Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Drop the Nets!

Matthew 4: 18-22
So often people form their identity by what they do in life; that is their profession or vocation.  They take pride in what they do, the accomplishments they have made, and their ability to sustain their livelihood and families by how they spend their time.  Often it supplies a healthy dose of self esteem so that their personal identity becomes intertwined with their work life.  But what happens when one’s identity is traded in for another identity? 

I remember back in 2011 when I lived in New Haven the headlines one of the New Haven Register read, ‘Time to Turn the Page.’  It was referring to Senator Joe Lieberman’s decision not to run again for a fifth term for the US Senate in 2012.  After 22 years Lieberman said, it’s time to turn the page to a new chapter, and so he announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election to a fifth term in the Senate.…he goes on to say, “This was not an easy decision for me to make, because I have loved serving in the Senate, and I feel good about what I have accomplished. But I know it is the right decision and, I must say, I am excited about beginning a new chapter of life with new opportunities.”

Whether you liked Joe Lieberman or not, whether you have agreed with Joe’s politics or not, whether you like the fact (or not) that he switched parties, that’s not the point.  The point is, for this now former Senator a new identity had to be forged.

Maybe it was frightening for him to leave the halls of the Senate building that had sheltered him all of those years.  After all, it was pretty comfortable, he knew where the bathrooms were, he knew where to park and where to buy the morning paper.  The fact is letting go  is not without its anxieties and trepidation.  Now we know that he has a new focus as Chairman of the Executive Board of the private equity firm, Victory Park Capital.

What we find in today’s text is a letting go and a picking up.  As Jesus walked next to the Sea of Galilee, which is not large, he sees two brothers Simon Peter and Andrew casting their nets into the sea, fishermen they were.  Fishing was an important aspect of the Galilean economy in the first century.  We’re not sure if Simon Peter and Andrew were day laborer fishermen, or fishermen who owned the boat and employed day laborers, or if they were even tax collectors with a fishing franchise…all were part of the Roman system which was not a free market.  The text is silent on this one.  All we know is that they were identified as fishermen.

Simon Peter might have heard people say, ‘Oh, there goes Simon Peter the fisherman’, or ‘Hey, that fisherman Andrew might have some good catch for us today.’  However you want to look at it, their profession and identity were one.  How often do we hear the Bible say, Simon Peter the husband and father?  Not often, never in fact.

But as providence would have it Jesus was walking on the basalt rocky shore of the Galilee and at the port he sees these two fishermen.  “Follow me” he says, “I’ll make you fish for people.”  The Bible states that ‘immediately’, IMMEDIATELY they left their nets and followed Jesus.  Same thing happens with the Zebedee brothers, James and John.  So now this little band of fishermen soon-to-be disciples have dropped their nets to follow Jesus. 

They didn’t ask questions like I would have asked.  Questions like, ‘Well Jesus, where are we going?” or “Why should I?”, “How long will we be gone?” or even “What will I have to give up or let go of?”  No, the Bible says that they ‘left their nets’.  They dropped them.  Right there.  In the Capernaum port on the shore of the Galil they dropped their nets and they were no longer fishermen.
If we go with that image of dropping the nets as a metaphor for letting go of the past and embracing the future I think that it can bear some juicy fruit for us today as individuals and as the church.  When the disciples dropped their nets it was a casting off of an old identity, the usual way of life, the way of life that had become very comfortable. 

Probably some traditions, both good and bad, had to be abandoned, some mindsets, also good and bad had to be discarded, maybe even some veneered identities, that had become part and parcel of who they were, that had to be let go of so that they could walk with Jesus unencumbered.  They took their skills and know-how from the fishing trade and applied them to the changing world about them.  They were no longer fishermen but disciples who followed the call placed on them.

We like our identities don’t we? We like the things we do or the possessions we own.  We like, or if not like, we need to sustain some level of control or sanity (whatever you want to name it,) even if it has just stopped working or become dysfunctional.  We like to hold tightly onto those nets that we have cast into the sea of life because to do otherwise might harm or even destroy us.

