First Mennonite Church
September 5, 2021
Celebrating the Goodness of God
Text: Psalm 116: 1-19
So far in your life, what has been the scariest moment you have gone through or the hardest and most difficult experience you have endured? How did you feel after everything was over? And what did you do?
As I have made reference many times, in my case has been the discovery of Josue’s deafness after he was born. When Josue is at home, he is always the last one of our children to leave the table when we eat our meals. One day this summer, we were talking about our experience of learning his language—American Sign Language. Almost at the end our conversation he said to Lilian and me, “It most have been different for me had I been born hearing. I am sure I would be a different person if had not been born deaf.” Although Josue has learned to live in a world of silence, he does not dwell on the things he misses. He is happy and grateful for us, his family, but his acknowledgement that his life would have been different had he not been born deaf, was in some way like poking a sensitive scar in my heart about him. Nonetheless, what makes me glad and hopeful about him is looking back at the journey God has helped us to walk and to know that God will never abandon us in this journey. We are profoundly grateful to the Lord for his faithfulness and only pray we remain faithful to him as well. As we will see in Psalm 116, gratitude and worship spring out from looking back at what God has done. Looking back at what God has done brings forth conviction about the goodness of God, which also leads to making firm commitments to the Lord. Making firm commitments to the Lord in the language of Psalm 116 is called making and fulfilling vows.
The Text: Some Observations
Psalm 116 is made up of three sets of testimonies in which the psalmist prayed, was answered, and gave thanks. In each of these testimonies, the idea of death was used to describe a crisis situation (vv. 3, 8, 15).
In the Hebraic mindset, the experience of death is equated with going to Sheol (verse 3) — the place of the dead, where it is beyond the possibility of having any relation with God (Psalm 6:5). Therefore, ancient Israelites acknowledged the reality of death, but more so, the goodness of God who preserves life. However, the psalmist seems to be using the word Sheol here in a metaphorical sense to represent the deadly treats experienced in life and from which God comes to the rescue as a result of prayer.
Psalm 116 is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise. Therefore, the psalmist opens with a public and open declaration of his love for the Lord: I love the Lord. We just sang a song expressing our love for God this morning, “I love you Lord and I lift my voice to worship you . . .”
Open confession of our love for the Lord emboldens the worshipper and strengthens our faith in God. As the psalmist gives witness, our love for God is in response of what he has done: heard my voice and my supplications; he inclined his ears to me and he saved my soul (vv. 1, 2, 4).
After the psalmist tells what God has done, he, with great conviction, declares, “Gracious is the Lord and righteous, our God is merciful. He protects the simple” (v.5).
The psalmist’s concrete response for the goodness of God is to repose to enter into the rest Lord offers. There the psalmist finds rest and abundance (v.7).
This pattern of looking back at what God has done for the psalmist, his expression of gratitude and thanksgiving, and a concrete expression of trust in the Lord is found three times in this chapter.
In verses 8-14, the psalmist says that God has delivered him from death, thus he walks in the land of the living and he celebrates it by “lifting up the cup of salvation and pay his vows in the presence of God’s people.”
This reminds us the important role the assembly of God’s people has as the place where God’s goodness is proclaimed. It is in the assembly of God’s people where the faithful, we, fulfill our promises to God.
The phrase, “In the presence of all his people” occurs twice (verses 14, 18). It invites us to practice the same model of gratitude. The assembly of the people of God provides the space for worshipers to offer testimony to answered prayer and to intercede for those who are still waiting for answers. The time in our worship service called “Sharing Time” has the purpose of opening a space to share prayer concerns as well as to give testimony of what God has done in our lives.
In these times of tough economics and contentious politics, we, the church, need to help people see the blessings of God. In these times we should raise our voices in praise and thanksgiving as we celebrate God’s mercy and righteousness. At the same time, part of our job as the body of Christ is to lift one another up, celebrating our joys and sharing our burdens. Psalm 116 provides the model on how to recognize what God is doing in our lives and how to share it with others.
Let me close with verse 15. Precious in the sight of the Lordis the death of his faithful ones.
When I was in late teens and early 20s, I used to listen to a Christian radio station from Guatemala City. I still listen to the hymns this radio station played then. On this station, the intro used to announce the passing away of believers was this verse in Spanish. As the NRSV also translates it, this verse seems to communicate some comfort to the family of those who die in the Lord—their death is a precious event in the sight of the Lord. It seems to say that God welcomes the death of the faithful. But there is another meaning to the Hebrew word yaqar. I can also mean “very costly,” which in light of this psalm makes the most sense. The psalmist has emphasized that God has rescued him from death three times. He has emphasized that God desires life for his people. Thus, it pains the heart of God when his faithful die. The death of the saint is a costly loss, says the psalmist. Throughout psalm 116, God is presented as sustaining life. Thus, it is the will of God that we seek to preserve life, our life as well as of others’, human life as well as all other kinds of life.
In this life we will encounter pain, hardship, suffering, and loss. But we must also remember that we live and die in Christ. In Christ, we have found a life that matters, life abundant, and life that lasts beyond time. In the scripture reading this morning, we heard Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25, 26). Therefore, it is possible for us to sing with the psalmist, “I will walk in the presence of the LORD in the land of the living” (Ps. 116:9). Thanks be to God! Amen!
 Praise Chorus Book. Maranatha Music, Nashville. 1990 p. 84