Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 3/22

Today’s psalm kind of brings me back to what I talked about on Ash Wednesday, namely that the current economic crisis provides us with a Lenten opportunity to draw closer to God, to better understand our dependence on God all without having to give anything up, because rather than giving something up, with the economic meltdown something has been taken away from us, that something being financial security. 

That loss of security causes many of us to be more honest about the fact that we are not as independent and self sufficient as we might like to think and that can be an important Lenten corrective for us.  Our culture encourages us to take care of ourselves, to be independent and to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps when the going gets tough.  At times that can be good advice, but at its worst that sense of self-sufficiency removes any need for God.  It creates an attitude of “I’m doing just fine on my own, thank you.  Things are under control; I don’t need any help,” until the economy falls apart and no one seems to know for sure what should be done about it.  The idol of self-sufficiency comes tumbling down.  The future we thought was so secure because we had made such wise investments becomes uncertain, and maybe, with all that taken away, maybe that makes us think more about the role of God in our lives.

The psalmist who prays Psalm 107 has no such illusion of self sufficiency.  For this individual everything in life depends on God.  The first three verses of the psalm are a hymn of praise and thanksgiving, one that might well have been part of an ancient temple liturgy, “Give thanks to the Lord for the Lord is good, for God’s mercy endures forever,” and once again what we have here is an appeal to God’s hesed that I talked about a few weeks ago.  The word translated mercy here is hesed, that steadfast love that promises that God will be God, that God will be who God is supposed to be, that God will keep the promises that have been made.  I hope you’ve seen over the last few weeks that hesed is a word the psalms come back to repeatedly as it is perhaps the most important word for the people of Israel in understanding their relationship with the Lord. 

Following this hymn of praise Psalm 107 then moves to four stanzas that describe a particular kind of adversity from which someone or a group of people have been saved not by their own ability and self sufficiency, not by pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, but only by dependence on God.  One group is saved from hunger and thirst, one from prison, one from sickness and one from a storm at sea.  The third stanza, the one dealing with sickness is the only one appointed for today, but the pattern is the same in each stanza; the situation of affliction is identified, there is a cry to the Lord, the Lord responds, and relief from the affliction is granted.   Following that there is another call to give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love, there’s that hesed again, and thanks for his wonderful works for all people.  Again the move is made from affliction to praise.

This psalm reminds us of something that is worth noting about all the psalms and that is that they represent a genuine dialogue with the Lord, a dialogue that pulls no punches, a dialogue in which everything is laid on the table.  I’ve mentioned that before but I mention it again because I do think that while we have some understanding of this dialogue, we can have tendency to think that from our side, we’re still restricted to humble, deferential praise and thanks.  In other words, we feel like we do have to pull our punches for fear of offending God.  For many of us we have an image of an almighty, powerful God who we dare not cross or challenge in any way and it’s hard to shake that image. 

The psalms though imagine God differently.  They are about a God who is not only in a position of power but is in genuine relationship with human beings, a relationship in which human beings are invited to have their say.  To be sure, a relationship with God can never be equal, God is God and we’re not, but it’s not so unequal as to just be power on one side and just praise on the other. 

The God of the Bible does more than just issue commands and pass judgment; the people of the Bible do more than obediently toe the mark, offer praise and ask for forgiveness when they mess up.  Consequently, the psalms as a whole are about an honest, complex relationship and they invite people of all times into that relationship. 

It’s an invitation that might change how you think about God and that can be challenging; it’s hard change how you think; but I believe that this invitation represents really good news.  There is that holy otherness of God that has to be held in account, we never want to lose sight of that; but in God’s very nature is the desire for relationship with we less than equal human beings.  This God cares about us and about what we have to say.

In the four stanzas of Psalm 107, it is the cry to the Lord from those experiencing affliction that triggers the Lord’s response.  Would the Lord have responded without the cry?  I guess we don’t know that; all we’ve got to go on is the text and according to that the cry is significant in moving God to act.

For us this also raises the issue of the value of intercessory prayer, the kind of prayer that we do as part of the liturgy every week in the prayers of the church, the kind of prayer that is probably mostly what we think of when we think of prayer; prayers when we ask God for things.  The God of the psalms apparently wants our intercessory prayer; again, it is the cry of the afflicted that initiates God’s response in Psalm 107 and in many others. 

Now God’s desire for our prayers may seem self evident to you as you probably offer these prayers all the time.  But as sometimes gets discussed in Bible study, if your primary image of God is what Walter Brueggemann calls the Big O, omnipotent, omniscient, all powerful and all knowing, that God doesn’t need our intercessory prayer.  That God already knows what’s going to happen, so why bother praying?

But the God described by the Psalms and the God described by much of the Bible invites people into a relationship in which God is not the only one who has something important to say.  What human beings think and say is important to God and according to a psalm like Psalm 107, human beings contribute in a real way to the shaping of the future. “Then in their trouble they cried to the Lord, and you delivered them from their distress.”  The cry made a difference.  God could certainly have thought about all the options available, but human beings are invited to participate in this process in a meaningful way.  With this God the future is open such that human beings can have their say. 

God invites the relationship and honors the relationship so that our prayers do have the potential to shape the future in ways that are different than the case would have been if no prayers were offered.  As such prayer is offered there is also the acknowledgment from our side that we are not self sufficient but that we are ultimately dependent on God’s involvement in our efforts.  In our prayer we acknowledge that we need God and that’s why we cry out to God knowing that our cry will be heard.

We can do so in confidence because we know even more of the story of God’s wonderful works for all people.  We know that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.  As Christians this represents the ultimate act of God’s hesed, his love and commitment to his promises.  What Jesus has done secures the relationship that God wants with each of us.  Whether it’s a cry of need or whether it’s in praise and thanks, our side of the dialogue matters.  In our prayer, we wait for God…but God also waits for us.
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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