Tag Archives: Family of God

The Forming Family

A Sermon for 11 September 2016 – Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans Service

(NOTE:  The NRSV Scripture reading below has pronunciation hints included for some of the difficult names listed.  Use them to aid you in your reading and not just skip over the gospel writer’s message of a very important heritage!  If you stumble over any of the names below, call to mind names in your own family line — perhaps unique family names passed on through the years.  Let all those ole’ family names surround you to steep you in your own long, proud lineage!)

A reading from the gospel of Luke 3:23-38. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work. He was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli [Heé-lie], son of Matthat [Máth-that], son of Levi, son of Melchi [Mél-kigh], son of Jannai [Ján-nigh], son of Joseph, son of Mattathias, son of Amos, son of Nahum [Náy-humm], son of Esli [éS-lie], son of Naggai [Náy-guy], son of Maath [Máh-ahth], son of Mattathias, son of Semein [Sah-máy-in], son of Josech [Jóe-zech], son of Joda [Jóe-dah], son of Joanan [Joe-án-nan], son of Rhesa [Reá-sah], son of Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel [Shih-áll-te-al], son of Neri [Nár-rye], son of Melchi [Mél-kigh], son of Addi [Áh-die], son of Cosam [Có-sam], son of Elmadam [El-ma’dám], son of Er [Air], son of Joshua, son of Eliezer [El-ee-á-zar], son of Jorim [Jóe-rim], son of Matthat [Máth-that], son of Levi, son of Simeon, son of Judah, son of Joseph, son of Jonam [Jóan-ham], son of Eliakim [El-ee-á-kum], son of Melea [Mah-láy-ah], son of Menna [Mén-nah], son of Mattatha [Máh-tah-tha], son of Nathan, son of David, son of Jesse, son of Obed, son of Boaz, son of Sala [Sáh-lah], son of Nahshon [Náy-shan], son of Amminadab [Ah-mín-ah-dab], son of Admin [Ád-min], son of Arni [Ár-nigh], son of Hezron, son of Perez [Pée-rezz], son of Judah, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor [Náh-hor], son of Serug [Sáir-rug], son of Reu [Rue], son of Peleg [Péll-leg], son of Eber [Éb-ber], son of Shelah [Shéll-lah], son of Cainan [Káy-nann], son of Arphaxad [Ar-fáx-add], son of Shem, son of Noah, son of Lamech [Láh-meck], son of Methuselah, son of Enoch, son of Jared, son of Mahalaleel [Mah-háh-lah-lel], son of Cainan [Kén-nann], son of Enos, son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


I heard a quotable quote this week. It stated: “Your life will be determined over the next five years by the books you read and the people you hang around” (Jim Rohn, source unknown). It was the second time I heard that sentiment this week. During an interview, an inspirational speaker said something like: who you love and spend your time with drastically impacts who you end up becoming. . . . It gives us pause to consider the people who are around us each day. They affect us – for good or ill. Think about it: if you are a young child who spends each day in a classroom of an angry, bitter, cutting teacher; I dare say you’re going to face pretty significant problems. If you are a teenager who surrounds yourself with other teens that try really hard to make a positive difference in the world; then even if it’s against your own will, it’s likely you’ll be pulled along to find yourself helping out others a little bit each day. If you are a grown adult who always is alone, your own mind may take over – leaving you in a state of constant worry, causing you to think you don’t matter to anybody else in the world, or maybe over-inflating how wonderful you may think you are. But if you surround yourself with friends who make you laugh, co-workers who encourage you instead of compete, family members interested in knowing more about what really matters to you; then it’s likely your life will grow into a garden of great joy. For you not only will love and cherish yourself. You’ll find yourself grateful for the amazing people with you on the journey. You will become someone who makes others laugh, encourages instead of competes, and wants to know more about what really matters to others. Your life will blossom to bring a beautiful fragrance to the world.

Though two of the New Testament gospels give the genealogical ancestry of Jesus, we are left to speculate about who surrounded him those first thirty years of his life. Before he stepped out into the Jordan River to be baptized by John; who greatly impacted his life each day? He wasn’t a loner – the culture in which he lived really wasn’t set up that way as is ours. He was a part of a family – a clan of a nation that long had known tremendous upheaval. In chapter three of the gospel of Luke, he’s traced back through the one thought to be his father, named Joseph. We’re told he came from the line of King David – which was why Joseph had to take his about-to-burst pregnant wife with him to Bethlehem when the Romans wanted to count up everyone in the lands they occupied. They were to be registered, not for any sort of upcoming election. More likely it was to know how much tax the Romans could expect from each of the lands they occupied. So Joseph loyally and courageously took Mary with him – ensuring a young woman impregnated before she was properly married was not left undefended back home in Nazareth. The story goes that Mary gives birth out back in the cave for the animals in order to ensure no other travelers to Bethlehem are defiled by her unclean state that night. And, though I doubt men were involved in childbirth in those days, we like to believe that dutiful Joseph is nervously pacing right there at her side the whole way. The infant descendent of King David through his father’s line, and likely of the great line of Israel’s priests through his mother’s side, is born into humble conditions while his parents were on the move out of town.

