by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
The Christian life is more than finding Jesus – it is following Jesus. Following, it turns out, is not a one-time spectacular act of faith, but a one-day-at-a-time, ordinary, unspectacular following; a daily act of fearlessness that takes us through the most frightening and rugged terrain to a place of peace, joy and abandon.
Yaconelli Dangerous Wonder p57
Ordinary People in an Extraordinary Story
Our Scripture lesson this morning is from Matthew’s gospel, chapter one, the first 17 verses. Listen to God’s word.
“Matthew 1:1-17” This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
However, I hope you don’t feel too guilty if you aren’t excited about this passage. It is God’s word but it is about as inspiring as reading through a phone book. It’s a genealogy, just a list of names.
The Bible is filled with genealogies. What do you do with them? To be honest, most of the time when I come to a genealogy I just skim over it, seeing if I recognize any names. If I have counted correctly, this genealogy has 47 names in it. 10 of them are probably familiar to most of us – Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David and Solomon, Joseph and Mary. If you are a biblical scholar there might be 5 or 6 other names that you recognize. The other names are ones that we don’t know much about. For the most part, it is just list of names. They were ordinary people, just like you and I.
Fred Craddock tells about the time he was summoned for jury duty to the Superior Court of DeKalb County, Georgia. On Monday morning at 9:00 AM he showed up at the courthouse with 240 other people who were also summoned. The deputy clerk stood up and read the list of names. They weren’t in alphabetical order, so he had to pay attention. Dr. Craddock said, “As I listened to the names, I began to listen.”
There were two Bill Johnsons. One was white, and the other was black. Same name, but very different lives. There was a man named Clark. The clerk called out, “Mrs. Clark.” and the man said, “Here.” The clerk looked up, and again said, “Mrs. Clark.” Again the man said “Here.” A third time the clerk said “Mrs. Clark.” The man said, “I thought the letter was for me so I opened it.” The clerk said, “We summoned Mrs. Clark.” Mr. Clark responded, “I’m here, can I do it? She doesn’t have any interest in this sort of thing.” The clerk replied, “How do you know? She doesn’t even know she’s been summoned.”
The clerk continued on through the list. One of the names was Zerfel Lischenstein. It was mispronounced 5 or 6 times, and each time Mr. Lischenstein insisted that they say it correctly. Finally, he stood up in a huff and said, “I see no reason why I should serve on a jury in a court that can’t pronounce my name.” The woman sitting next to Dr. Craddock said, “Lischenstein, I wonder if he’s a Jew.” Dr. Craddock said, “I don’t know. Could be. Does it matter?” The woman said, “My name is Zeller. I’m German. I might have to sit next to him on a jury.” Dr. Craddock said, “World War II was more than 40 years ago. You were probably just a child then.” The woman replied, “I was 10. I remember visiting my Grandma’s house. She lived 4 miles from Buchenwald. I smelled the odor from the ovens.” It wasn’t just a list of names to her.
Down in Washington D.C. there is a list of names, written on a wall. It’s called the Vietnam Memorial. 58307 names of men and women who died in Vietnam, or who are still missing. To the best of my knowledge I don’t know anyone whose name is on the wall, but when Tanya and I visited the wall 30 years ago it was a powerful experience, very emotional. Don’t tell me it is just a list of names. To those who know someone whose name is etched in the granite, it is far more than just a list. Watch people as they caress the letters of a name, as they pray and weep, look at all the flowers, the flags, and other presents that are left, in memory of those they lost. It is not just a list of names.
On December 18th there was a list of names in our bulletin. 58 poinsettias were given in honor or memory of a variety of people: Gail Zalucky, Betty Stewart, Anneliese Endress, Perky Campbell. Don’t tell me it’s just a list of names.
Ten years ago was the first time I had ever given a poinsettia in memory of someone. Lorraine Hryskanich is a name that doesn’t mean anything to you, but she was a close family friend and like my second mom. She had died a few weeks earlier. And for the first time ever I looked very intentionally at the list of names connected with the poinsettias. It is a list of names of people who touched our lives, whose death has left an empty place inside of us.
Most of us will never be famous. People aren’t going to hear the name Doug Marshall, or Wayne Schuliger, or ????, and think, “Wow, they are right up there with Abraham and Ruth and David.” If our names are on a list most people in the world will skim right past them. We are ordinary people. But we have an extraordinary God who has included our names in the list of those who belong to His people. Because we have an extraordinary God, we are all part of an extraordinary story.
Our names are not on the list because we deserve it. If you look at Matthew’s genealogy there are some very unlikely names on it. One man gave his wife to another man, simply to save his own life. Another man committed adultery and covered it up with murder. One lied and stole from his family. There are 5 women on the list, and when you remember how male dominant the Hebrew society was that is an amazing fact. This list reminds us that God works in strange ways through some very ordinary people. That is good news, because it means that we are part of the list through God’s grace. We don’t deserve to be on the list because of what we have done. It isn’t “just a list.” It is a list of ordinary, sinful, human beings, people just like we are, who have been included among God’s people through the grace of Jesus Christ.
Today is January 1. The beginning of a brand new year. The passage I read is a reminder that through the grace of God in Jesus Christ all of us have a new beginning. Some of you may know that the first word in the Old Testament is “genesis,” the name of the book. It means beginning. Genesis is the story of the beginning of God’s creation and the beginning of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. What you may not realize is that the second word in the New Testament is “genesis.” Most translations use the word generations or genealogy, but it is the same word as genesis, beginning. The New Testament is the story of a new beginning, a new relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Many people make New Year’s resolutions. You’re going to spend less money and save more, or give more to the church. You’re going to read your Bible or pray every day. You’re going to start that diet, or that exercise program to lose the pounds you gained during the holidays. You are going to drive slower and be more patient. Whatever it is, if you keep your resolution through January you will be doing better than most people. I’ll be lucky to make it through tomorrow. We work hard at keeping our resolutions, but so often we fail. Maybe it’s not failure at our resolutions but failing at our jobs, or our relationships. Maybe it’s a failure through our sin.
The reality is that we all fail and need second chances. We all need new beginnings. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God gives us a second chance, a new beginning. No matter what our past is or how badly we have failed, God picks us up, brushes the dirt off us, heals our wounds and says, “Try again. I know that you can do better.”
You and I are ordinary people, people who need a new beginning. Through the grace of Jesus Christ ordinary people are included in God’s story and given a new beginning. That is who Jesus is and what Jesus does. Thanks be to God.