I had been invited to speak at a women's event at the church. There is no shortage of women in the biblical witness, so the options were many. I could choose from Rachel, Sarah, Rebecca, or any of the Mary's--the best of course would be Jesus' mother, Mary. Yet, as these names tumbled about in my mind, none seemed to settle. Until one morning, during my devotion time, I came upon the Lectionary reading from from Joshua 2. Therein, I was invited into the story of Rahab, and Joshua's spies, and my spirit stirred with this unlikely heroine, whose life-story sounded more like fiction than history. And it was there I sensed Rahab's name settle into my heart and mind. Hers was the story to tell.
A word on preaching:After many years of training in seminary, and some fabulous preaching mentors along the way, for me, preaching is deeply personal and profoundly, terrifyingly communal. Preaching is all at once wonderful and traumatic. It both fills me, and empties me. This Spirit work that happens each week at pulpits all over the world. The pulpits may differ but it is the same Holy Spirit that speaks. The task is not easy: preachers listen in on the authority of the Scriptures, the need of the community he or she serves, and the stirrings of his or her own devotional life with God, and then with care and, some trepidation, he or she sets to this task of bringing the Scriptures to life--pencils, pens or computers begin to shape words enough. But not too many; too many words cloud the message. Just enough. Preaching is not for the faint of heart; for it is sacred work, all because of the steadfast love and radical grace of God in Christ. This grace empowers and strengthens us all, and it this grace alone that enables any preacher to preach well the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So to Rahab:(It needs to be noted here that this sermon is a narratival sermon, told from the first person perspective. Because of the limited information on Rahab, portions of this sermon are "fictionalized" but are inline with the historical context of what we understand of that culture and time period. It is not intended to be a historical study of Rahab, rather to be a voice of encouragement and grace in the life of one woman.)
I’ve got a story to tell. One that I hope you like. It went like this…
I’m a nobody really. Just an ordinary woman. Nothing special about me. In fact there’s probably a lot more about me that you wouldn’t like to know. I work hard. I have a tavern here in town; lived in Jericho all my life. People in and out of this town like clockwork. So I work hard a lot. Sometimes I have to do a little bit more to get by—that’s the stuff you probably don’t want to hear about. I guess I’ve learned to do what I have to do to get food in the belly and coins in our purses. I’m a nobody really. Oh, guess I can tell you my name—Rahab is my name. Though I don’t hear it very often—ususlly it’s “Servant!” “Woman!” “Get me some more ale!”. You know what I mean. But yes, Rahab’s my name. I’m nobody really though. Just a woman, trying to get by. I take care of people and they take care of me. I like it that way—keeps it simple.
It’s been busy today. People in and out all day long, like usual, but lately people are all antsy-like. Seems there’s been some wild stuff going on—this army, I guess, led by this guy, Joshua, is making waves around here and it’s got all the town in a bit of an uproar. The kings got soldiers hanging out all over the streets and some even in my tavern, acting all fearful, asking lots of questions and stuff. But I never pay much attention to soldiers fussing anyway, got my own problems, you know? I just give 'em food and drink, and sometimes a bit more of me. I’m a nobody really so what’s this guy Joshua got to do with me!? Well, you ever got like a vision before? Like somehow you knew that the story was bigger than that? Someone told me that Joshua’s God dried up the RED SEA. A miracle! Something different than some little wooden idol that people talk at, you know? Ever seen a miracle like that? I haven’t. But others did and told me about it. Gossip spreads quick in Jericho. So, yeah, OK, I’m a little antsy. I mean apparently this God is helping those people defeat entire kingdoms—strong leaders. Just Gone. Something got me thinking about such a God, who can do such things. Making me think something fierce. Word is out that Joshua is coming our way—to Jericho. Have you heard to?
So just a last night—something happened. Wanna hear about it?
TWO men showed up here yesterday. Hungry and tired. Normal really but they acted different-like—weren’t from around these parts. I didn’t spend time with them though—in the way you don’t want to hear about. They just ate and drank—nice fellows really. A few hours later, there was a scuffling and a arguing going on right at my front door—I thought it was somebody who drank too much and got in a fight or something, but it was the KING’S MESSENGER! Soldiers all dressed in fine uniforms, not like the ones that are on the street patrols.
But something inside me came awake a little, warning me. Ever felt like that? I knew something was up, and I knew it had something to do with those two men. I captured the quiet stares of the two men and nodded my head upstairs. This isn’t abnormal, you know, in my line of work. They followed me to the roof, and I spoke quickly for them lay under the roof rushes. As I flew downstairs, the soldiers had already entered the tavern. They demanded that I bring out those foreign men declaring they were SPIES. Something inside me definitely woke up then! My days in a tavern have taught me well what to do when caught in a situation that required some delicate words—not lying exactly, just delicate.
I told them the men HAD come (cuz they had!) but they had left cuz the gate was closing. And I got all excited-like and scared that they must be caught—and well, being a woman in that kinda situation comes in handy! The messenger and soldiers left headed toward the gate.
Then I could think. Think hard, I did. SPIES! In my tavern! Could these be JOSHUA’S spies? Could these be spies sent by their God?! My heart raced the rest of the day until night came, and I could quietly climb upstairs to the roof, where they had been resting. I didn’t want anyone thinking anything secret was going on, but I knew I needed to talk to them. Not just for my sake—but for the sake of my family.
I told the men all I’d heard and that I knew they were from Joshua, and what I somehow just KNEW about their God. That he was the Lord God in heaven, God of everything, the earth and the heavens. I remember their expressions then, when I said that. They seemed surprised. I kept going though because I wasn’t gonna waste a moment to get a promise from them.
I said, “Please swear to me by the Lord that you will show kindness to my family, because I have shown kindness to you. Give me a sure sign that you will spare our lives, my mother and father, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them—that you will save us from death.” (Josh 2:12)
Their answers was quick “Our lives for your lives.” They made me promise to keep the secret and that they would keep me and my family safe and treat us kindly. I then told them they should go and quickly, and I helped them escape through one of my windows that is in the city wall as my house is right next to it. I told them exactly what to do—to hide for three days and watch for the Kings soldiers to return and then hightail it out of there.
Then guess what? They gave me a red cord! A beautiful red cord. I've never seen anything so beautiful. They again made me promise to not tell a soul, and that their promise would be fulfilled if and when they came into the land.
I agreed to their vow. And I took the beautiful red cord—so beautiful there in my window—because I knew that one day they would come back.
I’m a nobody really. Just an ordinary woman. But that day, something changed. And I knew that somehow I would never be the same. That somehow I was now somebody.
I tell that story, friends. Looking back upon my life—my life now as a older woman who has lived hard, made choices I regret, but that day changed my life. The men did come back. Carried me and my entire family out of our home, as we watched our beloved Jericho burn to the ground. It wasn’t easy you know. Imagine losing all you had to keep you afloat—and just barely then. But I kept the red cord though—I didn’t dare lose it. Joshua did take care of us; so kind and good. The red cord symbolized so much for me of my God, our God. God who used me in the middle of my messy life; God who keeps his promises. So many years ago now I met a man, my husband, and we had our own family. One of our son’s, Boaz, he’s a wealthy man, and he just met this wonderful girl named Ruth. We like her. She’s a worker, that one; but kind. Oh so kind. Who knows what God will do next, eh? I’ve learned—you just never know what miracle is coming with that God. The God who dries up the Sea, and the God who cares about you and me. Do you know him? Have you heard about him? Oh, you should. You should hear about him.