Sunday Service 24th Septempber
Call to worship
Hymn 246(JP): There are hundreds of sparrows
Time for all :Amanda
Hymn 292(JP): Wide, wide as the ocean
Reading Judges 4: 1-24
Hymn 262: For the world and all its people
Prayer of Dedication
Hymn 263: God of freedom
Welcome to our reflection for 24th September.
This is a tough passage we are looking at today.
Someone is killed, and the person doing it claims that they are following the will of God.
How should we react to that?
How should we judge if God is guiding us, or if we are following our own will?
And we will do after our prayer and reading today.
Remember, if you are struggling and you would like our prayer group to pray for you then please contact us at revjimalvakirk@gmail .com
Let us pray
You are a God of infinite power,
we often forget that; a God of creation, a God of supernovas and black holes that can destroy universes.
And yet you give us the confidence to approach you, bringing our bodies and minds to worship you this day.
If we are honest with ourselves, we do not understand your infinite wisdom or your workings but we are awed. The intricacies of a spiders web, the blinding colours of a sunset just remind us of the complexities of life that you have created...
Today we gather together to learn the stories of our forbearers,
some stories more familiar than others, some stories more frightening than others.
we trust your hand is at work even when we cannot make sense of life. And that in reflecting on these stories we may find insights beyond our own biases and prejudices. That we may see possibilities that we can learn from that help us in our own life...
Give us grace to approach whatever is in front of us today
with the resolve to do your will,
with the determination to live bravely
and boldly showing your love to the world, with a doggedness of commitment to your word and your purpose.
Forgive us when we fail to assist those in our community who need us through our own blindness or selfishness.
Forgive us when we say things we should not say and when we do not forgive others.
Most of all, forgive us when we fail to keep your commandments.
Great is your mercy, O Strong Deliverer, have mercy on us your people.
And in that mercy hear us as we say the words your son taught us to pray as a community
Which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil;
For thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever.
This is a really tough passage.
First of all we have Deborah initiating a war.
With many of the other stories in the book of Judges what happens is that the Israelite people are being attacked by the Philistines or the Moabites or some other group and a judge is raised up to help them defend themselves.
We have Jabin, who had been king for 20 years. He had created some peace allegiances with some of the Israelite tribes, like Heber, who was Moses’ brother in law.
But most of the Israelites looked at Jabin’s rule as oppressive.
After 20 years of this rule Deborah tells Barak to raise an army and it is the sudden appearance of this army on the edges of his territory that forces Jabin to send out his commander Sisera.
Now here is my theory of how the battle went.
Territory in those days was often marked by natural borders, like mountains, or rivers. In this case it was a river.
I suspect that the river had been in state and the surrounding area had for a while been flooded and was therefore quite muddy, poor land for chariots to be on as they could get stuck in the mud.
Sisera’s army, over dependant on chariots, and in their rush to face this army that had suddenly appeared, had not taken this into consideration so got stuck in the mud and instead of the chariots being superior to the foot soldiers of Israel, the chariots had instead become sitting ducks to be picked off.
Sisera escapes on foot and finds himself at the tent of his ally Heber.
Jael, Haber’s wife, takes Sisera into the tent and offers him hospitality.
While he is asleep she sticks a tent peg through his head.
Now here is what is uncomfortable about this passage.
Jael goes out to meet Sisera and bring him into the tent.
Jael hides him, we presume that she is hiding him from the Israelites, but they haven’t arrived yet.
The truth is she is hiding him from her husband, because if her husband saw Sisera he would be obliged by the hospitality expectations to protect Sisera, even to the life of his own family.
I think we have a tension here.
I think Jael feels she is trapped between a rock and a hard place.
Jael is Jewish so she feels Sisera represents the oppressors of the Israelite people.
But her husband has formed an allegiance to Sisera’s people, presumably to make things easier for his family, and for 20 years that has worked out.
But now this allegiance could bring disaster to her family.
Haber would be obligated to protect Sisera, and that obligation could get all his family killed when the Israelites, full of battle rage, come to his tent and see he is protecting their enemy.
So Jael goes out to meet Sisera before her husband can see him.
She greets him as if she is representing her husband and acts as if she is protecting him the way her husband would. And then when Sisera falls asleep she kills him with whatever is at hand, in this case a tent peg and a hammer.
The most uncomfortable thing about all of this...is that this is done in the name of God.
How are we supposed to interpret this?
Sometimes our problem with understanding scripture is that we look at the Bible in small chunks, and we try to make sense of it in small chunks.
We think an individual story is an individual story.
But that is not the case in Judges.
In the Book of Judges we have a message going through it that is very dark.
And that message is given throughout a series of deliberately connected stories which get darker and darker.
Let me give you the background.
The people have been slaves in Egypt and Moses and Joshua have led them out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
There they have settled, and settled in tribal areas throughout the land.
So a pattern is created which we see in the first few verses of this individual story.
After Elud died (who was the last judge to save Israel) the people of Israel sinned against the Lord again. So the Lord let them be conquered by a Canaanite king who ruled in the city of Hazor.
