What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Rahab & Ruth

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 11, 2018

2nd Sunday of Advent

Matthew 1:1-6; Joshua 2:15-24; Ruth 1:22-2:12

 

What to expect when you’re expecting—that’s the theme of our Advent sermon series.[i] Again this morning, through the writer of the Gospel of Matthew, we reflect on those included in Jesus’ family tree. Of course, there are people named whom we would expect—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Solomon. But what about Ruth and Rahab, Tamar and Bathsheba? How unexpected! This morning we will focus on two of these women—Rahab and Ruth. How odd to find their names listed—after all, they’re foreigners, pagans, outsiders!

 

First, let’s turn our attention to Rahab—a most unlikely hero. A retelling of her story may be found in the lines of the following poem entitled simply, “Rahab.” [ii]

 

Rahab, a scarlet cord

binds you to the Cross

seven centuries before the nails

pierced the Carpenter’s hands.

You, one of the four women

named in His genealogy.

How could this be?

 

You kept a wayside house

on the Jericho wall,

providing favors for all

before it fell down.

The location known far and wide,

perhaps a rosy string latched the door.

How could this be?

 

Was life so hard,

reputation so bloodied,

money so short,

pride long lost,

fear for survival,

no hope for tomorrow?

How could this be?

 

Hearing of the Hebrews’ God,

how the Red Sea had stood aside,

trembling, for His people

were advancing in your land.

Wondering if their God

would protect you too?

How could this be?

 

Before the gate was shut

two enemy spies came.

Lying, to protect them,

flax-hidden on your roof,

revealing your tender heart

melting in the fiery sun.

How could this be?

 

Rumors ran rampant

‘round the walls,

of Amorite kings’ crimson robes,

washed in the blood of battle

against Israel’s army.

Would they do the same to you?

How could this be?

 

Pledging a vow of kindness,

to the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

pleading salvation for the family

gathered beneath your roof,

letting down the scarlet cord

you bid the spies godspeed.

How could this be?

 

Becoming a woman of faith

before the trumpet blast,

lauded in the book of Hebrews

for courage to believe.

The royal red line included you

by God’s power,

who brings all things to be.

 

The God who brings all things to be weaves the life of Rahab into the story of Joshua—the one chosen by God to lead God’s people into the Promised Land, after the death of Moses. When Joshua leads the Israelites across the Jordan River, they find the territory held by powerful kings, over cities large and small. According to God’s instruction, Joshua sends spies to survey the city of Jericho. Once the two spies arrive, they are welcomed into the home of Rahab—who just so happens to be a prostitute. She’s heard of the previous successes of God’s people. She shares how her own people are frightened beyond belief. Not only does she assure the spies, she risks her own life to protect them. When the king’s soldiers come looking for them, Rahab hides her visitors on the roof, sends the authorities on a wild goose chase, strikes a deal with the spies securing the safety of her family and herself, and lays out a plan for the spy’s safe escape.

 

Most assuredly, something happens to Rahab when she hears the stories of Yahweh. “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below,” she proclaims.[iii] Rahab comes to believe in the power of God to deliver—even her—and her faith is rewarded. Because when Israel comes to destroy Jericho, Rahab and those in her family are spared. Furthermore, Rahab is given the unexpected honor of becoming an ancestor of Christ.

 

God chooses an unlikely hero, a harlot in Jericho, to help the invading Israelites. Through her, God demonstrates, once again, that a person’s past has no bearing on what God can do in her future—once she surrenders her heart and soul to the Living God. Hiding enemy spies, lying to government officials, making a deal with the enemy, using a scarlet cord to insure her escape—it sounds more like the script of a James Bond movie than a Bible story. Especially since the hero of the story isn’t our idea of a model biblical character.

 

Nevertheless, here Rahab is, right in the middle of the Bible story about Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land. It’s worth noting that Rahab is mentioned not only in the book of Joshua. She is praised for her faith in the Book of Hebrews. She is commended for her works in The Letter of James. Ultimately, the inclusion of Rahab in our gospel reading supports Matthew’s view that Jesus came to bring all nations—not just Israel—under his reign. Rahab is a witness to the truth that salvation is an act of God’s grace—not dependent upon merit. And, it’s fitting for Matthew to include her in his gospel, because there but for the grace of God goes every sinner—including you—including me.

 

The God who brings all things to be, works mightily in the life of Rahab. God works mightily in the life of Ruth, as well. Nowadays, when someone says, “Let me tell you about my mother-in-law” we know what’s coming—a joke in which a mother-in-law gets nailed! But the biblical story of Ruth and Naomi is quite the opposite. Ruth is a Moabite woman, who marries into an Israelite family after they move to Moab because of a famine in Israel. Her young husband and his brother die. With their father already deceased, Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, decides to return home to Israel. She urges Ruth to stay put and remarry, but Ruth refuses, telling Naomi, “Where you go I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God.”

 

Ruth faces an unpromising future as she journeys to Bethlehem with Naomi. But through Naomi, God works a miracle in Ruth’s life, putting her in the right place at the right time so that she becomes the wife of Boaz. And her son, Obed, becomes the grandfather of King David, another ancestor of Christ.

 

The story of Ruth and Naomi is one that is held together by the strong cord of commitment and the willingness to care deeply. Their story is one of love and loyalty—despite the cost, which makes their story a wonderful part of the story of salvation, don’t you think?  Ultimately, God’s faithfulness to Ruth and Naomi, a pair of destitute widows, results in great blessing for the whole world. For just as Ruth and Naomi are committed to one another, God cares and commits God’s self to us, by giving us a Savior, Jesus, Emmanuel—God-with-us!

 

As Christians, it might behoove us to take a good, long look at Rahab and Ruth. Because you see, God has a way of acting in unexpected ways, accepting those we might refuse, loving those we might turn away—including outsiders and foreigners. Time and time again, God reaches out to those on the fringe of society with Good News—something God invites us to continue! Whether we like it or not, God doesn’t play by our rules—a manger instead of a motel, a God of soldiers, a God of prostitutes, and kings, and spies. A God of all people—even us. Not at all what we would expect! Thanks be to God!

[i] Modeled after a sermon series written by Dr. Sarah Nave during her doctoral studies. Used by permission.

[ii] Joyce Carr Stedelbauer @ https://www.thoughts-about-god.com/poems/rahab.html

[iii] Joshua 2:11 (NRSV).

*Cover Art by Stushie Art; used by subscription, Affirmation of Faith by Rev. Rebecca F. Harrison, Spanish Springs Presbyterian Church, Sparks, NV @ https://www.liturgylink.net/2012/11/26/advent-statement-of-faith/