Reconciled With God

  • Reconciled With God
  • 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • December 7, 2020
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Reconciled: Reconciled with God

2 Corinthians 5:18-19

 

Good morning Church! I’m excited to kick-off our Advent & Christmas message series, “Reconciled.”  I’m glad that you’re with us.

 

When our girls were little and they would start fussing with each other or get in some kind of an argument Joni and I developed a little strategy that worked like magic. We would make them sit on the bed side by side and put an arm around each other while Abigail had to read to Madeline the book Spider Sisters by Dr. John Trent. If you need it at your house you can buy a used copy for cheap on Amazon.

 

By the time our girls were finished with the story it never failed that they would hug each other and say, “I’m sorry. You’ll always be my sister.” Somewhere in the midst of reading the story a tiny little shift would take place and it would repair the relationship.

 

You know what I’m talking about. It is that moment when things have been tense with someone else and suddenly your thoughts turn from hostility to humility and your irritation turns to affection. That is a spiritual force created by God and the word for it is RECONCILIATION.

 

In reconciliation, barriers to community get torn down. People who were estranged and divided get reunited. Hostility and deep wounds get replaced with healing and goodwill.

 

The Old Testament prophets longed for reconciliation said that our world thirsted for it. The prophet Isaiah in talking about the coming of the Messiah says in Isaiah 11:6 that it will look like this, “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.”

 

When we imagine reconciliation happening in our world on a grander scale, we think:

  • What would it be like for North and South Korea to live together in peace?
  • In our own country, what would it be like if the wounds of racial injustice got healed?”
  • Or we imagine fractured marriages getting healed.

 

Spiritually, personally, socially, and systemically, the crying need for our world is to be reconciled. We can’t seem to do it, but it’s at the heart of the Christmas story.

 

Paul wrote this in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.”

 

This Advent season at LakeRidge, we will be students of reconciliation. Here’s part of why we’re doing this. I think the best part of the holiday season we’re in is that this is a time when families get together. I think about the hardest part of the holiday season we’re in is that this a time when families get together. We all grew up in a family and I think it is safe to say all families have their issues.

 

This morning I want for us to look at what is a Christmas story involving a family. You will not believe me. You are going to think it is not a Christmas story. It is a really weird story. You just have to stick around through the weirdness till we get to the end. Here it is. In Genesis 38, this man, Judah, leaves his brothers and goes down to a place called Adullam and marries a Canaanite girl.

 

To an ancient Israelite reader, this would immediately mean trouble. In that day, you do not leave your brother, so they would immediately understand there is a broken family going on here, and marrying a Canaanite meant, if you were an Israelite (a descendent of Abraham), you were choosing idolatry and unfaithfulness, so Judah is going down a bad road from the very first sentence.

 

Judah and his wife (we never learn her name) have three boys: Er, Onan, and Shelah. The boys grow up. We’re told Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar, but Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord put him to death. You’ll notice the writer wants to be sure we catch where Er is in the birth order. Twice he says, “Judah’s firstborn.”

 

In the ancient world, the firstborn would be the heir to everything and would get all of the good stuff. That’s why he is named Er. Handsome-Er, smart-Er, strong-Er. It turns out he’s wicked-Er, so he’s out of the story really fast.

 

In the ancient world in Israel but also in other nations, if a woman’s husband died, her father-in-law was obligated to have her marry his next oldest son. They obviously did not have any kind of national or social welfare system or safety net or anything, so everybody would have recognized her father-in-law, Judah, is obligated to do this.

 

His second son is Onan. This is a polygamist culture. Presumably Onan would have other wives, but if Onan had a child by Tamar, that child would get the firstborn inheritance, which would mean a financial loss for Onan and his little brood by other wives, so Onan figured out a way to cheat Tamar and shame her in that culture with barrenness and get away with it. There was no way he was going to provide offspring for his brother.

 

This is in the Bible. Genesis 38:8, “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in- law to raise up offspring for your brother.’ But Onan knew that the child would not be his… So he made sure that he took things as far as he could without getting her pregnant because he didn’t want to provide offspring for his brother. And then the verse finishes by stating…What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also.” Remember, this is a Christmas story! Read it to the kids…if they’re in their 20s.

