I preached this sermon this morning for Dr. Kalas’s “Theology and Practice of Preaching” class. It was a joy and a privilege.
One sacred morning some villagers awoke and came out to see up on the hill their place of worship torn down. A different kind of altar was set up. On it was roasted bull. They realized that the wood used to burn the sacrificed bull was one of their idols, an Asherah pole. One of their own had bucked the acceptable vices of culture to follow the instructions of a forgotten God. The rebel, Gideon, was the son of a tribal leader. He claimed his family was the least of the tribe of Manasseh, and he was the youngest of his father’s house. But the night before, God had called him “valiant warrior.” And in Judges 6, God used him for a valiant purpose – to make the profane into something sacred. When the villagers saw the abomination on the hillside, they did not see eradication; they saw transformation. The difference may seem subtle, but their idolatry had not vanished. It had been converted into something else. Something profane had been made something sacred.
A brief story will illustrate the difference. Matt is an unusual pastor who meets potential church members by playing bar trivia in…you guessed it…a bar. He has lunch with Jeff almost every week, because Jeff is a “seeker,” someone who is searching for “something”…that can only be found in the Person of Jesus and His redeeming love. Jeff is in his mid-twenties and grew up in the church but quit going when he was about 15. Matt often opens conversation by asking, “What kind of questions about faith do you have?” Jeff usually talks about common things. But recently he asked Matt, “How do you know when it’s time to let God in your life.” Taken aback, Matt said, “What do you mean?” Jeff replied, “You know, I’m just afraid that if there’s a time to let God in, I’ve missed it. I’m just afraid that now I have too many addictions and too much stuff in my life that I could never get all my stuff straight and let God in.” Matt said, “Jeff, you don’t have to do that.” Then, Matt continued to explain how God enters into our brokenness, desiring to transform our infirmities and deliver us from our bondages.
Jeff illustrates an important problem. Many people who have grown up in the church are under the impression that they have to eradicate profanity, filth, from their life (AS IF THEY COULD ON THEIR OWN) before God will come near them, because “God is holy and can’t be in the presence of sin.” But this is not the picture painted by Judges 6. Gideon’s altar is beside the rubble that was once an altar to Baal. And it did not disappear from the story! It is the profanity after which and into which God’s grace and mercy breaks in. The bull sacrificed to God was burned using an Asherah pole. The profane had been redeemed for a sacred purpose.
You might be thinking that this is a nice little sermon for people like Jeff, lost souls whose lives are filthy and out of control. We, on the other hand, are mostly people who walk with Jesus and perhaps have done so for quite some time. But the fact is Israel was God’s chosen people. Lest we think too highly of our sanctification, we remember our depravity. For, like Israel, the people of God, we feel that we too are “prone to wander…prone to leave the God [we] love.” Our lives, too, may reflect some profanity, maybe obvious, maybe subtle. So, I ask, what altars exist to other gods in our village, in our homes, in our closets, on our computers, or hidden deep in the remotest parts of the heart…perhaps even erected right beside an altar to the Lord? What profanity is God desiring to make sacred? And will you let Him? Will you pray,
“Come thou Fount of every blessing
Tune our hearts to praise Thy name
Turn our idols into altars
Making sacred what was profane”?