Heroes of the Faith: Deborah
Judges 4:4-11, 5:1-9

by | Sep 14, 2023

PRAYER:  God of community, you have taught us that when two or more are gathered in your name, you are in the midst of them and nothing is impossible.  Surround us this day with your love for we gather in your name to seek to be your disciples, your community sharing your grace and your love with others.  Remind us that the hope you offer is life-giving.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, my rock and my redeemer.   Amen.

Every single day when you’re a bank teller, you have to close out your drawer and balance it.  If it doesn’t balance – even by a penny – you have to go through every single piece of paper, every coin, every bill, deposit slip and so on until you find and correct the imbalance.  Sometimes, finding the difference can take a few minutes; and sometimes it takes a bit longer.

The problem becomes that the longer it takes to find a difference, the harder it becomes because the numbers and the documents tend to blur together and your eyes start playing tricks on you.  The time-honored solution to that problem is that you bring in a second pair of eyes.  A fresh pair of eyes will be able to look at everything with a new perspective and see something you had been overlooking all along.

I remember one time there was a teller who had a $50 difference at the end of the day.  They counted and recounted every penny from their drawer, they went through every document, every deposit slip and check, every single thing.  I came in to be the second set of eyes and I kept running into the same problem.  Neither one of us could find where the $50 error was.  I checked through the trash, I checked through all the transactions.  We were about to give up, which would have meant a mark on this person’s employment record.  As a last-ditch effort, I pulled the teller drawer out and found a pack of fifty singles that had become wedged between the tray and the back of the drawer.  At some point, the drawer must have been too full and when she opened it, the fifty singles must have come out and ended up being shoved all the way in the back.  A second set of eyes, a person there to support you can be a great benefit.

Anna and I used to be part of a church not unlike this one, very small, very few active members.  There was a request for the church to participate in a program in which homeless people around the county could be temporarily housed in churches for a week at a time.  Many churches participated in this program, and our very small congregation wanted to as well.  But with such a small congregation, it was logistically impossible.  There was another church in town, however that also wanted to participate in this program, so they invited our small congregation to join with them every time they were hosting the homeless visitors.  So, every six weeks or so, a small contingent from our congregation would go over to the other church with meals and sleeping bags, and be a part of that ministry.

Often times, an overwhelming or daunting struggle that may seem impossible to face on your own, or even as a small group, can be met when people come together to join their various gifts and graces.  Wonderful things can be accomplished together.  God is often at work and calling us into partnership with others.

Deborah is a prophet and judge.  A judge, in the context of the Hebrew Scriptures, is a charismatic leader who rises to lead during times of trouble and is a national military leader.  As a woman therefore, Deborah must have been an exceptional leader to have broken through what surely was an unimaginably difficult glass ceiling.  Deuteronomy defines a prophet as one worthy of speaking on behalf of God.  Deborah is the only woman prophet mentioned in the Book of Judges and one of five in all of the Hebrew Scriptures.

As we begin the Heroes of the Faith series, we are reminded that God will invite who God will invite to serve God’s greater purposes.  God will put the people God needs to step up and lead, or to play whatever part God needs.

Our reading today is a song of rejoicing, inviting us to see where the victories of God are taking place.  In those victories, God is present to our needs and struggles, and God puts the people together that need to be there… together.  In the larger context, Israel is enslaved, and God is raising up these leaders to rescue God’s people.  Deborah is not there by accident; God places her there and she is the leader the people need at that moment in time.

God uses us to fight the good fight together in community.  The key word there is “together”.  We are not called upon to live our lives in solitude, getting through every challenge on our own.  The mindset that we are to live within a framework of rugged individualism is counter to how God calls us to live.  My dad used to use this old cliché that God helps those who help themselves, well that just isn’t how God works.  God calls us to help one another, and to support one another.  God enables us to help others.

A bank teller who cannot reconcile their drawer at the end of the day must rely on someone else to come in and bring a new perspective.  A church that is struggling to regain its footing after years of declining membership and participation does not have to continually go at it alone.  There are partners, there are resources that God puts in our place if we will just recognize and use them.

I’m going to be very blunt here: a church that wants to do ministry, but may not have the resources they need at a particular moment can do one of two things: It can lament at its own inabilities and do nothing and continue its downward decline, or it can look to God for the partnerships with which they can rebuild God’s church in the community… with which they can seek a new pathway to being the church of today instead of the church of yesterday.

