Aha! We all belong here!

Date: 
Sunday, January 6, 2019
Scriptures: 
Matthew 2:1-12
Aha!  You belong here!
 
Scott Hoezee, writing for the Centre for excellence in preaching, notes:
"Strange, isn’t it?  For ever-so-long now the Church has often been seen by those outside of the Church—and not infrequently by even a good many folks inside the Church—as being a kind of exclusive club. "
 
It’s not a strange thing to think that.  Consider how the church has included and excluded through the ages - excommunicated is a word we have heard connected to the Church, where an individual would not be able to participate in the life of the church because of some reason....  In some cases, the reason seems to have been that they were keeping company with someone who was excommunicated.  I think every church has a way of removing members, or suspending privileges - even the United Church does.  
 
But the exclusive club image of the church does not rest so much with the question of excommunication or its equivalents.  It has to do with attitudes and approaches.  There are terrible examples in the history of the church. 
missionaries to countries like China who, in some cases, preached that not only do you need to accept Jesus as the Christ, but you also need to eat with a knife and fork.  Otherwise, you’re still ‘out’.
the slave owners who resisted or refused to allow people to share the Good News with the slaves
strict racial segregation that extended to the church
 
And then - the men’s club - where men have held power for so very long.  The United Church is happy now to have been one of the earlier churches to ordain women.  That was in 1936..... only four centuries after reformation began.  And only after our own General Council refused Lydia Gruchy’s ordination for 13 years for the usual kinds of reasons -  she was not representative of other women because she was the only one requesting ordination, proving that women did not want to be ordained; ordination would discriminate against married women who could not properly fulfill their duties to their spouses and children and simultaneously pastor; ordination would cause women to lose their "womanliness".  And so on.
 
And we can get into the whole question of sexual orientation as well - in regards ordination, or in regards marriage, or any of the other issues related to the LGBTQ community.
 
Yes, the church can be regarded as a kind of exclusive club, and sometimes an exclusive men’s club.
 
And what, you might be wondering, has this got to do with the Magi coming to see Jesus in Bethlehem?
 
Well, let me back up.   The visit to Bethlehem is in Matthew chapter 2.  But I want to go back to Matthew chapter 1.
 
This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: 2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar, Perez the father of Hezron, 
 
Whoa.  Just a second.  Did you hear me say Judah, the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar?  THIS Tamar person is part of the lineage of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ-Child?
Okay, Tamar is not one that we learnt about in Sunday School.  I don’t expect so, anyhow.  Tamar was married to Judah’s first son Er.  Fine.  But that didn’t work very well - won’t get into why, and Er died before Tamar had any children.  So, according the practices of the day, Tamar then became the wife of the next brother, Onan.  Who, on purpose, had no children with her, and then died soon as well.  Judah, the father, had one other son, but when that son grew up, Judah refused to let him be married to Tamar.  But Tamar - well, you know how children were important in the day.  So, Tamar dressed up in disguise as a prostitute, had a liaison with Judah - the father of her two now-dead husbands (I’m saying “yuck”), and became pregnant.... and then had to prove to Judah, who had not recognized who the “prostitute” was (who never was a prostitute), that he was, biologically, the father of the child.  Who was part the lineage of Jesus.
 
Oh, shall we go farther?
 
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab....  
Rahab.  This one actually was a prostitute.  But she protected spied sent by Joshua, and showed faithfulness and bravery in so doing.
 
Oh, and don’t forget Ruth - actually a wonderful, loyal woman.... but she was a foreigner, you know.
 
 and Jesse the father of King David. David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah's wife, 
 
Now, there is a story that some of us know about, though not taught in Sunday School either.  That’s the story of King David committing adultery with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, who did not have a whole lot of choice.  And then King David conspired to have Uriah killed in battle.
 
Yup, part of the lineage. 
 
Is it not curious that the writer of Matthew mentions only these particular women - and Mary, noted as the husband of Joseph - in the lineage?  Does not mention others - the women who were not connected to some scandal, or who were not ‘outsiders’.... the women who were just good, faithful women keeping their kitchens kosher and having children in the normal, regular fashion.
 
What’s the point in mentioning them, without listing all the women, all the mothers?
Does it not break down the doors of the exclusive club?
If the lineage of our Saviour, if the lineage of the Christ-child includes THOSE folk..... then surely the body of Christ today, which is the church, includes “THOSE” people too.
And I use “those” people to include anyone who is not looking like us, speaking like us, dressing like us, having relationships just like us....
 
Except for one thing..... once you get to that point - there is no “those” people.  Its just “us” got bigger and more varied..... 
 
Aha!  You belong here!  Each of us.  And everyone else.
 
Yes, the church can be regarded as a kind of exclusive club, and sometimes an exclusive men’s club.  But when one reads the lineage of Jesus.... the doors start to get broken down.
 
And what, you might be wondering, has this got to do with the Magi coming to see Jesus in Bethlehem?
 
Simple.  The Magi where “them”.   Can you imagine when they came into Jerusalem, and the children ran home to tell mom and dad how they had seen “THEM”.  “THOSE PEOPLE” - the ones on camels, the ones who dressed funny, the ones who did not even speak Hebrew and spoke Latin and Greek with funny accents. Even a different religion, those folk.   THEM.
 
And when they got to little Bethlehem - even more so.  Oh, you see lots of stuff in Montreal.... but when we see the same thing in the middle of the village, we might notice even more the piercings, the accents, the clothes, the past....
 
THOSE people.  With their funny gifts.  They were not a part of Jesus’ lineage.  But they were a part of his story.
And they were no longer “THEM” - they were a part of the “us” who gathered to worship, to celebrate and to be inspired.
 
Aha!  You belong here!  Each of us.  And everyone else.
No more exclusive club.
The doors to the church are broken down - and there is no “US and THEM”. 
There is not “We vs the Other People”.  
 
There is just a bigger “US”.
Aha!  You belong here!  Each of us.  And everyone else.