1-27-13, Threads in the Cloth

Neh 8:2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 1Cor 12:12-30;  Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21  

     My father died in 2004.  It fell upon me to be his Personal Representative.  I found myself going through his things, bits and pieces of his life, of the lives of his brothers and sister, his parents, his ancestors, variables strewn about haphazardly in drawers, boxes, closets, in the basement. It looked like a lot of clutter to me, a mess of stuff that nobody ever threw out.

   Until my father died, none of it held any particular interest for me. Both of my parents were gone, and as I shuffled through their old photographs, dusty notations, boxes of letters, it was as though I was actually seeing them for the first time.

    The fragile leavings of years gone by were actually the very fragments of my own beginnings. Therein was a story, an American story, the story of my ancestors, a gift for my children, and their children.

    A puff of wind and the pieces would be scattered again, lost in crevices and holes as they blew through the tunnels of passing generations.  All that “stuff” needed to be sorted out, preserved. It needed a safe place to wait for my children and my grandchildren, to wait for generations yet to come.

   I sorted out all the old photos, compared and identified them, put them in albums. I read all the old newspaper clippings, the obituaries, the letters which had been saved through the years.

   One box contained letters all written by the same person.  The handwriting was of a time gone by, practiced in a small, rural school. It was from a time when handwriting was considered to be a skill, careful, studied, correct. The content of the letters revealed the daily occurrences and concerns of a woman who died years before I was born. Until this time I had never heard her name. She was born in Illinois. She had sailed around the horn of South America and up the Pacific coast with her parents. She grew up Buena Vista, Oregon. She married and gave birth to nine children, among them two sets of twins as well as my own grandmother.  The family took up a homestead in the Big Timber Country of the Nehalem Valley of northwestern Oregon. She was my great grandmother, Anna Jane Metcalf Foster. 

    One day Al and I drove up to Jewel, Oregon. In an old cemetery on a hill, where her children had stood 110 years ago mourning her passing, I found the place where she now rests, and I was filled with joy!  

   I don’t think I can express exactly how this experience discovery effected me.   But it was just the beginning of a much larger quest which is still going on today.

   With the help of an amazing genealogical collection by one of my 19th Century ancestors, William Prescott, and a number of libraries, and various historical societies, and the world wide web, and Ancestry.com, I have followed the roots of my family tree clear back beyond the generations of those who came to America in the 17th century, ...much further, in some cases as far back as 80 generations, ...in some cases, back to Before Christ even. 

    They lived in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Denmark, Luxembourg, Eastern Europe.  Some of them lived in castles.  A few were very famous. You’d never know it, but standing before you, is a person who carries the DNA of Bewolf type people who roamed the seas in longboats, who wore horns on their heads, and who pillaged, plundered, and terrorized the the coasts of Europe!  


    It doesn’t require a lot of imagination to understand something of how the people felt as the scribe and priest Ezra opened their ancient scroll and began to read.  They just had returned from captivity, from being slaves. As Psalm 137 says so touchingly: 

“By the rivers of Babylon

we sat mourning and weeping

when we remembered Zion...”

   The Persian king eventually freed them. He appointed Nehemiah as Governor to lead them home, and he returned to them all the precious gold and silver implements which had been ransacked from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar. 

   But, when they got home to their Promised Land, they found that the walls of Jerusalem had been torn down. Its gates had been burned. The City of David was a pile of rubble, the Chosen People were homeless, and the Zion that they mourned on the riverbanks of Babylon was nothing more than a memory.

   Nehemiah was a good Governor. He obtained funding from the king. He organized the people. Together they rebuilt the walls.  They restored the gates.  They began to rebuild their city.  They opened the temple doors.  They found the scrolls upon which their history, and their laws, and their genealogies, and their traditions were written.  Nehemiah had a platform built outside of the city gate.  All the people gathered around, and Ezra began to read:  

“In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,

the earth was a formless wasteland,

and darkness covered the abyss...”

    Ezra read their ancient stories about Adam and Eve, about Cain and Abel. He read the listing of generations from Adam to Noah. He read about the great flood and the Patriarchs... all of the old stories, the records of all the people, how they were taken into slavery in Egypt, and how God opened a pathway through the sea before them, and brought them through with his “mighty arm and his outstretched hand”.   Ezra read about how they wandered in the desert for 40 years,  about how they ate bread from heaven and drank water from a rock.  He read their Law and all its precepts:

“I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt,

 that place of slavery,

You shall not have other gods besides me...”

And Ezra read about the entry of the Israelites into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

   As he read, the people laid on the ground and wept over their immense losses and failures, and they wept for joy at their restoration.  They were a nation again.  They were the People of God again. They were bound together by their Incredible story, and by their history, and by their Law.  

   Luke tells us in today’s gospel reading, that he too has compiled a story about  the events of his time.  As you know, Luke wrote one of the four gospels,as well as the Acts of the Apostles.

   Today we read Luke’s story about a time when Jesus returned to Galilee and to Nazareth.  In the synagogue he read a familiar scripture from the book of Isaiah to the people:

“The spirit of God is upon me

because the Most High has anointed me

 to bring Good News to those who are poor.  

God sent me to proclaim liberty to to those held captive,

recovery of sight to those who are blind,

and release to those in prison,

to proclaim the year of God’s favor.”

     Then Jesus tells the people:  “Today, in your hearing, this Scripture passage is fulfilled.”

   I am truly amazed and grateful to have discovered the part of my own story which had been hidden away in my father’s cupboards.  It enlarges my life.  It is my treasure, and my legacy.  It makes me feel like I’m part of a long, long thread in a very expansive cloth which spreads all the way across America and Europe. 

   We all have a story. Each one of us here is a thread in the cloth.  As Christians we, like the Jews, are united by our histories, our life experiences, our individual stories and more...

   We are united by unrelenting faith and unquenchable hope in the One who brings mountains low,

     who fills in deep valleys, 

     who makes crooked ways straight,

     who makes rough ways plain,

     who restores sight to blind eyes, 

     and hearing to deaf ears,

     and freedom to captive souls,

     who brings good news to the poor,

     who loves each one of us,

     and who fills us with His Own Life,


By Marcia Lee