July 20, 2011

Thursday after the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 136, Judges 16:23, Lk. 9:1-17
Evening - Ps. 144, Acts 16:25

In Old Testament times a person could set aside the normal occupations of life to dedicate himself to God. This was done for a specific period of time on a voluntary basis (Num.6:1-21). Presumably people took Nazarite vows in order to devote themselves to a time of prayer, fasting, and study, with possibly a time of service to the poor or helping in the Temple. Samson was somewhat different, for he was born to be a Nazarite, and his time of separation was life from conception to the grave. His calling was to be dedicated to God and lead Israel to repent of sin and win back her freedom from her Philistine oppressors. But Samson was an utter failure. Rebellious from the start, many infractions of his vows and the Law of God are recorded. Others probably did not make it into the Bible. Instead of Godliness, we see in Samson a worldly, self-indulgent life-style. Samson's real god was Samson, and his real purpose in life was to indulge his own desires and comforts. Self-control was unknown to him. The idea that he should give up his own comforts and amusements to please God seems to have be completely foreign to his mind. Thus, instead of a man who forgoes the pleasures of the flesh to find the pleasures of God, Samson was a man who disdained the things of God to bask in the pleasures of the flesh.

In last night's reading we saw Samson take the final step away from God. In tonight's reading we see the terrible result. Finding that his strength was truly gone, the Philistines bound Samson and took him captive. It was a festive day for the Philistines when they brought their once powerful enemy into Gaza. One of the things they did to mock and cause pain to him, was to burn out his eyes. They made a slave of him, forcing him to grind grain for other prisoners of the Philistines. At a festival gathering they brought him before the crowd to taunt him, maybe even to kill him. By the grace of God he was able to collapse the building in which they were gathered, causing the death of many Philistines as well as himself, but his action brought no real victory to the Hebrew people, nor did it deliver Israel from Philistine domination.

The Nazarite vow shows that the practice of setting time aside to seek and grow in God is good and helpful. We are so pressed with busyness these days we hardly take Sunday mornings for worship and reflection. We should. Sundays should be a time to turn aside from the world and be still before the Lord. They should be a day for worship and meditation upon God and the things of God. They should be times of quiet stillness rather than incessant sound and motion. Other days, while not replacing the Lord's Day, may also be spent in meditative stillness with God. When did you last devote a day to reading Scripture and pondering its meaning and application? When did you last put aside your own pursuits and pleasures to spend Sunday morning with God's people in Church? When is the last time you denied yourself some worldly trinket and devoted that money to God's house instead? I truly fear that many in the Church stand as near the door as possible looking for an opportune time to do as Samson; leave it all behind and throw themselves into the world and its pleasures. The Collect for the week reminds us to hold to God instead of the world.

"O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy; Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

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