February 10, 2019 [Epiphany 5]  Judges 13:6-24  J.D.Roekle

6The woman went and told her husband, “A man of God came to me, and he looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I did not ask where he was from, and he did not tell me his name. 7But he did say to me, ‘Listen! You will be pregnant and give birth to a son. So now, do not drink wine or beer, and do not eat anything unclean, because the young man will be a Nazirite dedicated to God from his mother’s womb until the day of his death.’”

8Then Manoah pleaded with the Lord, “Please, Lord, the man of God whom you sent—please let him come to us again, to teach us what we are to do for the young man who is to be born.”

9God heard the voice of Manoah, and the Angel of God returned to the woman while she was sitting in the field. Once again her husband Manoah was not with her. The woman ran quickly and told her husband. She said to him, “Come, see! The man who appeared to me came to me again today.”

11Manoah then got up and followed his wife. He came to the man and said to him, “Are you the man who spoke to my wife?”

He answered, “I am.”

12Manoah said, “Now, when your words come true, what will be the rule for the young man and his actions?”

13The Angel of the Lord answered Manoah, “The woman must be careful concerning everything that I said to her. 14She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine. She must not drink wine or beer, and she must not eat any unclean thing. Everything that I commanded her she must observe.”

15Manoah then said to the Angel of the Lord, “May we persuade you to stay, so that we may prepare a young goat for you?”

16But the Angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Even if you keep me here, I will not eat any of your food, but if you make a burnt offering, offer it up to the Lord.” (Manoah did not yet know that he was the Angel of the Lord.)

17Then Manoah said to the Angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we can honor you when your words come true?”

18The Angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask about my name? It is wonderful.”

19Manoah took the young goat and the grain offering, and he offered them on the rock to the Lord, who did something wonderful as Manoah and his wife were watching. 20As the flame rose from the altar toward the sky, the Angel of the Lord ascended upward from the altar in the flame. Manoah and his wife were watching, and they fell facedown to the ground. 21The Angel of the Lord did not appear to Manoah and his wife again, but now Manoah knew that he was the Angel of the Lord.

22Manoah said to his wife, “We will certainly die, because we have seen God.”

23But his wife said to him, “If the Lord wanted to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands, and he would not have shown us all these things, nor would he have let us hear this message at this time.”

24The woman gave birth to a son, and she named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.

 

God Has Set You Apart

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          When I0 think of Samson, I can’t help but think of his legendary strength.  How he tore a lion apart a lion with his bare hands.  Then there was the time he caught 300 foxes, tied them up in pairs by their tails, and somehow fastened a torch to each set of tails.  He let the foxes go, burning up the grain filed, vineyard and olive groves.  On another occasion, while men plotted to kill him, Samson got up early in the morning tore out the gates and posts of the entrance to the city, and carried them up a nearby hill.    On yet another occasion, he struck down 1000 men with the jawbone of a donkey.  Of course, the one that tops them all is the account of how he lost his life.  With eyes gouged out and his strength gone, Samson taken to the temple where the Philistines were making sacrifices to their false god Dagon. Samson asked to be put among the pillars that supported the temple.  There he prayed to God that his strength would be restored one last time.  It was, and Samson pushed his hands out on the pillars with all his might and brought the temple down, bringing thousands of Philistines down with him. 

          Why did Samson have such strength?  God had blessed him with it.  God had consecrated Samson.  He set him apart.   God did so, because he had plans for Samson.  You weren’t blessed with supernatural strength, but nonetheless, God has set you apart.  He has plans for you too.  Let’s focus on that as we take a closer look at Samson. 

          The plans that God had for Samson were made before Samson was born, and even before Samson was conceived.  And it was God himself who delivered those plans to Samson’s parents.  They weren’t aware exactly who they were talking to at first.  They described him as “a man of God” who looked “an angel of God.”  But it turned out that it was indeed God.

          And God had a special message.  Their son was to be set apart.  He was to be a Nazirite.  A Nazirite made a special vow of dedication to the Lord.   Nazirites were to abide by three primary rules:  they were not supposed to drink any alcoholic beverages; they were not to cut their hair; and they were not to go near a dead body, even if it was a relative.  While Nazarites were generally able to choose how long they wanted to make this vow of dedication, God chose the length of time for Samson.  The Nazarite vow for him was to be for life. 

