Sunday, January 27, 2013

God Knows Orangellow, Nosmo King, and Maynard Pittendreigh

Philippians 4:1-9
1 Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!
2 I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche (Sin te chee)  to agree with each other in the Lord.
3 Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-- think about such things.
9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-- put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

1.  The Importance of Names
Paul says in our New Testament Lesson “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!”
I have to tell you, I rejoicing in the Lord to be here with you today!
My wife and I have been looking forward to moving here and beginning our new life with you.
Many of you have already met my wife – she is a teacher and she is looking forward to starting in a new school very soon.
Since my wife is a teacher, she often keeps me entertained as she tells me about the children in her school.  Whenever she starts a new year, or in this case, a new job, my wife usually has one or two wonderful stories about the names of some of the children in her school.
One year she told me a story that one of her colleagues told about two twin children. Lemonjello and Orangejello, which although they are pronounced as if they are names from some old European culture, are actually spelled the same way as Lemon Jello and Orange Jello. Lemonjello and Orangejello – one can only wonder where those names came from.
One of her other stories had to do with a student named  Nosmo. Nosmo King. It was an unusual name but it wasn't until the middle of the year that one of the teachers asked Mrs King why she had named her son Nosmo.
Mrs King explained that when she was in labor and at the hospital, she had some difficulty in delivering the child. They medicated her and took her to the delivery room, and through the haze of the medicine and the anxiety she prayed for the safety of her child, and she also prayed that God would give her just the right name for the child. Mrs. King looked up and actually saw a sign. The sign read, Nosmo King.
Of course, when you put the space after the first O instead of the second O, Nosmo King becomes No Smoking.
I guess it was toward the end of the 1960s when we became more creative with names for our children. Not long ago I read in Reader's Digest about a teacher in California. Children there were being named Moonbeam, Earth, Love and Precious Promise -- and of course, they all eventually ended up in public school.
That’s when the kindergarten teachers first met Fruit Stand. Every fall, according to tradition, parents bravely hung name tags around the necks of their children, kiss them good-bye and send them off to school on the bus. So it was for Fruit Stand. The teachers thought the boy’s name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it.
"Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?" they offered.
And later, "Fruit Stand, how about a snack?"
He accepted hesitantly.
By the end of the day, his name didn’t seem much stranger than Joe’s, or Heather’s or Sun Beam’s.
At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses.
"Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?" He didn’t answer. That wasn’t strange. He hadn’t answered them all day. Lots of children are shy on the first day of school. It didn’t matter. The teachers had instructed the parents to write the names of their children’s bus stops on the reverse side of their nametags. And instead of bland numbers, each bus was to have a name that described something about its route.
The teacher simply turned over the tag. There, neatly printed, was the word "Tony."
Which of course explained why Tony hadn't answered to the name Fruit Stand.
Now, we can smile at those names, or those mistakes about names, but we also know that we don't want to make fun of anyone's name.
I know I have an unusual name – one does not often run into a person named “Maynard Pittendreigh.”  People sometimes call me “Pastor” and I think it is a way of searching for a simpler name for me.  When I served a church in Atlanta, my youth pastor received a visit from her sister who asked my youth pastor, “How’s everything going with Manny?” 
My youth pastor asked her sister, “Who’s Manny?”
To which her sister replied, “You know, your boss.  Don’t you know who your boss is?”
The youth pastor explained that my name wasn’t Manny, but Maynard, but it was too late.  Since this conversation had taken place in front of some of the youth members, the nick name of Manny stuck – at least with the youth of that church.
I had a college professor who, for some reason, always called me Marvin.  I don’t know where that came from.  I corrected her time and again.  On graduation day she came up to me and gave me a big hug and with tears in her eyes, she said, “I’m going to miss  you, Marvin.”
We take names seriously because we identify ourselves so closely with our names.
I can be walking through a busy store and someone calls my name, "Maynard!" I stop, without even thinking.
Or as a child, when I was not behaving in school, my teacher would write my name on the black board -- and then it wasn't just my name up there. It was me!
We want people to know our name. If they don't know our name, then we feel they really haven't begun to know US.
If someone knows my name, it means they know ME.

