God’s Grace in the Life of Ruth

“God’s Grace in the Life of Ruth”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 27, 2017

12th Sunday after Pentecost

Ruth 1:1-17

I love weddings. I love the beauty, the hope, and the possibilities they foreshadow for the future of two people who commit to join their lives one to the other. And I can be quite sentimental about them—so much so—I can cry at the wedding of strangers. In fact, I have been known to cry over many weddings portrayed on film. Just ask my husband! So…imagine my dilemma when I was asked to officiate at my very first wedding—that of our only daughter, Sarah. While I would have enjoyed playing the role of “mother of the bride,” sitting sweetly on the front pew of the church with tears streaming down my face—it was not to be.

 

When I began to prepare for the big day, there was one thing I knew for certain: If I cried, Sarah would lose it. So I knew I must not cry! And, sentimental fool that I am, what were the chances of that happening? Well, as they say, “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” so in the weeks leading up to the wedding, I enrolled in a crash course in the art of self-care. I meditated and prayed daily. I took long walks. I had frequent massages. I intentionally removed myself from as much stress as possible. Then, when the big day arrived, by the grace of God, there I stood before Sarah and her fiancé with joy and peace and “narry” a tear to shed. It was a miracle.

 

Since that day, I have officiated at many weddings, each, in their own way, a miracle to behold. And, interestingly, more than a few couples have chosen to include, as part of their wedding ceremony, words from the Book of Ruth: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” We may wonder why these words are often “taken out of context,” as it were. I believe it is because they are heartfelt words of unfathomable love—regardless of the fact that they are first uttered by a widowed daughter-in-law to her widowed mother-in-law.

 

The Book of Ruth is a Hebrew short story about the great-grandmother of King David. It is set in a dark time in Israel’s history. Moses and Joshua are long gone and kings of Israel like David and Solomon, are yet to come. These are the in between years of Israel’s history marked by all the people doing what is right in their own eyes.

 

In Bethlehem (which literally means “house of bread”) there is no bread. Consequently, Elimelech takes his wife, Naomi, along with their two sons, to find bread in a foreign land. But it is not just any foreign land, it is Moab and there is a long history of enmity between Israel and Moab. Yet, in time, the sons of Elimelech take wives from the land of Moab. Then, calamity strikes. Elimelech dies leaving Naomi a widow. Then, more tragedy occurs when both of Naomi’s sons die—leaving two widows in their wake. Destitute and broken hearted, a family is rent asunder.

 

The life of a widow in biblical times allows minimal prospects for living—let alone thriving. There will be no completion of an advanced degree, no joining the work force to make minimum wage.  Things look dire, to say the least. As a result, Naomi encourages the women to return to their people and their god—perhaps to seek mercy from their own people. Orpah agrees and departs. Ruth, on the other hand, refuses to leave Naomi’s side. Instead, she clings to her mother-in-law and makes one of the most remarkable pledges of loyalty in Scripture: “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die—there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me and more as well if even death parts me from you.”  Ruth, the woman from Moab, the foreigner, the enemy of Israel, demonstrates what the loyalty of God looks like. By word and by deed, she exhibits God’s promise: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

 

Ruth’s incredible words of love and commitment redefine the meaning of family and faith for all time. Bloodline does not necessarily a family make. We see it played out now, maybe more than ever. In our modern-day mobile society, with jobs taking us from state to state, with divorce decimating over half of American families, traditional family events are often shared with fewer blood relatives and more “families” of our own making like neighbors and friends and co-workers. It brings to mind Jesus’ response to the question, “Who is my family?”

 

You remember the story. Jesus is speaking to the crowds when his mother and brothers come, likely to “talk some sense into him.” When he is told that they are standing outside, Jesus responds, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he says, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Through these words, Christ foretells of the Kingdom of God here on earth where gender, skin color, family history, and all that divides is rent asunder. Thanks be to God! God’s love covers it all. God’s love covers us all.

