Preached: August 29, 2010
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our trust in Jesus is Judges 7.
Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country . . . They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count the men and their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it.
The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, "The LORD is with you, mighty warrior."
"But sir," Gideon replied, "if the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the LORD bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the LORD has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian."
The LORD turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?"
"But sir," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family."
The LORD answered, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together."
Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.
Gideon said to God, "If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised- look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said." And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew - a bowlful of water.
Then Gideon said to God, "Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew." That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. (Judges 6:3, 5, 11-16, 34-40 NIV-footnote)
This is the word of our Lord.
Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:
“Jump! I'll catch you.” How trusting a little child can be as you hold out your arms. But life soon teaches us to be more cynical. That first grader tells his best friend that he still needs his blankie to go to bed at night. The next day his whole class teases him about it. Who can you trust?
And it's not only betrayal that feeds our cynicism, but also the reality of life itself, the hard-knocks, the disappoints, our own limitations and failures. We learn you can't really count on anything -- except maybe death and taxes, as the old saying goes.
Then our God steps in and asks us to trust him for some rather unbelievable things. Are you going to put yourself, your family, your future, on the line trusting him no matter what? How easy to hold something back, just in case!
Yet in our journey on this earth, our God seeks to train us to trust him more and more. For you see, dear friends, to follow Jesus, to believe in him, does not mean to simply know him like those in Luke 13 who will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets” (Luke 13:26 NIV) to whom Jesus will reply, “Away from me” (Luke 13:27 NIV). No dear friends, to follow Jesus, to believe in him, means to trust him, to trust him with a very selves and all we have.
Let's see how the Lord trained Gideon to trust him, so that we can see his hand training us as well.
We meet Gideon in Judges 6. In our first impressions of him he doesn't strike us as much of military general, really not much of a warrior at all. We meet him at the winepress, threshing grain. Doesn't that strike you as odd? If you've been to a threshing bee you know how much dust and grit threshing can throw up. You want a broad, open, airy space preferably with some breeze, not at a winepress. More so in those days before machine threshers, oxen would drag along a weighted sledge to separate the grain from the chaff. But there's no room for that in a winepress either. Picture Gideon with a stick beating to the grain trying to thresh out the kernels, creating a haze of dust and chaff around himself
So why was he doing it here and not at the threshing floor out in the open where he could use his oxen? Because he was afraid. The Midianites, Amalekites, and other eastern people had invaded the land to plunder it. The Scriptures say they came up like swarms of locust. They devoured all in their path, and there were so many men and camels you couldn't count them all. Image a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia with the desert riders swarming over the dunes on their camels. Maybe Gideon could hide some of the grain harvest if he threshed it where they wouldn't be looking. How timid Gideon was!
There the angel of the Lord came to him, probably in the appearance of a normal human since it doesn't seem that Gideon recognized him as the Lord at first. The Lord greets Gideon saying, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12 NIV).
That greeting could have struck Gideon as sarcastic. “Mighty warrior? Yea, right.” Just look at him, so timid that he's threshing grain in the winepress! And was the Lord really with them? It didn't seem that way at all. Just the opposite. Gideon replies, “But sir, . . . if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the Lord brings us up out of Egypt?' But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian” (Judges 6:13 NIV).
Abandoned. What have been the times that have felt that way to you? Abandoned, without the Lord's help. Why trust him if things just keep getting worse? Besides, why would he help someone like me? Doesn't he have more important concerns? There's nothing I can do about it. Gideon too felt that mixture of timidness, helplessness, and abandonment. What was he to do?
Now this person, whom Gideon is beginning to realize is more than your average person, says to him, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14 NIV).
But what strength did he have? “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15 NIV). Look at that weak scaredy-cat, threshing grain at the winepress! What strength did he have? “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NIV).
As the Lord trains us to trust him, he brings us to see how helpless and weak we are without him. If we already imagine ourselves strong, then why do we need him? That's why he trains the timid. It's not those who think they're healthy who go to the doctor, but those who know how sick they are.
Dear friends, don't put on a brave face before God. Come to him in your timid weakness. Confess yourself as the sinner you are. Come before him with fear and trembling; there is no remove for bravado. He is the holy God; you are the guilty sinner. He is the righteous Judge; you are the condemned criminal.
