Thursday, October 5, 2017

Remembrances: Our Grandmother, Helen Marie Jones Swann

Warm, summer sun, shine brightly here. Warm, summer wind, blow softly here.

When I visited Grandmother several months ago, when she was in the middle of a battle with the Anxious, I said to her, "I would take it away if I could." She thought for a minute and then replied, "but if you took it away, then nothing would be the same."

The profoundness of that statement has stuck with me. Even in the midst of fear and even though she was where she was in life, her wisdom shined brightly and she taught me something and comforted me.

There is something worthwhile in the burden. There is value in shared wisdom. There is strength that is passed on from generation to generation.

Even in the midst of our grief today, we can be comforted by our love-filled memories. Our grief is heavy because our love for each other is BIG.

Considering these thoughts and considering who she was--wise and literary--it should have come as no surprise to us when she started talking about having a baby a couple of weeks ago.
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Indeed, she birthed a lot in this world. She shared her gifts of love even when she didn't realize, even when we didn't realize what she was doing.

Her house was a sanctuary. Growing up, when the days and months and years were longer, as soon as my family and I arrived from Georgia, I would run upstairs and usually find her in the kitchen. After saying hello, “Hey Hon,” she would say, I'd then take a strawberry hard candy from the cabinet and pick up the phone. Four long rotary digits later, I told my cousins to come over and play.

And we would paint our nails or play Rook at the round kitchen table or play office or dress-up in the basement, making good use of an old letterman jacket and several old prom dresses.

On occasion, perhaps Grandmother agreed to this when she needed it a little quieter, we would pack supplies and take the seemingly half-day trek through the pasture to the river. Anne Marie would lead us in song, All the leaves are brown…, and around cow patties and our adventures would always be grand.

At night, Grandmother would tuck us all into the king-sized bed and we would giggle until sleep won. And in the morning, particularly if Tripp were in town, she would make the best pancakes--crispy, buttery edges, no need for syrup--and drink frozen milk or Tang. Sugar used to be kinder...

She traveled to recitals and ballgames, edited our college papers, taught us to play Rook--never Bridge--we would never have won anyhow, and compared literary notes about Moby Dick.

She made us mashed potatoes, Hello Dolly and chocolate pies, and slipped us cash every now and then. She always told us how proud she was of us.

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She filmed documentary-length video tapes of family gatherings, as well as our travels around the majority of the United States.

She took us to movies and McDonalds and taught us to count our blessings and our pennies.

She taught us to be generous. She showed us how to reuse. She modeled Christian faithfulness.

Dear Grandmother, enjoy fully your reunion. Rest and rejoice, assured that we, your sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, neighbors and friends--rest assured that we will take care of this thing you have birthed. We will love and we will give and we will be faithful followers.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A Transformational Story

A Sermon Given to St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church
By Stephanie Little Coyne
July 9th, 2017

Before I went to seminary, I read the Bible in one of three settings: through traditional Bible Study, through Devotional Studies that focused mainly on life application with a side of scripture, or luckily, since I was the daughter of a wise high school English teacher, I read the Bible through a literary lens.
The latter reading style—outside of any experiential revelations—is what has kept me connected to this book, even when I wasn’t sure that the Bible contained any sort of everlasting truth. Whether she knows it or not, my mom gave me the gifts of Soul Freedom and Soul Competency way before I knew what they were…way before I knew I was a Baptist.
In addition to the personal connection this way of reading the Bible provided me, Mom also modeled, by her faith, some of the limitations to this formal literary criticism—there is a foundation of Truth in Biblical literature that must always be considered—the Bible, read by a Christian, is always seen in an authoritative way whereas other literature is not. Studying the language and the history and the culture are essential components of Bible study. Let’s call this combined critical form “Blessed Assurance.”
One of my first classes in seminary was Spiritual Formation, seemingly one of the hollow introductory classes that every beginning student must take. Instead, in learning about the many other ways to experience scripture, some of which drew upon my literary background, I began finding my niche among the Greek and Biblical scholar students with whom I shared classroom space. Criticism, myth, and study all had their place in the foundations of my theology, and I was learning in sacred and safe, albeit classroom space, that my reading lenses were valid! Historical criticism, the literary term for the ordinary world, was now the much holier, more sacred, (and more German,) “Sitz im Leben,” or “setting in life.”

