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Bouncebackers, Week 4 — The “Shame Off You” Sermon Rewind

Yesterday’s message led to a mid-week course correction.

I realized on Tuesday that it simply had to be followed with an invitation to receive healing & cleansing prayer.  So we adjusted the final song (to, of course, “O Come To The Altar”), arranged some prayer ministers, and voila! course corrected.

This week’s bouncebacker is Rahab, an Old Testament figure who attains New Testament fame.

It all led to this week’s bottom line:  Those whom the world discards, God displays.

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There’s something about nicknames we love, isn’t there? Especially where the nickname and the name are sort of inseparable. Those nicknames with a THE in the middle that describe a person according to either his JOB or his LOOK. Like this guy (AV) was Andre the ___________. And then Bobby Darrin had that song called Mac the __________. And then, I know, I know, because I am hip and cool and DOWN WITH THAT that this guy (AV) is Chance the __________. Woo-hoo! Something so SETTLED, so DEFINITIVE about a THE nickname.

With that in mind, in today’s Bouncebackers we move to an OT character who achieved NT fame … Rahab the ___________. Oh yuck. The HARLOT. I knew that name & its “the” nickname before I’d ever cracked open a bible or trusted in Jesus. Somewhere I’d heard of Rahab and from time immemorial she has been linked to her occupation and inseparable from her descriptor. Rahab the prostitute. The escort. The lady of the night. And now you know why precious few moms through the centuries have named their little girls Rahab. Just. So. Cruel.

Because the shame and the stigma of that name & its occupation is almost overwhelming. No doubt, as a resident of the ancient, ancient city of Jericho – the same one, as we’ll see, with the walls that came down – Rahab had felt the sting of condemnation, the bite of shame. She had known what it was like to be an outcast, to be vilified, to be simultaneously scorned and ignored. Because, we you think about it, Rahab was body parts for rent. That’s it. True then and true now. Body parts leased and then discarded, thoughtlessly if not violently. That’s what we do with people whose very identity is wrapped up in shame. We use and then we discard. Maybe you know a little bit of what that’s like – not as dramatically as Rahab – maybe so – but perhaps there’s the shame of what a parent, a sibling, an uncle, a cousin did to you. You didn’t volunteer for it; you were a victim of it.

Or there’s the shame of the other kind – that stems from what YOU’VE done – as Rahab’s customer, as one who wrecked a family, as one who lost a job because you pilfered from the company. Or you’re marked by a divorce you didn’t ask for; poisoned by a disease you never asked for. Stigmatized by a handicap you didn’t create. How in the world can you bounce back from that? From the stigma that you sense follows you wherever you go; the shame that as hard as you try doesn’t come off? Yeah, how do you get that pointy fingered, “Shame on you!” to come off?
Because here is Rahab’s deal. It’s about 1300 BC or so and the children of Israel have a new leader, Joshua. Moses has died and Joshua is his appointed heir. They are preparing to take the Promised Land, by force if necessary. Look at Joshua 2:1a:

Then Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. “Go, look over the land,” he said, “especially Jericho.”

You know what’s ironic about that (besides the great caution I need use in pronouncing “Shittim”) ? Forty years earlier, Joshua himself had been sent out as a spy to investigate the PL! But that’s a whole notha story leading to a whole notha series (AV, Unhappy Campers). So with that irony in mind, look at what the two unnamed spies do first upon their entry into the walled city of Jericho:

So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there.

WHOOOOPS! They JUST HAPPENED to enter the city and the first place they JUST HAPPENED to find was the home of a prostitute.

What are supposed to believe? Was it a coincidence? Like Bogey? (Casablanca clip “of all the gin joints …”) Or was it more sinister, perhaps even a pattern of behavior of those Jewish boys when they had a taste of freedom and anonymity? Wouldn’t be the first – or the last – ones. Or totally innocent. The author doesn’t say for sure although we can be sure of this: if those spies had GPS trackers on their cars and their wives or girlfriends back home were following, there would be HELL. TO. PAY.

Well, after that … interlude? Serendipity? … the story goes on in 2:2-7:

2 The king of Jericho was told, “Look, some of the Israelites have come here tonight to spy out the land.” 3 So the king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: “Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.”
4 But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. She said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. 5 At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, they left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” 6 (But she had taken them up to the roof and hidden them under the stalks of flax she had laid out on the roof.) 7 So the men set out in pursuit of the spies on the road that leads to the fords of the Jordan, and as soon as the pursuers had gone out, the gate was shut.

You know what is kind of sad? Rahab has both experience and expertise at helping ensure that men were NOT discovered at her place. It’s also interesting that her deception here is lifted up by Joshua’s author as something to admire, a character trait the first hearers of the story would likely applaud. And that brings up yet another question: why is she a traitor? She is from JERICHO, after all, and by first hiding and then aiding these spies she is ensuring the ultimate destruction of her own city. And as I thought about that question, part of the answer seems to me is that she knows first hand the kind of people she’s dealing with. They’ve used her. They’ve abandoned her. They’ve rented her. They’ve discarded her. They’ve shamed her. And somewhere in her mind is the design: well, I’ll show them the same kind of loyalty they’ve shown me.

