Beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys: Triumph of the Ordinary 1/20/13

Judges 6:11-18

Jan. 20, 2013.

Beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys: Triumph of the Ordinary

A few years ago I took my son to the Franklin Institute and we were surprised when Arnold Schwarzenegger came through to see or dedicate something. And the surprising thing about seeing Arnold in person was how short he is. He walked right by me and I looked down and said Hi. (I didn’t challenge him to a fight or anything, but he was shorter than me, even though it says on the internet that he’s 6’2”.) I guess if you get near enough to just about anybody, you see them more as a human being, rather than as a movie star or celebrity.

Arnold has starred in a lot of movies about good guys and bad guys. As I do my little sermon series “Beyond Good Guys and Bad Guys” I thought about the difference between the big hero Schwarzenegger on the big screen, and the rather short guy I met in the Franklin Institute that day and about the ways we love good guy and bad guy stories.

“People do not seem to tire of the same plots, where bad guys appear to be winning, placing the heroes in grave danger with no avenue of escape, but, the good guy always escapes, and, with superior weapons and cunning, beats the bad guys and/or blows them to smithereens. All this is not unlike Popeye who was often in dire straits before he gulped down his spinach, watched his muscles bulge, and then pulverized Bluto, who had offended Olive Oil.” [America and Its Guns, James Atwood]

These stories pave the way for an acceptance of violence and idolization of guns in our culture. There are a bunch of stories like this in the Bible. The formula of weak ordinary good guy triumphing over stronger bad guy is ancient. In some ways the story of Gideon that Nancy read this morning is like these stories of Good guys vs. Bad guys that are the staples of our cartoons, videos, and movies. What I want us to notice, though, is how the Bible story complicates the plot in a crucial way to fundamentally change the moral of the story.

It seems in the time of the Judges there was a man named Gideon. Gideon hid in the winepress from the Midianites, thrashing his wheat. Usually, you throw the wheat up in the air to let the wind separate the wheat from the chaff, but Gideon was so scared and small, that he was trying to do this job inside where the wind couldn’t help him. While Gideon hid, an angel of God came to him and said, “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.” And Gideon looked around to see who the angel might be addressing because he knew it could not be him.

He was a good guy, but he was no mighty warrior. He protests to the angel, but the angel keeps saying things like, “Go, in this strength of yours, to defeat the Midianite bad guys.”

Gideon keeps trying to test God to make sure God is really in this with him. And then Gideon ends up pulling together a huge army to fight the Midianites, but God doesn’t want a huge army and God makes Gideon send the best warriors home, because the story makes it clear that God is in charge, not little Gideon.  When the weak, outnumbered good guy wins this battle against the powerful Midianites, it perfectly obvious what makes the difference.


The difference in the story of Gideon is in the moral of the story. The movies and cartoons in our culture encourage little boys and girls to trust in guns, and their own cleverness, and armor. James Atwood, in his book America and its Guns argues that the movies and predominant mythology of our culture teaches us to believe in idols, not to trust in God. They make guns into idols of worship and that’s why we so much trouble letting them go.

The whole point of the story of Gideon is to trust in God. It is an engaging, action packed story. I invite you to read it all the way through. It’s just a couple of chapters in Judges. It is not by any means an antidote to the violence of our modern tales, but it is interesting to note the difference in the moral.  Trust in God. Do not put your faith in the idols of your life.

It’s not just gun fanatics that believe in idols. We all do. We all have trouble trusting in the Living God rather than our own power, our own cunning, our own wits, our own muscles, our own Arnold Schwarzenegger action packed American idols. We fundamentally feel like we are alone and we have to do it on our own. We are frightened to death that we are alone and we have to fight off all the bad guys. We hide away trying to escape notice, not willing to take on what needs to be taken on, because we know we are weak, and we only hope that the good guys will come and help us or save us.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on what gets in the way of following God’s lead, what idols we tend to trust rather than the Living God. I know at the beginning of the New Year we are facing a lot of challenges and we need all the help we can get. I invite you to come to the altar for prayer this morning, giving over all our dependence on false idols of money, popularity, and all our isolation and loneliness. Come to the altar and renew your dependence on the God of Life who challenges you and supports you to live full out, to reach for your deepest, fullest humanity.

This is God’s good news.

*Responsive Hymn     No. 2107     Wade in the Water