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Hanging on to Hope

This post has 2 parts – an introduction to scripture and then the sermon itself.

1) Intro to Joshua 2 and Genesis 38

In the first chapter of Matthew, the author traces Jesus genealogy for 41 generations, from Abraham to Mary and Joseph.

I’ve spared us that reading and those 40+ Hebrew names, and instead, I’m choosing to highlight 2 of Jesus’ more controversial ancestors, Tamar and Rahab.

I included them for a few reasons. First – they’re women, and we’re focusing on the “women of Advent” this year.

Second, they’re ancestors of Jesus, they’re part of his extended family, part of his family’s story.

And finally, they’re unconventional heroes.

When we read this now, and when many of our Christian foreparents read this, what stands out is that Rahab and Tamar were both women who did offensive things.

Rahab was a prostitute by profession. She was also a traitor.

Tamar, disguised herself as a prostitute in order to sleep with her father-in-law and produce an heir.

And so the common interpretation of this text is that Matthew must be showing us that Jesus, like us, has a complicated family history.

That Jesus, like us, has less-than-perfect ancestors.

Which is true.

But what is odd, is that it is Tamar and Rahab that are most often pointed to as the prime examples of this imperfection.

And yet, if we take the time to look at the names of everyone in Jesus’ line, Rahab and Tamar are some of the mildest of the bunch.

Included in the list is David, who, if you’ll recall, got another man’s wife pregnant and then sent that man to the front lines to die.

Other characters are equally sketchy.

Jacob steals his older brother’s birthright by tricking his blind father while his father is on his deathbed.

Solomon descends into idolatry.

Rehoboam goes to war against Israel.

And Jehoram, takes the throne and to secure his position, kills 6 of his brothers.

The more I read and study the Gospel of Matthew, the more I begin to wonder if Matthew wasn’t including Rahab and Tamar because they were somehow uniquely sinful or scandalous.

Most of Jesus’ ancestors fall into that category in one way or another.

The more I read and study, the more I ask, what if Rahab and Tamar are included, not for their lack of ethics, but instead, for their heroism?

Rahab and Tamar both save the Jewish people.

They both take extraordinary leaps of faith, trust in God, and risk their own lives in service to others.

Let us consider both their humanity AND their heroism as we hear their stories this morning.

2) Sermon – Hope and Peace

Last week, I went rock climbing with some friends of mine.

When you’re 50 or 100 feet up in the air, and your hands are slipping, the only thing that brings you peace is your faith in God,

and your faith in the person holding the other end of the rope…

And your faith in the rope itself.

The rope holds you when you let go.

It pulls you upwards if you need a boost.

It lets you down gently when you’re ready to come down.

It allows you to swing and move to different parts of the rock.

And if just thinking about this is making you nervous, because you’re afraid of heights, imagine that even when you’re on the ground, a rope can pull you forward.

Or hold you together.

In times of insecurity, in times of danger, it’s something tangible that we can use to get to safety.

It offers a measure of peace.

Rope is also a metaphor that appears in both of our scriptures today.

Rahab lets the soldiers down out of her window using a rope.

And later, she ties a scarlet cord to her window to let the soldiers know to spare her household, which they do.

In our other story, when Tamar sleeps with Judah, she asks him to leave his cord with her as a promise.

It’s not clear what that cord refers to, but it’s probably a rope bracelet or belt.

Whatever it is, it’s that cord, along with his staff and seal, that she shows the town later to prove that her child is his.

In both cases, rope ends up being salvation.

And it’s not a coincidence that the authors use rope as a metaphor.

The word for rope in Hebrew, tikvah, means “hope.”

Hope, in English, is an abstract concept.

But in Hebrew, hope has a tangible analog.

A rope can be held with our hands. It’s something we can cling to.

Tamar and Rahab both cling to the rope in their hands, while they also cling to the hope those ropes provide in the midst of conflict and uncertainty, the hope for peace to come.

Of course, the peace and security they seek does not come right away.

Hope also implies waiting.

The root of the word “hope” and “rope”, that same word we’ve been talking about, well, in Hebrew the root of that word, kavah, means both to bind together and to wait.

Which makes sense.

Hope AND rope are usually paired with waiting.

When I’m rock climbing, if I’m hanging from the rope, I’m waiting either to go up, or to go down. I’m somewhere in between.

Things we wrap up in rope or cord are waiting to be used.

Rope is not only a symbol of security, it can also be a symbol of being held and being kept secure in that in-between time.

When Rahab helps the spies escape, they don’t deliver on their promise to her right away.

The invasion of Jericho comes a few chapters later.

Rahab hangs the red rope out her window and waits for the spies to deliver on their promise to spare her family, a promise that had no guarantees.

Likewise, Tamar does not become pregnant on her preferred timeline.

She has to wait many years, through two husbands,

plus the additional time she waits for Judah’s youngest child to grow up,

plus the time she has to wait for Judah to discover her pregnancy and approve, which was certainly not a given,

plus the 9 months she ultimately has to wait for her child to be born.

During that time of waiting, they cling to these threads, this tangible symbol of promises made.

In this time of Advent, as we wait in expectation for the birth of Jesus, we too have cords to hold onto.

We have the threads of community that bind us together.

We have the rope of justice, which draws us out into the world.

We have a tether to the Holy Spirit, which pulls us forward, even when we have a hard time moving.

And we have an unbreakable tie to God, which holds us whenever we find ourselves in the in-between times.

May we experience the peace that comes from being held, and the anticipate the peace to come.

Amen.

Speaker: Rev. Sarah TevisTownes
December 2, 2018

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