This message was delivered November 15th, 2020, at the First Baptist Church of Denver.

Instruments for Change Under God

Hello again, friends. As you may be able to tell, I am not Brian Henderson – my name is Kurt Kaufman, and I’m a student at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. As a student in seminary, I’ve found myself in our church’s library quite often, so often in fact that I’ve considered how comfortable it would be to sleep under the table, which may be necessary as I prepare for my first exegesis paper due Friday.

If you haven’t been in the library here at the church, I would truly recommend it – at least, when I’m not sleeping in there. The wealth of information contained in that room not only about faith but also the history of our church and our city is truly fascinating to peruse. One of the pieces in the library is a small yearbook from the year 1966 for the Women’s Mission Society of the First Baptist Church of Denver, and within it is a letter from then-pastor Rev. Elroy Shikles that states the theme for the year as “Instruments for Change Under God.” Later in the letter, he adds these words:

“I do hope that every First Church woman will not only be loyal to the Circle and once a month meeting, but I pray that each of you will become involved in your neighborhood political, PTA, and Social groups where decisions are made. We must infiltrate the power groups of our community, City, and State with the spirit of Christ.”

It was clear to Rev. Shikles in 1966 that the power in the community and in the world at large did not lie with a single human individual, but rather the whole community. Today, 54 years later, coming off the heels of a divisive political season and continued tensions and unrest within our community, the same sentiment rings true: “We are the instruments for change under God.”

Our friends the Israelites in the book of Judges leading up to our passage today as we know had fallen into a bit of a cycle: a cycle of falling into sin, punishment, the lifting up of a leader and rescuer for the Israelite people, and then to peace.

In our short passage this morning we see a similar pattern – however, if there’s one thing that seminary has taught me so far, it’s that we shouldn’t ever consider just one part of a segment of a passage, especially just the introduction, and there is an important aspect of this particular narrative in Judges that I feel embodies the idea that we, all of us, are instruments for change under God.

So, in the narrative of Judges 4, the Israelites continued their cycle of being the proverbial Life Alert – falling and not getting up. They did what was evil, and were punished by King Jabin and Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army. Then, the passage notes that Deborah was judging Israel – but it does so in a different way. Deborah was not described as the one who was lifted up by the Lord to deliver Israel – rather, she just sat under a tree and judged them.

Instead, Deborah then sends for another – Barak – who is commanded to lead the resistance against Sisera. But something interesting happens here – Barak doesn’t want to go without Deborah. She agrees, with the understanding that it will still be a woman who delivers Israel.

Barak then goes up to Mount Tabor, and as the Lord had said, the army of Sisera was delivered to Barak’s hand and the army was defeated – except for Sisera, who ran away to the tent of Jael, a non-Israelite woman, with whom Sisera had assumed he had safety. Jael, however, had another plan, as through her hospitality convinced Sisera of his safety and while he was asleep, she drove a tent stake into his head, killing him.

A violent story indeed, but one that marks a notable transition through the cycle that we’ve become so familiar with in Judges up until chapter 4. Some key items are different here, most notably the presence of not just one but two women, who fill a role traditionally filled by men in ancient Israel. Furthermore, the perceived cowardice of Barak prior to heading to Mount Tabor to fight Sisera’s army – yet another departure from the gender roles of ancient Israel.

Lastly, the Israelites lacked a single, human deliverer as they’ve had in the last several iterations of the Judges cycle. Who was it that truly delivered the Israelites in this story?

The answer to that question may be obvious to us, but it certainly wasn’t for the Israelites. There are times when we, even as active Christians and believers in God, actively place our trust not in God but in humans, strictly, to deliver us.

As we’ve seen over the last several months, we place an extraordinary responsibility on the role of the President of our nation to deliver us from whatever it is we feel that we need to be delivered from on that particular day. We place similar responsibilities on the leadership of other organizations, on churches, on our workplaces – on humans – to deliver us from those who punish us and those who are working against us. As we see continued divides across the nation and our denomination, we put our faith and responsibility in the hands of our human leadership that strictly aligns with our values without considering perhaps that are others working for our deliverance.

As we see through the outcome of the passage in Judges, I suggest that this responsibility may be misplaced. The one who delivers us from that which troubles us is God, hands down, full stop. However, God works through us – all of us – to carry out that deliverance. Not just one person – not just me, not just Brian, not just the President, but all of us. And often, the people that God works through to deliver us may be unexpected. In the time of this passage, it was not just a single man who delivered Israel, but God worked through the women as well. These women weren’t strictly Israelites either, as Jael was a Kenite woman. God works through every single one of us in order to bring the kingdom here, without exclusions. We are the instruments for change under God, friends. Every individual you meet in your life God is working through in order to deliver their people.

That democrat or republican you come across on social media? Them too. That woman, that man, black or white, gay or straight, rich or poor, God is working through in order to deliver us. As long as we continue to infiltrate the power groups of our community, City, and State with the spirit of Christ - As long as we continue to work to lift up the voices of others, as long as we seek a common theme that unites us as opposed to the things that divide us, as long as we continue to listen instead of speaking, we will hear the echoes of God’s will being performed through our brothers and sisters of this world, and we will be delivered just as the Israelites were, time and time again.

May it be so. Amen.