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Sermon Archives

Going Beyond

Rev. Karen McArthur
Sun, Nov 04

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

We’ve been waiting for this week for what seems like an eternity. A two-year eternity. Mid-term elections. Do you think you’ll watch the results come in? I don’t know how it was for you growing up, whether in this country or another, but for me, voting was assumed, and never questioned. The voting machines lived in our elementary school. Large gray metal machines with a curtain – probably vinyl (it was the 60s) — that you pulled for privacy, after which you pushed down the little levers to mark your selections, then pulled the large handle again to register your vote and open the curtain.

As children, we knew how the machines worked, because we used them for our own school elections. We also saw how the machines tallied the votes. On Election Days, we watched the adults come in to vote. We were playing on one side of the gym, divided by rubber cones, as our parents and neighbors voted on the other side. We knew that we would vote when we grew up. It wasn’t even because it was our civic duty. It was just what we did. I cast my first in-person vote in that elementary school gym in 1980. Growing up in my sheltered suburb, where 89% voted in the last election, and where same-day registration, early voting, and mail-in voting remove any possible excuses, I hadn’t heard of voter suppression or voter intimidation or voter disenfranchisement. I thought everyone voted.

Politics and civic duty were a part of my family heritage. My father’s grandfather, Clyde Martin Reed, had served as the governor of Kansas a couple of years before my dad was born, and then served as US Senator from 1939 until his death in office in 1949. I knew he had been involved with interstate transportation, from his early days in the mail service, through his support of agriculture, and service on the Interstate Commerce and Transportation Committee. What I hadn’t known until reading more about him this week is that he was recruited out of his retirement to run in the Republican primary against a pro-German anti-Semitic preacher who was gaining in the polls. In 1938, that was a big deal. At age 67, he answered the call because his country needed him.

The 1938 election was the mid-term election during Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s second term as President. After several years of New Deal recovery from the Great Depression, the recession of 1937-38 made life difficult for many. Clyde Reed was a Progressive Republican, born in 1871, just a few years after the end of the Civil War. He and his family had moved to Kansas when he was four years old, doing their part to claim Kansas as a free state. He was raised in the party that had championed civil rights and voting rights. He won the four-way primary in August, and then beat the incumbent Democratic senator by 12 points. Republicans gained 75 house seats that election day, November 8th.

The next night, in Germany, November 9th became Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass and the destruction of 267 synagogues and over 7,000 Jewish businesses throughout Germany and Austria. While “only” 91 were killed that night, more than 30,000 Jewish men were sent to concentration camps.

These world events shaped my great grandfather’s decade in the Senate. While he could have settled into a nice retirement, enjoying his newspaper (not just sitting in his armchair reading it – he was the publisher of the Parsons Sun) and twelve, soon to be fifteen grandchildren, he gave that up for a productive eleven years in the service of his country. His story is not unlike countless stories we’ve heard this fall, of people who have heard the call to seek elected office. Fighter pilots and scientists, medical professionals and school teachers, immigrants and small business owners, called to act, to step beyond their own lives to serve others.

What does it take to encourage us to go beyond what is expected, or required, or planned for us? What nudges us, pushes us, calls us? The lectionary texts for this day – the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, not the Sunday before the American elections – teach us.

To many of us, Ruth’s story may be familiar. If not the whole story, then at least the cadence of the refrain, as Ruth speaks to her mother-in-law:
Where you go, I will go,
Where you lodge, I will lodge.
Your people shall be my people …

Not an insignificant promise from a young Moabite widow to an older Jewish widow. Although Naomi’s daughters-in-law were loyal to her, she implores them to return to their hometowns, to have a chance to start over in their young lives. But Ruth refuses. She goes beyond what would be easier, beyond what is expected of her, beyond what would be more familiar, more comfortable. And that made all the difference. If you read the rest of the story, Ruth gets together with Boaz, and their great-grandson David is ultimately an ancestor of Jesus.

Jesus was an advocate of going beyond as well. Really, in every aspect of everything he ever did. I think the story we heard today is so familiar that we forget to pay attention to the question. Jesus’ answer: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment. We’ve heard it again and again. The foundation of our faith. Love God. Love our neighbors as ourselves.

But the question… One of the scribes asks Jesus, “Which commandment is first of all?” And Jesus answered, the first is “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Sh’ma Israel, the centerpiece of Jewish prayer. The words on the doorpost. Deuteronomy 6:4. The scribe asked a question that every Jew knew had only one answer.

Jesus continues, “and a second is like it.” What ?!? There is only one answer. On the other hand … the second is this. Not the major first, great commandment, but a relatively obscure verse in the middle of Leviticus, chapter 19, the 18th verse. And even then, not the whole verse, but just the middle part, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The whole verse reads, 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

This is like the first? Loving your neighbor as yourself is like loving God? We’ve been working on this for centuries. Jesus calls us to go beyond loving God. Go beyond … what is easy, what is expected … because it makes all the difference.

What will you do this week to go beyond? I’ve already voted. I will miss the tradition of going to the polls on Tuesday, but decided to vote early again because I support anything and everything that increases access to the polls. So I’ll have some extra time on Tuesday. If everyone found one way to go beyond what is expected, and to demonstrate our love for our neighbors, we can wake up to a different world.

That’s what has given me hope these past two years. We have been startled out of our complacency, called to action, learned new truths, heard hidden stories, been pulled out of our early retirement because our country needs us to go beyond what we were expecting.

So, find a way to go beyond this week. Make a call. Make a contribution. Post a story. Tweet. Drive a neighbor to the polls. Do something, or in the words of a current UCC social media campaign, “For the love of God, vote!”

Love God. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Do this, Jesus says, and we will not be far from the kingdom of God. So be it. Amen.

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