October 8, 2019
There is a Biblical story that is hounding me. It comes from the book of Judges, and honestly, it is one of holy nonsense. The Israelites were in trouble…again. The Midianites were terrorizing and tormenting the people, impoverishing them by destroying their crops, laying waste and using all the Israelites’ resources. God heard their cries for help, and raised up Gideon, charging him to build an army.
After a few obedience tests, the Holy One convinced Gideon that he was the person ordained for such a time. When it came time for the gathered troops to march, God said something odd. God said, “Too many.”
Too many? How countercultural! And yet, how consistently God. The Holy One shared that if there are too many troops, then the company of soldiers would assume their might won the war. Because of the sinuous relationship of God and the Israelites, where they often lived outside their covenant, God wanted to fashion the battle so that it would be abundantly clear that God was their source of strength.
Gideon went on to sift through the troops. Who was fearful? Twenty-two thousand returned home, leaving 10,000. And God said again, “Too many.”
Eventually, 300 were left to fight the battle. Then, God said, “No traditional weapons. Use torches, jars and trumpets.”
What has this to do with Plymouth? I contend Plymouth Church is experiencing a sifting, too. We are fewer. There are changes happening that make some parts of our church experience perhaps unrecognizable. Instead of swords and spears, God may be asking us to use our tools in ways that don’t make sense. We are called to be covenant people.
Our sacred task is to consider that perhaps God is asking us to be the Israelites, to be faithful people of God who are relying on the vision of Gideon and directions God is providing. Together, we might find that we aren’t diminished at all, but stronger, clearer in purpose, and better able to hear God’s voice. This may be our chance to rely wholly on the Creator while saying clearly that we are a justice-loving congregation building bridges of inclusion.
I believe this is the moment in the life of Plymouth to listen deeply, and honor that God’s ways are not our ways — though for the record, what a sweet spot when God and God’s people align! This is heart-work, and I pray we can engage from such a place.
There is no request for blind allegiance or quick decisions. Yet, I am suggesting we be faithful, that we not push away what could be God’s calling because it seems like nonsense. No matter what the journey ahead entails, let us commit to walking it together. As we remember who we have been, let us recall that our faith has been the strongest tool we’ve ever wielded, and that being faithful is just nonsensical enough to work.
Blessed be. —Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown