Proper 28 (33) 16 Nov 2008 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 28A/Ordinary 33A/Pentecost +27 November 16, 2008 Textweek

Judges 4:1-7; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

If you’ve been following the Old Testament readings for the last few weeks, you will probably appreciate the movement, the unfolding of history and the unfolding of life that we’ve been listening to week by week. In today’s reading we’ve moved on, we’ve moved on from the story of Joshua; there’s been a shift in authority from the prophets to the judges, and as that movement continues, as we continue to turn the pages of the Bible, we will see another movement that will take us from the judges to the kings. We see in these narratives a movement, and it depends how we read that movement. It could be viewed as a movement towards the secular, but equally and in a more positive vein it could be seen as a movement towards accepting and realising the Divine authority that we have received. And just as a broad brush, you get to the early books in the Bible, God was clearly in charge, he did nothing, humanity had no part to play. Some Christians think that’s still the case – that God’s in charge and that we basically, we’re the chess pieces that he moves where he wills.

The movement though, takes us on. The word of God, instead of now coming from the mouth of the Divine, is spoken through the prophets. The word comes from humanity, humanity in line with the Divine. From the prophets, humanity then sees that it holds the word of God, so the power of God, so judges are appointed. So now the wisdom of God is brought into human hands. From the judges we then move to the kings - not only is the wisdom of God now in human hands, but the authority of God, the power of life and death is claimed by humanity. It’s good to be aware of these movements in scripture. They tell us of a movement or an evolution that is not only experienced culturally – and we can, you can actually look throughout history and see those cultural shifts; we can slice through the present world and see in different places, in different cultural contexts, there are cultures at various stages in those shifts in movement. So we can look at it culturally and we can also look at it individually. So these are also movements of life and so they are movements that are grounded in us. It’s a narrative that also speaks about us growing into our fullness, and the parallels are very easy to see when we appreciate the movement from the child, totally controlled by the parent, to the child that then fully realises their adult humanity. This is also a movement, as history tells us and as we experience, that is so easily corrupted and perhaps that’s why Paul encourages us in verse 6, to keep awake, be alert.

The Old Testament story of Deborah, Barak and Sisera is a stunning story. We don’t get all of it and those who are not familiar with it, read through the rest of the story; it’s got a stunning surprise to it, an amazing surprise. It has many elements that awaken us to the forces we’re subject to in the present day. There are the issues of gender that we find in Deborah and Barak. The fact that gender was such an issue in the US election illustrates how little we have evolved or how little we’ve even challenged the stereotypes we inherited from the Stone Age. Deborah and Barak invite us into a new paradigm, into a new way of seeing, letting go of those stereotypes. The might of Sisera’s army, which we can’t fully appreciate in the snapshot we got today, this is a guy who has chariots. He is ace! The rest don’t have. The might of Sisera in this context, is comparable to nuclear powers of today, and the interesting thing is the story is that he fails. And yet we, in the broadest sense of ‘we’, continue to invest our talents in the US enterprise. We look to the US as the source and force of power that will take us into the tomorrow. Deborah and Barak invite us into a new paradigm: that is not the only option. Read the story, see where it goes.

Thessalonians verse 3, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, … and there will be no escape!’ This is given not as a threat, it’s not said to create fear; it is Paul sounding the alarm; it is Paul calling us to wake up. In today’s context this is global warming, this is Darfur, this is refugees. Have you ever paused to wonder why are there more refugees today than ever before in history? This is the global credit crisis: do we really give credit to the actuality that the realised wealth of Australia is 46% less today than it was a couple of months ago? Paul says, ‘Keep awake. Rise from your slumber’. If he was on face-book he’d just put ‘Get real!’

Sisera’s forces, in the face of suffering great losses, unexpected losses, unexplainable losses, have decided to meet; they’ve called a G20 conference. Their focus, very clear: to rebuild what we’ve lost, to seek the peace and security they thought they had previously secured with their might. Question: will we choose to sleep with them? Or will we be awakened by the invitation of Deborah and Barak into a new paradigm, into a new possibility? Paul, in verse 11, provides a simple and clear orientation: ‘Build up each other’. Build, create, not bury.

The Gospel today illustrates the same challenge and awakens us to the same orientation that is there in the Old Testament. The G20 slaves are busy burying their talents, digging a hole in which they can hold on to what they have, a process that is exactly the opposite of Resurrection. To evolve, to live for tomorrow is to take a risk, to risk resurrection - not more of the same, there is no risk and no life in more of the same.

To risk life in a new paradigm, life that is given through faith in the Divine, Deborah, a prophetess, summons the weaker forces. The unexpected overcome the mighty forces. There is a change in the status quo; something new and unexpected is created from the place where it was least expected – a motley crew against the might of the chariots. And in that story, in that movement, as it’s echoed in the Gospel, is the whole point of being church. If we want to bury our talents, if you want to leave things as they are, then let’s follow Sisera – let’s put our hope in the mighty US.

But if we’re really ready to risk our faith: what if, what if it’s true, that that hero that we worship who walked the earth years ago, when he said ‘greater things you will do’, what if he actually spoke the truth? What if we can actually heal the sick? What if we can raise the dead? Surely that’s worth the risk. Surely that points more toward life than those digging the G20 hole in which they will seek to pour more and more money, so that they can hold onto what we’ve already got. If we’re really ready to take the risk, then here, in this place and from here towards tomorrow, build up each other.

Peter Humphris