Being exposed is one of our greatest fears and if we let go we clearly step into the unknown where anything could happen, maybe even failure because if you live in one way for so long it is easier to maintain the status quo of your life rather than to risk fear, anxiety, or disorientation.  And so you hold on to those nets, but perhaps you will never reach your greatest potential.  And don’t we all want to be the best that we can possibly be?

You might ask, how do I know what my greatest potential is?  It’s by asking ‘What is God calling me to be?’.  Throughout our lives we must ask the same question at different junctures, “What is God calling me to now and how can I best achieve that call that God has placed upon me?”  Maybe, just maybe you’ll need to drop the net to follow Jesus into a deeper and clearer path.  A path of forgiveness, hope, healthy living and relationships, the path of devoted discipleship.  Let go. Drop the net.  Follow Jesus.

A former Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor of mine gave a blessing at the end of the program which to me it is reassuring, “When we walk to the edge of all the light we have, and step into the unknown, we must believe that one of two things will happen: there will be something solid for us to stand on, or we will be taught to fly.”

Dropping the nets to follow Jesus means you are walking into the world of unknown, the edge of the light, yes…but knowing that you will land on solid ground or will be taught to fly.  And that is faith.  That is following Jesus.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Come and See

John 1:29-42
I think that most of us can think back in time and remember a person who has influenced your life.  For me that person was my Jr. Year English teacher.  He was young and probably not much older than we were.  This was his first job out of college.  We all thought he was very cool.  He was not a warm and fuzzy teacher.  He was a deep thinker and serious.  He taught us words and philosophies such as existentialism.  You can just imagine how that went over with my conservative parents who sent me to a very conservative Lutheran High School to learn sound doctrine.

What this teacher did was to challenge us to think for ourselves; that we can make meaning of our lives through free will, choice, and personal responsibility.  While for us Congregationalists that sounds pretty consistent with our theology it was quite a different message than I had received in my life up until then.  He invited us to come along and see possibilities beyond our teenaged selves.

Maybe there is someone who has done that for you, maybe there are several people whom you’ve met that have transformed your living all because of the invitation to come and see, to expand your horizons.

That is the invitation that Jesus offers his newly called disciples in the scripture today.  Hear now this account in the Gospel of John…………. 

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Shortly after, in fact the very next day, after John had baptized Jesus he sees Jesus coming towards him, it was a small world back then.  To everyone around, friends, acquaintances and passersby, John announces, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  WOW – that’s some grand introduction.  Can you imagine meeting Jesus in that way? The Agnus Dei?  The Lamb of God?  John really ups the anty for Jesus.  He takes Jesus humanity and trumps it with divinity.

Somehow I don’t think that is how Jesus would have introduced himself and yet John announces that Jesus is the source of all redemption, the Lamb of God.  But we should remember that John had experienced an epiphany just the day before when the heavens opened with a dove and a voice, “The heavens opened up.  I heard God’s voice proclaim love for his son.”

It was so profound for him that the next day John was with two of his own disciples and he started in again, “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”  His witnessing never stops!  But then again, when something remarkable happens to us, something that is transformational, don’t you just want to tell the world?  What John saw compelled him to share it with everyone.  He says, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 

Well, John’s two disciples decided to check this claim out for themselves. Right? Have you ever just become a believer in something because someone, who is especially displaying zealous (unique) behavior just tells you to?  Probably not.  You’d want to check it out for yourself.  So they went up to Jesus themselves and he sensed them following him.

“What are you looking for?”, he asked.  Well they probably had no clue of what they were looking for, so instead they asked him where he lived. They were confused!  “Come and See”, said Jesus.  So they went, they followed.

One of the disciples was Andrew and he brings Simon to Jesus and Jesus says to him, ‘you, Simon, are to be called Cephas, which means Peter.  And we know how Peter’s life was changed that day.  He dropped his fishing net and became an ardent follower of Jesus and we, as the church, are the legacies of Peter’s witness today all because of a great invitation, come and see.

