Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; February 7, 2016; Gideon chapters 6-8, Luke 4:14-30

Scriptures for this Sunday: Judges 6-8; Luke 4:14-30

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

We will continue with the series of messages about how we can share Jesus with the world in which we live… 

This week our community will welcome the local chapter of Gideons who will set up  a display in the back of the sanctuary. Immediately following the worship service, we will gather in the fellowship hall of the annual Super Bowl Party.

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Cliffs of Nazareth in 2004

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We are in the middle of a series of sermons about how we can share with the world around us the wonderful relationship that all of us have with Jesus.

Since we are privileged to have representatives from Gideons International with us today, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about who Gideon was and the lessons we can learn from his life and the times that he lived in.

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The story of Gideon is found in the Scroll of Judges, chapters 6 through 8. When we refer to the leaders of Israel from that period as Judges an image of a man or a woman in a judicial gown comes to mind (think of Judge Judy or Judge Wapner). That could not be further from the truth. In the book of Judges, the word “Judge of Israel” is used to describe someone who was called by God to be a military and civil leader of the nation at a time of political and economic distress.

Forty years after Deborah was a judge, “The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites” (Judges 6:1). When the Israelites planted, the Midianites came in and destroyed the crops (Judges 6:3). When the Israelites built, Midianites came in and did not leave a stone unturned. Israel was “greatly impoverished” by the Midianites and driven to live and hide in dens and caves in the mountains (Judges 6:2). Things were going from bad to worse.

It is in this environment of fear and hopelessness that God sent an angel to visit Gideon.

Just like everyone else around him, Gideon was scared of the Midianites. One day, we find him threshing wheat in a winepress because he was trying to hide (Judges 6:11). Threshing floors are usually in the open so that breeze can remove chaff, wine presses and oil presses are usually built in protected areas like caves or dens and are not exposed to breezes. Threshing wheat in a winepress is not very productive. As Gideon was hiding from the enemies, an Angel of the Lord appeared and said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12). I hope that you can recognize the irony and sarcasm in that greeting. Gideon is not a mighty warrior nor does he act like one. As a matter of fact, Gideon’s response is not grandiose at all. What he wants to know is, “if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? (Judges 6:13). Why do I have to quake in my boots and hide from the enemies when all that I am trying to do is to feed my family?

Who among us has not asked something similar?

To make a long story short, God started working with Gideon to raise him as a Judge of Israel. It did not happen overnight. He did not go from a “mighty warrior” – <wink> <wink> – to one of the twelve great military and civic leaders of Israel overnight.

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The first step to becoming a devout follower of God was an act of repentance and re-focusing of his own life. It just so happened that Gideon’s father owned an altar to Baal, with an Asherah’s pole next to it. Per God’s instructions, Gideon stood up to his father, and tore down his family’s altar to Baal and Asherah’s pole (Judges 6:26). The Bible narrative is clear; that was not a feat for the faint of heart. Gideon’s neighbors wanted him to pay for that with his life.

God was with Gideon, and with God’s guidance he eventually was able to assemble an army of 22,000 men to fight 135,000 Midianites. Then, per God’s instructions and guidance, 300 men were selected from that 22,000 to fight the 135,000 Midianites so that “Israel would not boast against” God (Judges 7:2) in victory.

Today’s sermon is not about Gideon’s life or victory over Midianites. Today’s sermon is about how we can share with the world around us the wonderful relationship that all of us have with Jesus. And Gideon provides us with a great example.

Who among us does not have fears and doubts. Gideon had the courage to recognize the Angel, to ask God difficult questions of faith, and do what had to be done in his own life (destroy idols and refocus on God) so that he could grow in his relationship with God and become a leader among his people. Gideon’s willingness to face God and to do what he had to do, and change what he had to change, was a powerful testimony to God’s presence in his life. That is why the children of Israel have followed him.

The story of Gideon does not end there. After the victory over the Midianites, he was asked to become a King of Israel. Gideon refused because he knew that the only King of Israel is God (Judges 8:22-24). Unfortunately, Gideon’s words were not supported by his actions. His words attributed kingship to God alone, but his actions claimed the privileges of kingship. He took the crescents, pendants and purple garments of rival kings that he had killed, and demanded taxes from Israelites in the form of one golden earring from each household (Judges 8:21, 24-26).

Even with all his shortcomings, Paul includes Gideon in his list of Great Judges in Hebrews 11:32. And that brings us to today’s Scripture. We live in a fallen world and we are products of that world. There is something so human and so vulnerable in the life of Gideon. He was doing what he was supposed to do until he got too big for his britches, and just by the sheer force of inertia he was able to intimidate Israel as he was becoming more and more corrupt. After being a great leader he became a bully and a tyrant.

At one time or another, all of us have found ourselves in a rut and routine, and then find ourselves far away from where we were hoping to be.

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In today’s Gospel reading we heard,

NIV2010 Luke 4: 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

22 All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked.

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And that is when everything broke apart. Jesus pointed out that the community was coasting, the community was too inward looking and too focused “who is who” in the synagogue community and in the town. Just like Gideon, their heart was in the right place and they were saying the right things, but by the force of complacency and inertia they had drifted to a place far away from God and were just going through the motions of religion.

Here is the illustration from Jesus’ sermon:

NIV2010 Luke 4:25 I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. 26 Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. 27 And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.”

What Jesus was illustrating was that God is still here, but the Nazareth synagogue somehow had drifted away.

NIV2010 Luke 4:28 All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. 29 They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him off the cliff. 30 But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.”

Church do you hear me? How often do we throw Jesus off the cliff because we are too scared to upset the apple cart or because we are too set in our rut and routine to notice the presence of God among us, or to feel the movement of the Holy Spirit? Notice I did not say “YOU”; I said “WE” because I am in the same boat. All of us live in a fallen world.

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And because we live in a fallen world, we need a regular reminder that God loves us and that God is as close to us as we let God come. That is why we gather regularly as a community, that is why we celebrate the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

{Transition to the Celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

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