2.  The Lord Knows Us By Name
Many years ago, as a child living at home, my father took me and my mother on a trip to Washington, DC. Dad was there on business, and one day he dragged me and my mother around from office to office while he met with different people. Dad would go inside and talk to these people while my mother and I were out in the office lobby waiting. But during the course of the day, my mother and I were very, very briefly introduced to the people Dad was meeting with.
Vice President Hubert Humphrey. The Speaker of the House. A couple of famous Senators.
This made all the waiting outside in the office lobbies worthwhile because when I went home I could not wait to tell my best friend all about it. "Hey, I know the Vice President."
My friend was not impressed.
"So what," he said. "He doesn't know you."
And of course, that was true.
I would always remember meeting the Vice President, but ten minutes after the introduction, he probably did not have a clue as to who I was.
But our God is a God who knows us by name. Our Savior, Jesus knows our name. And that means He knows US personally.

In the 10th chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus talks about Himself as the Good Shepherd. 

He says, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”  (John 10:1-4)
There is something reassuring about the Lord knowing our name.
The Lord knows our name.
And there is tremendous comfort in this.
There is tremendous peace in this.
In fact, it leads Paul to make this wonderful statement about those whose names are in the book of life.  In our New Testament Lesson, Paul says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
In the movie, Patch Adams, there is a scene in which a group of medical students are going from patient to patient, under the supervision of an experienced doctor. They stop at each patient. The teaching doctor will say something like, "The patient has been here for 3 days. The patient has shown signs of this and the patient has shown signs of that." Then the doctor begins to ask questions of the students, who say things like, "I would do this to the patient, or I would do that for the patient."
And all this time, a poor, frightened woman is on a bed looking with great anxiety to the doctors and students who surround her and who talk about her as if she is not conscious of them.
When the doctor asks the medical students "Are there any questions," it is Robin Williams, who is portraying Patch Adams, who asks, "Yes, I have a question. What is her name."
The doctor consults her chart and says, "Her name is Margery."
That moment becomes a teaching moment, not for the student, but for the doctor, who for the first time address "the patient" by the name, Margery. Hearing her name called, she perks up. In that experience the teacher discovers the importance of the name.
In the midst of our lives, God calls us by name.
In the noise of our lives, God knows our names.
In the business of our lives, God knows our names.
In the tragedies of our lives, God knows our names.
And more than this, God not only knows us, He not only knows our names, but He wants to be sure that our names are recorded in a very special place – His Book of Life.  
3.  The Lord Writes Our Name In His Book
Now in our New Testament Lesson, St. Paul writes about this Book of Life, which is a way of talking about Eternal Life.  To have a name recorded in the Book of Life is to have Eternal Salvation from Christ.
Remember, that the New Testament books by St. Paul were written in order to be read in worship services from start to finish. Paul would send these letters out and when the letter arrived, the church members would gather together and listen while someone read the letter aloud to everyone.  And toward the end of the book or letter to the Philippians, Paul names names.
"I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord."
These two ladies in the Philippian church must have looked at each other as this letter was being read in church.  Imagine how Euodia and Syntyche felt about this. Their names had been called.
Then Paul continues, "Yes, and I ask you, loyal coworkers, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life."
"Whose names are in the book of life..."
“The book of life” is a reference that shows up in the Bible from time to time. In Revelation it says (21:27) "Nothing impure will ever enter heaven, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life."
“When the roll is called up yonder, I'll be there... “
How many of us remember when we were in school and the roll would be called and the teacher would come to our name.
Hearing the name called on the roll meant that the teacher expected us to be there in class.
Having our name written in the Book of Life means that Jesus expects us to be there with him, in the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is one of the miracles of the Bible that Jesus knows my name, and records it in the Book of Life.

