Church isn't always the most welcoming place. Once a friend and I stopped by a random church one Sunday evening and took a seat in a pew close, but not at, the front. Within a few minutes an usher approached us and asked my friend to remove his hat.
It's difficult to imagine a place where everyone can come as they are.
Rahab was a prostitute who enters God's narrative in the book of Joshua. It would be difficult to include the entire text of the story here so I recommend reading Joshua chapters two and six.
On the seventh day they rose early, at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times. It was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, "Shout, for the Lord has given you the city. And the city and all that is within it shall be devoted to the Lord for destruction. Only Rahab the prostitute and all who are with her in her house shall live, because she hid the messengers whom we sent.
Joshua 6:15-17 (ESV)
Here the people of Israel are about to take the city of Jericho. In doing so they are only going to spare Rahab (and those with her). If we rewind the story a few chapters we get a more complete picture.
And Joshua the son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, "Go, view the land, especially Jericho." And they went and came into the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab and lodged there. And it was told to the king of Jericho, "Behold, men of Israel have come here tonight to search out the land." Then the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, "Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come to search out all the land." But the woman had taken the two men and hidden them. And she said, "True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from.
and said to the men, "I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father's house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death." And the men said to her, "Our life for yours even to death! If you do not tell this business of ours, then when the Lord gives us the land we will deal kindly and faithfully with you."
Joshua 2:1-4, 9-14 (ESV)
It's somewhat humorous that the people chosen by God would decide to spend the night in a prostitute's house, but I think it was both strategic and divine. As a prostitute it would have been the norm for strangers to be coming and going from Rahab's home, and when I read Rahab's plea to the spies it also becomes apparent that she had genuine faith in God. While, after hearing the stories of what God had done for His people, the citizens of Jericho chose to become afraid and protect themselves behind their city's walls, Rahab chose to believe that God is God.
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.
Hebrews 11:31 (ESV)
One of the pivotal points here is that Rahab chose first to protect the spies. She had no way of knowing whether or not the situation would turn out in her favour. The spies could have easily thanked her and left.
Rahab's act of faith changed the trajectory of her and her family's lives. She's mentioned several times in the Bible after the story of Jericho. In Matthew 1:5 we read Rahab's name when Jesus' antecedents are chronicled. It's no coincidence that a woman of disrepute who chose to believe in God found Israelite spies knocking on her door. I'm convinced that God sees people based not on where they are or what they are doing, but on their potential. He sees a person based on what that individual could do or become if he or she devoted his or her life to His plan and His purpose (1 Corinthians 1:27, 1 Samuel 16:7).
A bottom-feeder in society became included in the linage of Jesus--who is the fulfillment of God's plan to bring every person into a relationship with Himself. She believed; God noticed. God demonstrated through Rahab's situation His desire and willingness to be a God who invites everyone into a relationship with Him.
It's difficult to imagine a place where everyone can come as they are. Yet when we look at the individuals the Bible describes as followers of Christ this is what we see: Everyday people whose lives are otherwise unconscious of God and His plans making a decision to be conscious of Him. Together these anybodys became the church.