The Calling of Gideon
Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, ‘The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.’
Gideon answered him, ‘But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, “Did not the Lordbring us up from Egypt?” But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.’
Then the Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.’ He responded, ‘But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’ TheLord said to him, ‘But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.’
Everyone loves the underdog. It's part of our American ethos—we love the story of the person who is down and out, who has no advantages, but ends up succeeding beyond everyone's wildest imaginations. It's the reason that all the presidential candidates latch on to some story from their past that indicates they have humble roots, no matter how many millions they may have now—they're trying to connect with that story, to make us believe they are just another commoner who has succeeded by the value of their own work.
The movie Rudy is one example of this story. It's the story of a kid who is too small to play football at Notre Dame, but the movie would have us believe that through his hard work and determination he becomes a hero to many and eventually makes it onto the field for Notre Dame's football team. The truth behind the story is debated, but we're supposed to love the movie and want it to be true even if it isn't. To not like the movie, I've heard, is un-American. Which means that it's probably not a good thing that I don't particularly like the movie. But maybe it's just because I don't care for Notre Dame's football team.
The Bible is also littered with these stories. The story of David is probably the first one that comes to many of our minds, although if the story of Jesus Christ were being sold to movie theaters today, it would probably be advertised along the lines of Carpenter's son ends up saving the world...and your soul! Gideon fits in well with this storyline—he tells the Lord as much when he is called to save the Israelites—My clan is the weakest, and I am the least in my family. Not exactly a promising start to a career, but it's bare honesty.
In fact, everything that Gideon says in our reading today wouldn't be how we would script it. Gideon doesn't respond to the Lord's call with enthusiasm or a great desire to serve. If we were in charge, Gideon's initial response might be enough to have the Lord go ask someone else.
Listen again to his reply: If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us? Gideon isn't pleased with the Lord's role in the life of the Israelites. And, to be honest, who can blame him? To give you a bit of context, the Israelites are being oppressed by the Midianites—they are constantly being overrun, and every time they begin to get their feet on the ground, they get overrun once more. The scene opens with Gideon hiding wheat so that the Midianites won't find it the next time they decide to beat up on the Israelites.
So Gideon is angry with God, because he feels like God has abandoned his people.
And who here hasn't every been angry with God?
I was listening to an interview with someone in Homs, Syria the other day, and they said that they are begging for humanitarian aid in their city. He said that all they want is half a life, as though it's too bold to ask for a whole life. Their expectations are so low because they've been brutally abused over the past months, with no sign of hope. They only want half a life.
Think about all that's going on in the world. There is chaos everywhere. War seems to linger in so many places on the planet. Famine has parts of Africa in its grip. Mexico has fallen prey to druglords. Gangs threaten the prosperity of Chattanooga and many of its residents, some of whom have no other hope. And in our own lives, how many of us have known death to take a loved one from us? How many have dealt with disease and illness? Or have spent weeks and month searching for employment?
In all of these situations, we wonder where God is. We wonder why God doesn't intervene and feed kids in Africa. We wonder why God doesn't offer hope to kids in rough neighborhoods. We wonder why God doesn't heal a loved one, why God doesn't direct our feet in the paths that lead to life. We wonder why God keeps silent when we shout our prayers to the heavens.
We share our concerns with Gideon, who shouts his prayers to the angel of the Lord when God calls him.
I want you to notice something very important in this text. I want you to notice what isn't there.
God doesn't rebuke or strike Gideon down for voicing his anger to the Lord. Instead, he still calls him to serve, to lead.
I think this is a very important point. Serving God doesn't have to mean that we're not allowed to question God. Loving God doesn't mean that we're never allowed to be angry with God. Being in a loving relationship means that we'll grow frustrated at times. Marriages don't fail because people start arguing—they fail when people stop arguing, because that means that the people have stopped caring enough to fight. Our relationship with God is no different—we're supposed to offer everything to God, and when we have frustration and anger, we can offer that to God, too. God is big enough for your questions. God is big enough for your anger. God is big enough for your frustration. So place it all before God.
But don't expect God to give up on you just because you're angry. God doesn't answer Gideon's questions, just like we may never truly understand why so many awful things go on in the world. God is big enough for our questions, but while God may not give us answers for all of them, God will make a way forward, promising a victorious future. And just like Gideon, God will still call you to be a part of this victory, a part of the church, to be an instrument of his redemption. Even if you don't feel worthy—even if you feel like the last person that God would call, God wants you to be a part of what God is doing in the world. God wants you to join in.
You may not feel worthy—but just as God promises Gideon, God will be with you. God's power will work in you and through you in such a way that you may not always realize what God is doing, but I promise you that God is at work within you. The way to live as Christians is to stop working against God, and to begin working with God, to discover the places and ways that God is at work within you and grow in that direction. God isn't going to fix all of your flaws at once, but God works on parts of our lives at a time, and if we're patient and let God work, we find ourselves constantly growing as a part of our life of faith. God is at work in us, through us, working out salvation for all of humanity and using the church.
Remember, it doesn't mean you can't ever be upset with God. What it does mean is that God can handle your anger, as long as its part of your offering. We're in this covanental relationship, and God wants us to pour all of ourselves out before God as an offering. So let us pour ourselves out, joys and concerns, and let God do a mighty work through us.
Let us pray