Fleece
Friar John Ogle, SF

Judges 6: 31-40                   St. Peter’s Church       Last Pentecost A     26 November 2017

          I guess its okay to tell you what happened Thursday night. You know .. Thanksgiving.  I don’t mean the turkey and stuffing and cranberries … the whole kind .. not the sauce.. pumpkin pie .. but I digress. What happened Thursday night was the Redskins vs the Giants. The Giants .. you know .. the guys that ended our season last year ..are really, really terrible this year. They’ve won two games. I figured .. my Skins will rock ‘em. Didn’t happen. It was really kind of terrible.

          Do you know what it means to “throw out a fleece?” A fleece involves selecting an arbitrary or unrelated sign that actually attempts to force God’s hand by causing him to reveal the future. Here’s how it works. (I don’t think I’m the only one that has done it.) You’re faced with a choice ..maybe the job you’ve got and an offer for a new one. You pray and consider and put it in God’s hands.

          But then you think, and get impatient and figure ..I’ll know how I’ll know what God thinks I should do. Your mind devises a confirmation. You are throwing out a fleece ..what the sign will be is kind of up to you and your imagination. Things as idiotic as .. I’ll know which job to take if mom makes waffles instead of pancakes. I’ll know I’m right if the next traffic light turns amber when I get there.

          So .. back to Thursday night. I had been sitting on the middle cushion of the sofa and that wasn’t working .. so I have this thing I do with the TV mute button .. if we have the ball .. I listen ..  when they have the ball I mute. Mute button in my steady hand ..as unflinching as Kirk Cousins .. things began to pick up and the Skins scored and it was 10-3 and, and in the end .. 20- 10.  Sounds silly because it is silly. I could have gone to bed and the game would have ended with the same score. Coincidence isn’t a sign from God.

          It’s not wrong to ask for a sign from God if you’re asking for guidance as to the next step you should take. “God, show me your will for my life”  No, you’re just asking God to do what he said he would do— to guide you ..show you the next step. When you try shifting responsibility from yourself to God you’re destroying the need for faith.

          C.S. Lewis wrote “Experience: that most brutal of teachers .. but you learn, my God do you learn.” Not so with the Israelites. God was relentless in offering his forgiveness and grace to His people .. who didn’t seem to deserve it, or even appreciate it, even after they have been saved by it .. not once, twice or three times .. but over and over .. hundreds of  years. They gave up on God. Idolatry overwhelmed their lives. They had a covenant with God yet they were blinded by their lack of true faith.

          So God, in His mercy, raised up judges to rescue Israel and He did it again and again.  Enter Gideon. He is one of 12 judges mentioned in the book of Judges. The Israelites have once again sinned “doing evil in the site of the Lord.” They’re worshiping Baal and Asherah and Canaanite Gods. So the Lord has given them over to the Midianites and their allies the Amalekites ..a whole lot of them.

 

The Israelites cry out to God to save them. He sends an angel to tell Gideon he is the prophet who will do just that. And Gideon pulls down the altars of the bogus gods under cover of darkness. And then, at God’s instruction, blows a trumpet to assemble a fighting force. Next day, he looks out at a valley full of enemies “Their camels could not be counted,” he says, “they were as innumerable as the sand on the seashore” and he wonders .. “what am I  doin’ here ..what in the world was I thinking when I blew that trumpet and gathered this posse to fight that swarm of locusts? His courage falters.

          That night .. Gideon is tossing and turning …and he asks for a sign to let him know that it is ..in fact God .. who’s guiding him. He doesn’t seem to misunderstand the will of God ..that had been made very clear .. what he’s saying is  “Do you really intend to use me to deliver Israel, as you promised” ..so he’s certain it is God talking to him… what Gideon  appears to be struggling with is the idea the God was going to deliver Israel through him and his little band of merry men. He wants confirmation of God’s choice  .. not merely with words .. but with a sign.

2

Fleecing can be dangerous, misleading, manipulative and lead to a subjective faith in God. Fleecing is an attempt to stand at the fork of the road forever without making a decision. Therefore, it destroys the need for faith and decisive action.. We believe God’s purpose is to proclaim the good news of the Gospel .. we believe others will come to know him .. but we doubt .. why in the world would God choose me to do these things.  

