Rev. George Miller
August 14, 2016
Hebrews 11:29- 12:2
Today we continue our reading of Hebrews, and we continue with the theme of faith.
Not faith as in “I hope to win the LOTTO” or “I hope it doesn’t rain during my vacation.”
But faith as in that invisible, indescribable, unstoppable force that allows one to endure the most difficult of situations.
Faith, that in the time of this particular writing, meant the ability to endure persecution.
Not persecution like when the cashier at Wal-Mart says “Happy Holidays” as opposed to “Merry Christmas”.
Or suffering like not having a crèche on display in the center of City Hall.
But persecution of the most intense, real kind, like having the Roman government take away your home because you’re a follower of Christ.
Like having the Roman government lock you up in jail because you’re a follower of Christ.
Like having the Roman government publicly kill you because you’re a follower of Christ.
That’s the kind of persecution the founders of our faith faced on a daily basis, and the author is painfully aware of all these things.
Yet he encourages them not to be afraid, but to keep their faith. He reminds them that in their faith they are never alone.
In their faith they can look towards Christ to learn how he endured.
They can look forward to the future faithful who will come after them. They can look backward to the former faithful who came way before.
The author refers to those who crossed the Red Sea, to Gideon, and to Samson.
The author also devotes time to a woman named Rahab. Who is she?
We haven’t talked about Rahab since I’ve been here, but if you’re current on your Daily Bible Reading, you know just how fascinating a woman she is.
Rahab first appears in the book of Joshua, chapter 2. In fact, she is the star of the entire chapter.
Rahab is a business woman who lives and operates her business in Jericho.
She owns her own home. She is a caring daughter, sister and employer.
She is a woman who is up to date with current events and knows the ins and outs of what’s going on politically in her town.
Rahab is a Gentile, which means she is a non-Jew, but she knows that the God of Israel is powerful and strong.
When we meet Rahab, she is harboring two Jewish spies who have come to check Jericho out.
Rahab, who is bold, cunning, and whip-smart, has hidden the men on the roof of her hotel, having them lay under stalks of flax.
The King of Jericho asks Rahab if she knows where the men are. She says “Yes, the men came to visit, but they already left. But I’m sure if you leave now and hurry quickly you’ll find them.”
Imagine how powerful Rahab is if Kings come to her with questions and believe every word she says.
Imagine how brave she is to lie to the most powerful person in town.
So as the King’s men foolishly leave, Rahab goes to the spies she has hidden, and says “I know your God is great. I know your God has given you the land. I know your God allowed you to cross the Red Sea and I know your God scares your enemies.”
“I have a favor to ask,” Rahab says to the spies. “Since I helped you, I want you to help me. When you come back and make the walls of Jericho come tumbling down, I want you to save me, my parents, my siblings, and my staff.”
Clearly Rahab knows the true art of the deal.
After making arrangements with the men, she instructs them on how to survive in the wild. After getting their promise, she lowers them down to the ground with a rope.
Not only is Rahab a smart, savvy businesswoman, she is also super-strong.
Weeks later when the Israelites attack Jericho they keep their promise and save not only Rahab, but her father, her mother, her brothers, her staff, and her servants.
Rahab and all who belong to her become a permanent part of the Israelite community.
Not only that, Rahab marries a man named Salmon and becomes the great-great grandmother of King David.
But more than that, she also becomes the ancestor of Joseph, the father of Jesus Christ.
So not only is Rahab the grandmother of the greatest king who ever lived, she is the grandmother of the King-of-All.
…oh, and in case you missed it- Rahab was a prostitute.
That’s right- Rahab was a prostitute.
Rahab the great-great grandmother of King David and ancestor of King Jesus was a prostitute.
The home she owned was most likely a brothel; her staff was most likely other prostitutes…
…That’s the fascinating thing about faith and why reading your Bible is so important- you get to see the full picture of what God has done and what God is capable of doing.
For ages now people have tried to dictate what constitutes a faithful person.
People in religious power will try to create a long list of who’s in and who’s out in regards to the Kingdom of God.
Supposedly pious people will point fingers, judge and become self-appointed moral police.
They will cherry-pick scripture; they will try to select certain verses to prove their point.
…God has a funny way of sneaking on in.
God has a funny way of doing the unexpected.
God has a funny way of being free.
God is the author of the faith story and God will use the characters God wishes to use.
God is free.
If God wants to use a childless couple to bless all the families of the world, God will use a childless couple.
If God wants to free Israelite slaves, God will free the slaves.
If God wants to use a cross for glory and to redeem the world, God will use a cross.
If God wants to use a prostitute who is comfortable telling a few little white lies, God will use a prostitute.
And it is not our place to judge.
So why have we, as Christians, not gotten to that point yet of fully embracing the radical freedom and inclusiveness of God?
Why isn’t the Christian faith viewed the world over as the most awesome, welcoming, freedom-based group of folk?
Why has Christianity been hijacked by righteous-finger pointers who prefer to judge, condemn, and talk of traditional values?
Why has Christianity been high-jacked by high and mighty types who want to set standards of who is in and who is out?
Why has Christianity been hijacked to hurt millions upon millions of people because of
-Who they love?
-What they do with their bodies?
-Where they socialize?
-When they get baptized?
-Why they dress the way they do?
-How they identify?
How can I say Christianity has been hijacked? How do we know Christianity has been hijacked?
Because here we are promoting a message of radical inclusion and hospitality and out of 200 chairs, 110 are empty.
They are empty not because people don’t want to worship God but because too many folk have been hurt too many times for too many years by other Christians.
Our beautiful, bold Christian faith, meant to uplift, empower and encourage others has somehow been used to do most of the hurting, the harm, and the hate-mongering.
If this was not true, protestors would not have gathered in Orlando on Thursday to stand up to ordained clergy who were promoting their own hate filled set of values.
As we observe in today’s reading, the faith journey is intimately unique, it’s intrinsically personal, and it’s infinitely complex.
God calls who God calls.
God uses who God uses.
God speaks to who God speaks.
And each and every person chooses to respond to God’s call in their own way.
Sometimes it’s a childless couple who’ve immigrated to another part of the world.
Sometimes it’s enslaved people of a different faith and skin tone.
Sometimes it’s a single man who is nailed to a cross.
Sometimes it’s a savvy businesswoman who uses the resources she has at hand.
Who are any of us to judge?
Who are we to say who can or can’t be used by God?
Who truly knows what another’s faith journey looks like?
Who of us can see as God sees, and know as God knows?
Who of us could ever stop God from being free? And why would we ever want to?
Amen and amen.