Mighty Minions

June 11, 2017

Moose come in herds, sheep come in flocks, Bats come in cauldrons and Minions come in bunches.  I just made the minion part up.

We know that sometimes Minions come alone, like Tonto, Bernado, he was Zorro’s minion, and Igor.

But sometimes Minions come in bunches.  Robin Hood had his Merry Men and Snow White had her Seven Dwarfs and Gru had his minions.

This is week six of our “Minions: Playing second fiddle for God” series and you’ll remember how the Oxford dictionary defines a Minion as “A follower or underling of a powerful person, especially a servile or unimportant one.”

Over the past five weeks we’ve been looking at those who didn’t get to play the lead role in the story of God and the impact that they ultimately made in that story.

Today we go back to the Old Testament to look at a bunch of minions.

It was a time of reflection for David; 2 Samuel Chapter 23 begins by telling us these were the last words that David spoke.  Now whether or not they were literally the last words that David spoke, or the last words of importance that David spoke, or the last recorded words David spoke, we don’t know.

I’m working on my dying words.   I will motion to those who have gathered to say their final good byes to me to come closer and then I will say, “I want you to know, I hid the three million dollars in the . .  .”  I know the timing is going to have to be spot on, but really life is all about the timing.

We just know that these were pretty important words, spoken by David, the King of Israel.  And after he has spoken these words, which revealed the covenant between those who would follow him and God, David, begins to reflect on where he’s been, the struggles that brought him to this point and the people who helped him to achieve everything he had achieved.

And that brings us to the scripture that was read this morning, which contains the story of the Mighty Men of David.

And so, in this reflection of the people who made David what he was,  he begins by naming three. Jashobeam, Eleazar and Shammah.  Three different men, from three different backgrounds with one common goal.  And that was to serve the one who was their leader, because every minion has to have a leader.

Their stories are stories of incredible bravery and military prowess.  To start with we are told that Jashobeam killed eight hundred men with his spear.

Eight hundred men with a spear, now these weren’t unarmed men, we aren’t talking about Jashobeam in the same way that people talked about Lt. William Caley during the Vietnam War.

This was war and Jashobeam was involved in a battle against other armed men.  As my grandmother would have said “He must have been some awful mighty good.”  We don’t have the details only the highlights.

Eleazar was the next on the list and we are told that he stood alongside David in a battle with the Philistines and fought until he could no longer lift his sword.  Of course, Eleazar had probably learned how to be tough at a very early age considering how he was identified in the bible as “Eleazar the son of Dodai, in some translations it’s the son of Dodo.”  And you thought you got picked on in school.

And then there was Shammah, who is credited with defending a field of legumes against the Philistines, man there must have been whole different set of priorities back then, I would have said, “Hey guys you can have the legumes, and the Brussel sprout field as well.

But those aren’t the exploits that I want to deal with this morning.  They were just introductory remarks, for the writer of 2 Samuel and for me.

The real story starts around vs. 13.  Let me tell you about it.  The story happened many years before 2 Samuel was written; as a matter of fact it happened when King David was still just plain old Dave.

If you remember your bible stories you’ll recall how David the Shepherd boy had saved the day when the Giant Goliath challenged the army of Israel to battle.  Nobody was willing to take the giant on but David stepped forward and defeated the Philistine giant with his slingshot.  You do remember, that don’t you?

From that point David went on to become King Saul’s most effective officer, leading the king’s army into several victories.  After a time though Saul started to get jealous of David’s success and began to feel threatened and so he decided to kill David.   Well David wasn’t amused and not wanting to be killed he headed for the hills.

The thing that put David in a difficult spot though was his integrity.  You see he knew that Saul had been anointed of God, and even though Saul had wandered away from his calling David wouldn’t harm him.

Saul was King, David wasn’t, at that point David was just Saul’s minion, and so even though Saul was trying to separate David’s head from his shoulders David refused to retaliate.

Instead he continued to fight against the King’s enemies at the same time as he was trying to avoid being killed by the king.

Kind of confusing, isn’t it?  Well, David has surrounded himself with what many people would have called losers, as a matter of fact listen to how the Bible refers to them  1 Samuel 22:1-2  So David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. Soon his brothers and all his other relatives joined him there.  Then others began coming—men who were in trouble or in debt or who were just discontented—until David was the captain of about 400 men.

And so, some scholars tell us that Adullam Cave became a kind of headquarters for David and his warriors.  It provided them with a location that was semi-secure from King Saul and his forces and still allowed them to wage guerrilla warfare against the invading Philistines.  Let’s pull down a map here.  Some familiar spots, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Bethlehem and here is Adullam.

