Judges 6 & 7
I have two different sermons I want to preach today. But I am not going to give them both. The one printed in the bulletin will wait until next Sunday. In preparation for that sermon, I have some handouts for you about the Spiritual Gifts. I will also post links on Facebook so that you can access resources and inventories online. I would like you to do a little self-study between now and next Sunday.
Today I want to tell you a story. It came to me as I have been preparing for this ordination service. I wondered about how everyone would feel when we said thank you and goodbye to four elders and received only one new to service.
Honestly, I must admit to being a little bit afraid at first, a little bit discouraged. How will we do the work with fewer elders? Are we supposed to cut back out ministry? These questions loomed in my mind and heart. And then I remembered this story. It is a Bible story I learned in childhood. It is from the book of Judges – actually not a book of the Bible I would choose to read very often. It describes the people descending into chaos. They had no leader. Everyone did whatever they saw fit – and some of the stories are pretty awful!
But this one about Gideon is perhaps a story for us at this time. Listen!
[I told the story of Gideon in Judges 6 & 7; take a moment and read it before you go on, if you can.]
Can you imagine? The whole point of this story is that the people were terrified, and cowed into submission. They saw big bad enemies out there, and they cowered in fear. Gideon was threshing wheat in a wine press, to hide what he was doing! Then, he saw amazing signs of God’s blessing – 3 times – The offering consumed by fire, the wet fleece, the dry fleece. What we would give to see such signs! And still he was afraid to do what God said. So God let him go down and hear what the Midianites were saying to give him courage. The fact that God had told the Midianites that they would be delivered into Gideon’s hand gave him that final bit of courage. It is amazing how generous God is in this story!
How many signs do we need?
These people were clearly stuck in small world fears: We are too small, too poor, too powerless. Yet before we rush to judgment, let us look into our own hearts. When I think of the incredible chaos and violence of our world, it seems impossible to think this could change. We are so small! Even just this congregation. Look at us. We are few. What can we do? The scientists tell us that the global warming of our planet is irreversible! What can we do? It takes money to make money, so say the pundits. What can we do? We are not adept at the latest technological tools, like the culture around us? What can we do? While the story of Gideon’s people may seem far distant culturally – who counts camels any more? But the story is also for us today – whenever we encounter the impossible, this story is relevant. What can God do in the face of the impossible?
What God says is: being small doesn’t matter one little bit. In fact, it can be an advantage! It is God doing the work. Not us! God doesn’t need us to be successful or rich or powerful or the greatest nation on earth. Those things are all for show! They are all human efforts to create an image, build a facade, scare people into submission. But that is not God’s way. God can and will love the world with or without us! But God would rather do it with us, through us.
Who is to say that six elders isn’t just the right number to do what God wants to do in this time and in this place? It is God, through the Holy Spirit among us, who does the work. We don’t need to worry. God has called just the right people for just the right time.
And God will be able to do God’s work here – in this time and place. It may not be the work we had planned. That’s where we have to be humble, not afraid of change. Sometimes a smaller group can be more nimble to change directions, create a new plan. This is why it is so important that the elders pray through their decisions, why it is so important that you pray to ask for God’s guidance for this time.
One more little piece of the story. When the Midianites were in full flight, running away, Gideon called in the others. He sent messages to those who had gone home, the villages on the path of the army’s retreat, and enlisted them in the rout. (I really resist these violent stories!) The point? When the Spirit is moving, we are all called into the work. Those 300 soldiers started something, true, but the whole people finished the work. Message to us? Don’t leave the six elders out there hanging in the wind. Come around them. Find your gifts, your place in this work of loving this world back to life, health and wholeness.
So let us all pray. And particularly, a prayer like the Prayer to the Holy Spirit. Let us all call on the Spirit to come among us.
When the Holy Spirit came as fire on the day of Pentecost, it wasn’t for the purpose of burnout. It filled the people with warmth, passion, energy.
There is a wind of the Spirit blowing among us. There is an undercurrent of a desire for change. That always happens when the Spirit is present. Sometimes not an undercurrent, but the whole flood! Sometimes it sounds like discouragement, or it is spoken that way. But what else might it be? A new vision being planted? A pregnancy? William Bridges gave us the classic insight about transition: that every transition begins with an ending. And the ending part is hard, it can feel like discouragement, burnout, depression, “end-of-my-ropeness.” But this is also the time when we turn to God to do it for us. When we let go of our own visions and dreams and receive the visions and dreams promised for Pentecost people. When we turn to each other to be held and nurtured. And in that re-gathering of ourselves together, we find new life of Spirit. For wherever two or more are gathered, there is Christ in the midst of us.