November 21, 2021. Sermon Title: Giving Thanks for God’s Wonderful Works

First Mennonite Church

November 21, 2021

Giving Thanks for God’s Wonderful Works

Text: Psalm 107:1-32

Today we are celebrating our Thanksgiving Sunday, as we call the Sunday of the week of Thanksgiving Day. And obviously, central in this celebration is having a spirit of gratitude and thankfulness. Thanksgiving should be a moment to pause and reflect on our year’s journey about the things, experiences, and people we should be thankful for. It should be a focused moment, among the ongoing little moments, in which we have bowed before God to give him thanks.  

Psalms 107 opens with the command to give thanks to the Lord for his enduring mercy. The word “mercy” here, is the Hebrew word hesed, translated in other parts of the Bible as God’s “loving kindness,” or “steadfast love.” Hesed is considered God’s very character, which means, it’s never ending. It is mercy that was for yesterday, today and that will be for eternity.

Psalm 107 is a song with three movements. First, it highlights a specific situation, and there are four of them; then comes the human reaction to those situations, they cry out to God; and finally, comes a call to give thanks to God for his prompt response. The images used here to describe each situation are vivid and although they can be metaphorical, they ultimately describe real human experiences.

The main reason the Psalmist calls for thanksgiving is for God’s unending mercy. Therefore, let us remember how God’s mercy is described in Psalm 23, verse six. There we read, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Here it says that “mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” The phrase “shall follow me,” literally means, “will relentlessly pursue or chase after me” all the days of my life. That means that God is tirelessly going after each of you and me, offering to us, giving to us, wooing us with his mercy. God’s mercy is pursuing you and me, whether we are aware or nor, whether we accept it or reject it, God’s mercy is trying to get us.

The first situation is found in verse four:

Some wandered in desert wastes,
    finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them  

The imagery about someone being lost in the desert, dying with thirst and hunger to the point of fainting is scary situation. Last summer, various people got lost in the wilderness. Many died after running out of water or died of heat stroke. A few were found, still alive. But the image the Psalmist describes here is that of the people of Israel during their journey through the wilderness.

We don’t have to be in the desert to feel like if we have lost our way in life. We are living in a very polarized world. We are pulled to one side or the other, the “us” versus “them.” We are going through some very confusing times. It is getting more difficult to know the difference between what is true and what is false. The reality of today is mindboggling. While in some instance, violence is justified, yet in others just being a minority is seen as a threat. As for us Christians, it gets harder and harder to free ourselves from the influences that subtly chip away our identity as true followers of Christ. Again, as the psalmist says, “Some wandered in desert wastes . . . [and] their soul fainted within them.”

The second image we find in verse 10:

“Some sat in darkness and in gloom, prisoners in misery and in irons.” We certainly are in no prison of four walls around us, with a door bolted on the outside. But there are other kinds of prisons. Some people are prisoners of the wrong choices they made. Therefore, although being free, they are prisoners of addiction, vices, and habits. What was at first a delight to them or a way to express themselves, gradually those things became their master.  Suddenly, they discovered the things in which they delight is not allowing them to be the person they desire to be. But what is even sadder is that they cannot help themselves. They have become a prisoner. There are also prisoners of debt. They live in a continuous cycle of digging a hole to fill another with their debts. Some are prisoners of name brands, and feel less of a person if they do not wear or own the latest version of a particular brand. There are spiritual prisoners too, of whom also only Jesus Christ can deliver. As he stated about his earthly mission, “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18b).

The third image is found in verses 17 and 18.

Some were sick through their sinful ways,
    and because of their iniquities endured affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.

I must be very clear here. Not every sickness is due to sin or rebellion against God. We all get sick, sometimes. And we know how it feels to be sick. We lose our appetite, energies, and feel down in our spirit too. Sometimes, we do not do anything and get sick; we even do our best to avoid getting sick and we still do. Sickness is part of human experience. It is redundant for me to tell you, but as our body ages, it loses its ability to guard itself from sickness and it takes longer to recover. Death is always lurking and prowling, only around the living. Life is surrounded by sickness and death.

