Between Zechariah and Gideon

After reading Luke 1 a couple of times recently, I was convicted about how Zechariah the priest was so shocked that an angel showed up to intervene in his life and give a message of great blessing from God to this old dude, religious leader of the people. They didn’t just let anybody into the place in the temple where Zechariah encountered Gabriel. I think I was doubly convicted as I read this through most recently with people who are not Christians who are actively looking for God to show up in their lives. My worldview and my role is one that should be constantly expecting God to show up.

I met up with one of those new friends to read the Bible again this past Friday morning, and we got on the topic of archetypal stories. She’d read something that said every story every told has an origin story somewhere in the Bible. Knowing that The Lion King was a version of Hamlet, she asked me what Bible story I thought would have been the inspiration or archetype of Hamlet. I’m ready for feedback on this one from others familiar with the Bible, but the one that came to mind was Gideon. I flipped to Judges chapter 6 and summarized some context before reading portions of the Gideon story with my friend. She’d never heard about this cowardly young guy in the tribe of Naphtali who was reluctant to take his role as the leader of an army to avenge the oppression of his people despite being clearly called to this role.

As I’m prone to do, I got excited telling the story and carried on to share some of my favourite sermon insights from fifteen years ago. My first year at Multnomah, Dr. Lockwood gave a weekly chapel message from the book of Judges. A few of those sermons have stuck with me more than nearly any other church or chapel messages in my life. Two of them were related to Gideon (actually, three, but I only excitedly shared about two of them in this conversation). The first one was in the final culling of the army Gideon led against the Midanites. Dr. Lockwood said that while most surface interpretations of those who lap the water were not paying attention to their surroundings and thus Gideon kept the 300 most alert warriors, he believed in his old age that a more thoughtful reading recognised that the old men were not agile enough to get their face to the water easily and would kneel down and bring cupped hands filled with water to their face. God picked the 300 bravest but weakest of the 32,000 people who originally turned up to fight. They were the men who believed God could win this battle, and God knew he’d only get credit through their weakness. The next sermon was on the end of Gideon’s life when he made a golden ephod and drifted away from God.

This man who had encountered angels up close and seen the hand of God in undeniable ways ends his life leading people astray with this fancy garment culturally designed for priestly divination. I can still remember Dr. Lockwood speaking with such compassion as he related to the man who had such powerful and profound experiences with God craved that supernatural presence again and sought it out through desperate and unhealthy means. He’s the opposite extreme from Zechariah who was born into the duty of wearing the sacred ephod and encountering God in the proper time and place but doubted God’s power when it showed up in his own life. To be fair, Gideon famously doubted at first as well, but it’s this sad ending that I see his sad desperation to live from miracle to miracle instead of letting the peace of those supernatural moments carry through peace in the natural seasons of life.

Jesus told the pharisees that the wouldn’t get a miracle out of him for the sake of a miracle. He transformed lives powerfully and profoundly, but it wasn’t about a show. Jesus, God incarnate, came to restore, to heal, and to make God famous. He wasn’t here for the temporary emotional high.

As I look at the emotional highs of my life, I can think about how easy it was to follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings. It’s not as easy to discern in ordinary times. And yet when I think of the church calendar that has the biggest bulk of green weeks to mark what we call “ordinary time,” I wonder whether I’m striking the right balance between Zechariah and Gideon. I want to be expectant of God’s movements, but I don’t want to live so distracted by searching for the supernatural that I miss the miracle of trees dancing in the wind. The Bible tells us that creation is made to glorify God – nature does that on its own, so am I paying attention to that? There are also the moments in my life that are easy to attribute to God because of my worldview like when someone prayed for me to walk and felt inclinded to tell me to wiggle my toes without knowing I did that every morning and evening but my very first toe wiggle in 347 days happend that next morning. When I told that story to a friend with a different worldview, he was inclined to call that a happy coincidence rather than an act of God.

After my brief Bible study, I headed down the street to help (as much as I could) set up for the youth group Christmas dinner. It’s hard to call this ordinary time as even the chuch calendar puts us in a different colour for four weeks of Advent, but I also was running the event and trying to find the balance between the administrative tasks of getting tables, plates, food, games, certificates, and all sorts of details in between arranged properly and the spiritual signifiance of presenting the Gospel message to a room full of high school students who come from a range of encounters with Jesus. Things just hit different knowing that for some of these young people they haven’t grown up with associating Christmas with the “message of good news to the poor” that Jesus came to fulfill from the prophet Isaiah. I ended the night incredibly grateful for my team of parents and leaders who managed to pull off such a great event and with a robust checklist for next year to run even more smoothly.

There were no angelic beings showing up in our youth group gathering, but one of my youth leaders also volunteers with the children’s service Sunday mornings and played a beautiful angel in the Christmas play this morning. I don’t need Donna to fly or shoot sparkles out her fingers to know she’s got the Holy Spirit at work transforming her life and leading her to disciple young people in our church as she has been discipled through her younger years. She’s comfortably in between the unexpectant Zechariah and the desperate Gideon. I hope I’m a role model of the same.

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