4.                The Lord Wants Us To Know The Most Important Name – Jesus Christ
Now, it is not enough simply for the Lord to know our name.  It is not enough for the Lord to know who we are.  We need to know the Lord.
Think about this on a human level for a moment.  Everyone in this room knows who I am.  I’ve introduced myself to you.  A few weeks ago the Pastor Nominating Committee introduced me to you.  Some of you may have visited my personal web pages on the Internet and read some of my sermons and other writings.  Some of us are already friends on Facebook.
Now imagine how you would feel if I did not even try to remember your names.  I know some of you, and with a few hundred members in the church, it is going to take me a while to remember everyone’s names.  I know you will be patient with me while I get to know you, and I know you won’t mind when I have to ask you to repeat your name once or twice.
But imagine how you would feel if I did not even try to remember your name.
Our Lord knows our name. 
He wants us to know His name.
And in the Scriptures, knowing the name of Christ is more than simply remembering with our mind a word that represents someone.
To know the name of someone is to be part of that person, and to have that person part of you.
In the Old Testament of Genesis, Jacob wrestles with a man all night long.  But it is not a man.  It is God Himself.  And as the sun is rising, the Lord suddenly and easily wins the fight – and Jacob suddenly realizes it was never a real fight at all – for God could have overpowered him at any time.
Then there is an interesting exchange between the two.
The Lord asks Jacob for his name, and when Jacob answers, God gives him a new name, “Israel.”
And then Jacob, or Israel, asks God for His name.  He asks for God’s name because in that culture, to know the name of a person was to know the character of that person.  To know the name of a person was to have a relationship with that person.
A relationship!
The Lord wants us to know His name.  The Lord wants us to have a relationship with Him.
In our New Testament lesson, Paul has this to say in chapter 2, beginning with verse 9.  “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  (Philippians 2:9-11)

That is the way our name gets into the Book of Life – by knowing the name of Jesus, and at His name, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.

I want you to know me.  I want you to know my name.  I want very much to know YOUR names.

But the most important name for all of us to know, is the name that is above all names – Jesus Christ.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Benediction

Click here to view a video of the sermon

Numbers 6:22-27
22     The LORD said to Moses,
23     "Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
24     "' "The LORD bless you and keep you;
25     the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
26     the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace." '
27     "So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."
2 Corinthians 13:11-14

11 Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All the saints send their greetings.

14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

          When a minister moves from one church to another, one of the requirements is that the presbytery where that person will be moving must conduct a public examination of the new pastor.
          As a minister, I know that when I stand in front of a presbytery desiring to accept a call to a church, I can be asked anything and everything.
          When I came into this Peace River Presbytery, the process was wonderfully easy.
          One minister jumped up to the microphone and began to speak, saying, “I’ve known Maynard Pittendreigh for 25 years.”
          I look at this man and I’m thinking – I have never seen this man before in my life.
          He continued, saying, “I met Maynard when he and I were in a class together at Columbia Seminary.  It was a preaching class with Professor Tom Long.”
          I look at this man and I’m thinking – I remember the class.  I sure don’t remember this man, however.
          He continued, saying, “Dr. Long told our class that a sermon title should be so compelling, that if you put that title on the sign of the church and an Atlanta bus drove past it, the bus would come to a stop and every passenger would have an irresistible urge to get off that bus.  Even the driver would get off that bus.
          “Maynard Pittendreigh then interrupted Dr. Long’s lecture and said that this meant that the only viable name for a sermon title would be, ‘There’s a Bomb on Your Bus’.”
          Everyone laughed, and the next person who got up offered a motion that my examination be closed and I be accepted into the presbytery.  I was not asked a single question!
          Sermon titles!
          OK, I have to admit that today’s title would not compel anyone to hop off the bus.
          In fact, because when someone looked at today’s bulletin and saw the title of today’s sermon – the Benediction – there was concern.
          What if, he asked, what if some people see that the sermon title is “The Benediction” and they think it is the end of the service and they get up and leave?
          Trust me, this the sermon – it is not the end of the service.
          I’ll let you know when you can get up and leave!

          The Benediction.
          It is that time in the worship service when the minister has the last word in the worship service.

          When I was in seminary, students were not allowed to give the benediction.  The first time we would give the benediction was in our ordination service. 
          That was never in the Book of Order, it was simply a tradition, and it is one that is no longer practiced.  Students in the seminary often give benedictions.
          But for me, I did not give a benediction until my ordination.
          I remember standing in front of the mirror, wearing my brand new pulpit robe, looking and feeling both holy, and stupid.
          I raised my hands in the act of giving the benediction, and no longer did I feel holy.  I just felt stupid.
          I was not the only one – all of my friends in seminary felt the same way, so much so that we came up with a catalog of benediction styles that we gave to one of our seminary professors.
          You know these styles – you’ve seen them.
          There is the STORM TROOPER.
          The BOY SCOUT.
          The ever popular STICK ‘EM UP.
          And the lesser-known FRANKENSTIEN.
          GIVE ME A HUG
          There is even the benediction that a minister might give while walking down the aisle – we named that the “I’m ready to go get lunch” benediction.
          Ministers in the Presbyterian Church are not often asked to do anything physical – except to stand or sit – except in the benediction when we are to raise our hands as a symbol that we are laying hands upon each and every person in the room.

