Monday, July 20, 2015

Know God - Thank Goodness

Preached on Sunday, July 19, 2015

Scripture readings: Psalm 107; Mark 4:35-41

A family was sitting down to supper together. It was their practice to pray before their meal. That day they asked their little son to say the prayer of thanks. Before he started, he asked his parents, “Do I have to give thanks for the broccoli?”
Doesn’t the Psalm say this? “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his broccoli endures forever.”
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County: June 2015
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say this….”
The Lord is good. His love endures forever. Let the redeemed say this. These are not three different things. They are inseparable things. The whole psalm is a definition of God being good. The whole psalm is a definition of God’s love. The whole psalm is a definition of God as the redeemer and of us as the redeemed.
The message is that people in the jaws of calamity can know God’s goodness and love and redemption. What is redemption? Redemption means being free. It means being set free, but there is always some drama to it. Redemption always comes as some form of rescue. The psalm gives us some poetic pictures of rescue.
God is in the rescue business. What are the pictures of calamity? What are the scenes of rescue?
There is a great wilderness rescue. But it’s not like rescuing lost hikers. The lost people in the psalm are more like refugees or immigrants. You could think of it as a group like the Donner Party, back in 1848, when the trails to California were not yet very well marked. They got delayed, stranded, and stuck in the high Sierra in the middle of winter. Of course it was all their fault (or the fault of the man they chose to be their guide, who didn’t know what he was doing).
Perhaps it’s a picture of some of the people of Israel returning to their homeland from their long exile in Babylon. They had been gone so long that there was no one with them who knew the way, and so they got lost in the desert.
They were exiled because of their parents’ unfaithfulness to God, but they were an innocent generation; as innocent as we are. God was their rescuer. God stopped their exile. God showed them the way home.
Some of the rescued in the psalm were chained up in a dungeon as rebels against God, and God was their rescuer. God broke into his own dungeon and broke the chains that they deserved to wear.
The psalm tells us that God rescued fools. In the Bible a fool isn’t a dummy. A fool is someone who knows better and yet they think and they do exactly what they know they shouldn’t.
In the psalm these fools who know better live their lives in a way that makes them sick. In fact they almost die (they almost kill themselves) because they did what they knew not to do. The psalm tells us that God rescues them.
I love the next part. “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep.” (Psalm 107:23-32)
I see nothing wrong with them. They had a good idea. They were brave and ambitious and they simply got into the kind of trouble that brave and ambitious people run into.
I love the fact that the storm was one of the wonderful works of God, because storms are. I love to stand on a cliff high above the ocean and watch the waves break on the rocks. The only problem with storms as the wonderful work of God is that we get in the way of the storm. God rescued those brave and ambitious people from God’s own work.
In all of these calamities: God is good; God is great in his love; God is a rescuer. And in all of these calamities and more, we are supposed to be able to say so. We are supposed to be able to say this. The first words of this psalm say it: “Give thanks to the Lord.”
There is this challenge of four things going together; not three things: God’s goodness, God’s love, God’s rescue, and our thanks. The redeemed (the rescued) know this, and they say this. If we are not thankful, then we don’t know God’s goodness, we don’t know God’s love, and we don’t recognize God’s rescue, because they all go together.
They do all go together, but it’s not that bad. God knows we forget. This psalm tells us that God rescues the people who have forgotten these things. He gives us messages like this psalm to help us remember what we have forgotten.
Are there any conditions we must meet in order to be rescued from calamity? No, there are no conditions.
What about faith? Is faith a condition for being rescued? The story of Jesus, with his disciples in the storm, gives us the answer. They yelled for Jesus to help them, but they didn’t think he could do it. It came as a complete surprise to them. Jesus knew this. Faith isn’t a condition.
But the people in the jaws of calamity prayed. “They cried to the Lord in their trouble.” It’s like school prayer: as long as the schools do testing there will always be prayer in the schools. When you go to a basketball game, and someone on your team shoots for a basket, don’t you lean your body to push their shot through the hoop even though you’re sitting a hundred feet away? It’s not a very good prayer, but it is a prayer.
God responds. Does he? Always! But not always the way we want. In the Book of Acts Peter was arrested and held in jail for trial.
We aren’t told that he prayed, but he probably did. We are told that others were praying for him. They were probably praying for Peter to be brave and faithful. They were probably praying for things to go well for Peter at his trial. Peter was probably praying for the same thing.
Nobody expected Peter to be rescued (who would) but God did rescue him. God sent an angel of rescue. It was quite the surprise. Peter thought it was all a dream until he found himself on the street outside the jail with nothing to do but go home to his friends, and then go into hiding. (Acts 12:1-19)
