Note: This sermon began with a series of pictures of fruits, vegetables, and nuts that are hard to identify by the way they grow. If you want to see those pictures they’ll be a part of the video for this sermon on our vimeo page.
Of course literal fruit isn’t the only thing that comes from strange places. There are things that come to us at unexpected times or in strange locations. I have been to Washington DC under three different presidents, I have been to the September 11th Memorial, I have performed with a band at Pearl Harbor, and yet one of the moments I have felt the most pride in America came last February, sitting in a hospital room at 2:30 in the morning, watching the Olympic Curling team win the gold medal. I promise you I’m being serious, do you know the story? The captain, John Schuster, was seen as the best “Curler” in the US but failed so spectacularly in 2014 that the Olympic Committee changed the qualifying rules to try to keep him from being on the team again. In response to that, he built his own team from people he found in bars, won the US qualifying trials, and won a gold medal. Something about that moved me as I sat there in the wee hours of the morning on like the second day of my son’s life. Because as dumb as that story may be there isn’t another place in the world where it happens.
Fruit comes to us from strange places sometimes, it comes from places we don’t expect, but it also can come from places we actively avoid, and that’s what we’re going to look at over these next few weeks: fruit – spiritual fruit, fruit for our souls and lives, that comes from places in scripture we wouldn’t expect. Because, if we’re being honest, we’ve all got parts of scripture we like more than others and we’ve all got parts we tend to avoid for a variety of reasons. Some things we avoid because (and I hope I can say this without getting in trouble) its boring. Some parts of the Bible are just more exciting and interesting than others. Some things we avoid because its uncomfortable or outdated – these books were written a long time ago and there are some things that don’t seem to fit with what we know about the world now. Some things we avoid because we don’t understand them, and then some things we avoid because we do understand them and we don’t like what they say. Now that last one is a whole series in itself but we’re going to try tackle some of the common things that come up in those first three during January and February.
So, its January 6th. Perhaps some of us decided that in the New Year we’re going to be really committed to reading one chapter of scripture a day. We started in Genesis because it comes first and that’s how reading works. Day 1, Chapter 1 – God creates the heavens and the earth, great chapter, lots going on, easy read. Day 2, Chapter 2 – Creation continues, gets more personal, we’re introduced to Adam and Eve. Day 3 – conflict emerges. Adam and Eve eat the fruit they’ve been told not to, they get kicked out of paradise. Day 4 – the conflict escalates. Adam and Eve have children, one kills the other, the issue that caused them to be kicked out of Eden is taking root and getting worse. So at this point, if you’re just reading Genesis as book, as just a piece of literature telling a story, it is doing a great job. There’s a big event at the beginning gets you hooked, you meet characters that you are interested in, something goes wrong and then gets worse, now you’ve got the hook of the story: sin has caused humanity to be removed from paradise, the rest of the story is going to be about how they get back. That’s a story you want to read, you’re excited to see what happens next, you get to Day 5, Chapter 5 – “This is the written account of Adam’s family line.” Thirty-two verses in that chapter. THIRTY-TWO. That does not help momentum. If you submitted those first five chapters to a creative writing class chapter 5 would get ripped to shreds. And then it happens again and again, not just in Genesis but throughout scripture, the story gets interrupted by these lists. It happens right as the people get out of Egypt in Exodus, it happens right as they’re about the enter the promised land in Joshua, it happens for nine full chapters at the beginning of first Chronicles, it even shows up in the Gospels, Matthew and Luke both have these lists. And they seem to kill momentum and they seem really boring and they leave you saying “why? What’s the point?” At first glance they seem like a waste, but there are a couple of things that the genealogies do that are important for the text itself, and can also be important reminders for us.
The first thing they do, particularly in Genesis, is mark the passage of time. They serve the same purpose as a line at the bottom of a movie screen letting us know that the scene that’s starting takes place x number of years later. Genesis 5 gets us from Adam’s story to Noah’s, which moves us through hundreds if not thousands of years. Same thing later on in Genesis when we get a genealogy from Noah to Abraham, and same thing in Matthew and Luke when we go from the Old Testament to the New. They show the readers how much time has passed, which is important for being able to read them, but keeping track of time passing is also important for us in life.
Here’s an example: America is only four Presidents old. When George H.W Bush was born, Warren Harding was still alive. When Harding was born, James Buchanan was alive. When Buchanan was born, George Washington was still alive. That’s interesting, but why does it matter – well, it matters because we aren’t as old and established as a nation as we think sometimes, which should shape how we react to change and progress. Here’s an example that’s closer to home – how many of you went to a segregated school at some point in your life? My mom did. So we talk about segregation like its years and years ago, which it is in terms of the passage of time, but we’re actually just barely a generation removed. Keeping track of the passage of time reminds us how close or far to situations we are, which should make us recognize what has been lost to time but also what isn’t that far removed from our present context.
The genealogies also ground the story in reality. There are stories about your family that you believe that you wouldn’t believe about other people. My dad had neighbors growing up who had so many kids that one had to sleep in a crib until he was twelve. That’s not real! But my Dad says it is so I believe it because I believe he wouldn’t lie to me. My grandfather was a communications officer with the Atlantic fleet during Korea. One day when they were out doing maneuvers, they pinged a Soviet submarine on the radar in US territorial waters. They tried to contact it, no answer. That happened a couple of times so they contacted the commander of the fleet, he gave the order to fire. My grandfather was tapping out the command when the Russians finally responded and the crisis was avoided. We were seconds away from World War Three. I believe that because I have a connection to it. When Israel read these genealogies they were connected to the people living these events. They happened to real people so you could trust that they were true events. The genealogies are important because they take what would otherwise just be a collection of stories and make them history. They make them trustworthy. We have faith because of our own experiences but also because of the stories of faith that have come before. There are people in this room with stories of healing when all hope was lost and of blessings that came out of nowhere and of hope in dark places and I believe those stories because I know you and I believe you. And if you tell me it is true then I have something to cling to in the moments when my own story isn’t enough.
The last thing these genealogies do is connect the present to the past. This is not just a story of something that did happen, this is the story of something that is still happening. Genesis gets written down in its final form after the Jewish people had been conquered by Babylon. They needed to know that what God had started was not finished yet. The readers of the Gospels needed to know that the same God who began the work of returning humanity to paradise was doing it through Jesus. They needed that connection to the past. You and I need to know that the story isn’t over yet. You and I need to know, as another year begins, with all the uncertainties that come with it, that God has never stopped reaching out to humanity, that from the moment Adam and Eve left the garden God has been at work to show us the way back. Read the lists. Read the lists because they show that God has been and will be. Read the lists because they remind us that God is still there. Read the lists, because the connect us to a faith that has stood the tests of time. Read the lists because they point toward Jesus Christ, and he points the way to life. Not mere existence. Not simply survival. Life, lived to the fullest.