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Talk About Radical
April 18, 1999

HEBREWS 9:24-28; ROMANS 12:1

A few weeks ago, Craig Anderson, in a matter-of-fact way, non-critical and nonjudgmental, said, "Now that you are retiring, your sermons are getting more radical." Talk about radical, I haven't scratched the surface. If you want radical, look at Jesus, who said, "Love your enemies." Now that's radical!

Or, look at the lesson read today from Romans. Paul said, "I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice." Talk about radical; now that is radical! The way of the world is to send someone else, not yourself. The way of the world is to sacrifice someone else, epitomized by Jephthah.

We read of Jephthah in the book of Judges. In the eleventh century BC, Israel lived in tribal societies. They were ruled by judges, before they had kings. The tribe of Gilead was at war with Ammon, known today as Amman, the capital of Jordan. Jephthah had a reputation as a mighty warrior, one well trained in combat who could supply a contingency of soldiers, as well as his own equipment. So the elders of Gilead approached Jephthah to lead their battle. Jephthah, a master of negotiation, negotiated a deal where the elders agreed to accept him as their leader not only during the war with Ammon, but as the permanent leader of the tribe once the victory was won.

There was a great deal at stake for Jephthah. Not only did Jephthah seek a victory over Ammon, but the victory would make him the undisputed leader of Gilead. Jephthah must win. So he decided to get God on his side, promising anything, anything for victory, anything for success. The "anything" he would do included human sacrifice. He would offer a human as a burnt offering. But not himself, of course, someone else, the way of the world. Judges 11:30,

And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, "If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord's, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering."

Imagine! An animal sacrifice was not enough, two doves were not enough. Jephthah would offer a human sacrifice, and not himself, but someone else. That's the way of the world.

There are some parents who are perfectly willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of success. They will deny their children time, love, attention, and a share in their lives because they are too busy making money or a name for themselves or a coveted position of power.

30 years ago, the voters of California initiated property tax reform. California voters were perfectly willing to sacrifice children so they could enjoy the style of life to which they had become accustomed. The quality of California public schools went from the best in the nation to the bottom where we now grovel around competing with Mississippi! Thank the Lord, there are signs that this trend might be reversing.

We watched the biography of the Heinz ketchup family on A&E. Three generations of the Heinz family treated their workers like family, providing health care and recreational facilities. Through careful management and concern, they were able to employ their workers through the Great Depression. But, benevolent companies today are hard to find. With mergers, acquisitions and cut-throat management, workers are sacrificed for the sake of the CEOs and the stockholders, sacrificed so the big shots can enjoy the style of life to which they have become accustomed.

And, how quickly we are willing to sacrifice our young men and women on the altars of war. Congress might even give them a standing ovation. At least, Jephthah led his men in battle. In medieval times also, the kings led the battles. Talk about radical! If and when ground troops go into Kosovo, I suggest that they be led by Clinton with Milosevich leading the Serbs. I would put the eager senators, Senator Lott and Senator Dodd right behind Clinton, with Jesse Helms in the first wave! Talk about radical! Oh well, facetious yes; but there is a point here to be made. The way of the world is to sacrifice someone else.

Back to Jephthah, after his victory over the Ammonites, he returned home, ready to sacrifice whomever came out to meet him. Whom did he expect, I wonder? A servant, a slave, the dog? Who came out to meet him? Who came out with timbrels dancing a victory dance? His daughter, his only child, glad to see her father, rejoicing in his victory, anxious to honor him, anxious to please him.

Jephthah's reaction? He blamed the victim! He was angry with her, because she came out of the house! Judges 11:35, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low; you have become the cause of great trouble to me." What logic! What a piece of work this guy is! It was her fault he must sacrifice her. She came out of the door. She caused him discomfort. She is condemned by her father. He offered her no comfort. Nor did he offer to release her from his vow. After all, his future was at stake! All he had ever dreamed of--to be the leader of the tribe--was coming to pass. He did not dare go back on his vow, taking the chance of angering his God, losing the respect of the tribe, and forfeiting his chance to be chief. Nor, did her offer to die in her place!

On the other hand, his daughter showed courage, understanding and compassion. She said to her father, Judges 11:36, "My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the Lord has given you vengeance against your enemies, the Ammonites." She did not defy the vow or express anger. No sentiment of self-pity passed her lips. Instead, she felt for her father the compassion he did not extend to her. Have you noticed that we don't know her name? She is nameless; after all, she is only a sacrifice!

Then, she made a request. She asked if she might take some friends into the wilderness to "bewail her virginity." She will never have a husband, she will never have sex, she will never bear children and the bearing of children in those days was what designated fulfillment for every Hebrew woman. She bewailed her virginity.

After two months, she returned to her father, who "did with her according to the vow he had made." When Abraham took his son, Isaac, to be sacrificed, Isaac had a name. Isaac was given hope and promise. "The Lord will provide the offering for the sacrifice," Abraham told Isaac. When Abraham lifted his knife to kill his son, Isaac, the Lord stopped him. But, when Jephthah sacrificed his daughter by burning her, a horrible, painful death, she had no name, no hope, no promise, no intervening angel. The daughter was silent. She breathed her last breath in silence, not even with the cry, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Her friends kept her memory alive for awhile. Judges 11:39-40, "There arose an Israelite custom that for four days every year the daughters of Israel would go out to mourn the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite." Thanks to the Order of the Eastern Star, the daughter of Jephthah is honored in their funeral liturgy. I am thankful that the Eastern Star remembers her, but I am angry that she had no name. I am angry at her father who sacrificed, not himself but someone else, his own daughter.

What happened to Jephthah, the low-life? Jephthah was remembered and honored for his victorious accomplishments. When he died a natural death, he received an epitaph in the Bible that is accorded to the best of heroes. Years later the prophet Samuel encouraged the Israelites with examples of great heroes of the past. He included Jephthah. Over a thousand years later, in the New Testament, in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews which lists heroes of the faith, there is Jephthah, listed between Samson and David!

Ironically, we rarely hear of Jephthah any longer; but thanks to the Eastern Star, we remember the daughter of Jephthah at their funerals, a bittersweet taste of justice.

The way of the world is to send someone else, to sacrifice someone else. The way of the world is to put yourself first-- # 1. But, Jesus didn't send someone else. Talk about radical! Jesus sacrificed his own life, not someone else's. Hebrews 9:26, "He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself."

We also are called, not to sacrifice someone else, but, Romans 12:1, "Present your bodies as a living sacrifice." Not your spouse or your children or a friend, but sacrifice yourself. Talk about radical!

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© 1999 Douglas I. Norris