Monday, November 27, 2017

Sermon on Psalm 95, for Thanksgiving Eve, "Come Into His Presence with Thanksgiving"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Psalm 95 is one of the most beloved Psalms in worship, and the first 7 verses are often called the “Venite”—Latin for the first words, “Oh Come!”. It’s an invitation to worship, and invitation to come before God with songs of praise and with thanksgiving. This Thanksgiving it’s especially worth reflecting on why we come into God’s presence with thanksgiving. The invitation Oh Come reminds us that our hearts are often far away from God, and rather than being near to Him and filled with thanksgiving and song, our hearts are often filled instead with grumbling, ungratefulness, worry, fear, or anything else that might keep our hearts from true thankfulness. The Psalm actually recalls the time when the Israelites grumbled and complained against God—doubting that He would give them water to drink—so shortly after He had miraculously fed them with the manna—bread from heaven. The Psalm refers to the places where this happened: Massah and Meribah—meaning “dispute” and “testing”. It’s a reminder not to fall back into the grumbling and disobedience of the Israelites, that made God withhold the promised land from them for 40 years. So instead of following their example, and going astray in our hearts, the invitation of the Psalm to us and to all, is to come into God’s presence with worship and thanksgiving.
If you paid close attention, or tried to notice all the times that the words “thanks” “thankful” and “thanksgiving” show up in our worship liturgy, songs, and prayers—you might lose track. The worship service is “hardwired” with thanksgiving to train us by repetition in the habit of giving thanks, so that whenever we come into God’s presence, we come with hearts made thankful. As we heard today in school chapel, thankfulness is an attitude, about how we look at things. It’s a recognition that all good gifts from God, and the perspective that there’s always something to be thankful for, even when life is really hard. If we spend our life in regular worship, we will continually be invited into God’s presence with thanksgiving, and like children being taught to “say thanks”, we will also continually have the words formed on our lips and repeated to us, so that we too remember to have thankful hearts.
And thankful hearts express themselves with such joy! Oh Come let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the Rock of our Salvation! Children are often the best at making a joyful noise to the Lord, and singing with all their hearts—yet they too need to be taught to do so. Adults may know how to sing, but need a little more encouragement to let it be a joyful noise, instead of a low mumble. I like to tell you all that even if you are shy about how you sound when you sing—do not be afraid! Make a joyful noise to the Lord! We’re not here to criticize each other’s singing, but to lift up each other’s voices in glad song together to God! Believe it or not, it’s actually harder to sing well while singing softly than it is to sing well at full volume. The extra air in your pipes helps you hit the notes better! But the point is that God delights in our praise, and it is the expression of our thanksgiving to Him.
The next invitations in the Psalm direct us to how we should worship: Oh come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker! God commands a posture of humility and reverence before Him. God is not a jokester or our “buddy” but He is the great God and a great King, above all gods. He is God upon the throne of heaven. While it’s increasingly out of tradition to show respect and deference around our earthly leaders, it should never change that we show respect and humility before our Great God and King. God does not favor the arrogant or boastful, or let them stand in His presence. Rather, He puts down the mighty.
And coming into His presence we should most certainly be filled with joy and thanksgiving. Many people in this day and age let their hopes ride high or sink low with whomever is president of the nation, and thinking that our hopes for a good life in America are closely bound up with whoever is in power. But as Luther says, we should love, trust, and rejoice instead in God, our Great King above all gods. Psalm 146:3 says “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” Jesus is both the Great God above all gods, but also our Great King who rules over His kingdom on earth, and He is not just a fleeting hope for this good life, but He is the very essence of God’s promise to give eternal life, hope, and forgiveness to us. Furthermore, all earthly powers are subject to Him, not the other way around.
When I was a kid I marveled at basketball players whose hands were big enough to palm a regulation basketball. The control that gave them over the ball. What does our Psalm say? God palms the earth and the mountains! Who’s in control? In His hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is His for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land. God’s got great hands, both to handle whatever situations we face, or to control the world, when we fear that it’s spinning out of control, or bouncing out of bounds. God has revealed His game plan to us, He’s already run up the score and won the game, and now we’re in from the bench to play alongside Him. From the hands that made creation to the hands that were pierced on the cross for our sins, God’s got His loving arms wrapped around us that will carry us through every joy and sorrow, even laying our loved ones in the grave. All creation is in the palm of His hand.
Finally, God is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. God has pastured us—fed us, clothed us, kept us in safety. All the more reason to come into His presence with Thanksgiving. This time of year is traditionally a time for us to renew and remember all the blessings for which we are thankful. But this truly should be a daily exercise, not just a yearly exercise. But consider all the ways in which God has kept you in safe pasture and leads you beside the quiet waters. It does not mean a life absent turmoil, just as Jesus’ salvation was not absent His cross. But it does mean a table spread before us in the presence of our enemies, and an overflowing cup of blessing. In the times of blessing and times of loss in this life—God truly knows how to guard and care for His beloved sheep. The sheep of His hand. The same hand that palms the mountains and the ocean depths, palms His precious sheep. Children of God, loved by a great and Good Shepherd.
We know what this Good Shepherd does for those whom He loves—He lays down His life for them. Once again, all the more reason to come into God’s presence with thanksgiving. It’s a habit that will increase our joy, as it increases our knowledge and self-reflection as to how all good things truly come from His hand. Rejoice, give thanks and sing! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Exodus 17:1–7 (ESV)
1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Hebrews 4:1–13 (ESV)
1 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. 2 For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. 3 For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,’ ” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. 4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. 11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

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