But come, timid and fearful as you are. For the holy God is your Savior-God. The righteous Judge is your Redeemer. He appeared to Gideon in a visible form, but later he came to this earth as flesh and blood, laid as a tiny infant in a manger. He came for the timid and weak. He came for you.
Now how did the Lord take this timid man and train him to trust? He spoke his promise to him, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together” (Judges 6:16 NIV).
Through his word of promise the Lord trains you and me to trust. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NIV), Jesus promises. When your guilt wearies your conscience and burdens your soul, remember Jesus is with you. Through his word he point you to his cross: “I have paid for all your sins. You are forgiven.” “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest . . . rest for your souls” (Matthews 11:28, 29 NIV). When sin's temptations seem so enticing and Satan's snares try to lure in, remember Jesus is with you. Through his word he point you to his empty tomb. “I have conquered the enemy for you. In me you have the strength to resist, saying, No! to sin and Satan.” “Take heart! For I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). When the adversities and worries of life weigh down your mind, remember Jesus is with you. Through his word his lifts up your eyes to see him with the power of God's right hand ruling all for you. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthews 28:18 NIV), he says to you. And when death creeps close to try and terrify you, Jesus is with you. He points you to the Last Day when he will return in glory for you. His word promises, “In my Father's house are many rooms . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you . . . I will come back and take you to be with me” (John 14:2, 3 NIV).
What great and mighty promises our Savior makes to us! But our trust so easily wavers as he trains our timid hearts. Gideon's trust needed reinforcing as well. He sent out a call to gather the Israelites from the tribes of Manasseh, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali. But his trust begins to waver and asks the Lord for a sign.
“If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised -- look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said” (Judges 6:36, 37 NIV). And it happened just like that. The ground was dry, but Gideon wrung out a bowlful of water from the fleece.
But Gideon wanted a second sign as well. “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece. This time make the fleece dry and the ground covered with dew” (Judges 6:39 NIV). And it happened just as he asked. For the Lord works with us to train us to trust him despite our timid weakness.
And he's given us visible signs to strengthen our faith. Doesn't leave it up to us to try and figure out what those signs are. He's told us. It's not a sheepskin on a ground, wet or dry. But Baptism and the Lord's Supper. Those are the visible signs that bring us his promise.
Now before you dismiss those thinking to yourself, “We always have those. I could trust him so much more if he would really do something miraculous like he did for Gideon,” remember what Baptism and the Lord's Supper really are. I tell you those are the greater miracles, much greater then wet or dry fleece.
In Baptism he tears the slave away from Satan's tyranny and liberates him or her. That slave to sin is reborn as a forgiven, free child of God. That dead soul is made alive. That's the miracle that happened to you in Baptism. That's God's promise made to you, not only through the word, but also through water connected with the word, through that visible sign.
In the Lord's Supper, Jesus miraculous makes his actual body and blood truly present in reality for you to eat and to drink. He let's you see and taste the bread and wine and says to you, “You are not only eating the bread, but you are eating my body as well. For I sacrificed my body on the cross in your place. That's why I give it to you, yes you, to eat. You are not only drinking the wine, but you are drinking my blood as well. For I poured out my blood in death as the ransom price to set you free. That's why I give it to you, yes you, to drink.”
So through these tangible means of grace, the two Sacraments, God brings his promise to you to train you to trust him, to trust him no matter what. Before you trade in Baptism and the Lord's Supper for wet or dry fleece, consider how that miracle would be dismissed today as some sort of fluke or fraud. As the years passed, might you wonder whether someone had tricked you? How much better the signs the Lord has given us to train us to trust him. Remember your Baptism. Ponder the promises Baptism brings to you. Come often to the Lord's Supper. Contemplate the mystery that your Savior gives you the same body and blood to eat and drink, which he sacrificed on the cross for all the sins of the world.
How did it all turn out for Gideon? We'll look at that in a few weeks. But as you go home today and think about Gideon remember how the Lord trains you. He takes us, timid and weak as we are, and trains us to trust him. Take to heart his promises in word and Sacrament. For no matter how great the hordes you face, even if they cover the land like locust, he will not fail you. Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.