St. Paul’s, Dunany, November 4th, 2018

The lesson which Wendy read is from the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament. The Old Testament includes many intriguing characters who show up for just a brief time and then never again. They are there to show us particular things. Ruth is one of those and the underlying theme in her story is one of loyalty and the rewards which come from loyalty when it is a form of love. It is probably a story, not historical, which adds to the likelihood that it was put there for a reason.

First, the story itself, because you only get the beginning in the Reading. Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, are living in Ruth’s homeland, Moab. Naomi decides to return to her homeland after the death of her husband and sons and Ruth (who was married to one of the deceased sons) goes with her.   Normally Ruth would have stayed in her own homeland, and returned to her family. Women alone at that time could become impoverished and vulnerable so returning to their families made sense. Ruth going to her mother-in-laws’ homeland was an act of loyalty and bravery. Bravery because Moab and Judah, Naomi’s homeland, were sworn enemies.

So what happens to Ruth when they get back to Judah?

Ruth goes to work in the fields and meets Boaz, a relative of her dead husband. Boaz has heard of her loyalty to Naomi and is impressed. Because he is a relative, he has some obligation to marry her in order to continue the family line, to maintain the family property and to prevent Ruth from falling into poverty.

In one of the better seduction scenes in the Bible, Ruth climbs into his bed and although nothing happens, you can imagine that Boaz’s interest is piqued! Boaz is an honourable man so he discusses Ruth with another male relative, who might marry her, and with the elders and they agree that Boaz will marry Ruth.

They have a son and that son is the grand father of David, King David as in David and Goliath, , seducer of Bathsheba, forefather of Jesus. So Ruth is rewarded for her loving loyalty by becoming part of a large, significant family as opposed to falling into desperation because of the death of her husband. The moral of the story is that loving loyalty is a good thing.

So I am talking about loyalty; what is loyalty? Perhaps a strong feeling of support or allegiance. You can be loyal to a person - spouse friend, leader - or to an organisation - employer, political party, community organisation, church. Loyalty needs to be put into action for it to become of value. If it remains only a feeling, it is not very significant, but when it guides our actions, then it becomes important.

Loyalty creates trust between people. When a person is predictably loyal in supporting another or an organisation, then others trust that they will do what is asked of them. That creates trust and friendship.

If loyalty has many rewards; does it have a downside? Well yes, excessive loyalty becomes blind to the circumstances, blind to the faults of the person or organisation to which one is loyal. The church is a classic example. Being loyal to the Anglican or Catholic church doesn't mean turning a blind eye to the cases of sexual abuse and the covering up of those cases by the authorities. Loving loyalty, versus blind loyalty, tries to fix the problems that occur in order to help the organisation or the person.

A friend of mine was in a business crowd that met regularly every Friday afternoon after lunch and spent the afternoon and evening drinking and carousing..  He lived in another city and I went to visit him one time; although he had told me of his Fridays, it was the first time I had witnessed it first hand. It became very clear to me that he was drinking way too much, not good for his health, not good for his marriage, not a good example for his children. The risk I took in telling him what I thought was that he was so deep into the drinking that he would rather lose me as a friend than face his potential alcoholism. I was lucky - he appreciated the friendship and so, although he didn't change overnight, he did slowly get his house back in order. Loving loyalty to a friend can mean going out for a drink with them; equally it can mean not doing so!

Another example. I was with some friends when one of them was faced with serious illness in his family. He was devastated and withdrew physically from the group. A close friend went and sat with him, talking it through, allowing him to share his options, his grief and his tears, allowing him to unburden himself. A shared burden is a lesser burden and both friends understood that, without having to express it. Loving loyalty to friends comes in many different guises but it is the basis on which friendship rests.

Here in Dunany, there is great loyalty to the community. Dunany only exists because of loyalty. Dunany is a figment of the imagination. It continues because  of the volunteers who make the Country Club, the Association and the church function. It continues because of the social networks created around the four lakes and the friendships that result. If volunteers didn't continue in the support - physical, financial, social - of the community organisations in Dunany, then Dunany would cease to exist.

But loyalty is so deep-rooted in the community that the organisations flourish. Historical connections help and the families which have been loyal to the community for generations are one of the mainstays of its vibrancy.

Loyalty is a form of love, which includes faith and courage. There are many forms of love. Physical or sexual love; sisterly or brotherly love of those around you; sacrificial love or generosity; worship, religious or otherwise; self love, something we often forget but is hugely important.

Loyalty fits into this theme of love because to continue to be loyal is to continue over a long period to act constructively, to contribute in different ways, towards the subject of your loyalty. This is an act of love. Not totally selfless because we gain benefits from it too.
Friends, activities, fun. Why do we continue to attend family dinners when there are probably members of the family that we don’t get on with, don’t even wish to see. Because we are loyal to the idea of a harmonious family and to the people who lead it.

One family I know was up to 30 or 40 people at Christmas time, an enormous commitment by the people organising and providing dinner. A matriarch was the leader of this Christmas gathering for many years but when she died, the family splintered into two or three nuclear families. The loyalty was to the matriarch first, the extended family second and when the object of their loyalty was no more, the harmony could not be sustained. Loyalty is a uniting form of love, holding people together; not always and totally positive but more positive than negative.

There are commercial forms of loyalty, like brand loyalty, but they have nothing to do with love and are not my subject today.

Loyalty to one’s country can be a positive harmonious emotion, but patriotism is so often associated with excess, leading to jingoism, even colonialism and war. It can easily be manipulated for political reasons and we see that in the US, in Brazil and elsewhere. Patriotism is very much a double-edged sword, to be treated with care and caution.

Can loyalties be divided? Yes they can but not always. It is easy for me to be loyal to Cheryl and to the Montreal Canadiens - most of the time, anyway. Except when the Canadiens are on TV and Cheryl wants to watch Suits.

But it is hard to be loyal to your employer when you think they are unethical. The loyalty to your employer and to your ideals are in conflict. Whistleblowing is a redirection of loyalty, when a person, normally loyal to their employer, decides that there is a good greater than employee loyalty which must be followed. They decide that they cannot be loyal to their ideals and to their employer.

Edward Snowdon decided he could not be loyal to his country and to his principles when he discovered his country's abuse of internal surveillance, so he became a whistleblower, exposed it on the international scene - and suffered exile as a consequence.

Whistleblowers are loved by some and reviled by others because their loyalty is to an idea which is not shared by all. Whistleblowers, loyal to their principles, take huge risks.

Ruth had conflicting divided loyalties, when she realised she could not be loyal to Naomi and to her country, Moab at the same time. She chose Naomi, which was very unusual for that time.

So where is the reading from Ruth leading us? Loyalty is an important form of love. Unexpected or selfless loyalty can create deep bonds which last a long time.

Without loyalty, our social networks, our organisations, indeed our society could not function. We see some of that unravelling south of the border. It is not something we think about every day, but it is manifested every day in what we do.

Loyalty is a loving gift which we offer to others but also to ourselves. Without it, we are alone.