It’s curious to think what Jesus could mean when he says, ‘come and see’. There is no doubt that when Jesus says ‘come and see’ he calls forth two actions from us.  First is to get out of our comfortable and complacent living spaces and to follow him even if you don’t know quite yet where he’s headed with you, he’ll show you the way.  He asks us to get up, to become aware of, t embrace his ways in all we do.

And the second is to open our eyes and see, just see, simply see.  It’s an invitation to see beyond your little world into the greater one around you. See what needs to be done, see how you have been given the gifts to do the things that need doing.  To see the gifts that you have rather than long for those you don’t have.  To see how you can use your creative spirit that God has entrusted to you for the good of the Kingdom of God here on earth. 

It means to follow him to the mountaintops and also into the deep dark valleys of humanity and open my eyes to the suffering and sadness.  To see the pain in another persons face and to sit with that pain; to help them hold that pain for as long as needed.  To see injustice and to witness a different way of living that can happen.

It is well to remember this weekend that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did just that.  He followed Jesus and loved deeply his Lord and because of that he saw that he must do all he could to end the terrorism perpetrated upon black men and women.  He’s remembered for making good speeches and that he marched, and that’s ok, but really it is about what he did for African Americans first and foremost.  He followed the invitation of Jesus to come and see the possibilities to effect change.  He lived as a black man in the 1960’s he was moved to active love, just love, non-violent resistance.  And isn’t that what Jesus is all about?

All Jesus asks is for us to ‘come and see’.  To follow in his ways and to see all of the infinite possibilities for our lives and those around us.  We each have been given the ability to effect change in some way, let us not waste what we have been given but accept this gracious invitation of love.     


Rev. Suzanne Wagner

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Baptized Life

Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17
In the passage from Isaiah that we heard a few minutes ago, we are reminded that God is faithful to promises.  And in return God expects and wants the people Israel to live in a certain way. How they live, matters.

Righteousness, or right living that is congruent with God’s purposes and law, is one of the major themes expressed by the prophet Isaiah.  Israel is to serve God and “righteousness is expressed as compassionate justice, care for the poor and marginalized, humility and faithfulness that always point to God as the One who is at work for transformation.”[i] Israel is to establish justice not by brute force but by humility and endurance. This passage is about what is demanded of those who are called by God.

This call to reconciliation is what was heard by the people who were in exile in Babylon who were given a glimpse of freedom.  This call to establish justice was heard throughout the successive generations.  This call to righteousness, reconciliation, faithfulness was what must have been in Jesus’ heart and mind when he came to John that day for his baptism.  Jesus lived as a Jew and was brought up steeped in scripture of the Torah and the books of the Prophets. He knew what was required of him, his time had come.

Here now the account of this baptism from the Gospel according to Matthew, the third chapter:

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”  Then he consented.  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt 3:13-17)

Up until now Jesus had been living his life up North in the region of the Galilee and he comes to the Jordan River to be baptized by his cousin John.  This is the first recorded public appearance of Jesus as an adult according to Matthew. 

John had been out baptizing many people that day but when Jesus came to him he stopped.  ‘Wait a minute,’ he says, ‘I need to be baptized by you, not you by me!’  ‘Just do it’, says Jesus, ‘baptism is a fundamental part of living a righteous life’.  Isaiah’s words must have echoed in Jesus’ ear.  And then just as Jesus was coming up from his submersion in the Jordan the heavens broke open.  The Spirit of God, sort of like a dove, alighted on him.  And a voice from heaven reassured Jesus, ‘you are my son, you are marked by my love, I am delighted.’
Jesus then begins his ministry and a short lifetime of following the precepts of God.  Jesus never points to himself, always to God as the source.  So with Isaiah in his heart he begins a life of servant hood.  That’s what was conferred on him that day in the Jordan River under the hot wilderness sun.  Baptism set him apart to be about the work of God.  It’s been said that “Baptism is a once in a lifetime event but it takes a lifetime to complete”.  Jesus lived his baptized life until the end and so do we.

