Sunday, June 28, 2015

June 28, 2015

Rev. John Watts

Nampa First UMC

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

Judges 1:1-7

Galatians 6:7-10

 

They teach you in seminary that you should be able to get your sermon down to a single sentence.  Not that you should sit down after that one sentence, although I’m sure some of you would tell me that’s a really good idea.  It’s just that you should be clear enough about your main point that if someone were to ask you what you were trying to say in your sermon, you would only need one sentence to tell them.

Some weeks I could do that.  Other weeks I couldn’t.  This is one of those weeks when I can.  Here it is:  You reap what you sow.

We’re proving that in our church garden once again this year.  Things are really growing.  But it’s the funniest thing.  Where we sowed tomatoes, we are reaping tomatoes.  Where we sowed beans, we are reaping beans.  Where we sowed zucchini, we are reaping zucchini.  And of course you all know that pretty soon it will be time to start locking our cars when we come to church so when we leave we won’t find zucchini waiting for us in the back seat.

You reap what you sow.  This applies to more than church gardens.  This applies to our lives.  We might call it “the law of consequences”.  Actions have consequences.  We all know that.  That is not a news flash you just heard for the first time.  We reap what we sow.

Why is it then that we think this universal law applies to everyone else except me?  I can spend without going into debt, I can lie without getting caught, I can eat junk food without getting fat, I can lose my temper without losing my friends, I can spoil my children without them getting spoiled, I can neglect the Bible and worship and prayer without it harming my relationship with God.

If it’s any comfort, we aren’t the first ones to think that.  We aren’t the first ones to think that this law that applies to everyone else doesn’t apply to us.  There’s a whole book of the Bible about this.  It’s called the Book of Judges.  It’s one of the stranger books of the Bible.  I should warn you, we’re going to be looking at some strange things this morning.

Like the passage we read.  The first seven verses of the book.  Israel is at war.  And here’s the verse that you may have actually paid attention to when it was read because it is so bizarre:  “[Israel] came upon Adoni-Bezek at Bezek and fought against him and defeated the Canaanites and Perizzites.  Adoni-Bezak fled but they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes” (Judges 1:5-7).  Poor Adoni-Bezek.

The latest technology when I was in Sunday school was the flannel graph.  I don’t remember Adoni-Bezek on that flannel graph with detachable thumbs and big toes.  I don’t remember using clay to form severed digits and take them home to mom and dad to help me tell them what I learned in Sunday school today, the story of Adoni-Bezek.

So why is the story there?  Well, believe it or not, it’s there for a reason.  It’s there’s to teach us something if we’re willing to be taught.  The lesson is in the last verse we read:  “Adoni-Bezek said, ‘Seventy kings with their thumbs and big toes cut off used to pick up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me'”  (1:7).  Do you hear what he’s saying?  He wasn’t the first one to lose his thumbs and big toes.  He had tortured others in the very same way.  Not once.  Not twice.  Seventy times!

And he wasn’t through with them when the thumb and toe amputations were done.  He humiliated them further by making them eat scraps from under his table.  These were kings.  He treated them like dogs.  And he was getting away with it.  He was sowing cruelty and he was reaping power.  He was sowing terror and he was reaping a privileged life for himself.   He was the exception to the law of consequences.

No, he wasn’t.  Because one day he was the defeated king.  And now he has no thumbs and no big toes.  What goes around comes around.  “As I have done, so God has repaid me.”

Why would he say “God has repaid me”?  This is someone who doesn’t even believe in God.  Because maybe now he does.  The law of consequences is pretty good evidence that there is a God and not just any God.  God is a God of justice.

Paul knew about this.  He had persecuted the Christians as a Jew.  Now that he’s a Christian, he’s being persecuted by the Jews.  And so he writes, “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

This what the entire Book of Judges is about.  God is teaching his people this law of consequences.  If they ignore him, if they do what is wrong, if they defy him, if they sin, they won’t get away with it. Maybe for awhile, but not for long. There will eventually be a price to pay.  Because you reap what you sow.

