Now therefore stand and see this great thing, which the Lord will do before your eyes. Is it not wheat harvest to day? I will call unto the Lord, and he shall send thunder and rain; that ye may perceive and see that your wickedness is great, which ye have done in the sight of the Lord, in asking you a king. So Samuel called unto the Lord; and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day: and all the people greatly feared the Lord and Samuel. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. (1 Samuel xii. 16-19)
It has always and ever been the case that in times of turmoil, confusion, and godlessness men will turn to the darker side of their nature rather than the lighter, and to the City of Man rather than to the City of God for inspiration, encouragement, and perfection. Of course all sorts of men do this these days without ever investigating about whether God’s City even exists and then if there is any higher light to be found in it. So it would appear that the world we inhabit is wholly immersed in the City of Man and its limited promises of goodness and perfection.
So where does that put post-modern Christians like ourselves? I hope in a position to identify with the ancient people of Israel in this morning’s Old Testament lesson. The ancient Jews had sinned against God in demanding a king and not resting satisfied with the more direct rule of the Almighty through His chosen prophet. Samuel reminds the Jews that had had a commander in chief in all their wars and that they needed no other. He turns their minds back to their own history, when they had been a poor and little people and had begged Moses and Aaron to cry unto the God of their fathers to deliver them out of all their distress. He reminds them too of the miserires and calamites that had befallen them when they turned from their commander in chief to serve strange and foreign gods, and how they had enslaved themselves and thus had become prisoners and captives in the hands of their oppressors. He would have them remember too that their complicity with the idolatry of the world that surrounded them compelled their fathers to lament with deepest repentance, horror, shame, and grief over their sins. And that in this they found good in bad times that their progeny might remember to find good at all times. (M. Henry: Comm) They had persisted in their demand for a king because of external and visible threats to their physical safety and earthly comfort. Samuel would remind them incessantly of that far worse danger that threatened to steal their first true love from their innermost souls. They were afraid from without, and yet Samuel was horrified at what he saw from within.
Then Samuel called down thunder from heaven that they might see that their wickedness was great in being dissatisfied with the great and terrible mercies of their God. And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king. (Ibid, 19) The people were filled with shame for their sin. Samuel taught them that though they would be under the rule of an earthly king, still they would be subject to the judgment of God. So the prophet carried them back to the source and origin either of true worship or idolatry. Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; and turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain. (Ibid, 20, 21) To worship false gods is to subject oneself to the crude elements of this world. To worship false gods is to be carried from that chief affection for which the secrets of the human heart were made. It is better to trust in the Lord: than to put any confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord: than to put any confidence in princes. (Ps. cxviii. 8,9) God will bring a good end out of an evil beginning, the prophet promises. For those who fear the Lord and serve Him in truth, their obedience shall become their happiness, their subjection shall become their liberty, and their joy no man shall be able to take away from them. All nations compassed me round about: but in the name of the Lord will I destroy them. They kept me in on every side, they kept me in, I say, on every side: but in the Name of the Lord will I destroy them.
My friends, like the ancient Jews, the chief concern of the post-modern Christian must be the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. To say that we live in late, dark, and dangerous days is beside the point. All men who have feared the Lord always have. To restate the spiritually obvious is to sweep us away from that fear that carries us home to our first love. Our first love is God our heavenly Father, His ever-present loving Word, and the Spirit who must yearn and groan within us from the soil of our souls for the salvation of all men. Holy and Reverend is His Name; just and terrible are His judgments; and how unsearchable are His ways, past our finding out. His path is in the great deep; His footsteps are not known. Clouds and darkness are round about him, yet righteousness and judgment still are the habitation of His throne. Still He is righteous in all his ways and holy in all His works. Who would not stand in everlasting awe of thy glorious Majesty, O Lord, in whose hands we all of us are, to be used as thou wilt! (B. Jenks: Prayers and Offices of Devotion, p. 119)
Today my friends let us begin our Holy Synod kneeling down before the Lord our Maker, humbly submitting ourselves to the correction of His holy wisdom, acknowledging the seriousness of our sins, and knowing the justice of His judgments. Let us be humbled each day under the mighty hand of our God, knowing that at the great dread Day of Judgment, we must all give an account for the goods that the Lord has lent to us. As those who live in this world, let us not be of it. As those who dwell upon the earth, let our hearts rise high above it. For we, my friends, must be as strangers and pilgrims who though passing through this veil of tears use it for a well that springs up into righteousness and everlasting life. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and happy is the man that feareth always. Let us not fear to make bold with God’s merciful righteousness my friends, for with an awful regard of His glorious Majesty and under the careful guidance of His superabundant wisdom, others will come to know that He is our king and we are His people. And if He reigns as King supreme from our hearts, the love of God will stir them too, as the world learns once again that God has visited and redeemed His people. Amen.
And all the people said unto Samuel, Pray for thy servants unto the Lord thy God, that we die not: for we have added unto all our sins this evil, to ask us a king.
20 And Samuel said unto the people, Fear not: ye have done all this wickedness: yet turn not aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart; 21 and turn ye not aside: for then should ye go after vain things, which cannot profit nor deliver; for they are vain. 22 For the Lord will not forsake his people for his great name’s sake: because it hath pleased the Lord to make you his people. 23 Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way: 24 only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things he hath done for you. 25 But if ye shall still do wickedly, ye shall be consumed, both ye and your king.