Contextually, the Bible, especially the Old Testament, places the reader in a primeval part of history, where we know, of course, that things weren’t written down, they were spoken and then repeated. But consider this: if you lived in this part of history, everything you knew would’ve been told to you—you wouldn’t have learned anything by reading. So, anything that you might experience would be paralleled with stories passed down to you. And you would repeat your stories in light of those stories, and so on and so forth.
The meat of those stories would have to be good, else they would have been forgotten. And as they were passed down from generation to generation, those stories grew into legends and mythological-type layers of meaning might also have been added, just as other stories from these early eras of time.
If I sound like I might be setting you up for something, I am, but please don’t hear me say that the Bible is just a legend, regardless of how many times the stories are told; I believe that God remained in and with the stories as a gardener might maintain her soil, ensuring that life-sustaining nourishment would still exist, no matter how many times the garden was harvested.
In her book, Soul Feast, Marjorie Thompson writes:
Thomas Merton, the renowned twentieth-century Trappist monk,….said that in scripture we discover “the strange and paradoxical world of meanings and experiences that are beyond us and yet often extremely and mysteriously relevant to us.”
She continues:
If scripture truly has this character, we can expect to encounter the divine presence in its pages. It is not that the words magically or mechanically contain God’s presence but that, as we allow the same Spirit through which the scriptures were written to inform our listening, the presence of God in and beyond those words becomes alive for us once more.
I have recently wandered back into the reading of scripture through lectio divina, or “hearing the words of scripture with the eyes of your heart,” and today, I offer you three readings based in my combination “literary-myth-lectio divina” process.
I invite you to join along by jotting down the words and phrases and revelations that may speak to you today. I will ask a lot of questions and not give nearly as many answers—a perk of being a guest preacher—and I hope that you will revisit this passage on your own and discover some truths for yourself. Try and use this inter-textual study as a beginning to a personal devotional experience.
Believing that God’s Word is both active and valid, hear Rebekah’s story, from Genesis, chapter 24. We jump into this passage as Abraham’s servant is speaking with Rebekah’s brother Laban. Rebekah has just told Laban, after running to “her mother’s household,” about the servant, for whom she drew water from a well.
34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. 36 And Sarah, my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. 37 My master made me swear, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; 38 but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.’ 39 I said to my master, ‘Perhaps the woman will not follow me.’ 40 But he said to me, ‘The Lord, before whom I walk, will send his angel with you and make your way successful. You shall get a wife for my son from my kindred, from my father’s house. 41 Then you will be free from my oath, when you come to my kindred; even if they will not give her to you, you will be free from my oath.’
42 “I came today to the spring, and said, ‘O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! 43 I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, “Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,” 44 and who will say to me, “Drink, and I will draw for your camels also”—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.’
45 “Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, ‘Please let me drink.’ 46 She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, ‘Drink, and I will also water your camels.’ So I drank, and she also watered the camels. 47 Then I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’ She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.’ So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. 48 Then I bowed my head and worshiped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. 49 Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.”
50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered, “The thing comes from the Lord; we cannot speak to you anything bad or good. 51 Look, Rebekah is before you, take her and go, and let her be the wife of your master’s son, as the Lord has spoken.”
52 When Abraham’s servant heard their words, he bowed himself to the ground before the Lord. 53 And the servant brought out jewelry of silver and of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah; he also gave to her brother and to her mother costly ornaments. 54 Then he and the men who were with him ate and drank, and they spent the night there. When they rose in the morning, he said, “Send me back to my master.” 55 Her brother and her mother said, “Let the girl remain with us a while, at least ten days; after that she may go.” 56 But he said to them, “Do not delay me, since the Lord has made my journey successful; let me go that I may go to my master.” 57 They said, “We will call the girl, and ask her.” 58 And they called Rebekah, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” She said, “I will.” 59 So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
“May you, our sister, become
    thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
    of the gates of their foes.”
61 Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.
62 Now Isaac had come from[a] Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. 63 Isaac went out in the evening to walk[b] in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. 64 And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, 65 and said to the servant, “Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. 66 And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. 67 Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
We hear in the final verses the words “he loved her,” and “was comforted,” and they soften this passage that seems very transactional…or do they?
In the harshest reading, a woman is entrapped by her hospitality, “obtained” by jewelry placed on her arms and her nose—as though she were cattle. And then to mark the end of this transaction, she is bought with shiny, material goods—items which have no everlasting meaning, items which have no soul.
Rebekah, accompanied by her maids and her servants, sees the man to whom she has been sold, never-mind that he is her great-uncle!, never-mind that she was fetched by his servant! Rebekah lowers herself to Isaac from her high position on her camel and veils herself, finalizing her place on this hierarchical tier.
It’s an uncomfortable passage for those of us who have even slight feminist or liberation theology inklings. The movement of God’s blessing to the next generation gets a little lost amid this early form of arranged marriage—God-ordained arranged marriage.
Our modern bias against this patriarchal society guides us into the question: Could there have not been some other way, God, to preserve yourself in this family’s history?
Are there any Truths that we can draw from this passage despite our initial reading? Can we lean into the knowledge that, in these verses, we are able to read her name, to hear her name?—We know her name—Rebekah. Rebekah, by her being named, shifts our focus from the unnamed servant and his obedience to Rebekah, and hers.
What other questions shall we ponder; what are other lessons we can learn? Is God with us? Should God’s name be kept and honored? Is obedience a key part of our relationship with God?
Let’s read again, but through the lens of a different passage.
Exodus 2 & 3, read in light of Genesis 24:34-67
Moses fled Pharaoh, and found himself in Midian where he sat down by a well. The seven daughters of Jethro, including Zipporah, came to water their flock, but shepherds tried to drive them away. Moses came to their defense and watered their flock.
Moses, having come from Egypt, now settled in Midian, and was the keeper of the flock of Jethro. He led his flock beyond the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God. While walking around, Moses looked up and saw a flame of fire coming out of bush. Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Recognizing that the Lord was with him, and that he was standing on holy ground, Moses removed his sandals.
The Lord said, “I am who I am. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses, you will go to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to let my people go. Moses, you will bring the Israelites out of Egypt to the promised land of the Cannanites—a land flowing with milk and honey—land given to you with my blessings
Moses was afraid and said to God, “perhaps they will not go with me.” The Lord said, “I will be with you.” I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed. Each woman shall ask her neighbors for jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters.
Moses went to Jethro and said to him all these things. And Jethro said, “Go in peace.”

