July 15, 2018 Sermon
Stories of Hope: Gideon
Scripture Reading: Judges 6:1-6
6 The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years. 2 The hand of Midian prevailed over Israel; and because of Midian the Israelites provided for themselves hiding places in the mountains, caves and strongholds. 3 For whenever the Israelites put in seed, the Midianites and the Amalekites and the people of the east would come up against them. 4 They would encamp against them and destroy the produce of the land, as far as the neighborhood of Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel, and no sheep or ox or donkey. 5 For they and their livestock would come up, and they would even bring their tents, as thick as locusts; neither they nor their camels could be counted; so they wasted the land as they came in. 6 Thus Israel was greatly impoverished because of Midian; and the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help.
11 Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. 12 The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” 13 Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.” 14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” 15 He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”
Stories of Hope: Gideon
Last Sunday, at the beginning of the second worship service, something happened that freaked me out about as much as anything that’s ever happened to me during a worship service. If you were here in second service and it looked like I was in a bit of a shock for a few moments during the Meditation Time, that’s because I was. Here’s what happened. I got up near the end of the Meditation Time and moved toward the pulpit when I heard a strange noise coming from the sacristy – the area beyond the east wall of the sanctuary where deacons prepare communion, people prepare for baptisms, and many of the worship resources are kept. I heard a strange noise and then saw movement out of the corner of my eye; the movement was the “Christ is Risen” banner flapping and moving around…something that just DOESN’T happen in the controlled environment of this sanctuary. When it registered in my brain that the combination of the noise and the movement of the banner meant someone had just walked in the exterior door to the building that leads into the sacristy, my first thought – which lasted for but a moment – was that something bad was about to happen…because no one from the congregation should have been walking in that door at that moment. Just as quickly as that thought had entered my mind, it was erased by another thought, no – more than a thought – an assurance that God had just done something remarkable. I’ll tell you what a little later on.
Let’s turn for now to the story of Gideon, the hero of the story that begins in our scripture reading from the book of Judges today.
As I prayed about hope a few months ago, during the first week of May, God directed me to read again the story of Gideon. It’s a story that’s waaaaayyyyyy back in the Old Testament of the Bible. It’s a story from a time that was filled with uncertainty for the people of God, even before the situation that led to God calling the Judge Gideon.
Here’s a bit of background. Somewhere around 1,450 years before Jesus was born, Moses led God’s people out of Egypt and on a 40 year journey to the Promised Land. After Moses died, Joshua led the Israelites into the Promised Land, and Israel conquered and settled that land. But…then what?
The book of Judges provides a glimpse into what happened next, a glimpse into the roughly 300 years between Joshua’s death and the anointing of Israel’s first king, Saul. During that period of time, Israel behaved more like a collection of tribes than a nation. And those tribes, sometimes they did what God wanted, but sometimes they didn’t. And, true to the promise God made through Joshua, whenever the people of any tribe strayed from God and God’s desires, God allowed a foreign invader make its way into Israel. That’s what was happening at the beginning of Judges 6. In the verses we didn’t read, in Judges 6:7-10, God responded to the Israelites’ cries by telling them God allowed the invasions because the Israelites were worshiping foreign gods.
So…that’s what was going on with Israel. They had been promised God would protect them in the Promised Land…as long as they followed God’s commands. But they DIDN’T follow God’s commands, and God stopped protecting them. And the Midianites, the Amalekites, and the other peoples from the east were making their life MISERABLE…killing people and animals and all living things…forcing the Israelites to retreat to the hills and caves just to be able to survive.
I would imagine God’s people felt pretty hopeless in that situation. Gideon’s conversation with the angel in our reading suggests Gideon felt pretty hopeless. But God’s angel appeared to Gideon to do something about that hopelessness. God sent that angel to Gideon to provide hope for all Israel.
Last Sunday, I told y’all that we should have hope that God is going to do something great through this congregation. I told y’all that our hope should have NOTHING to do with our circumstance, even the circumstance of so many people dying or moving away from Grand Junction, but rather our hope should have EVERYTHING to do with our trust in God.
What I didn’t tell you is what we should do next, how we can turn that hope into something more than JUST hope, how we can participate in what God has planned for us, what God STILL plans to do through us. That’s where the story of Gideon comes in, and so Gideon’s story provides the basis for the second sermon in this series about hope. Gideon’s story provides what you might call an action plan for living into the hope provided by God…and it’s a rather simple action plan, having two primary components.
The first component of the action plan for living into hope won’t surprise anyone; it is this: LISTEN TO GOD. In everything you do, and I mean everything, be on the lookout for what God has planned and what God wants done.
How does this help us live into hope? Well, we all know how little WE can accomplish on our own. Gideon KNEW he was a lousy warrior, the weakest member of the weakest clan in his tribe. And his tribe, according to at least one biblical census, was the weakest of all the tribes. Gideon KNEW he was weak…until he listened to God’s angel proclaim him to be a mighty warrior. When he listened to God, Gideon discovered that everything Gideon THOUGHT he knew about what he could accomplish – and even what he wanted to accomplish in life – was WRONG. God showed Gideon he was made to be capable of SO MUCH MORE than he ever thought or desired.
The same is true for us. God knows what we can do. God knows what God can do through us. Yet, somehow, we cling to our notions of what WE want to do and what WE think is possible.
So we’ve got to replace OUR notion of what’s possible and even what we WANT to have happen with God’s notion, God’s vision. The only way to do that is to listen to God….all the time…because you never know when God’s going to send you a literal or metaphorical angel to challenge your assumptions and replace them with something better.
