PRAYER: Holy and loving God, you call us to be bold in our faith. Remind us today of that calling and strengthen our resolve that we may live boldly as your disciples, re-presenting Christ to our neighbors and building community based in your love.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
In our reading from chapter 2 of Joshua, we are hearing of a time not long after Moses had died. Joshua is now leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, and he has sent spies from his army to investigate – to scout out the city before the battle of Jericho. This is where we meet Rahab who is instrumental in God’s mission of entering the Promised Land.
It’s vitally important for us to first recognize that God includes who God will in God’s story with humanity. Some interpretations suggest Rahab’s home was an inn or tavern and that she was likely an innkeeper. Others take the text strictly at face value in understanding her as a prostitute. We don’t really know. This may have been due to the fact that, within the context of ancient patriarchal understandings of gender roles, women who fell outside the roles of faithful wife and mother were marginalized and depicted negatively. That shouldn’t be terribly surprising as we often see people who don’t fall into traditionally defined roles being cast as outsiders and undesirables.
But Rahab had multiple strikes against her. In addition to her being an outsider to her own community, she was also an outsider to the Israelites as well. In our Hebrew texts, it is unheard of to name a woman in genealogies. Yet, in the genealogy of Jesus, Rahab is mentioned along with other women heroes of faith. Matthew 1:5 specifically mentions Rahab saying, “…and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.” If I’m doing my math correctly, that makes Rahab the Great Great Grandmother of King David.
What does this say about how God works and with whom God works? How does God break through expectations and uphold those who are marginalized? Whether she was an innkeeper, a prostitute, or both, as a financially independent woman, Rahab went against the expectations of women in her time. She would have been viewed as a threat to the order of society because she threatened the idea that men had complete control over women’s bodies.
God invites us to be bold. Rahab is bold and lies about hiding the spies. Her boldness is seen in her hiding the spies and making a request of them to save her household.
This had to be an extremely difficult situation for her to be in. She could have turned the spies away and said something to the effect of, “this doesn’t concern me… it’s none of my business.” Or she could have turned them into the authorities of her own community, and maybe gained a little bit of appreciation or leverage with them. She could have just looked the other way, but instead she cooperates with the military enemies of her city who were spying on her people. And she negotiates with him to save her life and that of her family. So often we think of right and wrong as clearcut choices, but Rahab shows that context and discernment are key to decision-making.
Henny Lewin was about 1 ½ years old when the Nazis invaded her hometown in Lithuania on June 22, 1941. About 40,000 Jews were herded and crammed into what became known as the Kovno Ghetto where she, along with her infant cousin Shoshanna, were kept hidden from the Gestapo. Her father built a secret room underneath the stairs of the tenement in which they forced to live where Henny and her Shoshanna could play and not be seen.
Shoshanna’s father was executed within days of them being forced out of their homes. There was a Catholic Priest who worked underground to get some of the children smuggled to safety. He had an assistant who forged a birth certificate for Shoshanna and she was taken to live with a Catholic family for the rest of the war.
Henny’s parents had a friend who had taken over their family business because Jews were not allowed to own businesses. She tells the story of how one night her mother sedated her and packed her into a large suitcase. She took the suitcase, with her sleeping daughter outside to a waiting truck. She had to bribe the guard to not stab the suitcase with his bayonet, and then loaded her daughter into the truck where the driver was to take her to their family friend. Henny was smuggled to safety and remained with that family until the war was over.
By some miracle, both parents survived. She was reunited with them. Thanks to the priest that had worked underground, hey were also able to track down Shoshanna. Today, Henny lives in Amherst, Massachusetts. She became an educator and, well into her 80s, continues to tell the stories of the Holocaust.
Henny says the people she’s most angry with are the majority of bystanders who let the evil happen – the people who said, ‘It has nothing to do with me; I don’t want to get involved.’ The people who simply looked the other way. They’re the ones who could have stopped it.” For every priest or truck driver who worked to undermine the Nazis, there were probably 100 people who kept their noses down and looked the other way while the worst atrocity in human history was happening.
In June of 2020, as the weather was becoming more agreeable, there were a handful of restaurants that were experimenting with outdoor seating and as soon as we could, Anna and I went out to a nearby restaurant. It was really wonderful to be out to eat again, trying to regain a sense of normalcy.
While we were there, there was a group of five people sitting at the table immediately to my right. Now, in June 2020, there were two things that people talked about: the pandemic and George Floyd. The table conversation between those five people to my right was not about the pandemic.
Specifically, their conversation covered a wide range of topics related to George Floyd including – but not limited to – why he deserved what happened to him, why black people cause racism, and why white people are oppressed in today’s culture because we have to think about other people being oppressed.
