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Skeletons and Secrets - May 7, 2017

Genesis 38

Who knew they had that kind of stuff in the scriptures?! It's almost like a story on Jerry Springer, not exactly the story you'd expect to hear on a Sunday morning, but it's one that shows us, that it doesn't matter which family line you're part of...Abraham, Kind David, or Jesus himself...there are issues...sometimes messy, icky, no one even wants to mention it kind of issues. (Now granted all those guys are from the same family, but we don't always talk about that either). And honestly, one would think, that in editing the scriptures, in choosing books or stories, it might have come up once or twice to leave out the mess...and yet they didn't, it's in there in all its glory...maybe as a light or hope or something to us, as readers that says..."Hey, even these

guys, some of the most prominent in God's story, messed it up, and God still found a way to redeem and heal and do a new thing. So don't despair if you've messed it up, or someone else messed it up for you...God is still a good God who can bring out the best blessings from the worst decisions and circumstances."
I'm not sure quite how to say it, other than colloquial southern terms...this family is a "hot mess." That means it's really bad. Really, really bad. It starts off decent...Judah gets married, has 3 boys and when the time comes, the eldest gets married to a woman named Tamar. And that's about the end of the normal bit. Because the next part is that Er was evil, so God killed him.
Point blank. Plain and simple "God killed him." Now, quite frankly, that's a theological discussion that is bound to get messy and we're just not getting into all of that today, we'll just suffice it to say, "wow, I didn't know it worked quite like that...and I hope that either a) God has more grace now than back then or b) I hope I never qualify as "wicked" in God's eyes. Either way and I'll be good. So, God killed Er; then Judah goes to his other son, the middle son and says, "you've gotta follow the law and take your brother's wife as your own." Now that sounds hinkey to us in modern day America, but it's actually a pretty basic Israelite's called Levirate law and basically it says that if one brother dies and leaves a widow, then the next oldest takes her as his wife, to care for her as his own and to honor his brother. Now, we may not have any intention of ending up as our brother in law's matter what the circumstances, but for women in that day, it wasn't a contested thing, it was actually in her best interest because without a man to provide for her, she couldn't get work, she couldn't have food, she couldn't survive. So, having a brother in law to care for you and honor your late husband was a good deal.
So, Onan took Tamar as his own wife. But he didn't want his brother sharing any rights with his own kids. In essence, if a son were born to Tamar, he would stand to inherit what his "rightful" dad should have...what Er should have, not what Onan should have. And since Er was the oldest, he stood to inherit the best and the most. Onan wasn't on board. So he basically cheated Tamar out of a child. WHICH....God didn't appreciate and thought was a bit shady, so God killed Onan.
Now, lucky for Tamar, Judah had not 2 but 3 she would be taken in by Shelah, but he was too young, so she was sent home until he came of age. Only, Judah wasn't about to lose another son--his last son (nevermind that the first two died because of THEIR wickedness...not anyone else's), and Judah had no intention of going to get Tamar when Shelah was old enough. Which, in time, Tamar figured out, so she took matters into her own hands.
Now, good money says most of us are not on board with what she did either...and I'm not trying to condone it, but I will say, she was smart and knew no one was going to take care of her but her. She did what she had to do...right, wrong or indifferent so that she wouldn't be left out in the cold by her in-laws. She apparently knew Judah had a weakness with sexual sin and she tempted him. He took the bait and she had already found a way to make him know that it was his baby when it came into question later on. It ultimately wasn't about the was about the responsibility of caring for Tamar as family and she made sure Judah had no way around all of that.
We might be tempted to ask why we even care about these two. ..they're just a couple of messed up people. ..right? Wrong.
If you read Matthew chapter 1, you'll see Jesus' family line. In the King James Version, Abraham begat Isaac who begat Jacob who begat...Perez and Zamar..yadda yadda yadda...most of us skip that chapter because it is kind of boring and all those names don't mean much. ..but if you actually look, You'll see that Judah is a son of Jacob. ..and a few more down the line is king David. ..down the line a bit more until you get to Jesus.
In other words, these two are part of Jesus' story and while God could have gone another route...chosen someone else to be famous in Jesus' family...God didn't. God's story was bigger than their scandal, bigger than Judah's sin, or Onan's pride. God's story trumped them all to come out on top and even though this is part of Jesus' family, we don't hear about it in the gospels, it's not what he's known for. He's not forever bound by what THEY did.