 

Ultimately, Ruth and Naomi, journey onward together. No doubt, their future looks grim, but looks can be deceiving, and often are when God’s provision ever so gently moves into action. And God’s nature is revealed as the Almighty who is concerned about the everyday life of humanity: the grief of a widow who has buried her husband and sons—the broken heart of a woman left childless, without a husband, and living in a strange land. In the end, Ruth puts her hope in Naomi and in Naomi’s God. Doing so is always a good idea!

 

When the women reach their destination, it is the beginning of the season of harvest—a season of opportunity—a season of optimism. With just a seed of hope in her heart, Naomi sends Ruth into the fields of a distant relative of Naomi’s late husband. There Ruth gathers up leftover barley and Boaz happens to notice her. Boaz goes out of his way to treat her with kindness, assuring her safety and provision. Evidently, his actions are enough to push Naomi’s matchmaking skills into high gear for soon she orchestrates another encounter. Hear these words found later in the Book of Ruth:

 

Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”[i]

 

Following Naomi’s instructions to the letter, leads to the happy ending for which we have been yearning. Later, we learn:

 

Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.[ii]

 

With Ruth and Boaz a royal dynasty begins that will, eventually, include David and the very Son of God, Jesus the Christ—Jesus, the pioneer, and perfecter of our faith—Jesus, God’s love revealed in human form! Emmanuel! God with us!

 

In preparation for our upcoming pilgrimage to Scotland and Iona, I have been reading (or as the case may be, re-reading) some of the works of John Philip Newell. Newell served as the churchwarden of Iona Abbey in Scotland for a time. Poet, scholar, teacher, he has written many books about Celtic Spirituality. In A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul, he shares the following:

 

An American rabbi was once asked what he thought of the words attributed to Jesus in St. John’s Gospel, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The rabbi replied, “Oh, I agree with these words.” To which the surprised questioner asked further, “But how can you as a rabbi believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life?” “Because,” answered the rabbi, “I believe that Jesus’ way is the way of love, that Jesus’ truth is the truth of love, and that Jesus’ life is the life of love. No one comes to the Father except through love.”[iii]

 

No one comes to the Father except through love. The story of Ruth is a story of love. Ruth becomes a wife again and Naomi becomes a grandmother. The story of Ruth is a story of God’s gracious hand at work in the details of life for those who put their trust in God. Ruth, a woman, a widow, a foreigner, puts her hope in Naomi and in Naomi’s God. Doing so is always a good idea!

 

Amen.

 

[i] Ruth 3:1-5, NRSV.

[ii] Ruth 4:13-17, NRSV.

[iii] John Philip Newell, A New Harmony: The Spirit, the Earth, and the Human Soul, 119.

*Cover Art “Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab” by William Blake via Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain

 

God’s Grace in the Life of Moses

“God’s Grace in the Life of Moses”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 20, 2017

11th Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-21

Something dramatic gets Moses’ attention one day when he is out in the wilderness keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law at the foot of Mt. Horeb (also known as Mt. Sinai). Moses is intrigued when he sees a power of nature—fire—revealed in a bush.  Likely it is not a beautiful azalea or camellia—it is, after all, in the desert. Likely it is just a rough, scruffy looking bush, from which the holy appears. Moses is about to become a firsthand eyewitness to the holy for Moses is about to encounter his Divine Creator.

 

Let’s ease up for a closer look. Moses sees the bush that is on fire but it does not burn up. He surely thinks, “What’s going on here? I’ve never seen anything like this before!” (I believe we can safely say that God has Moses’ attention.) Then God calls out, “Moses, Moses,” and Moses responds, “Here I am.” Just in case Moses is not aware the magnitude of this moment, God offers a warning. “Don’t come any closer. Take off your sandals. You are on holy ground.” There Moses stands, barefoot before God, and Moses hears the voice from the bush saying, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Barefoot Moses hangs his head for he is afraid to look at God.

