A Voyage of Who I Am

Modern technology is fascinating. On account of advances, I now know things I never imagined. We are able to come up with data for just about anything. One day I gave a blood sample and was later told my numbers for glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides, creatinine, bilirubin, protein, and many other things I cannot even pronounce.

 On another day I spit in a cup and now am told I am 54 percent English, Welsh, and Northern European (according to the map provided, Northern European appears to be mostly modern day France). I am 36 percent Irish and Scottish. I am 10 percent Germanic European.

 Identity is a complex thing and we are obviously fascinated with it. I wonder if my combination of ethnicity is why I enjoy tea. Maybe why I enjoy fish and chips. Maybe I should visit the Cathedrale Notre-Dame and the Louvre. Suddenly I have a craving for rashers and a desire to toss a caber. Maybe corned beef, bangers and mash. Maybe wursts. Maybe David Beckham or Harry Kane and I share ancestors. Hopefully not King George III (that sounds shamelessly American). Maybe I am related to Bono or William Wallace or Joan of Arc.

 It is interesting to discover details about ancestry and cholesterol and other things I now know about myself. It is fascinating to find out what I am made of. But it also reminds me of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (Maybe I am related to C. S. Lewis). Anyway, I cannot help but think of this short conversation between Ramandu and Eustace.

 “’In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’” And then Ramandu replies “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” Well played Ramandu… well played.

A New Hope

Genesis suggests that humans were created to be representatives of God. Humans are God’s image bearers. However, we do not get very far before we bump into disappointment. First, there was that incident in Eden. Then Cain murdered Abel. Then there was the corruption in the days of Noah. This was followed by the arrogance in Babel. Humans seem to disappoint at every turn. Certainly there is not a shortage of disappointment. Humanity was in need of a new hope.

In response, Genesis gives us a family tree. This is not so we can know who lived the longest or to determine how many years have passed. The family tree sets our story in history, but mostly it is taking us somewhere. It is taking us to Abram (11.26). To make sure we understand this, we get a more detailed version of the immediate family of Abram at 11.27-32.

Still, this comes with more disappointment. After so many generations, the family that had survived the flood is coming to an end. Abram is old. Abram’s wife Sarai is old. They are childless. She is barren. We are surrounded by disappointment.

But Genesis is not finished. In the midst of all this disappointment, God speaks. When humanity needs a new hope, God speaks. In fact, God does more than speak, God has a plan. And God is seriously invested in this plan. Just how vested is evident by His words to Abram. “I will make you into a great nation… I will bless you… I will make your name great… I will bless those who bless you… whoever curses you I will curse… all peoples on earth will be blessed through you…” What becomes evident is that God is a significant part of this plan. God is partnering with Abram to bless all people.

In the middle of a very disappointing story, God proposes a counter story. Skeptics may point out the unlikeliness or even impossibility of this taking place. After all, we cannot forget the age of Abram and the barrenness of his wife. Yet, from the stories we have been told – God seems to like those odds.

Meeting God in the Family Tree

We turn to the gospel for good news and the first thing we find is a family tree. The family tree is more than history. It is an important piece of the text that reveals how God has intervened in history. Here we find God has been deeply involved in the life of a family. In fact He has been actively intervening all along through this family. God is interested in communicating salvation through the most common forms of relationship. By the time we arrive at the New Testament we are well aware that God views salvation as a relational project. Perhaps it should not surprise us that the first place we meet God in the New Testament is a family tree.

The family tree is a constant reminder that we need God. It reminds us that we are never far from someone who is in need of salvation. It reminds us that our own behavior is not always what it should be. The family tree is proof that the bible is rated M for mature. We cannot overlook the disappointing behavior in the family tree. Instead of trying to hide these things, the genealogist lays it out for everyone to see. The skeletons are out of the closet. God seems to view these disappointments as opportunities. The family is a place we find no shortage of opportunities for salvation.

