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Sermon - November 23, 2014

Princeton Presbyterian Church  (EPC)                                 Sermon # 1191

November 23, 2014                                                                Psalm 107:1-9

Dr. Ed Pettus

 

"O Give Thanks to the Lord"

    

            This Thursday we will gather with family and friends to eat and enjoy a day with one another, some will plant themselves in front of the TV to watch football, others will play games, and some will give some time during the day to serve those less fortunate.  We give thanks to God for all that God has done.  We celebrate God’s abundant blessing.  Our scripture readings for worship today offer thanks to God.  1 Thessalonians reminds us that thanksgiving is the will of God for us.  Every time you thank God you are doing God’s will.    

Psalm 107 is a Psalm of thanksgiving.  The first verse is a call to give thanks to God, “O give thanks to the Lord…”  With every worship service we give thanks to the Lord.  Why do we give thanks?  And why do we thank God?  Thanksgiving is an act of self-abandonment, that is, to give thanks is to realize that we do not rely on ourselves.  Giving thanks is a confessional act that demonstrates reliance upon another.  Those who rely only on themselves never need to give thanks.  Giving thanks is also a confessional acknowledgment that we are committed to another, namely, to God.  To give thanks is to make a commitment.  We are committed to God because we rely on God for our life. 

There may be many reasons to give thanks to God and your reasons are unique, but some reasons we hold in common.  Unfortunately, we sometimes do not take the time to consider our blessings.  Too often we are busied to the point that we even forget to give thanks. 

Scripture that reminds us to give thanks also reminds us that we are dependent on God – for daily needs, for salvation, for life itself.  Psalm 107 is an example of a people who give thanks to God for all that God has done.

The Psalm begins, “O give thanks to the Lord…” and then tells us why we should give thanks.  “For God is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”  These are very general statements; give thanks to God because God is good and loving.  At this point we might nod our heads in affirmation of God’s goodness and love, but we are also people who like to have specific evidence.  We look for cases that show God’s goodness and love. 

God’s goodness is shown to us daily.  We might reflect on that and perhaps write down the ways we see God’s goodness in our lives.  God’s love endures; we see that in the work of Jesus Christ, in the love of the church, in our families.  God’s love is made evident, but we might fail to see that if we do not take the time to notice God in our ordinary routine.

Psalm 107 continues with another summons: “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble.”  We are here as members of the redeemed community of faith, gathering to give thanks, to recognize God’s goodness and love.  In the Psalm the people gather from east and west, north and south.  We gather to hear the stories that offer opportunity to give thanks.  We gather to remember our own stories that we may give thanks together. 

Psalm 107 does not end with the generalities of goodness and love.  The Psalm moves into a collection of specific stories.  It is even shaped like many of our hymns, with refrains, stanzas, verses that may have even been sung at the synagogue.  Psalm 107 is an account of various pilgrims who faced hardship and difficulty and because of God’s goodness and love they have come together to give thanks.  Long before the pilgrims landed in this country, other pilgrims were giving thanks to God.

I invite you to take out your Bibles, or pick up a pew Bible and check out these verses.  The first stanza of the hymn of Psalm 107 describes the first group of pilgrims in verse 4, "Some wandered in the desert wastelands."  If we look further in the Psalm we see that verse 10 says, "Some sat in darkness."  Verse 17, "some became fools through their rebellious ways.”  Verse 23, "Others went out on the sea in ships."

    

We have four cases studies showing why God is good and loving.  Four groups of people struggling in a variety of situations with different problems encountered.  Each group deals with a problem, 

            (4) Those who wandered - Their soul fainted, (5)

            (10) Those who sat in darkness - They fell down,  (12)

            (17)Those who were foolish - They drew near to the gates of death, (18)

            (23)Those who went in ships - They were at their wits end.  (27)

 

All four of these groups do the same thing.  Every stanza has the groups call out to God, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble…” (6, 13, 19, 28)

 

And in every instance, God saves, delivers, or brings them out of their distress.  That is, God redeems them all!  Let the redeemed say so!  Let them give thanks – for God has acted. 

 

God takes action in every stanza,

            To the wanders - “He led them by a straight way,” (7)

            To the ones in darkness - “He brought them out of darkness and gloom,” (14)

            To the foolish - “He sent out his word and healed them,” (20)

            To the sailors - “He made the storm be still.” (29)

 

Then, every stanza ends with the call to give thanks! 

            “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.”  (8, 15, 21, 31)

 

All these groups have come to give thanks to God for their deliverance!!  

 

Every stanza of the hymn contains these elements:

  1. Identification

Some wandered in the desert...

Some sat in darkness...

Some became fools...

Some went out in ships...

 

  1. Problems encountered

Their soul fainted, (5)

            They fell down, (12)

        They drew near to the gates of death, (18)

      They were at their wits end.  (27)

  1. Prayer

     They all cried out to God.

  1. Deliverance

     He delivered them.

  1. Thanksgiving

     Now, let them give thanks.

 

So, in Psalm 107, we have a picture of different people coming together to give thanks for different reasons to the same God who has delivered them all. 

 

            We can picture the congregation gathered to sing a hymn of thanksgiving that reflects their deliverance.  The innermost meaning of the service then finds its fulfillment in the realization of the presence of God, verse 32, "Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people and praise him in the council of the elders."

 

            This Psalm was probably used at thanksgiving services, not like our national holiday, of course, but as an expression of worship, thanking God for redemption.   We gather together today to give thanks to God for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds among us.

 

            We come together as members of the body of Christ but as different people with different reasons for giving thanks.  We come with our own stories to tell of how God has delivered us in our personal distress.   These are our testimonies to God’s goodness and everlasting love.  We also come with the common gospel of deliverance found in the person of Jesus Christ.  We come thankful for life and all the things associated with it. 

 

            We come because God calls us. "Let the redeemed of the Lord say this ‑ thanks to God, for he is good."  We come because God has acted in some significant way in our lives and we feel compelled to express thanks.  “Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.”

 

            Our thanksgiving becomes our confessional statement of reliance upon God.  Giving thanks is our acknowledgment that we are committed to God, because we depend on God for our very life.  Thanksgiving thus is our living sacrifice of self (Rom. 12:1).  We give ourselves over to God by giving God thanks.  The stories we share of thanksgiving are our testimony of God’s great works shared in the singing of hymns, prayers, and the reading and hearing of God's word. 

 

             

As the Psalmist gathered these stories so we could compose our own Psalm of thanksgiving.

 

Some were blinded by their sin.  They stumbled in the dark unable to find their way to God.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God delivered them from their distress.  He gave his only Son that they might know eternal life, that they may know the salvation of God.  Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

 

Some became trapped in their addiction.  They saw no hope for themselves for they were powerless to overcome their addictions.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God delivered them from their distress.  For he set them free from destructive patterns and gave them strength to overcome the evil one.  Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

 

Some were led astray by their anger.  They snapped at the ones they loved and lived in pain throughout their days.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God delivered them from their distress.  He turned their anger into rejoicing.  Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

 

Some walked, mostly ran, through their lives so busy that they never gave God a second thought.  They were dead people walking!  They lived out of an empty shell and knew nothing but sorrow and despair.  Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and God delivered them from their distress.  For God gave them purpose and meaning, for they realized they belonged to God.  Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.

 

You could write your own stanza reflecting how God has changed or is changing your life.  What is your Psalm of thanksgiving?  We all have a testimony of God’s goodness and love; therefore, we all have cause to give thanks to God. 

 

Let us pray.

 

We have given thanks and we will continue to give thanks, O God, because your love and your goodness and your redemption endure forever.   Amen.