Choosing Our Ancestors

Choosing Our Ancestors

July 03, 2022 • Rev. Rob Fuquay

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; I have a goodly heritage.”

We begin a five week series on Psalms today which is why we are calling it Summer Playlist. Psalms are songs. The Book of Psalms is like a hymnbook. So each week we will have songs we use in worship you can access by…

To save time in today’s message I have printed a one-page background that helps to understand the Book of Psalms. This morning we begin with Psalm 16 which is a Psalm of Trust. Let us pray…

Martin Luther King Jr. was born Michael King Jr. (pic) When he was five years old his father changed his name. His dad, Michael King, Sr., was pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, and in 1934 his congregation sent him on a continuing education trip to Europe. His time in Germany changed his life. (remove pic)

Adolf Hitler had just become the new chancellor. While there, Rev. King learned about Martin Luther, the reformation leader. He was deeply affected by the stories of his amazing courage to confront power. All around him were signs of Nazi ideology. The Baptist Alliance responded with a resolution deploring all racism toward Jews, people of color, and races of all people. The trip changed his life.

When he returned home he changed his name and his son’s from Michael King to Martin Luther King. He wanted a name to live up to. You could say the elder King was choosing his ancestry, something to which the writer of Psalm 16 would say, “Amen!”

This is a Psalm of trust. Part of it was quoted by Peter in his first sermon on Pentecost in Acts 2. The writer of the Psalm is declaring his trust in God, but he specifies where such trust comes from. He writes, “As for the holy ones in the land, they are the noble ones in whom is my delight.” He understands that such assurance in God has come through other people.

Then in verse 6 it says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. I have a goodly heritage.” It refers to the drawing of the boundaries for the tribes of Israel under Joshua. The people couldn’t choose their inherited blessing. It was assigned. The writer is thinking of the blessings in life that have fallen to him. But you get the sense that the writer isn’t just talking about physical blessings. More seems to be implied. There are spiritual blessings. The writer is thankful for the love, faith and courage with which he has ben able to face life. And so the writer can say, “I have a goodly heritage,” “I have a rich ancestry.”

Harold Bosley, former Dean of Duke Divinity School, says about this verse, “We must not misunderstand (the writer) to say, ‘My heritage is all good.’ That would have been untrue. There was much evil in this inheritance; its landscape was dotted with some of the most colossal and humiliating follies known to (humanity).” (Sermons on the Psalms, p37)

Any student of Disciple Bible Study knows what he’s talking about: Cain killed his brother, Jacob cheated his, the Israelites murmured against God in the wilderness, David had an affair and killed the woman’s husband to cover it up. Not all about the Psalmist’s heritage was good, yet he said, “I have a goodly heritage.” Why?

Because he believed that human evil was not the greater thread tying together his history. By faith he could see the goodness of God weaving a bigger story that was handed down to him. In other words, he was choosing his ancestry. He was choosing what he wanted to live up to.

Understanding our ancestry has become a big interest in recent years., an organization that helps you identify and understand your ancestral origins, has over 3 million paying subscribers and over 20 billion records collected and more than 15 million people in the network. Folks are curious about their backgrounds. They want to know about themselves, and not just racial heritages. People want to know if there are secrets in their histories that might explain things to them. Maybe if I understood that my great grandfather was a certain kind of person that will explain why I am the way I am.

Good reasoning, but there is a king of fatalism to it. Knowledge of my ancestry might help me understand myself, but I may also feel I have no choice. Whatever quirks, problems or unseemliness I have is just the way it is. I am destined to be this kind of person.

But the writer of Psalm 16 presents a very different and significant option. We can choose to see a goodly heritage. We can choose our ancestors, because our DNA is made up of more than just physical characteristics. We have a spiritual DNA as well. And we can choose that heritage. We can look back at the best of our ancestors, those who exercised trust and courage and integrity and compassion, and claim this goodly heritage as our own.

This is an important thought to have on this July 4th weekend when we celebrate our independence and pay tribute to the goodly heritage we have in ancestors who bravely fought and defended our right to be free. As we know, not all about our heritage is good. Much in our ancestry is filled with dark and oppressive legacies. And we are in a time like never before, when it is important to evaluate our ancestry and choose with care the ancestors we want to emulate.

In recent years we have wrestled with removing certain flags from our statehouses and statues from our town squares, because we are understanding how important it is to choose the right ancestors.

Today in Germany it is not only discouraged but illegal to fly a Nazi flag. Nowhere in the country will you find statues erected to Adolf Hitler or other Nazi leaders. That’s not because Germany is hiding its past but protecting its future.

Thinking about our own struggles in this country, columnist David Brooks said back in a June 2015 article “That culture is transmitted through the generations by the things we honor or don’t honor, by the symbols and names we celebrate and don’t celebrate. If we want to reduce racism we have to elevate the symbols that signify the struggle against racism and devalue the symbols that signify its acceptance.” (“The Robert E Lee Problem” NYT 6/26/2015)

In other words, we must choose the right ancestors. It doesn’t mean we rid ourselves of the richness of looking to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and other so called “founding fathers,” but we do need to add to them.

