You Will Be Swept Away
A sermon based on 1 Samuel 12:20-25
Sunday, October 9, 2016 – Pentecost 21C
As they were pulling in the crab pots, a powerful storm kicked up, the likes of which none of the crew had ever seen before. But they weren't paid to sit safely in the cabin, but to do their job. So they kept at it struggling against the waves that crashed onto deck. But it wasn't long before a huge wave the size of a wall crashed across the deck, taking the legs out from under the men. As they regained their footing, the crew looked around and each man noticed that they were now one short. The wave didn't just sweep them off their feet, it swept one man out to sea. And there was nothing they could do. They knew that he would never be found…
They call it the "Deadliest Catch" for a reason. I'm sure that most if not all of you have seen the "Seafarer's Memorial" at the end of the Homer Spit, built in memory of the countless fishermen who have been swept away into the sea never to be found again.
That's the picture that God paints for us this morning through his prophet, Samuel. The people demanded that God give them a king and no longer rule over them himself through the voice of the prophets. And God surrendered to their will. He gave his people a king. And at the inauguration of their first king, Saul, the prophet Samuel gave a speech. He warned the people to turn away from idols and to turn to the Lord. If they wouldn't heed his warning, but continued to persist in their evil instead, they would be swept away—not just to Davey Jones' locker, but to Satan's—never to be found again. But he also offered them comfort: If they would turn to the Lord, he would not reject his people.
And in Samuel's speech, we too find a warning: Turn from the Lord and be swept away. But we also find great comfort: Turn to the Lord and swept off your feet by his love and grace. Our text for today is a portion of Samuel's speech at the inauguration of King Saul, recorded for us in 1 Samuel 12:20-24…
20 "Do not be afraid," Samuel replied. "You have done all this evil; yet do not turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away after useless idols. They can do you no good, nor can they rescue you, because they are useless. 22 For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own. 23 As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right. 24 But be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you. 25 Yet if you persist in doing evil, both you and your king will be swept away."
I. Turn from the Lord and Be Swept Away
The Israelites saw the nations around them and how they seemed to prosper. They noticed that what all the other nations had that they lacked was a king. And so they thought that if they were to thrive as a nation, they too needed a king, not just prophets speaking for God, but one man around whom they could rally. This would make their nation strong. This would solve their problems.
But Samuel warned that a new king wouldn't magically make things better for the people of Israel. In fact, they would be worse off if they rallied around a king but forgot the Lord.
Of course it can be tempting for us to think too that a new president will make life better in our lives too, which is why everyone gets all worked up over the elections this year. But you know that's still true that while things might be better for a short time, it makes no difference who rules the nation if its citizens forget about the Lord.
So Samuel shifted the responsibility from the new king to each individual citizen, on each person, to turn from evil, to do what is right, and to serve the Lord. This was (and still is) the only solution to the problems we have as individuals, and the problems we have as a nation. It was a call to repentance—to turn from their evil ways and back to the Lord.
Little Johnny ran away from home. He had broken a window with his baseball and his dad was going to make him pay from his own allowance to have it replaced! And Johnny thought that was no fair! So he packed up some clothes, his baseball glove, and some snacks from the pantry and ran away from home. But soon it started raining, then pouring, then he saw the lighting and heard the thunder and thought maybe, just maybe, he'd go back home.
That's sort of what it was like for Israel. They sinned against God, they rejected him. And when God disciplined them for it, they were angry with him and ran away from him. But, of course, they soon found out that they were not better off, but far worse. But still they weren't sure they wanted to come home. They were sitting outside in the thunderstorm and they were in danger of worse things to come—of hell.
Friends, you and I are often like those Israelites. We don't serve the Lord with all of our hearts. And too often we "…turn away after useless idols… [which] do you no good… [and] are useless." Literally, "Empty things that cannot profit or deliver." Oh, we may not bow down to carved statues, offer our children as burnt offerings, or visit shrine prostitutes. But don't we often worship money, more excited over our PFD's than over Bible Class? Don't we often offer our children to sports instead of Sunday School? Don't we too look for deliverance from our problems by escaping in a bottle, in mind-numbing entertainment, or in the thrill of an outdoor adventure, instead of in the Lord?
