High God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.” The emphasis of command is actually the command to “Hear …”. The “You will love …” is what we are commanded to hear, and it has this blend of promise and implied command. The meaning is held in creative tension between: “You all are commanded to love” and “Listen up folks, there’s good news. The day is coming when we will [we really will] all love God and we will [we really will] all love one another”.

The command might be the prompt we need to make an extra effort (beyond complacency, cultural arrogance, institutional self-regard) but the desire to love and to be ever more loving is already a part of us.

The command can be one of the things that help keep us pushing on towards the goal. And that’s where the promise comes in – the promise that changes the whole feel of the command. The promise tells us that the striving is not in vain. The promise tells us that every little forward movement, every movement towards love of God and neighbour is worthwhile because it prepares us – Ruth and Naomi, Cathy, Scott, Bill, Deidre … Jesus and all the saints – for a future together, a kindom of heaven and a reign of love. Amen.