“If You’re Going to Mess with Ba’al, Do it in the Daylight!”
Rev. Phillip Blackburn
October 13, 2019
Do you ever wonder why we have all this stuff? I mean, nobody in the history of the world has had this much stuff. We have so much stuff. Tasha and I were cleaning out the garage the other day, and we try to keep a relatively modest amount of stuff, but as I was schlepping stuff out of the garage one thought kept coming into my mind, “where did all this stuff come from?” I found bubble wands that had been given to my kids like 5 years ago. I found household products we’d used once in years. I found bicycles we hardly ever ride. All of it slowly accumulated over the years. All of it a mystery to me. Why was it still there? Why had I kept it so long? Why do we have all this stuff?
Pretty much all of us have way more stuff than we need. We have china we never use, clothes we never wear, games we never play, books we never read. One would think that at some point we would stop accumulating it, but we don’t. It just keeps piling up. Finally, a few years ago I instituted a one in/one out policy for clothing. I couldn’t stand it anymore. So now, if an article of clothing comes in, one goes out. And guess what? I still don’t wear everything I have.
Now maybe you are better about this than I am. Maybe you have gone all Marie Kondo on your stuff and literally everything in your house brings you joy. I doubt it. I suspect all of us have too much stuff. And I know why we keep it around. Do you know? I can tell you. The reason we have all this stuff is not because of the stuff itself, but because of what it represents. Why did we have those bubble wands all those years? Somebody gave them to the kids and to get rid of them would have felt like some sort of betrayal. Why the unused household products? Because maybe one day we will use them again. Why the bicycles? Because we want to be people who ride bicycles. Almost everything we have that we don’t need or don’t use represents something else. It stands for something else. All that stuff is like a little altar to something else, to the money we spent for it, the person who left it to us, the place where we got it, the person we aspire to be. Our homes are full of little altars, items large and small which exist to testify to the existence of something else.
And you know what God wants us to do with altars, don’t you? Uh oh. So the first step in the elevation of Gideon has to do with an altar. God tells Gideon to go and tear down the altar to Ba’al. Now there were a couple problems with this; things that made it risky. First, the altar belonged to his dad. Second, Ba’al was the preferred God of the occupying Midianites. And third, Gideon was a bit of a scaredy-cat. When we first met him, he was cowering in a wine press with a little dab of grain; hiding it from the Midianites. The angel’s words to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior,” were dripping with irony.
So with these barriers, will Gideon have the guts to do as God requested and tear down the altar to the foreign god which his father erected? The answer as it often is in Scripture is yes, with a but. Gideon did as he was instructed, but he was still the same guy who was found hiding in the wine press, making excuses about why he was not the guy to stand up to the Midianites. So he pulled down the altar, but he waited until after dark. In terms of spiritual decluttering, we can only give him partial credit for this.
Why is that, you may be asking? Why does it matter if he pulled it down during the daylight or after dark? Here is the answer, if you are going to trust God, I mean really trust God, then it doesn’t make much sense to hedge. It’s kind of an either/or sort of thing. Either you trust God and you follow God in a scenario like this, or you don’t. And Gideon’s hedge here would foreshadow the rest of his career. He was pretty good in some ways, but never fully great. He never was able to give God full credit for deliverance from the Midianites. He was always a halfway sort of guy.
So what does this have to do with us? Let me say this. Ba’al was the ultimate idol in the Old Testament. He pops up all the time and he sort of embodies the ways in which the people have strayed from the commandments of God. When you find an Israelite worshipping Ba’al, as Gideon and his family were doing here, then you usually find the people as a whole are in a bad situation. Ba’al was idolatry and if I had to find a modern equivalent of Ba’al, an embodiment of idolatry, it would be all this stuff!
We have all these little altars scattered throughout our lives, and we keep adding more because we think they will bring back our loved one, or remind us of better days, or make us happy, or make us safe, and aren’t all those things God is supposed to do? What we see in Judges is this cycle of the Israelites. They have a good judge and are faithful to God and then the judge dies or leaves, then they backslide and they fail to keep God’s commandments and they get into trouble and they cry out for help and God sends a judge and the cycle begins anew. When I think about all of us who are gathered here today, I know that we are all in different places in our own spiritual cycles. Some of us here feel so close to God today we could practically touch him, while others of us feel he hasn’t been close in years. Well no matter where we are, wouldn’t it be good if we tore down an altar or two?
I remember when Calum was really little and we had just gotten a new couch. He was toting around a cup of juice and somehow the lid must’ve gotten loose, as lids on juice cups seem to do, and he spilled it on the couch. I was so mad. Our new couch, all that money we’d spent on it, and now it had a stain. And it wouldn’t look nice and if people came over, what would they think of us and our stained couch. But then I remember having another thought, and it pushed its way into my head almost at the same exact moment I was winding up, it’s just a thing. The couch isn’t me. The stain isn’t the difference between me being homeless or not. It’s just a thing. These altars are not our gods, they are just things.
When the village woke up and they saw what had happened to the altar they quickly figured out Gideon had done it, so they were going to kill him. But Gideon’s dad, the one who had built the altar, came out and he said listen, if this is so awful and if Ba’al is so mad, let him strike Gideon down. We don’t need to do it. And what happened? Nothing.
This sermon is not about getting rid of all our stuff. But it is very much about recognizing that our relationship to stuff is, for many of us, an idol. We think if we let it go, or we break it or we lose it that all these awful things will happen to us. But couldn’t we sort of try it and find out? We don’t need all these things, and most of us certainly don’t need more things. Things have become an idol, they are our Ba’al. We can tear them down, just like Gideon did. We can recognize that the source of our joy is God, that the foundation of our security is God, that the core of who we are is our faith, that all the great things that we’ve done or happened to us have actually been gifts of the God we worship. You will leave this place today and your stuff will be back, and you may even think you need more stuff. You don’t. You can tear down the altar. And you can do it in the daylight because God is with you. Amen.