2014-11-16 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton
Echo the Story #11 of 36: JUDGES
“The Blessed Mothers of Israel”
Well, well, well…what shall we do with this messy story of ours?
Will we admit that this Word of God isn’t easy peasy?
I hope that one of the goals of our journey through the OT GodStory is that none of us will drive cars with the bumper sticker that says “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Or when we’re debating someone over a theological topic, may we be slower to say… “Well, doesn’t it say in the Bible that…” [The Bible made me…]
[I couldn’t help myself, I just had a Jael-ian impulse!?]
Now I don’t want to imply that the Bible is so complicated that only the theologically trained can work with it (think reformation!)…but let’s be a people who are willing to wrestle with this text, and allow God to be God…and to somehow engage a God and a story that moves through time and culture with something to say about “Who we are” and “whose we are.”
We’ve shared in the big themes of the GodStory that we’ve heard over the past 10 weeks and now we’ve come to the era of the Judges…circa 1100 BCE…and remember we’re reading these stories as “Exilians”…those who are imagining what it was like for the people of God in Exile (580 BCE) to hear these stories, but not just to leave it “back there” but to be present day Exilians who also read and hear these stories as mattering “here and now.”
– – – – –
Today we encounter the Mothers of Israel.
Why does Israel need a Mother?
Because they’re a bad lot. Made in God’s image, yes, but always spiraling downwards into the ways of chaos and violence. Look at the front of our bulletin cover…every chapter of the GodStory is full of faith & failure!
Today’s story begins with a phrase that has become a theme song for the people of Israel: “The Israelites AGAIN did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.”
Oops. They/We do it again…and again….and again….
The Israelites are in their land of Promise! But, their wayward obedience and rebellious ways keep on landing them in a land of oppression.
“So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan…the commander of his army was a mighty warlord named Sisera.”
Sisera has 900 chariots and has been riding roughshod over God’s people for 20 years.
The Israelites cry out to the LORD for help.
And the God who has promised to turn his bow to the sky again and again…provides…again.
Enter the Mother of Israel…
Imagine Deborah….40 years old, strong, wise, no-nonsense, forthright – – calling it as she sees it!
She is not only a judge of the land, but she is also a prophet!
She speaks on behalf of the governing council of the day + she speaks on behalf of God! This is not a woman to be taken lightly.
[think of the some of the great women who have influenced you; bask in their glory!]
She must have a great reputation as a fearless and God-empowered leader because when she prophetically commands General Barak to take down the oppressing Canaanite armies and their warlord leader Sisera he says: “Yes my leader!” but then he’s quick to say… “But I’m not going without you!”
She’s gracious and condescends to his request, but she also has a “word of the Lord” for his “wobbly-faith’d” response… “I will go with you, but your road is not leading to glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”
The Word of the LORD prevails…Sisera calls out all his chariots but is mysteriously and miraculously upended by the hand of God. This time it isn’t an opening and closing sea, nor is it walls a’crumbling down…instead “the LORD threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic” and in the midst of this Holy Ghost “smackdown”, Barak’s army prevails and ALL in the army of Sisera fall by the sword.
The mighty and ruthless warlord has turned out as we might expect…a cowardly bully on the run.
He runs for the hills…and he runs for 2 or 3 days… he knows that he might be able to find refuge in a region of the Kenites…they’re not involved in the standoff between the Israelites and the Canaanites so he enters the camp and is welcomed by a woman named Jael.
She covers him with a sheep fleece, slakes his thirst with warm milk and heeds his command to stand guard at the tent…If only he could get a little R & R, he’d be ready to continue his journey and elude his enemies.
But little does Sisera know that this warm-milk induced sleep will be his last.
Jael knows who HE is. His reputation precedes him. And rather than “stand on guard for thee” she puts into practice one of her most experienced moves…remember, she’s a nomad…and nomads break camp, take down tents and then put them up again on a regular basis…in 1100 BCE, this is women’s work!
She grabs one of her foot-long tent pegs, reaches for her favourite mallet (you know the one that provides her w/ a perfect swing?),
and Sisera is done for…
And the story gives rise to a song…
Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed.
He asked water and she gave him milk,
she brought him curds in a lordly bowl.
She put her hand to the tent peg
and her right hand to the workmen’s mallet;
she struck Sisera a blow,
she crushed his head,
she shattered and pierced his temple.
He sank, he fell,
he lay still at her feet;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell dead.
The story can’t end there can it?
We’re just 5 days post-Remembrance Day…we know war doesn’t solve the problems of the world does it?
We know violence isn’t the answer.
So why does this end up as part of the story for us who call ourselves the people of God?
What kind of people want to admit that this is their kind of God?
Isn’t this why people want to be spiritual but not religious?
Well, we don’t have all the answers here, but our “Christian formation practice” with these stories is to be seekers of good news….and the good news of this story is that:
GOD does not require good people in order to do good work.
[Thanks Eugene Peterson!]
In fact, as we look back….doesn’t it seems like God has an unusual habit of using flawed & fickle people to get his work done?
Peterson goes on to say:
“It’s almost as if God is saying ‘Well, if this is all you’re going to give me to work with, I’ll use THESE men and women, just as they are, and get on with working out the story of salvation.”
He then adds…
“If God found a way to include these people, he can certainly use US along with our sometimes impossible friends and neighbours.”
Doesn’t this help us feel a bit more at home with this story? Because it’s a story of God using “impossible” people like you and me to get his “saving the world” work done here on earth as it is in heaven!
[look to an “impossible” friend or neighbour near you…say, “we’re in this together!”]
And as we’re finding our home in this story, there’s a few final things that we ought to affirm as we live into (and out of) the world of today’s messy text…
Our world is still a place of violence, turmoil and bloodshed.
There’s nothing new under the sun is there?
And we aren’t above it all, we have blood on our hands in one way or another…we’re part of oppressive systems…some we know of, some we are totally unaware of.
And we raise up our own tent pegs against one another don’t we? We don’t kill with the sword, but we kill with our words, our judgments…in thought, word and deed, by what we have done OR left undone…
And so we ALL stand in need of salvation…we stand in need of a better end to the story…
And the good news of the GodStory is that we DO have a better end…it doesn’t end with us singing a song or writing a poem about victory that comes through the slaying of our foes.
And our “better ending” will be prepared for anew in the upcoming season of Advent…we prepare the way for & proclaim a better ending…we proclaim a salvation that comes through “impossible” circumstances and an unlikely peasant-girl’s son.
And as we prepare the way, we proclaim the words of other prophets, who told of & tell of coming salvation. The prophet Isaiah proclaims newness and hope and says:
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God….
He will come and save you.” (Is. 35)
The mothers of Israel prepare the way for our mothering God…
A God who hides us, shelters us, warms us and nurtures us – –
Jesus would even talk of his own mothering ways when he weeps for Jerusalem a 1000 years later…he cries out:
“How many times have I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” (Luke 13:34)
So come…to the open arms & the mothering heart of Jesus…and allow Jesus to shelter you and gather you…for the good of your self….and the good of the world.
As the eyes of servants
look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a maid
to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the Lord our God,
until he has mercy upon us. (Ps. 123)