The story of Moses and the Israelites is full of legendary events and language, right? A bush ablaze—a speaking bush ablaze…that was not being consumed—a rod that turns into a snake, water that turns into blood, and a God who is comforting in one sentence and quick to anger in the next. Moses’ story in Exodus builds suspense with each event; the reading pace becomes quicker with each plague. The movement shifts us, the readers, from the transactional nature of Rebekah’s story to the transitional process of the Israelites move out of oppressive Egypt—from bondage to liberation.
As we place the two stories of Rebekah and Moses beside each other, it’s easy to see some of the themes on the variation. Instead of a female drawing water, Moses steps in for Jethro’s daughters and serves them and their flock. Moses meets his future wife at the well just as Rebekah meets her husband, Isaac, at a well. (Which is also the well where Hagar and Ishmael are blessed and saved by God.) God answers the prayer of Abraham’s servant when he meets Rebekah at a well.
Moses and the servant are both strangers traveling in God’s land. Moses experiences God as Rebekah experiences Isaac. Moses understands that the Lord is near and therefore obediently removes his sandals. Rebekah sees Isaac and veils herself, knowing that she is to be an obedient part of this, God’s plan.
Rebekah and Moses travel from their homelands to Canaan. (At the end of the stories, Rebekah ventures far from her homeland into Abraham’s God-given land, Canaan. Moses moves from Midian to Egypt to the wilderness, and then on towards Canaan, the hope-filled land flowing with milk and honey.)
Both passages identify God as the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob which binds God to human and human to God through a very patriarchal genealogy.