Let's face it. We have done evil. We have turned from the Lord. We have run away from him. And Samuel's warning is as good for us today as it was back then: "If you persist in doing evil, both you and your king"—or, I guess in our case, president—"will be swept away." That's what we deserve: to be swept away, never to be found again. And again, he doesn't just mean being swept away to Davey Jones' locker, but to satan's—to an eternity of being lost forever in hell.
But friends, today, listen to Samuel's warning. Don't just hear it, but listen to it. Heed it! Don't turn from the Lord anymore! Don't run away from him! But turn away from your sin—whatever it might be. Turn to the Lord! Run to him! For when you do, "the Lord will not reject his people…"
II. Turn to the Lord and Be Swept Off Your Feet
Little Johnny was soaked to the bone. He was cold. He was scared. And when the thunder crashed again and again, he made up his mind. He ran toward home as fast as his little legs would carry him. But when he got to the front porch, he stopped. Would his dad let him home? Or would he leave him out in the cold? Was his dad angry with him for running away? Would he only get punished more? What if dad wouldn't let him in?
But of course dad did open the door and stepped on to the porch himself. Johnny got ready for a scolding, but was surprised when his dad fell to his knees and wrapped little Johnny in a giant bear hug, instantly warming Johnny and easing his fear. Then dad took him inside, helped Johnny dry off, and got him a big mug of steaming hot chocolate. He even put a generous amount of marshmallows in the mug.
Of course, loving parents don't stop loving their children even when they sin. They're saddened by the sin, disappointed by the sin, and in love, must punish the sin, but they don't forsake their kids and disown them. They don't stop loving them. That's how God is with his children too.
Even though the Israelites had rejected God and run away from him, Samuel told them, "Do not be afraid… For the sake of his great name the Lord will not reject his people, because the Lord was pleased to make you his own."
Friends, when we repent of our rebellion, stop running from God and instead turn to him… when we approach him with a simple, but genuine, "I'm sorry for what I've done," "the Lord will not reject [us]." Instead, he wraps his arms around us, assures us again that he loves us, that he forgives us, and that his love isn't based on our behavior, but is always there because that is who he is and "because the Lord was pleased to make you his own."
Through baptism and through the faith given you by the Holy Spirit, he has made you his own son or daughter. He has taught you the way that is good and right. He has taught you about Jesus: the Way and the Truth and the Life. He has taught you that for the sake of his great name and for the sake of Jesus who lived a perfect life in your place—never rebelling against the Father—who died an innocent death on a cross for you—taking your rebellion and all your evil away… For his sake, you are not swept away by God's rather. Rather, your sins are swept away—as far as the east is from the west—never to be found again! For his sake, you are forgiven. You are brought into his embrace, reassured of his love, and kept safe in his arms.
So don't be afraid! But, did you notice that even though Samuel began his speech with, "Do not be afraid," in verse 20, later in verse 24 he says, "But be sure to fear the Lord"? Isn't that a contradiction? Doesn't he negate what he said at first? Which does he want us to do? "Not be afraid"? Or fear the Lord?
Well, you probably already know the answer. But other verses make it clear what it means to "fear the Lord." For example, Psalm 112:1 says, "Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands." Of course in this sense "fear of the Lord" isn't terror, but reverence and awe, delighting in God and longing to serve him.
You see, when we "consider what great things he has done for [us]," when we are certain of his love for us in Christ, when we are assured of his full forgiveness for every one of our sins, when we know that we aren't rejected by the Lord, but will be welcomed into his heaven… well, then his love and his grace sweeps us off our feet. We're swept away by his love, and eager to serve him as we return our love to him.
So, "serve the Lord with all your heart…" You can start by learning "the way that is good and right…" "As for me… I will teach you the way that is good and right."
So come and hear it. Come to worship as often as you can. Come to Bible class to learn more. Learn what others teach as you read your Bible's study notes, a book of Meditations, or a daily email devotion. And as you learn more and more, and daily "consider what great things he has done," you will daily be swept off your feet again and again and fall madly in love with your Savior. Then you'll be eager to run to him in every need and always "be sure to fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart…"
"As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you." And I will pray for you, friends. I'll pray that God would not sweep you away in his wrath, but would sweep you off your feet by his grace and love every day, so that you, in turn, might "fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart…" In his name, dear friends, amen.