Today is the first of a three part sermon series on faith, hope and love. In the next two Sundays, Pastor Drew will talk about hope and love. Today, the topic is faith, what faith is and what it looks like. For a scripture, I have chosen the story of Gideon in the Book of Judges. I love the characters in the Old Testament. They are earthy and real, full of strengths and flaws, as we all are. Gideon’s story tells us about faith.
Gideon lived in a scary time in Israel’s history. They were being oppressed by the Midianites, who were terrorizing them and burning the crops. The Israelites had to hide away in caves to survive. Gideon is hiding in a wine press when an angel appears to him. The angel says, “You are a mighty warrior. God wants you to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian.” Gideon laughs in response. He doesn’t see himself as a mighty warrior. If there ever was a reluctant leader, it was him.
He proposes a test to see if the angel is for real. He puts a blanket on the ground. If the blanket is wet with dew in the morning, but the ground is dry, then he will know the angel is telling the truth. Sure enough, that’s what happens. But Gideon is still unsure, so he reverses the test: make the ground wet with dew, and the blanket dry in the morning. The angel sighs and agrees. And so it is in the next morning. Gideon knows it’s truly an angel speaking to him. He gathers an army together, and they go out to fight the Midianites. In our scripture today, the battle is about to begin.
Let’s stop for a minute and talk about battles. We see battles play out in the news. Battles in Iraq. Battles in Missouri. Even battles in the mind of a depressed person who takes his own life. The world is full of battles.
And our lives are full of battles. There’s an old saying, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” The woman who rings up your groceries at the store is fighting a great battle. The man who changes the oil on your car is fighting a great battle. Many of you here today are fighting battles too. Some battles are with people in our lives, a friend or family member who is driving us crazy. Some battles are with things in our lives, a leaky roof or a budget that doesn’t cover all expenses. Some battles are with our own body – usually our body is our oldest friend, but sometimes it becomes our enemy. We may not be facing the same kind of battle that Gideon faced, but we face our own battles. We know the fear and the struggle that a battle brings.
Even though Gideon is afraid, he is comforted by his large army of 32,000 men. There is strength in numbers, he thinks. But then God tells him his army is too large. He is to send anyone home who wants to leave. Two-thirds of his army goes home. But he still has 10,000. And that is still too many for God. So God devises a test. (Earlier Gideon tested God; now God tests Gideon!) God has him take all his soldiers down to the river to drink. Most reach down and cup the water with their hands, but a few hundred kneel all the way down and lap the water like a dog. This small group of lappers, only 300, are the ones God wants to fight Midian. The rest are sent home. God has reduced the size of Gideon’s army by 99 percent. Not so much strength in numbers anymore! The Midianites number many thousands.
Why did God do this? In a word, God wanted Gideon to have faith. God wanted Gideon to learn to trust, to trust in God’s resources rather than his own numbers. God is teaching Gideon about faith.
John Wesley said that faith is a disposition of the heart. An orientation of the heart, an attitude of the heart. A heart with faith is a heart that looks to God and God’s resources first because whatever resources we have or think we have can evaporate in a moment. Faith always looks to God first. God comes through for Gideon; he will defeat the Midianites in a dramatic nighttime encounter. God promises to come through for us as well in the battles we face.
There is a great scene in the third Indiana Jones movie, the one where they are searching for the Holy Grail. Jones has come through a narrow passage, and he stands at the edge of a great chasm. There is no way he can get across. But he must get across to find the Grail. He checks his book to see if he is in the right place. He is. He can’t go back; he must go forward. So he takes a deep breath and steps out in faith. The picture for an instant shows his foot, hanging out in the air over nothing. Then he steps down on something solid. A bridge. An invisible bridge right in front of him. He couldn’t see it because the pattern of rock on it blended in with the far wall of the cavern. He walks across the bridge and finds the Grail.
I have shifted the metaphor from a battle to a bridge, but the idea is the same. Some of you today are facing a great chasm in your life, and you have no idea how to get across. But there is an invisible bridge before you. It is the very love of God, and it will carry you across. It is a bridge visible only to the eyes of faith. There is a scripture in Romans 8 that I love, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
When we face a battle in life, faith tells us God is our best ally who will be our strength in the struggle. And when we face a chasm in life, faith tells us God’s love is an invisible bridge that will carry us safely across.