 

It turns out that God has seen the misery and injustice the people of Israel are suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. God, filled with compassion, is about to respond to their cry for help. It will be Moses’ mission to go to Pharaoh, lead the Israelites out of slavery, and travel with them to the Promised Land.

 

At first, glance, as all stories go, this one looks routine. You know the pattern: God calls. The person objects. “I can’t,” they say. “Yes you can,” God answers. This may look like a typical call story unless we consider how resistant Moses is to the call. He puts up quite a fight. If we examine today’s reading, and then on into chapter 4, Moses raises some objection to God’s call—not once or twice—but five times!

 

First, Moses says to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” This is a question of identity. Who am I? But, who better than Moses to go to Egypt? He has been raised there. He has inside information. And in God’s economy—none of our experiences are wasted. God knows who we are and from where we have come, which is exactly why God calls us to go…say…do…. And we need not fear because God does not call the equipped. God equips the called.

 

On to Moses’ second objection to God’s call: “Suppose I go to the Israelites and tell them all this great news and they’re a tad skeptical, you know, to the point of asking just who this God is who sent me. What am I going to tell them?” It is an understandable, reasonable question except that it’s not just a question. It’s a power play—subtle—but a power play, nonetheless. In ancient biblical times, it is believed that a name reveals the character of a person so to know another’s name is to have some control over them. With his question, then, Moses is probably trying to hold on to a little control of his own. Moses wants to wile the name out of this divine being because to know its name is to have a certain power over it. Which is what makes God’s answer so perfect: “I AM WHO I AM!”[i]  A better translation is I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. It seems God won’t play this game of manipulation. Poor Moses, his control is slipping away.

 

“Now be on your way,” God says, “Get the elders together and tell them what I have told you. They will listen to you.”

 

Again Moses objects. “They won’t trust me. They won’t listen to me. They are going to say, “There is no way God appeared to you—no way!” Moses is filled with self-doubt. Maybe he’s thinking about that day when he murdered an Egyptian who was beating his kinsman—back when he lived in Egypt—back when he was still known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Maybe he thinks since they know he was raised behind the palace walls. They won’t trust him. To this objection, God responds with one miracle after another. “What’s that in your hand, Moses?” “A staff,” and then God turns the staff into a snake, has Moses grab it by the tail and it becomes a staff again. Then God makes the very hand of Moses leprous—then heals it. In essence, God proves, “The elders will believe you, Moses. I will make sure of it.”

 

Still riddled with self-doubt, still so aware of his own shortcomings, Moses says, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, in the past nor even now. I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” By now God is getting fed up. “And just who do you think made the human mouth? Isn’t it I? So get going. I’ll teach you what to say.”

 

Poor Moses, slow on the uptake, has yet to figure out there will be no denying the call of YHWH on his life. But in one last effort, he gives it a try and says what is really on his mind:  “O my Lord, please send someone else, anyone else…” Completely frustrated with this unwilling servant, God provides a mouthpiece for Moses through Aaron, Moses’ brother, and God sends Moses away with his staff in hand.

 

It just looks like a bush on fire—but Moses encounters God on holy ground and Moses will never be the same. We may think of Moses as larger than life. How can we relate when, the truth is, most of us do not see ourselves as the stuff of which faith-heroes are made? But that’s probably because we haven’t been reading our Bibles very carefully. Remember David? He is one of the most revered characters in the Bible—described as a man after God’s own heart. Yet, he lies, he steals another man’s wife and then has her husband executed. His sins are many but he turns to God and God forgives him.

 

And what about the Apostle Paul? Before he has his little “Jesus meeting” on the road to Damascus, he is a ruthless crusader intent on destroying Christianity in its infancy. But he ultimately dedicates his life to spreading the message of salvation to the world.

