“Give Thanks to the Lord” April 21, 2019
“Give Thanks to the Lord”
Psalm 118:1-2, 17-29/ 1 Corinthians 15:19-26
Picture, if you will, the state of So. Dakota. It would be a perfect rectangle except for the fact that its eastern border is the Red River, which zigs and zags a little bit. It is a shoe box shaped chunk of land smack dab in the middle of a huge area we call the Great Plains. Now picture the exact center of this shoe box on the utmost northern border. Here is where you will find the little city of Lemmon, right on the border of North Dakota. There’s not much to do or see in Lemmon, but it is where the writer Kathleen Norris spent her summers growing up on her grandparents’ farm. Later in life, when she inherited the farm, it became her permanent home. Now, Kathleen had a spirituality that is rare in most folks. Where most folks found themselves uninspired by the landscape of the prairie, Kathleen Norris continually saw the hand and the heart of God. She was not alone, evidently, because when she discovered a Benedictine Monastery to the north of her in Richardton, No. Dakota she blossomed as a person, as a writer, and as a healer in the name of Christ. It is her fascination with the Benedictine order that led me to speak about her today.
Now, one of the things that always intrigued me about the monks at the Assumption Abbey in ND was their practice of memorizing the Psalms. At first, I thought this had to be some kind of bizarre self discipline thing because, well let’s face it, memorizing anything is not what most folks consider fun and games. But it intrigued me nonetheless. I have learned that the longer you hold scripture in your heart, the more meaningful it becomes. But the Psalms? That seemed like a bit of a stretch. I couldn’t have been more wrong. And so I am here to say that on this day that we celebrate the cornerstone of our faith – the resurrection of Jesus Christ – I am here to say that there is good reason why Jesus and the Apostles quoted from the Psalms – – a lot. They are a treasure. They speak to us of a God who is constant, of a God whose love is without end, and of a God who is worthy of every bit of praise that we can muster. Most of all, the Psalms speak, it seems to me, of a God who makes things happen.
(Ps 118:1) Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. These, the opening words of the 118th Psalm, should sound familiar to us by now; we have been reading from this Psalm in one form or another for 6 weeks now. Let Israel say, “His love endures forever.” (vs5) Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear; what can man do to me? Even though we’re just getting warmed up here, I’m hoping you can see how the scripture speaks those who truly live in Christ; to an Easter people. “What can man do to me?” Indeed, what could man do to you when even on a cross you showed us that death is not the end. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His mercy endures forever.
(Vs 13) I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. My strength and my song and my salvation; how deep do we have to look to find the real source of our strength? Is it character? Is it our upbringing? These things matter, but the source is a gift from God. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his loyalty last forever.
I have to say that when we consider the power and the majesty of the resurrected Lord, vs. 17 has to be the one that grabs us and doesn’t let go. Luther considered it to be “a masterpiece” and claimed the “all the saints have sung this verse and will continue to sing it to the end.” (17) I will not die – no, I will live and declare what the Lord has done. “I will not die; no, I will live and declare what the Lord has done.” And isn’t this what we are doing right now, at this moment: declaring what the Lord has done? Isn’t that the sheer joy and wonderment of the worship of a resurrected Lord? Look what the Lord has done – wow. This is the true Easter story: a story of transformation. What a difference it makes when we can finally come to the place where the great things in our lives are no longer things that we’ve achieved but rather as a gift we receive. That is the transforming power of Easter. I will not die, I will live and won’t shut up about what the Lord has done.
We are an Easter people, we are a resurrection people. The stone that the builders rejected is now our main foundation stone. This has happened because of the Lord, and it is astounding in our sight. May this spirit of the Lord be upon you this day as we celebrate all that the Lord has done. And may the words be on our lips when we least expect it: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good: his love endures forever.”
Amen & Shalom