And the fourth image is found in verse 23, 26-27.

Some went down to the sea in ships,
    doing business on the mighty waters . . . .

They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths;
    their courage melted away in their calamity;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards,
    and were at their wits’ end.
In general, the business of living is like going into the broad deep sea. The sea is not always calm and the surface flat. Often times when life seems like a smooth ride, but there are times when life feels like being in a rough sea. We are violently tossed up, just to come crashing down again. It is like mounting up to heaven and then diving down to the bottom of the sea. And in this swing of ups and downs in life the moment comes when we do not know what to do. We come to our wits’ end, which means we run out of options, we lose control. The only option is to take in the loss. The sickness determines how much longer we will live. All we are left to do is allow time to heal our grief. We no longer have control over the situation, but the situation determines what we should do.

This year, I experienced moments of great joy and moments of great sadness. This year I had moments of peace and moment of anxiety. My moments of joy were like seeing our youngest child graduate high school and make the transition to college. Just this week Lilian and I were searching for some pictures to send Jasmine for a college project and we came to a picture in which I was holding both Jasmine and Madeleine in my arms, taking them to preschool. I had an unspeakable joy to see that and now see where they are.

Of course, you know what one of my saddest moments was this year. It was October nine, when my brother passed away. He was the second of my siblings I have lost.

I don’t know where you are in life today. Do you feel like being in the desert, or in a prison, or sick, or in the midst of a rough sea? Or, it could be that you are having a smooth sailing right now.

This leads us to the second movement in this song. It tells us what to do when we feel like being in any of those situations. The refrain after each situation is that “they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”

 For those who felt lost in the desert, “God led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town” (v.6, 7).

Those who were in the dark dungeon, They cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress;
he brought them out of darkness and gloom,
   and broke their bonds asunder
(v. 13, 14).

Those who were sick and near death,

They cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress;
he sent out his word and healed them,
    and delivered them from destruction
(v. 19, 20).

Those who were tossed up and down in the rough seas,

they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out from their distress;
29 he made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad because they had quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.

What we find here is that if you feel like being lost in a desert, or trapped in a prison, or sick in your body or soul, or caught in the middle of rough sea, that we should cry out to the Lord. The Lord is a redeemer. His hesed, his unending mercy is there ready to come to your rescue. Crying out to God, sometimes happens literally because of desperation. Sometimes my prayers to God literally brings tears to my eyes because I find God’s presence overwhelming and real. God’s tender mercies bring healing, comfort, and strength.

The third movement in this psalm is thanksgiving.
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he satisfies the thirsty,
    and the hungry he fills with good things.

God satisfies the needs of those who find themselves in the desert. You might remember a moment this year when God intervened providing what you needed.

15 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind.
16 For he shatters the doors of bronze,
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.

God sets free those who felt like being in a prison. God can shatter every door of bronze and break every chain that binds. God is a deliverer. And we should give him thanks.

21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind.
22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices,
    and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

God heals us from sickness and raises us up when we have stumbled. Thus, we sing with joy and tell of his deeds.

31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wonderful works to humankind.
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
    and praise him in the assembly of the elders.

The Lord also calms the sea around us and brings us safely to himself. Thus, we can give him praise in the assembly of his people. So, here we are, in the company of God’s people. Let us give thanks to the Lord for guiding us when we have felt lost. Let us give thanks to the Lord for setting us free from the bondage of sin, or vices, or habits that kept us imprisoned. Let us give thanks to the Lord for restoring our body, mind and soul with the freedom Jesus give us. For he said, “So, if the Son of man set you free, you are free indeed” (John 8:36). Let us give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love because he is a tower of refuge in time of danger. In him we find solace and peace. Let us give thanks to the Lord in all circumstance. Amen!

Pastor Romero