 

Then there is Peter. Peter walks with Jesus—learns from Jesus—witnesses Jesus in action—yet he denies Jesus in his hour of need—denies him three times. Yet, recall what Jesus says, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church…”

 

The truth of the matter is few of the characters God employs—including Moses—are the stuff of heroes. Yes, Moses is a murderer. Yes, Moses resists God’s call. But along the way, if we examine the life of Moses throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, we see an imperfect man who just happens to love God—more and more with each passing day.

 

Moses, this hero of our faith, what can we learn from him? In the presence of God, Moses is transformed from a man who resists the Holy to a man eager to seek God’s face. Oh, the road isn’t always easy. Leading God’s people turns out to be more of a challenge than Moses could have ever imagined. Still, he sticks with it and he sticks with God—who sticks with him! At the end of his life, Deuteronomy tells us: “Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.”

 

God meets Moses where he is, a runaway living in Midian, a shepherd for his father-in-law’s flock. God meets Moses where he is but he does not leave him there. God has another flock for Moses to tend—the flock of God’s people. Moses struggles with his own identity. He struggles with God’s identity. He is filled with self-doubt—so much so that he pleads with God—send someone, send anyone else. But over time, Moses becomes a man who is changed and who changes the lives of the people whom God calls him to lead.

 

Isn’t it remarkable? God has a way of using frail, fallible, ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things. By faith, Moses stands barefoot before the holy. By faith, Moses walks with God, staff in hand. By faith, Moses leads the people out of captivity and into freedom. And every step he takes he is accompanied by an outpouring of God’s amazing grace and love.

 

None of us deserve it—this amazing love! Nonetheless, we are recipients of it. And God has called each of us to be about God’s work of love in the world.

 

Around the 2nd Century, Christians came under suspicion. Rumors began to circulate about what they were doing when they met together. Tertullian, a church leader in Carthage came to Christianity’s defense, indicating that it was out of jealousy that the church was being criticized—because Christians displayed character the outside world did not possess. He wrote, “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See how they love one another, they say…how they are ready even to die for one another…”[ii]

 

I wonder what it would be like today, if people outside this church looked at us and said, “Those people at First Presbyterian Church of Valdosta—see how they love one another! See how they love their friends and family, their co-workers and their neighbors! See how they love the stranger, the homeless, the prisoner, the outsider, the one no one else loves! See how they share the love of Christ at every opportunity!”

 

None of us deserve it—God’s amazing love! Nonetheless, we are recipients of it. And God has called each of us to be about God’s work of love in the world. What is your work of love to do?

 

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

[i] David Lose, Lutheran Seminary—preaching professor www.workingpreacher.org

[ii] The Apology, Chapter 19.

*Cover Art “The Burning Bush” © Jan Richardson Images; Used by subscription.

 

God’s Grace in the Life of Enoch

“God’s Grace in the Life of Enoch”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 13, 2017

10th Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 5:21-24; Hebrews 11:1-6

 

Nearly every First Friday for the past six months, visitors have attended our new Contemplative Service. This month, though, we had a few repeat visitors, which is always something to celebrate. When I told one woman I was glad to see her again, she replied, “Well, you told me to come back and to invite my friends. I invited 49 people. Some came—but I’m sure the rain kept a few away.” Another woman, Bonnie, a friend of Sissy’s, who enjoys the service, commented how much she liked one of the chants we sing, “The Jesus Prayer.” She said she keeps a bulletin in her car and sings it when she drives. Sissy, who happened to be standing nearby, said, “I know! I keep singing it, too. I even wake up with it going through my head like an ear worm. But it occurred to me, I could have worse things going through my head!”

 

One of the benefits of learning chants and other short refrains is that they can get into our heads and move into our hearts. Then as we go about our lives, the words may arise of their own accord or we can draw them up when we need them most. One such refrain has often ministered to me. It is from a CD collection of morning and evening prayers. The words are printed in your bulletin. Let’s take a moment to learn it:

 

I will walk in the presence of God in the land of the living.

