December 30, 2018 by jmar198013
Manuscript and live audio of my message at Central Church of Christ for December 30th, 2018. This was the first in a series in the Gospel of Matthew, called God’s Neighborhood. This series will go through Easter 2019.
An audio link is embedded below if you’d like to listen.
You probably noticed that this morning’s Gospel reading, from the first chapter of Matthew, was a long list of old names.
Some of those names are not easy for us to pronounce.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you thought, This list of names is confusing and boring.
Did you wonder why Matthew would begin telling us about Jesus by naming all of his ancestors?
Most of those names probably didn’t mean much to you. But those names meant an awful lot to the first people to hear and read Matthew’s Gospel.
You see, those people knew the stories of the people whose names we heard in Jesus’ genealogy.
Most of their stories can be found in the Bible. And before that, those stories had been passed down from generation to generation by family storytellers.
And when they put all those stories together, it made one big family story. A story that told you who you were and where you came from.
And that big family story helped you make sense of your present situation by telling you about the past.
That’s why Matthew began his Gospel with a genealogy. He wanted everyone to see that Jesus is the point of that big family story, with all its triumphs and tragedies and dramatic twists and turns.
He wanted everyone to understand that Jesus is the one who ties that big family story together, and makes all the little stories in it make sense.
A written genealogy like the one Matthew gave us is one way to tell a family’s story.
Another way—one you still see sometimes—is a family quilt.
A family quilt is a patchwork quilt that tells the story of a family. Most of the time, each square on the quilt represents a single person. And each row tells the story of a generation.
A family quilt is handed down from generation to generation, and new squares and new rows are added over time.
The quilt can keep you warm on a cold winter night. But it also tells the big family story.
It helps you remember people and tell their stories, so you don’t forget where you came from.
The sinners, scoundrels, scandals and saints on Jesus’ family quilt
Why don’t we pretend for the next few minutes that the long list of names we heard in worship today is Jesus’ family quilt.
And that each person’s name we heard is a square on that quilt.
And each square on each row of the quilt tells a story.
Some stories were very happy and some were very sad.
Some of the times these quilt squares tell about were weird but wonderful. But other times were just strange and senseless.
But when they’re all woven together into Jesus’ family quilt, they tell a big, wonderful story with an important lesson to show us.
Because Jesus’ family quilt tells the story of God working through ordinary people.
People who weren’t very different than you or me, or people we know.
People whose lives were full of sins and shortcomings.
Whose resumes were full of flaws and failures.
Who stirred up drama and suffered unbelievable trauma.
And the whole time, God was weaving their clunky, confusing lives and stories together into a family quilt for Jesus.
And when we are joined to Jesus through faith and baptism, we become his brothers and sisters. So what belongs to him also belongs to us.
Which means this big, bulky family quilt is also our inheritance. And we can bundle ourselves up in it when our hearts and lives feel cold as winter. And find comfort in the story it tells.
Some of the squares on Jesus’ family quilt show us very familiar names and faces. If you grew up in Sunday school, you already know their stories.
Like faithful Father Abraham, who left his entire world behind to follow God into a foreign land. He was the first person in the Bible to not only stand on the promises of God, but to use them as stepping-stones.
And King David. The giant killer. The warrior poet and sweet shepherd of Israel. Who spent his life passionately pursuing and relentlessly running after God’s own heart.
Or David’s son, King Solomon. Who built a temple of wisdom for generations to come. Along with a reputation as an international playboy. The women longed for him, and the men longed to be like him.
These were some of the greatest men the ancient world ever knew.
Their squares on Jesus’ family quilt are vibrant, colorful, and exquisitely-detailed.
But they’re also dingy, faded, and ratty in a few places. Stained with tears. And dirt. And even innocent blood.
There was that time Abraham and his wife Sarah doubted God’s promise to give them a son.
Desperate, they used Sarah’s Egyptian slave girl Hagar as a surrogate.
But when once got what they thought they wanted, Abraham let his wife bully and abuse poor Hagar mercilessly.
Eventually, they turned Hagar out into the desert along with her son, Ishmael.
Abraham’s son, Ishmael.
Or what about that time when David, in the throes of a mid-life crisis, stole his general Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba?
And then had Uriah murdered after David got her pregnant.
And then there’s wise King Solomon.
Wise Solomon’s brains fell out one day, charmed right out of his head by his impressive portfolio of wives and lovers from around the world.
Solomon’s heart turned from God, and he started to worship idols.
Read between the lines, and you see he’d been bowing at the altars of pleasure and success long before that.
But God still used those messy men to do incredible things.
Through Abraham, David, and Solomon, God blessed all the nations of the earth, established his kingdom, and built a house to dwell among his people.
And there they are, still tightly sewn into Jesus’ family quilt.
He didn’t cut out their squares and replace them with less embarrassing relatives.
God didn’t give up on them. And Jesus didn’t disown them.
Even though they were great sinners, the sinless Son of God still claimed them as his own family.
Five of the squares on Jesus’ family quilt honor some of the mothers of the family.
That’s a really big deal. It was totally a man’s world in those days. So women were rarely, if ever, named in genealogies.
