Here’s my sermon. A sermon is an oral event, so please ignore the grammatically incorrect parts, and I do change things as I preach.
That’s not the half of it. What Nancy did a great job of telling you this morning reading our lesson isn’t the half of it. The story as told in our lectionary ends with Deborah (the judge), Deborah (the prophet), Deborah the woman telling the general to not only go out and wage war, but how to do it.
That’s a pretty gutsy lady even in this day and age. Although all sorts of other modern nations have had women heads of state (Pakistan, Great Britain, India, Iceland, Argentina) many still question the leadership of a woman. And Deborah was a judge thousands of years ago at a time and among a people allowed and encouraged men to polygamy having more than one wife. In some cultures, the majority of women were little more than property and a means to propagate, have children But getting back to the story, Deborah directs the general and his army to resist and fight the oppressor. That’s where our assigned reading ends. So, what do you think General Barak’s response is? Do you think he’s willing and eager to follow her words, to follow her instructions?
No he’s not. His response is, “Well if you go with me.” It’s his way of saying, I hope you’re right and to make sure you know what you’re talking about—you’re going with me. Now Deborah, as we should know by now, is a wise and feisty woman. She promises Barak that she’ll go with him, and she promises him another thing too. While he’ll win the battle, he won’t get the glory. That will go to a woman.
Well the teller of the stories of the book of Judges lets us know how the battle goes, and how God is with the underdog and they end up defeating the oppressing armies of soldiers and chariots. The battle goes so badly for the oppressors that the enemy general Sisera literally runs away. He is running for his life, when he sees an encampment. It looks to him that the folks there are friendly, so that’s where he heads. But as usual looks can be deceiving.
That ever happened to you? You know when you thought someone was your friend? You thought you could trust that friend, a co-worker, boyfriend, girlfriend, even a relative, or a spouse– only to discover to your dismay that you had seriously misjudged the relationship, seriously misjudged the other, and you end up getting as they say “stabbed in the back”.
Well it’s too bad, Sisera didn’t get a chance to really learn his lesson. As he runs into the camp he’s invited into one tent by a Jael. And wouldn’t you guess, she’s a she. Well Jael lets him come in, she gives him something to drink, she lets Sisera hide under her blankets. Thinking he’s safe, and probably a tad worn out too, with his defenses down, he falls asleep. And well here’s where the bible story goes once again beyond that good ol’ “G” rating. Jael grabs a tent spike and sends it right through Sisera’s skull and into the ground beneath his head.
Now you might not have thought that such exciting, action packed, and even gruesome stuff would be part or worship and nor part of the bible. You might even be wondering why this lesson was chosen for today, why some committee somewhere thought, Oh the Sunday before Christ the King, let’s toss just a portion of the story of Deborah into the lectionary. Wouldn’t that be nice.
Well, let’s be honest. There’s nothing nice about this story. It’s part of an all too familiar pattern. Within the book of Judges, the people of God repeatedly stray from God’s Way. They continually want to be like their neighbors. They think they can have it all. They want to get rich and not take care of the sick, the poor, the widows, the lost. They turned away from worshipping God and worshipped the gods and the ways of their neighbors. The refrain goes something like this, “the people again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord”. So, if the people want to be like all the rest, God’s gonna let them. If they want to live by their own rules; if they think violence can save them. Well let them give it a try. That’s the thing with our God. Expecting great things from us, God’s got to give us some freedom. The problem is all to often we either do nothing with it (like the problem in our gospel) or we do worse (abuse that freedom till the end result is nothing but pain, violence, and death).
A friend of mine used to say, if you can’t be a good example, at least you can be a horrible warning. Maybe that’s why this story and actually sadly to say, lots like it are in the bible and should be shared within the people of God. Just maybe we can learn from our ancestors. Just maybe we can see that we’ve gone down that road of violence before, we’ve gone down the road of common sense and easy fixes, and look what’s happened—we’ve gone down the road of everybody else is doing it. This isn’t just some quaint story about one or two particularly powerful woman. It’s about a people who don’t get it; who keep on not getting it; It’s a story for us to look honestly at, to see ourselves in all those crazy names, and to turn to another way—not the way of war or violence no matter who says it’s a good thing, no matter who says it’s the only way. Much like the original intent of celebrating Armistice Day on Nov.11th marking the end of the violence and bloodshed of World War I. This is how we should observe Veterans and Memorial Day—when some of our brothers, fathers, uncles, cousins, sons and daughters sacrifice life and limb, and peace and security. These days and more are the times when we should remember and reflect on the horror and pain that we inflict upon one another. And so, we as the church do not live in the world, do not just take advantage of holiday sales, days off. We hear the stories of Deborah, of Jael, of Sisera, and Barak, of men and women today always with Jesus’ words—blessed are the peacemakers, pray for your enemies and those who persecute you, no more an eye for an eye, but your enemy, one another, yourself, your lord– love and peace– in our hearts, on your minds, in our actions, and our words, in our prayers. Amen.