One year ago I preached my first sermon here at Orange.  And, like today, we celebrated the Baptism of Jesus. I’m sure you remember the words of my first sermon (!!), when I said that we were beginning a baptized life together. That this interim time could be one of the most exhilarating, affirming and exciting times in the life of this congregation because you are not bound by ‘should’s’ but surrounded by ‘what if’s’.  I also said that the work we do together is essential and with Christ leading us we can do great and wonderful ministry together as a community of baptized believers. 

So how are we doing?  Have we maintained our baptized life together, striving to do the will of God, and not our own?  Has everything we’ve done furthered the mission of the church?  Have we followed Christ, could we count ourselves as disciples?  Have we made a difference in Orange, in the surrounding communities, and in your personal life? 

Making a difference is what we are about, that is, making a spiritual difference.  How do you think the spiritual vitality of OCC is?              We all have ‘vitals’, you know blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate, etc.  These are our bodily functions that let a doctor know how your body is operating.  You can’t go out dancing when your heart rate is too fast!  You can’t sing an aria or even “Jesus Loves Me” if you lung capacity is far below its functioning level!   

Same thing is true of a congregation.  If a congregation’s spiritually vital then it is functioning nicely.  And if not they will feel as if they are spinning their wheels and going nowhere, dancing to a tune that never ends.  What are functioning vital signs of a spiritually healthy congregation?

Well to name a few your focus is ALWAYS on God – Jesus Christ - God is why we are here – God is why we exist together as a congregation.  If you loose God – you’ll loose your way.
God is your purpose, God is the heartbeat of a congregation.  Does each meeting begin and end in prayer asking God for guidance of the Spirit?  A spiritually vital congregation asks, what would please God most when we make decisions?

Another spiritually vital sign is your spiritual health.  Do we help one another reach God’s greatest potential for our lives?  Making disciples is just not about ‘church growth’, it’s about growing your own discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus.  It means paying attention to your own spiritual welfare and being.

Are our doors open to all, do we extend that most extravagant welcome to every soul?  Yes, you might say.  But how will people know?  How will those who have been hurt by the church know that it can be a safe haven offering reconciliation and hope?  We have such an important part to play in ministering to all of God’s children.  

I believe that we all thirst for a spiritual connection to something greater beyond ourselves and the church can be that place where we can find community, connection and contentment.  It is where we can live out our baptized life together.

Figuring this out together is a part of bringing our Baptismal promises to bear at this time and in this place.  We are the keepers right now of this sacramental act.

Baptism sets us apart to do God’s work.  Our baptism is not over when the water dries for when the water dries it is just the beginning for us.  Our baptism sets us apart, not because we are special, but because we now carry the mark and ministry of Christ and the command to love God and to love our neighbor.  And to do both means that we uphold the ethical standards that God has set out for us and to work towards justice, equality, reconciliation and freedom.

The seeds of a Christian life are sown at our baptism.  May those seeds be nurtured again and again and may they grow into a life that’s filled with the word and work of Christ for we are called as disciples claimed long ago through our baptism.


[i] Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds,, for January 9, 2011.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

More Than One Way

Matthew 2: 1-21
Now that we have GPS systems we can be fairly assured that we can get anywhere, anytime all by keying in a few letters and numbers.  It’s as simple as one-two-three, more or less.  Unless you are a first time user and you are driving the windy streets of Greenwich and it’s a crisp winter’s night.  Unless your GPS is not programmed to ‘say’ the name of the streets in advance and you are not familiar with the streets then, it is not as simple as one-two-three. 

I had programmed my new GPS to get from the Wilton parsonage down to the Greenwich Reform Synagogue to hear a renowned scholar on the New Testament.  I got down there with no problem being able to negotiate the twists and turns that my little Saturn encountered at that time.  The stars and the satellites were in alignment and it worked like a charm.  Getting there.

