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Holy Spirit, Part 3: Empowered

June 22, 2017

June 18, 2017

Judges 6:33-40

Father’s Day

During my devotion time, I have been reading a book called Seeds of the Word by Robert Barron.  One of the things that Barron talks about is J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel, The Hobbit.  You know, the epic tale of Bilbo Baggins, the half-ling of Middle earth.  Who is hired to steal treasure, finds the one ring to rule them all, triumphs over trolls, goblins and giant spiders, escapes from elves and burglars a dragon.  It’s one of my favorite stories.  I read it when I was a kid.  I read it to my children.  And I read it a number of times in between.

Barron points out that The Hobbit is the story of a hero’s journey.  That it follows a classic hero pattern.  A man or woman is wrenched out of complacency and self-absorption and is called to great adventure.  During which he or she comes to maturity and vision.  In Moby Dick, for example, the young Ishmael leaves behind the damp, drizzly November in his soul and goes on a long and dangerous voyage of discovery.  In Star Wars, young Luke Skywalker is forced out of the quiet solitude of his aunt and uncle’s home and summoned to an intergalactic struggle where he comes of age.  In the Hobbit, we find Bilbo living in a hole in the ground – as hobbits do.  Not a nasty or un kept hole.  But rather one that is cozy, filled with fine furniture and a well-stocked kitchen.  From which Bilbo is summoned to adventure by a cadre of dwarves.

If you have read the novel, or seen the movie, you know that as time goes on Bilbo is called upon again and again to step outside of his comfort zone, battle evil and take the path of self-sacrifice.  Along the way, he has help.  Gandalf the Grey is a wizard and a figure of in breaking grace who guides and empowers Bilbo on his journey to maturity.  Until the end of the story which climaxes in Bilbo unexpectedly letting go of something of great worth in order to save others (Seeds of the Word, Robert Barron, 2015 Word on Fire Catholic Ministries, p.116).

I share this with you because this morning we are going to read another heroic journey.  One that also follows the classic pattern.  Where the main character is called out of self-absorption and into great adventure.  It’s found in the Old Testament book of Judges, chapter 6.  Take your Bibles and turn there with me now.  Judges 6.  We will read verses 33 to 40.

The book of Judges is named for the judges who led Israel just over 3000 years ago.  In that context Judge had a different meaning than it does today.  Back then, Israel was still a loose confederation of tribes.  It had no formal government.  And it had no King to turn to.  So when the Israelites got into trouble – such as when an enemy would invade – they would cry out to God.  And in response God would raise up someone to rescue them.  So that a judge was not a judicial authority but rather a military leader who was sent to save God’s people.  Today we are going read about Gideon, who was the 5th judge of Israel.

Ironically, his story begins in a winepress from ancient Israel.  Gideon is threshing wheat in it.  This is unusual.  Normally, wheat would be threshed at the top of a hill where the wind could blow the lighter chaff away as the kernels were tossed into the air.  There is no wind down in a winepress.  So why would Gideon be threshing wheat in a winepress?  Well, the Midianites have invaded Israel.  The Bible says they have descended on Israel like swarms of locust.  And that they are so numerous it was impossible to count them or their camels.  They ravage the land, destroy the all crops and do not spare a living animal.  So Gideon is hiding.  He doesn’t want to be seen.   He is caught up in his own story.

But he doesn’t stay there.  He is called to something greater.  An angel of the Lord comes to Gideon hiding in the winepress and says – “The Lord is with you Mighty Warrior” (Judges 6:12)!   To which Gideon replies – “the Lord has abandoned us!”  The angel says – “GO and save Israel – I am sending you!”  Gideon protests – “me?  I am the weakest member of the weakest clan in my tribe!”   But the Lord says – “I will be with you!  You will strike down all the Midianites.  And Peace.  Do not be afraid.  You will not die!”   So Gideon builds an altar to God and offers a sacrifice.  He names it the Lord is peace.  And begins his great adventure.  With this in mind, let’s read Judges 6:33-40.

Now all the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel. 34 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. 35 He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.  36 Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised— 37 look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” 38 And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.  39 Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” 40 That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.

So, at first glance Gideon is anything but a hero.  Heroes are courageous.  Heroes sacrifice their own interests for the greater good.  They persevere despite their fear.  And they seek excellence in the face of difficulty.  Gideon, on the other hand is cowardly.  He is filled with doubt.  He challenges God’s presence.  He resists God’s call.  He lacks faith and demands a sign.  He worries and has a low self-esteem.  He is just not hero material.

And yet, Gideon has something that makes all the difference.  Like Bilbo, Gideon has a figure of in-breaking grace.  Verse 34 – Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is Ruach.  It means ‘wind’ or ‘breath’.  So that the breath of God literally comes on Gideon.  As students of the Bible we recognize similar language in the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came with the sound of a mighty rushing wind and rested on each of the disciples!  Jesus said – But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit COMES upon you – Acts 1:8!  And yet, the Spirit didn’t just rest on Gideon.  The scripture says the Spirit literally clothed himself with Gideon.  The Hebrew word used here is La – VASH.  It means to clothe.  Or to wear.   So that the passage better reads that the Spirit of the Lord put on Gideon like a garment.  In so many words, the Spirit of the Lord took full possession of Gideon.

And this changes everything.  Filled with supernatural power, Gideon leaves the wine press and blows a trumpet.  There is nothing subtle about sounding a horn.  If you want to remain unnoticed, you don’t let rip with a bugle call.  If you wish to remain hidden, you don’t rally the troops from near and far.  But the in-breaking presence of God’s Spirit has transformed the cowardly into the courageous.  And the self-absorbed into the self-sacrificing.  And as a result 32 thousand men show up and give Gideon their unquestioning obedience.