 

To the ancient reader, Tamar would be a tragic victim. They would all feel for her. She wanted a good thing. For one thing, to bring offspring into the world, and in the ancient world where survival was dicey and the human population struggled, that was a good thing for a woman to do.

 

Not only that, but even though she is a Canaanite pagan idolatress, she wants to be a part of the story of the people of God, the line of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Judah. She was devoting herself, this Canaanite woman, to be a mother of the people of God. Yet, she had been given to not one but two men of great wickedness, and they both died, and she’s still barren, so Judah’s (her father-in-law) moral obligation to Tamar would be exceedingly clear to every reader in the ancient world.

 

We have to put ourselves in their position to understand this story. His obligation would be to have her marry his third son, Shelah. He tells Tamar, as the reader would expect, “You go home to your dad. I’m going to raise little Shelah, and when he’s old enough, I’ll call you and you come marry him. You can have kids by him.” Secretly, he says to himself, “In her dreams I’ll give Shelah to her. I’ve already lost two sons.” He never sends for her. He leaves her to wither and die alone.

 

After some period, Judah’s wife dies, and Judah does not spend very much time mourning.  He’s happy to be comforted. He’s ready to date again pretty quickly, but there’s no eHarmony. That meant going down to a place called Timnah.

 

Tamar hears this, and to our surprise, this Canaanite woman goes into action. She disguises herself as a prostitute, wears a veil so she can’t be recognized, and Judah comes by and propositions her and offers to pay her a young goat from the flock, so she says that he’ll have to give her his seal and cord and staff as collateral, kind of like getting his credit cards or the password to his bank account in our day.

 

He says, “Okay.” She gets pregnant by the father of her first two husbands. Remember, this is a Christmas story! Judah will be, you understand, both the father of Tamar’s offspring and Tamar’s father-in-law. This means, if you think it through, she will be the mother of these children and their sister-in-law. How messed up is this? Your family is doing great! This is in the Bible!

 

Judah goes home, tries to FedEx the goat down for payment, but nobody can find that prostitute by the side of the road, so he says, “Forget it! I don’t want word to get out that I slept with a prostitute and be a laughingstock in everybody’s eyes. Never mind.”

 

Several months pass. Then, word comes to Judah that his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar, is wearing widow maternity clothes. She had gotten herself pregnant. Of course, he has no idea who the father is, so it’s up to him, as the father-in-law, to figure out how to respond and what to do with her.

 

This is what he says. In Genesis 38:24, “Judah said, ‘Bring her out and have her burned to death!’” Even in the ancient world that is remarkably brutal.

 

But just when they’re getting ready to light the match, she sends the seal and the cord and the staff to Judah with a message. “I’m pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said, and she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are. Ring any bells, Dad?”

 

Recognize ends up being a big word in this story. Judah is, in a single sentence now, forced to recognize his treachery, his sin, his brokenness.

 

“Judah recognized them…” No kidding. “…and said, ‘She is more righteous than I…'” God begins to do a work in him. They call off the execution, and Tamar lives, and she gives birth to, in fact, two children, to twins, and there’s another really interesting struggle with the firstborn where the secondborn ends up being the one through whom the line of the children of Abraham flows. Tamar, the rejected Canaanite girl, gets to be a mother of Israel. She gets to be part of God’s great adventure after all.

 

The MORAL OF THE STORY is, if you’re a woman and your first husband dies from wickedness and you marry his brother and he refuses to impregnate you and he dies and your father-in-law won’t let you marry the third son, just wait for your mother-in-law to die and pretend to be a prostitute and have your father-in- law’s kids, and it will all work out in the end. Merry Christmas, everybody! What a weird story! How in the world did that get in the Bible?

 

Conventionally religious people get a little squeamish reading this story in public. Couldn’t Tamar have found a more wholesome way to deal with her problem? She could have sold Mary Kay or essential oils or learned how to do computer coding or something!