( After 20 years of oppression...) the people of Israel cried out to the Lord for help.
So we have a charismatic leader who the people follow.
The leader dies and the people do their own thing.
The end result of following their own path instead of God’s is that they end up in serious trouble.
After a long time they realise they can’t do anything about it and seek God’s help.
God then raises up a leader who they follow and the defeat the oppressor.
It is a simple pattern that is repeated again and again and again throughout the book of Judges.
The message seems simple; just stay following God’s path for you.
It may be a tough path but it is better than doing your own thing and getting into the terrible messes that you will find yourself in.
But there is an even darker message within judges.
You see if you read the book of Judges all the way through, each time the people fall away, they fall away deeper.
The Story of Deborah is near the start of Judges and at this point the judge, Deborah, is a decent person who cares about the whole community, she is available for all of them to seek help.
She is open to them and to God and presumably that is how she is open to God’s insight that the recently flooded river would make the perfect landscape to nullify the power of the heavy chariots.
Jael breaks the honoured customs of hospitality but it seems a small price to pay to protect her family...so we just let it go.
But it is like the thin edge of a wedge that gets bigger and bigger.
And as the book goes on each of the judges seems less decent than Deborah, and each of the transgressions that we let pass gets worse and worse.
By the time we get to the end of judges we again have the breaking of the hospitality customs, but this time the result in the gang rape and death of a Levites concubine,
and the Judges become people like Samson who don’t care about anybody except themselves and who do nothing to lead the people.
The whole book of Judges is a downhill pattern and a warning to individuals.
There is a way we sometimes live our faith, the way of the Israelites here.
The way is simple.
We kind of believe in God.
We don’t disbelieve.
But we keep God at the edges.
And if we get into any kind of trouble then we pray desperately to God.
And we are such believers at that point.
And then hopefully God helps us through that time of stress.
And then we go back to keeping God at the edges, until we need him again.
And the real danger is that we think we can get away with that.
That that pattern does us no harm.
But we see in the generations of Israelites that what happens is that our situations get worse and worse, we drift further and further away from the ideals.
Till everything breaks down and we end up so far away from God that we can hardly hear his voice, and He becomes so easy to ignore.
Leah, my nearly 2 year old granddaughter, loves to run ahead of us,
she doesn’t want to hold our hands,
she doesn’t need our controlling, restricting influence,
she doesn’t need those old grandparents who don’t understand her needs.
And then she stumbles and falls, and as she looks up there is no one there to help and she panics and cries.
Unaware that that we are right behind her ready to pick her up.
Because she can’t see us she thinks we are far away, but we are always there.
We kind of read Judges as if it is full of hero’s and fairy stories of good guys beating the bad guys.
The truth is that the book of Judges is a brutal book about what happens when we just drift away from God’s path for us.
In the children’s address Amanda said that we have choices to make.
The book of Judges is very clear about that.
And very clear about the choices.
We make the mistake of thinking that the choice is between believing in God and not believing in God.
And if that is the choice we think we have then we think we are safe because we believe in God, and occasionally we may ask God for help.
But the book of Judges tells that us that is not the choice that matters.
The choice that matters is whether we decide to follow the path that God has for us, or do our own thing.
For if we continue to just do our own thing, then eventually what will happen is what happened to the Israelites, we are so far away from God, so distant from talking to God, that we don’t even ask for help, because we don’t think he is there or can do any good,
The question we have is not whether we believe or disbelieve that there is a God.
The question is whether we trust Him enough to follow his path for us or not.
Let us pray
It is with horror that we realise that there are less than 100 days left in this year 2023.
Where has the time gone, what have we managed to accomplish?
How many of your children have we spoken to harshly instead of looking upon them as if they bear your image?
We bring before you this day
your children who expect harsh words, who do not have the confidence of knowing they are your children,
who do not yet know you.
Open up their hearts,
put your story in front of them by our hands.
How many of your children
have been injured by gossiping busybodies who seek to bring themselves up by bringing others down?
We pray for the oppressed,
who are held down by the powerful, held back by the colour of their skin, or by the area which they called home.
We pray for immigrants learning new languages, new ways of shopping, new ways of interacting
who miss family and friends from their former homes.
Merciful God, show them your strength.
How many of your children
have placed their trust in the untrustworthy?
Youngsters who, at the hands of predators, have been forced to grow up too quickly.
Parishioners who have been guilted into behaving a certain way because of false doctrine.
Older adults who no longer have the mental capacity they once had and have been defrauded and abused.
O God, we know you care for the marginalised,
help them to trust in you.
How many of your children face loss?
We pray for widows who mourn the loss of loved ones, and loved ones who mourn the loss of relationships.
Their grief does not rest, and occasionally their grief rises up in unexpected places.
Loving God, be present for them,
allow them to accept companionship and friendship from people in their communities who are your open arms in the world.
Loving God, help the church be burdened with your vision of what the church can be.
We pray that we tell the gospel beyond our walls,
that we meet those who are oppressed, the weak and the lost,
and recognise when we are the weak and downtrodden and seek at those times to lift one another up by sharing your love.
We bring these prayers in the name of your Son, Amen