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The Women Ancestors of Jesus


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
February 7, 2016

Genesis 38 ~ The Story of Tamar, the Initiator
There are four women mentioned in the long genealogy of Jesus found in the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 1. The first is Tamar. Her story is found in the book of Genesis, Chapter 38. It is the story of a woman with no social power, passed from her father’s family, to the son of Judah, and then another son, then back to her father to wait for a third son to grow up. Finally, she takes matters into her own hands and is nearly burned as a whore for her efforts. What can we learn from a woman like Tamar? Genesis, Chapter 38:

Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn. Her name was Tamar. But Judah’s firstborn, Er, grievously offended God and God took his life. So Judah told Onan, “Go and sleep with your brother’s widow; it’s the duty of a brother-in-law to keep your brother’s line alive.” But Onan knew that the child wouldn’t be his, so whenever he slept with his brother’s widow he spilled his semen on the ground so he wouldn’t produce a child for his brother. God was much offended by what he did and also took his life.

So Judah stepped in and told his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow at home with your father until my son Shelah grows up.” He was worried that Shelah would also end up dead, just like his brothers. So Tamar went to live with her father. Time passed. Judah’s wife, Shua’s daughter, died. When the time of mourning was over, Judah with his friend Hirah of Adullam went to Timnah for the sheep shearing.

Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law has gone to Timnah to shear his sheep.” She took off her widow’s clothes, put on a veil to disguise herself, and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the road to Timnah. She realized by now that even though Shelah was grown up, she wasn’t going to be married to him.

Judah saw her and assumed she was a prostitute since she had veiled her face. He left the road and went over to her. He said, “Let me sleep with you.” He had no idea that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, “What will you pay me?”
“I’ll send you,” he said, “a kid goat from the flock.” She said, “Not unless you give me a pledge until you send it.”

“So what would you want in the way of a pledge?” She said, “Your personal seal-and-cord and the staff you carry.” He handed them over to her and slept with her. And she got pregnant.

She then left and went home. She removed her veil and put her widow’s clothes back on. Judah sent the kid goat by his friend from Adullam to recover the pledge from the woman. But he couldn’t find her. He asked the men of that place, “Where’s the prostitute that used to sit by the road here near Enaim?” They said, “There’s never been a prostitute here.”

He went back to Judah and said, “I couldn’t find her. The men there said there never has been a prostitute there.” Judah said, “Let her have it then. If we keep looking, everyone will be poking fun at us. I kept my part of the bargain—I sent the kid goat but you couldn’t find her.”

Three months or so later, Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law has been playing the whore—and now she’s a pregnant whore.” Judah yelled, “Get her out here. Burn her up!” As they brought her out, she sent a message to her father-in-law, “I’m pregnant by the man who owns these things. Identify them, please. Who’s the owner of the seal-and-cord and the staff?”

Judah saw they were his. He said, “She’s in the right; I’m in the wrong—I wouldn’t let her marry my son Shelah.” He never slept with her again.

I place this veil on the altar as a reminder of Tamar, the bold Initiator.

Joshua 2 & 6 ~ The Story of Rahab, the Negotiator
The second ancestor of Jesus mentioned in Matthew’s gospel is Rahab. She lived with her family in the massive walled city of Jericho. Joshua who inherited the leadership of the Israelites after Moses died, is planning to conquer this city. He sends spies to map out his plan. They find protection in Rahab’s house and then reward her with a promise of protection later when the city is conquered. What can we learn from a woman like Rahab? A reading from parts of Joshua 2 and 6:

Joshua son of Nun secretly sent out two men as spies: “Go. Look over the land. Check out Jericho.” They left and arrived at the house of a harlot named Rahab and stayed there.

The king of Jericho was told, “We’ve just learned that men arrived tonight to spy out the land. They’re from the People of Israel.” The king of Jericho sent word to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you to stay the night in your house. They’re spies; they’ve come to spy out the whole country.”

The woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, two men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they’d come from. At dark, when the gate was about to be shut, the men left. But I have no idea where they went. Hurry up! Chase them—you can still catch them!” (She had actually taken them up on the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax that were spread out for her on the roof.) So the men set chase down the Jordan road toward the fords. As soon as they were gone, the gate was shut.

Before the spies were down for the night, the woman came up to them on the roof and said, “I know that God has given you the land. We’re all afraid. Everyone in the country feels hopeless. We heard how God dried up the waters of the Red Sea before you when you left Egypt, and what he did to the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan, whom you put under a holy curse and destroyed. We heard it and our hearts sank. We all had the wind knocked out of us. And all because of you, you and God, your God, God of the heavens above and God of the earth below.

