Readings: Ruth, especially chapters 1, 3 & 4; Joshua 2 & 6. Mainly, the stories of Ruth and Rahab.
Paul Harvey was a conservative radio figure on the air, popular the last 25 years of the 1900’s. Some of you may have heard him report the news, signing off with his popular tagline, “that’s the news. Goodday.”
I used to listen to him as a kid…but my favorite program he did was a segment called, “The Rest of the Story.” Every day at 4:45pm, I’d make sure the radio was tuned to the local AM station, KWAD…whether I was in the barn, in the house, or on the tractor. Harvey would tell remarkable, little known stories about popular, well-known people, not revealing who the person was – usually some famous person – until the end of the story. And he’s always end the segment with “and….that’s the rest of the story.”
Today we have two separate stories about two women: Ruth and Rahab. I’m not sure if you were familiar with their stories before hearing them today, but they’re heroines – faithful in the midst of difficult situations. Ruth, deciding to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi, who was without a husband or son to care for her, which in that time was a sentence to a life of poverty and exposure to being exploited. Women in that time had no rights to property, and were often property themselves….and so they were dependent on a man for protection and livelihood. But Ruth marries Boaz, and he in turn takes both her and Naomi in, and the story ends well! And the same is true of Rahab…she protects Israel’s spies from the Canaanites, because she “fears the Lord,” and this in turn ensures, along with God’s will, Israel’s victory and conquest of the city of Jericho. Rahab and her family are rewarded for their faithfulness.
But that isn’t “the rest of the story.” What if I told you Rahab was a prostitute, and her motivations weren’t so much out of a belief or fear of God, but to save her and her family’s skin from being slaughtered like the rest of the Canaanites in Jericho. And what if I told you Ruth, to save her and her mother-in-law’s skin, essentially goes to seduce Boaz, waits until he’s drunk, and then commits the equivalent of date rape so that he’ll have to take her in as a wife?
Because that’s what happens….Rahab says to the spies, “now that I have done this for you, promise me you’ll spare me and my family.” And Ruth… “Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down.” Let me translate that for you. In Hebrew, “feet” also means “genitals;” “lay down” in this sense means, “had sex.”
Now, knowing that about Ruth and Rahab, how do you feel about them now?
But that’s not “the rest of the story” either. If you recall the end of both stories, Ruth bears a son, who is an ancestor of David – as in King David, the one Jesus decended from. Rahab’s family has “lived in Israel ever since” the day Jericho fell. Rahab and her family are a part of God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel. And if you fast forward a bit to the first chapter of the gospel of Matthew, you’ll see their names….in the genealogy of Jesus. In other words, Ruth and Rahab…..they’re part of Jesus’ family.
They’re part of the family of God.
The point here is that God’s vision of what it means to be a part of God’s family is much more expansive, more inclusive, and wider than anything we could ever imagine. It includes some very faithful people, but it also includes some “questionable” characters as well. And, God’s wide vision for God’s family…that IS the rest of the story, it’s the WHOLE story…..but how often do WE narrow that vision?
I’ve heard you define church as a FAMILY…..and I think it’s a good definition. But when you think of who you INCLUDE in that family, who you consider your “church family?” Does it exclude certain types of people – people of different race, social class, lifestyles from being a part of it in the first place?
And, it’s not just that we exclude people right way, but also we exclude people because once you get to know “the rest of their stories,” you realize you might not want much to do with them. They look like good people on the surface, but as you get to know them, you realize they aren’t as “good” as you thought. They don’t seem as interested in your way of doing things…in our ways of being church. They just don’t seem to fit in our family.
Or, perhaps you exclude yourself….because you hold this feeling, that you no longer offer anything to the family as well.
But the message of Ruth & Rahab’s stories is that God’s vision of family is wider than we could ever imagine – it includes ALL PEOPLE – and the challenge is trusting that vision….that’s faith.
And the call of the “church family” is to live into God’s wide vision – in our life within this community, and in our ministry to the community around us. We not only include all people, but as we listen to each other’s stories, we imagine together new ways God might be calling us to be his disciples.
And the place to start, I think is hearing “the rest…of each other’s stories.” After our hymn is our usual time for prayer. But we’re going to try something different – we’re going to try a version of prayer called “holy conversation.” After the hymn I’ll ask you to get in a group of 2-3 – and I encourage you to move around and talk to someone you haven’t talked to much – and do this:
- Share a couple “hi’s” of your week: joys, successes, moments of peace.
- Than share a couple “low’s” of your week: difficulties, struggles, concerns, moments of frustration.
- They can be personal, or they can be things happening in the community, nation, or world.
- Then together, share ideas and thoughts of what you think God is doing, what God is up to in those hi’s and low’s.
As you do this, just pay attention to people’s comfort level….if someone isn’t comfortable sharing or comfortable with what you’re sharing, just be mindful of that – because our prayer together, especially in this church, should always be a safe place.
Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel, “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there also.” Christ is present in this exercise of prayer as “holy conversation.” And that being true, prayer in this way is a way we live more fully into God’s vision of family…..a vision of God’s wide mercy and love in Jesus Christ. A vision and a call that includes ALL PEOPLE and is great than anything we could imagine on our own. Amen.
My “alternate” ending given at the other church….we had a St. Patrick’s Day Dinner after worship….corned beef and cabbage. Thankfully, a lot of our newcomers stuck around, despite not being cabbage fans. Must’ve been those chicken nuggets! : )
And perhaps that is exactly what we’re called to do today…..as I was preparing this sermon, I made a list of people I consider my “family” – my sisters, my wife Kelly, my aunts and uncles. And I included all of you as well as my “church family.”
But then I realized, names were missing. There are those I don’t know so well. There are those who are part of God’s family….those I think in some ways God has placed on my heart to go talk to. To hear maybe not just the superficial beginning of their stories, but to hear in the “rest of their stories,” because that is what God is calling me to do.
And perhaps God is calling you to do that too. During our dinner after worship, I challenge you to find someone, someone you don’t know so well, and get to know them better. Hear their story. Invite them to tell it, and invite them to know a bit more about yours as well.
And perhaps in doing that, we too get a glimpse, a vision of God’s family…..a vision wider than anything we could imagine, a vision of God’s wide mercy, grace, and love shown in Jesus Christ. We see, perhaps….just exactly what God is calling this church family to be. Amen.