A sermon inspired by Isaiah 16:1–5, Ephesians 3:1–6, and Luke 3:23, 31–38 as found in A Women's Lectionary for the Whole Church. Press play button ▷ above for audio.
We had a good time on Wednesday evening talking about our family trees. I am so thankful for the few who attend that each week. Not only because is makes my preparation time worth it but more importantly, we learn so much from each other, we learn so much about each other, and even deeper than that, this journey with Christ, which is challenging, feels a little less lonely for the rest of the week. This past Wednesday we shared members of our family tree that have inspired us and made us proud. But we also talked about those members of our family tree that no one talks about, or even some that have been all but erased and now only live on in rumors and hushed voices. The stories we shared! It was difficult to focus on the Bible readings because we were so captivated by our family trees!
Throughout the discussion, I had this song in my head and it hasn’t left since. It’s from the Disney movie Encanto. Encanto is a Spanish word that is a little tricky to translate into English. Just like Biblical translation, context is key. It can mean enchantment, delight, joy, but it often has a whimsical, even other-worldly notion to it, like a spell or a magical place. And that’s the way it’s used in this movie. It’s this enchanted realm that this family lives in to be protected from the evils of the outside world, only for them to realize that evil is inescapable. An example of this is the way that this family has emotionally, mentally, and spiritually abused one of their own, Bruno. I know, that sounds pretty grim for a Disney movie, but Disney’s been pretty grim since they imprisoned Dumbo’s mom and murdered Bambi’s!
Let’s switch gears and take a look at our readings for today. Our Gospel reading was “interesting.” It’s another one that isn’t typically read during Sunday worship as it doesn’t show up in either the Revised Common Lectionary or the Narrative Lectionary. Which is a shame because there’s a lot of fruit to pick here. At first glance, it’s “just” a genealogy that shows where Jesus came from. But when you ,take a moment to look at the names, you discover that something else might be going on here. There might be a covert message here, hidden behind the walls of Luke’s Gospel. First of all, it should be pointed out that the Greek manuscripts that we have of Luke do not include any women’s names in this genealogy. In an effort to make this translation as inclusive as possible, the translator added in the women that we know of connected to all those men.
This doesn’t just bring inclusivity though. It highlights the hidden message that Luke included here. Because it causes you to remember some of the stories that are connected to these names and before you know it you realize that these characters weren’t exactly the cream of the crop! In fact, there are some pretty unsavory family members included in Jesus’ family tree. Here’s some examples: Abraham’s personal fears put his wife Sarah in great danger multiple times; his grandson Jacob was a manipulative thief, his son Judah sold his own brother into slavery and then allowed his dad to believe that he died for years; and David was a murdering rapist! Add to that list, there are Gentiles included in this list! Outsiders! Gasp! How dare they! Ruth was a Moabite, remember those people because they’ll come up again, and Tamar was a Canaanite!
Now those last two might not sound like a big deal but for them it was. For them, purity of bloodlines was crucial to the survival of their people and their religion. It was forbidden, many times over throughout the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures, to “mix” with other nations. Which makes the inclusion of Gentiles in Jesus’ genealogy all the more surprising, on top of the unsavory characters! And by including them, Luke is saying, in between the lines, in between the walls, this is the blood that is running through the savior of the universe! In any other religion, a genealogy would be there to prove the purity and holiness of a divine figure. But for Luke, Jesus’ impure, profane genealogy doesn’t weaken the message, it makes it stronger!
As if to say, God’s message of love will not be held back by your or your ancestor’s behavior! God’s message of love will not be held back by your or your ancestor’s resident status, or societal status, or marital status, or criminal history, or anything else that our world tries to convince us will do so, or anything else that our religious institutions, our religious families, have tried to convince us will do so. And this has been on the books for a long time. In our reading from Isaiah, God tells her people to grant justice and shelter to the outcasts and the fugitives, even the Moabites, an ancient enemy of theirs! Going so far as to consider them birds from the same nest—family.
Likewise, in our Ephesians reading, the author states that Gentiles, outsiders, once forbidden, have now “become coinheritors, are of the same body, and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel”—family. And so I ask you, how do you define family? I asked this of our group on Wednesday and they came up with descriptors like love, protection, safety, acceptance. What would you add to that list? Maybe a better question is, who do you consider family? Blood relatives? Friends? Church? Who else would you add to that list? I can tell you who God would add to that list? Just using our readings for today, God adds strangers to that list, foreigners, criminals, enemies, those of other religious faiths, the outcasts, the erased ones, the Brunos of their world.
Your homework this week is to explore who in our world needs to be re-added to our list of family members. Who are the strangers today, the forgotten, the outcast, the erased. Who are the Brunos of our world? It’s a daunting task, I know. Trust me, I’d much rather be up here just telling you how much God loves you and how much you are included in God’s family. But then I’d only be doing half my job, because that’s only half the story. So, as you revel in the gift of being called a child of God, the privilege of having your very own leaf on God’s family tree, remember those who have been pushed behind the walls of that gift, remember Bruno, all the Brunos of our world. We need to talk about Bruno. Amen.