I will walk in the presence of God. (Repeat)

 

Walking in the presence of God—for as long as we are alive on the planet—what a beautiful image—an image that might bring to mind the life of someone like Enoch. Scripture does not tell us a lot about him other than in Genesis: “Enoch walked with God …then he was no more because God took him.”  Also, we learn that he was the father of Methuselah.  The Letter to the Hebrews tells us:  “By faith, Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death…he was not found because God had taken him…for he had pleased God.”

 

If we look outside the Christian canon, we find that Enoch has been attributed the apocryphal text, The Book of Enoch. Actually, 1st Enoch is quoted in The Letter of Jude. Other resources credit Enoch as the inventor of writing, and arithmetic—not to mention the eyed metal needle used in sewing, which explains why some believe he earned his livelihood as a tailor.

 

No, Scripture does not give us much—just enough to leave us wanting more. We want to know what about Enoch pleased God so much. We want to know why he was so special that he did not taste death. We want to know exactly what it looks like to “walk with God.”

 

These days, walking is considered more of a scientifically proven, healthy, aerobic exercise than a means of transportation or a simple form of leisure. Honestly, how often do most of us take relaxing strolls through parks or meander through the neighborhood to simply enjoy the crisp morning air?  I cannot help but wonder what Enoch, Moses or even Jesus would think of our aerobic exercise. Certainly, brisk walking is good for our health because it strengthens our heart and lungs, sharpens our mind, and boosts our overall sense of well-being.  It also gives us the added benefit of getting us out from “under roof.”  Then, if even for a short time, we are no longer in our office, in our fast-moving vehicle or even inside our homes taken captive by the television or computer. Instead, for a while, we are outside in God’s wondrous creation.

 

All this leads us back to something Enoch knew—but something we may have forgotten:  Walking with God is good for our spiritual health. But the heart of the matter isn’t even really the walking. (We could just as easily be rocking on the front porch!) The heart of the matter is making time to intentionally be present with God our Creator. It is spending time with God in the midst of our joys as well as our struggles. It is staying connected to our Heavenly Father who has a way of guiding us and helping us put things in perspective. And it’s sharing our faith journey so others may come to know this Great God we serve. Failing that, we just might bypass the most important things of life. How, then, can we truly please God?

 

Over the years, I have often thought of Enoch and imagined his life. I wonder if his story goes a little like this:

 

Enoch had a powerful love of God. He also had lots of responsibilities to occupy his day. Although having enough money to fill up his automobile with gasoline was not on the top of his list of priorities, he had other worries that were just as real to him. He had a family—wife, children—and an occupation. But somehow, Enoch always had time for God. Each day he would rise early, sometimes with back aching and bones creaking. He would rise early because he knew God was waiting for him. Off he’d go, toward the fields of wildflowers and honeysuckle, just over the ridge where he would meet God and they would walk together. What wonderful talks they had. Enoch shared his delight in his son, Methuselah, saying something like, “He’s strong and healthy; he’s going to live for ages and ages.”  And God smiled. He spoke of his wife, their love and the good life they shared and he thanked God.

 

Some days Enoch had doubts and problems to share with God—an old friend had wronged him—how could he make amends?  A child who didn’t share his faith in God—why?  A mother who went into a deep depression when her husband died—could God give her peace? Neighbors who did not know God—how might Enoch share his faith with unbelievers?

Other days were spent in simple companionship. Enoch loved stories and God loved telling them. God told of how the world was created, the joy of the first man and woman and tons of other incredible stories. They spoke of the natural beauty of the land, the gardens and springs and all the creatures that made life so interesting. Enoch never tired of praising God for God’s creative nature. And God never tired of pouring out his love upon Enoch.

Day after day, Enoch, a man of faith, walked with God, which pleased God so! One day, without them even noticing it, their walk had taken much longer than usual. Turning and looking at Enoch with such pride, God said, “Enoch, you know, we’ve walked together for years and today we’ve walked farther from your home than ever before.  Actually, we’re closer to my place now.  How about you come on home with me?  Enoch smiled and together God and Enoch walked just over the ridge…forever.

