Preaching a Genealogy

It is noteworthy that when we open the text we call the New Testament, the first thing we find is a genealogy. Some of us read it as if it is interesting to Matthew but has little to say to us. Others as if it is necessary history before getting to the good stuff. Still others do not even read it at all. In reality, it is not our place to dismiss some scripture as irrelevant or uninteresting. There are likely a number of reasons Matthew included genealogy and not one of them considers Matthew 1 as optional reading. This is Gospel.

Matthew wants us to know from the start that much has already happened. Generations and years have passed and God is interested in all of it. God is deeply committed to His chosen people. While people may stray, God does not. When people lose their way, God is committed to bringing them back. Matthew wants them to know that no matter what happens, He is “God with us.”

Scot McKnight, in A Fellowship of Differents, talks about “the story of Israel that morphs into the story of the Kingdom and the story of the Church.” I propose that this genealogy is an important piece of this story. The genealogy is more than information about one family of Middle Eastern origin. It is an introduction to a family of faith that God is deeply involved with and deeply committed to. We become part of this family and are included among the people with whom God chooses to dwell. We become evidence that God is involved with the world and has invested everything that we might receive salvation.

The genealogy reminds us that God has intervened in history through multiple situations and with multiple people. No matter what goes wrong, God does not give up His great desire to be with us. The genealogy reminds us that each of us are born into an already existing story. Our stories are connected to a bigger story, a story that includes Messiah. Matthew 1 prompts us to explore the commitment of God to be with His people since the beginning.  And to recognize His most serious move to be with us is Jesus.

The more we read this genealogy the more we realize God’s interest in people groups like nations and families. God is interested in communicating salvation through common forms of relationship. The Messiah comes through the flesh and blood history of a family. By the time we arrive to the New Testament we are aware that God views salvation as a relational project. We preach knowing that God’s work among people groups is not finished. God continues to work through such groups – primarily the one we call Church.

The genealogy reminds us how theological history can be. Ben Witherington talks about this in The Indelible Image. God becomes involved in the messy events of human history. Indeed, God enters it in the person of Jesus. The more we read the genealogy, the more we realize that this is an unlikely group to be chosen for passing the torch of God’s Good News. Even among the chosen, some things do not happen as we would like. The genealogy acknowledges this reality along with the reality of God’s presence. Certainly there were better candidates with more stability and better decision-making skills. Yet, this is the people God chose to bring the Gospel into the messy events of human history.

Preaching Matthew 1 should encourage a look around the sanctuary on a Sunday morning. What will we see? An unlikely group? Not the group you would have chosen? Still, this is the collection of people God has assembled to call His own. This is the family He chooses to dwell among as “God with us.”


Biblical Text and Specific Situations

Elizabeth Achtemeier once said that all sermons should be firmly anchored in a particular text or texts and should grow out of the biblical Word of God.  “Otherwise the sermon is all too likely to end up proclaiming the preacher’s or society’s opinions, and those have no transforming power or lasting authority about them.”

Achtemeier goes on to emphasize that the preacher must understand how the particular text fits into the context of the Bible as a whole.  “The entire biblical history of God’s saving work, from the call of Abraham to the time of the New Testament church, informs every sermon and sets every individual text in the context of God’s whole self-revelation.”

Perhaps the most notable thing about these statements in that they occur in her book Preaching About Family Relationships.  This was one in a series published by Westminster Press to focus on preaching and the problems of the people.  The obvious benefit of such a series is the reminder that the Gospel addresses specific situations.  The danger of such a series is that we may be tempted to think that some passages are not addressed to particular people who do not find themselves in that particular situation.

I think that Achtemeier would agree that the purpose of preaching is not to improve relationships.  Preaching expects to shape followers.  Relationships may improve as a result.  But, growth in relationship is not the good news we showed up to proclaim.

One of the things that stands out to me as I read her book is her recognition that there are many passages in the Bible that do not directly discuss family matters and yet are applicable to family life.  “In fact, there are almost no biblical texts that cannot be applied to family life, because the whole of the Christian faith bears on the way we relate to one another in our homes, just as it bears on everything we do and say in our neighborhoods and society and world.”

I don’t think she would mind if I tag onto her statement that there are almost no biblical texts that cannot be applied to any of our situations, because the whole of the Christian faith bears on each of us and all of us.  Amen Elizabeth.