The LORD Our Peace
Judges 6:1-24; John 14:23-27
[©Eric Feustel, The United Methodist Churches of Pittsburg and Colebrook, NH September 19, 2021]
Today’s Bible Readings:
The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites. 2 Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. 3 Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. 4 They camped on the land and ruined the crops all the way to Gaza and did not spare a living thing for Israel, neither sheep nor cattle nor donkeys. 5 They came up with their livestock and their tents like swarms of locusts. It was impossible to count them or their camels; they invaded the land to ravage it. 6 Midian so impoverished the Israelites that they cried out to the Lord for help.
7 When the Israelites cried out to the Lord because of Midian, 8 he sent them a prophet, who said, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I brought you up out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 9 I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land. 10 I said to you, ‘I am the Lord your God; do not worship the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you live.’ But you have not listened to me.”
11 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. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
14 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?”
15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
17 Gideon replied, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me. 18 Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.”
And the Lord said, “I will wait until you return.”
19 Gideon went inside, prepared a young goat, and from a measure of flour he made bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.
20 The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And Gideon did so. 21 Then the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread with the tip of the staff that was in his hand. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared. 22 When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, “Alas, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!”
23 But the Lord said to him, “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die.”
24 So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord Is Peace.
When evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.
40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
How do we spell peace? I won’t waste time on definitions or the different understandings we may have about peace. Today I’m talking about making our peace with God.
P is for Problems. Problems are often our starting place. Our Hebrew Bible reading today finds Israel in a predicament. They have made it across the Jordan and have been settled in the Promised Land for several generations, but there is no central government and no standing army to protect them from the raiders in the East. Our Gospel reading finds the Apostles also facing a problem. They are crossing the lake in a boat when a sudden storm comes up and they are in danger of sinking. Problems get our attention, whether it’s the problems in the news or our own personal problems, they command our attention. Problems can make us question our situation. Have I done something wrong? Have I made a mistake? Is it my own dumb fault? Unbelievers may ask, Why is God doing this to me? Believers may ask, What can I learn from this situation? In any event, we wonder how we can get out of the mess we’re in?
E is for Exposure. The roots of our problems need to be exposed. That’s what happened in Israel when God sent a prophet to expose their sin (Judges 6:7-10). Their problem was disobedience. For the Apostles in the boat it was their lack of faith. Jesus asks “Have you no faith?” (Mark 4:40) The root of many of our problems are the same. Our problems can be the result of disobedience, of failing to consult with God before a decision, or a lack of faith while we are in the problem. Both are a form of sin, and both are found in the 21 st Century, even idolatry! While you may deny this, and I know of no one who prays to an idol within my circle of friends (and I’m not thinking of a charm or rabbit’s foot), we in the post-modern era have a different set of idols. Consider one’s political agenda and our reliance on government to solve our problems; personally we all have an ego (what the Bible refers to as pride), or more succinctly, selfishness; closely following are Popularity and Pleasure—a lot of people have better things to do than waste their time on God and so whatever takes God’s place are idols. I could go on to consider Rage, Entitlement, Laziness and Escapism. If we carefully consider ourselves we can discover a few of our own private idols. I believe it was Martin Luther who said, “Whatever is your first priority is your god,” and I’ll add that if it’s not God, it’s an idol. We need to confront and overcome the sin in our lives if we are to have any hope of finding peace. It wasn’t in the Bible, it was in a fortune cookie that I read these words: “A clear conscience is a good pillow.”
A is for Attitude. When sin is confronted, it is not unusual for someone to cop an attitude. As I read Gideon’s response in Judges 6:13 & 15 I had to check the original language. “Pardon me” just seemed to American, but in fact, that’s what the word means in the original language—it was a way of interrupting a conversation with one’s own input. Gideon has an attitude toward God because of the mess the country is in. The Disciples in Jesus’ boat showed an attitude, too, when they ask Jesus, “Don’t you care if we drown?” (Mark 4:38). Have you ever been in a situation and asked God, “Don’t you care?” Really I wonder if Gideon realized who he was talking to. The text seems to be somewhat ambiguous, but finally he realizes. Likewise the Disciples in the boat with Jesus. Sure they admired Jesus and they’d seen some miracles, but I doubt they realized that Jesus was God Incarnate, or they wouldn’t have said half the things they did. Sometimes, when we are most cynical, we think that we can argue with God and win . . . No, you can’t. You can’t even argue! That said, I believe it is permissible to be honest with God, to admit our hurt, frustration and pain. Jeremiah is called the “weeping prophet” because of his fruitless ministry, and once in great frustration (Jer. 15:18) he accuses God of being a “seasonal brook!” Sometimes, God, you flow rich and deep, but right now you’re as dry as dust. Be honest with God, but never scold God. Remember who you are, and Who God is.
C is for Challenge. God issues a challenge to Gideon in Judges 6:14. He is called upon to liberate his people from their enemies. While not in this passage, later in Mark and indeed in all the gospel accounts, the disciples are given the challenge to tell the story of Jesus, to teach all nations to observe what Jesus had taught them. It is obvious that Jesus did not choose the most talented messengers. In any of the gospel accounts we see them often making mistakes and showing their lack of faith. Jesus could use ordinary people like those first disciples, and Jesus can use you. Just like the burning bush, it wasn’t a special bush—any old bush would do; like the widow’s jar of oil, it wasn’t a special jar—any old jar would do. The same is true of us if we’re willing to accept the challenge—any old you will do! Even if you’ve already failed to live up to God’s standards, or even your own. God can use anyone, and God doesn’t hold a grudge. Gideon’s disrespect didn’t disqualify him; Jesus seems exasperated at their lack of faith, but he doesn’t fire them all and find a new crop of apostles.
E is for Epiphany. No, you didn't miss Christmas and the season of Epiphany has not arrived. Epiphany means a sudden realization, and Gideon and the Apostles all had an Epiphany. In Judges 6:22 after challenging God, Gideon realizes he’s seen God. I think Gideon’s amazement is understated. The text simply says, “Alas,” but the word is a very strong word with even an element of panic in it. It would be said with the same emotion as if someone shouted, “Call 911!” or “Fire!” How would you react if you’d just seen God face to face? Especially if you’d been mouthing off to him! After Jesus commands the storm to settle down, the disciples must have been shaking their heads. What kind of man is this? The sense of peace that had arrived in an instant on the suddenly calm lake had to be profound. If peace could be devastating, I think it was at that moment. Gideon realizes after his argument that God could have vaporized him in an instant, but didn’t, and so he erects an altar to commemorate the event and calls it, The LORD is Peace.
The experience of God’s peace must have been profound, but their troubles weren’t over. Gideon still had a battle to fight. He would soon raise a huge army of volunteers, yet they would still be outnumbered . . . and God would intentionally shrink Gideon's army to a mere 300. I won't spoil the rest of the story. You can pick it up in your Bible from where we left off today. Read on in the passage, it may build your faith. Mark’s gospel ends with Jesus telling his Apostles that they would be doing miracles, preaching, healing, and changing the world. Sadly, all but one would die a martyr’s death. Regardless, their faith was in the Christ they had seen stop the storm . . . and rise from the dead! They would forever carry a quietness in their soul that transcended every circumstance.
Benediction: A friend of mine told me that in a crisis, “Some Christians reach for the hand of God; others seek the face of God.” Next time you are facing a crisis, look not for the hand of God, but for the face of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.