Gideon: The Gift of Subtraction

Proper 15C’19

18 August 2019

Jud.7.1-8, 16-22; Hb.11.29-12.2

St. Luke’s Episcopal Church

North Little Rock, Arkansas

The Rev. Carey Stone

 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Amen

– From Hebrews 12.1-2

Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson, what do these five names all have in common? They all were on the list of the first inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York back in 1936. This ‘Hall of fame’ idea really caught on, after baseball, there would also follow a football hall of fame, and a Country Music Hall of Fame, and a Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, just to name a few. But before any of these there was a Hall of Faith.

We find this great hall in the 11th chapter of Hebrews. It begins with the great declaration: “Now faith is the assurance (substance) of things hope for, the conviction (evidence) of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.” How many have ever seen an atom, yet we believe that the very pews that you’re sitting in are coursing with millions of atoms bumping up against each other! The invisible is what holds the visible together!

The chapter moves on to begin naming all the famous, and not so famous inductees! Abraham, Sarah, Noah, Moses, and they get several paragraphs describing their faith-filled accomplishments; then come those receiving an honorable mention:  Samuel, David, Rahab, and grand pause – Gideon, (We’re coming back to him),  the hall of faith then lists some of their accomplishments: “through faith they conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, put foreign armies to flight, and won strength out of weakness…”

Now back to Gideon, he is one of the saints we are less familiar with. I have to tell you that I have been waiting for three years to talk about him.

I hope we can find both comfort and challenge from his story. His full story fills three chapters in the book of Judges, so I’ll hit the high spots. He is the youngest son of a farmer, timid, and pessimistic about the oppressive circumstances his people were living under at the hands of the menacing Midianites. Suddenly an angel appears to Gideon and says: “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.”  Paraphrasing Gideon’s answer, ‘Uh, Gabriel, you talkin’ to me?! And if God is with us why are we under the jackboots of the Midianites?’ The angel reminds Gideon that God will be with him and that he will be enabled to get rid of all the Midianites. Gideon, who is a lot like us, not really sure about what he was hearing, and finds it hard to believe that God picked him for the job of running out the invaders. So, he asks for a sign.

You may have heard the expression “they put out their fleece” when talking about trying to discern which action to take in a given situation. He says he will lay out a fleece on the ground, and in the morning if the fleece is wet, but the ground is all dry he would believe. He gets up next morning and the fleece is wet and the ground is dry. He asks for additional reassurance, and asks that the opposite occur, that the fleece would be dry and the ground all wet. It happened! Gideon is finally ready, but not quite.

He gathers an army of 32,000.00 men, but the Lord tells Gideon his “army is too large,” so Gideon gives anyone who is fearful the chance to go home, so 22,000.00 returned home. Gideon’s army now stood at 10,000.00. The Lord spoke to Gideon again, “your army is still too large,” and tells Gideon that if he gave his army the victory now, that the Israelites would take the credit that rightly belonged to God.

Gideon is then instructed to have the men drink water from the creek and to divide them into two categories, those who got down on all fours and lapped the water like dogs, and those who knelt on one knee bringing the water up to their mouths with one hand while holding on to their spears with the other. The number of soldiers who lapped like dogs was just 300. Gideon’s army is now small enough for God to get the credit should they be victorious.

Next Gideon needs to decide what type of armaments his troop of 300 will need. Again, the Lord instructs Gideon to do something very odd, to get clay jars for each soldier and put a small lit torch inside the jars. He then gave each soldier a trumpet. There were to be no bows, arrows, spears, or swords.  Armed with only clay jars and trumpets for weapons, and with only 300 men the army is now ready to attack tens of thousands who armed to the teeth! From a human perspective God wasn’t a very good strategist, this was shaping up to be a blood bath for Gideon’s troops.

Gideon instructed them to watch him and when he smashed the side of the clay jar, they were to smash theirs revealing the lit torches, and then to begin blowing their trumpets. Fire and trumpet blasts are quickly coming toward the enemy, the Midianite camp is electrified with fear, it seemed that they were being surrounded by a huge host of enemy soldiers and they panicked and took off running in all directions. Gideon and his army pursued them and drove them out of their land.  God kept God’s promise and did for them what they couldn’t do for themselves, and there was no way they could claim the credit – it was God’s doing and God’s Name was exalted and glorified. I have wanted to tell Gideon’s story to our church for the last several months; finally, Gideon’s number came up in the lectionary.

Three years ago, while on sabbatical I had asked God to “give me a word” for St. Luke’s. By giving me a word, I meant that there would be a particular scripture that would leap off the page and grab me, that would hold out some vision, some way forward. This happened while I was staying in a borrowed cabin on the Little Red River. I was reading the scriptures appointed for that day by the Book of Common Prayer and the story of Gideon was the old testament reading. We each have a way of knowing when God is trying to tell us something, sometimes through outer circumstances, meaningful coincidences and from scripture. Although I didn’t fully understand at the time, God was speaking to me, something mysterious, it was like God was saying, “this is the word I have for you.” I recalled a painting I had seen as a child of the battle scene from Gideon’s saga. I went to google images and found the painting of Gideon’s Army routing the enemy! By faith I put it on my computer screen to use as wall paper and it has been there for three years. 

Just over a year ago when twenty folks left the church, Gideon’s story came flooding into my mind. It was a painful time for all of us, it seemed like a curse and not a blessing for when we think of God’s blessing we usually think of addition, not subtraction. We envision receiving additional money, and gaining additional parishioners, not losing money, or people.

Nevertheless, God chose Gideon, the youngest of his household, from the poorest tribe, filled with insecurities, and with an army of only 300 routs a 10,000.00-man army, delivering his people from oppression. By faith Gideon accepted the gift of subtraction, and God got all of the credit. A Portuguese proverb says; “God writes straight with crooked lines.” The lines may appear crooked but in God’s handwriting the lines are straight.

I believe God has divinely painted St. Luke’s into a corner where we can’t think our way out, buy our way out, or strategize our way out – we’re going to have to pray and follow in the steps of Christ’s love to find our way out. What it will look like – remains to be seen.

Today I make my declaration of faith:

By faith St. Luke’s will embrace this time of subtraction, accept the invitation it brings to us, to love God, and our neighbors, as ourselves. By following the Way of Love, we will accomplish God’s call for us to be an oasis of welcome in a hostile world, a place of unity in a divided nation, and a house of love in a desert of hate. My dear people, won’t you join me?

 

The Blessing for 18 August 2019 

May you embrace this time of subtraction, accept the invitation to love God, your neighbors, as yourselves and may you accomplish God’s call for St. Luke’s to be an oasis of welcome in a hostile world, a place of unity in a divided nation, a house of love in a desert of hate; and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be upon you, and remain with you always. Amen.

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