WHEN THE TOWERS FALL: Rebuilding your Life in the Rubble 8
I guess it's partly because I'm writing a series of spy novels - about a fictional spy Vicar during the Napoleonic Wars -that I have a fondness for the story of the prostitute called Rahab.
According to Joshua chapter 2 Rahab was clearly a resourceful and insightful woman.
When Joshua sent two spies into her city, she decided to offer them refuge. In return for keeping them safe, she and her family were spared when the Israelite army invaded.
Rahab is notable for all sorts of reasons, not least the fact that she features in the ancestry of Jesus in Matthew's genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel.
She also figures as an exemplar of true faith in the list of Biblical heroes in Hebrews 11.
As I once put it in a sermon when I was Vicar of St Andrew's Chorleywood, she went from 'call girl' to 'called girl', from a 'prostitute to a princess,' and thereby became a beautiful and abiding trophy to the divine mercy.
But there's more.
The no 1 reason why I want to celebrate Rahab is because she provided the first known example of a 'safe house' in history.
According to our friends at Wikipedia,
'a safe house is, in a generic sense, a secret place for sanctuary and it may also be a metaphor.'
According to Spooks expert James Sangster:
'It's a house or other building owned by the Security Services and known to its officers and agents, where they can go to when they're in trouble and request backup.'
Safe houses are crucial places of refuge for spies in danger.
Anyone who has enjoyed the BBC's eight season series, Spooks, will have seen and appreciated this.
Those in danger need their safe houses.
Why am I writing about 'safe houses'?
It's because they are an indispensable resource for anyone who been felled, who has fallen, or whose life has fallen apart.
Those who are surrounded by rubble need safe houses.
Whatever the reason for their rubble - self-inflicted or thrust upon them - people who are living in vulnerability rather than victory need these places of refuge, these safe houses.
Safe houses are vital for the recovery of every inhabitant of Rubble Town.
Safe houses are places where trusted, kind and generous friends offer unconditional love and warm hospitality in times of loneliness and lack.
They are places where there's a bedroom and a bed that offers the opportunity of uninterrupted sleep and untroubled dreams.
They are places where faces that are worn and wan from crying can begin to burst into life again, often around food and wine.
They are places where a person seeking refuge can find a safe place to bear the soul, to express their true feelings - free from the fear of censure and thoughtless platitudes, away from the prying eyes of rubber-necking passers by.
Such places are invaluable.
They are essential for anyone wanting to rebuild their lives in the rubble.
There are several more women in the Bible whom I want to celebrate before I share more personally.
There is first of all the Shunamite woman who provided a safe house for the bald prophet Elisha. According to the Message version of 2 Kings 4, a leading lady of the town of Shunem decided to host Elisha every time he visited the area. At first she would simply cook him meals. But before long this developed into something even more lavish. She spoke to her husband and said, 'why don't we add on a small room upstairs and furnish it with a bed and desk, chair and lamp, so that when he comes by, he can stay with us?'
And that is what they did!
They built an extension in their house reserved for the prophet.
They created a safe place.
Now let's turn to the New Testament. In John chapter 11 we see the sisters of Lazarus weeping at the death of their brother. Jesus arrives and raises Lazarus from the dead. He then stays with the two sisters and their restored brother, sharing a celebratory meal in honour of the miracle.
Now all this is familiar territory but perhaps what's not so widely appreciated is the fact that Jesus often stayed at this home in Bethany.
He often slept there, in a spare room.
He often ate there.
Lazarus was a beloved friend.
His home was a safe house for Jesus.
While we're on this, let's not also forget that in the Old Testament there were six 'cities of refuge where those who were guilty of manslaughter could find sanctuary from the blood lust of those seeking an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
These six cities were Golan, Ramoth, Bosor, Kedesh, Shechem and Hebron.
In these places, those who were on the run were protected. They found a safe place where to hide from those who were hunting them.
These were therefore asylum cities for fugitives.
They were an expression of God's mercy for those who were in danger.
Cities of refuge in Joshua 20 are macrocosmic versions of the 'safe house.'
Even the literal meaning of their names points to the kindness of God.
To those whose lives are in danger - for whatever reason and of whatever kind - safe houses can be the difference between life and death.
You cannot recover from the chaos of implosion without a little help from your friends - and specifically, without a little hospitality from your friends.
In the chaos of my own rubble, I have been blessed and amazed by a small group of people here and abroad who have opened their homes and their hearts to me - who have made a safe house for me and who have extended themselves to create a space for me in their world.
I cannot thank them enough.
In a time of self-inflicted chaos, their hospitality has offered moments of serene and blessed order.
In a time of intense stress, their homes have offers me moments of shalom - of divine harmony, integration, and peace.
Today I can safely say that these people are my most highly treasured friends.
They have brought heaven's kindness to earth.
Safe houses are without doubt a prerequisite for recovery whenever anyone is passing through Rubble Town.
But I can't end there.
Ultimately it is not earthly spaces that form our surest safe house.
That can only be found in the arms of the Father.
The Father's heart is our safest safe house.
It is our heart's true home.
It is the harbour where our ship comes in and our vessel gets repaired.
It is the place where the penitent prodigal finds his forgiveness.
It is the place where the broken-hearted finds their healing.
So even in praising the physical structure that is 'the safe house', I want to agree for once with Wikipedia.
This is also a metaphor.
It is a metaphor of that place where we find our truest refuge and our surest safety.
As King David - who knew a thing or two about rubble - once put it:
God's a safe-house for the battered
A sanctuary during bad times.
The moment you arrive, you relax;
You're never sorry you knocked.
Psalm 9:9-12 (The Message).