There is a common thread in all three of our readings today: God can work great things through ordinary people.
In Judges, one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament, is the story of Jael. She is one sassy, sneaky person! Jael, the wife of Heber, ends up killing Sisera, the commander of the bad guys. She does this by luring him into her tent (well actually he TELLS her she will host him). But in the process of hosting him, drives a tent peg through him, and kills him. She then goes out of her tent and finds the good army leaders and says, “Hey I got the guy.” What an understatement! She got the general of the army!
It is a story of courage and bravery and standing in the face of sexism, power, and authority that is not of God. She leads to a military victory for the Israelites, and arguably for God. I believe her greatness goes beyond a military victory, though. Jael’s greatness is not in her violence act, but in the way she stands up for her people, putting her own life at risk.
In the New Testament we have the account of Jesus after his death on the cross. Joseph of Arimathea comes to request the body of Jesus. Being rich, he is able to provide a proper burial. Again, another relatively unknown person in Scripture, obviously a committed follower of Jesus, who steps up when it is time to stick his own neck out and risk.
This is the call to all of us. To risk. To stick our necks out, even if it might be cut off for the sake of the good news. Joseph, Jael – they put themselves second, to serve God. This call to action is in fact the mission of the Church.
I love the phrase in our Book of Order, one of the two parts of our Constitution in the Presbyterian Church that says, “The Church is called to undertake this mission even at the risk of losing its life, trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing those deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ.” (G-3.0400)
How wonderful it is to be in a denomination that focuses that intensely on mission, looking beyond ourselves, even to the point of our dying.
In the midst of the disagreements we had over gay marriage I few years ago, I often heard the argument “it is upsetting” for some churches to talk about this. That is the weakest argument ever! We were never promised that the Christian life would be all hunky dory. If we had always avoided tough conversations we would still have slavery, so you can shelve that argument right now.
We are called to listen to God’s voice and act appropriately on his calling. And while we work to build up the peace and unity of the church, we cannot shy away from things of disagreement, if it is what we believe Scripture is leading us to believe. Conflict is never resolved by hiding in a hole. It only gets worse. My work on the Committee on Ministry has taught me that. Conflict that stews is conflict that erupts much worse than it started.
Peter and Paul had their disagreements, and they modeled for us how to work them out – to face them head on with courage.
This is the conundrum. In risk – in possibly losing our lives – in daring to follow God in new ways, we may also find victory and hope. Jael found a new hope in her risk. And so can we.