************ Sermon on Psalm 107:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 27, 2008
"Give Thanks to the Lord"
Thanksgiving Day 2008
There is a very sad article in last week's issue of "Newsweek." The title is "Dinner for Eight." Listen to this article:
A year ago, eight friends began to meet weekly for dinner. We were introduced at church some of us sang together in the choir, others worked on committees, a few went on a mission trip to Biloxi, Mississippi, following Hurricane Katrina ...The friends of this article have the right attitude the attitude of our psalmist.
Why should you care? One year later, six of us are unemployed. Our group, struck by a divorce, is actually now down to seven. Another marriage is teetering. Severe depression is a daily companion for one weary soul and a dreaded visitor for three or four others. When we call and ask, "How are you doing?" we are really checking in for a status update: orange alert or red? One family is now on food stamps, largely due to a son's special needs; another is living on a disability check. One couple is in danger of losing its home to foreclosure, while a second family is living off its home, mortgaged to the teeth to pay for college and, now, groceries. A young man who has struggled up from the misery of an impoverished childhood is frustrated to find that his sparkling new medical certification acquired with the help of $35,000 in student loans is practically worthless in this job market. A brilliant, mid-career engineer, living for the last decade in a gated community, is startled to find he can't provide for his family. Not one of us is eligible for unemployment benefits. We are not counted in the monthly statistics cited on television ...
What will save us? I don't know, but the one thing that helps, from week to week, is dinner with friends. We still gather, this fragile little group, every Friday evening ... Meals often turn into celebrations: it's the need to find some joy in the midst of growing hardship.
As I was working on this message, someone gave me a Thanksgiving Day article on Habakkuk 3:17-18. Listen to these verses:
(Hab 3:17-18) Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, (18) yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.Now, let us paraphrase this for Thanksgiving Day 2008:
Though the big three automakers are going bankrupt, though Wall Street has dropped by 50%, though the job market has dried up, though real estate values keep falling, though businesses are closing their doors, though physical health is declining, though relationships are breaking up, though surgery is required, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
You get the point, don't you? It is not always easy to give thanks. And, giving thanks has little to do with the outward circumstances of life.
With this introduction, let's turn to Psalm 107. I will read through all of it but before I do I want you to take note of the structure of the Psalm. The first three verses are an introduction. Then there are the testimonies from four different groups of hurting people: from people who are homeless (vs 4-9), from people who are in slavery (vs 10-16), from people who are fools (vs 17-22), and from people caught in storms (vs 23-32). Then, in verses 33-42, the Psalmist speaks generally of God's work in the world. The conclusion is verse 43:
(Ps 107:43) Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the LORD.So, on this Thanksgiving Day 2008, we are told to be wise by paying attention to the four testimonies and what they teach us about giving thanks.
Pay attention, then, to this structure as we read the psalm ...
I The Four Hurting Groups
A The first group of hurting people is found in verses 4-5. Listen to the description:
(Ps 107:4-5) Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. (5) They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away.Who are these people? They are the alien and sojourner and homeless. Think of Israel in the wilderness for forty years. Think of Abraham on the way to the Promised Land. Think of what Jesus said about the Son of Man:
(Mt 8:20) "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."
B The second group of hurting people is found in verses 10-12. Listen to the description:
(Ps 107:10-12) Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, (11) for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. (12) So he subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help.Who are these people? I think of criminals in prison. I think of those enslaved by alcohol or drugs. I think of Israel in bondage in the land of Egypt.
C The third group is found in verses 17-18. Listen to the description:
(Ps 107:17-18) Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. (18) They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death.Who are these people? In the Bible, a fool is someone who says there is no god (Ps 14 & 53). In the Bible, a fool is someone who lives like there is no god. Think of Jesus' parable of the Rich Fool he built for the present instead of the future (Lk 12:13ff); he stored up for himself treasure on earth rather than in heaven (Mt 6:19ff).
D The fourth group is found in verses 23-27. Listen to the description:
(Ps 107:23-27) Others went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. (24) They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. (25) For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. (26) They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. (27) They reeled and staggered like drunken men; they were at their wits' end.Who are these people? They are merchantmen engaged in the business of trading from port to port. But they encounter a terrible storm that is sent by the Lord (vs 25). Like Job, they have done nothing wrong, but God allows bad things to happen to them. What is the equivalent today? Maybe it is a tragic death, a wayward child, a deadly illness, bankruptcy, home foreclosure, unemployment, disability, loss of pension and insurance. Add your own problems to this list.