          You feel foolish with your hands spread out!

          But there is something deeper than feeling foolish.

          But I suspect that Students of ministry feel embarrassed when asked to deliver the Benediction early in their career, not just because they have to hold their hands in a certain way, but because they are called upon to say words that have a very special meaning and power.
          “And the word of God to Moses…
and to those of us in the ministry today…)
Tell Aaron, tell the ministers…. 
Give the people a Benediction, a blessing. 
Say to them:  The Lord bless you and keep you. 
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. 
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
and give you peace.”

          Young seminary students and ministers early in their career feel uncomfortable and often embarrassed.  And the reason can’t be because we have to hold our hands in a certain way.  It has to be more to it than that.

          Maybe one of the sources of our embarrassment as young ministers came from the fact that we were afraid that the Benediction had become for many people an empty ritualistic action, void of meaning.
          After all, those of us who give the Benediction are up here with our arms spread out, proclaiming the blessing of God and at the same time, most folks are out in the pews folding bulletins, putting the hymnbooks back into the pew racks, and stuffing life savers into their purses.

          Those of us who are preachers, sometimes wonder if the Benediction inside the Sanctuary has become as meaningless as the Benediction outside the Sanctuary,
Which of course is GOOD-BYE,
Which used to be GOD BYE
Which used to be GOD – BE WITH YOU.

          And so, ministers feel uncomfortable. 

We don’t like to waste our time with things that are meaningless, and there is the haunting doubt that what the Benediction has become is something meaningless.

          But no.  That’s not all of it.

          I don’t think that is the complete answer either.

          We who are ministers feel embarrassed by the Benediction, and the reason has to be more than because we are called upon to do something with our hands, or because SOME people don’t take its meaning seriously.

          I suspect that the real reason why I am uncomfortable with the Benediction is not because I’m afraid that some of you DON’T take it seriously, but rather because I DO take this act of worship so seriously.

          Because I know that when I am delivering these words, I am delivering something special and powerful, something that is not really mine to give.

          The Benediction is unique.  It is not simply a prayer.  It is more than a prayer.
          In a prayer, I ask God for something. 
          But in a Benediction, I don’t ask for anything.  I TAKE something from God without asking and I GIVE it to you.
          My God!  No wonder I fell so uncomfortable with the benediction.  Because I am called upon to give what is not mine to give, the very blessing of Almighty God.

          And God said to Moses…
          You tell the ministers.
                             Give the people a blessing.

          Many ministers would say that this is something they cannot do, that they cannot presume to be so bold as to pronounce the blessing of God.

          Several years ago, I attended a Presbytery meeting and there was a motion to congratulate one of our churches for something they had accomplished.  The motion called for the moderator of the Presbytery to convey to the people of that congregation “the blessings of God.”
          Well, one of the ministers stood and spoke against the motion.  He was indignant that anyone could ever think they could convey God’s blessing on anyone else. 

          And yet, that is what the benediction is all about. 

          God said to Moses…
          You tell the ministers.
                   Tell them to give the people a blessing.

          Peter DeVries, in his novel, THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB, presents a thinly disguised autobiography. 
In THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB, there is a father who loses a daughter to Leukemia, paralleling an event in the author’s own life.  In the book, the father is raised in a strict conservative Christian home, but as an adult he departs from his religious upbringing.        

          As a college student, this man wrote in the campus magazine, “I think we ought to get rid of this silly crutch of religion.  After all, we’re supposed to go through life standing on our own two feet.”

          But later in this novel, life kicks him down as his daughter battles hopelessly against leukemia, and in the final pages of this book, the father is called to the hospital room for one final visit.

          When he walks into the room, a nurse is taking blood pressure. 
She whispers – “Almost none.  Just a short time now.”

