Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:1-17
Have you ever seen such a cast of characters? Certainly some folks you would expect to be here. Like Abraham, called to be the father of a great nation…faithful…trusting to the extreme. And King David, the king by whom all the other kings of Israel would be measured, the one who would bring forth the Messiah. And Josiah, the eight-year-old king who rediscovered the book of the law and led the reformation of faith among his people. And of course there would be Joseph. I have always liked Joseph, who dared to believe Mary’s story, who frankly does not receive much attention. Did you notice how Matthew describes him only as Mary’s husband, not as Jesus’ father. Interesting, it was his family line that we followed, but when Jesus the Messiah is conceived of the Holy Spirit, the dilemma causes us to side step away from Joseph. Now folks such as these one would be proud to include in our genealogy.
But there were other names that I suspect you have never heard: Hezron? Salmon? Amon? Salathiel? Azor? Matthan? There is hardly any mention of them in the Biblical account. But they are part of the family too. Unimportant, perhaps. Or simply folks who played their role with little fanfair or notoriety.
And then there are the ones you wish wouldn’t have been there. I mean for all of the attention he receives, Jacob was a thief. Remember how he stole Esau’s birthright? And Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, had a chance to rescue the kingdom, but instead his policies led to the 10 lost tribes of Israel. Joram was nothing but a murderer. And Ahaz sacrificed his very own son. And did you notice how Matthew even admits to David’s adultery, noting that Solomon was David’s son through the wife of Urriah. Remember how David lusted after her, even having Urriah killed so that his relationship with Bathsheba would be more accepted. Interesting how the genealogy of our Messiah includes such people. God can use anyone.
And perhaps the most interesting of those mentioned in the accounting are the women. For women even to be mentioned is notable. Remember the place of women in that society? But these particular women make it even more interesting: Tamar who gave birth after seducing her father in law; Rahab was a prostitute from Caananite Jericho; and Ruth, we remember her wonderful relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi, but we forget that Ruth was a hated Moabite, forbidden by the Scriptures to be included in the people of God. And Matthew is kind to Bathsheba, not mentioning her by name in noting David’s sin. Women. Gentiles. Outsiders. Yet God brings them in too.
“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah.” As I said, what an interesting bunch. Generation upon generation. Layer upon layer. One writer has likened it to archaeological work, to slicing down through a particular site, and looking at all the layers of civilization in that place, distinguishable horizontal lines where one civilization is built on the foundation of an earlier civilization built on the same site. One layer through its sediment might speak of prosperity, another through what is lacking a time of famine, another with its blackened lines alluding to fire and destruction. All these layers built on the previous layer, leading to the present.
It is the way that faith has come to most of us: generation upon generation, one building on another. It is in Paul’s second letter to Timothy that we see such a picture, where Paul writes, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you.” When faith is handed along from grandparent to parent to child, there is a kind of spiritual archaeology at work. Here are the foundations that our faith lives are built on: family, friends, teachers, pastors, others long forgotten, and others we wish could be forgotten, but all of whom are there in our history, all of whom have influenced who we are today.
David Kinnaman, who has written so much about our inability to bring young people into the faith, writes, “the church is a partnership of generations… I believe we are called to connect our past (traditions and elders) with our future (the next generation)…” He adds that “fresh ideas are built on the incredible work of previous generations…”
I was introduced to the church, to its Lord, to its faith first by my family. There were my grandparents…simple farmers…hard workers. But Sundays were about sabbath. You put on the best you had and you worshiped. No work. Family visits. Meals together. I can still picture the one day of the week my grandfather would sit on the porch smoking a cigar, talking in Norwegian with his friends. Now we might call this old time piety, but it is part of who I am. Sabbath is a day set apart…but even more, a way of living.
My mother taught me the joy of Bible study. Even today in her assisted living setting, the weekly Bible study is never missed. I can still remember when she moved, that box packed with Lutheran Women Today, Bethel Bible, Search studies. It is part of who she is. She is 87 years old, and still hasn’t learned enough about her Lord. Nor have I.
And my father from him I learned of grace and forgiveness. And believe me, he had plenty of opportunities to teach me otherwise. But these were his words, “Harold, God has forgiven me more than I have ever had to forgive you.” How could such a perception of God not be imprinted by such a relationship.
Who taught you the faith? Who introduced you to Jesus? Experts tell us that parents have been, are and always will be the most important faith guides, mentors, and teachers our children will ever have. And we know that every additional adult also makes such a difference. Who has made that difference in your life? Who would we discover as we cut through the faith foundations of your life?
We live in a time so intent on looking ahead. And that is good and necessary. But the danger is that in the process, we diminish the value of all that has been given to us…a rich heritage, the tradition of faith. And I’m not speaking of worshiping the past, a sort of “good old days” mentality. We get trapped into that often enough. I think Jaroslav Pelikan, esteemed teacher and writer, said it best, “traditionalism is the dead faith of the living…but tradition is the living faith of the dead.”
So of course you know the question that is coming next? What sort of foundation are we leaving for others to build on? Who is looking to us hoping to hear the story of Jesus and his love, the story that was first passed on to us? Children, grandchildren, godchildren, neighbors. All gifts from God. All with senses that see and hear all that we are about. What is the faith we are leaving for them? What will the accounting of our genealogy show?
God give us the faith, the courage, the tenacity. That our generations might echo the words we heard from Joshua: “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” You see, there is always room for more characters in “the account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah.”