And at one point in the story, David and his soldiers are holed up in Adullam, Saul is looking to destroy them, the Philistines are presently in a superior position as a matter of fact we are told that they had actually set up camp here in the Rephaim Valley and from that point had taken over the town of Bethlehem.

Now we all know what Bethlehem is famous for right?  “O little town of Bethlehem”, it was the birthplace of Jesus, but long before that happened it had been the birthplace of David.  And as he stands on the hill overlooking his hometown David starts to get a little wistful.

That ever happen to you, things get tough and you start thinking about how much better things used to be.  Maybe in another time or another place, and you begin to think “what if we” or “if only” or “I miss”.  That stuff never happens, does it?  Sure it does, it’s called “nostalgia” and if we were honest most of us would agree with Lou Reed when he wrote  “I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine.”

Well, we may like not the nostalgia of others, but we all like our own, which made David normal.  And in the middle of his daydreaming he says “Boy, I’d sure like to have a drink from that well just outside the gate at Bethlehem, the water was so good from that well, it was sweet and cold, and it was really great water.”

Now I don’t know if what David really wanted then was a drink of water or just to escape to the past.  The water from the well outside the gates of Bethlehem was probably no different than the water anywhere else in Palestine.  It is doubtful if it was colder, sweeter or clearer. But as George Ball said “Nostalgia is a seductive liar.”

As a matter of fact, if the water had of been that great then I’m sure that it would have been mentioned somewhere else in the Bible but it wasn’t.  So presumably it was just an ordinary well producing ordinary water.  The only difference is what it represented to David.

David wasn’t necessarily thinking of water as he was thinking of a simpler time, a more secure time.  A time that he wasn’t on the run from the King, a time when he wasn’t fighting for his life on two different fronts.

The type of water that David was craving is called nostalgia.

But never the less, these three guys heard David.  And they immediately start thinking and scheming.  You can almost hear them, “you know, David is a great leader.”  “Yeah, he sure is”  “and he doesn’t ask for much” “nope, he sure doesn’t” “you know we ought to go down to Bethlehem and get him a glass of water.”  “Are you nuts? The reason we are living in a cave is because the bad guys are in Bethlehem, we could be killed.”

I’m not sure of all the details of the conversation all I know is what is written in the Bible and it tells us in 2 Samuel 23:16  So the Three broke through the Philistine lines, drew some water from the well by the gate in Bethlehem, and brought it back to David. But he refused to drink it. Instead, he poured it out as an offering to the LORD.

I don’t know how they did what they did, but they did.  And they brought the water back to their friend and said, “Hey boss, look what we got you, some water from the well outside the gate of Bethlehem.”

He must have been floored.  What were they thinking?  I’m sure that his first response must have been “Are you nuts? The reason we are living in a cave is because the bad guys are in Bethlehem, you could’ve been killed.”

And then he says “It would be wrong for me to drink something this valuable, instead I’m presenting it to God as a sacrifice”, and he poured it out.  By the way, that is what a sacrifice is; when you give up something you’d really rather keep.

Neat Story huh?  But what does it teach us today, June 11th, 2017?

Well, first of all it tells us: When We Try to Do Something Great It Will Always Involve a Risk.

I can only imagine the risk those three guys took to get that jug of water.  They had to sneak through enemy troops, approach the main gate of an occupied city, lower a bucket silently into the well.  And then, then they had to do it all over again, this time carrying a jug of water.  Doesn’t sound like a walk in the park.  Then again if it was easy everyone would have been doing it.

Can I ask you a question?  Sure I can, after all I’m up here and I have the mic, right? When was the last time you took a risk? Any risk, outside of driving in the city? When was the last time you took a business risk? When was the last time you took a personal risk? When was the last time you took a spiritual risk?

You probably used to do it a lot more when you were younger didn’t you?, It seems like the older we get the more comfortable the cave seems and the more dangerous the road to Bethlehem looks. But life is about taking risks; it shouldn’t be about playing it safe.

After all the secret isn’t who gets the most years in their life but who gets the most life in their years.

Maybe Charles Lindbergh said it best when he made this statement, “I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary lifetime . . . Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or the misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days?”

The reality is that you will never discover how far you can possibly go without taking a risk.

Every noteworthy contribution every made to society has started out as a risk. Beginning with Adam and Eve deciding that maybe cooked meat might not be so bad and trying to figure out how to go about harnessing fire, right up to and including space travel and beyond.

