In our first lesson today we hear the story of Samson, at least the story of Samson’s beginning. And, thanks to the benefit of a first-rate theological education—or maybe just Sunday School—we know that Samson was a tragic hero of the Old Testament. We don’t know that today, though. Today Samson was all promise.
And oh, what promise he was! Before he was even born, before he was even conceived, his mother-to-be, a woman who previously had had no children, was visited by an angel of the lord, one who told her that she would conceive and bear a son … (Does this story sound strangely familiar to you?) This angel told this woman that she would conceive and bear a son, one who would begin to free his people from the hand of the Philistines.
Do you know what joy this would have brought Samson’s parents, living as they did in a culture where family and lineage was everything? They would have a child, an heir. Do you know what joy this would have brought Samson’s people, the tribe of Dan, living as they did between two pressing and oppressing Philistine cities? “There goes Samson,” they might say, “he is going to free us from the enemy. We don’t know that they said this, of course, but it makes one wonder about that word “begin,” doesn’t it?
We know that something might not be quite right. For this we have Samson’s name, which as we know is important in telling us something vital about his character. Samson means “sun,” not as in “child of his parents,” but as in “that bright celestial orb up in the sky, the one that gives light and life to all the world.” Samson was “Mr. Sun.”
Did you know that the Philistines worshiped Baal, God of the Sun? If this were a movie, we would be hearing doom-music right about now. But we don’t know how this story will turn out, not today. Today Samson is all promise. And oh, what promise he was!
Our scripture lesson tells us that as he grew God blessed Samson. Scripture doesn’t tell us how, at least in today’s lesson.
Perhaps God gave Samson great beauty, the ability to play the lyre and the harp, and made his a great warrior, able to lead his people to victory in battle. That would take care of the Philistines. ……. We just don’t know, not today.
Perhaps God gave Samson great wisdom, able to judge his people justly and to negotiate greatly advantageous political and military treaties. That would take care of the Philistines. ……. We just don’t know, not today.
No? Perhaps God put so much of himself into Samson that Samson was uniquely able to do the will of God our Father in heaven, Hallowed-Be-His-Name. That would take care of, well, everything! ……. I see your heads shaking “no” now. We just don’t know, not today.
Oh, all right then. Perhaps God just gave Samson superhuman strength, whatever good That would do him in ministry. We just don’t know, not today, but we do know this, and it’s become one of my mantras in seminary: God provides every single thing needed to do what God has created us to do. God provides every single thing needed to do what God calls us to do.
This brings me to the last part, and it’s my favorite. The lesson says that “God began to stir within Samson.” Who here doesn’t know what that is like? Aren’t we, like Samson, all promise, whether we are working on a degree, helping others to get a new degree, or just retiring to an island off the coast of Seattle?
Will we be tragic, heroic, neither, or both? We just don’t know, do we, not today? But we do know this, in just six days from today, Mr. Sun himself will be born into the world for roughly the 2,011th time, the Alef and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the one who Was and Is and who Will come again, Jesus the Christ, the author of promise. And all that we have to do is to use whatever gifts that God has given us, to do whatever it is that God is stirring us to do; all that we have to do is to bear witness.