We’re approaching All Saints’ Sunday, which is the anniversary of both of my sons’ baptisms. We baptized them as infants, placing their entire bodies carefully and lovingly into water prayed over by my husband. After he washed them in the holy water to baptize them, he anointed their heads with oil and marked them as Christ’s own forever. I cannot even think about those baptized babies without getting weepy, not out of sentimentality, but for the sheer power of the words spoken over them that day, and for the promises we made on their behalf.


Why did we choose All Saints’ Sunday? We could have chosen a different day in the church calendar: Easter with its resurrection joy and heady smell of lilies, or the day in August when my husband baptized new Christians in the creek that runs behind the church. Instead, we chose to baptize them in the church on this oddball festival a few days after Halloween, when we remember all the saints who came before us, including my husband’s beloved daddy, who died just six weeks after our oldest son was born. We remembered my “adopted” grandfather David, a World War II veteran and missionary who rode a bicycle while smoking a pipe, and who also died that year. We remembered my crazy grandmother, who drank vinegar and believed everything she read in the National Enquirer, and her mother, who immigrated from Austria and lived for nine and half decades on Cheetos and stubbornness. We remembered Mary and Martha, and Peter and Paul, along with all of their oddities and eccentricities. We baptized our children into this family of imperfect people.

Some people were confused at our decision to wait “so long” to baptize these babies, who were crawling and teething by the time they were washed in the waters of baptism. Didn’t we want an “insurance policy” a little bit earlier just in case “something happened” to them? While I think it is one of the most touching moments in television history, we don’t subscribe to the Archie Bunker theory of baptism. That is, we didn’t just want to sneak away and make sure something “stuck” out of fear of what would happen otherwise.

The promises we made for them that day – to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, and by our prayers and witness help them to grow into the full stature of Christ … all of those promises, however imperfectly we fulfill them, are the words of adoption we used to introduce our children into their Christian family. Like any family, as we’re reminded every Thanksgiving, it is not without warts and weirdos. All Saints’ Sunday leads us into the holiday season, which is when dysfunctional families of every stripe gather around tables and see each other as the imperfect people we all are. The genealogy of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, sometimes read at the beginning of Advent, reminds us that Jesus had humble beginnings before the lowly stable was even in the picture.

One of my favorite passages from Gail Godwin’s novel Evensong is a sermon about Jesus’ genealogy according to Matthew:

God does not necessarily select the noblest or most deserving person to carry out Divine purposes.

For reasons unknown to us, God may select the Judahs who sell their brothers into slavery, the Jacobs who cheat their way into first place, the Davids who steal wives and murder rivals – but also compose profound psalms of praise.

And what about the five women Matthew chooses to include? Not a mention of Sarah or Rebekah or Rachel, the upstanding patriarchal wives of Israel. Instead Tamar, a Canaanite, who disguised herself as a prostitute and seduced her father-in-law Judah to get a son out of him. And Rahab, another Canaanite and a real prostitute this time. And Ruth the Moabite, another outsider. And Bathsheba, mother of Solomon, is named only as the wife of Uriah, whom King David had killed so he could marry her himself. Every one of these women used as God’s instrument had scandal or aspersion attached to her – as does the fifth and final woman named in the genealogy: Mary, the mother of Jesus, with her unconventional pregnancy.

But this will fit right in with Jesus’ coming ministry to tax collectors and sinners and prostitutes and lepers, to ‘those who need a physician,’ not those who are already righteous.

Matthew’s genealogy is showing us how the story of Jesus Christ contained – and would continue to contain – the flawed and the affected and insulted, the cunning and the weak-willed and the misunderstood.

His is an equal opportunity ministry for crooks and saints.

And what about that final fourteen generations of unknown, or unremarkable names [in Matthew’s genealogy]? Who was Azor, or Achim? Who was Eliud, who was Eleazar? Or even this Matthan, who was, according to Matthew, Jesus’ great-grandfather? What did they do? What kind of men were they? We don’t know. You won’t find their names in the concordance, or in any biblical Who’s Who.

And this is, of course, where the message settles directly upon us. If so much powerful stuff can have been accomplished down through the millennia via the agency of wastrels, betrayers, and outcasts, and through people who were such complex mixtures of sinner and saint, and through so many obscure and undistinguished others, isn’t that a pretty hopeful testament to the likelihood that God is using us, with our individual flaws and gifts, in all manner of peculiar and unexpected ways?

This beautiful message from Matthew by way of Gail Godwin is echoed in Bruce Feiler’s New York Times piece from 2013: “The Family Stories that Bind Us”. Feiler cites research that says that “children who have the most self-confidence have … a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.” Children who know their family’s whole story, including the hard times, tend to have an easier time with their own struggles, or so the research says, according to Feiler. All Saints’ Sunday seems as good of a time as any to talk about those struggles and those sins in our family and in our adopted family of faith.


And so, on All Saints’ Sunday, we celebrate our children’s baptism into a broken family, which looks to a broken body on a cross for our salvation and our hope. And we sing, every year, “They were all of them saints of God, and I mean, God helping, to be one, too.”