Preaching: Pastor Rebecca A. Henry
Date Presented: Sunday, September 4, 2016
Scripture Reference: Judges 3:12, 14-30
Sermon: Lost Treasures Week Two
Last week the unexpected was a talking donkey. This week it is a story matching much of what we experience in action films like James Bond. Ehud is a warrior and judge sent by God to lead and free the Israelites from captivity under King Eglon. One has to admit that if you like action adventure you can’t get much better than this, especially being that it is a Bible story. Ehud has this great plan to entice the King to give him a private audience by saying he has a secret message. The King, of course, takes the bait. Only when they are alone, with guards outside the door, Ehud in one swift move pulls out his hidden sword and plunges it into the fat king until it disappears into the king’s fat. And before it is ever discovered, Ehud slips away and out into the darkness of the night.
It sounds like a pretty good story until perhaps remembering it does come from the Bible. Then perhaps it leaves us sitting rather uncomfortably in our pews, wondering why did we need to hear this? How is this sacred?
I have to admit that when I was planning this series I debated quite a while about using this text knowing there were many others I could choose, like King Josiah uncovering the Law and leading the people in covenant renewal; a much more sensible, palpable reading. But I decided to stay with the exciting and unexpected, only to find myself once again questioning this week the wisdom of my choice, and truly contemplating changing it. I mean, who wants to hear about, or even need to hear about, violence and war at a time when our reality is inundated with killings and wars being waged in the name of God. We come to worship to hear a word of hope. Where can one find a message of good news in this reading aside from the opening of the story when God’s people cry for help and God answers and sends Ehud? Only that is just one little verse and it begins to lead us in a direction we don’t anticipate for the redemption of God’s people. This was not a story I was comfortable with, but then God’s Word is not always meant to be what leaves us comfortable; it isn’t always meant to be what we expect or even want to hear.
To be honest, this story, like so many others in the Old Testament, makes me very uncomfortable. I much prefer to dwell on God’s love for all people, even foreigners, God’s desire for justice, God’s creativity, grace, not God directing the deaths of others. It is hard to reconcile these different images, different actions of God. And yet, as we hear today, both are present, both are very real.
Perhaps that is the message for me, for us. There isn’t just one nature, one persona of God. There are many. In fact, there are over 600 different names and expressions for God in the Bible. We can’t begin to know God completely, and just perhaps when we think we do, when we start to feel comfortable with our knowledge of God, there is something that surprises us. We are reminded that God is beyond our knowing, beyond our grasp of understanding. God is a mystery to us in which we experience mere glimpses, mere expressions of God’s self. That is the truth revealed to us when God says, “I Am.” “I Am who I Am.” “I Am whoever I will be.” I am the most complete expression of God, for there are no limitations, no expectations. God is God.
It’s dangerous when we begin to think otherwise, when we think we know who God is. For one thing we become narrow-minded, judgmental of anyone who has had different experiences leading them to think differently. But it is also dangerous because we close ourselves off from the revelations of God, especially those that defy or challenge our expectations.
We see how true this is in our scriptures. People came to expect God’s deliverance through one who comes to lead revolutions, violent overthrows of oppressors: Joshua, David, Ehud. It’s why many did not believe Jesus could be the Savior. He was not the revolutionary Messiah they were expecting. And yet, Jesus, who spoke of loving enemies, who questioned the systems of power, who spoke and lived free of the Law, was and is the very embodiment of God.
Indeed time and again we read the stories of people struggling because God does the unexpected: Jonah struggling with God’s grace for the Ninevites; Jesus and the outcasts; Peter and the Gentiles; the suffering righteous Job. And in each instance the question is asked, “Who are you to question God and God’s way?” It is the question we would do well to remember whenever we read a passage like today that leaves us uncomfortable, struggling, and wanting to dismiss. Yes, God has a relationship with us. God engages with us. God hears us when we cry for help, but it is God who decides what is best, how to respond; not us. God’s ways, while revealing, will always hold mystery for us.
That is the truth we know here at the Table. Throughout all of time God sees us, hears us and our cries for help, and God answers. God is here with us. We know it. We feel it. And yet, to fully explain our experience of communion, to fully explain Christ’s salvation of us, is impossible. There is always the experience of the mystery, the holy.
Here, as in all our readings of scripture, we encounter the great I Am.