Human progress entails risk taking. It’s easy to play it safe, but it’s not profitable.

These guys weren’t the only people in the bible to take a risk. Think about how different our bible would be if Abraham had said no when he was asked to leave everything he had to pursue the vision of a great nation.

 That’s a risk when you are told that you will be the father of a nation when you aren’t even the father of a child.

What would have happened if Noah had of decided to play it safe and not become a boat builder in his old age? And if David decided that tending sheep had a better future then fighting giants?

What if Daniel realized that it was safer to obey the king’s command then to pray? And if Mary had of told the angel that she really wasn’t interested in being a teen age mom because she didn’t want to take the risk?

What if Jesus had of come to the conclusion that there was a brighter future in being a carpenter then being a messiah? Or what if he hadn’t wanted to take the risk of coming to earth at all?

If the apostles had of decided that it was too risky to leave Jerusalem after the Holy Spirit had come, would we still be painting our bodies and living in trees?

If Columbus hadn’t taken a risk on the earth not being flat would England and Europe be very crowded now, and Australia, Canada and the States would still belong to their original owners.

If Henry Ford hadn’t taken a risk would we still be riding horses? If Edison hadn’t taken a risk would we still be reading by candles? If Graham Bell hadn’t taken a risk would we be living without the telephone?

The face of the earth and the scope of human history has been changed by those who were willing to take a risk. Now I know that we can’t all be Fords and Edison’s but every one of us has the ability to change our world.

Every one of us has the ability to leave a mark with our life, but only if we are willing to take a risk.

The second thing we discover from our story is When We Try to Do Something Great It Will Always Involve Commitment

Not only does doing great things require taking a risk, it requires a commitment to the task.  It’s not going to happen right away, and we are going to have to move out of our comfort zone if we are going to get it done.

Sometimes Christians remind me of the guy who wrote a note to his girlfriend and it said, “My love, for you I would climb the highest mountain, sail the deepest seas, or swim the widest rivers. PS If it’s raining on Saturday I won’t be over.”

Often, I hear believers define their priorities saying it’s “God, family, church etc. etc.”  When in reality God falls a lot further down the list then we are willing to admit.

What do I base that on?  The fact that our commitments are demonstrated by our actions and not by our words.

When these three men decided to show their love and loyalty for their leader they did it in a tangible way.  They didn’t go and say “Hey boss, we just wanted to let you know that we thought about going to the well outside Bethlehem to get you some water, we didn’t do that but we thought about doing it.”

Because regardless of what people say it’s not the thought that counts, it’s the doing that counts.  So, guys it’s not enough to tell your wife, “Hey babe I thought about taking the garbage out.” You have to actually take the garbage out.

You want to show me where your commitment is?  Then show me your chequebook and your calendar and I’ll tell you what it is that you are committed to based on where you spend your money and more importantly where you spend your time.

And the third thing that the story teaches us is:  When We Try to Do Something Great it Won’t Always Work Out the Way We Expect.

I wonder what the guys thought when David poured the water out?  I’m not sure that is what they expected him to do with it.  They probably thought, “Boy, if we’d known he was going to do that we would have got it out of the tap in the bathroom.”

Sometimes we have think we have it all figured out, and then it changes.  And we wonder why.  Solomon in all of his wisdom reminds us in  Proverbs 16:9  We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps.

That doesn’t mean we don’t plan and dream and set goals, it simply means that when God steps in we allow him to change our plans.

Two weeks ago I spoke about John Mark.  When he agreed to travel with Paul on his first missionary journey he was trying to do something great for God, and then everything went south.

I’m pretty sure that Mark was disappointed, especially when Paul wouldn’t let him accompany him on his next journey.

But last week I travelled to Egypt and interacted with the Christians who are a result of that disappointment.

 Because Mark didn’t travel with Paul, he ended up in Egypt in 49, and that was the beginning of one of the oldest branches of Christianity.  

May I diverge for a minute to say that while in Alexandria I stood at the tomb of St. Mark, seriously at the tomb of the man who wrote the gospel of Mark and who in all probability walked and talked with Jesus.

I also stood on the platform of the Hanging Church where Christians have been worshipping for 1600 years and visited the Cavern Church where tradition says the Holy Family stayed when they were on their Egyptian exile.

And I worshipped with believers who  belong to a 2000 year old community of faith that is there because one minion’s plan didn’t work out, but God’s plan apparently did.

So, as God challenges you to greatness remember that it will require a risk, it will require a commitment and it will require a rigid commitment to flexibility.