The Gift of Accompaniment
“Where you go, I will go, and where you live, I will live. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” — Ruth 1:16
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” — 1 Corinthians 12:26
It’s Peace Sunday in the Mennonite Church. That theme resonates well with us here at Daniels Run Peace Church—we are a church that is passionate about peace, to the point of having “Peace” in our name. Being a “Peace Church” is part of our identity at DRPC.
Now the first thing we might think about when we hear the word Peace Church is that we are against war, advocate for nonviolent witness and seek peaceful reconciliation/resolution to conflicts.
These are all essential to following in Jesus’ way of peace. But being a church that is committed to peace and being peacemakers also involves some other ways of living in the world.
Mennonite Church USA has put out a short document that talks about the different expressions that being peace church can involve:
It means being a Jesus-centered community which seeks to follow him in daily life, grow in becoming more like Jesus,
It means promoting the values of God’s kingdom of justice, peace and joy, and inviting others to join in capturing that vision and carrying out those values in order to be a sign of the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Being a peace church also means being a community that celebrates the gifts of each person in contributing to build up the body of Christ, and discerns God’s will together, being willing to give and receive counsel.
A peace church is also a community that is prepared to suffer for the sake of the gospel of peace.
There is one more thing that is listed in the document, and it pertains to the theme that MWC has chosen for Peace Sunday today:
A peace church is a “a caring and sharing community that shares time and resources with each other and our neighbors”.
A specific way that we care and share with others is by walking with them during tough times in their life, accompanying them, standing in solidarity with them when they feel alone, abandoned, and need support when they suffer.
This too, is one way of fleshing out the call to live in peace with each other.
We are not meant to live life alone; no man is an island, we are created for community, our lives are interconnected with others.
This is true on a global level, in that we all share this planet and it resources, and to varying degrees, what I do has an impact on you, and what you do has an impact on me.
And especially when we have invested a part of our lives in a particular group of people, like a church community, and we have a personal connection with them,
we have some type of emotional connection—we share in each other’s joy, and we share in one another’s pain:
This is what the apostle Paul is talking about when he says to the church, what he calls the body of Christ in Corinth: When one member of the body suffers, all members suffer.
And when we choose to enter into pain and suffering of someone or a group of people, and walk with them through it, this is accompaniment, this is what solidarity is all about—bearing one another’s burdens.
One of my favorite stories of accompaniment and solidarity in the Bible is the story of Ruth and Naomi that’s told in the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.
My focus today is really only on the first chapter of Ruth, which establishes the relationship between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi.
So here’s how the story begins. There’s an Israelite family living in Bethlehem- husband Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons. A famine hits their town, which is kind of ironic because Bethlehem literally means “house of bread”,
but at this point in time the cupboards are bare, so the family decided to emigrate to nearby Moab so they won’t starve to death, and to seek a better life for themselves.
Not long after the family arrives in Moab, Elimelech dies. And soon thereafter the two sons marry Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.
But some years later both of the sons die, so Naomi, Ruth and Orpah are left to fend for themselves in a world where women were dependent upon men to provide for them.
About 10 years after Naomi and her family first arrived in Moab, the situation in Bethlehem improves so Naomi decides that she wants to move back to her homeland Israel to carry on with her life.
So the widow Naomi and her now widowed daughters-in-law set out for Bethlehem. But at some point along the way, probably pretty early on in their journey,
Naomi turns to Orpah and Ruth and says something to this effect:
“You know, you both would be better off staying in Moab and living with your own mothers. Go back to them and maybe you will be able to find a Moabite man to marry.
That’s kind of you to offer to accompany me, but I’ll be OK. There’s really nothing waiting for you in Israel; you’ll be better off in your own country.
So let’s just part ways and you can go on living your lives in your own homeland.”
There’s quite a bit of back and forth, and finally Orpah decides to return back home. But Ruth cannot be convinced to do the same. She knows that Naomi is saying one thing, but really wishing for another. So she insists on accompanying her to Israel to live with her there.
And then she says these words that are really the essence of what solidarity and accompaniment are all about:
“Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.”
Naomi realizes that Ruth is in it for the long haul, that she won’t take no for an answer, and off they go to Israel.
And what happens back when they get back to Bethlehem is a great story that I don’t have time to delve into today, but suffice it to say that God provided for the needs of these two vulnerable widows and their future turned out to be a lot brighter than it had looked when they were still living in Moab.
Ruth ended up gleaning in the fields of a relative of Naomi’s late husband named Boaz, so she and Naomi were able to have food to eat.
In the DC area, we have a modified version of gleaning that’s taking place, in fact, our church is directly involved in a gleaning ministry. We partner with an organization called A Place to Stand,
Uses volunteers to drive to a farmer’s market when it’s about to close, and gather up baskets of fruits and vegetables that farmers have left over and want to donate to the cause.
Then the produce is brought to places like our church, and distributed to families in need. If you can help out, see the church newsletter or talk to Johnny Wen, who’s been involved in this ministry- thanks Johnny!
It turns out that Ruth ended up marrying this guy named Boaz who was a descendent of Abraham, and when she and Boaz had a son named Obed, who was a grandfather to King David, and so they ended up becoming ancestors to Jesus.
Now back to the relationship between Naomi and Ruth:
For Ruth to say, I’m going with you Naomi back to your homeland of Israel, that your people will be my people, and your god will be my god, it was shocking,
You see, the reality was that Israelites and Moabites didn’t get along very well, they had a history of conflict and they worshipped different gods.
the law of Israel wouldn’t allow Moabites to integrate into the Israelite community, so very few would have thought about migrating to Israel.
