St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches


Thanksgiving Sermon on 1 Samuel 12:24

Text: Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.

What is Thanksgiving? What does Thanksgiving Day mean to you? I do not know how many people I hear refer to the day as Turkey Day. Is that all it is, a day to stuff ourselves with turkey and the trimmings and lie around the rest of the day, saying that we should not have eaten so much? I know that we do not think of Thanksgiving this way. However, what does Thanksgiving mean to you? Today, as we study God’s Word, I would like to offer that THANKSGIVING is 1. A Time To Reflect and 2 A Time To React.

Our sermon text for this morning comes to us from Samuel’s farewell speech to the people of Israel. A bit of background will help us understand more fully why Samuel said these words. Samuel had grown old and appointed his sons to lead the people. His sons were dishonest people. As a result, the nation came to Samuel and asked that a king be appointed. Samuel brought this to the Lord and the Lord told Samuel, “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.”(1 Samuel 8:7-9) So, Samuel told them that a king would take the best of their goods for himself. He would take some of their children to serve in his army and royal court. Finally, Samuel said, “When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.” (1 Samuel 8:18) In spite of this, the people said that they wanted a king and Saul was anointed to be that king. Now, as Samuel said good-bye to the people, he reminded them again and again how God had shown kindness to them. Yet, they and their ancestors, had forgotten the Lord. Now, to top it off, Samuel said, “when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, ‘No, we want a king to rule over us’ – even though the LORD your God was your king.”(12:12) In essence, Samuel was telling the people that they did not trust that God could protect them, so they wanted a king. To this the people replied, “Pray to the LORD your God for your servants so that we will not die, for we have added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”(12:19) After Samuel assured the people that they did not need to be afraid, he told them the words of our text, “Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart; consider what great things he has done for you.”

We, though we are 3,000 years removed, can learn from these words of Samuel. Remember how Samuel had reminded the people of the many times they had strayed from the Lord. Let us spend a few moments and review some of the ways that we have strayed from the Lord. How often are we not like the Israelites and, when we see some trouble approaching, we sit down and try to figure out how we can best get through it? We come up with all sorts of solutions and, if everything turns out the way that we have it planned, we will get through it alright. Where was God in our planning? Was he the first place we looked to for help, or was he an, “I tried everything else. I might as well try God,” moment? Yet, we are told, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) How often have we not been dazzled by the pleasures and treasures of the world, so that they receive our greater attention? These things become all important to us. They take up all of our efforts to get or enjoy them. Compare that to what we read in Matthew 22:37, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” What is to be the dearest in our lives? What are we to trust in more than anyone or anything? The answer, in both cases, is God. Can we say that this has always been the case for us? If we are honest with ourselves, we would have to say, “No.” For all the times that we have put other things or people ahead of God, we have sinned and deserve to be punished for all eternity in hell.

Yet, Samuel also reminded the people of the many times that the Lord had blessed them in his farewell speech, in spite of their frequent turning away from him. Here he says, “Consider what great things he has done for you.” Let’s do that. Let’s “consider what great things he has done for” us. It certainly does not take too long to think about these, when we see that we deserved to spend our eternity in hell, and instead have eternal life to look forward to. This, of course, is only because of the work of Jesus Christ. His work started already when he was eight days old, fulfilling the Old Testament law of circumcision. He, the giver of the law, made himself subject to that law for us. Throughout his entire life, Jesus perfectly followed the law. Think, for example, of when the devil tempted Jesus in the wilderness for those forty days. With every one of those temptations, the devil tried to have Jesus put something ahead of his trust in God. Jesus never faltered in keeping his Father as the most important. Jesus did this, because you and I cannot. For all of the times when we failed to keep God in his foremost position, Jesus stepped in and paid for those sins by going to a cross, where he shed his blood. Jesus, in further love for us, rose again from the dead, showing us that the gate to eternal life was wide open. Our status before God is now holy and perfect. This gift is ours through faith, which is also a gift from our loving God. In addition to this, we have the promise that God will hear all of our prayers. This Thanksgiving, “consider what great things he has done for you.”

Even if this were the sum total of all God’s blessings, we would have every reason to be thankful. Yet, we also know how richly God has blessed all of us. Where do we start with the physical blessings that God has given? Look at the wonderful homes that we live in, the vast amount and varieties of food and drink that we enjoy, the nice clothes that we wear, and so on. Look at the wonderful country God allows us to live in. Look at how our fields have again brought in an abundant harvest. Obviously, we could go on and on talking about the blessings that God has given to us. “Consider what great things he has done for you.”

It is also true that, not everything has been perfect. There are setbacks. There are aches and pains. There is sadness. Can we still consider the great things that God has done for us? Yes. First of all, we have God’s assurance that everything that enters our lives is for a purpose. It, ultimately, will be for our benefit, though we may not see it at the time. We also have this promise, as we consider what God has done for us, at times with tear-filled eyes. God promises, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Thanksgiving is a time for reflection on the goodness of our God.

At Thanksgiving, of course, we want to be thankful. What does it mean to be thankful? Well, when someone does something nice for you, what do you do? You say, “Thank you,” don’t you? So, we gather together today to do that; to say, “Thank you” to our God for all of the blessings that he has given to us. However, when we look at these words from Samuel, he gives us another way to thank our God for all that he has done for us. He says, “Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart.” Note that, when Samuel says, “fear the LORD,” he does not mean that we should be afraid of him. If we were still in our sins, we would have every right to be afraid. Jesus has paid for our sins and they are completely gone. Here the word “fear” means to have an awe of and a respect for God, that he is the most important thing in our lives. The way that this fear shows itself is, as Samuel says, is to “serve him faithfully with all your heart.”

In other words, we say thank you to God with our entire lives. When we live our Christian lives, we are thanking God. This covers every aspect of our lives. When students do their best on their homework, they are thanking God. When husbands and wives love and respect each other, they are thanking God. When we do our best at our jobs, we are thanking God. We thank God when we do our chores. We thank God when we live as good Christian citizens. We give thanks to God when we speak the best about others, rather than tearing them down. Rather than going through every possibility, Paul reminds us in Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

We sing the same thing in the hymn, “Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices.” We thank God with all our heart, which is what Samuel encouraged the people to do. We don’t want to give a half-hearted “Thank you.” We don’t want to be thankful, because we have to be. We are thankful because of all that God has done for us. We thank God with our hands. Everything we do, we want to do to the glory of God. We thank God with our voices as we sing to him and pray to him. We also thank God, when we share with others the great things God has done for us and for them, as well. This is part of what Jesus was talking about when he spoke of our Christian lives, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) In other words, we don’t just want our “Thank you” to come from our mouths. We want our entire lives to thank God for all that he has done for us. “Be sure to fear the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart.”

Charles Dickens once said that we are somewhat mixed up in America. Instead of having just one Thanksgiving Day, we should have 364. He said, “Use that one day just for complaining and griping. Use the other 364 to thank God for the many blessings he has showered upon you.” Mr. Dickens may have a point. When we consider the great things God has done for us, we cannot help but be thankful to him for all that he has done for us. Maybe, we won’t even need that one day for griping and complaining. We began by asking, “What is Thanksgiving?”. Here is the answer. Thanking God is simply this: Consider what God has done for you. Live in reaction to his love. Amen.