Sunday, February 04, 2007

my sermon for this morning

Matt and I have over the past few months, been watching Top Chef. Anyone seen it?
It was a cooking competition—
every week there’s a challenge and someone is eliminated.
The last person standing gets a lot of money and the title Top Chef. The last episode was last week.
We would stay up late on Wednesday night to watch the new episode and then would watch it through the week as it was replayed
over and over until the new episode came out.
I liked it at first but I got tired of watching it over and over
and then having to stay up late.
But all the repetition did allow me to notice something interesting. Under the stress of competition,
everyone eventually became a jerk.
But the real jerk,
the person no one could stand at all was a young,
carefully quaffed, jerk named Marcel.
He cooked very interesting food,
he frequently won the challenges,
but nobody liked him. Why?
Because week after week he sat in the little interview time and said,
‘I make good food.
I have every confidence in my own abilities,
I’m a brilliant guy, I’m going to win,
I’m a better chef than everyone here,
hands down, I’m the best.’
Well, given that we were dealing with a competition,
this behavior was not out of bounds.
Other contestants said these things
although not Every week.
But gradually, I mean,
we should have been reading the bible
instead of watching this over and over,
it occurred to me that this bravado,
this, I have full confidence in myself, I can do it, I’m cool,
while a very basic American attitude, is hugely problematic.
Matt tells me it’s the football equivalent
of dancing around the end zone
making sure everyone knows it was you that made the touch down.

Open your Bibles to Judges chapter 6.
Anybody know why this book is called ‘Judges’?
After the people of Israel left Egypt
and went into the Promised Land,
what were they supposed to do?
Right, push out, by force, all of the people who lived there.
This was for two reasons,
one to exact the full extent of God’s wrath
on the Canaanites who did not worship God
and were given over to some vile religious practices.
And two, so that Israel could inhabit the land,
living peacefully and showing God’s glory and light to the whole world.
But it required military conquest
which is hard for our modern sensibilities.
We don’t like the idea of God commanding war,
so many of us don’t bother to read the books of Joshua and Judges.
Thing is, the people of Israel didn’t really like war and conquest
any more than we do.
So, when they went into the Promised Land,
instead of obeying God and going to war,
they just sort of didn’t.
They went to war and defeated some of the nations.
But they left a lot of others alone.
And then, instead of just leaving them alone,
they intermarried with some of them
and started worshipping their gods.
That’s what is called,
when you’re reading through the whole book of Judges,
‘doing what is evil in the site of the Lord’.
Taking on false gods.
Not being obedient.
Not worshipping God and God alone.
So the people would do what was evil in the eyes of the Lord
and then God would let these same people who had led them astray,
he would let them oppress the people of Israel.
They would loose in some major battle
and have to pay tribute and other unpleasantness.
Israel would be in captivity for a generation or so,
then they would remember God,
they would feel terrible,
they would cry out for help
and God would raise up a judge, or a leader,
to come and help them win.
So, here, in chapter 6,
we find that Israel has done what was evil in the eyes of the Lord
and that the Midianites have over powered them.
In particular, the Midianites lived off the fruit of the Israelites’ labor.
Israel would plant crops and raise live stalk,
and just when it was time to harvest and collect the fruit of their labor,
the Midianites would rush in and take it all,
leaving the Israelites destitute and hungry.
Now, just as a quick aside,
why do you think God would pick this kind of persecution?
if the Israelites are worshiping other gods
they’re also praying to them for this grain
and thanking them when they get it.
But who really provides?
Not the Midianite gods, God does.
So the people are hungry and brought low
and they finally remember to cry out to God
and God hears their cry and he raises up the Judge, Gideon.
Look with me in verse 11.
“Now the Angel of the Lord, came and sat under the terebinth or oak tree that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite…while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites”.
What do you notice right away?
Right, Gideon is in the winepress, beating out grain.
A winepress would have been closed in and hot
whereas normally you would want a wide open space to beat out grain, well aerated, where the wind could lift the chaff
and blow it away from the good produce.
Beating grain in a wine press would have been uncomfortable and hot.
So, Gideon is hiding.
Either he’s a coward,
he doesn’t want to do it where anyone will see him,
or he’s very shrewd.
Probably a little bit of both.
Verse 12, “the angel of the Lord appeared to him and said,
‘The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.’”
I’ve always thought the angel of the Lord
was maybe being a little bit sarcastic here,
or having a good joke, to call Gideon ‘A mighty Man of Valor’.
Why, well, he’s hiding…he’s not being valorous or mighty.
And he immediately starts complaining.
Well, if God is really with us,
then why are all these bad things happening to us?
And he goes on.
Where are all the great deeds of past generations?
Why haven’t we had any miraculous signs like crossing the Red Sea?
Why did you bring us all this way
just to let us be oppressed by the hand of Midian?
Let’s just pause here a minute.
What is the cardinal rule of parish or church life?
Don’t complain.
What happens if you complain?
Whoever you complain to, especially if it’s the pastor,
will automatically assume that you are volunteering for the job
to fix whatever it is you’re mad about.
And we see the justification for that here in the scriptures.
Gideon complains, he whines and what does the Lord say?
Verse 14, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?”
There you have it.
If you’ve noticed that there’s a problem,
You can be part of the solution.
Or, to put it another way,
God can use you and he will. Regardless of who you are.
You can’t be too young,
or too old,
or too weak,
or too sinful,
or too afraid,
or too unskilled,
or too busy,
or too overwhelmed
or too tired
or too broken.
Whoever you are, God can use you to do the work he has planned.
Where ever you are in life, whatever you have going on,
God has plans for you. He has a job for you to do.
And it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe him,
if you don’t have confidence in yourself.
All the better, in fact.
How do we know this? From the next couple of verses.
Gideon, instead of saying
‘Ok, bring it on, let’s defeat these Midianites,
I can do it, I’m strong,
I have every confidence in myself to do this thing’,
says, really,
but I’m from the smallest and weakest clan, Manasseh,
and I’m the least or smallest or weakest in my father’s house.
He means, in other words, to disqualify himself.
He would like someone else to save Israel.
He would like to continue in his unhappy winepress.
But what is Gideon not seeing?
That what disqualifies him in his own eyes—
his weakness,
his fear,
his total lack of standing in his family and nation
all of these qualify him for work in the Kingdom of God.
He is particularly chosen by God
because of those things that will not get him ahead in the world.
Because God wants the glory.
Verse 16, “And the Lord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man’
I will do the work, I will receive the glory. I will save you.

Let’s apply this quickly.
First of all, however much we talk and shout,
none of us are strong enough really,
to do the work in front of us on our own.
For all his posturing and shouting Marcel,
from our Top Chef example earlier, was not really as great as all that. He ended up loosing the competition because he was so awful to his sous chefs that they helped him loose, essentially, in the last round. That gets us to the heart of the problem.
We sin. We are weak.
If we try to do the work in front of us on our own power,
more than likely we will fail, we will do a bad job, we will come up short.
On the other hand,
if we rely on the power of God to direct, guide and strengthen us,
we will come out victorious
We, as human beings, scare easy.
We put up with a lot of discomfort and unhappiness
Thinking that we are too small or insignificant for God to use.
This is false humility—I’m too fearful, I’m too weak for God to use me. That’s a lie.
God can use you because he will give you what you need
and then you will give him the glory for what he has done in your life.
God is here,
and whatever you’re dealing with,
whatever you’re going through,
he loves you,
he has plans for you,
he has strength for you.
Lean on him.
Give him your small, broken efforts and he will transform them.
He will make you into a mighty one of valor, victorious in his power.

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