Sunday, July 31, 2016

Sermon: Why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?

Why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?

         So, let me tell you about a guy! A real emblem of faith…
         The Philistines had conquered the Israelites, and they needed someone to protect them from this new threat…
so God sent an angel to Samson’s barren parents,
who promised them a child,
and made them swear an oath,
that Samson would never cut his hair, or be ritually impure, or drink strong drink.
         This man, Samson, starts his ministry by marrying a…
you know, the people he was supposed to protect the Israelites from…
         And he’s wandering to his bachelor party, and along the way he has a run in with a lion and rips it in half.
         Once at the bachelor party, he picks a fight with his future brother-in-laws, and kills a bunch of them.
         His would-be father-in-law thinks this means the marriage is off,
and marries Samson’s bride-to-be to the best man…
 and then we come to today’s story about the flaming foxes.
         By this point, Samson’s own people have decided he’s a little funny, and a danger to himself and others…
so they turn him over to the Philistine authorities….
Once arrested he kills, and kills, and kills, and kills, until the Philistine forces are all gone and God offers him a cool drink of water.
         Thirst satiated, he finds himself a prostitute in the city, and when his love shack is surrounded by an angry mob he hides out until midnight and then beats a hasty retreat,
carrying the city gates themselves off with him, for the fun of it.
         Then he falls in love with Delilah, another Philistine, who he famously lies to about the source of his strength a couple of times, before he tells the truth,
which gets him shorn and captured and blinded and bound.
         Then, in the final act, he’s put between pillars of a house where sacrifices to the Philistine god Dagon were taking place
—all the leaders of the Philistines are giving thanks to Dagon for allowing them to capture Samson,
and Samson goes from weakness to strength and strains and pushes those pillars down
—killing everyone, including himself
—3,000 in all.
         And that gets me to the first question in our 3-week sermon series “Questions from the Pews.”
Today’s question is:
“Why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?”
         Let us pray
         “Why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?”
         Now, to begin with, we have to come to grips with the fact that the Bible is a collection of books
the bible is a library of books we believe point to the God we know in Jesus Christ.
         Stating the obvious,
not all books say the same thing,
they have different focuses and different points.
And today, at least to some extent, we’re looking at two books of the Bible that are working at cross-purposes.
         One of the main point of the book of Judges is that the system for ruling God’s people after the death of Moses and Joshua, was ineffective—it worked very poorly.
Essentially, you had 12 tribes living side-by-side, but separate, other than when bad things happened,
at which point they would cry to God and a Judge
—a charismatic ruler
—would arise and unite the tribes and stop whatever bad thing had befallen them.
         The problem was, with the exception of Deborah and a few barely mentioned Judges, most of these judges were deeply, and I mean DEEPLY, flawed individuals
Jephthah sacrificed his own daughter because he made a dumb oath,
Barak was a coward,
Gideon and Micah made idols,
AbiMelek slaughtered his own brothers,
tribes warred against one another, culminating in the near genocide of the tribe of Benjamin…
and as we see today, we also have hyped-up, sexed-up, erratic, frat-boy Samson.
         The point the book of Judges is making, is that the system is messed up; a Davidic king is needed…
         This is, however, not the point of Hebrews.
Hebrews is a sermon focused on giving hope to early Christians facing persecution;
preaching to a Christian community where there are people falling away,
because being Christian involves sacrifice
—the preacher is telling us that, in the face of persecution, we need to trust in the unseen things of God, just like the faithful who came before did. Though it doesn’t always seem like it…
God is in relationship with us,
God has made a promise to us,
and we ought to trust in that promise,
just as God was in relationship with folk throughout the bible.
         So, on one hand the book of Judges goes out of its way to show that many of the Judges are flawed,
on the other, Hebrews points to their faithfulness.
         And that’s where the preacher is going—he is giving concrete examples of people living out their faith in times of trouble, so that his listeners can do the same.
         He mentions Samson in this list of people—and it is a little unclear why.
Is it because he his parents “obtained promises” from God through his birth?
Is it because he “shuts the mouth of lions” by tearing one to shreds?
Is it because he “won strength out of weakness” there at the end of his story?
         Or, maybe, the list the preacher gives, is of people both succeeding and failing,
sinners and saints
—faithful in so far as God has been faithful to them.
Yes, enduring as best they can, but ultimately relying on God, relying on the ongoing relationship God has with them.
         Relying on the reality that even an Idol maker like Gideon,
a Coward like Barak,
a Shmuck like Samson,
a fool like Jephthah,
and ALL the rest
—relying on the reality that even THEY found a gracious God,
a faithful God,
a God who kept faith with them even at their ugliest.

         So, “why is Samson in the bible in the book of “Hebrews” as a man of faith?”
Because God is faithful.
God walked with him of all people
God walks with us even on our darkest and dumbest day.
         We can’t always see that, like the early Christians the Preacher of Hebrews is preaching to,
we can be so put down by the things we can see,
that we sacrifice our hope in the invisible Grace of God,
and we can fall away.
         So, let me remind you, if God can be faithful to Samson,
gracious to Samson,
in relationship with Samson
—he surely is with you all of your days,
faithfully. A+A