I ask you this morning.  Have you ever hungered for something greater?  Have you ever longed for a strength greater than your own? Ever desired be transformed?  Then make yourself available to the in-breaking presence of God’s Spirit.  Jesus said – but you shall receive POWER when the Holy Spirit comes on you.

Personally, on this Father’s Day, I want the Spirit of the Lord to take possession of me as I parent.  Being a father is one of the highest callings in my life.  It’s also one of my most challenging responsibilities.  There are times when it’s pretty clear that I have risen to the level of my incompetence.

One day, several years ago, I went to pick up our children from school.  It had been a very hectic day already.  At the last minute, I got caught up in a meeting at work and I forgot that school was letting out early.  So I was late even before I left.  I knew that the kids would be sitting out on the curb in the hot sun.  And they would not be pleased about it.  To make matters worse, traffic was horrible.  Even with channeling my inner Kevin Harvick, the best I could manage was to go from gridlock to gridlock.  By the time I arrived I was irritated, frustrated and not at all open to feedback.  Which, naturally, I received.  WHERE WERE YOU?  WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?  WHY DID YOU MAKE WAIT?  I am sure they didn’t sound quite like that.  But that is what I heard.  And I lost it.  I WAS AT WORK.  EARNING A LIVING SO YOU CAN ENJOY YOUR LIFE.  NEXT TIME YOU CAN TAKE THE BUS!  And it only went downhill from there.  Ever yelled at someone and in the middle of it realized that you could stop yelling – but you keep on going just because you can?  It wasn’t pretty.  And I am embarrassed to say, wasn’t an isolated incident.  The truth is I need a power greater than my own if I am going to live up to my calling to be a Godly father.

Now, you may not be a father.  You may not be a mother.  You may not want to be.  You may not be able to be.  But the truth is you are called to be a parent.  I am not talking biologically.  I’m talking spiritually.  One of the privileges of being a part of a large church like this is that we all have a number of Christian children.  Several times a month, we vow before God to live our lives in such a way that the children around us experience God’s grace.  Someone did that for us.  Thank God.  Or we wouldn’t be here.

I ask you this morning – who are you encouraging?  Who are you guiding?  Who are you mentoring?  Who – for lack of a better word – are you parenting?  Who are your spiritual children?  Who are you intentionally raising in the faith?

You see, like Gideon, you and I, we have been called to embark on a hero’s journey.  God has called us out of our complacency and into great adventure.  He has called us to work our way out of self-centeredness and into self-sacrifice.  And to help us along the way, He has given to us His in breaking grace through His Holy Spirit.

Acts 2:38 says “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Paul in his letter to the Christians in Corinth says this – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”  I Corinthians 6:19. 

The Bible says that the same Holy Spirit that created the world, the same Holy Spirit that anointed Jesus and raised Christ from the dead, the same Holy Spirit that restores sight to the blind and sets the prisoner free is in you and in me.  And that through the Spirit’s presence, we are transformed!  That our lives are marked more and more by things like love and joy and peace.  For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control.

That doesn’t mean we won’t struggle.  God promised to be with Gideon.  The Holy Spirit clothed himself with Gideon.  Filled with supernatural power, Gideon climbed out of the winepress, declared war on the enemy and called for his fellow Israelites to rally around him.  And tens of thousands have responded.  And yet, Gideon second guesses.  God, IF you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised – prove it to me.  Make this piece of wool wet while the ground remains dry.  THEN I’ll know what you said is true.

Likewise, I have been reconciled to God.  Through the death and resurrection of His Son, I have been given His rich, abundant and eternal life.  God has given the gift of His Spirit to me.  Peace and restoration and freedom and healing and power are mine for the receiving!  But, what do I do?  I question.  I struggle to believe.  I insist on a sign.  I lay out a fleece.  There is a lot of Gideon in me!

The Good News is – God does not require us to have our act together before helping us!  And thankfully, God does not abandon us just because we doubt.  In fact, as I read the Bible, God has a soft spot in His heart for the unlikely, the timid, the doubting and the undeserving.  Abraham was a liar.  Jacob was insecure.  Samson was codependent.  Rahab was immoral.  David had family problems.  Jeremiah was depressed.  John the Baptist was eccentric to say the least.  Peter was impulsive and hot-tempered.  Martha worried a lot.  Paul had poor health.  Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:7 says – But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us!  That’s the story of Gideon.  And that is our story as well.

And so this week, my challenge is to ask for the Holy Spirit.  Ask for the breath of God to fill you.  And the Spirit of the Lord to clothe himself in you.  Luke 11:13 says – If you then who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more with your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.  We cannot control when and where the Spirit comes.  The Spirit blows where it wills says Jesus.  So we don’t dictate.  But Jesus says that when we ask, God will give us His Holy Spirit.  God knows we cannot complete the journey on our own power.  He knows we need a power greater than our own.  So he gives us the very best thing – His Spirit.  SO take time this week to ask.  Specifically, set aside 15 to 20 minutes each morning to be still.  Do this trusting that our heavenly Father is able to give us so much more than our earthly father.  Do this knowing you will need His presence for what lies ahead.  For God has called you to embark on a heroic journey.

At the end of the Hobbit.  Bilbo arrives at a place where he triumphs through giving.  He gives away the Arkenstone in order to bring peace and avert war.  On his epic journey, Gideon becomes a judge of Israel and is used by God to deliver the Israelites from the Midianites.  What about you?  Where is your great adventure headed?  Have you begun the journey?  Are you on the way from self-centeredness to self-sacrificial?  Or are you still turned in on yourself and complacent?

The truth is, God has called us on an heroic journey, he has not only called us, he has given us everything we need. So I am going to wait for his unbreaking grace for the power that comes from the presence of his spirit.

How about you?  How about you?


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