Back to Gideon. The middle cushion on his sofa .. it turns out .. is  the fleece of a lamb. He tosses it on the ground and informs God that if he IS God’s chosen leader .. in the  morning .. the grass will have dew on it ..and the lamb skin won’t. That will verify God’s choice.

And ..God proves it with dew everywhere but on the fleece. It almost seems that wasn’t what Gideon thought would happen. So he tries his TV mute button .. he asks God to reverse the process the next night.  Dew on the fleece .. dry ground. Next morning ..there it is .. Proof. Gideon may still be shaking in his boots but he isn’t proud, arrogant or confident in his own abilities. Far from it. He’s scared to death .. but he IS clinging desperately to God.  Clinging desperately to God ..That’s was far better place to be …then .. and it is a far better place to be today.

Our society doesn’t agree. But, in God’s world it isn’t always the strong, the intellectual, the good looking and aggressive or “the lucky” who get the job done. In God’s world, sometimes, less is more, the seemingly weak are called to achieve His great purposes.  

           Look at us. We live in the age of political correctness .. people are afraid to say anything against anyone in fear of being sued or they don’t want appear to be too judgmental.  People can’t stand hearing that what they’re doing is wrong but that’s what we’re called to demonstrate with the way we live our Christian lives .. the way we treat each other ..and them. We know they’re getting “fleeced” right?
         

          God didn’t give the Israelites the ‘ten alternatives’, He gave them the Ten Commandments, and so it’s important to them ..and to us ..to know both the blessings of obedience and to understand the consequences of disobedience.

3

 

But, hey .. we’re not so bad …we don’t fall down and worship idols today. There are no graven images in our homes. Really? What we may fail to see is that the old gods ARE still with us today.  We simply tart them up ..update their appearance .. and they’ve adapted to our high tech - high communication times still claiming to offer meaning to life and still promising to provide and satisfy our personal desires. Our idols still demand wholehearted commitment from their worshippers. Okay,  you say, I feel that. What are these idols of the ME generation?   

 

          To name a few .. materialism, comfort, power, deceit and sexual immorality. The outcome of Israel’s impulsive behavior was the shocking reality that their real enemy became.. God Himself!

          And here we are. There’s a story in the news nearly every day that suggests that we’ve done the same thing in our country. God has been legislated out of our culture and out of our schools. We’re too clever .. too busy .. too self-absorbed for God.  

 

          God .. tried and tried with Israel and then, he sent his son to clear the slate .. Jesus did that on the cross. Our world is full of people who know that ..  but they figure it’s a free pass. Sin is forgiven .. so I can just go on sinning .. knowing I can be forgiven. It doesn’t work like that. To win the victory over sin and evil in our world .. we, like Gideon ..have to .. in faith .. put our big boy pants and bring it!

We must choose to learn to be faithful, loving and patient with each other as God is with us. If we pray each day .. we can do that. We can get closer to our loving, healing savior and admit to him that we’re lost and, in his mercy, he will save us.  

          When you try to shift responsibility from yourself to God you’re destroying the need for faith.  Here’s the truth. Here’s the Good News of the living, healing Jesus Christ. Here’s what Christ the King has to offer. If you, like Gideon, think I don’t feel like I measure up .. I’m not cool, courageous, or special. God says, ‘I know you have sinned but I love you so much, I sent my Son to die for you anyway.’  That’ll put the dew on your fleece. 4

          Don’t underestimate the power of God to use any one of us to do the job that needs doing in His name no matter how daunting the challenge may seem to be.

          One problem is that our society has so warped our understanding that we stay in spiritual diapers so we won’t have to take responsibility for our own decisions. God wants to bring us to the place where our trust is not in circumstances, not in things we can understand, not in fleeces, but in Him and Him alone. Faith in God ..apart from the circumstances, apart from our own scheming and manipulation, apart from fleeces ..nothing but faith in Him.

          We must make a choice. 

          Solomon wrote, in Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him; and he will make your paths straight.”  “In all your ways.” Not “in all your fleeces.” There is a difference and, believing that, can change the world.

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