Sermon: Blessings and Benefits
November 26th, 2017 Rev. Betsy Perkins
First Baptist Church, Delavan WI
Scripture passage: Psalm 103, Ephesians 1:15-23
We humans are a forgetful lot! We can forget all sorts of things – anniversaries, birthdays, appointments, the last tray of cookies in the oven, … An elderly husband and wife visited their doctor when they began forgetting little things. Their doctor told them that many people find it useful to write themselves little notes. When they got home, the wife said, “Dear, will you please go to the kitchen and get me a dish of ice cream? And maybe write that down so you won’t forget?”
“Nonsense,” says the husband, “I can remember a dish of ice cream.”
“Well,” says the wife, “I’d also like some strawberries and whipped cream on it.”
“My memory’s not all that bad,” says the husband. “No problem — a dish of ice cream with strawberries and whipped cream. I don’t need to write it down.” He goes into the kitchen;
his wife hears pots and pans banging around. The husband finally emerges from the kitchen
and presents his wife with a plate of bacon and eggs. She looks at the plate and asks, “Hey, where’s the toast I asked for?” (cartoons about forgetting – Maxine, Dori)
This morning we are going to take a good look at Psalm 103, which I have always considered a Thanksgiving Psalm. David begins the psalm talking to himself, reminding himself to bless the Lord. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” he writes. “Bless the Lord, Self.” The soul is the whole self, all of one’s being – body, mind and spirit. “Bless the Lord, and never forget. Never forget all the benefits of knowing the Lord, all the blessings that come from God, all good things about God.”
When we get busy and overwhelmed, when there are challenges coming our way that fill our minds with worries or with to-do lists, we have a tendency to forget things. We can even forget God. From early in the story of God’s relationship with humanity, in God’s relationship with a special, chosen people, there were problems of their forgetfulness. In Deuteronomy 32:18, Moses says to the whole assembly of Israel, “You forgot the God who gave you birth.”
Our tendency to forget is why there are so many commands in the Bible to remember. The word ‘remember’ occurs 184 times in the Old Testament and another 50 times in the New Testament. God placed the rainbow in the sky in Noah’s day, saying “I will remember my covenant, my promise, to you and to all creation.” Jesus, on the night before he died, broke bread and shared a cup with his disciples telling them to “do this in remembrance of me and of the new covenant, the new promise, in my blood.” We need many reminders, and I think of our Thanksgiving holiday as an invitation to remember. It is a time set aside specifically to remember the things we are thankful for, to count our blessings. But again, we can get so caught up in the details of a meal, of travel, of whose picking up who and how many places to set at the table, or who may not be at the table (either due to death or disagreements or distance), that we forget. So just in case you forgot on Thursday, let us remember, together, the benefits and blessings we have been given. And if you did remember, we’ll be thankful once again.
Or maybe it is not about forgetfulness for you this year, maybe it is about events and circumstances in your life that have made it hard to feel thankful at all. If that is the case, reading Psalm 103 can help you as well, allowing the Psalm to be your prayer, to be your thanksgiving list of blessings. This psalm contains no complaints, no requests, no pleas; just praise.
David put his whole self into this psalm. It was not half-hearted, or stilted, or stale. He was all in! With thoughts and words, with song and music, probably even with movement and dance. This was his praise song, and you can imagine him singing it with all the energy and verve of worship leader in a megachurch. Worship fills David’s mind and heart as he writes this psalm and as he prays it in the sanctuary.
The psalm begins with the call to bless God, to bless the Lord, to bless His Holy Name. Dar just shared with the children about names. Names have meaning; God’s names say something about who God is and about God’s character. When David tells himself to bless God’s Holy Name, he means that he should bless, or praise, or thank, God for who God is. And he proceeds to do just that, listing the many reasons to be thankful to God. Verses 3-5 are the short list, the summary, or table of contents. The rest of the psalm goes on to elaborate further on these main points.
Look at verse 3, we bless the Lord and never forget “how God forgives all your sins, and heals all your sickness.” The deep connection between our sin and our sickness is one that Jesus made clear when a man who was unable to walk was lowered down in front of him when he was teaching a house-full of people. He told the man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Some of religious folks in the crowd were shocked by that, Jesus asked them, “Which is easier to say: ‘your sins are forgiven’ or ‘get up, take up your mat and walk.’” (Mark 2:9) So Jesus gave the command to get up. The results were the same. The man was forgiven, and he was healed. Mark wrote that the man walked out in full view of them all, and that everyone was amazed and praised God.
Verses 7-12 tells us more about God’s forgiving, healing, love. We are reminded that God made his ways, his character, known to Moses and to the Israelites, God’s people. Verse 8 is taken directly from the book of Exodus 34, and it is there to help us not forget a story of the forgetfulness of the people, their forgetfulness of God. Moses had climbed Mount Sinai to receive the tablets of the covenant agreement with God, God’s instructions. But it took a long time – 40 days and 40 nights. During that time the people started worrying about other things, they got distracted, their attention span didn’t last that long. They convinced Aaron, Moses’ brother, to make a god for them. Aaron told them to give him all the glittering gold jewelry from the ears of their wives and sons and daughters. He cast the gold into the shape of a calf. They declared a holiday and threw a big celebration with food and drink and worshipped the fake god.
