This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Seeking Signs,” based on Judges 6:36-40. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.
Today’s preparatory text: Judges 6:17-22 (NRSV)
Then [Gideon said to the angel], “If now I have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.”
So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.”
By Chuck Griffin
Gideon, the character at the heart of my sermon this Sunday, had reason to be frustrated by his circumstances and doubt God. When Gideon first encountered God, life was not good for the Israelites, and Gideon was certain he was one of those little people who could do nothing to change their situation.
In fact, when the angel of the Lord found Gideon, he was threshing wheat in a winepress rather than out in the open, trying to hide his father’s harvest from raiding Midianites. They were one of the nomadic bands regularly harassing and robbing the Israelites.
It’s not hard to figure out the source of the Israelites’ woes. Chapter 6 begins, “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord gave them into the hand of Midian seven years.”
As you read the full story of Gideon, it also becomes clear his family was part of the problem, maintaining an altar to the god Baal and its accompanying pole, a symbol of the fertility goddess Asherah. Gideon’s first task was to tear down these affronts to God and replace them with a proper altar to the Lord. He did this at night, fearing his father and neighbors.
Gideon’s situation makes it easier to understand his repeated need for signs of assurance from God, despite our being told in 6:34 that “the spirit of the Lord took possession of Gideon.”
In fact, I suspect this story enlightens us as to why we as Christians sometimes struggle with discernment, even while we know the Holy Spirit is at work in our church community and our lives. The anxieties and uncertainties of life, particularly the ones rooted in how we relate to our family and neighbors, generate a lot of background noise in our heads. It becomes harder to tune in to what God is telling us.
It would help if an angel would arrive and torch the dinner we just offered. Signs are wonderful gifts from God, and they do focus our attention. Hey, at least for a time, it seems Gideon began hearing from God very directly after receiving a few holy demonstrations.
Never forget the advantage we have, however. We live in the time after Christ. In going to the cross, Jesus Christ tore down the barriers sin had erected between us and God. Preachers say it over and over, but I’ll say it again, for my benefit if for no one else’s.
Stop. Listen. Pray. Listen.
Lord, may the thoughts and images that spring into our minds be gifts from you. May we search your holy word to test what is revealed. And then may we be as bold as Gideon when he was at his best. Amen.