So by accompanying Naomi, Ruth was willing to enter into the world of someone completely different from herself, which was an act of courage and humility, filled with a lot of unknowns.
But Ruth knew that Naomi was hurting, that she was heartbroken, grieving, and hopeless. Naomi’s name meant “pleasant”, but she was so devastated about everything that she said, I should just change my name to Marah, which means bitter, because God has dealt very bitterly with me.
In a study Bible that I was reading this week, there was a note that said:
“against all stereotypes of mother-in-law relationships, Ruth throws in her lot with an old, tired, bitter widow.” (God’s justice study Bible notes)
Ruth’s act of love toward her mother-in-law Naomi, her act of suffering alongside her accompaniment and solidarity helped brought healing to Naomi, gave her new hope, and ended up helping remove her bitterness and made life more pleasant for Naomi.
This kind of sticking together is what we expect from our families and extended families–we should be there for each other, through thick and thin. Of course, sometimes we fall short of that, and we fail to live up to God’s desire for peace and shalom in our families where we live in harmony, in healthy and right relationships with each other.
Hopefully when we fall short, we can practice confession and forgiveness in order to find restoration and reconciliation.
And this kind of solidarity and accompaniment that happened between Ruth and Naomi is also something that we experience with people outside of our families—
Proverbs 18:24 says that “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother”
Hopefully we all have a friend or group of friends who we know are always there for us, people who “have our back” as we sometimes say.
I’m grateful to have a group of guys that I grew up with in California, three best friends from childhood who continue to be my best friends to this day.
Even though we live in three different states, we make it a point to get together for a long weekend or sometimes a whole week every year. Even though we have grown and changed in different ways, we can pick up where we left off and support each other through whatever we’re going through.
I’m grateful for these lifelong friends–their names are Chris, Andy and Ditch. Well, Ditch’s real name is Richard, but like me, he got his nickname when he was a kid around the time that I got mine, and it has stuck.
Growing up, Ditch and Tig were like a dynamic duo, and we still are to this day, even though I’m here in VA and he lives in TN.
Maybe you have a friend or a group of friends who have accompanied you through a tough time, who have suffered with you, shown you compassion, stood in solidarity with you at a time when you really needed someone by your side.
The accompaniment that friends offer us is truly a gift. It gives us peace and comfort and hope knowing that we have good friends who are always there for us.
This weekend, our nation is mourning the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No matter which way you lean politically, everyone could probably agree that RBG was someone who lived with integrity, dignity, and grace, and was a tireless and courageous champion for justice and human rights for all people.
Ginsburg will be greatly missed, but her legacy will continue to live on.
I think it’s cool that she is affectionately referred to as the Notorious RBG, and that especially resonates with me because one of the many variations of nicknames that has been given to me is the “Notorious T-I-G”.
Probably like some of you, I’ve been watching tributes to RBG on TV and through social media posts. One of those tributes was by the son of former fellow Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia.
Scalia’s son talked about the close friendship that RBG had with his father over the years, starting even before they were on the Supreme Court together. What’s striking about their friendship is that they were on different sides of the aisle politically.
But Scalia’s son said “They obviously held their views very strongly but they didn’t let those very different views undermine their very deep friendship.”
What a great model and gift that is for us today, to see people become and maintain their friendship even though they have different political views!
All of us can probably say that some of our relationships with family and friends have been strained or even broken apart because of the divisive political climate that we live in right now.
One of RBGs quotes that I saw this weekend I think is a key to having these kinds of friendships with people that we don’t always agree with or who are very different from us culturally.
She said “I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”
There’s a lot of truth to that statement, and it’s something that we should all strive to live by. If we lived with that kind of humility and grace, there would be more peace in our relationships and in our world.
There’s so much more I’d like to say about friendship, but that will have to wait for another sermon. I’ll just say that I believe that friendship is undervalued in a society that has been raised on the fairytale myth that the only way that a person can find true happiness and live “happily ever after” is by finding their prince or princess charming.
This myth has put friendship on the back burner and that’s unfortunate in my book, because friendship is an amazing gift that all of us need—it can enrich our lives and bring us so much joy.
There’s one more thing I want to talk about, and it’s that peace as accompaniment and solidarity happens not only in a personal and micro level through families and through friendships,
but also on a macro, institutional level through organizations that are working for peace in a world where there is so much suffering, brokenness, violence and injustice.
I’m grateful to have been able to be involved in some great Mennonite related organizations like Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Disaster Service that walk alongside people and groups of people who are hurting and accompany them in finding healing, hope, peace and justice.
When I was on a cross-cultural experience through Bluffton University several years ago in Israel-Palestine, our group visited a Palestinian village where CPT was accompanying the people of the village in standing up against the harassment they were experiencing from Israelis who were living in an nearby settlement, which the UN has determined are illegal in Palestinian territory.
Currently, I’ve connected with group called Be the Bridge, which is working toward racial justice, reconciliation and healing from a Christian perspective, specifically in the Church setting.
Be the Bridge and movements like Black Lives Matter are helping me learn more about the history of racial injustice in our country and I’m trying to listen more in the spirit of RBG and have conversations with others to process what I’m hearing.
Sometimes accompaniment and solidarity means using the power and privilege we might have in order to advocate for those who have been marginalized in some way, like being a voice for those whose voices are being silenced.
So there are many ways that we can live into the idea of peace as accompaniment and solidarity. In our world today, with so much suffering and division, and imbalance of power, accompaniment is a real gift.
And in this time of the pandemic, walking alongside people can be especially challenging when you can’t be with them in person, but it’s much needed and is a real gift when we find ways for it to happen. AMEN.