God uses whom he wants to use.
Today we hear about Deborah, a biblical Hero from the book of Judges. You may be thinking to yourself. Hmmm. Judges. What was that about again? I wouldn’t blame you. This tiny snippet is the only time we hear from the book of Judges in all three years of our lectionary. And this snippet doesn’t even tell Deborah’s whole story!
The book of Judges takes place between the time of Joshua leading the Israelites into the Promised Land and the introductions of Kings to Israel. The Israelites, after 40 years of wandering through the desert, are FINALLY in this beautiful land they have traveled for years to inherit. So they settle in and happily worship the Lord, right?
Nah, the Israelites settle in and then immediately start worshiping other gods!
The pattern of the book of Judges is that the Israelites betray God, an invading army comes in, God raises up a Judge who defeats the army, everyone praises God, until they start worship other gods again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Human beings are slow learners.
Judges were political leaders who settled disputes and often military leaders—they had a wide range of responsibilities.
This is where Deborah comes in. We know most women in the Old Testament by their relationship to the men in their lives. Sarah follows Abraham, Rebecca is most famous for being a mother to Jacob and Esau, Hannah is famous for finally being able to bear children after loads of prayer. Women are actively participating in life with God, but the stories told of them are usually tangential.
Deborah, on the other hand, is defined only by her own talents. Deborah is a prophetess and a judge, who is married to a man we never see in the story.
An invading army, led by a man named Sisera, is rapidly approaching the Israelites. Deborah receives a message from the Lord to pass on to Barak, who is a military General. She tells him that God has told him to go this specific location—Mount Tabor—where the puny Israelite army will defeat Sisera’s enormous army. Not only was Sisera’s army enormous, but they had tools and weapons the Israelites did not—including 900 thundering iron chariots.
Barak wants no part of this. Even though he hears this message from the Lord, he is rightfully terrified. 10,000 soldiers with advanced weaponry? No thank you. He tells Deborah that he will only go if she accompanies him. She rolls her eyes and says she’ll go, but warns him that he won’t get any glory out of his leadership.
They go to battle, and the Israelites defeat the invading army. Sisera jumps off his chariot, which is getting him nowhere, and goes and hides in a tent. This is where the story gets more like something out of Game of Thrones than the Bible. Sisera thinks he is friendly territory, but Jael, the woman he encounters is actually allied with Israel. She welcomes him warmly into her home, covers him with a rug, offers him some milk and then drives a peg into his head killing him.
So much for meek and mild, right?
God uses these two women and their smarts and their physical strength in a way that feels very modern to us.
As many of you know, I grew up around Army bases in Germany and many of my classmates became soldiers. Every veteran’s day I am particularly struck at the pictures my friends posts of their time in Iraq or Afghanistan. Here are these beautiful young women, not making fish lips in a selfie, but covered in dust, wearing fatigues, surrounded by fellow soliders or Iraqi children they are befriending. These women are so proud of their time in the service and the ways it formed them. Some of them are physicians now, some lawyers, some retail managers, but they are all defined by their own sense of identity rather than whose wife they are or whose mother. (Although many of them are both loving wives and mothers.)
How moving that for God, this is not a new idea. Our society is just catching up to how God always saw women. As valuable, meaningful people in their own right. People who can be used to further God’s kingdom. Although, I truly hope none of us are called to drive a tent peg into anyone’s head.
The good news about the book of Judges is the male leaders God chooses are just as unlikely as Deborah. Samson was strong, but as dumb as a brick. Gideon was just a kid, Jephthah had no idea who his father was, Abimelech was power hungry and Ehud, well, he was left handed.
That’s right, God can even use left handed people to do God’s work.
One of the things I love about the Episcopal Church is how we take everyone seriously. We think about Christian formation from the infants we baptize to people in nursing homes. In our Women’s Bible Study we don’t have any cutesy pink bibles to help us figure out our role as women. We just study the Bible. At Ladies Night we are just as likely to talk about theodicy as we are to talk about our jobs or raising children. Whether you are a stay at home mom, a stay at home dad, a hedge fund manager, an artist, a CEO, a teacher, a house cleaner, a retired person, or a kindergartener, you are valuable to God. Just as you are.
God uses whom he wants to use.
The unique mass of cells and impulses that make you, you are delightful to God. At your baptism his Spirit united you to Christ. Many of you were baptized as infants. If you think you don’t have your life together now, just imagine what a mess you were when you were a baby. Babies don’t even know what their own arms are for until they’ve been alive for months! Babies are useless! And yet, the God of the Universe deigns to stake a claim on their little lives. Because God knows that each of us is enough, more than enough, just the way we are. He doesn’t wait to use us for his Kingdom until we are married, or have babies, or get a job for which we feel qualified. He doesn’t wait for us to straighten our homes, or get that personal record on a marathon, or have someone buy our first painting to think we are valuable.
God loves us, and God uses us. He invites us to participate in the ongoing relationship he’s been developing with humanity from the beginning of Creation.
Will we join him?