But another reason for her siding with the invaders rather than the city of her birth is more significant and we discover it in the conversation between Rahab and the two spies. Look at 2:8-11:

Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof 9 and said to them, “I know that the Lord has given you this land and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea[a] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed.[b] 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted in fear and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

Ah, she knows that the future belongs to Israel’s God. She’s not Jewish – at least, not yet – but she knows that Israel’s God reigns supreme over all others. And why does she know that? Is it because it is a superior philosophy? Nope. More logical religion? Nope. Because they had a better band and light show than the temple down the street? No. Because he has invaded history. He has split the Red Sea, he has struck fear into the hearts of fellow Canaanites; it’s all grounded in what God did. I tell you that because for those of us who follow Jesus, our rationale is precisely the same: not because it’s the best philosophy or because we have the best music but because God decisively invaded history in the life, death,  resurrection and CORONATION of Jesus of Nazareth. But I digress!

Because after establishing that she knows the future is in the hands of Israel’s God (and we’re actually going to come back to that Jesus guy), Rahab executes a plan of escape for the spies – a plan that, like a couple of other stories in the series involves rope! – and it works perfectly. So the unnamed spies report back to the camp (I wish the author had told us how it went with their wives!) with these words:

They said to Joshua, “The Lord has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”

The last person, the only person, quoted in the story is Rahab the hero, not the harlot.

And you notice here in Joshua 2 that shame is coming off and significance is emerging. Because the next thing that happens is that Jericho’s walls DO come down, its conquest is pivotal in the taking of the PL and the whole city is ransacked & destroyed with one shining exception: Rahab & her family. Look at the summary in 6:25:

25 But Joshua spared Rahab the prostitute, with her family and all who belonged to her, because she hid the men Joshua had sent as spies to Jericho—and she lives among the Israelites to this day.

READ. Huh. The outcast is now inner circle. The pagan is now Jew. The prostitute is now one of us. The discarded is now instrumental. Maybe you know something of what that is like – maybe you had someone do that for you. It was a family of a different race or a church of a different language, or even a friend who excused what you thought was inexcusable. You know what it’s like to be an outsider brought IN; to be NOTICED. Even me, when I go to India where they value relationship over task and they are masters at making pale-skinned me feel like I am one of them.

But that’s not even the best part of Rahab’s story. Remember how I said she is an OT figure with NT fame? Look what Hebrews 11:31 does, including her in what’s called the Hall Of Faith:

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.[a]

What?! Alongside such bona fides as Moses & Abraham & Isaac you include Rahab the _____ ?! Huh? But there’s more in the NT and there’s better. Jesus’ family tree begins the whole NT in Matthew 1, and so look at 1:5:

5 Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,

Now: you need to know that ancient genealogies did not include women. They just didn’t; deemed unnecessary. Especially women with a checkered past. These are the ppl that in talking about your DNA, your family tree, you’d want to HIDE. Keep them under wraps. On the downlow! And yet God through his inspired author Matthew goes to great lengths to HIGHLIGHT the very ones we who are concerned with reputation would want to HIDE. It’s as if God is putting Rahab’s name up in lights! NOTICE HER! NOTICE HER! NOTICE HER! She, a Gentile prostitute, is an ancestor of the King! That’s my kind of people! I excel at replacing shame with significance! I did it then & I do it now. And then it hit me, GS: you bounce back from shame when you understand that The ones whom the world discards, God displays. Yep! The ones who are invisible God deems indispensable. The untouchable become the unstoppable. He moves from shame on you! To a Show Off God. And you’re the starring attraction. The ones whom the world discards, God displays.

Oh it makes me think of that Chicago bank that asked for a letter of recommendation from a Boston bank regarding a young man who had applied for employed. “A most excellent candidate,” the Bostonians said. “His father was a Cabot, his mother a Lowell, and farther back there are Peabodys as well. Boston’s finest.” The letter came back from Chicago: “We’re not contemplating him for breeding purposes. Just for work.” True! Your history, your family tree, your skeletons, you own hall of shame … God’s not interested in doing anything with your past other than healing it. And then to highlight you. You’re so used to being ignored or overlooked or used that you can’t conceive that the blood of Jesus really is the ultimate shame off you.

Because we all stand in equal need of that blood, from the saintliest to the most shame-filled. And here’s something I’ve learned through the years – that the ones who LOOK to be the saintliest often have stuff from yesteryear that still haunts and shames them. So whether your shame is well concealed or you are wearing it like a badge of dishonor, I want you to know that our unpredictable God, a God who from the very beginning has chosen the unlikeliest people to do the most important work is running a special. His blood is still free. Its power still works. And he specializes in taking the ones who have been abused, shamed, and discarded and in the process of healing them putting them on DISPLAY. The ones whom the world discards, God displays.

For some of you those first, tentative steps in that kind of healing & that kind of significance will involve trusting people. You’ve lost trust in EVERYONE. Cynicism rules you. So it did with Rahab. But what did she do? She trusted the spies; she invested in the VISIBLE people as prep work in trusting the invisible God who sent them. Who is there in your life who you need to trust? Counselor, sibling, pastor, lifegroup member? You’ve grown so accustomed to NOT trusting that you don’t know the liberation that will come when you do. REFRAIN
Others here I believe that God will use your DISPLAY in the very area of your struggle. It’s why, of course, ppl in recovery make the best sponsors for those who are new to AA. It’s why I’m so delighted with our new BDSA support group on Wednesdays. It’s led by folks who have burst forth from the shadows of shame and into the significance of ministry. The ones whom the world discards, God displays.

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