We do not get very far into the gospel before we realize this genealogy is not only about one family of Middle Eastern origin. It is our introduction to a family of faith that God remains deeply involved with. In fact by chapter 10 He brings a sword into the biological family and calls us to reorganize our priorities in a way that severs our natural relationships. This reorganization of priorities demands that we realize our family is no longer determined by blood or DNA or our last name. We are called to be members of another family. We belong to a family that is part of God’s plan for salvation. We are the evidence that God is involved with the world, interested in creation, and has invested everything to give salvation. We are participants in God’s relational project.

We do not choose our family. Each of us can think someone in our own families that doesn’t quite fit. Someone who is difficult or embarrassing. Not all of us would have chosen our own siblings or parents or that weird uncle. Yet, they are still family. It is the same in the family of faith. Each of us can probably think of someone we have tried to avoid on a Sunday morning. Someone who talks too much or smells funny or is nothing like us. Yet, God chooses them to belong to this family of faith. We are joined by one thing in common – a desire to follow Jesus. Look around you, like it or not, this is what the family looks like.

We did not choose the people in our family tree. Being connected to some of them may cause us some discomfort. God seems to be in the habit of choosing people unlike us and bringing them into relationship with us. It is unlikely that we would be able to get along with these people on our own. Relationship with such people requires that we keep meeting God in the family tree.

We look to the gospel for good news and the first thing we find is a family tree. The first place we meet God in the New Testament is a family tree. There we find generations and time. We find accomplishment and scandal. There are things we can be proud of and things to be ashamed of. There is pain and hurt and celebration. This family tree is full of reality. The text wants us to know that God is active in the realities of our lives, our families, and the world to bring salvation.

I hope that a reading of Matthew’s genealogy prompts us to look around the sanctuary differently on a Sunday morning. The unlikely group gathered with you is the family that God has chosen to strike a blow against the darkness.

In the Son of God We Trust

“If You are the Son of God.”  These are familiar words to some of us.  These are the words Jesus hears from the devil in the wilderness.  This is not the first time this comes up.  Luke wants us to know who has come onto the scene.  This Jesus from Nazareth is the Son of God.  It is announced from heaven “You are My Beloved Son in You I am well pleased.”  It is implied in the genealogy where Luke traces Jesus to Adam, “the son of God.”  And then it is evident in the episode with the devil as twice we read “if You are the Son of God.”

During his forty days of temptation, Jesus quotes Deuteronomy at the devil.  It would be great if that is all we would have to do to resist the devil.  While I like that (I am surprised it is not a t-shirt slogan or a bumper sticker “Quote Deuteronomy at the Devil!”).  It would be nice if Luke gave us a code to resist temptation.  Or a formula to withstand it.  But we can’t help but notice that the devil is also busy quoting scripture in the wilderness.  Luke seems more interested in telling us that the world changed and that it changed when this one who could withstand the devil arrived on the scene.

If Luke were to record an encounter that one of us might have with the devil in the wilderness it would be a disaster.  We cannot watch a thirty-second commercial without buying something, how would we respond to forty days of the devil’s best work?

We want to notice the movement in the Gospel from this introduction of Jesus as Son of God.  He then leaves the devil and returns to his hometown where he preaches his first recorded sermon.  This brings us to the reality of the matter.  Luke may be asking, “How will people respond to the Son of God?”  If that sermon is any indication, we can be sure that some will respond with favor and some will reject Him.  Luke brings us into the company of the Son of God and then asks “what will you do with this?”

A Family Celebration

I have always enjoyed Christmas.  Perhaps it is the bright lights and evergreens.  Perhaps it is the child in me.  Perhaps it is early memories of when I was a child.  We were allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve.  The next morning we would open the rest of our gifts and then drive to Grandmas.  Here uncles would sympathetically tell us that they hoped we had received everything we wanted for Christmas this year and apologetically try to convince us that they accidentally shot Santa thinking he was a burglar.  It is a memory that has become etched into my Christmas memory.

It is likely that many of us have Christmas memories that intersect with family memories.  With that in mind, we should not be surprised  that Matthew would begin his Christmas story with a family tree.  He begins with genealogy.  Names and details that remind us that Christmas is deeply rooted in history.

