Sunday 23 Fathers' Day • 4 Sep 2016

Psalm 139:1-6,13-18
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

Rev.Dr Bruce Roy

Who was Jesus?
All four gospels assure us that he is the Son of God.
But does that mean he is not really one of us?

One way of establishing Jesus’ identity
is to look at his family and place of origin.
But we have a problem:
if he is the Son of God,
one would assume that we should start with his earthly mother.
But identity in those days was about who your father was.

So Matthew and Luke produce Jesus’ family tree based on Joseph
even as they are aware of the theological contradiction.
This is how family and heritage are defined.

Matthew starts his gospel with a family tree
and does it from the top down,
starting with Abraham the patriarch of all Jews
and identifying 40 generations.
When he gets to the bottom of the tree he says
“Jacob [was] the father of Joseph the husband of Mary,
of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.”

Notice that Matthew identifies five of the wives in his tree

Luke begins his gospel with stories of the birth of Jesus
and his baptism by John.

He takes two and half chapters to get to his family tree -
He begins his tree with:
“Jesus… was the son (as was thought) of Joseph son of Heli”,
and he lists 76 generations of ancestors back to… God!
He doesn’t bother to list the women!

The two trees have significant differences in the detail
but just as Jesus’ virgin birth was not an issue
the precise accuracy of the family tree was not important
except for key names like David and Abraham etc.
Both gospel writers want to tell us that Jesus was a Jew
and that he belonged to all humanity
A family tree was one way of demonstrating that.

Afro-American Alex Haley grew up hearing stories
from his grandmother about his family’s history -
about an ancestor named Kunta Kinte.
Some of the fragments of the story formed the basis
of his search for the details of that story.
The words brought him to his origins in Gambia
where he learnt of the existence of griots.
Griots were oral historians
who could recite the history of a particular village.
A good griot could speak for three days
without repeating himself.
What his grandmother had done was continue that tradition.

Using many other clues and records,
Alex Haley was able to build his family tree
and write the novel
But not only did he find his own identity and rich heritage,
it inspired many Afro-Americans to identify with his story.
Identity came from belonging
and this belonging extended beyond simply who begat who,
to a sense of community and connection.
Family = identity > belonging > community

And so to my family tree. What’s in it for me?

My brother George and I both started doing family tree connections
quite independently of each other.
How come?
I wasn’t aware of any insistent motivation
- I thought my motivation was curiosity -
but people started asking me why I did it,
what got me into family tree research,
and something more needed to be identified.

It wasn’t hard in retrospect to identify what motivated us.
My father enlisted in mid 1942,
I was 18 months old, my brother would be born four moths later
(and dad was allowed to come home for the birth).
He returned just after my fifth birthday.
Our sister Marilyn was born two years later.

During school holidays,
my brother and I used to stay with my mother’s relatives
in Mareeba, in those days about an hour or so from Cairns.
“School holidays” suggests that this would have been
from when George was 5 and I was 7.
In retrospect, this may have been because my mother
was suffering severe back pain,
because she died from a spinal cancer when I was 10.
Some months before she died
my mother was moved to Mareeba Hospital
to be near her mother and siblings.

We moved in with my father’s parents and an aunt,
and that was our home for the next five years
before we all went to boarding school in Charters Towers
because my grandmother was unwell.
She died while we were at boarding school.

As was the pattern in those days,
we did not attend any of these funerals.
(The first funeral I attended was one I had to conduct!)

At this point we stopped visiting my mother’s family
because coming home from boarding school
we naturally stayed at our grandparents place
until dad remarried and we stayed with him
and our stepmother and stepbrother.

So you don’t get any medals for working out how it was
that my brother and I got into family tree stuff.
We re-connected with my mother’s side of the family
and began to build a wider family community.

My father’s family came from Northern Ireland
probably to escape the tensions in Ireland at the time.
My great grandmother brought her only son and his family to Cairns.
My grandfather was passionately Presbyterian and anti-Catholic.
My great grandmother's brother had earlier migrated to South Africa
so that he could marry his Catholic girl friend
away from the intense family tensions in Ireland.

