1000 Days in Sanctuary
Peace Candle | Edith and family
As we worship in place today, we light a Peace Candle in our home,
inviting you to light a Peace Candle in your home.
The flame joins us in spirit across distance,
along with our sister church in Armenia, Colombia.
Welcome and Call to Worship | Joel Call
God our Sanctuary, grant us and our neighbors, near and far, courage in our hearts, peace in our homes, and justice in our streets. Amen.
Dios nuestro Santuario, concédenos y nuestros vecinos, cercana y lejana, coraje en nuestros corazones, paz en nuestros hogares, y justicia en nuestras calles. Amen.
HWB 358 | Oyenos, mi Dios (Hear us, my God) | Tom Blosser (piano/vocal), Quinn Blosser (violin)
(Words: Oyenos, mi Dios, repeat, Listen to your people, Oyenos, mi Dios)
Children’s Time | Elisa Leahy
Song | Anita's Song
Pastoral Prayer and Offering Dedication | Joel Call
Scripture | Joshua 2:1-21 | Carrie Vereide
Sermon | Rahab’s walls | Joel Miller (text below)
STJ 115 | Yonder come day | Tom Blosser, Zoe Blosser
Invitation to Visit | Edith Espinal
Benediction | Joel Call
For the first time in quite a while, I’m speaking a sermon from inside our church building. It feels like the right place to be right now.
This past week Gwen sent me an email saying she’s been counting the days she’s been working from home rather than here, noting that Sunday, June 28, is the 100th day. She also noted the co-incidence of Edith’s 10-fold marking of time on this same day, 1000 days in sanctuary.
We’ve called this space our sanctuary for many years. That word has gained new meaning over this stretch of time. This building, and, importantly, this community of people, have become a sanctuary for Edith. For Edith this has been an experience of refuge and vulnerability, of publicity and isolation, of staying united with her family and separated from the full life she hopes to live. For us this has been an experience of hospitality, of partnerships, of learning.
And so as we move through sanctuary time, today we pause now for some reflection. We do this in a moment when public monuments are falling. We’re asking questions about whose stories we honor, who we raise above our heads as models. I want to offer this story from Joshua 2, and the person of Rahab, for our consideration. It speaks especially to our side of the story as a congregation.
I want to credit Isaac Villegas, for planting the seed of this Rahab story. Isaac is the pastor of Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, in North Carolina, also a sanctuary congregation. A year ago we were presenting together at a seminar at the Central District Conference annual meeting and Isaac brought up the story of Rahab. What I haven’t been able to get out of my head since was a phrase he said that went something like this: Rahab is a model for us because she betrays her own people by offering shelter to foreigners. Rahab gives hospitality to outsiders, and thus is a traitor her own nation, and thus is faithful to God. I’ve found this idea very difficult to forget. So let’s take a deeper look.
Here’s the set up. The people, the Israelites, have been traveling through desert land. For a whole generation they’ve been fleeing the violence of enslavement in Egypt. To survive, they have depended on water from rocks, manna from the desert floor – just enough for each day, no more. Quail from the skies. They have quarreled, they have pondered a return from where they came, they have borne and raised children who know nothing of the former life except through story. Moses, their leader, has died, and Joshua is next in line. And they have arrived on the outer edges of the land to which they have been traveling.
And what they see in front of them, is a wall. The towering, fortified wall of the city of Jericho. Chapter two of the book of Joshua picks up with Joshua’s plan for how they’re going to get into this land. “Then Joshua, son of Nun, sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went.”
Those are the orders. Joshua appoints these two as the eyes and ears of their people. To travel secretly, to avoid detection, to cross the border, so to speak, to find what they can find, and learn what they can learn. Tall orders, big responsibility.
Hebrew narrative is famously sparse on details, leaving much to the imagination. So we’re not sure what to think except maybe go “Huh,” when the story continues: “Joshua, son of Nun, sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a sex worker whose name was Rahab.” Huh.
We don’t know how they found this house. We don’t know if that’s what they were looking for or if she was looking for them. We don’t know if Rahab has chosen this work or been forced into it.
We do know that the story is not particularly concerned about these details. It’s not scandalized by Rahab’s profession, not interested in analyzing her moral standing. What it is quite concerned about, and what it holds up as morally honorable, is that Rahab extends hospitality to these visitors and protects them when the king comes knocking.
Rahab may have had very little power in the city of Jericho, but in this story she suddenly holds the power of life and death, and she chooses life.
