Is saying grace at meal times enough? How do we make giving thanks a living reality in our world?
What Makes You Notice God’s Goodness and Praise God?
Lent 3: Psalm 19
Today is the third Sunday in Lent, and we have been looking at the assigned Psalms for those days, asking ourselves certain questions they imply. Molly began in week 1 by asking, “Where is God when life is hard?” and last week I explored with you “What do you really need from God?”
We continue this morning by pondering together “What in the world makes you notice God’s goodness, causing you to praise God?” We take a closer look at Psalm 19, and interspersed, we sing God’s praise. We will share the Psalm in three parts, with a brief reflection following each. “May the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts be acceptable to God.”
PSALM 19 (from Voices United)
The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the vault of the sky reveals God’s handiwork.
One day speaks to another,
and night shares its knowledge with night,
and this without speech or language;
their voices are not heard.
But their sound goes out to all the lands,
their words to the ends of the earth.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun
which comes out like a bridegroom from under the canopy,
like an athlete eager to run the race.
Its rising is at one end of the sky,
it runs its course to the other,
and there is nothing that is hidden from its heat.
Refrain: Glory and praise to God whose word brings life!
Who among us has never stared reverently at the horizon either at dawn or dusk, waiting expectantly for the very moment of sunrise or sunset? Who of us has never found ourselves at some time far from city lights, gazing in awe at the black night sky, awash with a billions stars or that perfect full moon? Has anyone here never rushed outside into the final shower of a thunderstorm, when the sun has just broken through the clouds, in eager anticipation of seeing a rainbow, God’s eternal promise of peace in storming times?” Anyone? Really? And if you haven’t, well, what have you been doing with your life. Get out there and look around. “The heavens declare the glory of God … one day speaks to another … night shares knowledge with night … and all this without speech or language.”
In answer to the Lenten question, “What makes you notice God’s goodness?” that’s what the psalmist would say. Not a single day goes by without our Creator revealing the miracle of life on this planet we call home. Nature praises God … from polar vortex to sweltering heat, from babbling brook to hurricane tossed ocean, from autumn colours to spring budding, from tiny sparrow to sperm whale, from scientific reasoning to artistic imagination… all around us, all the time is the evidence that God has drawn life out of the elements, and has given us the privilege of reflecting on it. So when we accept God’s invitation to see again the awesome potential in which we live … that gentle sigh we experience when the sun finally appears, that deep breath when the rainbow is brush-stroked across the canvas of cloud, that little, surprising gasp when a star suddenly streaks through the heavens … these form our instinctive response … our praise to God for such goodness.
PSALM 19 God’s law is perfect, refreshing the soul;
God’s instruction is sure,
giving wisdom to the simple;
God’s precepts are right, rejoicing the heart;
God’s commandment is pure
giving light to the eyes;
God’s fear is clean, enduring forever;
God’s judgements are true,
every one of them righteous;
more desirable than gold, even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
pure honey from the comb.
Refrain: Glory and praise to God whose word brings life!
The first example in this Psalm of what makes us notice God’s goodness comes from nature. The second is found in scripture. For the ancient Hebrew believer, the “Law” referred to here, was the name given to the first five books of their sacred scriptures. We know them as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – God’s holy word given through Moses to guide the chosen people. So, according to the Psalmist, believers will find evidence of God’s goodness throughout these holy writings; and of course for followers of Jesus, we would include the gospels and letters in what we call the New Testament. God’s word is “perfect and sure,” the psalmist writes; “wise and pure, right and true, light-giving and clean, joyful, refreshing and obviously desirable.” Make no mistake, the Psalmist wants us to receive and reflect on God’s message as blessing, filled with goodness and grace, peace and hope.
Yet so often, especially in this generation, we avoid studying the Bible because we don’t think we really understand it, perhaps … or don’t have the time. Or when we do read it, we seem to experience God’s harsh judgment and condemnation at least as much as God’s kindness and compassion, and that bothers us. Now, admittedly there’s a fair bit of both throughout the Bible, in both Old and New Testament. But I’m inclined to believe that the God we meet there is often the God of our own imagining. So if we feel ourselves being judged and condemned in life, we have a tendency to impose those feelings on God’s actions. It strikes me, like in much of life, that we have a tendency to actually see in the Bible what we expect to read there. If we’re looking for God’s condemnation, we certainly will find it. Yet the Psalmist here encourages us to look for God’s life-affirming goodness in the sacred word. And the promise, of course, is when we do, that’s what we will discover, even in the rough parts of the scripture story. And that’s the way we read the Bible here at OUC … on Sunday mornings and during weekly Bible studies. We’re trying to encourage everyone to seek God’s goodness in your Bible reading – because if you do, you will certainly find it. And when you do notice it, let your praise to God flow. “Glory and praise to God whose word brings life.”
PSALM 19 By them is your servant warned;
for in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can discern unwitting sins?
O cleanse me from my secret faults.
Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins,
lest they get the better of me.
Then shall I be clean and innocent of great offence.
Refrain: Glory and praise to God whose word brings life!