 

We are all on a journey, a pilgrimage. There are problems that we face that will challenge us, no doubt. But we gain strength by remembering the great cloud of witnesses who are a part of our faith story. We gain strength by remembering Enoch who pleased God. We gain strength by remembering that we never walk alone. Even when we face a crossroads when the journey ahead is unclear—God is already there. Along these lines, Thomas Merton is often quoted from Thoughts in Solitude:

 

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

 

“Enoch walked with God …and then Enoch was no more.”  Unlike Enoch, unless the Lord returns in our lifetime, we will face death. But even death, we need not fear. Because of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who lived, died and was resurrected—death has no hold on us. We need not fear the journey ahead. We need not fear the destination for it’s just over the ridge…forever!

 

As long as we have breath, as long as we are in the land of the living, may we walk in the presence of God! Let us sing:

 

I will walk in the presence of God in the land of the living.

I will walk in the presence of God. (Repeat)

 

*Cover Art  via Google Images

 

God’s Grace in the Life of Rahab

“God’s Grace in the Life of Rahab”

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; August 6, 2017

9th Sunday after Pentecost

Josh 2:1-21; 6:15-25

 

 

Born in 1722, Eliza Lucas Pinckney, eventually came to live with her family in a farming area near Charleston.[i]  Her mother died. By the age of sixteen, Eliza was left to care for her siblings and run three plantations for her father. Having a passion for botany, she asked her father for resources to cultivate and process indigo. Off-handedly, he agreed. But later he was overheard explaining his decision: “Well, we have land enough—she’s a mere girl—let her have her fancy.” It would be Eliza Lucas Pinckney who started the indigo trade that became second only to rice as a cash crop at that time. Tremendous wealth was the result of an experiment by a mere girl—a mere girl who became so well thought of President George Washington served as one of the pallbearers at her funeral.

 

After the death of Moses, Joshua, his assistant, must lead God’s people into the land which the Lord their God will give to them.  In his “Installation Ceremony,” Joshua is given a charge—to be strong and courageous. He’s given a mission—“Cross the Jordan and put Israel in possession of the land.”  And he’s given a promise from God—“I will be with you.”

 

In time, Joshua sends two spies into Jericho to investigate the walled city. The spies end up in the home of Rahab the prostitute, who hides them upstairs under some stalks of drying flax when the king’s men come calling.  “Well, yes, the men did come here,” she tells them, “but I don’t know where they came from and they’ve already left.”  She sends the king’s posse on a wild goose chase. You can almost hear her saying, “They went that away!”

 

Having gotten rid of the king’s men, Rahab turns her attention to the two spies. Obviously, Rahab knows how to bargain—so she bargains for her life and for the life of her family.

 

I know that the Lord has given you the land.  There is fear all around.  We’ve heard the stories of the parting of the Red Sea and how Yahweh brought your people out of Egypt. We’ve heard of what you did to the kings of the Amorites, whom you destroyed.  Indeed, your God is God over heaven and earth. Now I’ve dealt kindly with you. Swear to me that you will, in turn, deal kindly with my family and spare us.

 

The men agree: “Our life for yours.  If you’ll keep our business here a secret, we will deal kindly with you and your family when God gives us the land.” Rahab helps the men escape out her window. As they leave, they instruct her to tie a red cord in the window and to bring all of her family under her roof. Safety is promised only for those in the house of Rahab.  After three days spent hiding in the hills, the spies return to Joshua with their report.

 

At the appointed time, by the Lord’s command, Joshua has the warriors march around the city, and on the 7th day they march 7 times, priests blow the trumpets—the air vibrates with the sound—and after a long blast the people give a loud shout and the walls of Jericho come tumbling down.  Joshua has made special arrangements for Rahab who showed kindness to his messengers.  He calls the two spies aside and says, “Bring out Rahab and all who belong to her just as you swore to her.”  And so it was.

