Epiphany 5C 2004 Judges6:11-24a; 1Cor15:1-11; Lk5:1-11
It is the day of a great battle. It is morning. The young leader of his nation's only army stands before his soldiers.
He speaks to them, calling them to their duty:
"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother. Be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here.
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
It was, of course, the young King Henry V, into whose mouth William Shakespeare put those immortal words just before the
battle of Agincourt, France. in his The Life of King Henry the Fifth, Act 4, Scene 3. (1)
Gideon sits in his fathers wine press, feverishly trying to thresh wheat and hide the grain from raiding bands of Midianites.
There is not much of the warrior king about him, no Henry the Fifth aspect to him at all. But then it happens. The Angel
of the Lord appears and tells Gideon to get with it, quit cowering, and go after the enemy.
God works in the world in all generations. In times of trial and great danger, God works through his people, calling
forth the leadership needed to see them safely through. The Book of Judges is full of such leaders, men and women, brought
forward to lead the Chosen People. Gideon was only one such example.
Gideon must have been drinking too much of the wine that day to make room for the wheat, because he argues with the Angel
of God. He whines and pleads weakness. And finally he demands a sign from the Angel of the Lord.
Only when the Angel sets fire to the rock on which Gideon has placed bread and meat and wet it down with broth, and when
the Angel of the Lord with a mere gesture of the tip of his staff does this, does Gideon begin to get the picture. Gideon
recognizes that the call of the Lord to Gideon to do his duty, to take up the work the Lord has given him to do, is something
he cannot must not -- resist.
There are now junior ROTC units in many high schools. But armed forces recruiters came around often in the 1960s and
1970s as the draft was abolished and all services became completely volunteer. In an assembly period the recruiters were
occasionally allowed to speak to juniors and graduating seniors. One such event had all the athletes present.
The Air Force recruiter spoke of the delights and comforts of Air Force bases, of the technical skills that could be acquired
in pleasant surroundings, and of the high demand in the aviation industry for those whom the Air Force had trained.
The Navy spoke of "Join the Navy and see the world", their recruiting motto of the time and the name and sole
lyric of a very popular disco tune.
The poor old Army, on the ropes because of the Vietnam war, had hired a Madison Avenue advertising firm whose best effort
was "Today's Army wants to join you". We who were -- are -- soldiers remain embarrassed by that episode.
But the gruff old Marine gunnery sergeant stood up, said nothing for what seemed a long time as he looked over every jock
assembled. Then he said, "The Marine Corps only needs a few good men. But I don't think anyone here can make the grade."
And he sat down. After the assembly his sign up desk was besieged by crowds of the young men he had challenged. (2)
Gideon then raised an army of thirty two thousand volunteers. But the Lord sent that army through a series of eliminations
until there were only three hundred left. With these few good men, Gideon stopped the ravaging Midianite bands of thousands.
Subsequently in the Book of Judges it is recorded that Gideon, now a successful general, refuses the crown of kingship
that the Israelites wanted to force upon him. "No," he says, remembering the Angel of the Lord, "I will not
rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. God will rule over you; He is your king."
A story is told about the great English explorer, seaman, and hero of the naval battle against the Spanish Armada during
the English Reformation, Sir Francis Drake. Drake was attempting to recruit a number of young men for an upcoming exploration.
He gathered them around himself and told the group that if they came with him they would see some of the most marvelous things
their eyes could ever behold. Sandy white beaches, juicy fruits, foreign peoples, priceless treasures, and gorgeous landscapes.
And he told them that this wild and very pleasant adventure could be theirs if they came with him. Not one of them signed
up to go on the voyage.
The next day a different group came out. Drake told them that if they came with him they would encounter storms that
would terrify them into tears. Hurricane and typhoon winds would hammer them and blow them off course for months. Water
would frequently be scarce. At times they would be so thirsty that their very souls would cry out
for one single drop of water. In short, danger would always be their constant companion.
Drake concluded by declaring that if they could handle these things, the joys of exploration would exceed their wildest
dreams. Every single one of them in the group joined Admiral Sir Francis Drake that day. Some of them did not even go home
to say goodbye to their families. And they all each of them everyone came early aboard eager for the journey. (3)
During his long and dangerous missionary journeys establishing churches around the northeastern Mediterranean, Saint Paul
kept in touch with his foundlings by letter. He often wrote of how he had been called by the Lord Jesus Christ to embark
upon his long, uncomfortable, and dangerous travels. In our scripture lesson for today, in his early letter to the young
and difficult church in Corinth, Paul said this of the appearance of the risen Christ to him:
"Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me [this was the lightning bolt on the Damascus road].
For I am the leas of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church." Appropriate humility,
but not typical of Paul.
More typical is this: "But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On
the contrary, I worked harder than any of them though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."
In the dark days of the summer of 1940, when it appeared as though the armies of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany would
create a Third Reich over all the civilized world, Sir Winston Churchill, new Prime Minister of Great Britain, in several
speeches roared defiance at the evil:
"I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat....Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror,
victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival....We shall not flag or fail. We
shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence
and strength in the air, we shall defend our island whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight
on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender....
Let us brace ourselves to our duties. And so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a
thousand years, men will still say, this was their finest hour." (4)
All of our lections for today speak of God working in the world. We saw God working in the world with Gideon, in the
form of the Angel of the Lord for God himself, until he came in the form of the human Jesus, was too overwhelmingly powerful
to appear in his own divine form. Gideon is called to serve as the hands of the Lord in protecting Gods Chosen people form
the assaults of their enemies.
And Paul is struck down by a blinding light on the Damascus road in which he is completely changed from the persecutor
of Christians into an apostle of the Lord and a missionary evangelist sent to establish and nurture new churches.
Our Gospel is the same. God, in the form of Jesus Christ, sets about the birth of the new creation. Its a hard sell.
So the Lord gets the attention of these perhaps not too swift fisherman by a miracle that appeals to their fisherman souls.
He fills their nets with fish after a night during which they had caught none. He calls them to be his disciples, to spread
the Good News, and when they brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
When God works in the world, we cannot expect that it will be comforting and sweet. We are given hard tasks in difficult
times. We are called, touched by the hand of the Lord, and sent on our way. Some are called to be leaders like Gideon,
Paul, Henry the Fifth, Drake, and Churchill. And like Gideon, like Peter, James, and John, like Paul it will happen when
we least expect it. Has it happened to you?
1. William Shakespeare: The Complete Works, general editor Alfred Harbage, The Pelican Text Revised. Baltimore: Penguin
Books, 1969. p. 767
2. Source unknown memory.
3. Adapted from "Eager for the Journey", eSermons Illustrations for Epiphany 5C, 2004, ChristianGlobe.com
4. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Boston: Little, Brown, 16th edition, 1992, p.620