Luke seems to tell of Jesus’ birth more from the perspective of his mother Mary – leaving out a whole lot of details about the one thought to be his father. But it is made clear that both of his parents were God-loving Jews. They saw to the Jewish rites of his naming and presentation in the Temple. Luke 2 records: “When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they [Mary and Joseph] brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it was written in the law of the LORD, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the LORD), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the LORD, ‘a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons’” (Luke 2:22-24). Skip ahead a few years to when Jesus was twelve, and the gospel of Luke records that “Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover” (Luke 2:41). They were a faithful family practicing the religious rites of their people in order to be connected with their God. . . . These parts of Jesus’ story are unique to the gospel of Luke which leaves us to wonder – especially on a day like today when we come together to celebrate our family and faith ancestry. We’ve got to wonder how much this gospel writer wanted to emphasize the importance of being grounded for our work in this world by a faithful, God-loving family.

It may not have been the case for us all. Maybe our parents were or maybe they were not God-lovers who ensured we were raised early on as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. Maybe today you brought with you a tartan or other family symbol that leaves you flooded with memories of love. Maybe you are finding yourself today nourished in this time of remembrance by moments when your mom took you along to help out aging neighbors, or your father taught you how to say your prayers at night before closing your eyes to sleep. Maybe your family symbol reminds you today of the grace you experienced from a grandfather who always had a soft spot in his heart for you, no matter how you messed up in your choices. Can you recall a great-grandfather or great-grandmother who taught you how to bait a fishing hook or feed the birds in order to just enjoy the beauty of God’s amazing creation? . . . Even if the particulars aren’t the same, I hope you can dig down deep enough inside to be sustained by experiences of at least one family member who treasured you as a precious gift from God. That’s worth celebrating today. Worth giving thanks to God for being born into a circle of love that has dramatically impacted for good who you have become!

And if you were not, know all is not lost. You are here. Now. And your commitment to Christ transfers you into another family. A family that better be sustaining you and showing you every moment that you are a treasured, precious gift to this world from God! It’s so easy to lose our way, as Christ’s body, the church. To forget why we really exist. We are here together in this world to be the kind of people, to each other and to all those we meet every week, to be the kind of people who positively impact the lives of others. We are here to lift each other’s burdens, and to be examples of faithfulness even when it’s costly, and to inspire others to commit to God’s way of love. We are together to ensure no one has to try to go it alone in this life – that all are welcomed and cherished for who they are just because they are our brothers and sisters in the human family – gifts given by God to shape us more fully into that beautiful fragrance needed in the world today.

We are family to each other now – whether we have a loving biological family beside us each day too or not. We are the family of God. Sons and daughters, and siblings to one another, of the One who once took on human flesh to be about a great work in and for this world. Surrounded in such a way, it’s a joy to consider who we shall become.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.


© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

Your Great Cloud

A Sermon for 13 September 2015 – Worship inspired by the Scottish Highland Games

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-12, 23-31, 12:1-3

A reading of various verses from Hebrews chapter 11 and 12. Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. . . . By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’ . . . By faith Moses was hidden by his parents for three months after his birth, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace. . . . Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Perhaps you’re like me and today, in this Scottish-inspired service of worship, is the first time you’ve really heard of tartans. But that doesn’t mean we know nothing of our ancestors – at least I hope not! . . . After a year and a half of having my life in storage, it all arrived this week at the house I’ve been moving into. Box after box after box! Though exhausting, the fun has been unpacking to find hidden treasures. Late the other night, I tackled a dish barrel that wasn’t very well labeled. Before I knew it, I was walking down memory lane. I unwrapped dish after dish after dish from my maternal grandmother. Sometime when I was about ten, my grandmother set out to buy up 24 place settings of dishes for one of my sisters, our cousin, and myself. Do you remember when you used to be able to do that one piece at a time at the grocery store? 24 plates, 24 cups, and 24 saucers for each of the three of us. As I unwrapped my set the other night, I was overwhelmed by the determination of my grandmother. That couldn’t have been an easy task! Through that grocery store points for dishes or however that all worked, she was dead-set on ensuring the three of us had enough place settings to feed a small army! The wonderful thing is that her devoted gift connects me still not just to her, but in a special way to my sister and cousin too. Grandma died while the three of us still were in high school – which really turned our lives upside-down as she was the pillar of our family who got us all together at her house at least one or two Sunday lunches a month. Her place settings remind me of her deep commitment to being a family together. Knowing each other and sitting down together regularly to eat and laugh and enjoy each other. I hope today you too can remember a grandmother like that!

In another box from the moving truck, I pulled out memories of my paternal great-grandfather. He was ancient for as long as I can remember him. No longer able to see when I was a kid, great-grandpa and great grand-ma lived next door. It was a great treat to be the one to bring them their daily mail. Great-grandma would go to get you a cookie while great-grandpa entertained you with his simple tricks. He had this thing he could do with his fingers – some cool way of rapping his knuckles on the counter top that I never have been able to mimic. In the winters he logged in the woods at the lake, which is how he lost half of the fingers on his left hand. It’s what made him make that extra cool noise when he rapped his fingers on the countertop. He always wanted to make us kids figure out some sort of trick. He engaged us and taught us so much – some of it even useful. Did you have the good fortune of knowing such a great-grandparent? . . . Before my great-grandpa lost half his fingers, he was an amazing artist. Chalk was his preferred medium and I am proud to have three incredibly intricate, beautiful scenes he created. I’m sure some would look at them and think: “Uh. They’re ok.” I look at them and remember the hands of that loving man who was a tender trickster – the way he showed his great-grandchildren that we really mattered to him. And whatever wisdom, love, and fun he could pass on to us, he’d certainly do his best to do it.

It’s not just the tartans and family symbols we’ve each brought here with us today that remind me of such things. It’s Hebrews also. Abraham and Sarah. The faith of Moses and the Israelites. Even Rahab, a foreign prostitute, whose courageous actions on behalf of God’s people name her a hero in the great line of faith from which we all come. Such an amazing cloud of witnesses, Hebrews reminds us. All of them – though we’ve not met them in person – still, as ancestors in Christ, it’s as if they surround us in this great arena called life. Urging us on by the testimony of their lives. By the encouragement of their faith. Like a roaring crowd of fans peering on the field to see how the players carry out the next move. All of these surround us each day as we seek to faithfully live the moments of our lives. . . . We’ve got the incredible trust of Father Abraham and Mother Sarah too. Imagine setting out for a whole new way of life when you’re about 80 years old – all because God shows up to whisper in your ear: “I’ve got a little something yet for you to do.” . . . And Moses. We fail to remember his great sacrifice. He could have kept himself in line with the Pharaoh of Egypt, having been raised by the princess in her kingly father’s luxurious palace. But somehow Moses not only saw the injustice, but he also decided to side against it. He was enraged by the suffering of his people who had been made slaves of the Pharaoh in order to keep him and his land in the lavish lifestyle they had come to expect. Moses fled Egypt – only to be brought back years later as a mighty liberator. One courageous enough to go stand before the Pharaoh to say: “The Sovereign LORD of the universe says: ‘let my people go!’” . . . And what about Rahab? She didn’t have to act with such bravery. She didn’t have to aid the spies of Israel against her own Canaanite people. Her courage, her insight, her determination to keep peace for herself and her family with those besieging her city ensured she and her family were safe – even as she showed her awe of the God of the Israelite people (Joshua 2). . . . These all are a part of our collective great cloud. Those from whom we can learn because of the faithful examples of their lives.

What about your great cloud? Who else from your life is a part of it? . . . I wish each one of us had time to tell today of the family symbols we’ve brought. But more so, I wish we each could speak of the way we’ve been shaped by the people behind our symbols. Maybe we can tell each other about it at coffee in the fellowship hall after worship. . . . Did you learn to read because of one of them? Did you know your worth because of one of them? Despite one of them, did you grow into a more loving person – a person ready and able to let go and forgive so you wouldn’t become a reflection of another’s bitterness? . . . Who is in your great cloud cheering you on each day? Leading you by the example of their lives all throughout your years? We are because they were – are still. . . . As our liturgy of the tartans reminded us at the start of this service: we have a responsibility because of them – because of the heritage of faith passed on to us by them. . . . We have been gifted, and comforted, and challenged by the love of our families – our moms and dads and grandpas and grandmas and brothers and sisters all in God’s great family of faith. Because of them – because of those who make up our great cloud, we are to welcome the stranger as one of our own. We are to sacrifice too to live out the love of God despite the cost because others will come after us who need our lives to be their testimonies. Because of the families and nations and ancestors all around, we give thanks to God and we re-commit ourselves to doing justice and loving mercy and walking humbly with God. This is our way to be Christ’s grace each day. This is our way to carry on the faith of our great cloud and ensure our lives are added to the great cloud for the benefit of those yet to come.

Therefore, carry on! As the writer of Hebrews so eloquently put it: “Run! Run with perseverance the race that is set before us. Look to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 11:1b-2a). Do not grow weary or lose heart. . . . And when you feel like you are, listen for the cheers of your great cloud! Let them direct you back onto Christ’s path each day!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)