Monday, October 9, 2017

Psalm 65 -- A Message for Canadian Thanksgiving

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord,

Psalm 65 is an expression of praise and thanks by the church to God. In the first verse, worshippers respond with David to God’s goodness by telling him that we’re ready to praise him and give him thanks.

Thanks and praise are important features of worship for all Christians and every Christian community. God appreciate thanks from the people he blesses. God’s people behave courteously to him. We make sure to say thank you, just as we do when friends and relatives help us. Not everyone thanks God, but there will always be thankful people. Observation has shown me that the folks at Trinity are thankful people. The church and individual Christians are constantly thanking the Lord, for along with faith and good works, our thanks and praise please him.

Psalm 65 is a good guide for our thanks this morning. It gives us many reasons for thanking our maker and redeemer. As we examine this psalm, let’s keep in mind that it’s our thanks now that matters to God. We won’t fret about past failures to give thanks or be concerned about the state of our hearts tomorrow. What matters now is the praise and thanks we offer the Lord at the present moment.
So we listen carefully as God speaks to us in this old psalm of King David’s. We let it fill our hearts with a spirit of thanksgiving. The most profound reasons for giving thanks appear in the first verses of our psalm. First, David wrote that God hears prayer. Prayer is a sign of trust in him. When we talk to God about our joys and needs and sorrows, we confess to him our conviction that he is our only reliable resource.

Our trust delights him, and so he hears our prayers. Sometimes in our prayers, as in our speech, we can’t find the words to express everything that’s in our minds and hearts. This difficulty needn’t trouble us, though, because God hears the words we’re searching for as well as the ones we speak. The Lord’s willingness to hear prayer moves us to seek him. We thank him for his openness to us. The important thing is to spend time with him in prayer. A good Thanksgiving resolution would be to spend a few more minutes a day at prayer than we normally do.

We trust that many people will turn to him and that he will accept them. David says that all men and women will come to the Lord. We can find the same prophesy in Psalm 86. “All the nation you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your Name.”  This is different from other messages in the Bible and what may be our own observation that many people and nations reject the God of the Bible. Those who reject God now with stubborn hearts will be condemned on the Day of Judgment. This verse reminds us that judgment is in God’s hands. It holds out the hope willingness to receive and the hope for the world that’s part of his promise. His disposition is to save, not to condemn. We thank him that he includes us among the people who come to him.

David wrote about forgiveness in the next verse. Sin has the power to overwhelm, but God’s mercy is greater than sin. His forgiveness washes us clean every day. He accepted Jesus’ death as payment in full for all the debts we owe him, and so he keeps no record of our sins. He declares us to be righteous in his sight and calls us his daughters and sons. His forgiveness builds up our confidence so that we feel inferior to no one and it awakens hope that life will go well for us. God’s forgiveness guarantees our salvation. Our part is to take hold if it. We thank him for reaching out to us in love and compassion.

David wrote in verse 4 about the blessedness of those whom God has chosen. He doesn’t mean especially priests or professional church workers. He means all Christians, whom he blesses with sturdy love and loyalty to him. He draws us to his church so that he may bless us with right understanding about ourselves and him and so that he may guide us through the perils of a troubling world. We thank him, then, for the opportunity to live close to him and the hope that he will keep us with him.

David says as well that God speaks with awesome deeds of righteousness. Evil doesn’t stand forever. Nations are strong and powerful, but God removes their power if they grow arrogant. No empire is permanent. Jesus was born when the ancient Romans were at the height of their power, when the Emperor Augustus established a reign international peace after a period of terrible civil wars. Many people were grateful to the empire for creating order and stability. Many put their hopes in the efficiency of the Roman bureaucracy. But where is the Roman Empire now? And what’s become of all other empires before or since? In our own day, even the mighty Soviet empire crumbled. God wishes people everywhere to put their hope in him, and only in him, for he is trustworthy, almighty, and full of love and mercy. We thank him that he is the hope of every corner of the earth and that he has given us the opportunity for sturdy hope.

David then goes on to praise and thank God for the strength that created mountains and for the power that quiets roaring seas and ends turmoil among nations. Storms come and some highly memorable ones, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Strife among nations also occurs. We sometimes hear people say that the violence of our times has caused some folks to lose their faith. At the same time, the stress of modern living has caused others to seek safety and consolation in the God of Scripture. It’s human beings who cause turmoil, not the Lord. Jesus calls us away from violence to peace and rest in him. He quiets the ambitions of rulers and nations. We thank him that Canada is at peace this Thanksgiving. We ask him to bring peace to those parts of the world where fighting is now taking place. We’re grateful for his steadying hand. Without him, the turbulence of the world would be much greater than it is.

David praises God as well for the care he gives to the land and the abundance he brings from the earth – a traditional reason for thanks at this time of the year. We thank the Lord for the riches with which he has blessed Canada. I suspect we all marvel at times that Canada is prosperous while other nations endure never-ending poverty and instability. We thank God for making Canada strong and for the hope that the country’s prosperity will continue.

Besides all this, David finds still another reason to praise God.  David describes the prosperity of his own nation – an abundance of rain, plentiful harvests, plenty of grazing land for livestock. The meadows are covered with flocks, he writes, and the valleys with grain. Then he makes a remarkable statement – that these speechless parts of creation shout for joy and sing. The same occurs in other places in the Psalms. Psalm 96, for example: “Let the sea resound…let the fields be jubilant...then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy.” Psalm 148 invites the sun and moon and shining stars to praise God   “Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds…let them praise the name of the Lord.”

If David were to write a psalm like that for Toronto, he might include trees and parks, rivers and streams, Lake Ontario, our four seasons, fascinating cloud formations that I like to study sometimes, our variety of people, and the nearby resources of the rest of Ontario. To the eyes of faith, all God’s creatures praise him and give a witness to his creative power.

You see, although the world is fractured and full of sin, God sees it as unified under his rule. The whole earth exists because of his wonderful power to create and sustain, and God sees in the unity he’s made a hymn of praise and thanksgiving to him. All creation joins God’s faithful people in a chorus of thanksgiving. There is joy at the center of creation, and the Lord invites you and me, all Christians everywhere, to take part in it.

Think of it, we may find fault with ourselves for not thanking God enough, but God hears the thanks we offer him as a lusty heavenly chorus. He delights in our praise and worship of him. Because of Jesus, he is pleased with us. He delights in our faith, in our obedience, in the joy we take in the world he’s given us. We thank him for including Trinity Lutheran in the heavenly chorus and for letting us see glimpses of the unity of his creation. We thank him for claiming us as his daughters and sons and for taking delight in us, and for giving us the opportunity to thank and praise him.

Thanksgiving is a secular holiday, set aside by the government for all people to count their blessings. You and I and other Christians may not have much impact on the society around us but we have a deeper insight than others into the meaning of this holiday, for we know why we give thanks – for the gifts God has given us and we know to whom thanks are given to God our Savior.   

Christian people have many different reasons for giving thanks. We remember, too, that life is more than what we can count or see, so we especially thank God for the gifts he sends us that we can’t measure – the love of Jesus that gives us many reasons for wanting to live and divine protection that preserves us from evil now and from the coldness of the grave later on. In other words, we thank God for salvation in Christ. Like King David, we thank him for including us in his kingdom and for allowing us to taste the joys of life in a Christian community and for the hope that these blessings will continue and grow until we reach our rest in eternity. In Jesus. Name we give thanks. AMEN

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