Over the next couple of weeks we are going to look at Samson, a man of great strength chosen before his birth to be a judge over Israel.
Just as a bit of background, the judges were people who guided Israel at a time before they had kings.
Samson was one of those judges that came to the fore at times when Israel was in crisis and needed a strong leader.
However before we start the sermon I want to play a game with you.
I will call out some names and I want you to shout out, ‘Good Guy’ or ‘Bad guy’.
Mother Teresa...good guy.
Florence Nightingale...good guy.
Nelson Mandela...good guy.
That’s the problem?
We kind of want to say good guy, but listening to this morning’s reading I am not too sure that we should.
I think one of the problems that non-Christians have with the Bible is the way that sometimes WE read it.
We have a terrible way of not being critical of Biblical hero’s.
We come across someone like Samson;
someone chosen by God to be a good guy before his birth,
he is in the Bible as someone who was a judge of Israel,
a leader of Israel,
he defeated the enemies of Israel...so he must be a good guy.
And because Samson is meant to be a hero we try to justify some of the stuff that he does, we try to work out things in our heads so that he can get away with stuff that we wouldn't let the bad guys get away with. ‘It wasn’t his fault it was circumstances. It wasn’t his fault he was put in an impossible situation.’
And I think there is a problem, but the problem isn't with non-Christians attacking our hero’s, the problem is the way that we read the Bible with uncritical eyes.
The problem is that we regard the Bible as a simple book written a long time ago, so it has heroes and villains and Samson is a hero, so whatever he does is heroic and justified.
But I think the Bible is far more sophisticated.
I think it forces to look at what both the heroes and villains do and then asks us to reflect really heavily on that.
There is a saying on the local primary school wall that says, ‘You are the hero of your own story.’
Maybe it should say, ’And you are also the villain of your own story.’
That tension is what is going on here.
Samson is meant to be the hero, but is he acting like a hero?
If we were really looking at Samson what kind of character would we say that he had?
Let’s look at our readings today. We see Samson and his parents going off to Samson’s engagement dinner.
His wife to be is a Philistine.
That’s a problem, because the Philistines had started to spread through the Israelite area. And where two peoples are competing for resources there is always going to be conflict.
And these people are different culturally and economically as well as spiritually.
When I was a young lad being brought up in Govan we had tensions like that. There were the Roman Catholics and the Protestants.
The only place that we mixed was in the stairwells.
We didn’t have nurseries so we never mixed there.
We went to different schools.
We never went to the same church because their church was so weird and they believed such weird things.
As a 7 year old I was invited to a friend’s first communion. That meant that we could wait outside the chapel for them to have their communion and congratulate them when they came outside. We weren’t expected to go inside. I don't think we felt we were allowed to go inside.
God forbid that one of us should marry one of them.
You could be friends with them, but not marry them...to marry them was a betrayal.
One or both of them would be cut off from their family.
The difference between Philistine and Jew would be greater than that of Roman Catholic and Protestant in Govan in the 1960’s.
And yet, and yet, Samson has gotten engaged to a Philistine.
And the parents of this young Philistine girl have generously acknowledged Samson’s relationship and are celebrating it with all their friends, they have even invited Samson’s parents to the feast.
How does Samson react?...by trying to humiliate all his wife-to-be friends.
He sets up a riddle that they could never get and the bet is ridiculous. It isn't just a set of cloths; most people only had one set of cloths. Samson is effectively trying to take everything that they own.
When they play Samson at his own game and it backfires what does Samson do?
He kills 30 other Philistines and gives their cloths as the payment for the bet.
If you were the father of that girl, how comfortable would you be in giving your daughter to someone like that?
And wisely, the father wisely decides that he isn't going to give his daughter to someone like Samson.
Sometime later Samson has calmed down and thinks that what he did was in the past and forgotten about. So he goes to the girl’s house thinking that everything would be fine.