E Do you hear whom the psalmist describes in these four groups? The psalmist describes the people in the Newsweek article. The psalmist describes many members of Trinity United Reformed Church. The psalmist describes countless people in Visalia and Tulare County. The psalmist describes every person and every family with hurt and pain and suffering in their life. When it comes right down to it, isn't the psalmist describing everyone of us?
II Giving Thanks to the Lord
A I don't know if you noticed this or not, but each testimony ends the same way. Look at verses 8, 15, 21, 31:
Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men ...
Bad things happen. Awful things happen. Dreadful things happen. Ask any homeless person, any prisoner, any fool, anyone shipwrecked by life. How are they to respond? How are we to respond? By crying and complaining and belly-aching? By having a pity-party? By making others feel sorry for us? Lots of people do these sorts of things. But that is not what the psalmist tells us to do. That is not what Habakkuk tells us to do. That is not what God tells us to do. That is not even what Newsweek tells us to do.
Bad things happen. The past year has been full of stress and turmoil and loss and pain and heartache. For lots of people, the fig tree did not bud, there were no grapes on the vines, the olive crop failed, the fields produced no food, there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls. How are they to respond? How are we to respond?
We know what is expected of us. Four times the psalmist tells us the exact same thing. And, using different words, he also tells us this in the opening verse which you see on your bulletin cover:
(Ps 107:1) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
Do you hear it? Do you need to hear it again? Are the problems of life making you deaf?
(Ps 107:1) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.
(Ps 107:8,15, 21,31) Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men ...
B How can the Psalmist talk this way? How can Habakkuk talk this way? How can even the Newsweek article talk this way?
I don't know if you noticed this or not, but in Psalm 107 each one of the hurting groups did the exact same thing: they cried out to God. They prayed to Him in their distress. And, the Lord heard and responded. Look at verses 6, 13, 19, 28:
Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.
Notice, each of the four testimonies ends on the same note the God Who hears. God hears His people when they cry out to Him. In fact, God is listening for their cries and prayers.
Sometimes we tell our children, "Daddy is busy now. You need to wait." Sometimes we think of God the same way "He is so busy He cannot be bothered with me." But God is not a harried parent who has too much to do and not enough time to do it all. God is always there to listen to you and to me. He can always give us His full attention. Our cries and calls and prayers are never a burden for Him.
When people call on God, God hears and answers. Notice, this is true for all four groups for the alien, for the fool, for the criminal, for those with trials and burdens in their life. Whether or not sin is involved in your suffering, God hears and answers. God comes to His people in their distress. He welcomes them with open arms. After all, He is the loving Father waiting for the prodigal son to return.
C I want you to notice, too, that God delivers and saves. All four groups cry out to God and He delivers them. God delivers the alien, the fool, the criminal, and those with burdens. God delivers them all from the physical afflictions of their life. But I have to say more. Let me read two verses to you from Psalm 103:
(Ps 103:2-3) Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits (3) who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases ...See how the psalmist connects sin and disease, forgiveness and healing? We see the same thing in the Gospels. Jesus not only conquered disease and illness and disabilities and other afflictions, but He did so while also conquering sin and death and hell and Hades. In fact, Jesus conquered physical afflictions with the same power He used to conquer sin, death, hell, and Hades. Remember the crippled man at the pool? Remember what Jesus said to the man after telling him to get up and walk? Jesus said, "Stop sinning ..." (Jn 5:14; cf Jn 8:11; Lk 17:14). There is a connection between physical healing and spiritual healing. In the Bible, physical healing usually is symbolic of spiritual healing.
D Now do you see why the psalmist and Habakkuk and even the Newsweek article can tell us to rejoice? No matter what happens in life and I do not want to minimize any of the bad things that do happen God is there forgiving us, saving us, delivering us. He does many other things as well He provides, He directs, He showers blessing upon blessing. But especially He hears our cries for salvation and He forgives.
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." Give thanks to the Lord, for He saves us from sin. Give thanks to the Lord, for He delivers us from misery. Give thanks to the Lord, for He rescues us from our bondage to evil. "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever." Do you know what it comes down to? Give thanks to the Lord because He saves us in Jesus Christ. We may be homeless, we may be in bondage, we may be fools, we may be caught up in the storms of life but if we, by grace, believe in Jesus then we have more than enough reason to give thanks to the Lord. When we believe in Jesus, nothing else is important and we can give thanks to the Lord.
It is Thanksgiving Day 2008. Make your attitude the same as that of the prophet:
(Hab 3:17-18) Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, (18) yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior.Make you attitude the same as that of the psalmist:
(Ps 107:1) Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.Make your attitude even the same as that of Newsweek:
the need to find some joy in the midst of growing hardship."Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord" (Ps 107:43).
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