Pastor Sherry’s Message for November 15, 2020
Scriptures: Judges 4:1-7; Matt 25:14-30
A pastor friend tells the story of his brother, Tony, and their elderly Aunt Mildred. Aunt Mildred was getting along in years, so the two brothers bought her a motorized recliner. You know the kind, it pushes you up and out of the chair so you don’t have to struggle to stand. Soon after gifting her, Tony went to see how Mildred liked her new chair. “Tony,” she says, “I’m having a lot of trouble getting out of my chair.” Puzzled, Tony replied helpfully, “Let me check on the motor.” Mildred then told him, “Well, that won’t do no good. I never plug it in!” Dumbfounded, Tony asked, “Well, whyever not?” To which Aunt Mildred replied, “Well, what if the power goes out whilst I was a-laying back in it? I wouldn’t never be able to get out of it!” I love this story because it demonstrates so well how fear, and a lack of faith, can prevent us from using the blessings, the “talents,” God has given us.
Our OT and Gospel lessons today give us two examples of what God thinks of those who do not trust in Him enough to utilize the talents He has given us for building up His Kingdom. In our OT lesson, we have the only example of a woman called to lead the nation of Israel, Deborah the Prophetess. She was called and equipped by God to lead during the time of the Judges.
The backstory is that Joshua has died at 110 years of age without a follow-up human leader. The Israelites had not yet been governed by a king. Their leader, to date, had been a man like Moses or Joshua, selected and directed by God) Even though the people promised Joshua three times (recall our OT passage from last week), they would remain obedient to God, within 40 years, they had taken up idolatry and forsaken the LORD. As a result, the Lord would then allow a Canaanite people—Amorites, Amonites, Moabites, Midianites, or even Philistines—to oppress them. They would then call out to the LORD for help. He would reply by raising up a judge to lead them in defeating their enemy. They would thank and praise Him. But, shortly, once the threat was over, they would again forget about their loyalty to God. And the 40 year cycle would begin all over again. Deborah, a woman, was the 3rd such judge God provided.
Who was she? She only takes up two chapters of Scripture in which we learn the following about her:
1.) She was a wife to Lippidoth. We know nothing of him, except that he seemed to have recognized God’s call on his wife’s life; and he did not appear to resent her influence or power.
2.) She was “a mother of Israel,” out of the tribe of Ephraim. While this may imply she had children of her own—if so they are not mentioned in Scripture–it certainly means she nurtured and cared for the nation.
3) She was a wise counselor. People came from miles away to seek her wisdom and advice.
4.) She was a renowned judge like Judge Judy, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, or Judge Jannine Pirow. Instead of sitting at the city gates to hear cases, verse 5 tells us she sat beneath a palm tree named for Her–the Palm of Deborah–located between Ramah and Bethel.
5) She was a legitimate prophetess. Like her male counterparts, she was anointed by God, who told her what to say to His people. She conveyed God’s words to the people and she foretold events accurately.
6.) We learn in today’s passage that she was a warrior.
7.) She was also a poet. She wrote a song/psalm, describing what God accomplished through her leadership—in Judges chapter 5.
8.) Finally, she was a woman who loved and trusted God.
Notice, she had many gifts/talents. What did she do with them? The Canaanite King Jabin had oppressed the Israelites for 20 years. He terrorized them with 900 iron chariots/horses, and an able-bodied general named Sisera. During this oppressive time, Jabin confiscated all the Israelites’ iron weapons. The people call out to God for help, and God tells Deborah to send for General Barak of the tribe of Naphtali. She did and told Barak that God intended for him to lead the people into battle against Sisera. In V.6 she says to Barak, The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulon and lead the way to Mount Tabor. I will lure Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.
Deborah knows that God is going to give Gen. Barak the victory. The General doesn’t see how—he lacks faith in God. His citizen army is outnumbered 10 to 1, and Sisera’s army is much better equipped. He must have felt like Deborah was essentially telling him to prepare for his death. He does eventually agree to go as directed, but only if the prophetess will go with him. Is he afraid? Or is he simply clear that he needs the counsel of the one who hears from God? Since he doesn’t really seem to trust her or God etirely, she tells him God will give the victory (over Gen. Sisera) to another woman (Jael, the wife of a weapons maker).
Judges, chapter 5, is called Deborah’s Song: Some Biblical scholars call it “one of the oldest and finest pieces of Hebrew poetry.” In it, Deborah gives God the glory for their victory. Deborah walked in faith to free her people from oppression. She used her gifts of leadership to direct the Israelites into battle, despite overwhelming odds and the prevailing customs for women of the time. Because of her obedience, God gave Israel another 40 years of freedom and peace.
In our Gospel lesson, Matthew 15:14-30, Jesus provides examples of two who utilize their talents for God and one who does not. In His parable,the master (probably God) leaves his assets in the hands of threestewards/servants (believers). He appears to have doled out his assets according to the degree to which He trusts in their abilities and their motivation. One very able fellow gets 5 talentsàA talent back then was equal to 1 years’ wages; for the purpose of illustration, let’s say a years’ wages were $30,000. That would mean this 1st guy has been entrusted with 5 times that or $150,000. The next gets 2 talents, or $60,000;and the 3rd gets 1, or $30,000.
When the Master returns, He expects them to account for how they invested His money during His absence. The fellow who had 5 talents invested them wisely and wound up earning double or $300,000! The guy with 2 also invested wisely and doubled his earnings, netting $120,000. The faithless guy hid his 1 talent, so he gained nothing. Although he was honest and returned the $30,000 in tact, the master was angry because he could have at least deposited it somewhere and earned interest on it. The Master commends the first two dudes, but He has nothing but contempt for the third. This guy was either so lazy as to not use the talents at all. Or perhaps like Aunt Mildred, he was too afraid to fail, so he did nothing (safe but unproductive). This guy then gets thrown into the outer darkness, (v.30)…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth—not a pleasant place!
This is not a story about investing money wisely. It is about utilizing the skills and the ministry gifts we have been given to build up God’s Kingdom. Notice, all are called to account—this is the “White Throne Judgment” at the end of time: Those who have used their gifts are blessed now and in the afterlife; while those who have not are chastised and punished. Those of us who believe in Jesus Christ will be clothed in His righteousness, so we will not be reminded of all of our sins in this judgment scene. Instead, we will probably be asked how we did at loving God and others (The Great Commandment), and whether or not we used our talents and gifts to benefit God’s Kingdom (The Great Commission).
So what is the point for us today? God uses people who trust in Him.
Do you trust God? Are you willing to be obedient to Him, even when the situation seems difficult or impossible? If He can use an unarmed army to defeat a vastly superior force, He can master any situation we bring before Him. God expects us to use the talents He has given us to bless others. Are we doing that? May it be so!
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams