Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Praise Is Due to You, O God!

Psalm 65 In Luther’s explanation to the First Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism he says:  I believe that God has made me and all creatures…that he richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life…that he defends me against all danger…that he does all this out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy…and for all this it is MY duty to thank and praise him, serve and obey him.  REPEAT
Luther wrote these words in 1529 but all they really are is a summary of the words that the Holy Spirit inspired David to write 2500 years before: 
Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed.  O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. 
            All of us recognize, I think, that there are duties that are burdensome—things that we simply have to do because our job or station in life require them—but we also know that there are duties that are delights—things that are required of us—but that we would do even if they weren’t required.  For example:
            I like to work in the yard.  If I didn’t keep my lawn mown, eventually the city would get around to giving me a ticket.  But I don’t work in the yard out fear of punishment—I work in the yard because it is a pleasant thing to be outside and a joy to work with plants.  It is a duty to keep up my lawn—but a delightful one.
So it is with the gratitude and praise and thanksgiving that is due to God for all his blessings and tender mercies.  It is a duty—a requirement.  We are God’s creatures and he is our Creator and it is simply our duty to thank and praise him—serve and obey him.
But for the child of God—thankfulness is much, much more than a burdensome duty.  It is a delight and a blessing to give our praise and gratitude, service and obedience to the Lord because he is not just our Creator—he is our Father who forgives our transgressions.  David wrote:
When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.  Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts!  We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple! 
            The Bible is clear that all people recognize that there is a Creator who is responsible for all they have—even their own lives—and so it is right that all our fellow citizens take time to thank the God of creation for his gifts.
But we Christians know much, much more about God than that he is simply the Creator—we know him as our heavenly Father through faith in his Son Jesus Christ. ll
This is what is different for us Christians on Thanksgiving Day.  We know that there is not just some impersonal “force” out there in the cosmos who has created this world.  We know that there is a personal God who has a will and a plan and a purpose for his creatures:  that we would know him and love him and serve him as his children. 
Knowing God this way—as a personal Being who is not only powerful and wise-- but also holy and righteous and just-- places a moral imperative on us to live in the way that God says is good and right and it convicts every one of us--for we have failed to do what God requires.
But God in his mercy has not only created us and given us physical life—he has re-created us and given us a new spiritual life—by atoning for our transgressions by the blood of his Son Jesus. 
As much as we thank God for his physical gifts, it is this gift of salvation (that we have in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) that comes first in our hearts on this Thanksgiving Day as that which deserves our thanks and praise.
From eternity God has chosen us in Christ to be his children—he atoned for our sins by the death of his Son Jesus—and he incorporated us into his holy people through baptism. 
Earthly blessings ebb and flow—there are times of plenty and scarcity—at our death we will leave behind all our earthly possessions—but the gift of salvation that God has given us in Jesus extends will call for our praise and gratitude in eternity.  And so…
It is our duty and delight—first of all, as Christians—to thank God for the gift of salvation, even as we join with our fellow citizens to thank him for earthly, material blessings as well.  The psalmist writes:
By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness, O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.  You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. 
            The identity and work of God as Creator is not just the teaching of the first three chapters of Genesis—it runs through the Bible from beginning to end.  That God established the mountains by his might—this is what the Bible teaches-- and it is what we believe and confess.
            On Thanksgiving Day it is our privilege and responsibility as Christians to affirm this biblical teaching with our worship and praise of God for his creation AND his preservation of the world. 
You see, God is not only the Creator—he is the ongoing source of all that exists at this moment.  It is his providential care of the world that continues to order and govern everything in the universe---and that is good news for us. 
Far from being at the mercy of impersonal forces we cannot control and barely understand—we know that our heavenly Father is the One who stills the stormy waves—who causes the sun to rise and set—who orders the affairs of men. 
Our heavenly Father is in control.  We are not simply hurdling through space, along for the ride, on a giant globe which knows no ultimate purpose and has no ultimate meaning. 
All creation-- and time and space-- are in the wise hands of the One who called it into being and will bring it to its final end.  And the creation around us -and the rise and fall of nations- and the plans of men- are all ultimately ordered and directed by our heavenly Father for our eternal salvation.
On this Thanksgiving Day we thank God for all the gifts of creation—but we also thank him for his ongoing involvement in creation—he is no “prime mover” of Greek philosophy—but he still rules and guides and directs this world to provide for the needs of our bodily life needs.  David writes of the heavenly Provider:
You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it.  You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.  You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. 
            During Jesus’ earthly ministry he taught his disciples about the foolishness of worrying and being anxious for the necessities of life and he directed their attention to the natural world around them.  “Look at the birds who never plow and yet God feeds them—look at the flowers of the field who neither toil nor spin and yet God clothes them more beautifully than the richest man who ever lived”.  Nature herself reveals a God who abundantly provides for his creation.
David invites us to see the same.  The hills and valleys—the pastures and meadows-- overflow with the bounty that God provides.  ll
Caroline and I have been at both H-E-B and Walmart numerous times over the last several days—it seems like we always have forgotten something.  And I have a feeling that we’re like most folks in that we assume we will find what we are looking for-- but blind to the abundance around us.
But the next time you’re there at the store, just reflect for a moment on the overflowing abundance that God provides.  All of the grocery items on those shelves—row after row—in store after store across this great land-- have come from the hills and valleys and farmlands that God has softened with the rain and warmed with the sun and fed with the soil—abundantly providing for our needs. 
The words that David wrote in this psalm are a song of praise to the Creator for his great gifts and David pictures creation itself joining in that hymn of praise for God’s abundant, overflowing blessings.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.
            Thanksgiving Day is an opportunity for us to do the same—to join our voices with those of God’s people and God’s creation as they praise him for his overflowing abundance that has fed us and clothed us and sheltered us over this last year. 
I hope you will remember those things that we have talked about this evening:  how God has blessed us with the gift of life and salvation—how his protecting, guiding hand has gently rested upon our lives--and how he has abundantly provided for all of our needs.
Praise is due to God from his people and it is our duty to thank and praise him, serve and obey him-- but it is also our privilege and delight to come together and praise God from whom all blessing flow!  Amen.

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