(Judges 6: 11-17, 25-27)
The Book of judges is a composite of independent stories relating to the same period in history- all of them happened after death of Joshua and before the people of Israel were united under one king.
There is a typical progression in Judges: first, we hear of the people’s evil and disobedience to God, which has led to oppression by an enemy force. They cry out to God, begging for help. God raises up a righteous judge from within the people. Who with God’s help, saves them. God reminds the people to worship only God….and, the the people fall into evil again- a cycle. Only 6 chapters in, we come to the 4th time that the people ‘had done evil in the sight of the Lord.”
Gideon is a really interesting character- he’s one of the great Judges of Israel, and by the end of his story, he has an impressive record: He led a group of 300 warriors into battle and with them he freed the people of Israel from Midian’s oppressive rule. He condemned their worship of idols, and he’s one of the very few Old Testament leaders who lived a full life and died of old age. But like almost all of the Judges, he had a fatal flaw- his was arrogance- and it began Israel’s spiral back into idolatry.
I’ve asked a few people that I’ve seen this week about Gideon- just to test the waters, to see what they say they know about Gideon. Either they’ll say, “Isn’t he the guy who puts Bibles in hotel rooms? Or, if ther’re pretty up on their Bible stories, they’ll ask- “Doesn’t he have something to do with a story about a fleece?” So, in the interest of clarity:No, he doesn’t put Bibles in hotel rooms. And, Yes, he has story about a fleece, but we aren’t going to get to it today. Today, like last week, we’re thinking about about God’s call to us and remembering God’s call to others.
We find Gideon separating wheat from chaff- the step before grinding it into flour to make bread- but instead of the usual place, he is working on wheat in a wine press.
A wine press, in his day, was about the size of a Hot Tub, but about as deep as a person is tall. So, it would have been a good place to work- if you didn’t want to be seen.
For the seven years before, Israel had been terribly punished by God for their refusal to obey the first and greatest commandment, “you shall have no other Gods before me.” And their punishment was that they had been taken over by another people, and lived under a cruel occupation.
Imagine, probably moving fast with his head down, absorbed in his task and sweating both from the work and anxiety (what if he’s seen?) …. I bet he nearly jumped out of his skin when an Angel said to him, “Greetings Mighty Warrior!” And, Mighty Warrior is such an ironic thing to call him. He’s not leading an underground movement to help the people- he’s skulking around trying to survive in an occupied land.
Is it any wonder that he gave a cynical response to the Angel? As always, I love how formal scripture is, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? I’m the least of my tribe and my family.” I’ve always wondered if he didn’t really say something more along the lines of, “But sir, If I could conquer Midian, don’t you think I’d have done it already?! I’m hiding in a winepress, full of wheat for gosh’ sake!!”
Gideon asks the Angel for a sign, and he is given one. Then God asks Gideon to preform his first task: tear down his father’s huge altar to the false god Baal and build one for the One True God.
Having spoken directly to an angel and having received a sign from above, you’d think that Gideon would be eager to serve the Lord. Instead, he does what God asks and tears down the altar, but he does it in the middle of the night, in the cover of darkness- because, as the scripture tells us, “he was too afraid of his family and the townspeople.”
Now that’s a righteous servant of the living God!….Nope. That’s definitely the same guy who just, “But Sir’ed” an angel. To be fair, he had good reason to be afraid of his family and the townspeople. He was desecrating a sacred place- and they would be furious, even violent. … and while we know it was an altar to a false god, they believed in Baal, and Baal was know for being an angry god who –on occasion- demanded child sacrifices.
Gideon’s name in Hebrew means hack or hacker- as in someone who hacks down trees. I love that in English, hacker is so ambiguous. It suits him. Is he a good guy or is he a bad guy? Is he helping or is he hurting his town? Does he hack down poles dedicated to Baal, or is he a hack- too scared to take a stand It’s complicated. He’s complicated. He’s human.
We don’t know how old Gideon was when he received God’s call… but would it surprise you to hear that a lot of people think he was a teenager? He’s so insecure. He questions the Angel, He asks for a sign in our story, and then two more as soon as ours ends. He does what is asked of him, but reluctantly. He’s afraid of what other people with think, or say, or do…He’s so focused on how everything will affect him, that God’s plan seems the farthest thing from his mind. …but Gideon’s greatest flaw was that he did everything he could to minimize any possibility that he would be called to take a risk.
…And he may have been a teenager, but to conclude it from what he says and does, I think, is unfair- and it gives teenagers a bad rap. Not because they aren’t selfish, or insecure, or frightened… but because most all of us are. Aren’t we all like Gideon? When bad things happen, don’t we become bitter and question God’s claim on our lives? Don’t we, too, look for signs and assurances? –even after we’ve figured out what God is asking of us? Desperate to keep up appearances, don’t we serve God as quietly as possible? Don’t we want to minimize risk, to take control?-fighting to keep fear at bay.
But serving God isn’t safe, to serve God takes risk. Taking risks as people of faith isn’t easy to do- but sometimes God calls us to risk. And that places us an uncomfortable position.We face the possibility of trial, of failure, of sacrifice, of being exposed in front of others –but it is only by risking that we are opened up to deeper engagement with one another, and life-changing discipleship. The farther outside of our comfort zone we are, sometimes, the better. How do we know we can be called to risk?
One pastor, whose book I read, always says that when in doubt, Jesus shows us the way.
“Stepping across social boundaries, He touched people , loved them, healed them.
and showed the same incredible grace to both the greatest sinner and the finest saint.
In doing this, he risked his very life and willingly gave it for our sake…in response to this- what are we willing to do?”
What risks might God be asking you to make? And what about this church?
Where are we are called to risk? I don’t know, but I know we cannot be like Gideon- so averse to risk that we are half-hearted in our service to God. We must be better.
Let’s not beat around the bush: It takes everything we’ve got to serve in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.