Never Go Camping With Jael

Sermon Text – 10.14.2018 [Judges 4:17-23 and Proverbs 31:17-19, 30]

          In the 1950’s C.S. Lewis wrote a series of fantasy novels called the Chronicles of Narnia, a few years back they made a few of them into movies. In the land of Narnia there are all sorts of fictional creatures like fawns and dwarves and centaurs, the trees move and the world is just full of magic – where anything seems possible. But one of the more delightful features was that the regular animals – like you might find in our world can talk. All the animals of Narnia speak. Well, at least, in most of the books. The most famous book is The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – where four young children travel to Narnia to help defeat the evil queen, and along the way they make lots of friends with some of the woodland animals, all of whom can speak. In the next book, called Prince Caspian, the four children travel back to Narnia – only to find that over a thousand years have gone past and Narnia is a very different place. Humans have come in and taken over the world. And there’s a scene in the movie, which is also in the book – where they happen upon a bear. And because they are used to talking, intelligent animals, they introduce themselves – but suddenly the bear charges at them, roaring fiercely. And to protect themselves, a dwarf named Trumpkin shoots the bear. One of the children, Susan asks, “Why wouldn’t he stop?” Trumpkin responds, I suspect he was hungry. The children ask all sorts of questions, “He was wild, I don’t think he could talk at all.” But then Trumpkin explains, “You get treated like a dumb animal long enough, that’s what you become. You may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember.” The idea being that all animals used to be able to talk, but humanity treated them poorly for so long – they became lesser. You get treated like a dumb animal long enough – and that’s what you become.

          Last week we started our new sermon series called The “Gentler” Sex in which we will be learning some lessons from the deadliest women of the bible. Last week we took a look at the story of Jezebel and we spent some time talking about the influences around us, and how movies and tv and music and even people can change who we are. You get treated like a dumb animal long enough – and that’s what you become. Did you know that women with full-time jobs make only 77% of what men make? If you want to work in the home, that’s a wonderful thing – that’s a beautiful thing. But if you choose to work for money, shouldn’t you get just as much as a man? In our world, 62 million girls are still denied education because they are female. 4 out of 5 human trafficking victims are girls. 20% of women, 1 in 5 on college campuses have experienced sexual assault.[1] There are less women in college, less women CEO’s, Presidents, Politicans, and just about every other job. Now I know the response – not enough women apply for those jobs – it’s nobody’s fault that women don’t apply, they don’t even try. But that’s sort of my point. Through the cultural expectations of a broken world we teach girls to avoid those positions. We teach girls to avoid Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics – never with our words, but always with our expectations. You get treated like a dumb animal long enough…  If I have found one thing in my life, it’s that the world seems specifically designed to squish people. To destroy dreams and wipe out hope, crush talent and hide abilities. And what I have found is that if the world is so set on squishing people, particularly women, then the church must be a place to lift people up, particularly women. Today we are going to talk about defying the expectations of a broken world.   

          And to do that, we will be looking at chapter four of judges – at the story of Jael. But before we get to Jael, we need to back up a little bit to understand why she does what she does. I hope you all are starting to pick up on the method of understanding the bible. Most of the time, to understand a story in the bible, you gotta read the stuff before and after it to really “get” it. So we back up to the beginning of chapter 4, and we meet Deborah. Deborah is an amazing character, she is the fourth judge of Israel and she is so inspiring. Verse 4, [read 4-5]. So she was this great leader of Israel, this is before they had kings, and she served as a judge. But there’re a few other characters we need to know. First, we have King Jabin. Jabin is the Canaanite king, and at this point the Canaanite’s have control over Israel, and the leader of his army is a guy named Sisera. So our bad guys are King Jabin and his general Sisera. Then, over on the Israelite side we have Deborah the leader and Judge of Israel, and her general – a guy named Barak. And the time has come for God to set his people free. They are going to fight off the Canaanite’s and be free from their oppressive rule. And so Deborah tells Barak, assemble your armies – get me 10,000 warriors and we will have victory over them. Verse 8, [read it]. So Barak, this great military leader for Israel, will not go into battle unless Deborah leads the army herself. So she agrees, the next verse, [read it]. The Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman. Which we assume is going to be Deborah – because she’s the big leader, the famous judge. Verse 14 the battle begins, [read 14-15]. So Deborah leads the army, Barak leads the charge, but the enemy general, Sisera escapes on foot. Deborah and  Barak are busy fighting everyone else, but Sisera gets away.
       And then we get to our scripture lesson for today, and it starts, [read. V.17-18]. So Sisera goes to Jael’s tent, because her husband is buddies with King Jabin, the Canaanite king. He assumes that she is powerless. He assumes that she can’t do anything. He tells her, Go stand at the door and if anyone asks who is in your tent – lie for me. And then verse 21, [read it]. Whew, so that’s horrifying. But as a result Jael becomes the VERY unlikely hero of this story. Let’s walk through the layers of expectations here. First, everyone thought God would give the victory to a man. Barak is the general of the armies – so he will get the glory. But then he insists that Deborah come with him. And so in verse 9, remember what it said? Deborah said, “I will go with you, but you don’t get credit – for the Lord’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a woman.” Which we all assumed was Deborah. This is the second layer of expectation – She’s the famous woman. She’s the fancy, powerful, strong woman. But as the story shows, God’s victory over Sisera will be at the hands of a  regular woman – Not a man, Not a famous woman like Deborah, no – God’s victory came at the hands of Jael. The world assumed she was powerless, and look at the way Sisera treated her, obviously he expected her to be powerless but even with her lack of power – she still got him pegged.

