Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's In a Name?

Today's invitation is to do something that preachers are always told to avoid. Well, kind of. A standard piece of homiletic advice is, "don't preach the lists." In other words, avoid using the texts that are long lists of names. Reading them out loud in worship is said to be deadly dull.
Well, reading them quietly is not much better. But here is the list, from Matthew, that we're invited to read:
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, 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, 5and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, 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, 15and 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.
We are invited to consider the real human beings with their own messy lives represented in that list, and consider the same with a contemporary list -- for example, a phone book.
But frankly, I don't find much difficulty or challenge or depth in praying the lists that way. Sure, I can hold in the light dozens of people I do not know, but I don't feel drawn into any relationship with them, any accountability toward them, any responsibility for them.
The list in Matthew, on the other hand, is intended to evoke certain memories. Check again who is in it, and who is not. Mostly it's men, but the women named or alluded to are interesting because each was extremely marginalized in her social context. There is a particularity to their circumstances that would seem to make it impossible to expect anything great to come from them. Indeed, in would be hard to imagine that anything at all would come from their lives. They would have been among the cast off and cast aside.
Why would God choose such as these?
Hm ... why should I care for such as these?
All of which brings me to my evening's activity: attending a gumbo dinner at Sojourners that raised some money for a Sojo work trip to New Orleans this Holy Week. After dinner, we watched act 1 of Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke.
The documentary includes numerous interviews with survivors of Katrina. Most of them are folks you've never heard of, just like the genealogy of Jesus. But when they were forgotten and left behind by their government, God reached out to them through the hands of thousands of volunteers. (Which does not excuse the public sector or get it off the hook in any way for the continuing disaster in many lives along the Gulf Coast.)
So, this evening, as I read the list from Matthew, I thought of the folks we helped in Mississippi in the immediate aftermath of the storm and the hundreds of thousands of others just like them. And my prayer is that I have the faithfulness to, at the very least, enable others to give hands and feet to the prayer so that lives can continue to be touched.

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