Sermon

Judges 6:11-24a

Foolish Suggestions

By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker

What sort of suggestions
can we expect to hear from God?
Let’s consider this question.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

He’s the sort of preoccupied young guy
whose usual expression is a scowl,
especially when he’s working.

And he’s working today.
He wishes his work was outside, in the open air,
but it is not.
He works inside,
in a space too small for what he does.
It’s like trying to dance the polka
in a broom closet!
There in that cramped space,
he’s busy at his job,
and he’s busy feeling sorry for himself.

It’s then that the stranger appears.
Someone he’s never seen before.
Someone with the look of heaven in his eyes,
someone with a message to deliver.
“Gideon!” the stranger says.
“You are a brave man,
and the Lord is with you!
Use your strength,
use your strength to rescue your people!”

Gideon stops working.
“Who, me?” he asks.
“You’ve got the wrong number, pal.
That’s a job for somebody.
I’m nobody!
Even my parents say so.
Besides, saving this people–
well, that’s a laugh.
I know all those old legends
about how the Lord brought us out of Egypt,
how he did plenty of signs and wonders,
but this is modern times!
That stuff doesn’t happen any more.
The Lord’s lost our address.
He’s closed our account.”

Back and forth they banter for a while.
Talking with the stranger
feels better than working.
But his suggestion is foolish.
Gideon can’t picture himself as some hero.
One experience of futility after another
has been the story of his life.
What’s the use of trying?

But something about the stranger
makes him think again.
“After all,
what do I have to lose?”
And so a faint glimmer of hope
begins to shine inside Gideon.

He offers the stranger something to eat.
It’s not much:
bread, meat, soup.
He fixes it up real nice,
but the stranger doesn’t eat it.
He ZAPS it!
Nothing’s left but ashes,
and when the smoke clears,
the stranger’s nowhere to be seen.

Gideon had what some people call
a religious experience, an epiphany.
He doesn’t call it anything.
His mouth just hangs open.

Shaken by what has occurred,
he now sees his ordinary workplace
as a holy spot.
He starts back to his job,
and thinks that just maybe
he could try to rescue his people.

To make a long story short,
Gideon does rescue his people;
he becomes a hero.
With just three hundred men,
he sends an enormous foreign army
fleeing for their lives.
He takes advantage of this army’s fear
through non-violent tactics, a clever ruse.
The victory is not his;
it belongs to the Lord who inspires him.

Finally,
after seven long years of trouble,
his people are free once more.
They want to make him king,
but he refuses,
insisting that the Lord alone is king.

That’s the story of Gideon,
a preoccupied young man
with a scowl on his face,
who becomes his people’s hero.
It was all due to his willingness
to follow a foolish suggestion,
one that came from the Lord.

We see this same pattern and something more
in another story,
one about Jesus and Simon Peter
and a large catch of fish.

Simon the fisherman
is in his element.
Boats are part of his business.
He has the sunburn and the muscles to prove it.
He’s let a new rabble-rousing rabbi
use his boat as a floating pulpit
to speak to the crowd on the shore.
This young rabbi, Jesus by name,
is done talking,
and asks Simon to put out into deep water.
No doubt he wants to leave the crowd behind,
and so Simon obliges.

Then the rabbi tells Simon,
“Let down your nets for a catch.”
A foolish suggestion!
What’s this landlubber talking about?
All through the night Simon worked,
and has nothing to show for it.
The area’s empty of fish.
The nets have been painstakingly washed
and put away.
Besides, now is the wrong time of day
to start fishing.
You can’t expect a miracle.

But this rabbi sounds right,
and so Simon tosses out the nets.
This familiar task now feels novel.
He’s doing what he’s done
so many times before,
but now it is an act of obedience.

Moments later,
his boat tips to one side,
and looking down into the water,
Simon sees his net alive with fish,
more than he’s ever taken,
the sort of catch that dreams are made of.

It’s all so wrong,
his fisherman experience tells him!
Fish by the hundreds
don’t crowd into a net,
at that place, at that hour of the day.
Yet it’s all so right:
two boats are needed
to haul this catch to shore.
It’s enough to make tough old fishermen
wide-eyed with wonder.

Simon’s boat
and these familiar waters
are now a holy spot,
all because of the rabbi’s command.
Awestruck,
the burly fisherman falls at the feet of the rabbi,
begs him to leave.
Simon fears he will be blinded
by eternal brightness.

Then Jesus ups the ante.
Fish are fine, but Simon has a new task.
Jesus will leave,
but Simon’s to follow.
He’s to catch people instead,
and by catching them
to set them free,

These stories of Simon and Gideon
reveal a pattern,
a pattern that occurs in our lives as well.

Wherever it is we spend the bulk of our time,
in that familiar workplace,
there on our own turf,
a word of grace and power is spoken
directly to us.
Will we hear it?

Simon paid attention
after a night of failed fishing.
Gideon paid attention
with a scowl on his face.
Sorrow may make us receptive.
It is mourners who are blessed.

We hear this word of grace and power
as though it were a foolish suggestion.
Yet this suggestion uncovers in us and in the world
possibilities beyond our imagining.
This suggestion carries
God’s hope for us,
a hope so great and generous
that it seems foolish in our eyes.

Futility has been our lot
one time after another,
and we want no more.
Thus we rebel against the suggestion,
we feel too wise to follow it,
lest it prove futile like so much else.
Rescuing a nation,
letting down the nets,
forgiving old injuries,
abandoning stale comforts,
engaging in unfamiliar service,
daring to change and grow and blossom–
each of these appears to us as dead-end fantasy,
a suggestion remarkably foolish.

But something happens.
A faint glimmer begins to shine.
Hope ambushes us.
Reluctantly we listen.

We set out
to do what we must do,
bear what we must bear.
The foolish suggestion leads to undeniable reality.
People are rescued.
Fish are caught.
Grace becomes tangible.

Wherever it is you spend the bulk of your time,
in that place you know so well,
God is attempting to address you.

To Gideon he said:
“You are a brave man.
Use your strength,
use your strength to rescue your people!”

To Simon he said;
“Put out in deep water,
and let down your nets for a catch.”

What foolish suggestion
is the Lord making to you?

I have spoken to you in the name of the God
who is not yet done making foolish suggestions:
the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Copyright 2004 Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.