The father says that he thought Samson had decided that the wedding was off and given his daughter to another. Knowing what Samson has done to other Philistines that have gotten in his way and what Samson is capable of when he is angry, he tries to placate him by telling him he has another daughter and maybe she could be his wife.
Samson then gets angry again and destroys the wheat and corn harvest.
That isn’t just destroying the revenue for a couple of wealthy farmers; that is destroying the harvest for two or three towns. People could starve to death because of what Samson did.
The towns then get their revenge.
Not on Samson because he is nowhere to be seen.
The only people they can get revenge on is the Philistine family that wanted to give a chance to this Israeli gangster who their daughter once loved.
They may not be able to get to Samson but they kill the family who brought Samson into their lives.
And Samson has no regret for what happen to them.
Samson uses it to justify his own anger and hatred at the Philistines.
Here is the terrible lesson that I believe the Bible wants to give us about Samson, about ourselves.
Samson was chosen to make a difference in the world.
Samson was given everything he needed to make a difference in the world.
Samson was given huge strength and power.
But just because Samson was chosen by God to make a difference,
just because God gave Samson what he needed to make a difference,
that doesn't mean that Samson did what God wanted.
Let’s change the story.
Samson is going to the engagement party and is talking to these young Philistine men who are suspicious of this stranger with his strange ways.
‘You’ll never guess what happened to me the other day. I was attacked by a lion and
I defeated it. Then on the way over here I discovered that a bee’s hive had been created in it and I got honey from it.’
‘No way,’ they all say, ‘You’re making this up.’
‘I’ll prove it to you, come along and see.’
Instead of creating enemies they become friends. The Philistines have a new respect for their Jewish neighbours.
And things change for the better.
You see the problem was, in those days, and maybe for many politicians and nations today, we see the world as enemies and friends, and the only way to solve the problem with our enemies is to destroy them.
It was Abraham Lincoln that said, ‘I destroy my enemies when I make them my friends.’
So what has that to do with us?
I believe that, like Samson, God has chosen all of us before we were born to make a difference.
Not only that I believe, like Samson, God has given us everything that we need to make a difference.
The choice we have is whether we are going to be like Samson and ignore that calling, or whether we are going to make the difference that God wants us to.
I don't necessarily think that God wants us to make a big difference. I don't think God expects us to change the world.
But I do think God wants us to change the world that we are living in.
Imagine someone completely housebound. And a harassed carer comes in to visit her. She is overworked and underpaid. She is tired and fed up. Things are complicated by the fact that she is having problems in her family. Her daughter is acting up because she is disappointed with her exam results. The carer’s mother is struggling with ‘something’ but refuses to go to the doctor about it because she is scared of what the doctor might say.
And this old housebound woman picks up on this and asks the carer how she is doing, she asks the carer to sit down and comments on how much she appreciates everything she does for her.
She maybe tells a story of her own son and how he struggled with exams but it all worked out eventually.
And the carer leaves...feeling hope, because someone cared enough to show that they cared.
I believe that old women was chosen by God to make a difference for the better in other people lives...as we all are.
And I believe God gave her everything she needed to make a difference; a heart that cared, experiences to reflect on.
And the carer leaves with a hope she didn’t have before. The carer leaves and that carer then makes a difference for good in all the other people she cares for that day.
The carer leaves and leaves with a greater hope and compassion for her daughter and mother.
Samson could have made a difference for good in his fiancées life, in his parents and her parents lives, in the communities lives.
He chose not to and became a force for destruction and hatred.
We have been chosen to make a difference for good in the lives of our families, of our friends, of our work colleges, of our neighbours, of complete strangers we bump into in the street.
We have been chosen to make a difference for good in the doctors and nurses and politicians and teachers and children we meet, of the postmen and the couriers and the leaflet droppers who come to our door.
We can be open to the good God wants to us have in the world we live in, or we can ignore it.
I would suggest that the world has more than enough hatred already, that maybe we should do what God chose us to do, to make a difference for good.