The Sunday Sermon: November 22, 2020 – Reign of Christ Sunday
Scripture: Psalm 95:1-7
A Song of Glad Thanksgiving
Every Sunday is special, every Sunday the same; every Sunday is unique, yet constant. For Christians, Sunday is our sabbath day: a day to focus on God and gospel and goodness, without exception. Yet every Sunday occurs in a different context, because of the events of the week or months before or the world around us or because it is framed with a special event or designated for a special emphasis that needs to be acknowledged and addressed. A preacher needs to affirm eternal truth (God) and address temporal realities (humanity).
How do we do that this year?! We celebrate that God is great and God is good…all the time…everywhere. That’s an affirmation of eternal truth. But how do we address temporal realities this year and remain thankful?! We are frustrated in these weeks by the aftermath of our presidential election that has not offered a resolution of concerns about division in our nation. I am convinced that the vast majority of us, certainly among those here this day, long for cooperation, for mutual respect and commitment to the common good. Disappointment is real and frustration grows.
We are disappointed by the racial divides and anger that have always been a part of our lives, but that are boiling up again and making us face questions about ourselves and our country that we much prefer to avoid.
And, of course, in spite of the pronouncements by some, we have not “turned the corner,” the pandemic is not behind us, we have not conquered it. In fact, the opposite is true. We are weary of the news and with the need to self-isolate and wear masks and safe-distance from neighbors and friends and families. Loneliness is real and anxiety is gnawing at the doorways of our minds and our hearts.
Pray with me …
So … where shall we look and what shall we say as creatures who are supposed to be thankful within the context of some harsh and challenging realities? Well, we always look to our scriptures and search within them for words to guide us through our todays and into our tomorrows. 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 lives in the context of all of creation in all time, always in the hand of our Creator, our God. Listen for the Word of God …
Read Psalm 95:1-7. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
We human beings are incurably polytheistic. The ancient Israelites had neighboring gods with which to engage and we have our own, don’t we? We feel the urge, and engage in worshiping the lists we create and the expectations we hold, the calendar we fill and the capitalism we fuel every year as the holiday season begins – even in this year unlike any other for us. We even, very easily, “worship” those challenges I began with – anger, frustration, and helplessness. We give them some sort of “holy”, primary status in our daily lives and how we live those lives in the world.
In light of these realities, the theology of Psalm 95 is a comforting reminder that may perhaps, if we listen closely, offer some respite. 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” (verse 7). To begin answering our question for this morning – this season, we can be thankful for that reminder and for the life it beckons us back to in these days before the holiday set aside specifically for giving thanks … Thanksgiving.
I want you to expand what you hear when you hear me speak, or yourself read, the word (the title) GOD. Allow God to be more than something transcendent, separate from you or from your life or from this world, and to become something deep in the heart of you and your life and this world. I ask you to do this from time to time, fairly often if you’re really paying attention. I most often do this with you (or for you) by using the word Love and noting that the “L” in this love is capitalized. Listen to what happens when we replace the phrase “the Lord” and all of the masculine pronouns with “Love”, with the word that more than other describes “GOD” whenever we dare speak the name.
O come, let us sing to … Love.
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation (… Love).
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 …
I’ll let you fill in the rest of verse three to six, but the passage would end with this.
For Love is our God,
And we are the people of Love’s pasture.
And the sheep of Love’s hand.
Reading Love into this psalm of thanksgiving takes “the Lord” right out of the sky and places “God” right next to us at the Thanksgiving table, passing the mashed potatoes, in a face that looks wonderfully like your mother or father’s, or like your children’s, or even your weird uncle’s or perhaps a new friend. 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 day. For we are all the people of Love’s pasture, and the sheep of Love’s hand.
I’ve preached on this passage in years past. As I looked back, I didn’t include the verses that follow verse seven then, and I didn’t this morning. Perhaps I should have, then and now. The Psalm ends rather bleakly, that’s why I stopped. But those verses are 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. Read them when you get home later this morning.
In this Psalm of gratitude, and our song of Thanksgiving, we may find the ability to frame all that is to come in our earthly lives in light of our God, Love incarnate, who has already given us all that we need – more than the retail stores and online markets that will occupy us more than ever in the month ahead, even in a year such as this. And certainly more than the anger, frustration, confusion, and fear that our world so easily presents us. We have life, one another, and Love to change the world. In our song of gratitude we find our way home.
All of us need to affirm eternal truth (God – Love, with a capital “L”) and address temporal realities (humanity). And in the days ahead, through our Thanksgiving Song we find the courage to do both: Affirm Love and turn aside from the realities that keep us divided, ashamed, and fearful to affirm the goodness among us, planted more deeply.
Let the song of glad Thanksgiving fill each heart with joyful praise!
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor
Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 22, 2020