The Roots of Hope

Text: Matthew 1.1-17

When I was in Miss Taylor’s third grade class at King’s elementary she challenged us to read the entire New Testament, from front to back.  And, as an incentive, she offered a cupcake party for those who had read every word from Matthew to Revelation.  I wanted to be at that party and therefore determined to power through the New Testament.  How hard could it be?  I sat down and turned to the beginning of Matthew’s gospel and started reading…  begat, begat, begat… I closed it up and went home and made some cupcakes with my mom.   I didn’t make it past the first chapter of the first book.  The concept of lineage, heritage, genealogy was utterly alien to me… and still is.

Last monday night a friend of mine who is Serbian Orthodox invited my family over for dinner.  From the living room to the dining room tables were spread out for an amazing feast.  My friend Radoje, his wife and mother never sat down once, they just kept filling our glasses and bringing out dish after dish and course after course.  Bashfully, I asked my friend, “Radoje, what exactly are we celebrating tonight?”

“Tonight is my family’s feast day – the feast day of St. Michael the Archangel.”  He said.

“How did it become your family’s feast day?”  I asked.

“It’s the day that my family was baptized when they converted to Christianity from paganism.”  He said.

“And when was that?”

“The ninth century.”

I can hardly fathom that kind of family history.  From father to son, father to son, this tradition has been passed down in his family for 12 centuries!  Just to put this in perspective:  Rosewood Manor, where you are sitting now, is a hundred years old, built in 1905. At that time there were only 144 miles of paved road – people came to this house by horse.  The American flag had 45 stars.  It would be five more years before women were able to vote in Washington state.  That’s how old this place is and yet, Radoje family has been celebrating St. Michael’s feast day for one thousand, one hundred more years than this place has been standing.  So it’s no wonder that I come to the genealogy of Jesus and think, “There is nothing of importance here.  Blah, blah, blah…”

The European colonizers of this country cut themselves off from their history when they moved west and we’ve been moving west ever since.  You live here because someone at some time left home and moved west.  But now we’ve reached the ocean, so I figure there’s no where else for us to go but backwards now.  And that’s what I want to do tonight, is try to reconnect with the lineage of Jesus.

That’s where the Gospel of Matthew wants to start.  The genealogy of Jesus reminds us that this Gospel – this Jesus-Story that has captured our hearts and united us to God, did not start on Christmas eve with Mary and Joseph, but 28 generations before, with a childless moon priest from Ur of the Chaldeans name Abram, and his wife named Sarai, whom God called out to one night and said – “I will make of you a people who follow me.”  Tonight we want to look deep into the beginnings, because Advent asks us to look deeper.

Did you notice anything strange when you heard the names being read?  Did you notice that there were the names of four women in the genealogy? You might not think it strange, but in that day this would have been most peculiar.  Only father’s names would have been included in a genealogy, but here in the Genealogy of Jesus there are four names of women included.  Why would that be?  What is Matthew trying to get at here?  The women that you might assume would be named, the Matriarchs of faith, like Sarah, or Rebecca or Leah don’t even get a mention.  Instead there are four names that are attached to four stories, that some genealogists would have wanted to omit.  Four names and four stories that some families would have wanted to keep a secret.  Listen again:

“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar…”

Why include Tamar?  She married Judah’s son, then widowed before having a child, married the next son, widowed again before having a child.  Judah sent her away promising her his youngest son when he grew old enough, but time passed, she waited, but was never sent for.  Judah thought he could sweep his history under a rug.  But Tamar traded her widows clothes for the veil of prostitute and posed by the road where she knew Judah would be walking.  And it worked.

“What will you give me to sleep with me?  Give me your family seal and staff and I’ll hold on to them till you pay me.”  She told him.

Later, Judah acted the coward again.  He wouldn’t go himself, but instead sent a friend to pay up and collect his stuff, but the friend couldn’t find Tamar.  “Where’s the prostitute that hangs out here?” he asked the locals.  “There’s never been any prostitute here.”

Judah decides, “Fine, let her keep it.”

Months later he gets word, “Your daughter in law, Tamar has been whoring around – now she’s nine months pregnant!”  And Judah is irate. “Bring her here!  Is it true, Tamar?”  “Well, here are the father’s things.  Can you identify him?”