 

Our modern day sensibilities may lead us to frown upon Rahab and her chosen profession unless we take a moment to consider that her profession was probably not chosen at all.  Poverty was by far the most common cause of prostitution in the ancient world, and an unmarried, unprotected woman had few choices other than slavery and prostitution.  Hear again Rahab’s negotiation with the spies:  “Spare my father and my mother, my brothers and sisters and all who belong to them.” Could it be that somehow Rahab has become responsible for her entire family?  Could it be that this mere girl has been forced to support her family’s financial needs through prostitution—the only profession available to her?  Could it be that Rahab’s fate is woven into the fate of her family and she’s a prisoner of circumstances beyond her control?

 

Rahab must have grown up fast and in the process, became quite clever—clever enough to ward off the king’s men and finesse the safety of her family.  It’s possible that she had other business ventures—one wanders why a prostitute would have flax drying up on her rooftop.  Well informed of the news of the day, Rahab knows what the people are saying about the God of Israel and she knows fear has fallen upon the city like a heavy fog.  Could it be that through the spies of Israel, God provides Rahab her first ray of hope?  She is offered a way out.  A crimson cord hanging out her window will be the sign that will bring the rescuers to Rahab and her family—a red cord, perhaps symbolic of the blood on the door posts of that first Passover night, which told the Angel of Death to pass over the children of Israel and keep them safe.

 

Through the grace of God, Rahab the prostitute, a stranger in a strange land, saves herself and her family from destruction. What must her first night of freedom been like, when the trumpet blasts sounded no more? Did the sunset seem a bit brighter? Did she anticipate a new life with a new people? Did she hope for a stronger relationship with the God of Israel who had saved her, along with her family?

 

What happens next for Rahab?  Scripture doesn’t tell us but in rabbinical tradition Rahab marries Joshua and 7 kings and 8 prophets come from her lineage.[ii] In the Gospel of Matthew she is named as the mother of Boaz and therefore in the line of King David, and therefore, an ancestor of Jesus. In Hebrews chapter 11, we are told, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient because she had received the spies in peace.”  Through the power of a Sovereign God, Rahab the prostitute, a mere girl, is given a new life and her story is remembered to this day.

 

I daresay each of us, at sometime in our life, have felt like a mere someone…a mere spouse…a mere parent…a mere grandparent…a mere teacher…a mere neighbor…a mere friend…a mere retiree…a mere student…a mere caregiver…a mere employee…a mere child…a mere teenager…But in the hands of a loving God, we are far from a mere anything. We are people called to make a difference in this world, in this church, in our community, in our work place, in our school, and in our home. And as children of a compassionate and gracious God, we are equipped to make a difference—to love our brothers and sisters in the faith and to reach out to those who sit in darkness. As God’s people we must never underestimate what may seem like the smallest act of kindness done in the name of Jesus—a kind word, a loving embrace, a listening ear, a fervent prayer.

 

The Book of Joshua tells the story of God and God’s people and nestled within the story of the battles and struggles is the salvation story of a prostitute and her family.  God can change the world with someone who has a willing heart. Rahab had faith in a God about whom she had only heard rumors. She had faith and took action. She didn’t sit on the sidelines waiting for something good to come her way—she recognized the good that was right in front of her. Rahab models how faith…works!

 

It is through faith that we gather today around the table. None of us come because we are deserving for we have all fallen short of the glory of God. Nevertheless, we are invited to come to the Table of our Lord.  We are invited to come and see—come and remember—the Lord is good!

 

[i] This story was told by Darla Moore in a speech given at her induction into the South Carolina Business Hall of Fame

[ii] Interpretation: Joshua, Creech, 36

*Cover Art  “Rahab and the Emissaries of Joshua” : Anonymous; Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.