Preacher: The Rev. Doyt Conn
I want us to do some thinking this morning. I’ll start getting the wheels of our minds spinning by asking what you think about this whole ISIS crisis in the Middle East. I didn’t choose that question because it rhymes. My 10-year-old son, Desmond, was thinking about it the other day. He asked, “What would we do if ISIS were to invade Seattle?” Now to you and me that may seem incomprehensible. I mean, who would want to invade Seattle? But in his 5th-grade classroom, in a public school, they watch CNN every day, and he heard the President, members of Congress, and commentators clearly say that ISIS is a threat to America. He wanted to know what I thought.
There are a lot of things to think about here, a lot of ways to think about them, and I’m pretty sure there are as many opinions about ISIS and its danger to America in this room as there are people in this room. This brings me to a point I want us to hold in the forefront of our minds today. We all think about things from a different point of view.
Now I have been thinking a lot this week about how we think, particularly in light of the question Jesus asks in today’s Gospel, “What do you think?” There is a man with two sons. He went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” The son answered, “I will not.” But later he changed his mind and he went. The father went to the second son and said the same thing. The second son answered, “I will go, sir.” But he did not. Jesus asked the crowd, “What do you think?”
But before we unpack that I want to remind us that we are in a sermon series that is causing us to think a little bit. It is on the book of Judges. We return to Gideon today. He marks a turning point in the book where we start to encounter stories that are irredeemable. They are just terrible. I don’t like them much. It would be nicer to have a Bible that always has happy endings, but that is not how it was written because that is not why it was written. The Bible was written as a training manual for how to step out of the context of our own lives and into the context of God. It is a training manual for how to think like God.
In some cases that will lead into beautiful stories with happy endings like the story of Ruth and Boaz, which follows the Book of Judges in the Old Testament. In other cases, like with the Book of Judges, we’ll find ourselves reading a tragedy, where people, over time, become more and more self-centered. The last line in the Book of Judges says, “The people sought more and more to do what is right in their own sight.” And that is what I want us to think about today – the tension between doing what is right in our own sight and stepping beyond our context to think like God.
So the question you might be asking is, “Is it possible to think like God?” This question presupposes, I suppose, that we know “what God is.” If you’re looking for that answer from me today, you won’t get it, because I don’t know “what God is.” But fortunately we are Christians, which means God gave us divine exposure to what God is like through the person of Jesus. Jesus is the master teacher. He came to teach us how to see the world from God’s point of view. He does this by telling us stories and then asking, “What do you think?”
Now imagine a world where no one had the capacity to understand things from someone else’s point of view. Imagine the chaos. It might even be terrifying. And yet, here is the reality: No one can really understand something fully from another person’s point of view. No one can climb into another person’s mind and think from another person’s context. It can’t happen. We are not designed for that. So where does that leave us with chaos? Is our destiny only tragedy like the Book of Judges? What do you think?
Now there may be some objective truths we can agree upon, like 2 + 2 = 4, and that I am holding up 4 fingers. But even if we agree on this, we are all still seeing it from a slightly different point of view. If I were to ask you to interpret what I was doing up here, there would be as many interpretations as there are people in this room (Richard Nixon). So we have your point of view, and your point of view, and your point of view. All of that only adds up to one point of view, mine or yours. If that is the case we are left with the singular option of doing only what is right in our own sight.
The Bible opens up a new way, and Jesus makes it specific. There are two points of view, mine and God’s, or yours and God’s. While we can’t fully share our point of view, we can step together into God’s point of view. Now what happens when this occurs is that we begin to act in a particular way. We act in unity as community. Our actions follow our thinking. When actions are based on each of us doing what is right in our own sight, in its purest form, the trend is toward tragedy. When actions that are based on the common pursuit of thinking like God, the trend is toward unity. What do you think?
Now that may seem a little black and white to some of us. The world is greyer, after all, particularly if there is only your way and my way, and not a third way. We all know what happens when the police officer asks two witnesses at the scene of the crime to describe the event: he gets three different answers.
I believe God invites us to a place of common consideration. I believe God wants us to share a common context. I believe God wants us to freely choose to think like God, which is why God became man and dwelt among us to show us that it is possible to live from God’s point of view which means it is possible to think like God. Absolutely like God? NO! Only like God would think if God were you or me. What do you think of that?
Now I’m going to talk about what Jesus teaches on this topic of thinking like God and then move to how our thinking guides our actions. Thinking like God is built on two premises:
- That you can’t get inside someone’s mind.
- Everyone is included.
Now Jesus could have been the best mind reader to ever live, but he chose relationship over knowledge. That is why he so often asked, “What can I do for you?” He doesn’t presume to know the other persons perspective. He asks. Which is God thinking premise #1: to ask. Premise #2: everyone is included in the kingdom of God. This is why Jesus asks anyone he encounters whether they are rich or poor, old or young, male or female, Jew or Gentile, “What can I do for you?”
Jesus asks, he does not presume, and Jesus includes. So that sets the context for a God thinking perspective. Everyone is included. And everyone is asked. Which also means they are free to opt in or to opt out of a God centered way of thinking. This is why we have some unity and some tragedy in this world.
So we have the framework for beginning to think like God, which leads us to, if we choose, a particular way of acting. Now I want to move to the action point. There are two things we choose to incorporate within ourselves to be a person who acts like he/she thinks like God:
- Overcoming fear
- Overcoming death
This is why Jesus constantly says two things: “You are eternal”, a statement memorialized through the Resurrection, and “Do not be afraid”. If you think like God you will act like you are an eternal being. If you think like God you will fear nothing.
Gideon did none of these. Gideon was afraid. He never got over his fear. God kept showing up in his life, and doing amazing things and Gideon was still afraid. Fear stokes the mind to think only of doing what is right in one’s own sight. Fear erases the capacity to think like God. Fear causes one to run, hide, hoard, and to forsake duty to community in favor of personal survival, which, if you have been paying attention, isn’t achievable anyway. The system is not set up that way. We all move on. The question is how do we act as we go? Do we act against a backdrop of death or towards eternal life? What do you think?
Gideon was driven by fear. So God said to him, “If you fear the Midianites, go down to their camp and you will hear something that will give you courage.” Gideon goes down and from the shadows he hears a man tell of a dream. Another man interprets the dream with Gideon being the cake of barley that rolls over the Midianites. I wonder, really? It seems this interpretation of the dream is more a reflection of the Midianites fear. That was enough for Gideon, because fear was his fuel as well. When the trumpets blew and the torches flared, the Midianites did what was right in their own sight. They grabbed their swords and whatever they could strike they struck as they ran away in fear. Terror and chaos ruled the night.
I wonder what would have happened if Gideon knew what we know about how to think like God. Let’s reimagine the story. What if Gideon had been given the insight of Jesus? What if Gideon wasn’t afraid? What if Gideon knew his eternal destiny? What if Gideon stepped out of the shadows and said, “I am Gideon. Who are you?” Could he as one person have saved the nation? Has it happened before? What about Moses? What about David? What about Elijah? What do you think?
Can one person make that kind of impact by simply seeking to think like God and then acting like a person who thinks like God? Jesus seemed to think so. What if the dream interpreting Midianite had driven a sword through Gideon’s heart when he stepped out of the shadows? Then what? Would there be one more? Would that person be you? What do you think?
There is freedom, there is tragedy, there is unity, and there is eternity. What do you think?
The first son in the Gospel today reconsidered his response. He decided to step into the Father’s way of thinking. He went into the vineyard and because he did, we all have wine to drink. What do you think?