Right from the start, Adam and Eve would not remain faithful, there was manipulative Sarah, the murderer Moses, Rehab a prostitute and liar, brilliant but lustful, self-absorbed David, Peter with his feet of clay, Paul the persecutor, to name a few. Bishop William Willimon, one of our recent guest preachers, reminds us that what looks like seediness to us, more often looks like potential saintliness to God. He uses the story of Rehab, the prostitute, to make his point. You might remember the story about the fall of Jericho and its walls that came tumbling down. Joshua sent a couple of his soldiers to spy on Jericho and what a surprise they ended up at Rehab’s place in a questionable part of town. The king got word about the spies and sent his own soldiers to seize them. And what a surprise, they knew just where to go to find them! But Rehab lied about her guests. She said the young soldiers who had been there left when the gate was closed. In fact she had hidden the Israelites on her roof. And she told the spies she had heard about their God and asked only that the Israelites would show her family mercy when they captured Jericho. Then, while it was still night, Rehab let the spies down by a rope tying a scarlet thread in her widow to identify her place for the invading Israelites. What kind of story is this! Is this a Bible story fit for children? Well, it’s a story about a woman in the world’s oldest profession who through her work came to know God and played an important role in God’s plan for God’s people.
I think this may be the most confusing thing for me as a Minister, how is it that the church has come to believe that wisdom and guidance and prophecy exclusively come from the minds and voices of the powerful? How is that a religion born of a birth that occurred in a food trough, that first became known as a movement led by tax collectors and fishing folk, that came to a sudden end on a high hill set aside for political enemies of the state and then came raging back with the witness of women, whom no one listened to, how is that this religion has become so coopted by the culture that it now resembles more the Roman Empire that executed Jesus than the very church Jesus founded in the Book of Acts? How did that happen?
Sin has become a small matter, interpersonal untruths, swear words, whom we sleep with. We leave all the big stuff, the important questions, to conventional wisdom, we let the world determine those matter. Better that we, the church, worry about lies, language and sexual liberty. We would not want to make our little brains hurt with questions of justice or righteousness or whom we value and who we don’t. Grant that is what Jesus thought about, we are the church, and we think more about personal morality than those big questions. Can you discern my sarcasm here?
I am really tired of the church thinking so small and finding heroes about the elite. Instead of thinking big and finding prophets where would least expect, in places both the Old and New Testament located truth and wisdom and justice, we let the powerful run our world and focus on the little things we easily understand and judge.
The Bible is messier, more complex and more challenging than we middle class people want to believe. This is not a “how-to-succeed-in-life” text that shows working hard and playing by the rules makes us happy, rather it is a recipe for doing the right thing even when it hurts, even when it is not in our self-interest, even when it makes us unpopular. Jesus is not a smooth talking infomercial, he is a dynamic, edgy and wild thinker, activist and commentator. It’s a complicated story, filled with complicated characters with complicated lives. But all of it points to one thing, authentic discipleship.