25 Pentecost, Proper 27
11 Nov 2018
England, 1549. The first Book of Common Prayer is published under the direction of Thomas Cramner. The next century saw England torn apart by civil war based predominantly on (what else?) religious differences. During that time Puritanism became a dominant force and, under Cromwell, the dominant religion of the nation in the mid 1600’s. There arose the Quakers, with their pacifism and stress on individualism. Rather than a melting pot, it was more like a kettle that threatened to boil over at any moment.
This is where my own story in America begins. A group of Puritan separatists moved to Leiden, Netherlands, and many of them took the voyage to the Americas on the Mayflower. That they were headed for Virginia and ended up on Cape Cod is one of those hiccups of history that makes the story what it is. Among those on board was Francis Cooke, from whom I am descended. He is my 10th great grandfather. Coming over on a later ship was Hester Mayhieu, a French Walloon, that is protestant, who is my 10th great grandmother. They became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and formed the Mayflower Compact, pledging mutual support. Like any story of immigrants, theirs is a mixture of loyalty and great faith, but of intolerance towards others, as we shall see. By the way, Taylor Swift, Pete Seeger, Jane Fonda, and the Bush family are all descendants of the Cookes!! The politics of the descendants left, right and everywhere in-between!
But let me return to the Quakers. In particular, Lawrence and Cassandra Southwick. The couple and four children came to Salem, MA, in about 1637 where Lawrence, then about 40 years old, was one of the first glassmakers on this side of the pond. However after living in apparent harmony with the Puritans for some years, they were in trouble with authorities for hosting two Quaker preachers in their home and were jailed. Because Lawrence attended the local church, he was released but Cassandra was jailed for seven weeks because she possessed a paper written by the preachers. A year later, in 1658, they were jailed for 20 weeks for BEING Quakers. Their two youngest children, who were in their late teens at the time, were sentenced to be sold as slaves for fines related to being Quakers. However no one was willing to buy them and there was outrage even at the time against Governor Endicott. By 1660 the family was more or less banished from Salem and fled to Shelter Island, a small island on the east side of Long Island, NY, where the two elder Southwick’s died within three days of each other, from what I am told was malnutrition and the elements. They were my 8th great grandparents. I always wondered if Francis and Hester Cooke knew the Southwicks.
Years later, in 1843, a Quaker poet named John Greenleaf Whittier, wrote a poem commemorating the imprisonment and pending sale of Provided Southwick.
And now I come to Ruth, who lives in a time between the Judges and the Kings. Ruth the Moabite whose ancestors were descended from Lot and one of Lot’s own daughters. The woman who became the great grandmother of David and therefore an ancestor of Jesus. Boaz became her husband and he was descended form Rahab the prostitute who had saved the Jewish spies.
Ruth has to be one of the bravest women of the Bible. She challenged social norms of her times and it would seem took matters into her own hands. Was this book written as a counter point to the story we hear in Ezra and Nehemiah that intermarriage is outside of what is prescribed as correct? Ruth tells us many things, not the least of which is that God is among the common folk. God is with all of God’s people, be they Quakers or Moabites. This is a book about faithfulness that transcends nationality and religion. Ruth the foreigner is faithful to Naomi and Naomi is blessed with Obed, servant of God. This is God’s hesed, or loving kindness, that is bestowed upon all. It is Ruth who rescues Naomi from the sort of psychological death she was suffering, as well as from the very real poverty in which the two women found themselves. There are no evil people in the book of Ruth, just ordinary people caught in the act of ordinary events. That is what most of life is all about. What matters is how we respond. What if Ruth had decided to stay in Moab? What if Boaz had not noticed Ruth? We need to live our lives with intention, for we never know when we welcome angels unaware. If we live our own lives with hesed, the world is redeemed.
In the time of the Judges we have Ruth, the embodiment of faithful living and caring for another. I don’t know if it was written to address the tribalism that is in other books of the Bible, but it does do that. I find it timely when we are addressing immigration and how we treat those who come here seeking asylum and who fear death in the land they leave behind. Mine own story, of one group of ancestors persecuting another group, is the same story of segregating people and putting them in boxes where they become invisible.
Instead we can practice faithful living, where our lives are made richer by knowing one another and giving the gifts we all have to one another. The widow who put in her last coin was showing faithful living. God is with us, God is in us, and God works through us.