June 17, 2007
"Gideon: One Giant Leap"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
I love to fly but I wonder, how many of you get nervous when flying? If you do you'd probably agree with George S. Kaufman who once said, "I like terra firma - the more firma, the less terra."
One of the premier science-fiction writers Ray Bradbury of Los Angeles won a top award in 1968 from the Aviation-Space Writers Association for a Life magazine article he wrote in praise of space exploration. But Bradbury didn't attend the association's awards meeting in Florida. You know why? He won't fly. (1) I think that is so ironic. But then we all have our own fears and foibles don't we.
And so did the subject of today's sermon in this series on Heroes of the Bible. I'm talking about Gideon. Gideon was the sixth judge of Israel. Remember, there was a period after Joshua's death, when the people of Israel were a loose knit group of tribes. Prophets and Judges were raised up by God when the need arose, especially when the people of Israel went astray and forgot who they were and began worshipping other gods. Gideon was one of those Judges like Deborah and Samson.
According to several different polls, one of the best known and most unique characters on Television was Barney Fife played by Don Knotts. Don Knotts just seemed to get that swaggering, know it all, braggadocios, chicken of a character down to a tee, didn't he. He cashed in on those character traits in several movies like The Reluctant Astronaut, The Ghost and Mr. Chicken and The Shakiest Gun in the West. I don't think anyone else has ever played that type of character as well as Don Knotts.
As you read the story of Gideon, you find out that he was the Don Knotts or Barney Fife of the Judges. He was The Reluctant Judge and The Shakiest Judge in the Middle East.
The day the Angel of the Lord called him, Gideon was hiding in a winepress. It's understandable in a way, because the Midianites would swoop down on camels and steal everything that wasn't nailed down. They were terrorizing and oppressing the Israelites. Hiding was the only way to get the food you needed for your family. Let's look at the passage that describes Gideon's call, Judges 6:11-16.
 Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites.
 The angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior."
 Gideon answered him, "But sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian."
 Then the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you."
 He responded, "But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family."
 The LORD said to him, "But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them."
Gideon was one of the most reluctant prophets of all. When the Angel of the Lord said, "The LORD is with you, you mighty warrior." I imagine Gideon nearly fainted. Gideon was anything but a mighty warrior. And even after being convinced the Angel really was calling him, he still needed a sign. The angel gave Gideon the proof he needed by consuming an offering of meat and bread Gideon had prepared. With the snap of the finger the whole thing went up in flames and was consumed in a flash.
Gideon agreed that maybe he was being called but he didn't like it. God told him to get his father's second bull, the seven year old one and pull down the altar of Baal and build an altar to God instead. So being the "mighty warrior" that he was, Gideon waited until the middle of the night, because he was afraid of his family and the townsfolk. Gideon took 10 of his servants with him and they did as the Lord had instructed.
Gideon took that One Giant Leap, put his trust in God and became the Judge God had called him to be. Gideon was an ordinary person who discovered an extraordinary faith. That doesn't mean that his Barney Fife personality changed. No, when God told Gideon about God's plan to deliver Israel completely from the Midianites, Gideon balked big time. And the famous throwing out of the fleece scene took place. First Gideon says, OK, I want the fleece wet with dew and the ground around it dry. Done. But that wasn't enough. Just to make sure, Gideon reversed it. This time Lord, I want the fleece dry and the ground wet with dew. God did as Gideon asked.
And the reason God didn't just zap him and choose somebody else is the same reason God chose Abraham and Moses and Peter and Paul and you and me. God always chooses the least likely person for God's purposes, so that God, and God alone will be glorified.
Gideon called the troops together to take on the Midianites. Listen to how the Bible describes how many there were.  "The Midianites and the Amalekites and all the people of the east lay along the valley as thick as locusts; and their camels were without number, countless as the sand on the seashore." It wasn't a little army.
Gideon had 32,000 soldiers. But God said that was too many. So Gideon told them, if anybody is afraid, you can go home. Twenty-two thousand packed up and left. Then God said that the ten thousand left was still too many. So, he instructed Gideon to send them to the river for water. The ones who lapped up the water like dogs were separated from those who knelt and scooped up water with their hands. God said, send home all those who knelt. And that left 300 men. And with that 300 men, God conquered the Midianites.
These 300 men, armed only with a trumpet and torches hidden under clay jars, surrounded the Midianite camp. Then as one, they busted the jars, held up the torches and blew their trumpets. Seeing all the torches and hearing all the trumpets in the middle of the night, so scared the Midianites that they set upon one another and wiped themselves out trying to escape. All because Gideon, an ordinary person found he had extraordinary faith.
It just goes to show what God can do with a little faith and little willingness.
A. I don't normally promote a particular movie but if this movie proves to be half as good as some of the materials that have been developed around it, then it will be worth the price of admission. I'm talking about the movie Evan Almighty that opens up on Friday. Evan could be Gideon. He's as reluctant and unsure of himself as Gideon. But his desire is to "change the world" and is God's desire, too. And this movie fits right into the message of this passage. God chooses the least likely, ordinary people and fills them with extraordinary faith so they can do extraordinary things.
