Sermon for May 28, 2017, A

Ps. 66

May I be bold in the telling of your wondrous deeds, O Lord!  Amen.

 

                                                                        Kerygma!

 

Today marks the Seventh Sunday of Easter, seven Sundays of being reassured about the good news of resurrection.  In the face of so much daily bad news, the good news is a true gift which is what Psalm 66 is about.  No matter what, God is in charge.  No matter what, God’s power and love prevail.  No matter what, God is sovereign.  So let’s listen with the ears of our hearts to this amazing psalm of praise, a psalm that includes four doxologies—songs of praise—that tumble and spill over each other, beginning with verses 1-4:

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;

2     sing the glory of his name;

    give to him glorious praise.

3 Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!

    Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.

4 All the earth worships you;

    they sing praises to you,

    sing praises to your name.”  Selah

Please notice the word “selah” at the end of this passage.  In the psalms we find all kinds of Hebrew words whose meanings are now uncertain, but since the psalms were meant to be sung, we assume these are musical directions.  The word “selah,” as best anyone can guess, means “pause.”  It is a directive to stop and reflect on what we have just proclaimed, so this morning we are going to do that.

Who is praising God in these opening verses?  Everything—all the earth!  Storms and wind and oceans and seas and trees and creatures and people “shout for joy to God.” Are these the prayerful words of someone discouraged or worried?   No, these are the words of someone who is delighted with God, someone whose heart is filled with joy.  These are the words of someone coming before God in lively, heartfelt, worship. 

These opening lines remind me of a sight we witnessed in Kenya when visiting our son there some years ago.  A large group of fifteen or twenty people, all dressed in white, singing, dancing, and waving flags, were walking barefooted down the dusty road one Sunday morning.  I asked our son what was going on, and he replied, “That’s a group of people going to church.”  Imagine how our worship, our churches, and our lives might be different if we came before God with that same attitude of joyful praise. 

Take a breath and let’s move on, to verses 5-7:

 

5 Come and see what God has done:

    he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.

6 He turned the sea into dry land;

    they passed through the river on foot.

There we rejoiced in him,

7     who rules by his might forever,

whose eyes keep watch on the nations—

    let the rebellious not exalt themselves.  Selah

“Come and see.”  The psalmist’s praise is too large for him to contain, so he must share it and invite others to join him.  His God is the One who even leans down to us humans; this is the One who rescues us from armies and nations, from fear and anxiety.  Which other gods do that?  There is only this One, no other.  Claim God, praise Him, and lift up His name, says the psalmist.  

That is what the Greek word “kerygma” means—it is the act of proclamation.  And in these seven weeks following Easter, all of our readings have been about proclamation.  Listen—We have seen the Lord!...  The Lord has risen!...  Listen to what happened…  Let me tell you what I saw!...  Go and tell what you have seen!  This Jesus who you crucified has been raised . . . Our hearts were strangely warmed . . . God’s saving actions are not only for each one of us, individually, but for others, as well.  What we tell when we share God’s goodness in our lives becomes an invitation of hope to others.  

But in order to share, we first have to notice and to acknowledge.  Here, the psalmist remembers a past deed—6 He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot--the delivery from Egypt—and acknowledges who made it happen—God--before thanking God for a present blessing.  We are in the midst of celebrating Memorial Day Weekend.  What is it we are to remember, other than that the pools are now open?  We remember those who gave their lives for our freedom, including the freedom to worship our God here and now.  Who is it we are to acknowledge?  Like those individuals who sacrificed their lives for our national liberty, Eastertide reminds us that Jesus Christ gave his life as a love-offering for our personal freedom.  That is our kerygma, our good news, our proclamation.  Are we as Christians and as churches truly sharing it?

Now the psalm takes a turn in verses 10-12:

10 For you, O God, have tested us;

    you have tried us as silver is tried.

11 You brought us into the net;

    you laid burdens on our backs;

12 you let people ride over our heads;

    we went through fire and through water;

yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.

If you have ever been tested, then you may have a problem with the psalmist adding testing to his list of thanksgivings.  But listen again.  God “refines us like silver.”  A few years back, a meditation made its way through email about a woman in a Bible study who decided to find out what being refined like silver actually entailed.  She made an appointment to visit a local silversmith to watch him work, not saying anything about her scriptural interest.  As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up.  He explained that in refining silver, he needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities. She asked the silversmith if he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire.  If the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. Then the woman asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?”  He answered, "When I see my image in it." 

We all know how the psalmist feels because we’ve been in the fire, we’ve felt the weight of the burden. God knows our darkest places because he is there with us, just like the refiner of silver who must sit over the hot fire.  As the Nazi concentration camp survivor Corrie Tim Boon wrote, “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”  And that is good news to proclaim to those who are in a pit or who feel alone.  

Even our difficulties are proof of God’s amazing love—who brought us to a place of abundance--and an occasion for praising God.  The psalmist thanks God for difficulties because those trying times prove that God never abandons us, no matter what we are going through.  Once we are brought to the other side, to the “place of abundance,” we are then called, in gratitude, to proclaim what God has done for us.   Praise.  Praise.  Praise.

In the final exultation, verses 16-20, we read:

16 Come and hear, all you who fear God,

    and I will tell what he has done for me.

17 I cried aloud to him,

    and he was extolled with my tongue.

18 If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,

    the Lord would not have listened.

19 But truly God has listened;

    he has given heed to the words of my prayer.

20 Blessed be God,

    because he has not rejected my prayer

    or removed his steadfast love from me.

I will tell what he has done for me.  Breathless, the psalmist comes to the end with the invitation, “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.”  The goodness of God is not meant to be hidden but to be shared.  We are a people called “to tell,” and the telling is the offering of thanksgiving the psalmist, and we, make to God.  

We do not worship for the sake of worship; we worship because of our confidence in God.  We do not worship so that we might get something in return.  We worship because of what God has already done for us.  Our telling of God’s work is intended to do more than just give thanks; when we tell, we invite others to share in the celebration.  When God works in me, it is for the sake of you, if I share it.  It is worship as testimony about God, about who God is and what God has done for God’s people, for you, for me, for us.

So this morning, on this Memorial Day weekend, we are reminded in Ps. 66 of how to be worshipful people and how to “shine like stars in a dark world,” as the Apostle Paul so beautifully put it, a world that desperately needs to hear our good news.  We are reminded that the blessings bestowed upon us are not for us alone but are to be shared with others as means of inviting them to know God.  It isn’t so difficult to do.  We can share with our children:  “Let me tell you how I saw God work in my life recently.”  We can share with a friend, “Do you mind if I share a God-moment with you?”   We can share with a spouse, “I saw God at work today.  Did you?”  We can share with our church, “Here is what God has done in me through you.”  

First Presbyterian Church, you have so much good news to share.  Look at the number of children who come forward for the Young Disciples’ Message.  Look at the number of young families stepping into leadership roles.  Look at the new youth director on her way for a three year term.  Look at the new people who continue to join the church in this time of transition.  Look at the faithful members who show up Sunday after Sunday and continue to support this church.  Look at the beautiful facilities and the glory of God’s Holy Temple.  Look at how God has kept his sight on you and supplied for your every need these past two years.  Sharing the depths and heights, darkness and light, small deeds and monumental events are all a way of praising God who has given you, and me, everything.  Come and see.  Come and hear.  Practice kerygma!

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