First Parish Congregational Church
United Church of Christ, Yarmouth Maine

Sermon by
Rev. Kate Dalton

August 18, 2019

Scripture: Judges 14:5-20; 15:1-81, Corinthians 12:4-7

This morning’s scripture sounds a lot like a story of a spoiled brat who goes around destroying things when he doesn’t get his way.  Nothing too spectacular about that.  Clearly stories of spoiled brats go back to ancient times and still ring true today.  In fact, I have to say, some of Samson’s story reminded me quite a bit of what makes news headlines today.  Powerful man makes demands, and when he doesn’t get what he wants – he retaliates.

The thing that is important to note with this morning’s story – is what comes in the chapter before.  This is not just any powerful man.  God has sent this powerful man.  As promised by an angel, Samson is born to a barren woman who is instructed to raise him as a Nazirite – someone who has been dedicated to God.  In fact, the angel tells Samson’s mother, that Samson will deliver the Israelites from the Philistines.  Samson is given extraordinary strength to carry out that task.  His strength is a gift from God.  And in this morning’s story we realize that Samson uses his gift not to help others – but simply to satisfy his own ego.

What I find interesting about this morning’s story is that no one seems to be holding Samson accountable for his actions.  No one questions what he is doing.  Samson has some serious anger management issues, and no one is stepping in to say – hey, wait a minute.  And so, he just keeps continuing his violent pattern.  He doesn’t get his way; he gets angry and kills people.  And a cycle of violence begins – the victims retaliate and then Samson strikes again.  All in the name of – saving the Israelites?  No, in the name of Samson.  In the name of saving face.  In the name of keeping Samson’s ego intact.

Where are the people who will step in and say, cut it out, Samson.  This is not appropriate.  You can’t just go around killing people because you didn’t get your way or because you’re trying to get back at others.  That’s not the purpose of your strength.  You are misusing a gift given to you by God.  A gift given to you to be used to serve your community.  A gift you are squandering on yourself.

And there’s the rub.  We can squander and misuse our God given gifts on ourselves.  We can lose sight of the bigger picture.  God doesn’t give us gifts to benefit us alone.  God has put us into relationship.  God gives us gifts to serve the whole.  To serve the greater good.  But – we still get to make choices.  And so, without guidance, without feedback, without someone stepping in – we can misuse our gifts just like Samson.

Lesson #1 from Samson this morning – take care to make sure you use your gifts to serve more than just yourself.  If your gifts are being used purely for your own benefit – you probably are not using them the way God intended.

This is about more than just our own gifts, however.  This is about how we live in relationship to one another.  Samson’s parents knew what he was supposed to do with his gifts.  They knew that his strength was meant to be used to free the Israelites from the Philistines.  But when he starts getting angry because his love life is a mess – they never step in.  They never call him to account and say – hey, wait a minute Samson.  This is not how you are supposed to be using your strength.  You need to get your head on straight and consider your actions more carefully.

We live in a world where powerful people are using their power in ways that harm others.  Using power for their own benefit and for the benefit of those who are just like them.  We know that this is not what God intends.  As people of faith, who believe that God wants all people to have a chance not only to survive but to thrive, we must vigilantly call those in power to account for their actions.  We must remind them of their higher purpose.  We cannot be silent like Samson’s parents and community.

As many of you, I have been overwhelmed with all the recent mass shootings in the past few weeks.  A recent article published by the American Psychological Association says that 1/3 of Americans avoid certain places because of a fear of mass shootings and 1/3 of Americans believe they cannot go anywhere without worrying about being a victim of a mass shooting.[1] Semi-automatic weapons are terrorizing the people of this country and yet we have not been able to stand up to the power that continues to authorize their legality and say, enough.  We must do better than Samson’s parents.  We must believe that our leaders can serve God.  We must understand that we have a responsibility to demand they use their power for the benefit of all. 

I’m going to close with a reflection from our worship planning resource, Spill the Beans:

SAMSON

I am wondering about Samson. What does he look like? Mr. Universe? Or Mr. Ordinary? The man with many faces: Judge; Power; Authority; Murderer; Deceiver; Womanizer; One-man Campaigner; One-man Deliverer; a He-man with a She-weakness; a great potential with big failure, playing mind games as he goes along.

ME

I am wondering about me. What does ‘me’ look like? Ego-inflated, perfect person? Or a human being with many mistakes? ‘Me’ is no different from Samson living in today’s society with its ‘me’ culture, accountability to no-one. ‘Me’ is my own person, captain of my own ship, but heading for destruction.

WE

I am wondering about we. What should ‘we’ look like? Like Samson ‘we’ all have moral weakness, ‘We’ are vulnerable when alone, ‘we’ need each other to recognize God’s gifts ‘we’ need each other to navigate towards God and not destruction


[1] https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2019/08/fear-mass-shooting

Sermon for August 18, 2019