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Date: March 19, 2017 (Lent 3) 1. Texts: Exodus 17:1-7; Ps. 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42. 2. Subject: gratitude. 3. Topic: life-changing gratitude to God. 4. Aim: encourage, guide. 5. Proposition: “Gratitude only becomes our response when we recognize who God is and what he has done.”

 

 

LIFE-CHANGING GRATITUDE

 

 

Come, let us sing to · the Lord; let us shout for joy to the rock of our · sal-vation. Let us come before his presence · with thanksgiving and raise a loud shout to him · with psalms. For the Lord is a · great God, and a great king above · all gods. In his hand are the caverns of · the earth, and the heights of the hills are · his also. The sea is his, for · he made_it, and his hands have molded the · dry land. Come, let us bow down and bend · the knee, and kneel before the Lord · our Maker. For he is · our God, and we are the people of · his pasture and the sheep of · his hand. Oh, that today you would hearken to · his voice! Harden not your hearts, as your forebears did in · the wilderness, at Meribah, and on that day at Massah, when · they tempted_me. They put me to · the test, though they had seen · my works. Forty years long I detested that generation · and said, "This people are wayward in their hearts; they do not know · my ways." So I swore in · my wrath, "They shall not enter into · my rest."1 1 Psalm 95 from http://www.stjohnsottawa.ca/psalms/ . This resource is free to congregations wishing to chant the psalms. Psalm 95 may be re-read at the beginning of the sermon. It may also be chanted. But the preacher may simply begin with the sermon and not quote the psalm. If you want to chant the psalm, following the link given in the footnote below for one possible version. Others are available, including the The Canadian Psalter. Page 2 of 4 -Actually hearing God’s wordBack in the olden days, when I was young, Psalm 95 was very familiar to me. We chanted it during Morning Prayer services. We recited it when it came up in the lectionary cycle. We knew Psalm 95. If you were to worship with the Synod Office staff, you’d likely be saying this psalm twice each week. You would know this psalm, too. Of course, by this point in today’s service, you’ve probably forgotten what the psalm was. And being familiar with the psalm is no big help in this. There is a kind of benign neglect that arises when liturgy and scripture become familiar. We become so used to reading this bit or saying this other thing that we only really notice when the habit is upset. Being familiar with liturgy and scripture actually dulls our ability to listen. But Ps. 95 is all about hearkening to God’s voice.2 As we heard in the reading from Exodus, the Jews had lost the memory of God’s interventions on their behalf. They certainly had lost the hoped-for gratitude to God. The miracles God had worked for them had been pushed away to be replaced by hardness of heart and bickering. Now, the Jews were certainly familiar with their history. After all, they celebrated the Exodus every single year with a highly involved liturgy. They were familiar, for sure, but had lost the ability to hear God’s voice in the history. The psalmist wanted the Jews to return to God with songs of joy and shouts of thanksgiving. He then listed reasons why they should do so:  God is a great God;  God is the Creator God;  God fashioned the world so that people might enjoy it;  God has claimed the Jews as his own people;  God promises to care for the Jews as the good shepherd cares for his flock. But here’s the main thing: those reasons only make sense when you accept the truth of them. The Jews could return to God with songs of joy and shouts of 2 Ps. 95:7b. Page 3 of 4 -Actually hearing God’s wordthanksgiving only when they lived in their belief that God is a great, caring and loving Creator who claims people for his own. Joy and thanksgiving only results from being in a life-changing relationship with God, a relationship that acknowledges his work in one’s life. The Jews of the psalmist’s day had learned to rely on habit and tradition rather than on a transformative relationship. They relied on nostalgia rather than on a current and life-giving reality. And as we all know, nostalgia kills faith and her daughter ministry. You do know that, right? That heartfelt desire to return to the good ol’ days kills faith and ministry. First of all, the real-world circumstances of today are so essentially different from the good ol’ days that we can never go back to them. Secondly, those good ol’ days were only apparently good. They were never really that good. If they had been genuinely that good, the Church would not now be in the failing state in which it finds itself. The good ol’ days are more fantasy than reality and to live in a fantasy is to develop a kind of mental and spiritual illness. We end up forever dreaming about the past and become incapable of dealing with the present. Nostalgia means that we do not have to exercise our faith in coping with reality. Nostalgia means that we cannot have any genuine impact on our community today. Nostalgia kills faith and ministry. That’s what was happening in the days of the Jews of the Exodus and the psalmist was certain that it was still happening in his day. Nostalgia impaired the ability of the Jews to trust in God and to accept his current interventions on their behalf. So, here’s what we glean from all this today. Having faith in God does not mean that he will fix everything up for you. Faith means trusting God to be with you in the midst of all you face. The God in whom we have faith and to whom we entrust ourselves is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, the one who created us to be in relationship with him and then enables that relationship to happen. He has created us to love him Page 4 of 4 -Actually hearing God’s wordand be loved by him so that we might enjoy an abundant and full life, not because we have earned it, but because such fullness is his goal for all people. God intends all people to live in a life-changing relationship with him and enables that to happen. When we respond to him in faith and love, we make ourselves his people and we become the sheep of his pasture. We begin to experience our salvation in the here and now, in the midst of whatever confronts us. The result of this is, quite logically, joy and thanksgiving. When we accept God as our own Great Shepherd and Creator of our abundant life, gratitude becomes our only possible response. Our worship reflects such gratitude. Our ministries express our thanksgiving. Generosity fills our praises and our ministries. That’s really what Psalm 95 is aimed at—a life-changing sense of gratitude to God for all that he is for us. And it is precisely this nostalgia based on familiarity that will inhibit such a transformation. What remains for us is a choice: the choice between relaxing in the comfort of familiarity and being transformed by God’s generous and creative presence. I think we’ll choose the latter and surrender ourselves to joyous thanksgiving and unfettered gratitude. AMEN.