Rahab

There is a house in Jericho… well, a house-slash-inn… well, a house-slash-inn-slash-brothel… built right into the wall of the city. The door is on the inside of the city and on the other side of the city gate. But there’s a window on the outside of the city. And there is a crimson cord hanging in the window… a little sign of trust… a little symbol of faith.

You see, one night, these two Israelites—these two spies who had been sent from their home in Shittim, across the Jordan, to get the lay of the land that their God is giving to their people—came to this house. Because a house like this is a good place to find information.

And they met the owner. They met this Canaanite and Jerichoan named Rahab. And as they were talking—as Rahab was managing the house and the spies were asking questions—there was a knock at the door.

Rahab hurried the men up the stairs to the roof and hid them. And then she went back down the stairs. And the men couldn’t hear what Rahab was saying; so they couldn’t hear her as she lied to the cops for them:

Yeah. Sure. Two men came by, but I didn’t know who they were. And anyway, they left a while ago, when the city gate was closed for the night. But, if you hurry that way, you might just catch them.

And because the men couldn’t hear what Rahab was saying, they held their breath when they heard footsteps on the stairs, and they breathed sighs of relief when Rahab came up alone.

And then their relief turned to shock; because Rahab told them that she was on their side.

There’s this… thing… that goes around every so often. Someone posts it as a meme on the socials, or whispers it as they watch the news, or uses it in a sermon.

And it’s hard to hear; but it’s true.

If we want to know what we would have done then… we only need to look at what we are doing now.

It we want to know what we would have done during abolition or the Shoah or the Civil Rights Movement… when Sojourner Truth or Renia Kukiełka or Dianne Nash knocked on our doors and asked us to join them in their work… we only need to look at what we are doing to support those who are asking the world to recognize their most fundamental rights… now.

It we want to know what we would have done then, when doing anything would have meant putting our bodies on the line… we only need to look at what we are doing now, when doing anything does mean… I don’t know… unkind whispers and sideways glances… being blocked on Facebook… stolen banners…

And it’s hard to hear, because we all want to imagine that we would have stepped up and been heroes. But it’s true, because we all have the chance to be heroes right now.

And being a hero is scary and uncertain—being a hero is wild and dangerous—because being a hero, at some level, when you get right down to it, means being utterly reliant on grace.

It means having faith in the things that we hope for… in a future that we cannot see.

Rahab believes that the God of the Israelites is God in heaven above and on earth below… and that she knows which way the wind is blowing, and that she can feel how the spirit is moving, and that she has an inkling about what the future will be.

And she told this to the Israelite men. And then she asked whether she would have a place in that future.

And these Israelite men—these two spies who had been sent from their home in Shittim, across the Jordan, to get the lay of the land that their God is giving to their people—didn’t know

They weren’t sure about Rahab. This could have been an elaborate ruse. This could have been a moment’s indiscretion. This could have been a fashionable few minutes of anti-establishment role-play.

And then we had this… moment… where Rahab and the Israelite men were on the roof… Rahab sure that she had proven herself… the Israelite men unsure of everything… each one wondering if they could trust the other… if they could have faith in the things that they hoped for… in a future that they could see.

And so they struck a deal: if Rahab hung a crimson cord in the window, then she would be part of the future; and if she didn’t, then she wouldn’t. The crimson cord would be a little sign of trust… a little symbol of faith.

But…

A symbol has to symbolize something; trust has to be trustworthy. And the crimson cord was not just a crimson cord. It was a sign that Rahab has kept the faith… in the things that she hoped for… in the future that she could not see… in the God who is God in heaven above and on earth below.

It was a sign that she had not betrayed the spies… that she had remained an ally… that she was still a co-conspirator.

A long time from now—centuries after Rahab hangs a crimson cord in her window—the author of Hebrews will write that Rahab was justified be her faith.

And a long time from now—centuries after Rahab hangs a crimson cord in her window—the author of James will write that Rahab was justified by her works.

And there’s a debate there; there’s an argument there. There are people who say that it is all about keeping the faith. And there are people who say that it is all about doing the work. And the truth is that those are the same thing.

Our faith is expressed in doing the work… our work is animated by the faith that we carry… until they are so wrapped up in each other that they cannot be pulled apart.

And the proof of who we are is not in the cross at the front of the sanctuary or the bibles in the backs of the pews… it is not in the stained glass windows or the size of our endowment. 

It is in the fact that we support those who are asking for the world to recognize their most fundamental rights… that we respond to the pleading face and the outstretched hand… that we stand with the outcast and the marginalized… that we are allies and co-conspirators with the least of these…

…even when it means unkind words and sideways glances, or being blocked on Facebook, or having a banner stolen… even when it means putting our bodies on the line… even when it is scary and uncertain… even when it is wild and dangerous.

And it is. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This faith is wild, this work is dangerous, being a Christian is risky. 

But I’m also not going to overplay it. This faith is far tamer, this work is much safer, being a Christian is much less risky for us, than it was for many of those who came before us, and then it is for many of those who work alongside us.

And if we want to know what we would have done when the world was in desperate need of people who would step up and be heroes… we only need to look at what we are doing now.

And I believe that there is a church in DeWitt… built right on the edge of the city…

…a church that has ordained women, and raised money for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and declared itself Open and Affirming…

…a church that gives to the Referral Center and volunteers with the Summer Lunchbox Program…

…a church that stands with the outcast and the marginalized…

…a church full of allies and co-conspirators who are keeping the faith and doing the work…

…and there is a cross on the top of its steeple… a sign of trust and a symbol of faith… in the God who is God in heaven above and on earth below… who is our hope… who is leading us into a future that we cannot see.

Thank God!

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