ANSWERING THE CALL
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Gideon Part Two. Last week we looked at this reluctant hero. Of course when we read these stories they’re not about heroes, though I suppose you could say we see people acting heroically. I suppose you could say the most heroic thing any of them or any of us can do is to say yes to God’s call. To say yes to Christ’s call – “Follow me.” This is what we’re talking about all of these eight weeks. Who do we follow? Who will lead us? Who will go up for us? Do we say yes to God’s call? Gideon said “Yes” last week, after much reluctance. He built an altar called “The Lord is peace.” This is your position if you’re a follower of Christ. This is our belief. This is my belief. If I needed to explain why I follow Christ in not many words I would say along with Peter, “You have the words of eternal life.” You Christ, have the words and have provided the ways and the means to live in communion with God, and a life lived in communion with God is life the way it was meant for us to live it and this means deliverance and peace.
Is this the end of the story? No. It also means we have work to do. When we left our story last week, I said that Gideon had work to do. We have work to do my friends. When we consider this work though, we must consider it first and foremost in light of the fact that if you follow Christ you name God as sovereign. Jesus is Lord. This is one of the earliest confessions of faith. Easy to say no? What does it mean to say yes to Jesus’ call and name him as Lord? What might God call us to do? Let’s look at the second part of Gideon’s story and see what God may have to say to our hearts this morning.
So we’ve heard about the Midianites coming up every year from the Gulf of Aqaba. The angel of the Lord/the Lord has told Gideon that Gideon will be the one to deliver his people from the Midianite scourge. Gideon has work to do. Look at where the work begins – “That night the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s bull, the second bull seven years old, and pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father, and cut down the sacred pole that is beside it, and build an altar to the Lord your God on the top of the stronghold here, in proper order, then take the second bull, and offer it as a burnt offering with the wood of the sacred pole that you shall cut down.”
Let us not stumble over this arcane sacrificial ritual. I said the first week that we don’t read everything in the Bible literally, but we read it in context of the whole thing and we take it seriously. We’re told to love God with all our minds and we use our minds too. What does this command mean for us? Does God want us to head out to the country (because surely there must be bylaws about slaughtering animals in Toronto) and find a bull? What is this about?
I said last week that when we’re talking idol worship today we’re not usually talking about actual idols. We’re talking about the things that we turn to because we don’t trust that God is enough. For the Israelites, altars to Baal and Asherah poles (and Asherah was like a female consort to Baal) were signs that they didn’t believe that Yahweh was enough for their everyday. Baal was the god of storm and rain you see. The Israelites needed rain – the rainy season in Israel lasts about 4 months and it was needed to fill their cisterns and wells and so on. Having an altar to Baal and a wooden pole to Asherah meant that there was some uncertainty whether or not Yahweh – even though he had delivered them in the past – was still able to do so today. There was some question as to whether the deliverance – the peace - that God brings is for the everyday or is it more something to keep in your back pocket for when things go bad.
A friend who used to be a nurse was telling me the reaction she would sometimes get when she would tell a family of a sick child (she was at Sick Kids for a time) that she would pray for them. Often they would react very badly and say “What - is my kid dying?!”
Prayer is not simply for when things go badly (though it’s for then too). Turning to God, seeking God’s face, is not simply for when things have gone terribly wrong. The peace that we’re talking about as followers of Christ is for every day. Seeking God is for the every day. We’re not to look at any of these stories and say “Oh those crazy Israelites - constantly forgetting that God had made a covenant with them and delivered them time after time after time and turning to these other gods and thinking Yahweh wasn’t enough!” We’re to look at these stories and see ourselves in light of them. We’re to look at ourselves and examine ourselves and examine our lives and say “In what part of my life am I thinking I need to hedge my bets with God?” In what part of our lives do we say “Well that God stuff is good but I mean I need to live, to survive, to make money, to have a good life…” To have a good life. The message that runs through this story, and the message that runs through this entire book, is that a good life is to be found in communion with God and in turning toward God and in seeking God’s face every day.
How do we seek God’s face every day? In prayer. In reading God’s word. In spiritual disciplines. How is that going for us? I ask this question because it’s a question I ask myself. I’m living in the world too and I know what it’s like to feel that we need to hedge our bets in order to enjoy a good life and be safe and secure and be doing well. We think that education will save us or our society, or public service announcements, or our government or science or working harder or having more stuff and as I always say there’s (most times) nothing wrong in and of any of things. This story reminds us that deliverance is from God. From turning toward God. From doing as the Shema says – “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.” In other words all the time. What would it look like for us to take those words seriously? How would we seek God in our every day? What would it mean for our children? Would we think that deliverance and peace for our children would come primarily from doing well at school or excelling at sports or having varied activities and interests (and I’m never against any of those things and stay in school kids!) or would we be turning to God with them?