          God’s plans for you started well before you were born or even conceived.  By the way, in a world that doesn’t often value the unborn, God clearly does.  Not only is God the one who forms human life in the womb.  God is the one who makes plans for each life.  It is not the right of a person to choose whether or not a child should be born or aborted.  It is God’s choice that he allowed a conception to take place and that conception is to result in the birth of a child. 

          You can give thanks that your parents valued your life in order to bring you into this world.  God’s plans for you include setting you apart.  He made his plan for your life known as you came to faith through his Word or through the waters of holy Baptism. 

          By setting you apart in this way, God has called you by the Gospel to be his own.  You have been set aside to be in his kingdom.  That means that you have been set apart from the unbelieving world. 

          Now some have taken that to the extreme.  Being set apart from the unbelieving world, there are those throughout history who have tried to separate themselves completely from the sinful world.  That’s how monasteries developed where monks would live in seclusion. 

          But that’s not what God intends.  God sets you apart for a life of service to him, and to others.  That service begins with worship.  When the Angel of the Lord told Samson’s parents the news about his birth and that Samson would be a Nazirite, they offered to feed the Angel of the Lord.  Instead of being fed, though, the Angel of the Lord said they should make a burnt offering to the Lord. So that’s what they did. 

          In recognizing that God has set you aside for a life of service to him, you and I ought to regularly respond by offering up our thanks and praise to God who has loved us so dearly by sacrificing his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, for us.  If it wasn’t for Jesus, God would not set us apart.  Our sin would prevent us from being his children.  But Jesus graciously took our place.  And so, we take the time to mark this.   To give him glory.  We praise him as we get together to worship.  We praise him daily in our private worship life as we pray and hear what his Word has to say. 

          Being a Nazirite set someone like Samson apart from not just the world, but also from fellow believers.  It was a special role God had set him aside to play.  In the Gospel lesson for today, we see Jesus calling Peter and his fishing partners, James and John.  Jesus tells them to leave their nets so that they could be Jesus’ fulltime partners in fishing for people. 

          Today, too, God sets aside some to do public ministry.  To do ministry on behalf of other people.  Paul says that Jesus “gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”  (Eph. 4:11,12) 

          Think about why it is important to have pastors, teachers, chaplains and missionaries.  The New Testament lesson from Romans spells it out.  The object is for everyone to be saved by calling on the Lord’s name.  In order for them to believe, they have to hear about it.  In order for them to hear about it, they need someone to preach it to them.  And so, the role of the public ministry is a crucial one.  Pray for those who are pastors and teachers.  Encourage them.  Encourage young people to consider training for fulltime work in God’s kingdom. 

          But God hasn’t set everyone aside to do public ministry.  In fact, the public ministry is only for relatively few.  That being said, even if you are not a pastor or teacher or missionary, God has still set you aside to serve him. 

          You each have been placed in certain stations of life.  No matter what those stations are, you have been called to serve the Lord by being faithful in those stations.  Whether you are a father, mother, aunt, son, brother, sister, cousin, employer or employee, retired person, neighbor, or citizen, you are to faithfully serve in that capacity. 

          And as you faithfully serve, you are, as disciples of Christ, to look for opportunities to also speak the Gospel to others.  If you are a father or mother, God set you aside to pass the message on to your children.  Grandpas and grandmas, you can pass the Gospel on to your grandchildren.  It’s the same for you if you are an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, or cousin.  If you have neighbors, opportunities may present themselves to speak the Gospel to them.  If you have co-workers, you can look for opportunities to tell people about Jesus.  That’s true even if you are retired.  Think about the people you may come across as a retired person that others may not.  Christ has set you apart to get his message out. 

          You don’t have to have the strength of Samson.  You don’t have to be able to preach like Peter or Paul.  You have been set aside by God to be his own.  And as such, you can tell the love of Jesus.  You can say he died for all.  There’s not just one way to say it.  God made you unique.  You can say it in your own way.  You can even bring them to someone who will say it for you. 

          The bottom line is this.  When Samson’s parents realized that they had been in the presence of God, his father said “We will certainly die, because we have seen God.”  At one time or another everyone comes to that realization.  Because of our sin, we cannot be in God’s presence.  But Samson’s mother had the answer for this: ““If the Lord wanted to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and a grain offering from our hands.”  May this reassurance be yours: You and I can stand in the presence of God, because God has accepted the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  This is the truth we have been set apart to faithfully proclaim.  Amen.