Please pray with me,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
When we are surrounded by joy, when we have passed through the trials and tribulations and are on the other side, when we feel the loving presence of God and joy found in a community of faith, we are able to express gratitude and thanksgiving.
Surrounded by 45 youth and 17 adults in the Poconos this past weekend, it was hard not to give thanks to God. You knew God was there. In the laughter, in the new relationships being developed, in the abundance of food and fellowship, in the crazy, chaotic moments of meals and games and in the still, quiet moments of prayer and worship. In all of that, you felt God’s presence, you knew God was in our midst, and we thanked God for all of it.
Fueled by an energetic and exhausting weekend, it is hard not to come home filled with God’s love, grace, passion and care for those around us. It’s one of those mountain top experiences…where youth and adults were able to unplug, connect to God and to one another, to build trust, deepen relationships, have fun, be true to themselves and others and be fed with food and faith and love.
Sometimes it’s easy to come home from an experience like this, because all we want to do (in addition to shower and nap) is praise God! We want to shout out to the Lord and give thanks to God for all that God has done for us.
That is what happens in Psalm 103. You can hear it from the very beginning...Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name…
This is a psalm of thanksgiving. It’s a psalm that gives thanks to God for all God has done.
Hermann Gunkel, a theologian with a focus on studying the psalms, writes this about psalms of thanksgiving, “A person is saved out of great distress … and now with grateful heart he [sic] brings a thank offering to Yahweh; it was customary that at a certain point in the sacred ceremony he would offer a song in which he expresses his thanks.”
Throughout this Psalm, we see and hear examples of how God has been with God’s people and in what ways God’s presence was seen, felt and experienced.
From the specifics of healing diseases and redeeming our lives from the Pit, to crowning us with steadfast love and mercy, to making his ways known to Moses and the people of Israel, we know that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The words mercy and merciful have a specific meaning in the Hebrew, the root of the word, raham means womb.
God’s compassion, God’s mercy, has the connection to womb love, the love a mother has for her yet to be born child, while the child is still in the womb….the child is not yet born, but a mother already knows and loves that child.
That is at the heart of God’s love and compassion and mercy for each one of us. It’s a love built on being connected to one another in a deep relationship. It’s a love that cannot be stopped or interrupted. It’s a life-long love, which for God is a love that lasts an eternity.
This is the love, to which we cling when tragedy strikes.
This is the mercy on which we lean, when we cannot grasp why things happen in our world.
When dealing with broken relationships, sickness, hate, illness, unemployment, sin that infiltrates our world, and death it is not always easy to praise God for all that God has done. In the midst of things we cannot understand, our vision can become clouded, our path can seem uncertain, our decisions become more difficult to make.
Yet, it is most important to remember that in the middle of these tragic and heartbreaking moments, this relationship that God has with us….is never ending.
The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…it does not end.
When we cannot see to the other side of the struggle, pain or illness…we must look for God right next to us. It may be the friend who lets us cry on their shoulder, it may be the warm pot of soup delivered to our home, it may be the phone call, note or email we receive from a distant friend, it may be the simple gift of receiving this bread and wine…knowing that we are not alone.
Each of us has been reminded of God’s unending love and mercy in our lives in this place, through this community of faith, through God’s word in action and through the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Strengthened through this experience, by feeling, seeing, and tasting God’s love, we continue to lead and love others through the challenging times.
God’s healing may not come in the way we hope it will, like the results of a cancer-free scan or a reconciled marriage….but God’s healing does come and does happen and it can be seen in the compassion and care we share with others as they face situations they did not expect.
God’s love, grace and mercy flows through all that we say and do for others.
I pray that as we come to this place for healing, we are made whole in God’s eyes to reach out with a healing, comforting and caring touch to others.
And now may the peace, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus and let all God’s people say amen.