Let’s read the passage one more time, through the lens of one more passage.
John 2, 4; Matthew 1, 2
And Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” The woman had come to draw water from the well of Jacob (they were in the land that Jacob, son of Rebekah and Isaac, had given to his son Joseph.) She looked at Jesus and said, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” 
“Woman, I can bless you with living water.”
“Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob? This is his well, his sons and his flocks drank from it.”
“Woman, I can bless you with living water. Water that will quench your thirst forevermore.”
“Sir,” (the woman called him ‘Sir,’) because she was not able to recognize him or else Jesus did not reveal himself to her, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” She was not about to tell this Jewish stranger that she wasn’t living according to the Law. She was not about to reveal herself to him.
But Jesus already knew. Who was he? A prophet? She asserted, “you may be a prophet, but the Messiah will proclaim to us the truth.”
“Perhaps you will hear me, perhaps you will follow me, perhaps you will believe me when I tell you that I am he. But know this: God seeks Jews and Gentiles to worship him.”
The woman left her water jar and returned to the city to spread word about Jesus. “I went to Jacob’s well today and there, I think I met the Lord. He told me of a living water which sounds greater than silver and gold and jewels.”
Jesus did not depart immediately because he was invited to stay; he stayed with the Samaritans for two days and they believed and they said, “We know that this man is truly the Savior of the world.”
We meet at a well again, a familiar site for our previous betrothed couples Rebekah and Isaac, and Moses and Zipporah. What can we make of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well? What answers can we offer her, for us? What do we know of Jesus?
Jesus makes use of allegory! He is the source of this living water, he is baptized in water, he is later known to convert water and to walk on water.
He is both the bride and the bridegroom, given costly presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and he is anointed by costly perfume. (Reference also John 2.)
Jesus’ ancestors are given to us through a more inclusive family tree. Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, of David and Uriah, of Boaz and Ruth, of Salmon and Rahab, of Jacob and Leah, of Isaac and Rebekah, of Abraham and Sarah.
In addition to breaking free from a patriarchal genealogy, Jesus also breaks free from cultural restrictions. His interaction with this woman—who was not un-married, who was not a virgin, who was not without sin, who was not obedient—pushes aside pre-arranged transactions. It pushes aside the boundaries of male and female interaction and the boundaries of prejudice.
It pushes us into another transition between the relationship of human and God from bondage, to liberation, to reconciliation. The woman was pretty determined to question Jesus and defer questions from herself. She was determined to not follow this stranger! But Jesus was determined too. If she would not follow, Jesus would pursue. Whereas she was not willing to reveal her identity, Jesus was willing to identify himself to her. (She is the first to know in the Gospel of John that he is the Messiah.)
This interaction is transformational! And it is transformational for far more people than just the woman and the people of her city.
In this story, two groups come together in the end—the woman and her community of Samaritans and Jesus and his Jewish disciples. What a unifying picture. What a picture of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven!
Rebekah, we are thankful for your part in this story. Though we may struggle to understand why you needed to be brought into this line through transaction, we consider that it might be us who struggle to understand that we too have been bought! We thankfully are wed to the God of everlasting love!
Moses, we are thankful that your part of this story represents transition and liberation for us. We are thankful that your time in the wilderness echoes or own times of wandering.
Jesus, we are thankful that you meet us at the well. We do not always welcome your questions of us, for we’d rather not reveal all that we are to you. Still, you pursue us until we are able to see that you are our Messiah.
Believing that God’s word is personal and active and transformational, listen to the divine voice and rest with it a while.

