Being Bound and Released
Judges XVI, 4-6, 15-22; John XI, 38-4 and XX, 19-23
 

This morning I want to talk of `bondage', of being bound, tied up ? in an emotional sense rather than the physical, but we'll start with the physical.

The story of Samson, which we have just heard, is pretty sad. He fell in love with a lady called Delilah. (Remember the Tom Jones song?) It's a Jewish name, so maybe she was Jewish, or half Jewish as there had been some intermarrying with the Philistines.

The Philistines had been after Samson for ages. They wanted to get rid of him, to kill him. He was judge over Israel for twenty years in their days and an implacable enemy, a man of phenomenal strength.

When he fell in love with Delilah, the Philistine leaders saw their chance. They persuaded Delilah to try to coax out of him the secret of his great strength, promising her that if she succeeded each of them would give her eleven hundred pieces of silver. What a fortune!

And so it happened. Delilah found out Samson's secret and allowed him to be captured, to be rendered helpless, impotent, useless and scared, to be put in the power of the Philistines, who gouged out his eyes and bound him with fetters of bronze.

What is sad is that Delilah was the one he should have been able to trust, one of his own. But she bound him, not with chains or new ropes but in a most seemingly innocuous, gentle, unsuspecting way. How? She cradled him in her lap and, while he slept, summoned a manservant to cut off his flowing locks of hair.

What a gentle way to bind someone, to make them powerless.

Do you realise that we can bind and make powerless one another in what may appear to be very harmless ways, with the pretty ribbons of veiled threats or criticism? Have you ever felt criticised, made powerless, by a look, or by a sly comment, or by a demand for some action which is totally beyond your ability?

You can be made to feel inadequate by not being able to act like someone else. As an example, when I was a curate, my Vicar had the habit of giving me a reading as I walked into church. He was obviously a good sight reader, as so many of you are, and moreover knew his Bible well, so it did not occur to him that he was presenting me with a real difficulty: I needed to practise beforehand! It took an actual row in the end for him to understand that I was not like him, but I had felt inadequate for months because by his assumption about me he `bound' me, made me feel `not good enough'.

There is a similar event in John XI, read for us by Cath. This is an amazing event, the resurrection of Lazarus, the final act which led to the crucifixion of Jesus. It's one of those reports which makes the hair on the back of my neck rise . . . . . Jesus stands at the opening of the cave tomb and gives that great cry, "Lazarus, come forth!"

Note what happens immediately after that. Jesus has given life back to Lazarus, the man who had been dead four days, whose body was decomposing ? and the gift was given ? life:

The dead man came out, his hands and feet swathed in linen bands, his face wrapped in a cloth.
Jesus said, "Loose him; let him go. "

Jesus tells his friends to release him. I find that obvious. I also find it remarkable. Obviously the wrappings had to be taken off .... but he could not release himself. Jesus gave him life, but those around him had to set him free to live it.

Just a word about the reading that we heard from Eileen, in John XX, verses 22 and 23: the risen Jesus commissions his disciples: If you forgive any man's sins, they stand forgiven; if you pronounce them unforgiven, unforgiven they remain.

It is important to understand the scripture here. There are two themes. One is that Jesus has given to his church, that is to all who believe and trust in Christ, the privilege to pronounce God's forgiveness, or to announce that God's forgiveness is real. It is not that we forgive, but that we are the bearers of good news. Many, especially after confession, need to hear from fellow sinners that God has forgiven us. It is my intention, later in the year, that we say the Absolution together, as it seems to be what Jesus intended.

The second theme is that we can actually, intentionally or not, bind each other, by not forgiving when we should or by forgiving when we should not. If you are sorry and you seek forgiveness, then it should be given. If, however, there is no repentance, then it would be quite wrong to give it.

If we pronounce God's forgiveness and amongst us are some who are not truly sorry, then make no mistake: such forgiveness is not given to them.

It is God who forgives. Our words of absolution only affirm, pronounce, announce God's will: they do not themselves impart any forgiveness.

What God is looking for is clean hands and heart, and a people whose ambition is to love God, and their neighbours as themselves.

That is why those around us can empower us to do good and wonderful things or can inhibit and destroy us.

In a church, we can either build one another up, encourage one another ? or bind and cripple one another.

Take a simple example. Look at the flowers around you, especially the lilies on the cross, symbolising the power of the resurrection which has conquered death. Last week, on Easter Day, they were fresher and even more stunning, simply because they were newly arranged. There were some last weekend who had helped with the flowers for the first time, simply because in the past they had been too nervous or `ashamed' to try, in case they `got it wrong' or were criticised for `not being good enough'! There are many among us who have a desire to do something but are bound by their timidity, dare not take the risk, for fear of failure or criticism. Yet, look at the flowers!

Let me remind you that we are all `good enough'. God sees you as the `apple of his eye'. You are all amazing and wonderful people.

It's just that sometimes we allow ourselves to become bound by other people's criticism, to dread rejection, to live in fear of breaking unknown rules.

We become bound and ineffective by believing that failure is bad ? even by feeling `obliged' to do things we do not want to do.

Why?

Are we all subject to the fear of not being liked or of being criticised?

We become bound by living and acting out a culture of blame and non?acceptance instead of a genuine desire to look for the best in one another, not to criticise and to be prepared to forgive.

If you have a teacher at school you really dislike, or, more likely, you think dislikes you, how well can you do his, or her, subjects? How easy is it to have a conversation with someone you feel very uncomfortable with? Somehow you feel ? what? trapped, stuck, can't think of anything to say?

I think a lot of our language describes what goes on when we are bound or overpowered by someone else . . . . when we are told to `shut up', `belt up', `put a lid on it', `put a sock in it', `get lost'. ? A language that speaks of being `suppressed'.

Jesus died to give us life, not death, to set us free, not to bind us.

In the body of Christ, the invisible church, we can either bind one another or release one another. Just as Delilah bound Samson. Just as Lazarus's friends released him.

In both cases, God had given power to them to live, Samson as a Judge for God among the Philistines and Lazarus to show that God in Jesus Christ has been sent by the Father and has authority over death.

We can move out of a `blame' culture and into an `acceptance' culture ? a culture where mistakes are recognised as a normal way of learning, where we can be encouraged to try things, and be supported in doing our best.

We can either bind one another or release one another. We can encourage each other in all that we do.

We can move out of a `blame' culture and into an `acceptance' culture. I ask that we begin to acknowledge that a mistake is a normal way of learning. None of us is perfect: all of us are sinners and fail in the sight of God, but He loves us and accepts us for who we are in Jesus.

A gift has been given, the gift of one another in Jesus Christ. We have become brothers and sisters. God is our Father. We have been joined as a family to support and care for one another, and to enjoy worshipping God together.

I thought that I would end with a practical demonstration of what I have been talking about.

Here is a gift to be shared among you. It's bound up ? with pretty bows but it's still tied up. Let me give it to one of you. Who will release the bindings? Once released, you can open the box, and we can all share the feast within!

Rick