As part of my work on the family tree,
I visited Ireland in 2008 to put people to names
and experienced a strong sense of community,
especially from my Catholic relatives.
I was actually invited to take part in a family baptism
by a second cousin Tom Hogan who is a Catholic priest.
The baby being baptised was a descendant
of that Presbyterian great uncle who had migrated to South Africa
to marry his Roman Catholic girlfriend.

My work on the family tree had promoted a sense of belonging -
belongingness can embrace difference
and deal with past tensions.

My mother’s family had come to Australia in the 1830s.
Four siblings escaped London for Sydney.
My great great grandfather moved to the Rockhampton area in 1873,
his Sydney-born son, my great grandfather, left Rockhampton in 1878
for the gold mining centres of Ravenswood and Georgetown
before settling in Mareeba in 1901.
He was smart enough not to get into the gold mining
but to provide freight transport via bullocks wagons for the miners.
He had thirteen children, all but one of whom survived to adulthood.
So… lots of relatives around Mareeba and far North Queensland.
If I pursue my mother’s ancestors, especially through the women
there is an extremely rich heritage of ancestors
that we can trace back with reasonable confidence
to sixth century Sweden.

I recently did a DNA test,
and while I was sort of hoping for just a touch of scandal,
my heritage matches precisely what we have in the family tree.

One of my biggest challenges in running the family tree
is to get people to give me a bit more than dates and events.
When you do get people to share their stories
it creates a strong sense of identity
because the names on paper begin to become real people.

Some of the stories reveal stuff you would rather not know.
And you are not going to know about mine, either,
but here is a story that illustrates how to deal with this.
There are several apocryphal examples such as this one…

A professional genealogical researcher discovered
that Hillary Clinton’s great-great uncle, Remus Rodham,
was hanged for horse stealing and train robbery in Montana in 1889.
The only known photograph of Remus
shows him standing on the gallows.
On the back of the picture is this inscription:
‘Remus Rodham; horse thief, sent to Montana Territorial Prison 1885,
escaped 1887, robbed the Montana Flyer six times.
Caught by Pinkerton detectives, convicted and hanged in 1889.’

The researcher emailed Hillary Clinton
for information about her great-great uncle.
Hillary’s staff sent back the following biographical sketch:

‘Remus Rodham was a famous cowboy in the Montana Territory.
His business empire grew to include acquisition
of valuable equestrian assets
and intimate dealings with the Montana railroad.
Beginning in 1883,
he devoted several years of his life to government service,
finally taking leave to resume his dealings with the railroad.
In 1887, he was a key player in a vital investigation
run by the renowned Pinkerton Detective Agency.
In 1889, Remus passed away
during an important civic function held in his honour
when the platform upon which he was standing collapsed.’

From The Washington Post 23 Mar 2016

k.d. lang is a well known Canadian pop and country singer and song writer.
My memory is a little hazy but some years ago I recall
an interview with her by an Australian journalist.

The interviewer ask k.d. lang what it was like
to be a lesbian in a small rural Canadian community.
Clearly the interviewer had a stereotype of rural community in mind!

k.d. lang told a story about an eccentric old man
who lived in humble conditions on the outskirts of the town.
When he went into town to do his shopping
people would greet him even though he seldom responded.
When Social Security decided that this man needed to be moved
to an institution where he could be cared for,
the village rose up as one and told Social Security
that he belonged in this community and that they would care for him.

k.d. lang said that in a small country town everyone belonged
including those who were different.
She went on to say that when people live in big cities
they tend to create communities of like-minded people or
communities of people that share a common interest.
Such communities are able to ignore those outside their group.

I am grateful for our church family -
it gives us identity,
a sense of belonging
a community -
a community that shares difference,
that cares for those in need beyond our community,
that shares an identity that reflects the ministry of Jesus.
A family of God.