Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Story 8 Gideon

Gideon: A Guy Like Us

How would you react if God sent an angel to appear before you? You know that this is a messenger of God because one moment, you are alone, and the next, there he is, standing near you, or perhaps leaning on the wall. He didn’t climb in, he just appeared. Then he tells you that God has something great in store for you. It’s a monumental task. Actually there were two tasks, one a bit more uncomfortable than the second. But both would take you from your comfort zone. Could you gladly accept the assignment?

As we continue our story of God’s love and grace, this week, we find ourselves in the Book of Judges. Chapter 6 to be exact. Of this book, many characters would be good studies, so it was difficult to decide who would be the best person to look at. Yet Gideon seems to be like you and I today. 

The Book of Judges can be called a repetitive cycle. After Joshua dies, Israel stops driving out the people from the Promised Land, and instead, accepts them, first as slave labor and then as equals. Israel even begins worshiping their gods, forgetting about the Lord who delivered them from Egypt, who took them into the promised land.  So the Lord burned with anger and allowed the foreigners to become thorns in the side of His children. 

After a time of oppression, the people would wise up, repent and return to the Lord. He would show mercy and deliver them through people called Judges. Then after the judge would die, the nation of Israel would fall back into the sin of idolatry, forgetting the Lord once more. 

This is the setting for our text this morning. Let’s see Gideon in verses 11-16:

Then the Lord's angel came to the village of Ophrah and sat under the oak tree that belonged to Joash, a man of the clan of Abiezer. His son Gideon was threshing some wheat secretly in a winepress, so that the Midianites would not see him. The Lord's angel appeared to him there and said, “The Lord is with you, brave and mighty man!” Gideon said to him, “If I may ask, sir, why has all this happened to us if the Lord is with us? What about all the wonderful things that our fathers told us the Lord used to do — how he brought them out of Egypt? The Lord has abandoned us and left us to the mercy of the Midianites.” Then the Lord ordered him, “Go with all your great strength and rescue Israel from the Midianites. I myself am sending you.” Gideon replied, “But Lord, how can I rescue Israel? My clan is the weakest in the tribe of Manasseh, and I am the least important member of my family.” The Lord answered, “You can do it because I will help you. You will crush the Midianites as easily as if they were only one man.” – Judges 6.11-16

Why a winepress? First, the winepress is an elevated building. I can see the floors being a good 5-6 feet off the ground. And with the crops and land in ruin, the winepress would be abandoned, full of dust. It was easy for Gideon to hide while he repurposed the building. 

So how is Gideon like us? Like him, we are given a mission. His mission was to deliver Israel. Our mission is to share the great news of Jesus, and what he’s done for us. And though we are not oppressed as he was, we are still inundated with multiple cultures and a cry for acceptance and tolerance, which comes to be that we accept and celebrate others while keeping mum on what we believe. (A side note here: Jesus said that He is the ONLY way. He’s not one facet of a deism that comprises all the religions of the world. He is the only God. All others are false gods or idols. Apart from Jesus, there is no assurance, no hope of eternal life.)

Gideon is hiding out. Did you notice that he asked “why”, but the angel didn’t answer him. The reason is not that he was ignored, but that Gideon missed the answer when the prophet came with the news. And also, Gideon knew why. He was changing subjects because he was uncomfortable with the news that God sees value and worth in Gideon. We can see the same thing happen in John 4, the woman in the heat of the day, is shown she has worth, and she is uncomfortable with it. “Lord, where is the right place to worship, here or in Jerusalem?”

So I must ask, does that news make you uncomfortable? You realize that God saw so much worth in you that Jesus came to die in your place, in my place? From there, all God wants in return, because it’s a gift, not something we’ve earned or hope to earn, is for us to tell others. 

“But how can I carry out this mission? I am the weakest of my family, and we are the least in our tribe.” That was Gideon’s excuse. And there is the solution. God answered him. “Am I not sending you?” God will be there, and He was for Gideon. Gideon went down to the camp to eavesdrop on the enemy, and they were already afraid. So then the Lord tells him to whittle his army of 32000 down to 300 men. And rather be armed with weapons and tools of soldiery, they each were to be armed with a torch, a trumpet and a pitcher. The marvelous part is that tradition tells us that a horn is used per 1,000 men. And with 301 men surrounding the camp blowing their trumpets, that’s 301,000 soldiers in the middle of the night. God was there creating confusion. Midian defeated Midian. God defeated them. 

We’ve the same promise. When we are clothed in Christ, we are given the Holy Spirit. Paul tells one church that he prayed that they would realize that each one has the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead.  This is why the Scripture reading this morning came from Romans. It is a reminder that if God is for us, then what can’t we do? Because we are enlightened people, do you realize that we tend to not rely upon the Spirit, that we try to do things by our own strength? 

But perhaps like Gideon, there is something else present that prevents us from seeing God’s hand in our lives. It’s a four letter word that preachers try to shy from using because using this word can make people uncomfortable. It was true in Gideon’s time, as well as the rest of the Bible time period. It is still true today. That word is sin. Yes, I know that sin is only 3 letters, but the fear of saying it makes it akin to a 4 letter word. Sin doesn’t have to be sexual as our culture is currently looking at. It could be something different, lying perhaps, cheating, maybe even just gossiping. Whatever that sin is, it will hinder us, as sin hindered Gideon and Israel. 

Gideon was told to make the land right. He had to tear down the false idols and make an altar to the Lord. He would use the idols’ material as wood for the burnt offerings he made on the new altar. When the people woke the next day, they quickly learned that Gideon tore down the idols. I suspect his dad was the local priest for the idols. And yet even dad knew his son was right. Who will defend Baal? If he’s a real god, let him defend himself. Joash learned and I believe repented that day because of his son’s lesson.

I have had people tell me that they don’t feel God like they use to, that they don’t experience his presence as once they did. I’ve talked with them, and it comes down that somewhere along the way, they’ve allowed life’s storms, many of their own making, to remove their focus from God, from seeing and trusting in Jesus. And I have to ask, if you can relate, is there something in your life that is blocking you from God? Is there a sin that you hold on to that needs to be laid at the cross? As long as you have breath, God has love and grace. Let it go. Allow God to work through you.

Perhaps it’s not sin, but a matter of not knowing where to start the mission. Gideon’s mission started at home. He’s a grown man, and yet he had something to teach his grown family, his father, his brothers, and his neighbors. Our first start is with our family, those closest to us. Then we take the mission further out, to our friends, neighbors, and even community. But once we start, the next step becomes easier. God will bless it. One the same hand, you should probably be prepared to be called nuts.

Now here is where are not like Gideon. Gideon was still timid. He was still afraid, and unsure of himself. So God allowed him to set a couple of tests. Yet we don’t need those tests. Instead Paul tells Timothy in his 2nd letter that we don’t have a spirit of fear, but we have the Spirit of power, love and sound judgment. Let us not be ashamed of our message, of the Gospel. 

That is the mission God does give us. At the end of Matthew, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples, baptizing and teaching them everything I have taught you.” This includes the writers of the rest of the New Testament where we are encouraged to live higher than the world around us, all the while sharing the good news, loving the people as God loves us and them, serving them as we have opportunity. 

But a final warning here: We are like Gideon in that we are still prone to sin. Gideon messed up. He made an ephod, a type of idol. It was a snare to him and to Israel for the rest of his life. We must be careful as well. Yet Paul does encourage us, though we fall often, God still declares us in Jesus to be pure. Don’t allow anything to ensnare you. Carry out the mission.

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