Rev. George Miller
“From Blessed Promise to Blessed Savior”
Dec 1, 2013
In 1960 there was a song by Ben E. King that was released called “Spanish Harlem”. It was later rerecorded by the King, Elvis Presley. Personally, I prefer the version done by Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul.
With her hearty vocals the song becomes a celebration of a beautiful woman, a “rose” who was able to flourish amidst the hard concrete. It’s a song about hope even in the most bleak of situations.
Back in October, I came across a bumper sticker which read “Well behaved women seldom make history.” It’s a quote from Laurel Thatcher, a Harvard professor and historian who specializes in what she called “the silent work of ordinary people.”
This week, from the screen to the news to the stage there have been plenty of women who have not been what one would call “well behaved.”
The number #1 movie out right now is “Hunger Games: Catching Fire” about a young woman named Katniss who is strong willed and a killer with a bow and arrow.
She is not only willing to risk it all for the sake of her village and her family; she becomes the figure of hope and the leader of a revolution against a corrupt government.
In the news, while people are busy battling each other over discounted electronics, there is a mother in Jerusalem who is being fined $150 a day for refusing to have her child circumcised. She says she doesn’t want to wish him harm.
On a much lighter note, many of us just saw the touring production of “Menopause-The Musical.” Talk about women behaving any-which-way possible.
Four women meet in a department store and over the course of 90 minutes they discuss and sing about every topic conceivable, and I mean every topic: night sweats, body images, food cravings and lloovvee.
Let me tell you- it wasn’t just the women on stage who were misbehaving: it was the entire audience: laughing in agreement, laughing in shock, laughing in a sense of sisterhood that could scare the weakest of male egos.
Aretha Franklin would say all these women were roses and deserving of r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
Laurel Thatcher would say that indeed well behaved women seldom make history.
In today’s reading, well-behaved women don’t make it at all.
What we just heard is one of the least read scriptures in the history of worship. It’s a list of over 40 names in which the author of Matthew gives his own genealogy of Jesus as traced through Joseph, husband of Mary.
17 verses of who-was-the-father-of-who can seem tedious and people may ask “what’s the point?”
The point is this: Matthew was writing to folk who had experienced a major war between the Romans and the Jews.
Things seem hopeless, even after a decade passes by. Nearly everything and everyone was destroyed. Thousands of people were killed; thousands were spread out around the continent and the Temple has been burned to the ground for good.
Without their homes, their neighbors or a place to worship, the people feel as though they will lose their identity forever.
It’s as if they have been encased in concrete.
To give them hope, Matthew tells them the Good News about Jesus Christ. First, he begins with the genealogy. It’s like going through a photo album. Many of the names are familiar; and since the names are familiar, so are their stories.
Stories that involve over coming great obstacles, stories that involve great journeys, stories that invoke moments of greatness, flourishing and having “enough.”
Stories that lead to Joseph becoming the husband of a certain rose we know as Mary.
Verses 11, 12 and 17 focus on the Exile, a similar event 600 years before when the people had experienced and endured a similar attack on their city.
Writing the genealogy is Matthew’s way of offering hope. It’s his way of saying “We’ve been through this before and survived; therefore we will survive again.”
The genealogy reminds them about the eternal covenant God made with Abraham that his family would bless all the families of the world. Each person listed is a reminder of how through it all God has been working to keep that promise alive.
Each name given is a reminder that through feasts and famines, smooth roads and topes, green pastures and barren wildernesses, God has not forgotten, God is not asleep and roses have been blooming.
Then, in a sly move that bucks the trend of his day, Matthew decides to list not one, not two, but four women in the genealogy. It’s very subtle; very slick.
If you don’t know the stories of the Old Testament, these four women are easy to miss. But if you do, you know these four women were not the best behaved.
They each had scandalous relationships; they each showed initiative in their own destiny. Each of these four mothers led lives that were worthy of their own movie, news clip or musical revue.
First there is the wife of Uriah, known as Bathsheba. She had a dangerous liaison with King David that was at best a relationship of consenting adulterers; at worst she was a victim of political power.
Either way, she bore David a son who died in infancy and another who would become King Solomon, the wisest man on earth.
