Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Psalm 30 Sermon
November 22, 2006
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
444 "For The Beauty Of The Earth"
443 "Now Thank We All Our God"
363 "Come Ye Thankful People Come"
446 "Ye Servants Of God, Your Master Proclaim"
364 "We Plough The Fields And Scatter"
TEXT (vs. 11-12): “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.
If you were to ask me to give you a dozen different ways to say, "I'm angry," I could tell you how I'm incensed, annoyed, irritated, aggravated, infuriated, irate, enraged, apoplectic, livid, steamed, foaming at the mouth, really ticked.
If you wanted me to come up with a dozen different expressions for hurt feelings, I might say how I'm wounded, insulted, injured, slighted, embarrassed, offended, humiliated, disdained, dishonored, disrespected, deeply grieved.
Or what about a dozen ways to describe the experience of being cheated? Most of us know all too well what it's like to be rooked, gypped, fleeced, hoodwinked, bamboozled, bilked, hornswoggled, swindled, soaked, flim- flammed, finagled, taken to the cleaners.
But what if our assignment were to come up with a dozen or two-dozen different expressions of thanks? What if we had to find 20 or 30 different ways to say "Thank you"?
We all know the language of anger. Expressions of displeasure and disgust come to our lips pretty easily. Likewise, the language of hurt is familiar to many. When our feelings are bruised, our pride wounded and shame aroused, we know all sorts of ways to make our pain known. Our culture indoctrinates us in the language of right and privilege, so that when our freedoms are violated, or our expectations upset, we have lots of words and phrases, both proper and not so proper, for expressing our distress. But our language of thanks is not nearly so full, and without the words of thanks, without the ways for giving thanks, can we even have thanks?
I know that a lot of you have at least some familiarity with dogs. I remember growing up we had a couple dogs too, Snoopy and Shadow. I remember that when I would come home, the dogs would be poking their heads through the drapery at the living room window, their eyes lighting up, their tails wagging, and just waiting for me to come in the door. I know in my heart of hearts that the dogs were thankful for me to be home. Those dogs would do everything but actually tell me that they were thankful, and yet, without the gift of language, without the ability to verbalize things, Snoopy and Shadow couldn’t really give thanks.
Only humans give thanks. Whatever our kinship with the rest of the animal kingdom, only humans have the language of thanks. So when that very special language begins to slip, when the vocabulary and grammar of thanks starts to shrink and atrophy, it's not just a loss to our speech. It's a loss to our humanity, because without the language of thanks, we lose the capacity for thanks, and without that gift we lose one of the hallmarks of our humanity, as basic to who we are as thought, or logic, or the ability to love.
If you think you might have a hard time coming up with a couple of dozen ways to say, "Thank you"; if perhaps your capacity for giving thanks is a little stunted; if maybe your grip on the grammar and syntax of thanksgiving is a bit rusty: then let’s look at the words of Psalm 30.
Psalm 30 is a classic psalm of thanksgiving, and as such it's perfect for teaching and reacquainting us with the language of thanks. Reading now verses 1-3: “I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead, you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.”
Lesson Number 1: Thanksgiving is more than just counting our blessings. Rather, thanksgiving means seeing our blessings against the background of very real threats to our existence. Or in the words of one author: Thanksgiving is made "on the other side of lament or complaint."
In Psalm 30 King David has been given "a new lease on life". Though David doesn't spell out an actual physical disaster that was confronted, something appears to be a humiliating, and potentially deadly encounter.
Certainly we can see the danger of being dead in our transgressions and sins. While we were separated from God because of our sins and headed to the grave to eternal death, God rescued us and restored us to life through Christ Jesus our Saviour. So not only does God step in and save during times of earthly crisis, but he does so all the more miraculously in a spiritual sense. Jesus our Saviour snatches us away from eternal death.
Whether it is a health crisis or some other mortal or spiritual danger, King David states in this Psalm that this rescue was more than just blind chance or dumb luck. He makes the leap of faith, declaring God to be the Saviour who snatches people away from the clutches of death.
You have lifted me up (v. 1);
You restored me to health (v. 2);
You brought me up ... from the dead (v. 3a);
You restored my life (v. 3b).
Or in other words, thanksgiving always drives to the very source of our salvation. Thanksgiving always ends in God.
Now let’s read verses 4 through 6: “Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness. For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Another lesson: thanksgiving doesn't remain private for long. Eventually, all thanksgiving goes public. Psalm 30 begins as David’s individual word of thanks, but in these verses he invites the whole community to join in. As one commentator says, "The thanks are more than one individual person can adequately render". The breadth of God's mercy so far exceeds the extent of God's wrath that King David has to summon the entire people of God to share in the promise so thankfully declared: “Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Verses 7 through 10 look back on the way things were. Let’s take a look: “While I felt secure, I said, "I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains." Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear. I cried to you, O Lord; I pleaded with the Lord, saying, "What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper."
We never know what we have until we're threatened with it's loss. We don't value life until we brush up against death. We don't appreciate our fellowship with God. When life is good, our coffers full, our health robust, we all act as though "I shall never be disturbed." But when the very ground of our existence quakes beneath our feet, when our life is threatened, when we feel our human mortality, the only language left to us is the cry of anguish: “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?”
And yet even there, down in the pit, from out of the dust, God is teaching us the language of thanks. To raise us, God humbles us; to give us life, God brings us to the brink of death; to make us thankful, God teaches us to lament, for out of lament bursts words of thanks.
Verses 11 and 12: “You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”
What a beautiful picture we have here. As sinful human beings headed for sure destruction, Christ enters the picture and enters our lives. The healing power of the Gospel means the complete transformation of our lives. Jesus is our only hope of salvation, and our faith teaches us to always hold fast to Him regardless of how bleak the outlook might be.
Yes, God intervenes. God breaks in. God overcomes. God does not abandon us to depression and despair. God does not leave the world forlorn of hope. God turns our death march into a tap dance; God exchanges our combat boots for dancing shoes; God replaces our old clothes with sequins and silver.
And because God acts, because God delivers, because God rescues and redeems, silence is impossible. Words must be found, and if not found, then invented, to give voice to the sweet song of thanks.
Thirty, forty, fifty different ways to say "Thank You" is not enough. God's grace, God's goodness, God's wonder need more, and still more ways to give thanks.
And so this Thanksgiving let us declare right along with King David in our Psalm for today: “Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.”