Thanks be to God

Psalms 80

 

In this season of Thanksgiving, we have much for which to be thankful. God has given us many blessingsÖ too many to enumerate.† But Iím sure we all have blessings for which we are especially thankful. For example,

We have the blessing of electricity. Does everyone have their power back?† It was difficult for so many people these passed months. But power has been restored and for that we can thank the power companies and our municipal employees who kept on top of it. But we can also thank God.

For all good things come from God. After all it was God who set the universe in motion in the great evolutionary epic. From Godís gift of our intellect and curiosity, we learned about electricity and how to harness it and distribute into homes. We can thank God for the vary notion of electricity that brings us such a better quality of life Ö and we should not ever forget that there are many people in the world without the blessing of electricity, who are cold and without modern communication and all the other advantages made possible by this wonder of nature.

We have the blessing of family and neighbors. God has made us a people in relationship and we should thank God for this arrangement. We need not be alone. We need not be alienated. God always opens a way for us into healthy and vibrant relationships. And for that we thank God immensely.

Do you look up at the sky at night? On the night before the full moon this month I looked up and saw the moon nearly full in conjunction with Jupiter on a cloudless clear night. It was a gorgeous wondrous sight. And we should thank God for the mysterious and wondrous universe around us. We spend most of our lives focused on are earthly demands and joys. But all around us is an amazing cosmos with fantastic wonders and enormous possibilities yet to be discovered. And all of this is from the universe that God set in motion. And thanks be to God for these wonders.

 

Our psalm today is not a thanksgiving psalm. It is a psalm of repentance and cry for forgiveness and restoration into the grace of God. Yet lurking in its depths is thanksgiving.

The people cry out to God for salvation and restoration into Godís good graces. The people are in a desperate condition and they cry out why God is not listening to them. They ask why God has made their lives so terrible. In the past God had given the people a fruitful and prosperous land. And now the people want to know why God has taken all of that from them and left them the victims of the age. Now they appeal to God to return to them and restore their lives. They pray that God will defeat their enemies and will align with them. In return the people will never stray from God again and will praise God to the ends of the earth.

This psalm seems just the opposite of a thanksgiving. There is a deep sense of betrayal and abandonment to it.

But there are questions to ask about this psalm. What has happened to the people to invoke them to call upon God? Why has God abandoned the people? Who are their enemies? Will God hear them? And what do they believe they need to do so God doesnít think they have strayed?

We do not know the actual historical answers to these questions. But are these the right questions to be asking?

One of the wonderful gifts we have from God is Godís dependability. God loves usÖ and always will. God wants the best for Godís creation Ö and always will. God forgives us Ö always Ö but we have to embrace that forgiveness for it to work. God doesnít abandon us Ö ever. But we abandon God Ö frequently.

We often see God has a harsh judge that turns away from us. This is what the psalmist feels. But God doesnít turn from us. We may claim we are doing what God wants, but in actuality we are not Ö and so the consequences are against us and we turn away from God. It is us who has abandoned God.

So if we believe all this about God, then our questions need to be different. Instead of asking why God has abandoned the people, we need to ask what have the people done to abandon Godís grace and love and forgiveness?† Of course we do not know specifics. But applying the psalm to our own selves and to our times we can see many possibilities.

Have we fallen into the trap of wanting our lives to be a certain way and convinced ourselves that thatís the way God wants our lives to be? And everything is falling apart even so.† Have we imposed upon God what we think should be done? Have we used Godís name to justify what we have done? Have we alienated someone because we claim his or her life style is forbidden in the bible or by church canon or just by what we think it should beÖ and claim God demands we shun the person? Have we assumed that our well-tried ways of living life is from God and any other way contrary to ours is not?

In all of these cases we have crossed the boundary into idolatry Ö claiming we know what God wants better than anyone else. And as a result we live our lives contrary to the rhythm and flow of Godís creation and grace Ö and so our lives our diminished. Maybe we isolate ourselves from some group of people. Maybe we become domineering and people donít want to deal with us. And so forth.

But if I did what God wanted, why then is my life desperate? Well, maybe the psalm needs not to be calling on God to defeat our enemies, but calling on God for guidance and an open soul and mind to hear God speak to us.

And thatís where the thanksgiving is at. No matter how far astray we go, God is still listening to us and still speaking to us. We need to stop listening to the echo chamber of our own bias and prejudices. Instead, we need to open our hearts and pray thanks be to God and listen to God. If we listen to God and try our best to follow God, we wonít go astray. And everyday can be a thanksgiving of grace and hope and possibility.

But what would life be like if there were no God? To whom would you give thanks?

Surely when someone does a good turn for you, you should thank them. You may on reflection thank your parents for all that they did for you. You may thank the police officer who helped you.

But who would you give thanks for a beautiful cosmic conjunction of the moon and planets?† Or who would you give thanks to for a glowing autumn dawn?† You could give thanks to the cosmos Ö but then you must adopt the notion that in some way the cosmos is sentient Ö and you are right back to God though your god is narrowed to just the world that science understands.

Who would you call upon in a devastating storm? Or a terrible automobile accident? Or an earthquake? Or for learning you have a life-threatening disease? Who do you call upon? You may call upon the disaster relief folks and doctors Ö as we all would. But they are only human and imperfect. Who can you count on perfectly without fail?

And who would you thank in the midst of such trauma? After all a trauma is a thankless nightmarish event. Who can offer thanks in such a circumstance? Without God we must just descend into the crisis and weather it through.

But with the God of love and hope who is always with us and for us, we can hope to pass through trauma and fear and hopelessness. Itís not rational Ö particularly when the world seems devastated and crippled. Yet it is faith that we must fall back on in such circumstances.

And there is no power of faith unless there is God. And in times of crisis and trauma faith is all that we have to move us step by step out of the dark night of the soul and into the light.

But it is by faith too, that we can be thankful for the gorgeous wonders of the cosmos around us. It is in faith that we praise God for each day, for the birth of a baby, for a wedding and the start of a new family, for a new job, for peace Ö at home and abroad.

It is through our faith that we can offer thanksgiving to God every day, indeed every moment of our lives for what God has done for us and is doing for us and promises to do for us in time to come.

 

Psalm 100 summarizes nicely our thanks to God:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.

Give thanks to him, bless his name.

For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. [NRSV]

Thanks be to God!

 

Think about it Ö

Godís grace and love be with you Ö

Amen.