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Judges 6: Test or Trust?

When Rick Warren founded Saddleback Church in 1980, someone asked him, “how big do you think this church will get?” Rick replied, “we’ll have 20,000 members.” The questioner joked, “Who do you think you are?” Rick answered, “it’s not about who I am. It’s about who God is.” Today, Saddleback has about 29,000 in worship on an average Sunday. The story of Gideon tells the same tale: It’s not about who you are. It’s about Whose you are.
Gideon is one of the greatest warriors in the history of Israel, but he’s also a very human person. He’s a man tempted by idols. He struggles with self-worth. He’s a man riddled by doubt. He’s kind of a high-maintenance believer. And that’s me; I question God; I question myself. Maybe there’s some Gideon in most of us.
God encounters Gideon at a time of great suffering for the people of Israel. As we learned, the Israelites, first of all, are still struggling with the presence of the Canaanites, all these other people who are now living alongside the people of Israel in the Promised Land. And this is a struggle for God’s people because it is difficult for them to maintain their faith, to keep God’s commandments, to maintain worship, and to teach their children the faith among all these people who worship other gods. In fact, when God encounters Gideon, he, like most people of his time, had a Baal altar and an Asherah pole right next to his place of worship for Yahweh. Not only was Israel dealing with this struggle from the interior, but also with the constant pressure of the Philistines on the west, and on the East, you’ve got the Edomites, the Moabites, and the Ammonites. So the only thing Israel doesn’t need is something more to deal with.
Do you ever feel like you’re surrounded on every side already, and then you get clocked with one more thing?
The one more thing is the Midianites, who, as you remember, were originally friends of the Israelites, going back to the days of Moses’s Midianite father-in-law Jethro. Well, they aren’t friends anymore. Gideon is so afraid of these Midianites that when we find him, what is he doing? He’s having to hide in his wine press in order to harvest his grain. He’s living in fear.
Now God comes to this scared idol-worshiper who is doing chores in his basement, and this is what he says: Mighty Warrior, the Lord is with you!
Gideon is anything but a mighty warrior at this moment. But God doesn’t look with human eyes. So my question for you is this: Who does God say you are?
You might see yourself as weak, ugly, broke; you might say, I can’t do that, I’m divorced, I’m the wrong gender, the wrong sexual orientation, I have a disability—just fill in the blank–but  that’s not what God sees. You might be hiding your faith in the basement, doing your Bible reading in the dark, because you don’t have the courage to proclaim your faith to others; but God has called you to do just that. Gideon calls himself the least in his family, and his family is the weakest in their clan. God calls him Mighty Warrior. Who does God say you are?
•    God says you are his child John 1:12
•    God says you are his chosen one Ephesians 1:4
•    God says you are the salt of the earth Matthew 5:13
•    God says you are light of the world Matthew 5:14
•    God says you are a temple for his Holy Spirit 1 Corinthians 6:19
•    And that God lives in you 1 John 4:4
•    God says you are more than a conqueror through him who loves you! Romans 8:37
We might look at our church and say, we’re old. We’re tired. We’re small. How can we attract young people? How can we attract any people? How can we stay open, much less reach out into the world to help people in need, and share the love of Jesus Christ?
But God says: Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!  Matthew 16:18 This is what God says about us! Will we spend our lives trying to prove God wrong, or will we prove God right?
Now Gideon is one who asks the difficult questions. When God calls out to Gideon, “mighty warrior! The Lord is with you,” Gideon doesn’t say, “awesome! Let’s go get some Midianites.” Instead, he says, “If the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonderful deeds?” Judges 6:13. The answer to Gideon’s question comes a bit earlier in the chapter. In Judges 6:6, we learn that it’s only when the Israelites cry out to the Lord that God responds by seeking out Gideon. We’ve seen this before; sometimes you have to admit that you can’t handle this on your own, that you need God’s help, before God comes to your aid.
But God doesn’t chastise Gideon and say, hey, you idiot, maybe I’ve held off helping you because, I don’t know–you’ve got idols in your living room! Instead, God answers Gideon’s questions with his presence. God says, “I will be with you.” And Gideon tests God! Over and over again, like a frightened child, Gideon checks to see—are you still there, God? What if I go away for a little while, will you still be there? Yes, Gideon. Of course, Gideon. And then God shows his presence to Gideon; he sees the angel of the Lord; his offering burns up before his eyes. He’s seen God! And yet. Gideon keeps questioning and testing God, and God keeps responding. Later in the chapter, Gideon has assembled the army, and is ready to fight the Midianites. But he needs another sign. So he lays out a wool fleece, and if the wool is wet, and the ground is dry, he will know that he should fight. So he lays out the wool, and a whole bowlful of water is in the fleece; but the ground is dry. But Gideon still needs more evidence. Gideon goes back to God, and says, God, I’m still not sure. This time, could you make the ground wet, and the fleece dry? Yes, Gideon. Of course, Gideon.
Gideon has trouble trusting; he wrestles with doubts and fears. Why does God jump through Gideon’s hoops? Why does God give Gideon the signs he needs? Why doesn’t God give up on Gideon?
After all, we see in other places that God doesn’t always answer our calls for signs and wonders. Lent is a good time for remembering Jesus’s walk through the wilderness, the forty day fast that inspires us. Remember that, on the mountain, in the wilderness, Satan tempts Jesus to do all kinds of miracles and wonders, and Jesus refuses. Matthew 4:7, Jesus says, you shall not put God to the test.
So why doesn’t God give up on Gideon?
I think there’s a difference between seeking to prove God wrong, and asking for help along the way. Satan sought to prove God wrong, by tricking Jesus into doing something He was not meant to do. Gideon sought encouragement and guidance from God, but I believe that he would have followed God’s calling whether or not God gave him the specific signs he asked for. The truth is, if you and I are honest, we will see that God hasn’t given up on us. Look back on your life. God has shown you, over and over and over, He is with you. God has shown us, as a church, over and over and over, he is with us. Yes, Gideon. Of course, Gideon. No, I won’t give up on you.
We have to be looking for the burning bushes; we have to have our eyes out for the wet fleece. If we keep our eyes open, there are God sightings everywhere around us.
So what will it be: faith, or just more fleece?
God has given us every sign we need. God is calling: Mighty Warrior! Chosen One! Child of My Heart! I am with you! And I want you to be a light unto the world!
Which will it be? Faith or fleece? Test or trust?
Will you test God, try to prove God wrong about yourself, about us? Or will you trust God means what He says? Will you be the light of the world? Will you step forward, in new and creative ways, to reach out into the community, to reach out to family and friends, with the love of Christ? Or will you hide yourself away, try to prove God wrong, we’re not a city on a hill, we’re not the hands and feet of Jesus, we’re not anything at all—or will you prove God right, by being the mighty warriors we were meant to be?
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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