How many of you watched the world cup this year?
How many of you know what a vuvuzula is?
To roughly describe it, a vuvuzula is a long narrow horn – about two and a half feet long – that is a part of South African soccer culture. Perhaps no one quite expected them to catch on as much as they did and the soccer games this year had so many vuvuzelas that there was a constant noise in the background as fans across the world watched the matches.
These simple horns can produce up to 120 decibels of sound when you are standing just three feet in front of them. That is as loud as a rock concert or a jet engine. It’s kind of hard to believe that such a little piece of plastic can make all that noise!
At that level of sound, there can be permanent hearing loss, damage, and actual pain from the noise that is involved.
So, if we imagine 300 men, surrounding the Midianite army in the middle of the night, blowing horns and smashing pots and creating the noise of 300 rock concerts going off in the middle of the night – maybe, just maybe, we can understand why the Midianite army turned around and fled before a rag tag bunch of soldiers under the command of a man named Gideon.
As children, when we hear the stories of God’s victory in the Old Testament, we might be reminded of how Joshua fit the battle of Jericho and made the walls come tumbling down with marching and shouting. We might think of the shepherd boy David and how he took down the giant of a man Goliath and thus saved the day. Or we might think of the story we heard this morning about Gideon’s defeat of the enemies with a bunch of horns and smashed pots.
As children, we hear the tales of God’s victory… but rarely do we go into the harsh realities of battle and war. We conveniently skip over the parts of the story where men, women, children, and animals are destroyed in the name of God.
As adults, we often reread these familiar and inspiring stories only to wonder what kind of a God the Old Testament describes… how could this be the same Prince of Peace that we find in the gospels? Where is the God of mercy and love? we wonder.
I know that more than one of you has come up to me, either after Bible studies, or even after last weeks’ message about the defeat of the Egyptians and admit that your hearts are heavy with the war and destruction. We don’t understand the genocide that we read on these pages that accompany God’s victory. We can’t comprehend the loss of life.
Or maybe we can. Maybe these battles seem so real to us because of the wars that we engage in. We, as a nation, have been fighting in Afghanistan for almost nine years. In your lifetimes, we have been apart of war on five continents.
And while on a day like today, when we celebrate our nation’s independence, we know that these battles were entered to preserve and defend the truths for which we stand… at the same time, we are tired of all the fighting.
Last night, during the parade, my niece and nephews came and watched the festivities. And as the procession turned the corner from North onto Western and we caught a glimpse of the color guard, they started singing – “you’re a grand old flag.”
Now – of all the patriotic songs for them to choose, that was the one they started singing. And at ages 5 and 8, they knew all of the words. You’re a grand old flag. You’re a high flying flag and forever in peace may you wave…..
And forever in peace may you wave… those words jumped out as me as these children sang them.
Forever in peace…
I once believed that the opposite of peace was war.
I believed that we would finally have peace in our lives when men and women… but mostly men… laid down their weapons.
I believed that peace would come when all of our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and sons and daughters returned home.
But I’m not sure that is true anymore.
Anyone you ask will tell you that we have a lack of peace in our world, but we also lack peace in our nation, in our state, and in our families.
Just because swords and guns are no present, does not mean there will be peace. Peace must be bigger than a lack of war. Peace must encompass more than the fights we find ourselves in. The peace that we seek is like the peace of Isaiah in chapter 65….
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.
“Never again will there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not live out his years;
They will build houses and dwell in them;
they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit…
They will not toil in vain
or bear children doomed to misfortune…
The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox
In the Old Testament… this vision that is lifted up is a dream of Shalom. It is a Hebrew word that means peace, not only in terms of fighting and conflict – but peace in terms of a whole vision of life. As one commentator put it, “everything fits together, the relationships work like they were designed to, and things just work right.” (http://listeningtoscripture.com/Textual_Studies/Isaiah/12isaiahspeace.html)
Paul Hanson says that shalom is “the realm where chaos is not allowed to enter, and where life can be fostered free from the fear of all which diminishes and destroys.”
Doesn’t that sound amazing? A life free from the fear of all that could destroy us?
That is the peace that we seek. When we are farmers and the usual flow of the seasons and the weather doesn’t cooperate… we fear that drought or too much water could destroy our crops and our livelihood.
When we work with machines, say in a factory, there are constant safety protocols to keep the terrible from happening… we are constantly regulating the chaos and trying to prevent spills, injuries, and death.
When we are a part of families and we try to manage our time and our schedules, we fear that we won’t have enough time with one another and that our relationships will suffer because of it.
The opposite of peace isn’t war… but chaos. A life where there is no freedom from fear. A life where any and everything takes away from our ability to live and live abundantly.
How many of you have some measure of chaos in your lives today?
In Ancient Israel, chaos was the norm. Nation states were constantly fighting for land and power and dominance. There were no programs for social security and a single drought could wipe a family out. That was if they had anything left after the rulers took away their goods.
In the time of Gideon, the people were afraid. Their crops were being confiscated, their lands were being consumed by the Midianites and they cried out for help.
And God responded… NOT by sending them into war… but by reminding them that he was and always has been on their side.
My favorite part of this story is when God whittles away the army of 32,000 able men to 300. Three hundred individuals take nothing but jars and torches and trumpets and scare away a whole army. And God does this to remind them that while human warriors can’t defeat the forces that destroy shalom and bring chaos… God can.
The Israelites have no need to raise a standing army and to set a king over them… like they try to make Gideon do… they have one God who reigns over them. And he will fight for them. They no longer need to be afraid of the things that could destroy them. They only need to trust.
But that trust doesn’t last very long. Their clamor for a king, their cries to be strong like the other nations will not be quieted. And so God allowed them to set a king over themselves. And as Bruce Birch reminds us, “Israel, in the belief that it could create its own security, was in reality flirting with chaos.” If you read through the books of Chronicles and Kings and the prophets you see how time and time again, the kings went to war – with God on their side or not, for power and territory.
They brought chaos upon themselves by trusting in themselves and not in their God.
It would be tempting to say that if we simply trusted in God more, chaos would disappear from our lives. The rains would come more regularly. Our paychecks wouldn’t be so sporadic. Fights between parent and child would diminish.
I’m not sure that God promises us that… at least in this lifetime.
But the peace that is offered to us by Christ is the peace that will get us by. It is the peace that comes from relationships that are returned to their rightful balance through forgiveness and mercy. It is the peace that comes when we learn to trust in God more than our pocketbooks. It is the peace that comes when our priorities are realigned and family comes before our jobs. It is the peace that comes when we remember that while this moment or this present struggle might be difficult, in the end, God is in control and those forces of chaos will not have the final say.
When we are called to be peacemakers by Jesus in Matthew… when we are called to be a shining city on a hill – an example to all… I believe Christ is calling us to trust him. To allow the Spirit of God to enter our lives and transform them. To set us right inside. To set us right with one another. To set us right as a people. And when the chaos of fear leaves our family… or our church… or our town, then people will look at us with wonder and say – what is it that they have figured out?
And then we will point to the One who has come into our lives. And we will share the peace of our hearts with others. Amen and Amen.