A risk to believe, a risk to act, a risk to be a steward.

A sermon for Proper 28

Judges 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Matthew 25:14-30

Today is the last of the semi continuous readings from the Old Testament until next year’s season after Pentecost. The story continues with the Books of Judges, which is the story of Israel following God as they swore to do, even after Joshua told them they couldn’t. The short version of the story is that Joshua was right. Judges is cyclical set of stories:

  • Israel quits following the promises they made and does what is evil in God’s eyes.
  • The Bible says “God sells them to …” whichever King is available.
  • When the oppression grows too much, Israel cries out, and God raises up a Judge,or military leader, who frees them from oppression.
  • All goes well until the Judge dies and Israel falls back into her wandering ways.

Over time things get worse and worse. Israel’s behavior is worse. The consequences are harsher and harsher. Their reformed behavior, after being rescued, is less and less in line with the covenant both Moses and Joshua establish for Israel. By the end of the book, it is clear the Judges system is a failure. The next step in the Old Testament story is the establishment of Kings.

What we hear this morning is only the introduction to the story of Deborah as Judge. The rest of chapter 4 completes the story, including Barak’s leading Israel to victory over Jabin’s much more powerful, chariot lead army and Jael, the Kenite, who kills Sisera, Jabin’s commander, with warm milk and a tent stake. It is a gruesome story. It’s also unusual, in that neither Deborah, Barak, nor Jael are a judge as all the others are; though collectively they are. It’s unusual that not one, but two women, one of whom is not of Israel, play a prominent role in saving Israel from oppression. And it’s a bit unique, in how it parallels the Exodus story of God leading Israel out of the oppression of slavery by throwing Pharaoh’s army of chariots into confusion. (McCann 6351)

I’ve two take-aways from this story:

  1. It’s amazing what we can do when we work together.
  2. The patience and commitment of God; this is the fourth cycle of Judges, and despite Israel’s deplorable behavior God continues to honor the covenant. (Hoezee)

There is a third piece; when you look at Judges as a whole, the status of women represents the overall health of Israel’s society. (Jaconson, Lewis and Skinner) From here on the treatment of women declines greatly, as does the health of Israel’s social mores.

One more bit. Charles Hoffacker writes:

“The Parable of the Talents” is not really about money or abilities. It’s a story about trust, a story about risk. Life is the same way. What turns out to be important is not money or abilities in themselves, but our decision to use them in ways that show our willingness to risk and to trust. (Hoffacker)

The difference between the first two servants and the third is that one and two reciprocate the trust  their master puts in them and therefore can risk putting the talents given into their stewardship to work. The third does not trust the master, and is therefore not able to risk the talent given into his stewardship. Deborah and Barak exhibit trust in God’s call and are able to risk taking on Jabin’s far superior iron chariot based army. It’s possible Jael, the Kenite, exhibits the same trust; remember the Kenites are Moses’ father in law’s tribe and know something of Israel’s God. Jael risks trusting God and is a major player in freeing Israel from oppression.

One last thing before I finish;  I expect you noticed I referred to the servants in Matthew’s parable as stewards. I hope you did, because these two bible stories together reveal a little discussed dimension of stewardship, risk. Throughout the bible it is a risk to believe in God. There is always some other god’s people round about who will dismiss you or seek to do you some sort of harm for your belief in God. Throughout the bible God asks people to act;  Abram is asked to leave the home of his ancestors, Moses is asked to take on Pharaoh, Joshua is asked to lead the invasion of Canaan, Deborah and Barak are asked to take on Jabin, David is asked to be King in Saul’s stead, Mary is asked to be the mother of God incarnate, and Joseph is asked to ignore social custom and be the human father to Jesus. All of them accept, all of them risk themselves by acting. Making a stewardship commitment is far more than making a promise to give so many dollars to this or that church. To be a steward  is to risk believing in the living creator God, incarnate to us in Jesus, and continually present to us as the Spirit. To be a steward is to risk acting from the moral imperatives that arise from that belief. To be a steward is to risk being a part of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. To be a steward, to commit time, talent and treasure to continuing Christ’s ministry proclaiming the Kingdom of God, is a life defining risk. So, make your commitment prayerfully, discerning God’s call. But more importantly, make your commitment trusting that God has destined you for salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, so no matter our state we live with him.  (1 Thessalonians 5:9-10)  Amen.


References

Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Judges 4:1-7. 16 11 2014. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php&gt;.

Hoffacker, Rev. Charles. Sermons that Work. 16 11 2014.

Jaconson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 16 11 2014. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx&gt;.

McCann, J Clinton. Judges A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING. Ed. James Luther Mays and Patrick D Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor. Vol. 7. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2002.

Olson, Dennis. New Interpreter’s Bible – The Book of Judges Introduction, Commentary and Reflection. Vol. 2. Abingdon Press, n.d. 12 vols. CD.

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