And by Tamar twin boys are born, fathered by the father-in-law.

Their names: Zerah, and the second is Perez, who fathered Hezron, and Hezron fathered Aram, and Aram fathered Aminadab, and Aminadab fathered Nahshon, and Nahshon fathered Salmon, and Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab…

Why include Rahab?  The righteous prostitute.  Living in the crumbling wall of a city under a holy curse.  She became the sanctuary for Hebrew spies who are scouting out Jericho.  For her help she’s promised safety for her and her parents and brothers and sisters when the day of battle comes.  A scarlet rope hung from the window, the sign that meant she was open for business would become the sign of her salvation.

When the day came the city was in a panic.  Rahab lowered the scarlet rope out her window.  The Hebrew priests and people silently circled the city seven times and then shouted it down.  Rahab left with the wandering Hebrews that day and married Salmon.  Salmon and Rahab had Boaz, and Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth…

We don’t have to go far down the family tree to meet another woman.  The third outsider, the third gentile in a hebrew family tree.  Why include Ruth?  Ruth, the last hope of Naomi who moved away from the land promised to be flowing with milk and honey due to a famine.  Naomi whose husband and sons died in that foreign land, leaving her with only her faithful daughter in law.  Until taken notice by the last rich bachelor in her deceased husbands family.  Another story of desperate survival, and stealthy seduction.

Yet, amazingly, from this family tree next grows Obed who fathered Jesse, and Jesse the father of the great King David. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah

She remains unnamed… only known by the name of her husband.  Where people remain unnamed, there must be intense shame.  But we know her name, Bathsheba.  Why include Bathsheba?  Wife a rising star in the military, but a gentile… maybe that’s why he was so fiercely loyal to his King.  He felt like he had something to prove that the others didn’t.  The nights were lonely for military wives in that day, because the King was expanding, always expanding his kingdom, yet he wasn’t willing to go out and lead them in battle.  No, the king stayed at home, on the roof looking out from his castle.

Her name was Bathsheba – the one thing the king of israel couldn’t have, so he took it, he took her… raped by a king.  Then widowed by a devious plot fit for the Bard’s theater.  She was sent for to live with her victimizer.  Bathsheba.  The name calls to mind the one black spot on a national hero – the man after God’s own heart.  The book of Matthew wants you to remember her, but can’t seem to say her name.

Bathsheba.  Ruth.  Rahab.  Tamar.  These are the women of Jesus’ genealogy.  To this list of women, Matthew adds one more, as if to say, “Don’t be alarmed by the scandal of the story I’m about to tell you.  Scandal has always been apart of the story of God.” The genealogy of Jesus says that where there is scandal, there is the grace of God.  All of these stories lead us to this:  “and Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”

What did Matthew want us to see in Jesus’ family tree?  It was such a risk to draw attention to these stories.  It might discredit his lineage.  It would induce scandal.  By no means is Jesus born into a pure line.  This is family full of disfunction.  This is a family full of outsiders, and mess-ups, and desperate schemers.  And yet, the Gospel of Matthew goes out it’s way to say this:  Look.  These are the people that Jesus includes in his family.  And if Jesus enters the mess of his family… perhaps Jesus could enter the mess of your family?  Perhaps there is a place for you in the family of Jesus?

This is the message of Advent: that Jesus is coming, always coming, in every age and at every moment.  Matthew shows the courage to not leave out the hard details.  Matthew will not let shame silence the stories of these women.  Will you let shame silence your story?  Or will the very Hope of God be birthed even among your family’s deepest secrets?  This Advent root your hope here – in this messy story into which God comes, in the most vulnerable way, in order to bless the families of the world.

Pain-Killers & Hope-Killers

(proclamation from Advent 1, 2010 by Ryan)

I’m handing out pain killers tonight.  You can take it if you want.  You always have that option.  But Advent asks you to wait just a minute, before you do, and consider this:

Painkillers don’t do what they say they are going to do. They might immediately mask the pain, but they don’t kill the pain.  They numb our sense of the pain, but they don’t address the source of the pain.  Now I’m not saying that there aren’t good reasons to numb your pain.  And it seems like Advent brings a lot of these reasons to light.

