Sermon August 16, 2020

In Everything Give Thanks  
August 16, 2020
Psalm 107; I Thessalonians 5: 12-24; I Corinthians 11:23-26

    For the past several weeks we’ve been looking at the Psalms.  We have seen how the Psalms mirror what we are experiencing in particular chapters of our lives.  The OT scholar Walter Brueggeman has pointed out that we can divide the Psalms into three categories–Psalms of orientation, Psalms of dis-orientation, and Psalms of re-orientation.

    Psalms of orientation reflect the times when life is so good, when life makes sense, when everything is sunshine and roses.  

    Psalms of dis-orientation reflect the times when life just plain out stinks, like now, in the time of pandemic.  Dot Bell said the other night that she wants to stay up on New Year’s Eve this year, not so much to ring the new year in, but ring the old year out.  Psalms of dis-orientation reflect the times when God seems far off, when we think that God doesn’t hear our prayers or care about what happens to us.

    And then there are Psalms of re-orientation when we wake up some morning after a sojourn of dark nights and suddenly realize  that God has been with us all along, that when we were knocked down and knocked out by the blows of life, God gently lifted us up and placed us on our feet again.  

    Barbara read Psalm 107 a few moments ago.  This is one of those Psalms of re-orientation.  Notice how the Psalmist repeats this particular phrase like the tolling of the bell.  They cried to the lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.

    When they rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the most high.  They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.

    He brought them out of darkness and deepest gloom. 
They cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.

    For they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.
    Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.
    Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
     Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress.     

    Just put your bookmark at Psalm 107 because we will come back to it in a moment and turn in your Bible to I Thessalonians chapter 5, our second reading for today.  The verse I want to lift up in I Thessalonians 5 is this: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”  

    In everything give thanks.  The Apostle Paul has the credentials to advise us here.  For he had a brutally hard life.    Go read about it in II Corinthians 11 where he says us that he had been shipwrecked, stoned, beaten, scoffed at, discredited, thrown into prison, and that’s just for openers.  In all these straits of his life, he never abandoned his attitude of gratitude.  As a righteous Jew, one acquainted with every verse of scripture, he must have known Psalm 107 by heart: “Then they cried to the Lord in their troubles, and he saved them from their distress.” 

    So here we are 5 months into our battle with C-19.  It’s been five months almost to the day since we last worshiped at our sweet little church.  We’ve been house-bound; we’ve worried about ourselves and the people we love.  We’ve seen people we know inflicted with this dread virus.   How long, O Lord, how long?        

    I am sure that you have seen that little piece of prose called “Footprints.”  I’ve seen it on plaques, greeting cards, and refrigerator magnets.  

    The message is simple.   Someone has died and from the vantage point of heaven looks down upon the journey of his or her lifetime.  The journey is depicted as a trail of footprints on a sandy beach. When times were good, there were two pair of footprints.  When times were bad, there was one set of footprints. 

    The person who has just arrived in heaven turns to the Lord and says, “Would you explain what this means?”

    The Lord replies, “One pair of footprints is yours.  One pair is mine.”

    “OK, I get it.  But why is there only one pair in the tough times?   When I needed you most you abandoned me.”

    The Lord, gazing at the pair of footprints answers, “I didn’t abandon you.  That one pair of footprints is when I carried you.”    

    It’s a very nice thought, but a little syrupy and simplistic.  I’ve had to ask myself, “Why do so many people like this story?” 

    And then it occurred to me that people like “Footprints” not as a promise of what the Lord might do, but what the Lord has already done.  For a lot of people can name a day when they could do more, when they could climb no higher, when they could walk no further.  

    How did they get through?   They don’t know.  They can’t tell you.  But they did get through and to this very day they can’t explain why.  So, in an attempt to make sense of it they buy this little $4.99 litho, put it in a $25 dollar frame and hang it on a $100,000 wall. 

    It’s about some footprints in the sand and a conversation in the precincts of heaven.   Which is probably as good a way as any to say.  “Look I don’t know how it happened.  But I once was there, and now I’m here, and it occurs to me that I couldn’t have gotten from there to here all by myself.”  

    Then I cried to the Lord in my trouble, and he saved me in my distress.