09-11-16 In the Days of the Judges: In the Days of Gibeah

Fifteen years after the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists, the day was marked by remembrances... and people complaining about remembrances.  It was significant how many people didn’t like that President Obama gave a pre-recorded address before a football game, or that a Wal-Mart put up a display using Coca-Cola products, or that Papa John’s sold pizzas at $9.11, or that players stood during (or didn’t stand during) the national anthem, or that Hillary Clinton didn’t tell people that she had pneumonia, etc.  Fifteen years later, and an amazing number of people were far more interested in feeling offended than they were in being moved, because it’s all about how they feel...

We didn’t “memorialize” the day on Sunday -- not out of a lack of respect for the people who died, but rather because we’ve no desire to use our worship service to give even more airplay to an act of terror in this age of increasing acts of terror.  We didn’t memorialize that horror, nor will we memorialize the anniversaries of the date of the Orlando shootings, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor, or any of the other countless catastrophes that have befallen our nation precisely because those catastrophes are countless.  Perhaps that’s poor judgment on our part, and I’ll shoulder any criticisms that people may angrily express about it... but when I look at how people have reacted so poorly and so emotively to so many of the “observances” this past weekend, I have to think that there are times when it can be wiser simply to take time to pray and remember as individuals or families, rather than to make a pageant out of our nation’s past pains.

In our message this week, we finished up looking at the Book of Judges by walking through what is, to my mind, the most unpleasant portion of the Bible.  Really, I can’t stand the main character (our final “judge”), and I am sickened by the story itself.  But, of course, that’s exactly what our writer was going for, so I can’t complain that the book ends this way.

See, he’s been leading up to this the whole time -- describing an ever- increasingly appalling succession of bad judges, leading a nation which finds itself more and more debauched in its thinking, since everyone is increasingly just doing “as he sees fit” in life.  The sad but true story is that when we -- especially as a culture -- simply “follow our hearts” in things, then we not only increasingly lose our way, but we tragically cease to perceive it.  Every step down the wrong path seems more and more like the right step -- and anyone who disagrees with us must be despicably bad.

So it felt right for a Levite to ignore Levitical rules.  It felt right for the men of Gibeah to rape someone to death.  It felt right for the Levite to mistreat his wife horribly.  It felt right for Israel to respond without truly seeking God’s leading.  It felt right for them to all but destroy a whole tribe.  And then it felt right for them to slaughter cities and kidnap innocents in order to bring the tribe back -- in fact, they argued that it was a kindness...

Like so many horror stories today, this narrative started simply, with a couple who slept around and then handled it badly... but it quickly devolved into almost unimaginably terrifying circumstances.  If characters just recognized that they’d stepped into a horror movie, maybe they’d act differently...?

But then again, that’s sin in a nutshell.  It never seems like it’s going to end up as a horror movie when you begin.  It just seems like a little naughty fun, or like an easier way of doing something, or like a justifiable response to an unfair situation.  That first step down that wrong path seems so understandable.  The second seems justifiable.  The third makes perfect sense.  The fourth is arguably righteous, when you really think about it.  And so forth... 

But all of those steps and all of those paths always lead to horror, and that’s what our writer was trying to show us.  Consider those last three chapters of the Book of Judges like a Biblical version of the movie, Scared Straight! -- hoping to get us to realize that the land of “Do as thou wilt” and “anything that feels good” is not a paradise, but a hell of our own making.  If we just recognized that we step into a horror movie when we sin, maybe we’d act differently...?

When do you think that our own nation -- that you and I -- will recognize that in our own lives?