There is a Ruth, a poor Gentile foreigner who used her beauty and mother’s cunning to find a way into the bed of Boaz and to become the grandmother of King David.
There is Rahab, a prostitute and madam, who protects Jewish spies in her brothel and barters for the safety of her and her family. She becomes the mother of Boaz and great-grandmother of David.
Then there is Tamar. She was wed to a man who dies without having a male heir. So she follows the custom of her day and marries his brother. He dies too.
Wanting to produce a male heir in honor of her first husband, Tamar does the most-unbehaving act: she pretends she is a prostitute, seduces her widowed father-in-law Judah and has a set of twins by him.
It’s as if we took Bathsheba, Ruth and Rahab and rolled them into one thorny rose. And yet it’s her actions which ensure the family tree will continue.
All these stories are there for you to read. They are there so you can laugh, applaud, scratch your head over and wonder about.
And they are there in Matthew’s genealogy to prepare us for the birth of Jesus, the shoot of Jesse. They are there for us as we begin our Advent season and we prepare to once again welcome the Son of God.
But why are these four daring, eclectic misbehaving women here to start the story?
I think part of this genealogy’s purpose is to remind us that we have a God who acts, a God who plays a part in history as it unfolds, no matter how messy things may be.
I believe this genealogy reminds us that from blessed promise to blessed savior, there is hope for a better tomorrow and that God moves through the decisions and actions of humans, whether they are filled with folly or laced with the best laid plans.
This genealogy is a reminder that people may be of different backgrounds, different faiths, and a different set of values but that God has a way of speaking and creating and connecting the dots even if all we see are dashes and detours, even if we see dead ends, destruction or concrete.
None of these women stood idly by the entire time as their story played out. Each of them played their own part; each did what they thought was needed, whether we deem it as wrong or right, that lead to the next chapter being told.
By doing so they each found a role to play in God’s plan for salvation; no one is a passive participant in God’s story.
The Advent season has begun.
This week should not just be about finding new ways to prepare left overs; it’s not just about Grey Thursday, Black Friday, or Cyber Monday.
It’s about hope.
Hope that in the birth of Jesus, God will act again. Hope that God will continue to act.
Hope that things will get better and we will move closer to the reality of peace in the world, plenty for all and the lion lying down with the lamb.
But not hope that wants us to be passive; not the kind of hope that sits around waiting for someone else to step up, speak out or act on our behalf.
But hope that says “I am willing to play my part, I am willing to do what God requires, and I am even willing to do some holy misbehaving for the sake of the kingdom.”
Hope is what was permeates today’s genealogy. Hope is what’s spoken to the shepherds by the angels. Hope is what lights the way for us all this month.
You may feel at times like a caged bird, but hope will allow you to sing.
You may feel left behind by the love of your life, but hope will lead you to proclaim “Oh well, tomorrow is another day.”
You may feel like you are surrounded by a world of concrete, but hope will allow roses to grow and for respect to be claimed.
Because when we hope, we can act; and as we act, we can grow anywhere, under any situation.
Because when we hope, we play our own role in bringing about God’s blessed promises.
Because when we hope, we are hoping with God.
Amen and amen.
***Preacher’s notes: The last sentence quote is a quote from a Holocaust survivor I heard speak in 2001. Sadly, I have forgotten her name.
This work wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for “The Shady Ladies of Matthew’s Genealogy” by John Shelby Spong. For more information on these 4 Biblical roses, check out Genesis 38, Joshua 2 & 6, the Book of Ruth (especially ch. 3) and II Samuel 11.
Also in the news this week was the story of three women in Cairo, named Rasha Azab, Mona Seif and Nazly Hussein who are campaigning for democracy and speaking out against the abuses of police and military power. They were beaten, dragged into a truck and dropped off the middle of a dark, remote highway. For 31-year old Azab this was the second time it happened. The first time she was alone.
Re: Bathsheba. Due to the voices of modern theologians, such as Rev. Dr. Deb Krause, it is almost impossible to view Bathsheba’s relationship with King David as mutual, but an act of political power/possibly rape. It is later in the narratives of 1 Kings 1:11-31 and 2:13-19 in which we hear Bathsheba develop a voice, although concerns still exist.