Barak did not want to go into battle without Deborah.  Deborah recognized his plea and agreed to go to the front line of the war.  She is confident, and willing to speak God’s truth to Barak, a commander of the troops who went on to defeat the Canaanite armies.  We read about that victory in chapter 4 as they go into battle.  As they are approaching the battle, Deborah says to Barak, “Get up!  This is the day that the Lord has handed Sisera over to you.  Hasn’t the Lord gone out before you?”  God gives us the tools and the resources and the partnerships for success.

Through Deborah’s leadership, God defeated Sisera’s army and chased them all the way back to their home.  It was a fierce battle to be sure.  And believe me, no one wants to be in a battle like that, but we learn from it that God is at work and calling us into new life just as God’s victory led to the Israelites growth as a people.

The fact is that we can be confident that God will win the battle.  But often what we forget to recognize is that the victory God delivers is not always what we expect it to be.  We are invited to – and we should always sing a song of praise to God, for God is at work and calling us into partnership.  We should not be expecting then that the partnership that God draws us into will ensure that everything will be the same as it was when we started.

God partners with humanity and especially with those who are willing to say “yes” to serve God’s purposes.  Deborah demonstrates for us that when we are willing to hear God’s call in our lives, when we say “yes” to God, God responds.  We should remember however, that the future that Deborah, and Barak, and the Israelites experience is one of growth, but it is one in which their fundamental way has changed.  Saying yes to God’s call to live in community will change us.

So look – Deborah plays her part.  Barak plays his part.  God plays God’s part.  What is your part to play in God’s redeeming work?  In what ways are you open to hearing the call for new life and new partnership in God’s redeeming work?  Maybe this is God calling you to stand up and offer yourself for God’s purpose.  Keep in mind that God is rarely – if ever – putting on our hearts that we have to solve the world’s problems on our own.  Instead, we should celebrate that God puts us in community with others, and then we should sing a song of praise for God is at work and calling us into partnership.

As a community, God has called United Methodists over the years to provide in many many ways. United Methodists worked to establish Nothing but Nets for the people of Africa to fight malaria, engage in advocating against school segregation, welcome 1,000 people to the youth conference IGNITE, rebuild homes after Hurricane Sandy, purchase a plane for missionaries to deliver supplies in the Congo and the list goes on.  I don’t often talk about the shared ministry expense that our congregation contributes to, but as United Methodists, we should all be very proud of the work our denomination does all over the world, and we contribute to that!  None of these could have been achieved by one person, and all of these took leaders hearing God’s call to embrace a mission larger than themselves.

In a similar vein, when God has put a calling into the hearts of others who may not belong to the United Methodist Church, God has moved United Methodists to stand with them in partnership, working to accomplish that which cannot be accomplished on one’s own.  That is why the United Methodist Church stands with the Black Lives Matter movement, and why a growing portion of the United Methodist Church is coming to recognize the importance of LGBTQ inclusion and celebrating and affirming the humanity of others, no matter what walks of life they come from.  That’s why the United Methodist Church partners with organizations near and far seeking justice, saving lives, providing hope.

I want to challenge us to prayerfully consider the ministry that we are called to do… as a community at this time, with the gifts and graces that we possess.  Yes, we are a small congregation and yes, if we put our minds to it, we can list – item by item – all the things that we can no longer do for whatever reason.  The list of ministries that this church has done over the years is extensive.  But I believe that list is not complete yet because there is still life, and we are still called – as Deborah was called – to be at the front lines of God’s kingdom and to serve others in a myriad of ways.

And that is why I say that we should sing a song of praise, for God is at work.  God is calling us into partnership.  God is calling us into ministry.  It’s important in this day and age for the church to be engaged in ways that may seem vastly different from decades ago.  Frenchtown and Kingwood churches are members of the Frenchtown Business Owner’s Association, these congregations have stepped up when there have been incidents requiring compassionate responses; and we continue to be attentive to those times and places in which we may be called upon to support those who are voiceless, those who are in need, those who hunger for righteousness.  You’ve heard me mention the Bridges program over the last year.  This is a program that encourages congregations to build partnerships within local communities, bringing God’s love outward and encouraging ministry in new ways, imaginative ways, unique ways.

We are in a position, right here and right now, to be at the front lines of the new church.  Just as Barak said to Deborah, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”, the same is true for me.  Sing a song of praise for God is at work and calling us into partnership.  I’m inviting you; I’m asking you to go with me into the future, to be the church of today that we may bring God’s love, God’s kingdom here and now.  Praise be to God.

To God be the glory.