break forth into joyous song and sing praises
Even though Gideon has shown reluctance to attack the Midians--unsure of his own abilities or unsure of the Lord's help, the Lord tells him the army he has amassed is too large. On instructions from the Lord, Gideon lets all those afraid to leave--reducing the army by two-thirds. A test in how one drinks water from the river reduces the army to 300.
Through the efforts of the Lord, they triumphed.
The immediate reaction by one of the tribes that had not been involved was open resentment at having been left out. Others did not want to feed the exhausted and hungry troops as they continued in their pursuit of the enemy kings. Gideon reacted violently.
The people under the protection of God still have fears, still express reluctance to endanger themselves, still get their feelings hurt, still refuse to help people who have helped them. And not just in Gideon's time.
The leaders scoffed, "Let him save himself if he's the Messiah." The soldiers also mocked him, "If you are the King, then save yourself." Their point--since he was being crucified, then just how powerful could he be?
Allen & Williamson in Preaching the Gospel remind us that Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah or the King of the Jews. Rather, he spoke of himself as the "Son of Man" and of the kingdom of God.
But Luke's leaders and soldiers misunderstand salvation, seeing it entirely in terms of the continuation of life or military "liberation" and not as the restoration of people Israel through forgiving of sins, including the marginalized, feeding the hungry, or dying the death of a martyr, a witness, to all of these.
Those long-ago leaders and soldiers thought that anyone who couldn't stop his own death sentence must not have much power. We might ask ourselves what is proof to us of power? what goals do we think the powerful should have? And, we might also ask what salvation means to us--whether it can begin only after we die or whether it can start right here, right now.
Also we might consider what kind of people, what kind of actions that we make fun of.
The authorities had condemned him to a humiliating, painful death. Many onlookers had just watched--not voicing agreement with what was happening but saying nothing in protest. But other witnesses, powerful people and soldiers, had mocked him. Even one of the criminals condemned to the same punishment derided him in the same terms as the others had, "If you're the Messiah, then start saving."
The first dissenter to the scoffing and mocking is the other criminal who is being crucified with him that day. "We deserve this punishment because we have done what they have accused us of doing. This man has done nothing wrong." He then addresses Jesus directly, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom"
Jesus had not responded to the leaders or soldiers or the criminal who kept deriding him. But, he does respond now, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise." Jesus has not done anything to prevent his death that day, but death is not the end of life.
One time when someone in the congregation complained about having to sing unfamiliar hymns, I told her that the Bible told us to and quoted Psalm 98:1, "Sing to the Lord a new song." Yes, I know that was snarky, but, I was kind often enough that they put up with me when I wasn't.
And, I wasn't just being snarky--this psalm does call us to newness. Every day, we have something to be grateful for that day. God has led us to a new victory over new problems.
That the psalms include many laments is appropriate since we find so many situations in our lives as individuals and our life in community to times of despair, fear, and need. Yet, the psalms also include praise and thanksgiving. This year as we read through the books we call the Old Testament, we can remember the Israelites' pain at losing their country and their frustration at the length of time it took to reform their nation even after they had been granted release from their enemies. Yet, they turned to God, worked to rebuild their temple as the place where they could focus and proclaim their gratitude.
Let us continue to practice gratitude to God by singing the phrases of Psalm 98:
Shout with joy to the Lord,How does having God in our lives change those lives?
all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice and sing.
Robert Putnam has written a book about how religion is shaping our lives ("our" being American because that's what I am). Here's an excerpt from the review of it by Michael Gerson in the New Republic.
Putnam asserts, "religious Americans are nicer, happier and better citizens." They are more generous with their time and money, not only in giving to religious causes but to secular ones. They join more voluntary associations, attend more public meetings, even let people cut in line in front of them more readily. Religious Americans are three to four times more socially engaged than the unaffiliated.Proverbs 14:7-8
Leave the presence of a fool,
for there you do not find
words of knowledge.
It is the wisdom of the clever to
understand where they go,
but the folly of fools mislead.
Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.