Psalm 104:10-18; Judges 8; Luke 20:9-19

Psalm 104:10-18: Descending down form the clouds and mountain tops of the first part of this psalm, these verses describe God’s creation at a human scale. More importantly, they describe how God’s creation is in perfect balance–a balance we humans have pretty much upended.

Water flows like a stream through here, tying all of life on earth together: “You let loose the springs in freshets, among the mountains they go.” (10) The waters come down and “They water all beasts of the field, the wild asses slake their thirst.” (11) Rain and snow “waters mountains from His lofts, / from the fruit of Your works the earth is sated.” (13). Reminding us that water is fundamentally a gift from God–a gift that in this drought time we realize we have largely squandered. Water is the source of life: “He makes the hay sprout for cattle, grass / for the labor of humankind to bring forth bread from the earth.”  And not just bread, “and wine that gladdens the heart of man / to make faces shine brighter than oil, and bread that sustains the heart of man.”

Water is life–clearly something the psalmist realized in the semi-arid climate of Israel. Which is why for me, anyway, baptism is about far more than a symbolic cleansing. Baptismal water reminds us that water is the how God has designed His creation to bring us physical life. Without it we are dead. And how the waters of baptism bring us New Life.

Judges 8: Gideon, triumphant over Midean, is “upbraided violently” by the Ephramites, who had wanted to join the battle for its spoils. When Gideon points out that “God has given into your hands the captains of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb;” (3) and “their anger against him subsided.” This is a classic case of wanting more, even though the  Ephraimites had plenty already. Gideon then crosses the Jordan, “he and the three hundred who were with him, exhausted and famished.” (5). The people of Succoth refuse to give him bread because he has not yet captured  Zebah and Zalmunna, the kings of Midian. Gideon vows vengeance: “I will trample your flesh on the thorns of the wilderness and on briers.”  (7) The same refusal for bread for his troops happens at Penuel, and Gideon vows to throw down their tower when he returns. Gideon captures the kings and carries out his threat on Succoth and Penuel.

Was Gideon just being vindictive? To an extent, yes. But Succoth and Penuel are us: we are never satisfied. Even when God did great things through Gideon, these people were dissatisfied; it was insufficient; they wanted more. Even when Jesus did great things, the Pharisees were dissatisfied; it was not enough. Even when great things happen in a church community through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are still dissatisfied; it is not enough.

Gideon’s leadership is so impressive that all Israel wants him to be king,“Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also.” Gideon refuses but asks for some of the booty. The enthusiastic contribution adds up to one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold. But then Gideon does something deeply disturbing, “Gideon made an ephod of it and put it in his town, in Ophrah; and all Israel prostituted themselves to it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and to his family” (27).

Even the finest leader will fail.  He became corrupted, I think, both by the great victories and by the fawning of the crowd. As we marketers say, Gideon began to believe his own press releases. The cryptic line, it became a snare” pretty much says it all. Gideon believe it was his accomplishment; not God’s. The fleece-laying Gideon had been subsumed by his ego.  The kings of Israel that eventually followed Gideon sinned the same way. “Sinned” in the sense of separating themselves from God; placing themselves at the center. We look at the many charismatic church leaders who have fallen in our time and see Gideon. But too often, we do not see ourselves.

Luke 20:9-19:  There is nothing hidden about the parable of the wicked tenants. The slaves who were sent are the prophets; and Jesus is claiming to  “the beloved son” is pretty obvious. It is a barely concealed description of the corrupted leadership of Israel, and the leadership recognizes that and “When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour,” (19). 

We shake our heads and excoriate the leaders for not “getting it.” But it is also a parable for us. How many slaves have we tossed out, including tossed out of churches? How many people, who have Jesus in there heart, are like the beloved son have we rejected as “Jesus-obsessed” or naive and we have discounted or even dismissed?

The state of American culture–and even in the institutional church– is not far from the Israel of Gideon’s–and Jesus’– time. We have rejected the slaves and prophets and warning; we seem to be in the process of rejecting the Beloved Son.

I have always tended to laugh at those who say “judgement is coming.” But now I’m not so sure. I don’t think it will be an apocalyptic event, but the slow acid of corruption in the name of “fairness” and “tolerance,” disguising our intrinsic self-centered pride. Like Gideon we have our own ephods. Like Israel, we fall away in our ultimate failure to recognize ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’.  God forbid.

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