The Word of Life Bible
Dockery, David. “Reading John 4:1-45: Some Diverse Hermeneutical Perspectives.” Criswell Theological Review, 1988. 127-140.
Duke, Paul. Irony in the Fourth Gospel. Atlanta: John Knox, 1985.
Foster, Steven and Meredith Little. The Vision Quest: Personal Transformation in the Wilderness. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2011.
Thompson, Marjorie. Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life. Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, 2015.

Prayers of the People:

Oh Lord,
For the stranger, for the traveler, we hear you say:
Come to me, ye who are burdened, and I will give you rest.
For those who are pained with illness, we hear you say:
            Come to me, ye who are burdened, and I will give you rest.
For those who need to see light, we hear you say:
            Come to me, ye who are burdened, and I will give you rest.
For those who are weighed down with the division in our world, we hear you say:
            Come to me, ye who are burdened, and I will give you rest.
For those who feel unwelcomed because of their beliefs, whatever they may be, we hear you say:
            Come to me, ye who are burdened, and I will give you rest.
For those who are isolated in their grief, we hear you say,
            Come to me, ye who are burdened, and I will give you rest.
We are eager to be children in your sight, welcomed closely into your presence and filled with the hope of your love.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Left Behind

A Sermon Given to Haven Fellowship Church
May 28, 2017
By Stephanie and Jesse Coyne

It is Ascension Sunday, 40 days after Easter, the last Sunday for the crosses to be on our front lawn. This is the day marked in the church calendar as the time when Jesus finishes his mission on Earth and is raised into heaven.
It’s a time of goodbyes, long farewells, sadness, and the overwhelming feeling of being left behind.
But that’s not right, is it? In the passage of scripture that we just read in Luke, the disciples are not grief-stricken like they were after his death. Instead, we find them rejoicing—they are worshipping, they are in the temple continuously! This is the first time in Luke that they are seen worshipping Jesus.
The disciples, to this point, seem confused in most of the stories we read in the Gospels. What did they misunderstand about Jesus? In what ways was Jesus different than they expected him to be?
Along with the Pharisees and scribes, teachers, Jews and Gentiles (1 Corinthians 1:23), Jesus’ teachings and actions were hard for most people to understand. Instead of a Messiah who was to be King—powerful and mighty—Jesus acted in most un-kingly ways. You know the stories: He ate with tax collectors and sinners. He talked with women. He taught and modeled servanthood. What a King.
If we back up a little in this 24th chapter of Luke, before the verses that we have heard today, verses that the Seekers’ Sunday School class are becoming very familiar with, Jesus appears to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus says to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”
Now back up a little more, to verse 21, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” They’d seen him die. If Jesus were to come and restore Israel, then he couldn’t die. He couldn’t be defeated by the Roman power. But he was—the disciples saw him defeated, crucified on a cross. And they didn’t understand.
As readers, we know the whole story, from beginning to end, and we are right there with Jesus—how can the disciples not understand?
But think about it like this: What’s the oldest story that you know about your family or a family member? Do you know stories that are older than one generation? Older than two? Even more? Every family has at least one character whose stories are famous…or infamous.
My grandmother lived by herself in upstate New York for many years. During that time, she would stop at my parents’ house during the holidays on her way to Florida each year. What was initially a weeklong visit stretched into several weeks and eventually more than a month-long tenure over the years. Whether that extension is true or just how it began to feel is difficult to say.
I’m not sure if it was the time alone or her marriage to a military man—my grandfather was in the Air Force—but she grew used to having things done her way, which she increasingly attempted to enforce at our house during her holiday visits. My brother was told that one of his friends, who was a large fellow, was not allowed to come over anymore because he was “too big,” and “took up too much room.” But the antics that made us laugh the most were when we began to discover sticky notes posted around the house with various sets of instructions. On the microwave, there would be a reminder to “you people”– her affectionate name for her family—to cover our food when heating it up. On the dishwasher, we were chided for not rinsing our dishes before putting them in or for using the same cup throughout the day. At the time, her behavior seemed frustrating or even comical, and yet I’m practically ceremonial about rinsing the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. My wife can testify.