Moses came down from the mountain with the tablets just in time to catch the end of the party. He got so angry with the people, sharing God’s anger and disappointment over their unfaithfulness and their lack of gratitude, that he threw down the stone tablets and they shattered. In his brokenness, Moses spoke to the Lord and asked God to forgive the people and remind them of who God truly was. Moses prayed, “Show me your ways, so that I may know you.” He said to God, “We can’t go on without you.” So God called Moses back up Mount Sinai, and there, in the aftermath of the Israelites betrayal and forgetfulness, God reminded them of who He was. He said, “The Lord, Yahweh, a God compassionate and merciful, slow to anger and full of faithful, unwavering love.”
The words that we read as compassionate and merciful, are words that mean ‘womb’ in Hebrew. It is a picture of womb-love, of mothering love. It is loves that forgives because it is patient and unconditional. It is love that does not deal with us as we deserve, not repaying us according to our failures. It is love that removes our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. It is also love that heals because it is steadfast and soothing and protective. It is womb-love. Verse 13, “Like a parent feels compassion for their children – that’s how the Lord feels compassion for those who honor Him.”
I would like you to think for a moment of those who have shown you that kind of love in your life. That forgiving love when you have made mistakes. That caring and curing love when you have been sick. Maybe these are parents, or doctors and nurses, or teachers and mentors. Maybe siblings or a spouse. We’ll take a moment now for you to name these people – either out loud or silently to yourself, saying, “Thank you, Lord, for …”
Let’s look now at verse 4: let us never forget the Lord who saves your life from the pit and crowns you with faithful love and compassion. God has a rescue plan for the world. A plan to save us from the brokenness, the evil, the hatred and oppression, the emptiness of life disconnected from the One who created us. The ‘pit’ refers to death; but it can also be the pit of despair, the pit of hopelessness, or fear, or suffering, the pit of meaninglessness. The psalmist reminds us of how frail and fleeting life is: God knows how we are made, that we’re just dust, like grass that turns brown and withers when winter arrives. Our lives may seem to drag some days and fly by on others, but in the end we’ll be gone and other generations will take our place.
But God’s plan is to redeem us, to buy us back from that pit. In God’s plan the life of His Son, Jesus, is offered in exchange for our lives; to rescue us. Jesus took our place in that dark pit, so that we could be lifted up into the Light and our feet would be set on solid ground. So we could be crowned (crowned!) with God’s love and compassion.
The word for ‘love’ here is the word ‘hesed’. We have talked about ‘hesed’ in the morning Bible study – hesed-love is love that is loyal, consistent, pursuing; love that is lavish, extravagant, unrestrained; love that is steadfast, unfailing, unwavering. Love conceived in our Father God. Love demonstrated by Jesus. Love implanted within us by the Holy Spirit. Let us take a moment in silence and thank God for that faithful love and compassion, for Jesus, for the promise of everlasting life and eternal hope. Thank you, Father God, that loved this world and us, so much that you gave your Son, Jesus, that all those who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Thank you that this promise is for our great-great grandparents, for us and for our great-great grandchildren. Your love is from forever ago to forever from now. Amen.
And now let’s look at verse 5: praise the Lord and never forget, that the Lord satisfies you with plenty of good things so that your youth is made fresh like an eagle.
There is a difference between being satiated and being satisfied. Just like that cartoon earlier about being so full you can’t take another bite… but, oh look, pie?! Cut me a big slice and load on the whipped cream! We can stuff ourselves with all sorts of things and still not feel satisfied. We can stuff our lives with things – with clothes, with toys, with movies, with shopping, with people, with parties, with all sorts of things, … but not feel satisfied. There is that God-shaped hole in every human heart that can never be filled with created things, but can only be satisfied when it is filled with God.
This God, who we know through Jesus, not only satisfies us, but also renews us. We get worn out, get run down, get stressed out. God has given us the gift of rest and renewal so we can soar again, and again, and again. Like an eagle that sails on the wind, goes back to the nest to rest, and then soars again. Can you think of things that sustain you, that bring you that sense of being satisfied and content, or that renew and rejuvenate you? Let’s take a couple minutes to call those things out, saying, “Thank you, Lord, for …” (good night’s sleep, Sabbath, vacations, holidays, coffee breaks, tea time, retreats, bible study meetings, hugs, …)
Bless the Lord, O my soul, let all that is within me bless His holy name! Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits!
Let’s read together the final verses of that psalm, from the CEB version on the sheet inside your bulletin, starting with verse 21 to the end:
All you heavenly forces, bless the Lord!
All you who serve him and do his will, bless Him!
All God’s creatures, bless the Lord!
Everywhere, throughout His kingdom, let my whole being bless the Lord!
Closing Song: “Count Your Blessings”