          He and the nurse step outside of the room for just a moment.  She tries to be comforting.  “Maybe it’s better now.  After all, now her dreams will all be peaceful.”

          But the father is empty.
          He walks to be bedside.
          He doesn’t know what to do.
          His daughter has only moments to live. 
          He reaches out to touch her.
          He touches the wounds where the needles have been.
          He caresses her hair.
                   He touches the childish face that will never grow up.

          He wants so much to say something. 
He wants to give her some words of comfort for her last journey. 
He wants to give her one last gift.

          But he has nothing to say.
          He has nothing to give.

          And out of his emptiness and beyond himself, he reaches back to his childhood and remembers a phrase.  And the father gives the only think he knows to say.

          “My little lamb. 
The Lord bless and keep you. 
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you…”

          In the benediction, I give what I do not have.  I give what is not mine to give. 

          This is a difficult day for me.  I’ve preached in this pulpit – this boat - many times over the past few years.  Today is the last day I will get to do that.  Over the last several days, I’ve said good-bye a lot. 
          And last Sunday you gave me many gifts that I will always appreciate.
          And now, I want to give you a gift.

          But right now I want to give you something more than just another good-bye.
          I feel awkward.  
          I feel foolish. 
          I feel embarrassed.
          I want to give you something that is not mine to give, but I give it anyway, because I believe the promise.
          I believe that even as I say these words, God himself will bless you.

          Please stand, and receive the blessing from God.

May the Lord Bless you
And keep you.
The LORD make his face shine upon you
And be gracious to you;
The LORD turn his face toward you
And give you peace.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Judges 13-15
A certain man of Zorah,
named Manoah,
from the clan of the Danites,
had a wife who was childless,
unable to give birth.

The angel of the
Lord appeared to her and said,
“You are barren and childless,
but you are going to become pregnant
and give birth to a son.

Now see to it that you drink no wine
or other fermented drink
and that you do not eat anything unclean.

You will become pregnant
and have a son
whose head is never to be touched by a razor
because the boy is to be a Nazirite,
dedicated to God from the womb.
He will take the lead in delivering Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”
And in a later chapter…
Then Delilah said to Samson,
“How can you say, ‘I love you,’
when you won’t confide in me?
This is the third time
you have made a fool of me
and haven’t told me
the secret of your great strength.”

 With such nagging
she prodded him
day after day
until he was sick to death of it.
So he told her everything….

After putting him to sleep on her lap,
she called for someone to shave off
the seven braids of his hair,
and so began to subdue him.
And his strength left him…
 Then the Philistines seized him,
gouged out his eyes
and took him down to Gaza.
Binding him with bronze shackles,
they set him to grinding grain in the prison…

Then Samson prayed to the Lord,
Lord, remember me.
Please, God, strengthen me just once more,
and let me with one blow get revenge
on the Philistines for my two eyes.”

Then Samson reached toward
the two central pillars
on which the temple stood.
Bracing himself against them,
his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other,

Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!”

Then he pushed with all his might,
and down came the temple
on the rulers and all the people in it.
Thus he killed many more when he died
than while he lived.

Hebrews 11:1-33
Now faith is confidence
in what we hope for
and assurance about what we do not see.

This is what the ancients were commended for.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering
than Cain did.
By faith he was commended as righteous,
when God spoke well of his offerings.
And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.
By faith Enoch was taken from this life,
so that he did not experience death…

By faith Noah,
when warned about things not yet seen,
in holy fear built an ark to save his family.

And what more shall I say?
I do not have time to tell about Gideon,
Barak, Samson and Jephthah,
about David and Samuel and the prophets,

who through faith conquered kingdoms,
administered justice,
and gained what was promised.

