Union Presbyterian Church

254 Shell Road, Carneys Point, NJ 08069 856-299-1724 "A Caring Family Of Faith That Loves As Christ Taught Us To"

1 Samuel 12: 1-15                                                                                                                                                            Matthew 27:62 – 28:10

                                                            Hope Instead of Fear

            May the Lord be with you!  (And also with you…)

            Today being Easter Sunday, and of course our most important day in the Christian calendar, we certainly do hold up Christ on this day and we do hold up our relationships with God the Father too, and then we do give amazingly heartfelt thanks, thanks actually right from our very cores because of everything that our God does for us.  Our God does love us so much and proves that all the time in small and large ways.  And because I do truly believe in having a relationship with God through Christ, I do confidently say that this day is always a day that we can look to so that we can have our hopes renewed, to have our faith solidified and to have that covenant with our God recalled and recommitted to.  More than any other day in the year, I will say, that this is the day that the Lord has made, and so we shall rejoice and be glad in it. 

            And because this is such a special day, such a holy day, it does seem only fitting and intelligent that we would take this time to examine the relationship that we have with our God at this point in time, to leave the past behind, and to focus on what’s important in the days to come, and if nothing else, to renew our relationship with our God.  Who wants to live in the past, right?  But, I do have to point out, that if we were to only look at the present, and then perhaps to the future, that there’s a great problem in doing that because we would most likely then be dooming ourselves into making the same mistakes and into thinking in the same ways over and over again.  And so we have to learn from our pasts, individual and communal.  Because who wants to just keep living in the same way, day after day, week after week, year after year, generation after generation?  Never growing and exploring, perhaps never taking advantage of what’s there for us, and then doing what we’re so often so good at, which is finding a way to put the responsibility for the mistakes of this life onto something other than ourselves. 

            And so with that said, I’d really like us to think about that first reading that we had first, the one from the Book of Samuel.  And I want us to think about the Samuel that we’ve been getting to know in the last month and a half; he’s clearly God’s chosen prophet, connected to God, wise because of God’s spirit living inside of him, and of course Samuel is living in a time in which fear is truly what ruled the day.  Fear of neighbors, fear of a lack of provision, whether it be food or water or other essentials, fear of nature and of other species that we share God’s creation with, and of course, fear of God himself.  And I will say, that most likely, fear of God was the greatest fear that most people had at Samuel’s time, and so how would that fear effect their daily lives?  Remember, we’re taught in the Old Testament that God was a jealous God, and a vengeful God, ..and that is how people believed when Samuel walked the earth. 

            And what Samuel here is essentially doing in our verses is announcing that he’s going into retirement, he’s announcing that he’s stepping aside.  He’ll still be around in case he’s needed, and clearly God will still be able to use him to convey messages if need be. But here, Samuel is giving a speech in which he’s handing over the day to day responsibilities, the solving of the problems of the people, to Saul, the new human king that has just been appointed.  This is what the Israelites wanted, so this is what they are getting.  Samuel recalls the history of God saving them from Egypt and then from other enemies that had come along the way.  He recalls the Judges before him who were also military leaders and were able to save God’s chosen nation from other invaders once God allowed them into his Promised Land, ..and those leaders were obviously also essential blessings from God, and Samuel wants the people to never forget this.  He wants the people to never forget how blessed they have been, how good of a parent God has always been to them, and now here once again, God is giving-in to what these spoiled children want and is providing them with Saul to be their king. 

            AND, Samuel also tells the people that if they want to live in ways that they know they should not, that if they want to return to holding up and worshiping false gods, as they were doing some years back, and that if they wanted to be disrespectful of all that God has just continuously done for them, then the end result would be that they will experience the heavy hand of God like they have never experienced it before.  God, through Samuel, is giving the Israelites one final chance to prove that they can be obedient to Him.  But if they can’t, if they can’t get themselves together long enough to prove that they are worthy of this relationship that God does give to them so lovingly, then the punishment will be harsher than anything they can remember, and very well may be a punishment similar to their years in Egyptian slavery – meaning, what God is saying is simply this, “Be careful, be very careful, because you’re being given essentially one last chance to prove yourself.”  It sounds like not just a threat, but a promise, a harsh, harsh promise of warning.