Let me ask you this. How would you like to do some extraordinary things? Not that we haven't already done some extraordinary things. But what if I told you we could do even more. In John 14:12-15 Jesus told the Disciples we would do even greater works than Jesus. The Message puts it this way: "The person who trusts me will not only do what I'm doing but even greater things, because I, on my way to the Father, am giving you the same work to do that I've been doing. You can count on it. From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I'll do it. That's how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I'll do. If you love me, show it by doing what I've told you."
Jesus wasn't just recruiting followers, Jesus was recruiting them into a conspiracy. Jesus began the greatest conspiracy of all time. Earlier in John 13:35 Jesus gave the Disciples a clue to what this conspiracy would be like. Jesus began by saying, "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Have you ever wanted to be a part of a conspiracy? What I'm talking about could be pictured as subversive, rebellious or even seditious. What I'm talking about is a conspiracy of kindness. While the zealots wanted to change the world by overthrowing the powers that be with military might, Jesus had already begun His great Conspiracy. And it's a conspiracy of love. A conspiracy of grace designed to undermine the work of the enemy and subvert the self centered culture with the pervasive, sacrificial, God centered love of Jesus Christ.
The point of this conspiracy is to build up, not tear down. We'll be part of an insurgency of love. We'll become guerrillas of grace. We all know what the "F" bomb is right. Well forget about the "F" bomb. We're going to set off the "L" bomb. And the "G" bomb. The Love bomb and Grace bomb through Acts of Random Kindness. We are going to do exactly what Jesus said we should do, and exactly what He did. We're simply going to Love Our Neighbors as ourselves.
Let me tell you how. Through what Steve Sjogren calls Service Evangelism, we're going to be joining a boatload of other churches around the country in this Conspiracy of Kindness. And it all begins with the release of Evan Almighty and a ministry called ArkAlmighty (ARK Acts of Random Kindness)
The ArkAlmighty ministry is in awesome way for us to put the love of Christ into action first within our own congregation so we can see how it works and then by spreading it to the rest of the community. This is the whole idea of Servant Evangelism. Doing for others. Loving them simply because Christ loves them.
Liberty Mutual has a Commercial which I think has a great Christian Message. Plus, except for the purpose and the why, it shows exactly what Servant Evangelism is all about. Where the woman stops a pizza delivery guy from stepping in front of a bus. And he in turn does a good deed and it just continues on to others.
You see it's not the big things. That's what Gideon discovered. It wasn't the massive army he assembled that defeated the Midianites. God whittled that down to 300. It wasn't the torches, the clay jars or the trumpets that defeated the Midianites, they just caused confusion in the camps. It wasn't really even Gideon, it was God. And it all came about because Gideon, this ordinary person, had extraordinary faith. And then it was only a little faith at that. God did the rest.
When we adopt this whole idea of Servant Evangelism, we do the little things and God does the rest.
Let me give you some examples. One church chose to go into a local Laundromat with a handful of quarters and as people began to put their clothes in the washer, put quarters in the machines and asked, "Do you want hot or cold water?" People were flabbergasted when they asked why. Because the group doing it simply said, "We're a group of Christians doing a community service project to show God's love in a practical way. We want to pay for your wash today just to demonstrate God's love to you."
Another group has gone into restaurants and asked to clean their toilets, giving a very similar response. Another group started by passing out cold drinks on Fridays across the street from the local High School. Just to show God's love.
This particular ministry, this conspiracy of kindness is about one thing and it's not us. It's about God and God's love for everyone.
You see, sometimes, even the best Christian looks at someone and makes a snap judgment about whether that person has gotten what they deserve. That's the way we think isn't it? But for the most part, none of us, especially those of us who claim to belong to Christ, have gotten what we deserve. We deserve justice and judgment but what we've received instead is mercy and grace through Christ. All this ministry does is extend the mercy and grace we've experienced to those who may not even know it exists.
And we do it through simple Acts of Random Kindness and Love that shows just how passionately God loves everyone, no matter what place they have in the world;
Next time you go to the store, let the person behind you, go first. Watch their face when you do. something out of the ordinary like let someone in front of you at the grocery store or wherever. Or next time you fill up, ask if you can wash the windows of the car next to you.
The world needs what God has to offer through us, Love, Grace, Mercy and Redemption. Servant Evangelism and the Conspiracy of Kindness is just one of the ways we can offer the world what they need the most.
At the close of the movie Stranger Than Fiction, the Narrator has this to say:
"Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And fortunately, when there aren't any cookies we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin. Or a kind and loving gesture. Or a subtle encouragement. Or a loving embrace. Or an offer of comfort."
That's exactly what the Conspiracy of Kindness and Servant Evangelism is all about.
You see, there are hundreds of ways to be a hero like Gideon. All it takes is a little faith and a little willingness. And you don't even have to know how to fly.
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