In nature, in scripture, and now in forgiveness … that’s where we notice God’s goodness. In this third example of Psalm 19, we’re invited to reflect on the warnings which are reflected in scripture. I don’t know if you noticed the line in the previous section, “God’s fear is clean, enduring forever.” I was perplexed by this because of the possible interpretation that God wants us to be afraid in order that we will live more faithfully … afraid of the consequences … afraid of God’s judgment and condemnation if we misbehave. But you see, that’s what I was looking for – I sometimes mistakenly believe that the only motivation to make me live better is being afraid that God will negatively judge my failures. What if the true motivation is not in fear but in faith that God forgives. When fear leads us to trust in God’s forgiveness of the failures that we cause as well as those we don’t even realize we’re committing, then we shall discover what it really means to feel clean and whole again. In God’s amazing forgiveness we recognize the inherent goodness that gives life meaning and hope. We are forgiven and that’s the true motivation to live more faithfully. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved someone like me … and you .. and all.”
PSALM 19 Let the words of my mouth
and the thoughts of my heart
be acceptable in your sight, O God,
my strength and my redeemer.
Of course, there are many other ways that we might notice God’s goodness in our lives. We are people in relationships, and even though some of them may be trying at times, within those precious relationships lives the evidence of sacred love. And we’re especially blessed here to witness that within our faith community. Last week I received an email that read:
“We just received the exciting news that our refugee family are arriving Thursday evening, March 12. Would you pray for Sylvester, Anjelique and their 3 children on Sunday, please? They have a very long journey and a lot of uncertainty ahead of them, with a warm welcome at the end.” And when I thought about the folks at OUC who work tirelessly on behalf of refugee families we have co-sponsored with the Interfaith Refugee Group, I paused and thought, “Praise God.”
That got me thinking about another note to Scott I saw just after Christmas, from a family here whose son spontaneously got up and stood with the junior choir on Christmas Eve:
“Thanks, Scott for allowing Ben to join in tonight. It meant the world to him. We were truly shocked when he announced 5 min before the service that he intended to sing with the choir. He was adamant that he could do it. As Molly said tonight, Christmas brings miracles and this was ours. Thank-you for going with the flow to help Ben’s dream become a reality. We will never forget this Christmas Eve. It was so special for us all.”
And I can remember thinking when I read it, “Praise God.”
These sorts of things happen all the time here. Moments of God’s goodness shared with love and generosity. For the rest of this season of Lent, keep your eyes and ears and hearts open, and you might be amaze at what good things you will notice. But don’t forget, when you do, take time to whisper, “Praise God!”
Orleans United Church
March 8, 2015
Psalm 22:1-2, 23-31 (from Voices United)
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me,
from the cry of my distress?
O my God, I cry out in the daytime, but you do not answer;
at night also, but I get no relief.
Give praise, all you who fear God!
Proclaim God’s greatness, all you children of Jacob;
stand in awe, all you children of Israel!
For God has neither despised
nor scorned the poor in their distress.
You, O God, have not hidden your face from them.
You heard them when they called to you.
You are the theme of my praise in the great assembly.
I will keep my promise in the presence
of those who fear you.
Let the poor eat to satisfaction;
let those who seek you praise you.
May they be in good heart forever!
Let all the ends of the earth remember and turn to you, O God.
Let all the families of the nations bow down before you.
For yours is the dominion, O God,
you rule over the nations.
Even all who sleep in the grave shall worship you;
those who go down into the dust shall bow before you.
I too shall live for you.
Our children shall serve you,
and tell generations yet to come about you
To a people yet unborn,
they shall make known the saving deeds you have done.
Last Sunday we began a sermon series following the Psalms for the season of Lent, and asking the faith questions they imply. Molly first pondered “where God is when life is hard,” and certainly in the opening verses of this week’s Psalm it’s easy to see the anguish some people experience in difficult times, including Jesus. You may have noticed that Psalm 22, verse 1 is quoted by Jesus in the Gospels as he hung on the cross just before he died: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” At the most trying time of his life, Jesus too felt God’s abandonment. And even though not all of us experience or express it that dramatically, most of us at one time or another have suffered the feeling that God is far away and may not even hear our cries of pain. It made me wonder in moments like that, “What do we really need from God?”
Actually, the first question that came to mind was, “What do you really want from God.” Then early last week I was reading a daily installment in the United Church of Canada’s Reflections for Lent series called Longing for Home (which by the way is still available for anyone to participate in on Facebook and would be a worthy addition to your Lenten journey). In a prayer there I read this phrase, “Help us discern our wants from our needs.” And that reminded me of something I learned a long time ago, but often requires learning over and over again – What we want is not always what we need. So today this sermon addresses that question, “what do you really need from God?”
Psalm 22 is one of many laments in this large collection of prayers and songs. And the laments can be very graphic in describing the desperation people of faith can feel from time to time as they plead for God’s help with no satisfaction. In fact, you may have noticed that we jumped over 20 verses of this Psalm which are filled with vivid details that television networks would describe as “Not suitable for some audiences. Viewer discretion is advised.” (You might want to check those out, especially if you’re feeling that way right now.) But one curiosity of all the Psalms of lament is that they include a curious way of praising God, even while the writer might be feeling deserted by God. And in Psalm 22 the concluding 9 verses are such expressions of praise. “Give praise, all of you who fear God.”