The women are strong in my family also. My mom can go head-to-head in any competition about grammar, American history and literature, baseball, or college football. She has also been known to break up a fight between high school boys just by giving them “the look.”
Her mother, my grandmother, also a sports fanatic, is a real-life illustration of fiscal responsibility, reusing and recycling way before those words were part of a catchphrase. A widow for nearly 40 years now, she scrimped and saved, but she also gave generously to her church and to those families around her that needed extra money.
Her mother, my great-grandmother, became a single mother when my grandmother was young, maybe 7 or 8, yet she managed to employ several men to build her family a house during the Great Depression. She ran a little goods store and let people charge items on their account, even when she knew that those accounts might not ever be paid.
On my Dad’s side of the family, my great-grandmother and great-grandfather, Nanny and Papaw, were known for their laughter, never missing a chance to do so, though they sometimes had to remind each other that laughing would be their course of action.
Papaw lost his job during the Great Depression and decided that he would buy a car on the way home. Facing Nanny was not the easiest thing to do, and not only did he have to explain the car, he had to tell her that he was fired. Papaw was able to catch her in a breath in the middle of her diatribe and offered, “Pearlie Mae,” let’s laugh. And they did, believing that everything was going to be okay.
Most of the more legendary stories star Nanny. She never disappointed. I don’t remember a lot about her, but I knew that she was the only one who could put my dad in his place with a one-line quip like, “I’m going to trade you in for a dog and then shoot the dog.” She fussed at me for not stripping everything off a drumstick. She made chicken and dumplings by hand. She won a bass fishing contest, out-catching many fishermen, including her husband and therefore made it onto the cover of the national bass fishing magazine. And once, she fell into a flower pot and was found preaching the southern gospel with four letter, rather un-holy, words.
Genetics prove difficult to overcome, and even now, two of my cousins, my sisters, are bravely and gracefully—with undeniable strength—each fighting battles of their own. One is wading through the waters of a foster care adoption and the other has been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Perseverance, independence, and humor are their traits, traits that may be familiar in your families too, and even though their stories may seem more like myths, if you were to meet any of these women, you would understand and thereby believe every story to be true.
While genetics themselves are hard to get around, my families’ stories have laid a good bit of the groundwork for who I was to be—for who I am. Would I be as independent as I am (or as stubborn!) if I didn’t know the stories about those who came before me? I think the answer is no.
Family stories, even cultural legends, become so famous, so mythological, that their morals and the boundaries they possess are often imposed on the next generation. This is the first question for us—how did the stories passed down, for generations, for hundreds of years, through war and destruction and exile—how did these passed-down stories affect people’s understanding or misunderstanding of Jesus?