But all good things come to and end and it was time to come home.  It was a midweek program and I had worked a long day, so just going out on a winter’s evening seemed from the start an exhausting adventure.  I was really tired and it was about 9:45 pm.  I thought I could remember the way, my internal GPS is usually pretty attuned.  But I turned on the GPS anyway just in case and because I could, remember it was new.  It was darker yet into the night and the moon which usually can cast some sort of light was waning its way into a new moon.

All I wanted was to be home.  But that was not to be the case at that moment.  I got horribly lost.  The GPS took me round and around and after 15 minutes I wound up back at the Synagogue. I was exasperated, frustrated, angry, fresh out of humor, tired, and disoriented.  I called upon God, several times in fact.  ‘Try again’ was my answer.  So I looked down at my nemesis the GPS, pressed start again and trusted in God that the GPS would eventually get me home.  It did, but curiously it was not the way that it got me there!  It took me another route, a much shorter route with many less turns.  Who knew that I was so close to the Merritt Parkway? 

We’ve all just wanted to be home at times.  Home is warm and comfortable, nurturing and loving most of the time.  It’s where we learned to ride our bikes and then expanded our knowledge of the world from the footprint of our house to the jungles of the neighborhood.  Yet we knew we could go back home again, and while it may not have been perfect, there was unconditional love waiting to greet us at the door.  It’s a base where we know who we are, where we can be ourselves, let our hair down, scratch where it itches.  

We’ve all experienced that need to be back in our familiar environs.  But, for some reason, we cannot get there the way we used to be able to get there.  Some people even have dreams where they just cannot seem to get home no matter how hard they try.  A road closure, a detour, a GPS-handler malfunction, or maybe even a menacing King Herod prevents us from getting there by the route we came.

That was the case for the Magi when they tried, after seeing the newborn King, Jesus.  They tried to get back to their homes in the exotic east, Mesopotamia, the land of rich spices.  But the route they took to get to Bethlehem was not to be the same route that they would have to take to get home because the first one was filled with ‘lions and tigers and bears’![i]

Let’s go back to Matthew’s account.  The Magi saw a star rising just over the horizon.  And as it rose it got more luminous until it became a magnificent star, a star that outshone all the rest.  It was a star that heralded something different, it made them wonder, it made them travel a great distance, it was an epiphany of God to those three gentiles who would risk a long trip with expensive gifts in hand.  The presence of God was manifest in the star letting the wise men know of Jesus’ arrival.
They arrived in Bethlehem after the star ended its journey.  Word got out of those elaborate strangers in town; people had many questions.  Herod and all of Jerusalem, which is just a stone’s throw from Bethlehem, were afraid.  And who wouldn’t be?  Dignitaries from another country inquiring about a NEW king in town?   Herod was king of the people as appointed by the Roman Imperial Empire and no one was going to dethrone him.  You see the political struggle that we find so palpable later in the Gospel is already present.  So a threatened King Herod calls for his scribes, his inside people, and asks about this so-called king and where all this might be happening.

Then, secretly, he calls for the wise men, those new people in town, and tells them to go to Bethlehem because that’s where they would find this baby king.  Then after they pay Jesus homage, they are to let Herod know so he too could do the same.  You and I both know that secrets never work.  Herod’s intentions were not pure.  He was not a man of integrity or trust.  In fact, already then, he wanted Jesus dead. 

Well the magi, being wise men and all, find Jesus and worship him.  He is the epiphany of God in the presence of a baby. They present their expensive gifts and when it was time to return to the East they were warned through a dream, not to take the same route.  Heeding the dream, they returned home by taking an entirely different road.  How frustrating it must have been for them. Thankfully, there is more than one way home.

Herod’s still exist. There are Herod’s who prevent us from reaching our destination, Herod’s who throw a monkey wrench into our plans.  Herod’s of disease, of broken relationships, of financial shortfalls, of shattered dreams, Herod’s of institutionalized prejudice and injustice, you name it we have all stood face to face with Herod. 

