Sunday at St Andrew's

Sunday 14 February 2021

Morning Worship 10 am on Zoom  

Sunday before Lent

Joshua 2

'Cowardice and courage'

Speaker: Phil Rodd

 

 

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Welcome to this service at St Andrew’s Eaton
 

The Bible often presents us with unlikely heroes – those we least expect are often the ones to show the greatest faith. Today we meet one such unlikely hero – Rahab the prostitute. Despite her past, God still uses her and her faith in extraordinary ways.

On this day – Valentine’s Day – when we celebrate the love of our nearest and dearest, we are reminded too of God’s even richer and dearer love for each one of us. A love regardless of – in full knowledge of – what we’ve done or who we are. A love that calls us to follow Rahab’s example of courageous faith.

As we begin, let’s pray that God will still our hearts and minds and speak to us in this time today.

 

INTRODUCTION

Leader: Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father

             and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you

All:        and also with you.

 

Leader: Let us pray.

All:        Come Holy Spirit,

             fill the hearts of your faithful people,

             and kindle in us the fire of your love;

             through Jesus Christ our Lord.

             Amen.

             

HYMN: Lord as the day begins 

 

PSALM 50.1-6

 

All: Glory to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit;

as it was in the beginning is now

and shall be for ever. Amen.

 

CONFESSION

Leader:   The gospel calls us to turn away from sin

                  and be faithful to Christ.

             As we offer ourselves to him in penitence and faith,

             we renew our confidence and trust in his mercy.

          

All:        Almighty God, our heavenly Father,

             we have sinned against you

             and against our neighbour

             in thought and word and deed,

             through negligence, through weakness,

             through our own deliberate fault.

             We are truly sorry

             and repent of all our sins.

             For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,

             who died for us,

             forgive us all that is past

             and grant that we may serve you in newness of life

             to the glory of your name.

             Amen.

 

Leader: Almighty God,

             who forgives all who truly repent,

             have mercy upon us,

             pardon and deliver us from all our sins,

             confirm and strengthen us in all goodness,

             and keep us in life eternal;

             through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

All:        Amen.

 

FIRST READING

Mark chapter 9 verses 2-9

The Transfiguration

 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

HYMN: Speak O Lord as we come to you 

 

SECOND READING

Joshua chapter 2 verses 1-16, 22-24

Spies Sent to Jericho

 

This is the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

 

SERMON (Phil Rodd)

 

‘Cowardice and Courage’

 

Intrigue, crossing and double-crossing, stories of shadowy characters, low-life, high-life, strong inscrutable characters, with the odd glamorous woman for good measure?  It may sound like something out of the world of James Bond – but actually of course this is the world that we encounter in Joshua chapter 2.  

Actually, this isn’t the first spy story in the Bible.  You might like to check out the earlier one later on.  It’s in Numbers chapter 13, when Moses sent not 2 but 12 spies to spy out the land of Canaan that God had promised to give to his people.  On that occasion two of the spies brought back a positive response, showing confidence in God to make good his promise to his people, and to deliver the new land to them.  The other 10 spies didn’t quite get it right, and their fear and timidity had a very adverse effect on the rest of the people.

This time, though, in Joshua chapter 2 we’ve only got two spies, so naturally enough we expect these two will get it right, and will star in another story of bravery, stopping only to mix cunning and heroism with the occasional dry Martini on the rocks, ‘shaken not stirred’.  And we’ll start by looking at them – (the spies, I mean, not the rocks) – before looking at the other main character in the story, Rahab.

 

THE SPIES: COWARDICE AND BRAVERY 

First then, the spies.  And yes, everything is set up for us to expect to read an account of bravery and courage.  Whereas what we get is the opposite – hesitation and cowardice.  The spies have only just begun their mission, only making one contact and already they’ve jeopardised the whole effort – they think nothing of going to sleep on the job; and they’re inexpert and clumsy; rather than keeping things hush‑hush, even the king finds out about their presence!

And it’s interesting that they’re only called ‘spies’ once – in v.1; from that point on they’re just ‘the men’ – ordinary men, lost men, they’ve lost any sense of their mission – and they’re just looking out for themselves.  

