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There's Room For Every Story

Generation to Generation  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The story of Jesus, the greatest story of all time…and Matthew begins it this way! He begins with a genealogy, with 42 generations of names. It seems like he could have started differently, maybe something with a little more fanfare, a little more flair, a little more than a list of names that many of us don’t know and can hardly pronounce.
But Matthew is intent upon telling us who Jesus is. And for Matthew, the fullness of the Messiah begins long before the birth, but way back with Abraham. According to Matthew, in order to know who Jesus is, we have to look at his lineage and the story it reveals.
During biblical times, a person’s lineage held one’s past, present, and future. How one’s lineage was written determined authority, birthright, blessing, and curse. How it was written set the stage for how one would be remembered: as a failure or a success, as a pauper or a king (Bass). Your story and the story of your ancestors mattered.
Have you ever tried to trace your own genealogy? Nowadays there are all kinds of resources to help people discover their family history. There’s, 23andme, and more. People want to know their family story, and how their own story fits in. When I was growing up, it was custom for family trees to be written down in the Bible. I can remember the front pages of my grandmother’s Bible filled with her cursive writing with names as far back as she could remember. When I was in college I had to do a geneagram of my own family tree and remember sitting down with my aunt and having her explain the history of our family, line by line and name by name.
But it wasn’t just the names that stuck out to me. It was the stories. The strength of character. The senses of humor. The losses. The betrayal. The pranks. The perseverance. The traditions.
We all just celebrated Thanksgiving, that one day each year where we gather together with family we rarely see over a ridiculously large meal and pretend that it’s perfectly normal. This year everyone came to my mom’s house....and I do mean everyone. I walked outside and overheard my cousin explaining to my oldest daughter how they were related. A conversation like “well my grandmother was the aunt of your father......and so on.” She was connecting the names, and telling the story.
Every name has a story, but we all know when we are going through our family history that sometimes we get to one of those names. You know the ones. It’s like Encanto and suddenly no one is talking about Bruno. We wish we could just sort of let them fall from the tree, but there they are. Family trees include both those who will drive you over the edge and those who will talk you off the ledge.
Well that would make sense for us to have a few of those on our family trees, but what about Jesus? If anyone was going to give us a detailed account of the lineage of the Messiah, it was going to be Matthew. Very precise. Leaving nothing to chance. Categorized into three sets of 14 generations. Detailed.
And yet, it’s messy. There are great pillars of faith, and great struggles in sin. There is courageous, and there are coveting hearts. Abraham felt like God’s promise to deliver him a son would never happen, so he had a son by Hagar. Then he pretended his wife was his sister. David was a man after God’s own heart, who also committed adultery and murder. Jacob stole his brother Esau’s birthright. As if that’s not enough, Matthew’s list includes women as well. Add to that the fact that they were non-Jewish, and the credibility of this whole lineage seems to be in question.
Tamar tricked her father-in-law to save the family line. Rahab protected Hebrew spies but is said to have been a prostitute. Ruth showed deep loyalty to her mother-in-law. Bathsheba was Uriah’s wife and endured tremendous hardship and loss at the hands of David.
I can only imagine what this must have sounded like when read out loud. A list of celebrities and low-lifes, of saints and sinners. This is how we introduce the Messiah! This is the background of Emmanuel! And yet there they all are. Righteous fruit and rotten fruit, all on the same tree.
When Kenley was born, this rug was made for her by Jim’s aunt. It includes strips of fabric woven together from every member of her family. When she was old enough, we explained this to her, pointing at the different fabrics and sharing the story of who they belonged to. We shared that this is a story of your family, of who you come from and all of those whose story you are now a part of.
The rug isn’t really anything that special to look at. The colors don’t really match and it doesn’t really go with anything. Truth be told it really isn’t easy to clean. The rug doesn’t represent a bunch of perfect people, just a bunch of people who all love Kenley.
The lineage of God isn’t neat and tidy, and if it had been, then Israel wouldn’t have been so desperate for a savior. But the lineage of God is a lineage of grace. Matt Woodley says “From start to finish, this is the Gospel of divine mercy. This Jesus is pro-sinner. He is for us even in our sin and oddness. He is for the irregular and the preposterous. As a friend of mine said, “God chooses sinful, broken, unlikely people—who else does he have?” Gerald Liu says “the lineage of God reveals that “Jesus is kin to those who need his forgiveness the most.”
Maybe there have been some people who you may have wanted to remove from your family tree, some names you’d rather forget. Or maybe you are in the space of feeling like you have been cast out of your own, wondering where your story fits at all anymore.
During my last couple of years at St. Luke, they hired a children and youth pastor. I had never met him before. We began to work together and it wasn’t long before we were both surprised to discover that we were related. Suddenly, this new person appeared in the landscape of my life. Connor is hilarious. It was like working with Jim Carey. He loved to talk about his family tree and would often tell these crazy stories about his grandfather. Stories that were funny, sad, scandalous, and sincere. He didn’t skip over the hard parts or ignore him altogether. He made room for his grandfather’s story, because his story now held Connor’s story. Connor talked about everyone in his family through equal parts honesty and love. Even when he and I annoyed each other, we loved each other. We made room for each other’s stories.
As a church, it is not our job to pick and choose which stories are welcomed and which ones are left out. It is our job to tell the story of Jesus and to invite people into it. We don’t need to edit the gospel. We just need to love people into it.
When mom was planning to have everyone at her house this week and I finally lost count at how many were coming I would say, “Mom, this is a lot. Where are you going to fit everyone? How are you going to make room for one more person?”
But this is the season of Advent. The season of making and preparing room. In a world that bore no room for Jesus, Matthew begins his gospel reminding us that God has always made room for us.
From Abraham to David. From David to exile. From exile to the Messiah. From now to then. God is making room. God entered our story of sin to write a story of freedom. God entered our story of sickness to write a story of healing. God entered our story of oppression to write a story of justice. God entered our story of rejection to offer us a relationship. God entered to redeem our story so that there would be room for every story. For your story. And your story. For every story. Forevermore. Amen.
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