Harrowing Of Hell
September 24, 2014

The Call of Gideon

Preacher: The Rev. Kate Wesch

Can you remember a time when someone in your life said, “You can do it. I believe in you”? Maybe it’s an early childhood memory of your mom or dad or a grandparent teaching you how to be independent. Maybe it was a teacher or coach who had confidence in you even when you did not. Something you may not know about me is that when I’m not here at church or at home with my family, I like to spend time at the gym. It’s my habit, my passion, and a favorite hobby. I like to lift heavy weights. But it’s not just the endorphins or the strength and conditioning that draws me back again and again. It’s the community. It’s the challenge. It’s walking into a place where nothing else matters except pushing yourself and encouraging the person next to you.

I, of course, love setting goals for myself and achieving them, but even better than that is watching friends at the gym accomplish something they never dreamed themselves capable of. It’s watching someone climb a rope for the first time ever. Getting their first pull up, or setting a new personal record on a lift. I experience joy in witnessing others do something I knew they could do, but they did not.

As a species, we seem to harbor an overly healthy amount of self-doubt, particularly when something is outside our comfort zone. So in today’s sermon, I’m going to introduce a new theme building upon what Doyt has been talking about from this pulpit. Two weeks ago, Doyt stood up here and said, “We need to talk.” Last Sunday, he said, “I’m sorry. You are forgiven.” We need to talk. I’m sorry. You are forgiven. I’m going to add: Just do it. I believe in you. Just do it. It’s the Nike slogan. It’s something a friend or colleague might say if you ask a silly question like “Do you think I can really run that 5K?” or “Are you sure I’ll be able to lead that group?” “Just do it. I believe in you.”

There are many things parents wish to teach their children. Saying “I’m sorry” ranks right there at the top. I also think it is important to tell them, “Just do it. I believe in you.” “We need to talk.” That is listening for God. “I’m sorry.” That is turning back to God. “You are forgiven.” That is being reconciled with God. “Just do it. I believe in you.” is being empowered by God. That is the Great Commission. That is our calling. We are in the midst of a sermon series on the Book of Judges. If you missed last Sunday, I’ll catch you up. Yes, we know it’s a terrible book and wonder ourselves why it’s even in the Bible. It’s full of destruction and violence just like our modern world and there are lessons here for us to learn. As George Santayana wrote years ago, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And so, we study Judges because its cyclical stories of sin and redemption continue today.

We skipped a bit and now we are in chapter 6 during the time of Gideon. The Israelites once again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian for the past seven years. They’ve been hiding in mountains and caves because every time they manage to grow some crops or raise livestock, the Midianites and the Amalekites sweep through and take everything. The Israelites are miserable and repentant (again) and plead with God to save them. Gideon was busy hiding food from the evil Midianites and the Angel of the Lord appears saying, “The Lord is with you, you Mighty Warrior.” Totally normal Tuesday afternoon……right? Gideon quips, “so, if God is with me, why are all of these horrible things happening?” The angel responds, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian: I hereby commission you.” In other words, stop your complaining and DO something about it. Gideon whines, “But HO-OW? My clan is weak and I am nothing.” The Lord says, “I will be with you, that’s how.” Gideon: Okay, fine, but first show me a sign. Stay here and I will bring you a present. So, Gideon takes off to slaughter and prepare a young goat, whips up a batch of unleavened bread, and brings back the whole feast complete with the cooking broth for the Angel of the Lord. The Angel is standing there holding a staff, reaches the staff out and makes a fire which consumes the meat and bread. Then, the Angel disappears. FINALLY, Gideon believes it was truly the Angel of the Lord.

Now, THE LORD speaks to Gideon and says, “Peace be to you. Do not fear. You won’t die.” Gideon hears the Lord calling him. Gideon hears the Lord empowering him. He hears the Lord’s commission and the gentle urging, “Just do it, Gideon. I believe in you.” God called Gideon to live large, to step outside of his comfort zone and to do so for the benefit of an entire community. When God reaches inside us and lifts up our might, it can be positively frightening.

So what are we afraid of? I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid of letting people down or disappointing them. But the good news is this: God believes in us even when we don’t. And – we never have to do anything all alone, because God is always with us. A word of caution, however: sometimes, we step outside our comfort zone WITHOUT God, and only end up causing harm. That seems to be a cycle in Judges too. God is always with the people of Israel, but the people of Israel are not always in line with God. Whatever it is that we push ourselves to do, we have to remember to stop and ask, “Is that what Jesus would do, if he were me?” Is God part of this? How will this impact my loved ones and my community?

God believes in us even when we don’t. God believes in us especially when we don’t. But Gideon wants more than God’s promise. He wants assurance in the form of a sign, but when he gets it, it scares him. God’s presence can be frightening. As people of the New Testament, we don’t like that and often prefer our warm, fuzzy Jesus. But when we stay cocooned in our warm, fuzzy, special relationship with Jesus, God’s presence loses its impact. “There is nothing amazing about grace as long as there is nothing fearful about holiness.” (David, Dale Ralph, Judges: Such a Great Salvation)

Hear what I’m saying. God is graceful and good, but that is watered down to mushy sentiment when we let go of a healthy fear of the Lord. We take intimacy with God as a right rather than a gift. We see “God with us” as an inalienable right and forget that it is actually an indescribable gift. The Israelites understand this, the indescribable joy of God’s presence. And at the same time, it is a little scary. When they are suffering and cry out to God from a place of need, God responds….but perhaps not exactly the way they had hoped. God responds to our need, not by granting a wish or satisfying a desire, but by equipping us to do something about it. When we want escape, God gives the ability to interpret. When we seek safety, God instead gives insight. “Understanding God’s way of holiness is more important than absence of pain. We may want out of a bind, whereas God wants us to see our idolatry. God means to instruct us, not pacify us” (Davis, 92). God sees right through and inside us, even when we are lost to ourselves. It is a mature relationship that we have and God means to instruct us, not pacify us.

So, what do I want you to take away from this sermon? I want you to think about what it means for God to be with you. God’s presence in our lives goes far beyond any kind of mushy sentimentality. It is real and it is powerful. The spirit of God is indescribable strength and we can tap into that strength. In fact, God calls us to tap into that strength even when we don’t know it is there. Because, God says, “Just do it. I believe in you.” This is the Great Commission. This is our calling and this is God empowering us. Go in this might of yours. Go forth with God and DO something. With the strength of God and “this might of yours,” Be the change you want to see in this world. Just do it. I believe in you.