Which, quite frankly is awfully good news for a lot of us. Because it means that we don't have to be defined by the misgivings of the people in our family. And even Judah isn't known for this story, instead he's known as father of one of the twelve tribes...the whole southern section of Israel was known as Judah...his great, great, great grandson was Jesse, the father of kind David—that's what he's known for....not for what he did to Tamar...even Judah got a second chance.
So when we turn our focus from their story back to our story to see what God's truth is for us, we first have to admit that there is some really awful stuff that happens in families. Some of it will make your stomach turn and some of it will break your heart. Some of it isn't scandalous or sinful, but we think it's shameful, or we don't want to embarrass or shame another family member by telling their story, so we keep it buried, we hold it in. The fact is that secrets that lie under the surface can hold a lot of power and keep us away from God's promises because they convince us we'll never be free. But as God's people that's simply not true.
We don't have to be bound by the past. We don't have to be known for another's sins, or even our own, we can be known as God's people who are part of God's family and God's ongoing story in the world. And all of that seems like a much better alternative to me.
So how do we get there? How do we do that? Honestly, I think it depends on the secret we are keeping. If we are keeping a secret about something that isn't scandalous or sinful, but something that holds a lot of social stigmas, we have to work through what we think the real issues are—share with someone who will be supportive, and who understands the real weight of what we are holding in our hearts.
If we are keeping a secret about our own sin, we need to confront it head on. We have to confess it as sin, recognize the power it holds in our life, and ask God to forgive us and free us from the temptation. And when fighting habitual sin, it often takes a daily conscious choice to choose God instead of the sin.
When we are dealing with one of the dark of the really ugly skeletons...the ones that arise from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse we have to find a safe space to be able to share about what happened, to talk through the wounds and pray for healing.
In every case, it matters that we are honest. We don't have to confess to every person we see on the street, but we need to confess to someone because otherwise, the secret holds us back, it keeps us away from what God has for us and binds us to the past.
And in every case, the amazing power of the Gospel is at work. God is constantly seeking to redeem and renew us. God is most concerned with unbinding us so we can be free to walk into God's future.
Your story is your own, skeletons and secrets and all. You can't unwrite what has been written. But you can keep on writing. You can show the world that what came before doesn't have to determine what comes after. And that you are more than your reputation or the local gossip might claim.
I've shared before that I consider myself pretty fortunate. I've known there were no "normal" families, but I was pretty sure my family was as close as you were going to get...but as an adult, with some perspective, I can look and see that we have skeletons and secrets just like every other family...not quite like Judah and Tamar, but still skeletons and secrets...things we'd rather hold back from the world for fear of what others might think. We have the one who was verbally abusive whenever he drank. We have the one who is a hoarder. We have the one who struggled with anxiety and wouldn't come out of his room at family reunions. We have the mental health stuff. And the ones who never seem to be available for time with family. We have the one who insists on her own way in everything we do. In another part of the family, there's the one who's in and out of rehab, the ones who will steal your jewelry if left alone in the house, the one with a gambling addiction...the list goes on. It's not one person or one scandal. There's no "root of the problem" per's life, and people, and's the skeletons and secrets that touch deeply in my own family. It's what reminds me that I can't look in judgment but instead need to look with humility and then look with hope to see where God is continuing to speak life into my life, my story, and my family.
We have to know we are not alone. We need to know that every family has "stuff" so we can feel free to share our own and find the healing, or the second chance that is needed. And we need to know that God is all about that work. God wants good things for us and is ready to help us break free from the things that hold us back.
In a moment, we will have a time of listening and reflection—a time of confession and honesty. In each of your bulletins is a card and our hope is that you would write a confession, a secret you hold about yourself or your family and start with the step of being honest. If you want, you can keep that card for yourself...hold onto it as a reminder that that truth doesn't have to be THE truth...or the thing for which you are known, instead, it can simply be a part of the past from which you are set free through Christ. Or, if you would like to share your truth, help someone else know they aren't alone in their journey, you can simply place it into the offering plate during communion. You don't need to put your name on it. It can be anonymous. But our hope is that we can be honest together, let down the façade to let God's Spirit into work.

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