31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
If you were with us last Sunday, then you will recall that we are in the midst of a series of sermons on the topic of stewardship. I won’t quiz you today, I’ll just tell you. I define stewardship as anything we do in response to the salvation we’ve received. Sure, we’ll talk about money at some point, but we’ll also talk about the time you spend with those in need in Jesus’ name; we’ll talk about the kindness you show because of the kindness you’ve received; we’ll talk about the life we live as a gift of thanks to the Savior who has given us eternal life.
Last week we saw in the Son of Timaeus, that this response is mostly just following Jesus with joy. As important as it is to seek to follow Jesus in all things, the attitude that leads us to follow, I believe, is equally important. So today we look to the Bible’s songbook. Today we look to Psalm 146 to remember that our life’s beginning and end is praise. Today we remember that the stewardship of our money, and time, and talents isn’t born out of duty, it’s born of our grateful praise.
I need sermons like this one sometimes. Is that weird to say out loud? I need the reminder to give God my thankful praise. I’m hoping you need that reminder too, otherwise this message is just for me.
I need this message because I am so richly blessed: I’m in relatively good health, I have a loving family, I have a great job, and I live in the best place on earth; but that doesn’t always mean I’m happy. Have you ever noticed that? In fact, sometimes it works the other way around: you eat the perfect steak and every other steak is then compared to it; your brother-in-law lets you drive his Tesla and then you have to drive your own dumb car back home; you go on a cruise and then you get home and no one is feeding you. Gratitude does not automatically spring from having every good thing in the world. It is a choice and it is a choice to set our eyes on where those good gifts come from.
Psalm 146 identifies that source with the name "Lord." We use that name so easily here that we forget that it’s actually a pretty complicated notion for us. Tuesday is an elephant in this and every other room enter between now and then, right? Today we need to remember not to put our trust in so-called princes, don’t we? But that’s not the half of it. Today we need to remember our True Lord; the Lord the psalmist was talking about.
This Lord is the giver of both life and justice. The same God who "made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them" also gives "justice for the oppressed and food to the hungry.” A Lord, not to be feared, but a Lord who sets the prisoners free, defends orphans and widows, and passes judgment against those who would abuse them. I don’t care who you’re voting for on Tuesday, but I can guarantee you that they will fall short of our Lord. If your politicians are the source of your happiness, you will be sad whether they are elected or not.
But happy are those who put their trust in the eternal God who made heaven and earth. Our Lord, the maker of all things, intimately cares for us: our Lord opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, and watches over the stranger and the orphan and the widow.
Psalm 146 begins and ends with a call to praise because praise should be our beginning, our end, and our everything in between. Our faithful stewardship is born, of course, out of God’s faithfulness; and our faithful stewardship begins and ends with praise. And sure, we already have moments of praise; we have moments of sincere gratitude.
I was at the Tuning Fork the other day (it seems I have a lot of Tuning Fork stories, don’t I?). I was getting some work done, sipping some coffee, and sort-of minding my own business. I say “sort-of” because it’s hard not to notice people. I noticed a couple of women come in and sit down—and I promise I wasn’t listening in on their conversation—but I could tell the kind of conversation they were having. They were having a get-to-know-ya conversation. And I thought, “That’s what we need as a culture; we need to deepen our relationships with one another; we need to make new friends; we need to make better friends with old friends.” And then I thought, “This simple coffee shop—because of what they are doing—is holy ground.” So as I was leaving, I shared those thoughts with Tim, the owner; and he seemed to appreciate that I appreciated him and what he was doing.
I had a moment of gratitude and it was nice. It wasn’t my only moment of gratitude, which is also nice. But the psalmist reminds us that, when it comes to the faithfulness of God, we are called to more than moments. We are called to lead lives of praise, lives of gratitude. To live that kind of life—to live a life of day in and day out praise—is a spiritual practice that won’t happen on accident. It might just require our personal discipline and the support of the people gathered in this place. God brings good things into our lives every day, and we need to develop eyes of faith to see them.
And I know, there are also times when it is hard to praise God. Some of you may know that I did an internship at the Crystal Cathedral when I was young. It was a good experience, but I did not drink their Cool Aid, if you know what I mean. To give you an example: once, when I was in their bookstore, I came across a Schuller book titled “The Be Happy Attitudes.” I remember being a little embarrassed by the audible “ugh” I let out. No, I’m not saying that every day is rainbows and unicorns; but we do always have reason for praise; we do always have reason for gratitude; we do always have reason to believe that, even in our lamenting, our Lord is a Lord of redeeming hope.
Not all of the psalms are psalms of praise; there are psalms of lament as well because lament is a part of life too. But often, those psalms are also psalms of transformation. As we gather around this Table, perhaps it brings to mind that Jesus quoted one such psalm on the Cross. Psalm 22, which begins with the words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” ends with the praise, “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”
Here at this Table, we remember where the depth of our gratitude comes from. Here we remember that the God of All Creation, became one of us to show us the depth and breadth of that faithfulness and love.
There’s an interesting thing happens at the end of the book of psalms: the last five Psalms, beginning with 146, are all a calls to worship. It seems odd that this book—this collection of Israel’s worship music, as it were—should end with calls to worship; that is until you think about it. When you think about it—when you think about vast, immeasurable love and faithfulness of God remembered here at this Table—when we leave this place, our grateful praise is just getting started!
Let us learn together to recognize and remember the faithfulness of our Lord. Let us seek to have an attitude of gratitude for all we have received, especially the gift of eternal life through our Risen Lord. And let our lives be a joyful response to that gift in all we do and say.