It was our first meal outside of the house in months, it was a couple of days after my birthday, and I really didn’t want to hear this nonsense. But I couldn’t help but hear them go on and on with their vile racist language, and I thought of a good number of ways I could put them in their place. I thought of saying some snarky things like, “Hey folks, I’ll see you at the next Klan rally…” And I thought about more measured responses that would have undoubtedly informed them about how tone deaf they were.
But I said none of those things. We enjoyed our delicious meal, and we went home. The hard truth is that no matter what I might have said, they would not have listened to a word of it. I know that. I’m guessing you know that as well. But even though I know they would not have heard me, I have struggled with the fact that I remained silent in that moment. My silence conveyed consent to their racism, my silence gave approval to white supremacy. That bothers me; it should bother you as well.
As people of faith, are we being attentive to the working of God in the world? Rahab gave unexpected testimony to those spies when she said, “The Lord your God is indeed God in heaven above and on earth below.” We may view this as a surprise, but God does not. Her words conveyed a boldness that we sometimes shy away from. God is continually doing a new unexpected thing. And we must be ready to exhibit the boldness or Rahab in all that we say and do.
Last week, in the first Sunday in our Heroes of the Faith series, we looked at Deborah. In the full reading from Judges, we saw Deborah and Barak combine their gifts and talents to defeat the Canaanite army. In learning about Deborah, we are challenged to prayerfully consider the ministry that we are called to do as a community, using the gifts and graces that we possess. We can choose to focus on the ministries that we’re not able to do anymore, or we can listen for the Spirit calling us into partnership with our community and giving praise to God, for God is at work calling us into new ministry, new partnership, new definitions of what it means to be the church of the 21st century.
Deborah reminded us that we are in a position, right here and right now, to be at the front lines of the new church, building partnerships with our community, creating a new church for a new world. Just as Barak said to Deborah, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”, we are invited to look beyond our four walls and seek the opportunities that God places in our path to be the church of today with others – that we may bring God’s love, God’s kingdom here and now.
And so when we read today about Rahab’s boldness, we are similarly reminded that sometimes we are called to be bold in order to fulfill God’s purpose despite our challenges and circumstances. The boldness to which we are called is illustrated for us in scripture. It is a not simply an individual attribute or act, rather it is something given and enabled by God. So to be bold by God’s power, is to be humble in our own power.
At that restaurant 3 years ago, I chose to put my own comfort zone ahead of the boldness to which I was called. God calls us to live out our boldness in Christ by putting our own needs, our own comfort behind the calling of God. It is, in some respects, a humbling experience – but it is also (paradoxically perhaps) empowering.
SERGEANTSVILLE: One of the ways this congregation has lived out boldness of and in Christ has been in its 11 year-long partnership with Saint Baldrick’s. I love the boldness with which this congregation has stepped out of its comfort zone to raise awareness and well over $550,000 since 2013. This congregation has been instrumental in arranging 7 different research grants that have been used to help develop new drugs and new treatments in the fight against cancer.
But this work has done more than just raise money; raising money for a worthy cause is important. But by going through the St. Baldrick’s model, and being vulnerable and standing in solidarity with children facing cancer diagnosis by doing something as simple as shaving your heads, and enabling children to see you break away the stigma they face is exactly the kind of boldness to which God calls us.
FRENCHTOWN: One of the ways this congregation has lived out boldness of and in Christ has been in its very public work to build an open door pantry that meets the needs of so many people while at the same time, breaking down stigma associated with hunger. We’ve a lot of conversations about stigma and how life-affirming it is for people to see themselves not as a burden, not just as a recipient of some charity, but as a person whose value and worth is treasured. Our culture tells us that it’s ok to look down on people who are in need. But God tells us to lift others up and show them their inherent worth in God’s eyes. That takes boldness – and that is exactly the kind of boldness to which God calls us.
Sometimes we are to be bold to fulfil God’s purpose despite our challenges and circumstances. Sometimes this will define what you will say in a particular moment, and sometimes it will determine what you won’t say in a particular moment. And understanding the difference between those two can take a great deal of boldness.
As a congregation, I want to invite you / challenge you to prayerfully consider where we are being called to live out our boldness for Christ. As a congregation – as a people of faith, how are we stepping out of our comfort zone to embody the teachings of Christ, standing in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized, with the sick, with the suffering, affirming the innate humanity of those who our culture deems as “other”? Let us make the decision today to live boldly as a people, embodying the teachings of Jesus, and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable for those who are struggling.
Let us faithfully declare that despite our own reluctance, despite whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in, we are prepared to be bold – as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – in order that we may fulfill God’s purposes, that we may play a part in God’s kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
To God be the glory.