Is the spies’ cowardice indicative of a greater problem – a problem which seemed to go right to the top man, to Joshua, who as we see in verse 1 was the one who gave the orders to the spies to engage in their espionage.  And Joshua, we assume got his orders from – from God.  But, God had said nothing about spies.  Chapter 1, verse 2, where God’s orders are simply to enter the land – to cross the Jordan and enter the land.  And it would only be as they complied with this command that they’d see God’s promise to them fulfilled: ‘Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, as I promised to Moses’ (1:3).  That was an amazing promise – and it stands at odds with everything that follows in this book – a book that’s full of bloodthirsty wars and battles – whereas in God’s promise to Joshua, there’s no mention of military conquest at all; if anything, it suggests rather a kind of military capitulation.  After all, try to forget the wars for a moment, and imagine what the phrase really means: ‘Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you’. 

It’s not ‘every place you tread on I will give you if you engage in battle and slaughter everything that moves’ – it’s more a question of if they trust God, his promise to them is a done deal – it’s already sealed.  As indeed are all the promises of God – they’re all guaranteed to us, signed, sealed and delivered – and that’s the way we should treat them.  Behaving as if we believe that God has created us and redeemed us.  Behaving as if we really are the beloved sons and daughters of our loving heavenly Father.  Because that’s what we are.  ‘How great is the love that the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God’, as it says in 1 John.  Let’s believe it, let’s enjoy it, and let’s live it out!

Back in Joshua 2, it’s interesting that although the spies are told (in verse 1) to view the whole land, they only get as far as the house of a prostitute in the first city they come to – and there’s plenty of Carry On ‘ooh-er, misses!’ humour in the story-telling.  God’s great plans for his people are, apparently, very easily thwarted!

So what’s happened to the bravery of chapter 1?  Do you remember the refrain that was repeated again and again in that chapter which we heard last week? – ‘only be strong and very courageous’.  

I think for us, too, we go through times when we seem to hear God’s voice quite clearly – perhaps starting a new job, or a new course of study, or any new phase in life, and everything seems fresh and exciting.  And maybe there’s a keen sense that God has placed us there, for a purpose.  And it’s easy to feel brave, and it’s easy to feel courageous.  But then, things change, don’t they – there are a few hitches, things go wrong in a meeting, an exam, or with a relationship.  And we’re no longer so sure of ourselves.

The odd thing about this story, though, is why those two spies – the representatives of God’s own people – are so unsure of themselves, whereas the other main character, Rahab, presents very differently.

 

RAHAB: UNDERSTANDING THE TIMES

Rahab.  Let’s have a think about her for a few moments.  Firstly, her – her ‘work’!  Well, OK, her profession may not be very honourable in our eyes – but the Old Testament can be surprisingly nonchalant about these things.  

Anyway, the thing is that she was living in a strategic place, with her house in the city wall – and she’d have had a very good view of the all the coming and going in the city.  And the nature of her trade was such that she’d often be entertaining newly arrived travellers – if ‘entertaining’ is the right word!  

She knew what was going on, in other words – and from her knowledge, she’s able to discern that something pretty big is going on.  And we read her conclusion in verse 9: ‘I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that dread of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt in fear before you.’  

The point is that just as the roles are reversed in this story with regard to courage and bravery, so it is with wisdom and understanding.  We expect it’ll be God’s people – who know what he wants, and who have his Law – we expect they’ll be the ones to demonstrate wisdom.  Whereas this story seems to be encouraging us to be humble, and ready to identify wisdom in surprising places.  

Rahab’s story is that of a woman who can see what’s really going on – and God’s deliverance touches her, despite her being the last person who would be thought of as ‘qualifying’ in any sense for that deliverance.  

 

SUPPORT FROM SURPRISING PLACES

The story doesn’t end here.  Because maybe to our surprise, this prostitute turns up in the New Testament – and there are three references to her:

Firstly, Hebrews 11:31

‘By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.’  Simple really, Rahab is praised for her ‘faith’ – the faith that sprang from her understanding.  She had a hunch and she was willing to stake her all on it.

Secondly, James 2:25

‘Rahab the prostitute was considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction.’  In other words, because there was an element of faith in her decision, God accepted her as ‘righteous’ – in right standing with him.  

And finally, Matthew 1:5 – which is worth looking up…

‘Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse…’  A long list of names which ends with…?  That’s right, with Jesus.  That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?  The faith of a prostitute, the action of a prostitute, is such that she’s rewarded with a place in Jesus’ own family tree.  Because our origins don’t matter – where we come from doesn’t matter – even what we are doesn’t matter, so much as what God wants to make of us.  