Peter was in jail more than once for his faith. In the end he was arrested in the city of Rome. He was put in jail and condemned. Then he was led out by the guards and crucified upside down. Peter did this because the Lord was his rescuer. The Lord was his redeemer. The Lord is good.
There is something about the love of God in the Bible that should be clear to see. We should be able to see that God’s love is different from our love. God’s love is better than ours.
There is actually a special word in Hebrew for the kind of love that God gives to us. The Bible seldom tells us of humans loving anyone with that love. That special love is the word for God’s love in this psalm.
There is no good way to translate it. Our New International version just translates it as love at the start of this psalm; and then tells us that this love is unfailing. The King James Version uses the word “mercy”. The New American Standard Version uses the word “loving kindness”. The Revised Standard Version uses the word steadfast love, and I do like that translation, because God’s love is steady. It’s steadfast.
It could be translated “covenant love”, or (perhaps) “loyalty love”. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Those are the conditions for the rescue of those who get caught in the jaws of calamity. Those are the conditions for our rescue. Jesus is the steadfast love of God made flesh. He is the unfailing love given without condition, or without any more condition than a cry for help.
The covenant means a promise made by God. That is what Jesus showed in the storm. That is what Jesus was teaching his disciples (including us) to trust: God’s promise. God’s promise is as extreme and as frightening as the cross.
Jesus, in the storm, was God with his people in the jaws of their calamity. Jesus, on the cross, is God with us in the jaws of our calamity. Jesus, on the cross, is the promise of God leading us through our lostness in the desert, breaking our chains in our prison, healing our stubborn and deadly foolishness, stilling our storm and bringing our battered boat to safe harbor. “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”
I love the Apostle Paul, and especially his second letter to the church in Corinth. In Second Corinthians Paul writes this as just one example of the goodness of God, and how Paul learned to give thanks for that goodness. I’m going to read it at length: To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
We really don’t know what Paul’s thorn in the flesh was. We can only guess. It doesn’t matter. Paul cried to the Lord and the Lord showed Paul his goodness, his love, and his rescue. Paul gave thanks to the Lord.
Even the thorn in the flesh was something that Paul could recognize as the Lord’s goodness; the Lord’s rescue. Paul gave heart-felt thanks for it. It all goes together.
The psalm tells us to give thanks. Paul commands it. “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
The rescue work of God in this psalm takes forms that give us this message. It’s the message that God can do anything. I have known that God can do anything for a long, long time; only sometimes I forget.
Recently, I decided that if God could do anything, then he could make me give thanks to him last week when I wasn’t feeling very thankful. I imagined my unthankfulness as an army of invading barbarians raising dust in the distance. I could hear the cries of their unthankful voices.
Then I cried to the Lord and he delivered me from my trouble. He really did take that part of my brain under his control (at least for the time being).
It wasn’t a very good prayer, and I wasn’t sure it would even work (meaning I wasn’t sure if it would work the way I wanted it to work). Especially, I wasn’t sure that I would let the prayer work. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be rescued from my unthankfulness.
How about you: are you thankful? And how about us: are we a thankful church? You would know. Do you have a heart-felt desire that God would fill us with the energy of thanks: the energy that comes from knowing that the Lord is good, and that he is good to us all the time; the energy that comes from knowing that his love endures for ever, and that it endures forever for us all the time?
It wouldn’t have to be the kind of prayer that meets a lot of conditions. It would simply need to be a heart-felt cry for help.
Just how heart-felt is your desire to be thankful? This will come to you when you find how heart-felt God’s love is (for you and for everyone). This cry to the Lord will come from knowing that you and everyone else are the targets of that love.
Sometimes I don’t think that I really want to be thankful. I want something else more. Sometimes I would just rather be crabby and angry without any interruption. If I see nothing to be thankful for, then I can find a reason to quit. There are just a few of the many advantages to not being thankful.
The redeemed aren’t individuals functioning on their own and charting their course as individuals. The redeemed are a people. They are a body, a family, a tribe, and a network of people.
They are brothers and sisters who experience God’s rescue work together. They are sisters and brothers who carry the message of God’s rescue business and they partners in that business. They rescue others.

The word of God tells us to give thanks as a body of people who are being redeemed and rescued. We can say (right here and now) that the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever. Are you happy, now, with your thankfulness, and are you ready to be thankful for the calling to which God’s rescue-business will take us?

1 comment:

  1. His marvelous love, his miracle mercy...that is how it is worded in "The Message" Bible. I like to look at Biblegateway and see the different translations side by side.
    In everything and in all ways, we should pray and be thankful.
    Good sermon and I liked the butterfly photos also.