 

Well, the Bible doesn’t say. The ancient world was a pretty brutal place. These are not moral virtue fables in the Bible. They live in the real world where there is great evil, and the people are real and complex, and their actions are often ambiguous, and the reader has to puzzle things out. You have to read the Bible with all of your mind.

 

People often have the impression that the Bible supports patriarchy because, of course, it was written in a day when the world was patriarchal, but it’s very interesting. In many stories in the Old Testament like this one, one of the points is to undermine the evil that can be done by people with power or by patriarchal systems.

 

Here is a woman (Tamar) who is marginalized because of her gender and her ethnicity and her status as a childless and now twice-widowed Gentile woman. She is the victim of sexual misconduct. Instead of being cowed into passive surrender, which the reader would expect, she shows remarkable courage and initiative and determination and creativity, and in the end she triumphs over an oppressor and an unjust system that is completely stacked against her and becomes part of the great story.

 

The reason for this is that the MAJOR CHARACTER in this story, the one you want to pay attention to, is GOD, and God cares about little Tamar, and God is intent on creating a redemptive, reconciling community. He wants a people to be with, and he wants all kinds of people who everybody thinks will be left outside. He wants to reconcile people to himself and to one another, and he goes to work even on wicked old Judah.

 

When Judah says, “She is more righteous than I,” and that’s the beginning of the glimmer of a little humanity in him.

 

Tamar gives birth to twins, and of course, we wonder, “What happens to Tamar? What happens to these twins?” Oddly enough, the writer of Genesis does not tell us. She never appears after chapter 38 of the book of Genesis.

 

Tamar does show up again in the Bible after about 1,000 years give or take. In fact, the New Testament begins with these words in Matthew 1:1-3, “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar…”

 

“Really, Matthew? You’re going to go there? Really? Genealogies were a big deal in the ancient world. I know in our day people read through the Bible, see these long genealogies, and think, “It’s really dull and boring. I don’t care.”

They did not. In that day, genealogies were how people learned about their identity and their culture.

 

All of their stories were wrapped up in those names. They would memorize those genealogies and pass them down from one generation to another. It means, “We’re somebody. We’re a people. We have a tribe. We have a story.” They loved them.

 

Hebrew genealogies did not include women, but this one does, and not just a woman but a woman who tricked her father-in-law into sleeping with her, and she’s in the family tree of the Messiah! You have to be kidding me! Not just that, she’s a Canaanite woman. She’s not one of us. She’s not an Israelite which means…wait for it…Jesus isn’t just from an Israelite perspective a pure-blooded “our” guy. He’s partly “their” guy. He’s partly Canaanite. Are you kidding me? And Tamar is not the only woman in the genealogy.

 

It’s really strange. Matthew includes a woman named Ruth who was not an Israelite. Not only a woman, she was a Moabite. He includes a woman named Bathsheba whom you might remember King David inflicted himself on in an act of adultery. He includes another woman named Rahab who is not just a Gentile but a Gentile prostitute. It’s like Matthew just pored over the Old Testament saying, “Who are the most disreputable characters I could stick into God’s story? Who will tick everybody off when they read it?”

 

Why would Matthew do this? Because the time has come with Jesus to proclaim the gospel. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. Not counting my sins against me. Do you want to know what God is like? Now, Jesus comes, and we know.

 

Outsiders aren’t left outside anymore, and sinners and saints get all jumbled up, and grace starts flowing so heavily that Judah and Tamar are together again in Matthew, and their little children are the conduits through whom the love of God flows because God was, in Jesus, reconciling the world to himself, and there is a message in there for you and me in our world.

 

If God can reconcile Israelite and Canaanite, Judah and Tamar, saints and sinners, prostitutes and patriarchs, and oppressors with the oppressed, who lies beyond the reconciling power of this Jesus? Nobody, because it turns out Tamar’s story is a Christmas story as a part of Jesus’ story, and the most unlikely people end up coming in. That’s what the human race has loved so deeply about Jesus for 2,000 years.