          I have some very good news for ya’ll this morning. God overcomes the world. See, what we find in this story is that all throughout it – there was no doubt that God was going to get the job done. In fact, all the pieces come together in sort of a bizarre back and forth question about who gets the credit for the battle. Is it going to be Deborah, no Barak, no back to Deborah, and then Jael. The question was never – is it going to get done? The question was only how. We never doubted God was going to overcome. And so the good news about our good God this morning is that God overcomes the world. Sometimes in life we are facing an issue, we have this obstacle in front of us – and we don’t know how we are going to make it through. Take a second, think about your life. You ever have an issue, and you don’t see the end of the story? Car breaks down or unexpected hospital bills and you don’t know how you’re going to pay for it? Kids are struggling in school, in class or maybe with bullies or something – and you don’t know how it’s going to come together? You’re struggling in your marriage – there is something between you two and you don’t know how you can possibly overcome it. Maybe you struggle with a habit, alcohol, weight issues, or drugs – something is messing up your life and you don’t know how you can possibly overcome it. Here is the good news the bible has for you today – the question is never if, but rather how. The question is never IF God will win the battle, He’s gonna win the battle. The question is how that will happen – what will he use to overcome? God will overcome the world. Now, I’m not saying it’s going to be easy. It’s going to be hard. REALLY hard for some of the issues, but part of our walk with God is learning to trust him. To remember and cling to the assurance that God will overcome this world – and all that garbage that we are dealing with in it. To look at the future and think, okay – me and God, together – we can do this.

      Actually, that’ s the next step. We know God will overcome, we don’t know how, we don’t know what it’s going to cost or take but we trust God will overcome. But the next thing to realize is that God overcomes the world THROUGH YOU. You are God’s grand plan to save the world! C.S. Lewis (I’ve got kinda of a Lewis vibe today) once said, “For He [God] seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye.” Basically, what he is saying is that God could solve all the problems of the world right now. He could do it instantly, and he could probably do it better than anyone else. Okay, think about the things you are going through. Say you’re dealing with a struggle at work. If Jesus was here in the room, he could probably sit down with you and look deep into your eyes with those crystal clear baby blues and that perfect flowy hair and tell you exactly what you needed to hear in that moment. But that’s not how God works. For some reason, a reason only God understands, some divine reason that I do not understand – instead of fixing everything instantly – God chooses to delegate that task to us. He encourages and even commands us to fix the world in our slow, blundering, messy, imperfect way. God takes our imperfect efforts and makes them perfect. So when you’re going through a mess at work, or whatever – and you ask God for answers. It’s not Italian Jesus who is going to plop down next to you with what you need to hear – it’s going to be your broken friend who sits two pews down that God chooses to work through.  For some reason, he has chosen to include us in his work, to lift up our efforts and make them higher than just our efforts. Like I said before, you are God’s master plan to save the world. You are the A-Team for God.
     Now, I know what you’re thinking. Sometimes I just wish he would fix all my problems for me. Wouldn’t it be nice if Italian Jesus showed up and told me exactly what I needed to hear to live my life perfectly and fix all my problems? Then I wouldn’t have to deal with all these other…broken people. Ugh. Have you ever felt this way? Why would God overcome the world through me? I’m too broken. The mistakes I’ve made, I try to be good, but then I screw up again and I just – God shouldn’t use me. I’m not good enough to be used by God. I’m not capable, I’m not trained, I’m not… enough for God. Do you think Jael had doubts? Do you think she ever thought about just sitting back in her tent, let Sisera pass by, let Deborah handle it – right? Let the famous woman take care of the big issues, I’ll just – I’ll just stay in my tent. Or, even if Sisera had come and fallen asleep – she could have just waited for Barak. She could have let someone else handle it. I’m too weak, I’m just a woman, I’m just a kid, I’m just some guy from the middle of the UP, I’m just – too weak, too nothing to make a difference in God’s world. There was another guy who felt that way in the bible. His name was Paul, maybe you’ve heard of him – he wrote most of the new testament. 2 Corinthians 12, verse 9 says [read 9-10]. It would be so handy, to use my weakness as an excuse, a reason to sit back and let God do the work better than me so I can sit back and do nothing with my life. I mean, I got a lot of stuff in my Netflix queue to catch up on. I can hear your excuses. I’m just a kid. I’m just one man. I’m not smart enough. I’m not brave enough. I’m not strong enough. I’m just a woman. And to every single excuse, verse 9 [read it again]. It is more glorious for God to do His good work through you in this world. Whether you are strong or weak, your real strength comes from God – and God overcomes the world. God loves working with broken people. How do I know – I work in a church! We specialize in broken people overcoming evil and doing something good, doing something godly with their lives. This is not just a message for women, although I hope the women here are paying attention. The “weaker” the tool, the more glory to God. My power works best in weakness – God loves working with you in your weakness, in your strength, whatever you’ve got to bring God uses that to overcome the broken world.
   This drives me crazy, and so I have to share. Let me ask you – where does your strength come from? What makes you strong? What makes you valuable? [Pull out a dollar bill] What makes this dollar bill strong? The world has a lot of answers. A lot of garbage answers. What makes a woman strong? The world says – Her beauty. [smear lip-stick on the dollar bill]. Did I just make it more valuable? What makes a woman strong? The world says – finding the right man. So here, I’ll put another dollar next to it. Did I make this one more valuable? Is this dollar bill better now? The answer is no – women are fine by themselves. You don’t need beauty. You don’t need a boyfriend. What makes my dollar strong? The world says – fame, influence, social media. So I’ll take a picture of this dollar bill, and it will go viral, and get a hundred million likes – does that make it more valuable? Does that make it stronger? There’s nothing wrong with beauty, or having someone in your life, or being popular – but that is not where strength comes from. Because all of that can be stripped away. Strength comes to us in moments of weakness, moments of vulnerability. Strength comes to us from God. I’m talking to everybody now – You are a child of God, and God comes to you as you are – and lifts you up.   