We need to add:

Sybil Ludington known as the female Paul Revere. She was just 16 years old when on the night of April 26, 1777 she rode 40 miles to rally patriot fighters that the British were coming. Though she was half Paul Revere’s age, she rode twice as far to carry her warning.

Delores Huerta the Latina civil rights activist who ensured farmworkers received US Labor rights and founded the National Farmworkers Association.

Yuri Kochiyama who because of her experience of being placed in an internment camp for Japanese during World War II dedicated her life to advocacy for civil rights for marginalized people.

Sojourner Truth the Methodist woman who was a powerful preacher more than a decade before women were officially allowed to preach in the Methodist Church. She was nationally known for her emancipation speeches and she influenced national leaders.

Wilma Mankiller (certainly a daunting name!) is the first female chief of the Cherokee Nation, which draws my interest because much of my ministry was near the Cherokee Reservation in NC. She has spent her life working for the rights of Native Americans and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Harvey Milk the first openly gay politician elected to public office in California in the 1970’s. He was known for getting an important bill passed banning discrimination against people based on sexual orientation, and he was assassinated shortly after. He, too, was awarded, posthumously, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

On and on I could go with examples of diverse people who have left legacies of courage and sacrifice for the sake of human freedom; people who with our founding fathers, are part of our rich American Ancestry.

Like the psalmist we can say, “I have a goodly heritage.”

We have a wide array of ancestors who gave their lives for the good of others. They weren’t perfect people, but they were people through whom God could work despite their sin and imperfection and make the world better. No doubt they were all people for whom someone spoke into their lives reminding them of ancestors who gave them courage and hope. Something to live up to.

And to say we have a goodly heritage means we have something to live up to. Recognizing our heritage is to admit we have a legacy to live out. We have to be the carriers of common good in our day. And like our ancestors, to have goodness within us, to see ourselves as good, does not mean we are perfect. No, it means God is good. God is the one who uses us in spite of our flaws an failures, and forgives us and allows us to be tools of good in our day. To be participants in a goodly heritage is understand we how much we need the goodness of God in our lives.

In a moment we will receive Holy Communion, symbolizing the forgiveness we have through Christ, but even more. It symbolizes Christ spiritually entering into us, taking form inside of us as we consume the bread and drink. It represents a legacy of our spiritual DNA that shapes us by grace and compassion. When we truly appreciate what choosing this ancestry means it can change not only our lives but our world.

Let me close with this story about my old preaching professor in seminary, Dr. Fred Craddock.

Fred Craddock tells of vacationing in the Smoky Mountains. One evening he and his wife had gone to Black Bear Inn for dinner They were looking over the menu when an old man came over to the table and greeted them and began asking: if on vacation, good time, where from, and what did for living. When Fred said that he was a preacher, the old man pulled up chair and said, “Let me tell you about a preacher.”

“I was born back in these hills, my mother wasn’t married, and in those days you didn’t get over a thing like that. When go into town, people stare at her and me trying to guess who my father was. And the shame and reproach that was on her feel on me. And it hurt me so bad that I didn’t want to go anywhere with her. At school, I’d eat lunch behind tree…at recess I hid in weeds because kids called me names and tried to guess who my father was…My life was absolutely unbearable, and I saw no hope.

I started going to church back in mountains, the preacher there wore split tail coat, had long beard, craggy face and deep booming voice. But I like him. I really didn’t think I was supposed to go to church being the kind of boy I was from names called. So, I wouldn’t go to anything but preaching — go in just before the sermon and leave before benediction. Had been going several Sundays, when one Sunday, people got in aisle and I couldn’t get out. I wanted to leave…couldn’t get past…got nervous, and afraid somebody would try to speak to me; afraid somebody would stop me and say “What’s a boy like you doing here?” I was hot, cold, sweaty, nervous, when I felt hand on shoulder. Turned and looked and it was that preacher. He looked at me and I felt, “Oh no, I’m in for it now!” He looked at me and stared…looked and stared. Said, “Boy, you are a son of...” and I thought he was going to try and guess who my father was. He said, “Boy, why you’re a son of God. . .I can see the resemblance.” And, said the old man, he swatted me on the bottom and said, “Now Boy, you go and claim your inheritance.” The old man said, “I was born that day!”

Fred asked the old man, “What’s your name?” “Ben Hooper,” came the reply. Fred knew his Tennessee history. For the people of Tennessee twice elected Ben Hooper as governor – illegitimate son of a mountain girl.

Ben Hooper always looked back to that church, that preacher, and his words as the turning point of his life. Each time he looked back and remembered, he felt affirmed and assured. He knew he was somebody. He belonged. He knew that God had reached into his very soul, touched him, and claimed him as His is own. Genealogy is important because it put us in line – and hopefully reminds us that we are chosen by God.