Dennis Green, once the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, yelled during a post-game press conference, “They are who we thought they were,” not able to explain his team’s loss to the Bears.
But Jesus was NOT who they thought he was. He was not the Messiah they were expecting, if they were anticipating an individual to intervene at all.
The expectations about a Messiah were broad and diverse, but the one nearly universal attribute is that he would be someone from the line of King David who would restore Israel to its golden age; the glory days as when David was king—and that it would be even better. This “messiah” would be Israel’s ideal king who would raise an army, cast off foreign oppressors, and bring peace and prosperity to Israel and to the world. Think of the vision in Isaiah 11 where the wolf and the lamb lie together, the cow and the bear graze together, and the earth is full of the knowledge of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-10)
Diving a little further, what were the expectations of 1st century Jews? Reading again in Luke 24, we go back to the Emmaus road. As the two disciples were walking along speaking to the stranger, they explain to him their hopes about the one who caused the raucous in Jerusalem; they hoped that he was the one who would “redeem Israel”  (Luke 24:21) – a very loaded phrase.
The need for Israel to be redeemed is a theme found repeatedly in the OT because Israel constantly needed redemption after their continued cycles of sin, punishment, and reconciliation. The disciples on the Emmaus road hoped that Jesus was the one who would redeem Israel once and for all. They expected that the messiah was the one who, through God, would break the pattern.
Take Psalm 72, part of which we read earlier, for instance. “May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service.” It is one of about 10 “Royal Psalms,” which paint pictures of Israel’s ideal king. These Psalms were sung repeatedly through the generations. They form the foundations for later anticipations about one final anointed king or messiah who would come and right all the wrongs for the final time.
Most Jews in the 1st century expected that God was going to act in a decisive way to right the wrongs of his people. A new age or era would dawn so that Israel would never again fall into the destructive pattern of sin and rebellion. However, they had different ideas about how God would accomplish that task. Some thought God would intervene directly, others thought that it would take place through angels. Only some expected a specific individual or individuals, “a messiah.” None, so far as we know, expected Jesus.

From the beginning, God approached creation with covenant language. But humanity kept getting it wrong, so God, a God who pursues reconciliation, kept trying to re-establish the covenant. Even Jesus’ prayer included the desire for God’s purpose to be completed: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”
Micah 7:18-20 assures Israel of God’s commitment and the prophet also speaks to God being like no other:
Who is God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over the transgression of the remnant of your possession? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in showing clemency. He will again have compassion upon us.
However, Micah also reminds Israel of her part of the covenant. You know the verse, Micah 6:8: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
Time after time, God’s children proved that they could not overcome sin. God’s answer—to come to earth to see for himself! Jesus, God incarnate, walked and talked with humanity. Jesus experienced temptation. Jesus felt the pangs of hunger. Jesus suffered physical pain. And yet, he remained faithful, unlike Israel.
God’s people longed to be unified, they longed for the temple to be rebuilt, but again, they were unable to overcome sin. They fell to temptation, they cried for manna. They wanted the prosperity portion of the covenant to be fulfilled. They longed for these things to happen, not because they’d ever experienced life in that way—but because they had been told for so long that that’s how it was going to happen.
But Jesus came along and started saying things like, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.”