Remember the story of what happened here last Sunday during second service? The thought that first went through MY mind was something bad, and I was afraid. But it turns out God had been speaking to someone else in the congregation that made that whole incident happen, maybe a few someone elses. Maybe they don’t even recognize that God had been talking and they had been listening. Somehow God worked through Pastor Melanie and Tammy Ostermiller to arrange it so Tammy would water the vegetable garden Sunday morning. However God sent that message, both Melanie and Tammy listened…so that things would turn out as they did. When Tammy finished watering the garden, she walked in the sacristy door, leading to what looked and felt to ME like a miracle of God’s Spirit declaring God’s presence to me…right before I was about to preach a sermon about God’s presence here with us that gives us hope. Can you imagine the fire that lit under me when it came time to preach that sermon? But there’s more. By listening to God’s call to water the garden at precisely that time, Tammy was still here when second service started, allowing Paula and I to ask her if she would be willing to sing the duet she sang with Gabby James for the second service. Tammy and Gabby had not intended to share that gift with second service, but these events – all of this listening to God – made it possible. Tammy will likely never know the full extent of the impact her decision to listen to God about something as simple as watering some vegetables had on other people, on God’s plans for this congregation, on hope. But she listened…and something amazing happened.
The second component of the action plan for living into hope was manifest in the story I just told you, every bit as much as it was manifest in Gideon’s story, and I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone. Like I said, this action plan is simple. The second component to having hope is actually DOING whatever God calls you to do.
Sometimes, doing whatever God calls you to do is easy – as easy as watering a garden at just the right time. But much of the time, maybe even most of the time, what God calls you to do won’t sound easy OR logical. In my ministry, the number one challenge I have found to helping congregations experience and live into God’s hope for them is that so many people for so many reasons just don’t DO the things God calls them to do. And I think what happened next in Gideon’s story provides the primary reason: God calls us to do some crazy sounding things, some things that are just plain ILLOGICAL by human standards.
Consider Gideon. In verse 14 of what we read, God told Gideon, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.” Doesn’t sound so crazy…yet. But God put Gideon in command of 32,000 troops…to go into battle against 135,000 troops. But that’s not all…God said 32,000 troops was TOO MANY. So God told Gideon to tell all the warriors who were afraid to go home, and 22,000 left. Then God told Gideon to take all the troops to the river and ask them to get a drink…and to keep only those who lapped at the water like a dog…which left 300. So think about it: first Gideon had to HEAR God telling him to shrink the size of the army. THEN, Gideon actually had to DO these things that went against common sense. And THEN, Gideon had to lead 300 warriors against 135,000 warriors. How many of us would be WILLING to DO that? We think it’s tough when the pastor asks us to go tell a friend about Jesus, go tell a friend how much difference God is making through First Christian Church, Grand Junction. We think it’s crazy to follow a vision from God to evangelize and minister primarily to older adults. Well, what about fighting 135,000 battle tested troops with 300 men who were chosen solely on the basis of lapping water like a dog?
Y’all, I asked last week if what we wanted is for Jesus to walk in here and tell us that God is not done with us yet, that God STILL has plans for us and WILL work through us. And I heard more agreement in your response than I could probably get about ANYTHING from a group this size.
You – we – do want to know God desires to work through us. But, that’s gonna requires something from US. We’ve got to listen for what God wants to do through us, we’ve got to listen for God’s hopeful voice, God’s hopeful vision.
During this past week, one of our congregational leaders asked me if I really believed something hopeful is about to take place in this congregation, if I really believe the trend downward in spirit and number is about to become a trend upward. And I said “yes, I do”…but then I added, “I really believe it’s going to happen, but I also believe it’s going to take a great many of us – at least 50% and maybe even 100% of us – doing some things God calls us to do, some things maybe we haven’t been willing to do in the past.”
And, y’all, the part of us LISTENING and DOING starts now. So I need each and every one of you to start – right now. By the way, when I say “each and every one of you”, I mean it. What I’m about to say applies to ALL OF US, not just the leaders, not just those who feel exceptionally capable, not just those who feel healthy and strong. It even applies to those of you who feel like the weakest member of the weakest clan of the weakest tribe. So I need each and every one of you, right now, and continuing everyday, to pray to God and ask God to show you and show us God’s hope for this congregation. And while you pray, be sure to do more than just talk; be sure to LISTEN for God’s response. Everyone can do that; YOU can do that. And then, figure out a way to tell me or the other congregational leaders what God said, so that together we can ACT. Once we determine how God is calling us to act, it will, like praying and listening, take EVERYBODY – not everybody doing the same thing but everybody doing what God calls each one to do. And, you know, maybe God will tell us to do something that sounds crazy, something that sounds illogical. And while you might be afraid to do such a thing, to put our trust and HOPE into such a thing, let me remind you of the reason God gave Gideon for sending 300 warriors into battle instead of 32,000:
“The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand. Israel would only take the credit away from me, saying, ‘My own hand has delivered me.’”
Y’all, as strange as it sounds, I fully expect God to give us sustaining hope through something that sounds crazy and illogical…so that when we come out on the other side of this, we will all KNOW, 100%, down to the core of our being, that it wasn’t Pastor Brad who delivered us, it wasn’t Pastor Melanie who delivered us, it wasn’t Nancy who delivered us, it wasn’t the Cabinet or the Board or the Elders or the Deacons who delivered us. No, it was GOD who delivered us…so that we will never forget, and our children and their children and even their children will never forget: First Christian Church, Grand Junction, received hope from no earthly thing but from the living God, and First Christian Church, Grand Junction was delivered from grieving and despair by no earthly thing but by God, the maker of heaven and earth!