One square on Jesus’ family quilt is dedicated to his mother, Mary.
But the other four would have raised some eyebrows.
Those squares tell the stories of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba.
All four of them were foreigners. Outsiders.
Not only were they foreigners, they were from enemy nations. Nations God had instructed his people not to mingle with. And certainly never to marry them!
And when you dig around in their stories, every last one of them was involved something scandalous.
Like soap-opera, Lifetime movie, Dr. Phil scandalous.
We already heard about how David took Bathsheba from her first husband, then had him killed.
But Tamar dressed up like a prostitute and had a child with her father-in-law Judah.
And Rahab ran a brothel out on the edge of town.
Even sweet Ruth’s story wasn’t completely G-rated. There was that time she climbed into Boaz’s sleeping bag with him and spent the night.
All four of those women either engaged in some questionable behavior, or were the victims of somebody else’s questionable behavior.
But God raised up rulers and kings through these women.
And eventually, Jesus—the Son of God, the king of heaven and earth—was be born through them. Because of the tough choices they had to make.
And they had no idea. Not during their lifetimes, at least.
They had no way of knowing God was working through the crazy circumstances of their lives to save the world. Literally, to save the world!
As far as these women knew they were just doing what they had to do to survive. Or to make the best of the cards they’d been dealt.
But there they are. Proudly displayed on Jesus’ family quilt. Those beautiful, scandalous, foreign-born mothers of his people.
I could go on and on.
But that’s where I’m going to stop our tour of Jesus’ family quilt.
Because I think I’ve made my point.
Every one of those people and generations represented by the squares on Jesus’ family quilt would probably say: We don’t belong here.
But Jesus would say: You absolutely do belong here. You’re my people. You’re my family.
Then they would answer: But we don’t deserve to be squares on this quilt. We’re flawed. We’re failures. We’re scandals. We’re sinners!
And Jesus would say: Yes, you are all those things. But no one gets a square on my quilt because they deserve to be there. You’re there by God’s grace. That’s the only way anyone gets sewn into my family quilt.
Sewn by grace into Jesus’ family quilt
And that’s when we see the old family quilt come to life with God’s glory.
Every square tells the story of someone just like us.
Saints who are also sinners, and scoundrels, strugglers and stragglers.
Who sometimes walk willingly with God. And other times have be be drug along, kicking and screaming.
But we see all their stories sewn together into one big story. Jesus’ family quilt.
And we understand that it’s a story God has been writing all along, from beginning to end. Through the messy lives of actual people made of flesh and bone and blood and spirit.
And every square on the quilt—even the most vibrant, colorful ones—have faded places. And stains on them. And some have holes and torn places in them.
But every one of those is imprinted with God’s faithful love.
Every one of them is made beautiful by God’s grace.
Every one of them displays God’s justice and God’s forgiveness.
Every one of them is sewn into the big family quilt by God’s mercy.
Just like you. And just like me.
Because when you are joined to Jesus through faith and baptism, not only does that big family quilt become part of your inheritance—you become part of the quilt.
Jesus sews you into his family quilt. Your life becomes another square on the quilt.
And like all the squares that have been sewn into the family quilt before us, we spend our lives wrestling with God.
Like them, we have stumbled and grumbled in the wilderness.
Like them, we have fumbled with fear right on the brink of the promised land.
Like them, we have bowed at the altars of success and pleasure. Until our hearts wandered far from God.
Like them, we have found ourselves in exiles of our own making.
We have made desperate decisions just trying to survive. Just trying to make the best of the hands we were dealt.
We’ve stirred up unnecessary drama. And suffered unbelievable traumas.
And even if your square on the old family quilt is faded, God’s faithful love is imprinted deeply into the fabric of your life.
Even if it’s dingy, God’s grace makes it beautiful.
Even if it’s spotted and stained, God’s forgiveness will make it clean.
Even if your square is worn, ragged, tattered, and torn, God’s mercy will hold you together.
And even when your heart tells you, You don’t belong here on Jesus’ family quilt; Jesus says: Oh yes you do. You absolutely belong here. You’re my family.
And you will believe him.
Because you can look at the other squares on the old family quilt.
Like Father Abraham stumbling along his journey of faith.
And Jacob wrestling with God.
Or Ruth sneaking away sheepishly from Boaz’s sleeping bag just before sunrise.
And King David, with his crown on all crooked.
And Jesus says they still belong on his family quilt.
And if there’s a place for them—there’s a place for you, too.
And if God can work through them, he can also work through you.
God can and does do amazing work through the fragile flesh-and-blood lives of messy people like me and you.
Even if you don’t see it right away.
After all, most of the people whose lives became squares on Jesus’ family quilt didn’t live to see all the good things God worked through them.
And even if big parts of your story never make sense to you in this life, you can live with confidence and hope that it will all make sense later.
When resurrection transforms the old family quilt into a family reunion.
Until that day, may the lives and the stories on Jesus’ family quilt comfort you.
Because every square and every row sewn into that quilt—from Abraham until now—is there to tell us that as messy, broken, and dysfunctional as we can be, we are still Jesus’ family.
And Jesus loves me and you just the way we are.