          Look, there’s a reason I keep calling it the “broken” world. I’m not going to sugar-coat it – the world is not fair. The world is NOT equal. In fact, if you study things like institutional racism and sexism in our culture you find that there are systems in our social construct that are specifically designed to keep the status quo and keep some groups of people over others. And I hate that – can I say that? As a Christian I have found compelling evidence in the bible that the kingdom of God has true equality – and so I hate that this world is not equal. But it’s not! I’m not going to pretend. The world has low expectations for women. The world has low expectations for the people they consider weak. But God is different, God has high expectations for the weak. Because in my weakness, God is strong. That’s such good news! And so here is my challenge for you today – men and women – defy the expectations of a broken world. If the world ever tells you that you are not enough, if the world ever tells you that it only matters what you look like, I want you to prove them wrong. If the world puts limits on who you are, I want you to turn to the unlimited God of love. I want you to cling tight to the God who does believe in you and together you can overcome whatever brokenness is in your life. The world doesn’t believe in you. They say, “you can’t overcome alcohol, or drugs or some other sort of addiction” – we expect you to fail – defy that expectation. They say, “you can’t overcome the problems in your marriage. You can’t heal the brokenness. We expect you to get divorced.” Defy that expectation.  They say, “girls shouldn’t do this, or shouldn’t do that.  They’re not smart enough. They’re not strong enough. They can’t. They are weak. They are not equal.” Defy that expectation. Rise above. Do better. Look, we can whine about the inequalities of this world, or we can do something about it. And I’m tired of whining.

      Proverbs 31, the second half of the chapter is a description of a godly woman, a virtuous woman. It says, [read v.17-19]. Now we talked about this last week, it’s not actually about twisting fiber. A lot of us don’t make our own clothes anymore – but that’s not the point. A godly person works hard. So all of you, rich, poor, man, woman, weak, strong, – work hard, because God is going to do great things through you. God doesn’t care about the expectations of the world. God doesn’t care about the different categories or the labels that the world uses – like strong or weak. God cares about you. Work hard, even in an unfair world, because that’s not going to stop God. In your weakness, I am strong. God overcomes the evil of this world – through you. 

          Jael defied the expectations of her world, and became the most unlikely of heroes. It’s inspiring. I still wouldn’t go camping with her with, with all those tent stakes around – but still, it’s inspiring. As I said in the beginning, what I have found in my life is that if the world is so set on squishing people, particularly women – then the church must be a place to lift people up, particularly women. And so I’ll leave you with this. No matter what you are going through. No matter who the world expects you to be. May you never forget that God overcomes the expectations of the world through you. Amen.   [1]

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