“Now promise me by God. I showed you mercy; now show my family mercy. And give me some tangible proof, a guarantee of life for my father and mother, my brothers and sisters—everyone connected with my family. Save our souls from death!”

“Our lives for yours!” said the men. “But don’t tell anyone our business. When God turns this land over to us, we’ll do right by you in loyal mercy.”
She lowered them down out a window with a rope because her house was on the city wall to the outside. She told them, “Run for the hills so your pursuers won’t find you. Hide out for three days and give your pursuers time to return. Then get on your way.”

 The men told her, “In order to keep this oath you made us swear, here is what you must do: Hang this red rope out the window through which you let us down and gather your entire family with you in your house—father, mother, brothers, and sisters. Anyone who goes out the doors of your house into the street and is killed, it’s his own fault—we aren’t responsible. But for everyone within the house we take full responsibility. If anyone lays a hand on one of them, it’s our fault. But if you tell anyone of our business here, the oath you made us swear is canceled—we’re no longer responsible.”

She said, “If that’s what you say, that’s the way it is,” and sent them off. They left and she hung the red rope out the window.

On the seventh time around the priests blew the trumpets and Joshua signaled the people, “Shout!—God has given you the city! The city and everything in it is under a holy curse and offered up to God. “Except for Rahab the harlot—she is to live, she and everyone in her house with her, because she hid the agents we sent everyone connected to her. She is still alive and well in Israel because she hid the agents whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho.

I place this cord on the altar as a reminder of Rahab, the courageous Negotiator.

Ruth 1 ~ Ruth, the Devoted
Ruth is the third woman listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. We know her for her devotion to Naomi. She eventually married Boaz, who was father of Obed, who was father of Jesse, father of David. What can we learn from Ruth, Chapter 1?

Once upon a time—it was back in the days when judges led Israel— there was a famine in the land. A man from Bethlehem in Judah left home to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech; his wife’s name was Naomi; his sons were named Mahlon and Kilion—all Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They all went to the country of Moab and settled there. Elimelech died and Naomi was left, she and her two sons. The sons took Moabite wives; the name of the first was Orpah, the second Ruth. They lived there in Moab for the next ten years. But then the two brothers, Mahlon and Kilion, died. Now the woman was left without either her young men or her husband.

One day she got herself together, she and her two daughters-in-law, to leave the country of Moab and set out for home; she had heard that God had been pleased to visit his people and give them food. And so she started out from the place she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law with her, on the road back to the land of Judah.

After a short while on the road, Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, “Go back. Go home and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!” She kissed them and they cried openly. They said, “No, we’re going on with you to your people.”
But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband.”

Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye; but Ruth embraced her and held on. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people and gods; go with her.” But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!”

When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. It so happened that Naomi had a relative by marriage, a man prominent and rich, connected with Elimelech’s family. His name was Boaz.

I place this wheat on the alter as a reminder of Ruth, the devoted friend who gleaned wheat from the fields of Boaz and eventually became his bride.

2 Samuel 11 The Story of Bathsheba, the Survivor
Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon and the last of the women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. She is usually portrayed as something of a seductress, but that is not how the Bible tells the story. David is king. He demands her to come to him. She becomes pregnant. He tries to cover his crime by bringing her husband Uriah home from battle so that he will have sex with her and he’ll think the child is his. When this plan fails, he has Uriah killed. He takes Bathsheba as his wife. She bears a son, not his first born, but she manages to insure that Solomon becomes David’s heir. She is a survivor, as are all these women. What can we learn from her?2 Samuel, Chapter 11:

When that time of year came around again, the anniversary of the Ammonite aggression, David dispatched Joab and his fighting men of Israel in full force to destroy the Ammonites for good. They laid siege to Rabbah, but David stayed in Jerusalem.

One late afternoon, David got up from taking his nap and was strolling on the roof of the palace. From his vantage point on the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was stunningly beautiful. David sent to ask about her, and was told, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite?” David sent his agents to get her. After she arrived, he went to bed with her. (This occurred during the time of “purification” following her period.) Then she returned home. Before long she realized she was pregnant.
Later she sent word to David: “I’m pregnant.”

David then got in touch with Joab: “Send Uriah the Hittite to me.” Joab sent him. When he arrived, David asked him for news from the front—how things were going with Joab and the troops and with the fighting. Then he said to Uriah, “Go home. Have a refreshing bath and a good night’s rest.”  After Uriah left the palace, an informant of the king was sent after him. But Uriah didn’t go home. He slept that night at the palace entrance, along with the king’s servants. David was told that Uriah had not gone home. He asked Uriah, “Didn’t you just come off a hard trip? So why didn’t you go home?”

-Continued-