These are the disappointments in life that may not be of our own liking or design, yet after our initial anger and shock we are forced to reorient ourselves.  When these Herod’s block our path, we are forced to seek a different way, plain and simple.  Our faith is called upon to go into overdrive, to search for a new path, to seek a way home to the familiar.

In this space is where an Epiphany will happen.  Trust me.  You will be able to see, to envision, to make a plan, it’s just that this epiphany might manifest itself in a much different manner that you thought.  You will see that there are other roads that will take you where you need to be.  It just won’t be the road you were on.  God says through the prophet Isaiah, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

There are infinite, creative possibilities along this unknown route.  There are epiphanies for our taking where Christ’s light will shine FOR us and God’s urging will be upon us.  You will feel God’s presence moving you from one point to another.  But it takes time, imaginative thinking, faith in the unknown and strength for the journey ahead.

Epiphanies are everywhere in this story of the three wise men.  And God’s grace is revealed all along the way.  God is revealed in the star which lead the Magi to Jesus because Christ is the light of the world.  God is revealed in the infant Jesus so lovingly wrapped in cloth and nestled at Mary’s bosom for in this Epiphany our Redeemer has come.  God reveals in the dream God’s protective nature and God is around them, above them, below them, and with them; leading them another way home.  God is with you too, always, even when Herod stands in your way, or you can’t quite understand the GPS.  You will get home, and life will begin anew.


[i] L. Frank Baum, Wizard of Oz. 

Who's Who, Anywho?

Matthew 1: 1-17
Whether it is a bane or a blessing, and you can decide for yourself, Christmas means family.  Whether there is an overabundance, or a lack thereof, family and family remembrances are always present.

Most recently, I think many of you know, I was at a cousin’s, on my paternal side, reunion down in Texas.  Joyce, who is now the matriarch, always reminds us of our beginnings since she has become the family genealogist.  Now we only go back to 1728 when a certain Cordt Strangmeier married Anna Marie Kuhlmann who begat Ernst Heinrich Strangmeier.  Ernst married Anne Marie Beck and they begat Johann Christoph Strangmeier  in 1786, this was all back in Prussia.  Johann marries Marie Elizabeth Steinfeld and they begat Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Strangmeier. 

Johann married Marie Henriette Graeve and they begat four children, we’ll be concerned with only one of the begats, Christian Heinrich Wilhelm Strangmeier, because he is my great grandfather.  He was begat in 1846.  Then, for some unknown reason Christian decides to immigrate to America.  But his story becomes curious along the way.  Christian was a blacksmith and when he came over on the ‘Bark Stella” in 1864, he changed his last name from Strangmeier to Warner.

I was always told it was a torrid love affair that made him change his name, but not one of my cousins, or the Mormons can confirm this as juicy fact; it’s just been a lingering family enigma.  He further shortens his name to Wilhelm Warner and then eventually Americanizes it to William Warner. 

William Warner marries Fridricka Stahl who begat 13 children and only 4 lived to adulthood, one in particular, Richard William Warner Sr. who was a baker.  Richard marries Anna Wilhelmena Dustmann (my Grandma Minnie) who begat five children, four who survived and one in particular Richard William Warner Jr., also a baker, who married Loretta Henrietta Engler who begat two children, one in particular – me, a non-baker!  I did some begetting myself and who knows how our story will turn out, I hope good. 

Seems to me though that this Christian or Wilhelm or William, my great grandfather was a peculiar fellow, changing his name, who knows?  Bad checks?  Failure to pay taxes to the soon to be Kaiser?  It’s not even a change that would indicate a typographical error.  We don’t know, I personally like the torrid love affair story.   Seems to me there is always someone in the family tree who gives the rest of the family cause for concern or wonder.   But they are family and so we love them.  I’m just happy that I didn’t have to grow up with the name little Suzie Strangmeier.  Genealogies are fascinating. 