So today is the day I cut my pony tail.
            Off it goes and into an envelope to be sent to a charity that makes wigs to give to patients who undergo cancer treatments that cause patients to lose hair.
            I’ve been wondering about what to preach for today.  It seemed to me that an event that has been two years in the making deserved some focus in the sermon.
            There is that passage from Leviticus 19:27
“Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.”  But that sounded like something I should have preached at the beginning of this project, rather than the end.
            Then there was the story of Absalom in II Samuel 14, where we read about a man who would cut his hair from time to time because it grew so fast and would get so heavy, that he had to cut it frequently, and when he did cut it, the hair on the barber shop floor would weigh up to 24 pounds! 
            But since I have the slowest growing hair in the state of Florida, I simply could not find a way of identifying with Absalom.
            As I thought about this day, I kept coming back to Samson.
            If you know anything about the story of Samson, you think of him as a man of strength.  And he was a man who lost his strength all because he let someone cut his hair.
            Well, let’s take a look at what else we can know about Samson.                          
            He is mentioned in the New Testament book of Hebrews, in chapter 11 when the writer gives an interesting list of people of faith.  In that list, the writer speaks of Abel, and Abraham, and Moses and then after going into lots of detail, he winds down this list of the faithful by saying, “time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets…”
            In other words, for reasons he does not explain, the writer of Hebrews thought Samson was a man of great faith and that we should imitate him.
            What do we know of Samson?
            For one thing, he was a man who often forgot to be who God wanted him to be.
            In the early history of Samson, there is an odd, and a bit of a disgusting story.

