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
All rights reserved.
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