Earlier we read in Isaiah about a time when everyone comes running to God to teach them how to live, about a time when the world forgets how to fight, a time when every tool to make war is repurposed into a tool to make food.  And yet the present reality is that most of our children cannot remember a time when our country was not in two wars.  The drastic disparity between what God promise for the future and what we experience now is hard to bear.  And Advent seems to bring these differences out.  So it makes sense that during the season of Advent we encounter so much pain-killing, like… excessive eating… excessive drinking… excessive shopping… excessive entertainment…  the list goes on because your pain-killing is as unique as your pain.  Making the connection is scary – but it could change everything.

Karl Marx said, “religion is the opiate of the masses”, “Religion is the people’s pain killer.”  And that is definitely one of the many shadow-sides of religion, but tonight Jesus is calling us out of our opiate stupor.  Advent is the smelling salts of the masses; wakes you up to all that is around you, wake you up to all that is within you even if it hurts, because there is some pain that is linked directly to your hope and if you kill that pain, you kill your hope.  Making the connection is scary – but it could change everything.

There are times when we feel so drugged, so groggy, so numb that we need something to surprise us into hope.  The salvation of God always comes as a shock.

This year, you’ll know it’s Advent if there is desire awakened in you tonight.  You’ll know it’s Advent if you face the possibility of becoming horribly disappointed, but you risk to hope anyways.  You’ll know it’s Advent if you are beginning to feel the discomfort of reality and you know that you were meant for more.  You always have the option of taking a pain-killer, but this year Advent is asking you to wait, confront your pain, and be shocked by the closeness of your God.

True Presence

“I can’t remember the last time I felt God’s presence.  It’s been months or… longer.”

“That feels terrible.  I’m so sorry.”

“But why do I feel this way?”

“I hate to say it, but it’s probably because you’re a Christian.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Well, Christians have at one time experienced God’s closeness, which accentuates the inevitable feeling of God’s absence that much more.  You’re certainly not alone in feeling this way.  It is a major part of the believer’s experience.  Just look at the psalms or the saints.  Struggling with the God who feels far from you is a necessary requirement for sainthood.  I remember thinking to myself, ‘Mother Theresa must have a constant sense of love and care surrounding her at all times’, but when her diary was published after her death we found out that she felt God’s call at a young age and then remained faithful to that event for the rest of her life despite intense doubt and despair that routinely plagued her.

“If it’s so common why doesn’t the Church ever talk about it?”

“I don’t know.  It’s scary.  But I guess we’re talking about it right now.  Think about this, feeling the absence of God’s presence is even God’s experience of God in Jesus when he says, ‘My God, why have you abandoned me!’  I don’t think we’re going to escape these feelings.”

“What are we supposed to do with that?”

“I guess we can be in conversation with God about it.  Even tell God, ‘I have little faith that you are close to me, even though you say that you are, and  I’m scared about that, and it makes me angry that the Church says little about this reality that so many of us experience.’

“And what does God say to you when you say that?”

“Different things at different times.  Sometimes God says, ‘I know.  I’m sad about that too.’  Sometimes God says, ‘I know.  Remember the story of Jesus.’  Sometimes God says, ‘I know.  Now eat this bread and drink this wine.’  And sometimes God brings honest and irritating people into my life who tell me stuff like, ‘You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word, which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.’  But a lot of the time I just watch more T.V. and God is there.”

A Safe Place to Confess

When Bonnie and I first had Moses I told myself that I was going to resist the urge to make sermon illustrations out of my experience of fatherhood, but now here I am.  The urge is just too strong…

Because if you have any doubt that there is such a thing as “original sin”, meaning that humans don’t have to learn how to sin, it’s just a built in function of our humanity to have this natural bent towards self-centeredness, an innate drive for self-preservation at all costs to the other, if you have any doubt about “original sin”, all you have to do is have a baby. And that’ll clear it up real quick.

I’m pretty much convinced now that if it were not for the witness of Christ’s Church, we wouldn’t give a second thought about God or our neighbor.  You don’t believe me?  You think babies are only sugar and spice and everything nice?