The way it happens is that Samson is on his way to introduce his parents to a woman he has decided to marry.  On the way, while no one else is looking, a lion jumps out to attack Samson, and Samson, being as strong as he is, kills the lion by taking the animal apart limb by limb.  And then, as the Bible tells us, this is what happens next:  After a while Samson returned to marry the woman, and (on the way) he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion (he had killed), and there was a swarm of bees in the body of the lion, and honey.  He reached his hand into the dead animal, scraped out the honey into his hands, and went on, eating as he went.”
Now that is pretty disgusting.   Just the thought of scooping out honey from a dead lion and its rotting flesh is almost enough to keep me from ever eating honey ever again!  But more than that, it is a moment in time in which Samson forgets who God has called him to be. 
Samson is to be a Nazrite – someone set apart and consecrated for God’s work.  Before his birth, an angel from God visited Samson’s parents and announced that he was to live his entire life as a Nazrite, which meant that he had to obey three simple lifestyle rules:  No booze, no haircut, and no touching a corpse of a person or animal.  When Samson took the honey, he scooped it out of the lion’s corpse.  And it is not the only time in the Bible Samson touches a corpse.  He does it again later when he robs people of their clothing to pay off a gambling debt.
So Samson is a man called by God, who often forgets to be the person God called him to be.
But – there he is in Hebrews chapter 11 – Samson, great man of faith. 
Which is strange because not only does Samson often forget to be whom God wants him to be, Samson is also frequently led not led by God’s desires, but by Samson’s own selfish desires.
When Samson finds his wife his father reminds him that the woman is a Philistine, and the Philistines are the enemies of Samson’s people.  The father urges Samson to look somewhere else, but Samson says, “This is what I desire.”  What I desire.  He does not seek what is best for his family or his people, but for himself. 
That seems to be a theme for Samson.  He keeps company with prostitutes, he steals from people, and he always seems to follow his own selfish desire. 
People of faith put their own desires aside and seek to honor God’s desires.
But here is Samson in Hebrews, being called a hero of the faith. 
So what else do we know about this hero of the faith.
Samson is an angry, angry man. 
At his marriage feast, he places a bet that he could come up with a riddle that no one could answer.  Of course no one could answer it – it was a lousy riddle.  But he gives his bride to be the answer, and she tells her friends, and the cat is out of the bag and people guess the answer.  The condition of the bet was that if others guessed the riddle’s answer, then Samson would have to provide them with 30 new suits of clothing.  Samson does not have 30 suits of clothing.  So he walks 30 miles, and with every step he gets angrier and angrier.  He journeys to a town of innocent people and attacks them and robs them of their clothing.  He leaves his victims naked, and he goes back to the town where he was to get married and delivers the suits of clothing.  Instead of getting married, he is so angry that he goes home to his father to cool off.  Then he learns that one of his friends married his bride to be.  That makes Samson even angrier, so goes out and captures 300 foxes.  He ties them by the tails in pairs, puts a flaming torch on the end of each pair of tails, and lets them go.  It’s like a low tech, primitive flame thrower.  These 300 foxes burn and destroy vineyards and wheat fields and olive groves.  In other words, Samson destroys the building blocks for bread and wine – the basic elements of their ancient diet.
In retaliation, the Philistines kill the bride to be and her father.
            Then Samson in turn attacks and viciously slaughters the Philistines.
            Does this sound like a man of faith, or like the Incredible Hulk who can’t control his own anger?
So what is it that makes this man a man of faith worth mentioning in Hebrews?
Well, let’s see, what else do we know about him?
He is trusting.
Is that a bad thing?  That’s a good thing.
But Samson is too trusting
In fact, trusting is not the word.  Gullible is the word.
You know, the Internet is a great tool, but people circulate the wildest rumors on the Internet.  People receive emails that tell them they will receive a million dollars and all they have to do is provide a stranger with access to their bank accounts – and gullible people fall for that sort of scam, and their money is stolen from them.
We hear the wildest accusations about politicians and the gullible believe everything they hear, and they pass these rumors onto others. 
The Bible cautions us about being too gullible. 
Proverbs 14:15 says, “The gullible believe anything they’re told; the prudent sift and weigh every word.”
Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians (5:19-22) said, “Don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good.”
But Samson may well be the most gullible person in the Bible.             
For example, Samson falls in love with this woman named Delilah.  The Philistines recruit Delilah in their effort to discover the source of Samson’s strength.
So Delilah asks Samson, “Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.”
Samson is NOT so gullible that he tells her his secret, but he lies to her and says that if he is tied up with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, he will become as weak as any other man.
The next day, the Philistines try to do this, and it doesn’t work.
So Delilah tries it again.  Delilah said to Samson, “You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be defeated.”
Samson is NOT so gullible to fall for this, so he lies to her and says, “If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
The next day, the Philistines try to do this, and it doesn’t work.
So Delilah tries it YET AGAIN.   Delilah then said to Samson, “All this time you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be defeated.”
Again, Samson is NOT so gullible to fall for this – he lies again.  “If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I’ll become as weak as any other man.”
And again, the Philistines try this, and it doesn’t work.
So once MORE, Delilah goes to Samson, she says, “How can you say, ‘I love you,’ when you won’t confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven’t told me the secret of your great strength.”  With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was sick to death of it.  So he told her everything. “No razor has ever been used on my head,” he said, “because I have been a Nazirite dedicated to God from my mother’s womb. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.”
Next day, Samson wakes up to find he has had a haircut and his strength is gone. 
Samson was gullible at other times as well. 
So this is what this hero of the faith was like.
            Excessively angry.
            A man who forgets to be what God wants him to be.
            A man who is selfishly led by his own desires.
Actually, this man doesn’t sound like a decent man at all?  What is it about this man that one would want to copy?
Not much.
Oh, he is strong – I’ll grant you that.  But the Bible says that no warrior finds victory in his own great strength.  The warrior’s victory is found in looking to God, and God alone for hope.
In fact, this is what makes Samson a hero in the faith.  Whenever he is able to turn away from his selfish desires and turns to God,
 when he is to turn away from his anger and turn to God,
and when he is able to turn away from his gullible nature, and turn to God
those are the times Samson becomes a hero of the faith.
At one point in the middle of his life, Samson is tired after a great battle.  He becomes thirsty and he prays to God.  God opens up the earth and water comes springing forth.  Samson is revived and he becomes a leader of Israel for twenty years.  Two decades!
It is when he looks to God for strength and help that Samson becomes a hero of the faith.
At the end of his life, there is a similar experience.  After he has his hair cut, Samson becomes weak and helpless.  But then he prays to God and God gives him back his strength for one last battle, and the Philistines are defeated.
And so it is with all heroes of the faith in Hebrews and in life.  All the saints of God are human.  They are frail.  They make mistakes.  They are weak. 
But what makes a hero of the faith is not that the person is a perfect saint, but a sinner who simply comes to the point  that he or she trusts God.
We find our strength only in our ability to understand that we cannot find our victories in life by our own strength, but by trusting in God.
We may be gullible, or we may be untrustworthy.  But if we learn to trust in God in all things, we become a hero of the faith.
We may be excessively angry, or bitter, or selfish, or in any possible way the very opposite of what a great person of faith should be.
But if we learn to trust in God in all things, we become, like Samson, a great hero of the faith.

Copyright 2012, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh
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