As part of God’s chosen people, the spies should have known better, but in the end they allowed their fears to take them over, and they skulk around with no sign of trust in God.  But it’s the Canaanite prostitute, the outcast, who wins God’s approval, because she’s learning to trust this God, albeit a foreign God.

Rahab only had hearsay to go on to help her form any idea of what the Lord was like.  But we have so much more.  Rahab worked with the little she had, and acted on it.  Thank God, though, that the way is open for us to do the same – by getting to know God through his Word, and meeting with his people, and learning to discern where he is at work in our world, and getting involved ourselves.

And when we’re tempted to withdraw, and say, ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly get involved in that type of service for God – I’m not nearly brave enough, or clever enough, or spiritual enough!’ then, remember Rahab, who clearly wasn’t any of these things – and yet God used her in a unique way – both to participate in the victory of his people, and also to have a role as a forebear of Christ himself.

Let’s be still, and each one come before God and ask him how he would have us respond this morning…

 

A version of this talk in video format will be available on the St Andrew’s channel on YouTube, from later on Sunday 14 February.  

 

 

HYMN: Through all the changing scenes of life 

 

PRAYERS 

As we approach our heavenly Father this morning, we thank him for his love for each of us.

John 3:16 tells us that ‘God so loved the World that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’

 

Heavenly Father we thank you so much for this beautiful world that you have created. We are sorry for the mess we have made and ask for your forgiveness, please show us how we can repair the damage that man has made.

 

We pray for persecuted people, in China and in Myanmar, and for Christians living in fear for their lives around the world. Please give your people the courage to stand up to the authorities and that they may be kept safe. We continue to pray for refugees, that they may have shelter, food, security and a place to call home.

 

Lord hear us in your love. Amen

 

John 13: 34-35.  A new Commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you ……

 

We pray for your church and for our leaders, especially the Archbishop of Canterbury as he juggles his role as leader of the Anglican Communion with his pastoral role as chaplain to the Covid 19 patients and staff at St Thomas Hospital. Your word tells us that ‘people will know that we are your disciples if we love one another’.  Strengthen and encourage Archbishop Justin and all our Church leaders. We thank you for modern technology that enables so many to worship you together in a virtual way. Please watch over those who are unable to access this technology, for any reason. May they know that you love them and that they are valued members of our church, and not forgotten.

 

Lord hear us in your love. Amen

 

Romans 8:28. We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him…

 

Heavenly Father we pray for our local community here in Eaton, for the businesses’ that are struggling through being unable to trade, for the unemployed and furloughed. We bring to you those who work in the caring professions and service industry carrying enormous burdens during the pandemic especially because of the winter weather. Encourage them to know they are valued, give your people opportunity to say a kind word and resist the urge to criticise.  Thank you, Lord, for the privilege of living in a beautiful and safe community, please make us grateful to you.

 

Lord hear us in your Love. Amen

 

Lamentations 3:22-23. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.

 

Loving Lord we bring to you those in any kind of need, and mention them to you in our hearts.... Please bind up the broken hearted, lay your healing hand upon the sick, comfort those who mourn, give courage to the fearful and wipe away all tears from our eyes.  Thank you for your steadfast and unchanging love and we remember that you promised to make all things new, give us joyful expectation that your promises will be fulfilled.

 

Lord hear us in your Love. Amen

 

A prayer to collect together all our intercessions today

Almighty Father,

whose Son was revealed in majesty

before he suffered death upon the cross;

give us grace to perceive his glory,

that we may be strengthened to suffer with him

and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.

Amen.

 

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

your kingdom come, your will be done, 

on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread.

Forgive us our sins

as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours 

now and for ever. 

Amen.

 

HYMN: God is working his purpose out

 

BLESSING

 

Leader:   May Christ’s holy, healing, enabling Spirit

             be with us and guide us on our way 

             at every change and turn;

             and the blessing of God almighty,

the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,

be among us and remain with us always.

All:        Amen.

 

Leader:   The peace of the Lord be always with you

All:        and also with you.

 

 

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND REFLECTION

 

How do you feel in the current situation? Courageous and full of purpose, or unsure of ourselves, like the spies?

 

Where have you found wisdom in surprising places?

 

What might God be unexpectedly calling you to today?

 

 

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