            Now we do have to note that the Israelites do pay attention and they do follow God’s laws for quite a while, they get through a few kingships pretty successfully.  We’re told that Saul was king for close to forty years, and then David took over and he was king for about forty years, and then apparently Solomon was also king for forty years.  If you add those kingships up all tolled together they come to one hundred and twenty years where things were going from relatively well to really well.  (And I will point out that the apparent forty years of kingship for each of the first three kings is the number of years given in Scripture, there is no other place, no other historical writing, that we know of that even speaks of their reigning lengths.  But, we do know that forty years was the average human life span at that time, hence where the forty year or forty-day tradition comes from for so many other things found in Scripture is that, so who really knows exactly how long the first three kings really had on the thrown, but we can assume that it was at least a decent amount of time.  That’s just an interesting point.) 

            And of course we do know what happens eventually to the Israelite kingdom, they do then rebel against God, they walk away from God and what He offers, and then they’re punished by being conquered and led into slavery to Babylon.  What God had promised, what God had threatened through Samuel, came true.  God had wanted this people to be his light to the nations, to be his hands and his feet and to bring the rest of the world to Him, but they did not, they would not.  And then they found that after just a few short generations, that they no longer needed their God, ..their memories were short and their egos were large.  The Old Testament is a continual story of the Israelites rebelling against God, time and time again – and I know that I’ve said this to you before, but it’s completely the case.   The Old Testament is the story of God with this people that he’s chosen to be the leaders of all of humanity, and how they constantly fail at their task.  And so then finally, after at least a portion of this people of his realize that they the Israelites – like all of humanity – are just simply too sinful to truly carry forth God’s will by themselves for the rest of the world.  They can then accept God coming himself in the form of man in order to establish a new covenant, a new way of doing relationship.  And that new covenant is now for all of humanity who believe in Jesus Christ as the messiah, God’s covenant with humanity is no longer a covenant based on an ethnic identity. 

            Jesus Christ was born to us, he grew-up as we do so as to show us that he knows the frailties of human life from our weak perspective, and then he taught, he taught us the true meanings behind all of these laws and lessons that God wants and desires for us to learn.  And he showed us his love, a kind of love that was truly missing from our existences.  And in the Old Testament law it spells out that in order for man to make his relationship right with God, that a sacrifice of atonement must be lovingly given, that a guilt offering must be given up to God, this is all spelled out in the Mosaic law found in Leviticus. 

..Now last week we heard the Scripture of how Jesus entered into the temple grounds and began destroying the market place because people were thinking that all they needed to do was to be sacrificing animals to God to atone for their very real sin.  Christ was frustrated to his very core at that point, because the people were looking to superficial things and they were having superficial understandings, they were looking for something else to take their guilt away instead of simply sacrificing from their own hearts and lives as Jesus was trying to teach them.  ..So, because God through Jesus Christ knew that humanity was too weak to understand the type of sacrifice that was required, to make true sacrifices from their hearts and lives, because of human weakness, Jesus Christ put himself up to be that sacrifice, in order to atone for the guilt that all of humanity possessed.  Dying on the cross, he became the sacrificial lamb, a sacrifice as required in Leviticus, but also the sacrifice of himself completely. 

            Christ put himself up to be that perfect sacrifice of atonement, of our guilt, and because of that sacrifice made, we were reunited with our God.  Our guilt was forgiven, finally, through the perfect sacrifice to God.  And how do we really know that Jesus Christ was God in human form, why do we say this, how do we know?  Because on the third day, a couple of the women who were following Jesus went to his tomb, we believe that they were Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother.  They went to the tomb but Jesus was not there, he had raised from the dead after three days of being there in the tomb.  Who else could rise from their grave beside God himself?  His rising from that grave just easily became the final proof that matched with not just his miracles performed, but with his wisdom and understanding that clearly was more than simply inspired.  He rose from his grave, met with disciples and followers on the way, proved to them that their fear could be gone, that there was no longer any need for fear, because humanity’s relationship with God the Creator, because of his dying on the cross, had been re-established, it had been changed.  That from that day, from that glorious day of Jesus rising from his grave, all of humanity could have hope instead of fear forever more. 

            During the time of Samuel, and during the time of Saul and then David and then Solomon, people were in so many ways guided by a fear of God, they really believed that God would punish you if you didn’t do as the law spelled out.  What they didn’t understand was that God wasn’t looking for people to fear him, he was looking for people to be willing to truly love him.  Jesus taught us this, and taught us how to make that knowledge a reality for our lives.  Because of Jesus, we now have hope instead of fear.  And I would venture, that that hope instead of fear is not just because of the salvation that’s our reward upon finishing this earthly journey, but it’s a hope instead of a fear for this earthly life as well.  With our faith, we have no need for such deep fear, we have no reason to have it.  Because with Jesus Christ, there just simply isn’t anything to fear.

            In the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.