Most of chapter one is just that, genealogy.  Biblical genealogy is not an exact history, it is not intended to be.  Here we find the shortest possible summary of the history of God’s people.  It is filled with phrases like “the father of…”, “whose mother was…”, “of whom was born…”  A simple format.  A minimum of details in the shape of a family tree.  From Abraham to Jesus.

On the surface, genealogy does not reveal the bizarre or scandalous memories of the family.  We are met with “Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.”  And, “Boaz, whose mother was Rahab.”  And “Obed, whose mother was Ruth.”  And “Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”  And “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus.”  Genealogy only reports brief details.

For instance, in these passages Matthew does not come right out and say, “Perez and Zerah, whose mother tricked her father in law into sleeping with her” or “Boaz, whose mother was a prostitute.”  Or “Obed, whose mother was a pagan gentile” or “Solomon, whose mother was an adulteress.”  But a quick look around this family tree reminds us that we do not have the liberty of choosing our family.

But Matthew walks right in to this family history and begins to pull out skeletons.  We learn details that we have no business knowing.  Intimate details.  Matthew goes on to share that Mary was engaged to Joseph.  Yet, she “was found with child before they came together.”  Yet Joseph, being a righteous man “had in mind to divorce her quietly.”  Yet, an angel intervenes “take Mary home as your wife… you are to give him the name Jesus.”

Finally, “all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.”  And then the word from the prophet Isaiah.  At the very least this passage reminds us that God is able to do what he says He will do.  “All this”, a couple is engaged, Mary is unexpectedly pregnant, Joseph considers divorce, an angel intervenes.  “All this” from Abraham to David.  From David to exile.  From exile to the angel’s intervention.  “All this” including the scandalous history of this family.

Later in Matthew, we find Jesus approached with a family question.  When told his mother and brothers are at the door, he points to his disciples and he replies, “here are my mother and my brothers.  For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”  It becomes clear who Jesus considers to be family.  Those who do the will of the Father.

How appropriate then that chapter one should end the way it does.  Joseph hears the word of the Lord and Joseph does as he is told.  Here we find a picture of one of our ancestors who does the will of the Father.

Christmas is a day celebrated by a family that gathers together and does the will of the Father.  Next Sunday take a look around you.  A quick look around may remind you of Matthew chapter one.  A look around may convince you that you don’t have the liberty of choosing your family.  Here sit people who have cheated, lied, and hated.  People who have been delivered from sin.  Celebrate – you are among family.

God, Generations, and Time

Matthew begins with an introduction of Jesus as the son of David.  From there, he goes straight into genealogy.  Since Jesus is son of David, it should not surprise us that David is mentioned more than anyone else before the genealogy finishes at verse seventeen.  It is of interest to us that although David had several sons, Matthew states “and to David was born Solomon.”  Then before we finish, we discover that Jesus is born in the lineage of David.

One of the things that appears obvious during all of this is that God had a plan.  He was in control from the start.  He is sovereign over time and over generations.  Since God is sovereign over generations we can find encouragement in the present and future.  Knowing that should prevent us from making time the enemy.  Yet, as Bruce Chilton points out in Redeeming Time “time has become our greatest common constraint.”

He goes on to say that “unfilled time is a threat.”  Under that threat, many claim to be depressed.  Chilton claims that depression is the mirror image of busy-ness.  That each moment is to be dreaded.  I am inclined to agree.  Whether you choose to agree or not, you will likely agree that depression is as much a trademark of this post modern world as is its busy-ness and business.

Lent may not be a cure for busy-ness or depression, but it is a reminder that time is meant to be more than a constraining force.  More than a tool to keep you on schedule.  Time is a context for meaning.  Lent reminds us that today may remember yesterday, yet today prepares us for tomorrow.  Time encourages purpose.  Time is where we are.  It is where we have been and where we will be.  More importantly, as Matthew reminds us, it is where God is, where he has been and where he will be.