What convinced me was watching my six month old son at a play date with another six month old.  Moses was clear on the opposite side of the room playing happily by himself, when he turned to see that this other little baby was reaching towards a yellow ducky.  Instantly, Moses dropped his toy

and speed crawled across the room, with one hand he snatched the yellow ducky from the child’s finger tips, while with the other hand on the child’s head he pushed himself to his feet and proceeded to wave the yellow ducky over his head in triumph…. You little destroyer.

That’s when I realized, “The only reason why babies are so cute is because they are powerless.  If Babies actually had any real power to carry out their evil plans for world domination we would be doomed.  It would be a global pandemic.  Giant babies would be destroying homes and nations and whole continents.”

But here’s the scary thing.  We only get better at destroying as we get older.  And we get better skilled in disguising the way we snatch the yellow ducky.  At our core, we are giant-destructive-babies.

But what I love about babies is that they’re honest about it.  They are the most genuine, the most earnest people that I know.  And really, they can’t help it.  They haven’t developed the filters and disguises that we have.  They have yet to make the adult realization, “Wait a second.  Pretending to play nice might get me what I want.”

I wish I was honest about my sin as those baby-destroyers.  I wish we were all as transparent as babies are, Because also at our core, we desperately want to be seen for all of who we are.  And confession is how we do that.  As much as we might cringe at the word, repentance is what we want most.  The poet Ranier Marie Rilke makes his confession like this,

“With my half-mouth I stammer you,

who are eternal in your symmetry.

I lift to you my half-hands

in wordless beseeching, that I may find again

the eyes with which I once beheld you….

It’s here in all the pieces of my shame

that now I find myself again.

I yearn to belong to something, to be contained

in an all-embracing mind that sees me

as a single thing.

I yearn to be held

in the great hands of your heart–

oh let them take me now.”

That’s what we want.  Not to be compartmentalized in a hundred hidden pieces, but to be held in the safety of God’s hands as one thing.  Given all of my son’s self-centeredness, I absolutely adore this little guy more than I’ve adored anything in my life.  How is that possible that I am so in love with this little destroyer?

Without a doubt, that is the love that God holds us with.  And that’s the environment that God is creating in the Church.  God wants to make the church a safe place to not be right, a place where being right is not the requirement, it’s not what’s most important, because what’s most important is the grace of Jesus.  God wants to make the church a safe place to confess, where being loved and accepted is a given, it’s off the table, it’s no longer questioned.  God wants to make a safe place for us to confess: “I am not all that I pretend to be…”

A safe place to confess: “My marriage is in ruins and right now I can’t even imagine how it could be turned around…”

A safe place to confess: “I have sinned in thought, word and deed, by what I have done and what I have left undone…”

When you think about it, just about every other place in life you have to be right, you have to have it figured out, you have to justify your existence, by creating a reason for why your job should keep you around, why your friends should invite you out next weekend, why your family should do anything more than what’s obligatory.  Just about every other place in life the consequences for not being right,

is being shamed, being an outcast, being alone.

But in this place, the Word of God comes to you that says, “You are loved first and without conditions.  You are free to be wrong, because my relationship to you is not negotiable, and it’s not dependent on you being right.  It will not be taken away from you as a punishment for not having it figured out.”

My new friend Seth from our Sister Church House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver says it this way:  “I walk through the world constantly defending my right to be in the world & in the church at all …. the relief for me when I walk into House […for All] every Sunday at 5pm is that I get to be wrong – that I get to not have all the answers – that I get to talk about how I am complicit in those injustices hourly – that I get to be called to a different standard: one that is not about how right or just I can be, but one that is about how much I am loved.”

This Advent, here’s how you can prepare for when God comes close: receive these words of John the Baptist, “Repent” in a new way – in the context of safety. Because when God comes close it’s now safe to confess. When God comes close you are seen for all that you are, and you are loved.  You are utterly loved. When God comes close the question, “Who shall stand the day of his appearing?” is answered with the angelic words, “Don’t be afraid.  I’ve got good news for everyone.”

* Special thanks to Seth and her words from #c21, by which this blog was inspired (meaning I totally ripped her off).  You can read her blog here.

Human Advent Wreath


This is the opening words to this weeks Advent Worship Gathering, written by Jon Glenn.  We started around the Christ Candle in the entry way, so it wasn’t capture in the recording of the service.

