The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost – November 18, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 95
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Tis the Season
Pray with me …
My sermon title is a real teaser for at least one or two people here this morning. It ought to be for more of you, most of you, maybe. You’ve known me for ten years now. Nine “Sunday-before-Thanksgiving-sermons” we’ve had together, and with the exception of maybe the very first one, my plea has been extraordinarily consistent on this Sunday. Anybody tell me what that plea is?
Yes! Please let’s hold off on Christmas for four more days … only four more days.
And yet this year the sermon title reads “Tis the Season.” What gives?
Have I softened? Has the ice thawed? Have I seen the ‘Christmas light?!”
No, no, no, no, don’t get crazy. It is “the season,” but not that season, not the Christmas season … yet – not for four more days, at least. However …
Like it or not, ready or not, we are back into the “Holiday Season.” The stores have made this known since before Halloween, Advent begins in two weeks, and Christmas is coming. There has been and continues to be so much that calls for our time and attention already: shopping lists, decorations, family gatherings, trips, holiday party planning (if not an actual holiday party or two, already), elaborate meals to consider, gifts to get on the list of every family member, friend, and/or co-worker, extra worship services to plan, special bulletins to format, charity to give to before year’s end, figuring out the “hard-to-find” toy that every child must have this year. So much is calling for our time and attention already this year. And in the middle, really, of this “already fray” enters one of my favorite holidays of the year … Thanksgiving.
Now, that’s odd. I note this, too, most every year. This holiday, Thanksgiving, is not a church holy day, it’s not part of our ecclesiastical church calendar or rhythm. And Easter and Christmas do remain my top two holidays professionally, as a Pastor, as your Pastor, no question. But more personally … I love a Thanksgiving. And giving thanks is at the very heart of who we are and what we do as people of faith. Gratitude is a huge part of our communal celebrations and individual spiritual lives. It is out of our gratitude that our own graciousness grows.
Tis the Season … of Thanksgiving. (Fa la la la la, la la la la …)
Let’s read our scripture for this morning and turn ourselves around a bit, if only for four more days. Read Psalm 95:1-7 …
There are so many Psalms of Thanksgiving, and this one may not be the first to jump to mind, but the opening verses of Psalm 95 are a hymn of praise and thanksgiving. Like many other hymns in the Psalter, this one cries out in praise and sets our brief but impactful lives in the context of all of creation, setting our lives and all of creation in the hand of the Creative Spirit God – the Sacred, the Divine, the More, the One that animates all life. The One …
In his commentary on our book of Psalms, James Mays notes that human beings are incurably polytheistic. The ancient Israelites had neighboring gods with which to engage. We’re learning in our Thoughtful Christian class this month that, in fact, early Monotheism made room for other “gods,” small “g.” We have those gods, too, don’t we? I named a few as this message began. And in spite of my piety about “holding off,” I certainly feel the urge, and truthfully engage in the devotion every year of worshiping the lists we create and the expectations we hold, the calendar we fill and the capitalism we fuel. We do (even I do) all this earlier and earlier every year.
In light of this reality, the theology of Psalm 95 gives us hope. It states simply that “God is our God” and “that we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand”. We are thankful for this reminder and for the life it beckons us back to in these days before Thanksgiving. Tis the season … to be thankful.
So, what does it mean to say that “God is our God?” What can it mean to not allow anything else “control” our Holidays. I’ve played at this little substitution before with you on other scriptures, but I was struck by what replacing the phrase “the Lord” and all of the masculine pronouns in our reading with the word “Love” did to the hearing, and even the understanding of the verses we reflect upon this morning. What can it mean to say that “God is our God?” Listen to this:
O come, let us sing to … Love.
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come into Love’s presence with thanksgiving.
Let us make a joyful noise to Love with songs of praise.
For Love is a great God,
And a great ruler above all gods.
(Jumping a few verses) …
O come, let us worship and bow down,
Let us kneel before Love, or Maker.
For Love is our God, and we are the people of Loves’ pasture
And the sheep of Love’s hand.
Reading “Love” into this Psalm, takes the “God” we worship right out of the sky and places it right next to us, right next to us at the Thanksgiving table – wherever and whenever that may be – passing the mashed potatoes, in a face that looks wonderfully like your mother or father’s, or like your children’s, or even your uncle’s or a new friend, or the homeless men and women you’ve been serving at the shelter. And for those who will have no Thanksgiving table at which to sit this year, it places the mystery right in the midst of an otherwise lonely and empty life. For we are all the people of Love’s pasture, and the sheep of Love’s hand.
Listen now to the last four and half verses of Psalm 95. Read Psalm 95:7b – 11 …
The psalm ends rather bleakly, doesn’t it? But it does so because these final verses are a warning to us, a warning not to repeat what we have done before. They are a reminder that if, and when, we feel caught up in the cycles we have created for our lives, maybe even again this year, we can break free. Every year, the party is inevitable, indeed the party is promised – and even I am looking forward to it. But every year we might just remember what we forgot in last year’s race to Christmas and so sing one more verse of Thanksgiving before “the crazy” begins again. On this last Sunday before our country’s Thanksgiving holiday, let us “Let us sing to the Lord” a song of thanksgiving so that we may enter into Love’s rest
In our song of gratitude we will find the ability to frame all that is to come in our earthly lives (including the next five weeks so easily dedicated to the “gods” – small “g” – of the world’s Christmas – small “c”) in light of our God, Love incarnate, who has already given us all that we need – more than Toys ‘R Us or Target or Macy’s or even the Apple Store! We have life, one another, and Love to change the world. In our song of gratitude, not greed, we complete our wilderness journey and find our way home. In our Thanksgiving Song we find the courage to turn aside from the world’s tinsel and relax again into Love’s promise. So, sing along with me now:
Tis the Season … to be thankful.
(Everyone) Fa la la la la, la la-la-la
Four more days to fill our tank full.
Fa la la la la, la la-la-la
With thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving,
Fa la la, la la la, la-la-la
We will celebrate our living.
Fa la la la la, la la-la-la
Amen. (Now let’s sing a real hymn of gratitude together.)
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 18, 2018