The Israelites were slow learners.  Here’s what we read in chapter 2:

Then the Israelites did what is evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.  They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt.  They followed and worshiped various gods of the people around them . . . The Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them.  Whenever Israel went to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them.  They were in great distress.  Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed them.  But when the judge died, the people returned to their ways and behaved worse than their ancestors . . . (Judges 2:11-12, 14-16, 18-19).

 

It’s kind of like a broken record.  They never learn.  God brings them into this Promised Land as an expression of his love for them.  But when thing go well, they forget God.  This leads to sin.  Sin leads to trouble.  Trouble leads to pain.  Pain leads to repentance.  And the cycle just keeps repeating itself.  That’s the whole Book of Judges.

We come to chapter 3 and we see the familiar pattern.  “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (3:7).  So they fall into the hands of their enemies.  Trouble leads to pain and pain leads to repentance.  “But when Israel cried out to God, the Lord raised

up a deliverer for them, Othniel, son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother” (3:9).

We call these deliverers “judges”.  That can be confusing, because we’re not talking here about the kind of judges who wear robes and preside over a courtroom, who deal with things like gay marriage and Obamacare.  These are leaders — military leaders and spiritual leaders wrapped up in the same package.  They are not kings.  The kings don’t come until later, beginning with King Saul.

So Othniel is the first of the judges.  He leads them.  They win their freedom.  “So the land had rest for forty years,  Then Othniel of Kenaz died” (3:11).  Maybe they had learned their lesson?   Maybe they will break the cycle?  Maybe they will be true to God?  No.  The very next verse says, “And the people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (3:12).  Will they never learn?

You reap what you sow.  See what I meant about this being a simple sermon?   You know what comes next.  Trouble leads to pain.  Pain leads to repentance.  Again the people of Israel called out to the Lord, and again the Lord had mercy and sent them another judge.  “But when the Israelites called out to the Lord, the Lord raised up for them a deliverer, Ehud son of Gera, the Benjaminite, a left-handed man” (3:15).

That’s interesting.  Why is that mentioned?  It’s very unusual.  God hardly ever uses left-handed people to do his work.  No, I just made that up.  God loves all people.  Even lefties.

Literally what it says is that Ehud was “hindered in his right hand”.  This makes it even more interesting.  God is using someone with a disability, with a physical challenge, to bring deliverance.

Sometimes it’s the wounded healers who are the best healers.

So Ehud uses his left hand to judge Israel.  Israel has peace once again.  Ehud dies.  Israel forgets God.  This time they fall under the oppression of a general named Sisera.

Now this Sisera was an unusually evil man.  We are told that when he was late coming home one day, his mother was wondering what might be keeping him.  Here’s what it says:  “Her wisest ladies make answer.  Indeed, she answers the question herself: ‘Are they not finding and dividing the spoil? — a girl or two for every man” (5:29-30).

This is pretty horrible stuff.  These are human beings, girls, women, somebody’s daughter or mother or sister, objectified and brutalized by Sisera and his troops. “A girl or two for every man.”  This goes on not for a month.  Not for a year.  This goes on for 20 years.  Israel cries out to God.  And I love how God answers this time.  God sent a judge named Deborah.

A couple of unusual things about this judge.  For one thing she is a prophet.  This is the only one of the judges who has that distinction.  That means she had walked so closely with God that God allowed her be his messenger.   She is a judge and a prophet.  Anybody notice anything else that is kind of unusual about this particular judge?  Oh yeah, she is a woman.

I just want to take a moment here because women in leadership is an issue in some churches.  Notice the Bible doesn’t say God chose Deborah because no man would take the job.  There were plenty of men God could have chosen, but God chose her.  And God still chooses women for any and every leadership position in God’s work.  I’m glad to be part of a church that believes that and puts that belief into practice.  Anybody else here glad to be part of that kind of a church?

So at the very time Sisera is dehumanizing women, God chooses a woman to take him on.  Actually two women.  There is Deborah.  There is also Jael.  Sisera loses in battle and runs away.  He hides in Jael’s tent.  Her husband is a friend of Sisera.  Surely he’ll be safe there.  Wrong.  While he slept Jael took out a hammer and drove a tent spike all the way through his skull.

For 20 years he had treated women worse than animals.  Two women for every man.   He thought he could get away with it.  He thought he could sow evil and reap pleasure.  And isn’t it interesting!  He does end up with two women.  One of them is Deborah.  She defeats his army.  The other one is Jael.  She drives a tent spike through his skull.

The land had rest for another 40 years under Deborah.  So now have they learned?  No.  The very next verse says what we’ve heard so many times you already know what I’m going to say.  “The Israelites did what was evil in the sight of the Lord . . . ” (6:1).

The cycle gets repeated 12 times.  There are 12 judges in this book.  Each time we read about the same cycle:  sin, pain, sin, pain.  It happens over and over again.   And each time it actually gets worse.  The book keeps getting darker.  As if what we’ve already been talking about isn’t dark enough.

A new refrain appears.  “And everyone did whatever was right in his own eyes”  (17:6).  Does that remind you of the world we’re living in today?  We get to the final judge.  Gideon.  After him we no longer find those familiar words, “And the land had rest . . . ”

You reap what you sow.  God is merciful, but neither will God be mocked.  God is a God of mercy but God is also a God of justice.  As Martin Luther King, Jr. said:  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Are you reaping what you sowed a long time ago?  We cannot undo the past.  There is grace and forgiveness.  There are new opportunities.  We learn from our mistakes.  But there are also consequences.  We do our best to teach our children so they won’t have to learn the hard way.  But usually our children still have to learn the hard way.  We reap what we sow.

Here’s a more useful question:  Are you sowing what you want to reap in the future?  We cannot undo the past.  But the present is still being written.  What we sow today is what we will reap tomorrow.

If you are a parent, are you sowing patience and love and laughter and discipline and time?  If you are dating, are you sowing honor and maturity and purity?  In your financial life, are you sowing simplicity and saving and generosity?  In your friendships, are you sowing loyalty?  In your speech, are you sowing truth?  In your habits, are you sowing self-control?  In your family, are you sowing compassion?

There is a problem here.  Some of you are ahead of me and are already there.  Here’s the problem:  God says everybody will reap what they sow but God also says that everybody is a sinner who falls short of the glory of God.  So if we get what we deserve, what we deserve is wrath and condemnation and judgment.  No matter how good we are, we aren’t good enough.  What we really deserve is what Israel gets at the end of the Book of Judges.  It’s not a pretty picture.

God sent 12 deliverers in that one book.  Then God sent kings Then God sent prophets.  God wouldn’t give up on his rebellious people.  But each time the cycle repeated itself.  Sin, pain, sin, pain.

So finally, in the fullness of time, God sent a deliverer who wasn’t just another flawed and sinful human being.  God sent Jesus.  Jesus said, “I will deliver my people.  I will break the cycle of sin and death.”  If anyone has the right to judge us, it is Jesus.  And yet Jesus says, “I did not come to judge the world but to save the world”  (John 12:47).

Be careful what you sow.  What you sow is what you will reap.  The law of consequences has not yet been repealed.  But thanks be to God for Jesus, our deliverer.  Not just one more temporary judge, but our once and for all Lord and Savior.

 

Lord Jesus, you are here.  Your love envelopes us.  You are listening to the whisperings of each of our hearts.  Some of us find ourselves stuck right now.  We want to break free but we aren’t sure how.  Some of us have already sown what we wish we had not.  We feel guilt and regret.  We feel condemnation and hopelessness.  Lord Jesus, whisper back to our hearts right now how much you love us.  How much you believe in us.   Let us know not because the preacher says it but because we know it deep within that in you there is hope and life and freedom.  You break the power of cancelled sin.  You set the prisoner free.  Come Lord Jesus into our hearts.  We invite you in right now.  In your holy and merciful name,  Amen.