Being afraid of God is often expressed in the Bible. Frequently fear is translated as awe, or reverence, or respect, and appropriately so; but we shouldn’t disregard that for most of human history, people have been afraid, because God was understood as someone so great and powerful, a being so far beyond us that we might not even be on God’s radar. People worried, “What if I’m so insignificant in God’s eyes, that I’m afraid God doesn’t even hear me?” As the Psalmist lamented in another prayer, “Who are we, Lord, that you are mindful of us?” Perhaps the fundamental need we have of God is some assurance that God hears us. And from some mysterious place deep within, some spiritual instinct that can only be interpreted as an essential connection with the Holy, the Psalmist proclaims on our behalf, “God’s not hiding from you; in truth God hears your voice.” Trust me your voice echoes in the heart of the Holy.
But being heard is often not enough. What if God hears, but just doesn’t care and simply ignores us; or even worse, what if God is so demanding, someone who controls everything and can do to anyone whatever God wants – what if God doesn’t approve of our behaviour and intentionally rejects us. In our deepest fear, we need some humble confidence that God cares, a renewed trust that God is with us … that we’re never alone. Yet somehow, even the Psalmist’s promise that “God does not despise or scorn you,” may not be enough.
When we ask the question, what do you really need from God? we long for a way to experience God’s caring presence that is meaningful and recognizable. We need relationships that will reflect God’s compassion and care, God’s forgiveness and welcome, God’s encouragement and trustworthiness. We need from God a meaningful place in God’s community. From the very beginning of human history, it appears that we are being drawn into relationships that will reveal the presence of the Holy among us. And the Psalmist certainly affirms the acceptance that is available in the community of faith, the sacred assembly of the faithful. At our best, involvement within a congregation like Orleans United will remind us over and over again that here, we both experience and express God’s goodness through meaningful human relationships. That’s why, even though you might come with whatever fears in your personal life, together we reflect the promise that God’s grace and peace is alive for all.
What we need most from God, God reveals within the faith community. It’s here where we discover God’s goodness; and that is God’s gift to you personally and to our church community, but not to us alone. God’s promise is for all people everywhere, for past generations and especially for future ones. And we need this sacred hope because it’s the only thing of true value we can pass on to our children, and our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren, and to grandchildren of generations long after we’re gone. What do we really need from God? We need a promise in God’s goodness that we can describe to the next generation not only in our words, but in our choices, in our promises, in our actions, in our faith. And God offers it freely through communities of the faithful who, like ours, are not afraid to show it in their lives and praise God for it in all circumstances.
That’s why we’re here. God invites us to practice what we need most. A faith community who will remember God’s faithfulness even when we’re frightened, and who will spread God’s goodness as our legacy to those who will come after us.
Holy God, we praise you for all that enriches and blesses our lives. Help us discern our wants from our needs. Nurture in us a deep longing for all that makes life worth living. Lead us beyond worry and hold us in your generous peace and renewing grace. Amen.
Orleans United Church
March 1, 2015 (Lent 2)
The book of Psalms provides a unique and personal way for us to explore some questions of faith during Lent. This week, we use psalm 25 to consider where God is when we struggle on our life’s journey.
This week OUC’s Stewardship Conversation invites everyone to explore God’s goodness in the physical world around us. Where do we see examples of God’s goodness in nature? Can we take a moment to stop and not only “smell the roses,” but give thanks for them, and show our love for them too? Here are some ideas, or you can use your own good ones!
- Mon April 7
Sharing in Gods Goodness 34: Take a moment and look for signs of hope in your garden – perhaps the sprouting of a crocus. Feel what promise it holds, and say a quiet prayer of thanks.
- Tues April 8
Sharing in Gods Goodness 35: Take a moment and listen for the sounds of hope in your garden – perhaps the song of a bird. Hear what promise it holds, and sing your own quiet song of thanks.
- Wed April 9
Sharing in Gods Goodness 36: Take a moment and absorb the smells of hope in your garden – perhaps the simple freshness of spring air. Sense what promise it holds, and say a quiet prayer of thanks.
- Thur April 10
Sharing in Gods Goodness 37: Take a moment and feel the touch of hope in your garden – perhaps the water from the melting snow or a spot of the ground that’s been warmed by the sun. Feel what promise it holds, and say a quiet prayer of thanks.
- Fri April 11
Sharing in Gods Goodness 38: Take a moment and imagine the taste of hope in your garden – perhaps in the sprouting rhubarb. Sense what promise it holds for you, and say a quiet prayer of thanks.
- Sat April 12
Sharing in Gods Goodness 39: Take a moment and phone or send an email to someone who you think could appreciate hearing a voice of with a message of support and hope. Listen to the promise in your voice, and hopefully, in their response, and say a quiet prayer of thanks.
- Sun April 13
Sharing in Gods Goodness 40: Sunday’s are for celebrating and praising God! Think WORSHIP.