What might it mean for our church? Would we give up a Saturday to go pray together? A whole day? Would we do that to seek peace in our every day? If we faced a major decision would we make the time to get down on our knees four weekends in a row before we even began to discuss it?
Or would that be too fanatical?
Maybe we’re called to get a little fanatical. Do you know what my vision for this church is? Well I have a few, I suppose. But I long to see us being “Shema people.” I don’t want us to be a people who take a little religion or a little faith if you like and put it our mix like we put in diet and exercise and work and recreation and films and our devices and television and all the things that make up our days.
Do you want that too? There’s this great quote from St. Columban I’ve been liking a lot lately. Irish monk. Went over to France. Here it is – “.the Creator of light is the fountain of light. So let us leave this world of visible things. Let us leave this world of time and head for the heavens. Like fish seeking water, like wise and rational fish let us seek the fountain of light, the fountain of life, the fountain of living water. Let us swim in, let us drink from the water of the spring welling up into eternal life.” John 4.
It means getting serious about this stuff. Saying I want to get into it, you know, like a wise and rational fish!
It means starting at home. Gideon had a battle to fight. Well technically it was God’s battle but I suppose you could say Gideon had a battle to facilitate. He had to start at home though. Pull down the altar of Baal that belongs to your father. Right in his home. Right in his hometown. We need to be getting this peace stuff right in our homes. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Do you remember when the kids sang that last December? A girl from the neighbourhood, Olivia, who had the mic, just led that thing! What a great prayer. May this be our prayer. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. Let there be peace in our homes. Let there be seeking God in our homes. Let us seek God together in our homes. We can’t do it all here you know. This stuff is not just for Sunday. How is the peace going in your home? You can talk to me about it anytime. Pastor Abby too. I often say that unless people have the unmistakable impression that we love them, all of our talk about how much God loves them will be meaningless. This needs to start in our homes. It needs to radiate out from our homes to our neighbour’s homes.
We need to be getting it right among ourselves in our church home too. We need to look at ourselves and ask God to help us to love one another to the point where people notice. That was Christ’s command. This is what the Spirit will enable in us. We need to ask him. Make me a channel of your peace. Let us get that right here, because if we don’t we won’t be getting it right when we go from here. I’ve heard things from people like “Blythwood doesn’t care about children.” “It feels like Blythwood has forgotten about me.” God grant that these things may never be true of us. Before we’re called on to engage in any battles outside of this place we need to be asking God to make things right, to put things, right, to keep things right in our homes and in our church home(s).
Speaking of putting things right, the act that God asks Gideon to do is an act of subversion. We’ve talked about how the gods of the Canaanites and the surrounding people represent our will to go our own way – our desire for self-assertion or self-determination – rather than God’s way. We’ve talked about stabbing oppressive systems. We’ve talked about putting tent pegs through systems and practices that go against what God wills for humanity. That go against God’s love and grace and mercy and compassion and justice. I think that as followers of Christ we’re called to be subversive. I think that we’re called to question things that do not reflect God’s ways. I think we’re called to work against them at times. We’ve talked about a few ways that has happened. Not every act of subversion has to be chaining ourselves to a barricade, however. It can be something as seemingly simple as making the time to come to church. Making the time to get together to study God’s word together in a world that says that everything depends on our own striving and rushing and make the most productive use of every minute of the day. It can be as simple as that. Going to church as an act of subversion – I like it!
Finally, we see Gideon throughout his story as one who consistently messes up. His consistent desire for a sign. His need to hear a sign from the words of a Midianite sentry when he’d heard it already from God. His self-glorification in battle – his battle cry of “For the Lord and for Gideon.” His desire for vengeance against the people of Succoth and Penuel. His telling the Israelites “The Lord will rule over you” when they want to make him king, and then taking a bunch of Ishmaelite earrings and making an idol of them and putting them in his town. Pretty much where we started today.
God used Gideon nevertheless. The land had rest for 40 years. Gideon is mentioned in the faith hall of fame of Hebrews 11 – “And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets – who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions…” To follow Christ is a journey friends. I know we don’t always feel like wise and rational fish. I don’t. We’re reminded through the story of Gideon that God blesses us and uses us to bless others often in spite of ourselves. May we never fail to be moving in this journey together, obtaining the promises of peace and wholeness that are God’s will for our lives. May these things be true for us all.