"Until I Return"
Judges 6:11-22
A sermon preached by Erin Dunigan
November 22, 2002
Chapel Service, Princeton Theological Seminary

Now the angel of the Lord came and sat under the oak at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, as his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites.12The angel of the Lord appeared to him and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.”13Gideon answered him, “But sir, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our ancestors recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has cast us off, and given us into the hand of Midian.”14Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you.”15He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”16The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.”17Then he said to him, “If now I have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.18Do not depart from here until I come to you, and bring out my present, and set it before you.” And he said, “I will stay until you return.”19So Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them.20The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so.21Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight.22Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord;

I stood there, paralyzed…I couldn’t move.
I stood and waited and watched.
And if I have to admit it, I think I was afraid.
Me? How could I do this? What if I couldn’t? What if I messed up? What if I disappointed everyone?
And so I just stood there, afraid, and a bit confused… and finally the voice broke through… “Run!” And I looked down and realized… “They don’t have your flags, run, Erin, run!” And I turned, tucked the football under my arm and took off as fast as I could down the field, toward the end zone…

We find Gideon in fear. He is hiding in a wine press, struggling to provide food for his family, and he is afraid. And he had reason to fear, for Israel had been oppressed under the hand of Midian for seven years. And whenever the Israelites would put seed in the ground the Midianites would destroy the produce of the land and leave no sustenance in Israel. And so Gideon was hiding, alone, afraid that even what little he had might be taken from him.

So he must have been startled to realize that someone else was there, for he thought he was alone. But even more startling were the words the stranger spoke.
Mighty warrior? The Lord is with us?

Have you not looked around? Have you not seen? We are suffering. We can’t even eat without fear. Do you not realize that I am hiding in a wine press? Sure, the Lord may have been with our ancestors, but as for us, the Lord has cast us off…the Lord is not with us.

And so he puts up his hand in defeat and says, you say mighty warrior but now the Lord has cast us off. But Gideon continues to listen.

And we are startled to hear the voice of this stranger who speaks to us…for we thought we were alone in our fear. Hiding and afraid that we won’t be able to provide for ourselves, afraid of that which threatens to overcome us, afraid of what the future might bring and that we might not be able to fend for ourselves.

And we say, Have you not looked around? The world out there is overwhelming. We are running headlong into war. We are surrounded by suffering. Our churches are divided and turned against each other. Even right here in our own community we are crying out to the Lord for healing and wondering, is anyone paying any attention?

And this voice says, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel, I hereby commission you.”

And Gideon responds, “But how can I deliver Israel? You must have the wrong person.”

And we wonder, “what can I possibly do? And how can I possibly make any difference? How can I even do anything? Who am I, when compared with all this?”

And so we say “no, I’m sorry; I just can’t believe that easily.” But we listen.

And the Lord said to Gideon, “I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites.”
And it is there, in that moment, that something, not much, but something begins to get through. And Gideon reaches for it. He reaches out in hope, trying to find something in those words to hold on to, something, anything, to cling to… maybe I am mighty, maybe I can deliver Israel…maybe…

And we want to believe these words that we are hearing…we want to believe that God will be with us that maybe we can make a difference.

And Gideon reaches out and says, if I now have found favor with you, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me. Don’t leave. I want to trust what you are saying. I want to believe it. I want to know. I want to bring you my offering, my gift. And I want to prove to you that I am worthy of what you are calling me to. And so we say, wait here until I return.

And the Lord says, I will stay until you return. I will wait for you. Go, do what you need to do, and I will wait here.

And so Gideon goes and prepares an elaborate meal…that wheat he was beating out in the wine press? Well, he uses an ephah of flour…just in case you aren’t up on your “ephah” measurements, that is enough flour to make about sixty loaves of bread… and he puts the meat in a basket, the broth he puts in a pot, and he brings his offering and presents it to the stranger…

And so we work hard to prepare an offering to bring to the Lord. We strive and we achieve to prove that we are worthy…we wouldn’t be here if this were not true. We have worked hard to get to this place…and we say, look what extravagant gifts I can bring you, wait here, don’t leave until I can come back and show you how deserving I am. Look, at my GPA. Did you hear how insightful that comment was in precept? Have you noticed how theologically sound I am? Did you see how I consistent I have been in my personal devotions? Are you impressed with how much scripture I can quote? Look, I passed my ordination exams. Look at what an amazing chapel sermon I can preach…

And so Gideon presented his offering to the angel. And proudly we return to the oak and lay out our offering before the angel of the Lord.

And the Lord says to us, take it and lay it down, pour it out. And Gideon poured it out. And we lay it down. All the fears, doubts, and disbelief and all of our own strivings, our own attempts to prove our own worthiness, and we lay them down.

And it is there, on that rock, that fire springs forth and our offering is consumed.

And then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord.

And it is then that we know. It is then that we see that the true offering has already been made. The one who has laid himself down, has poured out his life says to us, and then, take, eat, this is my body, offered for you. Come, drink, this is my blood, given for you, do this, in remembrance of me.

And wait here, until I return.