Reflection: November 19

Published on Nov 20th, 2017 by Rev. David Boyd | 0

         The last three times the parable of the talents has come up, I’ve preached on that passage from Matthew. So this year, as a Worship Planning Team, we decided to focus on Deborah as a model of leadership. So, here’s to Deborah and all the Deborahs out there!

         Do you remember what Mohammed Ali used to say…? … “Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!” Well, it might surprise you to learn that the name, Deborah, means “bee.” In the heroic story from Judges, Deborah’s indiscourageable goodwill—to use John Porchaska’s phrase, saved Israel from certain defeat.

         The two heroes of this fairly violent and graphic story from Judges were two women; the commander, Barak, was not so heroic. He hedged his bets and insisted that Deborah accompany him. The other woman, besides Deborah, was Jael. Jael was a nomadic woman of a nomadic tribe and she quite graphically and ruthlessly killed Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army!

         I don’t want to get caught up in the violence of this story and the graphic details. It is all too easy to perpetuate the assumption that the Bible is full of violence and speaks only of a vengeful and wrathful God. I don’t want to minimize the violence, either. While the Bible suggests a military conquest of the land of Canaan by the Israelites, archaeological evidence suggests a blending of the two cultures and an agricultural conquest of Canaan. So, perhaps in writing down the mythical tales of the origins of Israel, liberties were taken and the military conquest as an expression of God’s desire for the Israelites was given emphasis. Certainly, the story was told from the Israelites’ perspective.

         What I want to emphasize is the importance of a people who relied on charismatic leaders to take them through times of calamity and national threat. This was long before King David and the line of kings that sprung from him. This was just after the people had left the wilderness and Moses’ death, and had begun to live in the new land on the west of the Jordan River. Joshua led them through the river into the Promised Land.

         The charisma of the judges, as they were called, is noted: they were wise, they were already leaders, and God chose them to be deliverers. That’s the literal meaning of “Judge” in the Book of Judges, “Deliverer.” The deliverer delivers Israel from a military threat.

Military deliverer is the narrow definition, but other scholars have pointed to the idea that a judge was an arbiter between God and the people. In a sense, they were an ancient form of Messiah, although the word Messiah denotes a different kind of deliverance, one more based on love, compassion and new life rather than military might. Deborah was an example of this arbiter.

So, what’s the point of this story? Well, it’s partly a question of who the real judge is. Barak wasn’t the judge, contrary to patriarchal expectations. Deborah was. And Jael was. But more to the point, the idea of being a judge of Israel, in this case, was that it was a shared designation, which included even Barak. Jael and Deborah were the judges and accomplished God’s quest together with the assistance of Barak.

We are used to the rugged individualism of the West. “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” is the mantra that often gets touted in our Western culture. But it is a mistake to think we can do everything alone; that leads to burn out, excessive ego trips, isolation, and alienation. We are in this together and we must share the leadership and the call to be heroes in different circumstances. We share the gifts, talents and skills that we have in creating love and compassion. Paul was a great believer in togetherness and sharing gifts; Jesus passed on the mantle of leadership to the collective church.

There is a theological saying that I’ve shared with you many times: “Without humanity, God will not; without God, humanity cannot.” This implies a shared leadership and a part for us all to play in realizing that the KinDom of God is among us. This is the co-creating idea. I think that part of the reason why there is such outrage being directed at Burma with respect to the Rohingya people is that the whole world came together to put pressure on the military there to set Aung San Suu Kyi free and to seek liberation. Suu Kyi has let us down and the world has come together again in support of the Rohingya people.

The current climate discussions in Bonn are about shared leadership on many different fronts. Heroic actions. But it isn’t just the big things that are heroic and contribute to the KinDom of God; it is the small things we do for each other… support for those among us experiencing loss; standing with trans folk tomorrow at the vigil at 5; solidarity with 1st Nations people or others experiencing persecution and oppression; a simple gesture of love or compassion or a word of support or encouragement or a gesture of justice and peace are all things that are heroic in the way of Deborah and Jael, and help to deliver us into a new togetherness and community.

We don’t always know what our actions will bring about, but that’s ok. The important thing is that we try. We live love fully and openly. We share compassion with one another. For the journey to wholeness begins with the first step and often that heroic step is a step we take together.




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