First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton

September 1, 2019

Scripture: Judges 4:1-16, 5:1-9; Psalm 84

Let’s say a person named Joe  came to you and said, “Get all of your friends together and go to the neighborhood known for gang activity to confront the gang.  When you get there, I will deliver the leader of the gang into your hands. Your actions will rid the neighborhood of gang activity”. What would you do?

Are there any circumstances in which you would follow these instructions?  How would your response change based on your relationship with Joe?  If you had never met, Joe, I’m guessing you would just totally ignore his instruction.  But what if Joe was a life-long friend.  Someone who had never steered you wrong.  Someone who you trusted implicitly – would you do what he said? 

It’s a high-risk situation.  Your life is at stake, but so are the lives of those you might save.  You have an opportunity to be a hero – but there’s also a chance that Joe is wrong.  What do you do?

Just to make sure Joe is convinced of his own request – you ask Joe to go with you.  Surely, he would not knowingly go along with you if he was lying.  Your fear wells up, but you work hard to overcome it and act.  After all, you trust Joe – and being brave enough to follow his instructions could mean life and freedom for many people.

You have to wonder what kind of relationship Barak and Deborah have before she tells him to go confront the oppressor’s army.  The story doesn’t tell us much.  We know that Deborah resolves disputes amongst their people – so she has earned respect amongst her people.  And the scripture indicates she is a prophet – although it’s not clear how well known that might be.  Plus, most of the time in scripture, the people don’t do a particularly good job of following the prophets’ instructions.  So, the fact that Barak follows through promptly seems significant.  Not to mention, as you might have figured out, Deborah is a woman.  Deborah is a woman with a name whose story has been preserved in scripture.  She’s a woman with a name that tells a man what to do and the man listens.  It makes me think that they must have built a relationship with an extraordinary amount of trust before we ever get to her request.

In a blog post on Jostle.com, Hannah Price, proposes the following formula to assess trust.  She says trust = (perception of credibility (trusting what someone says) + perception of reliability (trusting what someone does) + intimacy (entrusting someone with something)) / Perception of self-orientation (how much you focus on yourself or others).[1]

According to that equation it seems like Deborah has had a track record of her words matching her actions and her actions working out.  Not only that, she and Barak must have had a relationship such that he would basically be willing to stake his life on her instructions and he was confident that she was not just trying to get him to do something to serve herself.

But if we take one more step back, you realize Deborah had to trust God for her to share the instructions with Barak.  Which made me think about – how do we build our trust in God?  What is it that compels us to follow God when we believe God is calling us? 

Credibility.  This is a tough one.  I think we all must determine how we assess the credibility of things attributed to God.  And for me – credibility is best established when paired with reliability which I also think of as experience.  For me to build trust in God, I have to pay attention to what I think I’m hearing from God and then pay attention to what happens when I act on what I’ve heard.  This is a feedback loop.  I listen, I respond, I assess, and I adjust before I listen again.  And over time, I’m able to better discern the messages that God has for me.  This is a process that will be honed over a lifetime.

But we shouldn’t forget that Price’s equation also includes intimacy.  The more we know God the more we can trust God.  I don’t believe that we will know God in a matter of fact kind of way – I’m more of a mystery person myself.  I think the divine is mysterious and our ways of knowing will always fall short in fully understanding it.  But I do think the more time we make to spend with God and to notice God, the more intimate we become.

Given that the Book of Judges is dated to about 550 BC, this story is a mystery in itself.  A prominent man following the instructions of a named woman who is never denigrated in the story almost feels miraculous.  It’s a powerful reminder of what can happen when trust is established between ourselves and God and one another.  May we all be compelled to continue to build such trust in our lives.  Amen.


[1] https://blog.jostle.me/blog/ways-to-build-trust-at-work

Sermon for September 1, 2019