How could Jesus possibly be the one to redeem Israel?
Why was this a question for the Jews? If Jesus fulfilled all of these prophecies, how did they miss it? The very simple answer is that he died. That is why the message of the cross was a stumbling block to the Jews. (1 Corinthians 1:23) That is why the disciples were so often confused and angry, especially when Jesus started talking about his death. Read the end of Mark, chapter 8. Jesus asked the disciples who people thought he was and he got a range of answers. Then he asked the disciples who they thought he was and Peter got the gold star by answering, “You are the Christ.” But then what happens right after? Jesus starts talking about his death and Peter is rightly upset and even rebukes Jesus for saying such things. Peter just said that he was the Messiah and the Messiah was not supposed to die. To which Jesus famously responds, “Get thee behind me, Satan. You are thinking of the things of man and not of the things of God.” Your understanding of what the Messiah is here to do needs to be transformed.
The messiah was supposed to be a king who raised an army and led Israel to freedom and glory. He was not supposed to be a peasant who suffered and was killed as a rebel. We have no evidence of any Jewish group anticipating that their messiah was going to die and be raised from the dead. Now the astute Bible reader is no doubt thinking, “what about those suffering servant passages in Isaiah 53 about the one who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquity?
To answer that question, we can again return to Emmaus. Twice, in verse 27 and again in our passage in verse 44, Luke tells us that they didn’t understand who Jesus was until he explained to them from Moses and the prophets how all those things applied to Him: “He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.” (45) Only after Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead did his followers look back and search the Scriptures anew for signs of the messiah in light of the reality of who Jesus was.
Many of the texts like the Suffering Servant or the Virgin birth were not messianic expectations in the 1st century. Only in light of what Jesus said and did were his followers able to see these texts as applicable to Jesus—that they in fact did point forward to Jesus—but they could only see that by looking back.
As for us, we live on this side of the resurrection. We can search the scriptures and draw the same conclusion as the disciples: Jesus is the Redeemer we needed, even if he’s not exactly what we expected.
And yet in certain ways, He was exactly what they were looking for.
The Gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus’ genealogy—he was the son of David, a point made three times in the opening chapter. The very first verse of Matthew – the very first verse of the New Testament – begins “this is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David.” Jesus himself makes a few of the connections to the Old Testament for us by beginning his ministry in the synagogue, reading from Isaiah 61 about good news being preached to the poor, sight being given to the blind, freedom being offered to the oppressed, and the year of the Lord’s favor being announced. (Luke 4:18-21, Isaiah 61:1-9) Jesus then proclaims that those words were being fulfilled in their midst. In other words, he says, “here are the things you expected would happen when God finally acted to ‘redeem Israel.’ I am the one who is here to bring all these things about.” And what did Jesus do during his ministry? He preached good news to the poor, healed the blind, and so on.
We have heard the stories and on occasion, we’ve even witnessed his power. Surely, we have, at some moment in our lives, felt his Spirit move within us. But even if we proclaim Christ and teach Christ, and live as though we are prophets and disciples, we must admit that our humanity muddles both our expectations of Jesus and what we perceive are Jesus’ expectations of us.
As followers of Christ, and more to the point, as humans who follow Christ, we do not always have the clarity of an informed reader. Our minds are often closed to what Christ is teaching us.
Aren’t there times when we, in our daily lives, walk along roads with Jesus and yet we do not understand that he is with us? Our self-assurance and ego blind our eyes to the majesty that is around us.
Aren’t there times when we love the kingly models of Jesus, even the powerful, warrior models of Jesus, but we push aside the notion of servant leadership that was modeled for us by Jesus?
Aren’t there times when our hearts are burning with things we know to be true, and yet we still seek more proof that God is speaking to us?
We live on that Emmaus road, as blind as the disciples, and the prayer we sing is “Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus!” But how do we want to see Jesus? Surely not as someone who washes feet! Faith that is talked but not walked is so much easier, right? But this is not passive faith—this is a faith that does require something of us, and not in ways that are always comfortable or self-serving.
Seeking power, having power, being in power, seems like a good way to ensure that God is proclaimed as Lord above all lords. But we have to remember the stories of those who were powerless and yet, by their faith, helped God’s purposes be accomplished.
When we close our doors, we may succeed in keeping out some trouble, but we must also remember that we are called to love our neighbors. We are called to love our enemies. And Jesus, our model, ate supper with people who were despised. He supped with people who were feared.
Remember Psalm 72: “May all kings fall down before him.” And also, “May he defend the cause of the poor of the people and give deliverance to the needy.”
This is not a simple faith. This is a faith whose foundational stories come from exiles, from widows, from mourners, from sinners. This is a faith that began in love and whose roots are found underneath a cross.
And it is a faith that looses binds, sets captives free, and reconciles the sinner.
This is a faith that will take us to the depths of despair and longing and it is a faith that will bring us up into proclaimers of unfathomable joy. Oh that we will be as active in our rejoicing as those foolish disciples. Oh that we would see Jesus here one earth, resurrected in our own lives.
Great is your faithfulness, oh Lord. Oh, that we will be able to faithful to you.

Open our hearts and our minds and allow us to live into all that you would have us be. Remind us that we are not left behind, dear Jesus. Allow us to feel your presence on whatever roads we walk on in this life. Amen.