Now, brothers and sisters, you know that members of the household of Stephanas were
the first converts in Achaia, and they have devoted themselves to the service of the
--1 Corinthians 16:15 NRSV
Wasn’t this past Sunday great? What a blessing it was to have Rev. Dr. Larry Patterson back at PHCC!
I hope you heard his wonderful sermon either in person or online. If not, you can still do so on our web site, YouTube or Facebook. He preached from the first chapter of Matthew, Jesus’ genealogy on his father’s side. This meant elder Jill Watson had to pronounce some difficult biblical names (Amminadab? Zerubbabel?), but as she promised, she read the names “like a boss.” His sermon title was “How Far Back Do You Remember?” He invited PHCC to think of how far back we remember in our own lives and family trees, and how far back we remember in our own experience of this congregation and its family tree. He highlighted a few “saints” of the church during his time as pastor.
The interesting thing about the Gospel of Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Luke provides Mary’s family tree) is who gets included in it. Three names pop out: Tamar, Rahab and Bathsheeba. The names are first of all notable, because they are all women. Jewish genealogies of the time pretty much exclusively listed men. The second reason their names are notable is because their stories don’t make the men around them look very good.
Tamar’s story in Genesis 38 is a tragic but wild one. She married Er, the oldest son of Judah, but Er was killed by God for unrighteousness. During this time, remember, women were considered to be of worth only if they could bear offspring. When a married man died, if he had a wife of child-bearing years, she would be married to her late husband’s next oldest brother. That happened and Tamar was married to Onan, Judah’s next oldest son. Onan, well, to put it politely, did not live up to his responsibility and was also killed by God. Once again, Tamar was married to the next son of Judah who was still a boy. She waited for him to grow up, but her father-in-law thought she was cursed and refused to let his son have intercourse with her. So, Tamar takes matters into her own hands. She dresses as a prostitute and hoodwinks her father-in-law into intercourse. In the end, Tamar gets a child, Perez, who is in Jesus’ family tree. (If that story is too risqué for you, don’t blame me. It’s in the Bible.)
Rahab’s story takes place in Joshua chapter two. In it, two Israelite spies are sent into the city of Jericho. The spies are discovered, so they hide in Rahab’s house and she helps them escape. All this sounds nice, except Rahab happened to be a prostitute. Nonetheless she has a son named Boaz who ends up marrying Ruth and is a part of Jesus’ family tree.
Bathsheeba gets a bad rap for somehow luring King David into killing her husband and getting her pregnant, but let’s get real. How exactly was she going to say no to the king? Her story told in 2 Samuel 11 and 1 Chronicles 3 isn’t a pretty one. The all-time best king of Israel commits a major sin and must pay the penalty for it. It’s the kind of story families don’t speak about, yet Bathsheeba is the mother of Solomon, a pretty major biblical figure and another member of Jesus’ family tree.
Why did Rev. Dr. Patterson point out these shocking stories in his sermon Sunday? He did so to point out that the people in Jesus’ family tree were far from perfect, but God trusted them to carry out God’s purposes. Likewise, the people in PHCC’s family tree were not perfect, but God trusted them anyway to carry out what God had planned.
I’ve been your interim minister for five months now, and in that time I’ve heard a lot of great stories about “saints” of the church who had passed on. Rev. Dr. Patterson assured me that despite whatever nostalgia may exist for his years here at PHCC things were not all rosy. There was conflict, disagreement and mistakes along with the good times. Even the “saints” he mentioned in his sermon were not perfect people.
PHCC has many strengths, including a strong 2020 leadership team, but from what I can tell, PHCC has a pretty shallow bench of leaders willing to step up. Like many churches these days, I suspect that come nominating time, there has to be some arm pulling, maybe even pleading to fill leadership roles. If this church is like others I’ve served, this means some folks who agree to be leaders do so because they have trouble saying no rather than because they have joy or passion for the position. I could be wrong, after all I’ve only known you during COVID-19 when church activity is much lower than usual, but I’m willing to bet I am not.
A healthy, vibrant and growing church needs people who will step up and take responsibility to make it so. While it is true a church needs an effective minister, the best minister in the world can only do so much without capable leaders with her. I’ve heard a lot of folks wishing for days past when attendance was higher, the membership rolls were longer and the money was greater. I’ve also heard that much of the responsibility for the lack of those things in the present lays at the feet of former ministers. I wasn’t here, so I can’t speak to the truth of such statements, but in my experience it takes two to tango. Whatever former ministers at PHCC got right or wrong, a healthy, vibrant and growing church is ultimately the responsibility of its members not its clergy.
There are lots of reasons church folks resist leadership these days. People are busier than ever with more conflicts. People are burnt out from church politics and conflict. Older members have served time in leadership and are exhausted from it. These are all real, but I suspect another reason is that folks feel like they are neither talented enough nor a good enough Christian. Yet Jesus’ family tree shows, God works best through people who seem on the outside like unfit candidates for the job. God trusts you with God’s plans. Are you willing to trust that God actually knows what God is doing?
In the New Testament, the apostle Paul calls church people “saints” or “holy ones.” Why? His letters reveal these people were far from perfect and those churches had real problems. Maybe he understood that what mattered most was God’s grace working through imperfect people. God’s grace matters more than our imperfections.
If PHCC is going to have a thriving future, it will take imperfect “saints” who feel led by God to lead in this congregation. Are you one of them?
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851