Welcome to Advent at Church of the Beloved.  Advent is a womb for hope.  And it’s here that we wait and watch for what may be birthed among us, reminded of the great mystery of the incarnation and reminded that those who have been created by God now birth God into the world.

So wait here a while, for even as God formed us in our mother’s womb, God is now forming hope in us.
Watch here a while, both like the expectant mother and like the child waiting to be born.

The child has no idea what awaits on the other side of the womb.
The infant cannot even imagine that there is another side of the womb…
Likewise we wait, unsure of what to hope for, but allowing God to grow a hope in us that something beyond our wildest imagining is about to come.

For centuries the Western church has celebrated the season of Advent by marking the weeks with an Advent wreath, in which four candles surround a single candle in the center, called the Christ Candle.  Tonight we stand around the Christ candle and become a living wreath and each of us have become a candle carrying Christ’s light out from this circle.

Jesus Christ, gathered around this candle,
we remember the ways you have come into our midst,
we trust that you are among us even now,
and we long for your coming to us again.  Amen.

Let us each light a candle for the One who is hope beyond our imagination and brings hope through our imagination.

4 Intros to Advent


Last Advent we created a ‘waiting room’ for people to wait in before service began.  Each week the waiting room had a different take on the theme of waiting and created a different opportunity for praying.  Feel free to use these ideas with creativity in your own context.

[In the center of the waiting room there is a table artfully piled high with various alarm clocks which are all set to the same time—and set to go off at seven minutes after service is scheduled to start.  After the alarms sound we are invited into the back half of the house.]

“Welcome to Advent.  This is a season of waiting:

waiting for promises to be kept,

waiting for things to be made right,

waiting for Christ to come to us.

And this is your waiting room.  Tonight we gather here as sleep walkers, waiting to be awakened by God’s Spirit.  When these alarm clocks go off we’ll know it’s time to enter the sanctuary.  But while you wait you are welcome to write prayers of waking here at this table: what needs to be ‘woken up’ in the world, in the church, in you?


[‘Muzak’ is playing and couches are configured in rows and bookended by coffee tables- per a generic waiting room.  People are given a random number when they arrive.]

“Welcome to week two of Advent -the season of waiting for God, and this is literally our waiting room.  Everyone will receive a number and will be called in to the sanctuary when your number is called.  Each week we explore a different aspect of waiting, and this week is turning.  So while you wait you are invited to write your prayers of turning here:

what is God calling you to turn from?

what is God calling you to turn to?

Your prayers will be prayed anonymously later on in the service.  So, we are glad you are here, and wait your turn.”

[A laptop is set-up in the center of the waiting room and be set up to receive emails to ‘God’ for people to send prayers of expecting.]

“Welcome to Advent.  We are now three-fourths of the way through the season of Advent.  And it is here that we learn how to wait, here in the waiting room.  Advent reminds us that we are expecting someone.  We have expectations, some that we are aware of and some not.  We’ve set up a lap top here for you to prayer your prayers of expecting to God, and we’ve even set-up an email account for you, God’s Beloved.  Compose and send your prayers here and we will wait together for God’s reply.  You should know that these prayers will be annonomously offered later in the service.”  (You can project these email prayers on a central screen and allow the Gospel reading, or the Eucharist to be a God’s reply.)

[Baby sounds are playing with music and a tv monitor in the center of the waiting room is playing an ultrasound.  People are given a cigars, candy or otherwise – as a symbol of celebration.]

“Welcome to Advent.  This is the fourth advent and what we’ve been waiting for is now in sight.  Tonight we explore what it means to receive what we’ve been waiting for.  For many of us receiving is the difficult part, not the waiting.  In a few minutes everyone will be invited into the sanctuary, but before that you are welcome to make prayers of receiving:

what do you hope to receive tonight?

this week or this new year?

Then wrap your prayers in gift wrap-paper and hold on to them.  Keep them with you through the service.  Later you will have an opportunity for them to be voiced.” (“Gift” prayers are later exchanged, unwrapped and prayed)

*OPTION: You could replace any of these waiting rituals with a big pot of water on an independant heating element.  Gather people around the pot and build anticipation for boiling.  Once it boils lead people into the sanctuary.