Today we are going to wade through the genealogy of Jesus.  That is the most respecting and essential way the people of Jesus’ day would have begun the story of a man.  Lineage was important, as was pedigree because for Jews, if there was any ‘foreign blood’ read-not a Jew-he lost his right to be called a Jew.  While we may think this is really rigid and boring information, the Jews of Jesus day would have been very impressed with his pedigree dating back all the way to Abraham. 

So let’s go!  As I read I’ll fill in with some parenthetical notes about some of the people in Jesus’ genealogy.

“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac (Remember that Isaac was asked to dramatically sacrifice his son but was sent a lamb instead just in the nick of time),

and Isaac the father of Jacob (Jacob was the one who tricked his twin Esau out of his birthright winning ‘first place’ in the twin contest),

and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers (all twelve of them including one with an ‘amazing color dreamcoat’ whom Judah sold into slavery),

and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar (well she’s an interesting one- She’s a foreigner, a Canaanite and after her two husbands die leaving her childless she tricks Judah, her father in law, by posing as a prostitute and takes what is hers according to the Leverite law, which is motherhood, has relations with Judah and has these two, Perez and Zerah)

and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, (now it gets funky because Rahab’s profession was one of the ‘oldest’ if you know what I mean, but she did her part to keep the line going, even though she was a known prostitute)

and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth (Ruth of course is an outsider, she was a Moabite but clearly loyal to Naomi her mother in law, a Bethlehemite),

and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. (What can I possibly say about King David, great and mighty on one hand, but a wife stealer and a murderer on the other.  None the less, the great and mighty anointed one solidifies Israel as a nation.  By now fourteen generations had passed.)

And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah (Uriah was the one David put a hit out on and this wife of Uriah just happens to be Bathsheba),

and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat (a good and prosperous king),

and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah (this guy took the throne at the age of 16, and it too was prosperous under his reign but his pride got the best of him when he decided to go into the Temple to burn incense himself!  Bad move, that was a job for only the priest and so poor Uzziah was struck immediately with leprosy and had to live in a separate place the rest of his life),

and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah (a good king during the fall of the Northern Kingdom),

and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh (bad king, he adapted the Temple for idol worship – sets Israel two steps backward in monotheism),

and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah (another good king who became king at age 8, he instituted lots of Temple reform),

and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.”

That’s some family tree, murderers, tricksters, outsiders, sibling rivalry, good kings, bad kings, poets, and prostitutes and then came Jesus, the Messiah.  And with the birth of Jesus a new light was shed upon the world, and a new way to understand living.  God doesn’t go for the most gracious or most deserving person to carry out divine purposes!  Jesus genealogy contained some seriously flawed individuals.  Looks like God goes for the ones at hand and accomplishes divine purposes through them.

So with Jesus’ pedigree, and of course, his miraculous birth, his justice oriented work and ministry, his untimely death, and redemptive resurrection, completely transformed the world.  And boy did he leave us a legacy to carry.  His human legacy, of course is to live our lives as if the poor depended upon us, even when we might just be the poor.  Speak out for fair and equitable conditions, give people a fair chance with all that living in 2013 and beyond can offer.  There are so many ways in which we can carry on his legacy, you just need a creative imagination.

And his divine legacy?  Well we can tell others, we can witness to other people about the love that you’ve known in your life because of Christ.  The neighbor that has helped  you, the doctor that has healed you, your spouse or partner who just lifts you up by looking at you, these are manifestations of Jesus’ divine legacy that let’s us know that we are beloved.  

We can’t choose who is in our family line but we do have the opportunity leave a legacy that generations could be proud of.  How about it?  What will your offspring say about you three or four generations from now?  Will you be crazy Uncle Louie remembered for passing bad checks?  Will you be remembered as a good king or a bad king?  Will there be a story to tell of intrigue, or mystery, or of redemption, and of faith and good will?

The choice is yours.  Life will go on and we will eventually become another branch on the family tree of life.  I don’t think it is so much the ‘begatting’ that you might do in your lifetime but the memories that you make and good deeds that you can do for others and this is how we become part and parcel of the genealogy of Christ.