The king of Jericho soon gets a report from his surveillance squads that foreigners have entered the city and are staying the night. And they have pinpointed their location – the home of Rahab. The king sends orders to his subject, Rahab, to bring the men out “for they have come only to search out the whole land.” This is all happening rather quickly. That’s only verse 3 of a 24 verse chapter.
So there’s the choice for Rahab. What’s she going to do? How to respond to the mandate of the king? How to respond to the mandate of hospitality? Whose side is she on? Where does her loyalty lie? To these guests, whom she’s only known for one night? Or to her king, who seeks to preserve and protect the good order of the city?
One of the other details we’re given later in the story is that Rahab’s home was within the wall itself. Verse 15 says that her house was on the outer side of the city wall. This is eventually what enables her to help the spies escape, letting them down by a rope through the window.
This real estate detail reminds me of a phrase I love from Richard Rohr which I’ve highlighted before. He talks about living on the “edge of the inside.” Part of what he means by this personally is that he, as a Franciscan priest, although quite critical of his own Roman Catholic tradition, has chosen to live on the edge of the inside of the church. He’s inside it, but he on the edge of the inside, which puts him in touch with borderlands. Puts him in relationship with those not on the inside. Gives him a view that is familiar with both the inside life and the expanses of the outside. Rohr invites others, whatever their tradition, to a similar piece of spiritual real estate. The edge of the inside.
This, it seems, is Rahab’s location, location, location. Perhaps her location in society, her daily life as a sex worker, made it clear to her that the good order of the city served some especially well and others not so much. Her view from her window, out beyond the fortified wall, into the spaces where birds cross boundaries without a second thought, where the species of plants and animals intermingle to form an indivisible complex web of life, perhaps informed her decision to shelter these nomads scouting out the urban landscape of her city.
Rahab is at home on the edge of the inside. Her imagination extends beyond artificial boundaries erected fearful kings. Her loyalty lies in the complex web of life that sustains all creatures.
Rahab is remembered because she becomes a traitor to her king’s small vision of the world. She is a traitor to Jerichoan supremacy. She betrays her own privilege by which she could have been protected and unbothered within those walls. She finds a new use for those walls. She uses the walls of her house for protecting her guests, not for locking them out. Her walls become a temporary sanctuary, a safe passageway between outside and inside.
Before we go building a statue to Rahab too high, let’s also consider something else. Despite the risk to her and her family, as the story unfolds, we learn that Rahab is also motivated by some strong self-interest. She has heard of these Israelites, knows they are on their way into the land, and believes that her city as she knows it is about to end. In this sense, she agrees with her king. The walls of the city are indeed under threat. The cultural stability and predictability, the ethnic familiarity of Jericho’s demographics is about to be massively disrupted. But rather than rally all the forces to defend and protect and preserve this arrangement, Rahab throws in her lot with this future. She accepts these guests in her house as agents of a shift, the complex web of life creating something new. She realizes that her well-being is actually tied to the well-being of these visitors. She needs them as much as they need her. They are her salvation just as much as she is theirs. When the foundations of those Jericho walls are rocked and cracked, crumbled and tumbled, dismantled, Rahab and her family are spared the destruction. They join up with the new community built on the rubble of the old.
When Matthew begins his gospel, he opens with a genealogy, all the way back to Abraham. He’s tracing the lineage of Jesus which, especially in the ancient world is another way of saying that these are all the people who make who Jesus is as a person. It’s mostly men in this genealogy, which was normal, but there are also several women., one of whom is Rahab. In other words, Jesus had Rahab’s DNA within his bones. He got her edge-of-the-inside genes. Her way of making walls a welcoming sanctuary rather a militarized fortress. In other words, if you want to get to Jesus, the path travels through Rahab. Which is to say, that if we want to continue in the same lineage as Jesus, then Rahab is our spiritual ancestor. A complex human being who knew where her ultimate loyalties resided, and lived accordingly.
Over these 1000 days Edith has endured through our flawed impersonation of Rahab. The pandemic has made these efforts even more difficult. Even so, we see the imprints of Jesus in this work, in this unique relationship we have with Edith and her family and the wider community that supports them.
May we continue to betray those loyalties which make us less hospitable to others and ourselves. May the walls in our lives, these walls, be for protection and shelter rather than fearful exclusion. And may the remaining days when sanctuary is still a necessity be few and filled with hope and love.