Proper 29A

November 17, 2014

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Matthew 25:31-46

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 100

    Author: Doug Bratt

    Comments, Observations, and Questions to Consider

    For those who worshiped in Reformed or Presbyterian churches, it was a regular part of our worship services: Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise him all creatures here below.  Praise him above you heavenly hosts.  Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  We’ve traditionally called this version of Psalm 100 put to music the “Doxology,” coming from a word that simply means “praise.”

    The Bible repeatedly challenges God’s children to praise and give thanks to God.  It calls us to fall down on our faces, sing, shout, clap our hands, wave branches, blow trumpets, pluck strings and bang cymbals.  In fact, the Scriptures challenge worshipers to join God’s whole creation in making a joyful noise to him.  In a way we can’t really understand, after all, everything God has made sings its praise to its Creator.

    So when God’s people sing the Doxology, we simply join our voices with the planets and the clouds, the rain and the wind, even the mountains and trees.  That’s why the Christian poet Wendell Berry can peer at a grove of magnificent trees and write:

    Great trees, outspreading and upright, Apostles of the living light, Patient as stars, they build in air, Tier after tier in a timbered choir, Stout leaves upholding weightless grace Of song, a blessing in this place.

    Yet according to Psalm 100, we don’t just join the whole creation in its sometimes boisterous praise to God.  You and I also profess, “The Lord is God.”  Israel’s world worshiped and our contemporary society worships a whole raft of gods.  So the question remains, not, “Is there a god,” but “Who is God?”

    In our sinfulness, we naturally choose from a veritable buffet of gods.  So to worship the “Lord” as God is to make the counter-cultural confession that the One revealed to us in Jesus Christ is the only true God.  However, worshipers don’t just thank God for being the one true God.  We also thank God for graciously making us God’s own sons and daughters.  Because, after all, we profess, “it is he who made us . . . we are his.”

    The Lord “made” Israel out of two barren geriatrics, electing, redeeming and ultimately making covenant with her.  Christians profess, however, that God also “made” you and me, electing, delivering and making his covenant of grace with us through Jesus Christ.  So when we sing the Doxology and recite Psalm 100 we profess that we are not our own makers or bosses.  You and I are, instead, the Lord’s creations.  We belong to the Lord, as Reformed Christians profess, in body and in soul, in life and in death.

    This God mercifully cares for you and me like a shepherd cares for his completely helpless and, frankly, dumb sheep.  Or to use a perhaps more familiar analogy, God cares for you and me like a parent cares for her completely dependent newborn.  In a culture that fancies itself as independent, those who recite Psalm 100 profess that we’re like sheep that need a shepherd to care for us.  In a society that thinks of itself as master of its own destiny, those who sing the Doxology profess that we depend on God to shower all blessings on us.

    However, when we stand to sing the Doxology or recite Psalm 100 we also make a fundamental profession about God’s nature.  You and I profess that God is “good.”  It sounds so simple and general to refer to the Lord as “good.”  Some Christians have even created a kind of mantra: “God is good all the time.  All the time God is good.”

    That’s why it’s helpful to remember that God shows us this goodness in concrete ways.  In Psalm 100 you and I profess that God shows us this goodness by loving you and me with an everlasting love.  So while our love tends to be conditional, we thank God that God’s love, by contrast, “endures forever.”  While our own faithfulness is naturally temporary, we profess that God’s faithfulness “continues through all generations.”

    Yet who really thinks about that when we recite Psalm 100’s familiar verses?  Who actually thinks about what we’re professing when we sing “Praise God from whom all blessings flow”?  Christians sometimes think of Thanksgiving as a time to refocus on whom we should thank for our many blessings.  Perhaps, however, it can also be a time when we think about what we’re really saying not only to, but also about God when we give God our thanks.

    In a sometimes frantically busy world, Psalm 100 reminds us that we don’t have to, in fact, can’t make it on our own.  We live in a culture that demands that we work hard to care for ourselves and those we love.  Psalm 100 calms us by reminding us that all blessings flow not from our hard work, but from our heavenly Father.

    Yet as John Buchanan notes, those who seemed to have so little reason for being calm wrote many of the biblical commands to thank and praise God.  In fact, some of the most powerful expressions of thanks to God come not from those who find it easy to do so, but from those who struggle.

    The first winter in New England was terrible for the American pilgrims.  They weren’t, after all, well prepared for the weather’s ferocity or the establishing of a new colony’s hard work.  More than half of the Pilgrims died that winter in what they called “the starving time” during which leaders rationed to each person just five kernels of corn for each meal.

    The next fall, after they’d harvested a successful crop, the pilgrims set aside a day for Thanksgiving.  Yet just a few months earlier they’d faced starvation, digging graves in New England’s rocky ground for their children, wives and husbands.  So we can only imagine that the pilgrims celebrated that first Thanksgiving with hearts heavy from that grief and trauma.

    For many of us Thanksgiving is a happy time where we come together with family members and friends.  It’s a time when “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” falls easily from our lips.  For others, however, Thanksgiving is far more difficult.  Some are enduring some kind of “starving time.”  After all, some of us thank and praise God through teeth gritted by loneliness, loss and grief.  For hurting people this holiday season may be a time not of calm, but of heightened anxiety.

    As we gather for our feasts, you and I remember and pray for those for whom this day and season is difficult.  Christians also find ways to try to include the lonely, worried and mourning people in our celebrations.  By God’s grace, after all, our hospitality may help God’s hurting sheep enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and God’s courts with praise.  Our hospitality may, by God’s Spirit, stimulate God needy people to join us in praising God from whom all blessings flow, even in the midst of pain.

    Illustration Idea

    Garrison Keillor calls car ownership in Lake Woebegone “a matter of faith.”  Lutherans drive Fords bought from Bunson Motors, the Lutheran car dealers.  Catholics drive Chevrolets from Main Garage, that’s owned by the Kruegers, who are Catholic.

    The Brethren, being Protestant, also drive Chevys.  However, they distinguish themselves from the Lutherans by attaching small Scripture plates to the tops of their license plates.  Those Bible passages are written in tiny glass beads so that they show up well at night.  The most popular is “The wages of sin is death.” Keillor’s dad’s car had a compass on its dashboard with “I Am the Way” inscribed across its face.  Keillor remembers that those words were ”clearly visible in the dark to a girl who might be sitting beside him.”

    However, Lake Woebegone’s Church of the Brethren’s real champion is Brother Louie.  Keillor calls his four-door Fairlane a “rolling display of Scripture.”  After all, Bible passages adorn its license plates, dashboard, sun visors, armrest, floor mats, glove compartment and, yes, even the ashtray.

    However, nothing quite matched Brother Louie’s musical car horn that he’d ordered from a company in Indiana that sold custom-made ones.  Louie’s horn played -- you guessed it -- the first eight notes of the Doxology.  So he blew it at pedestrians and oncoming traffic.  Brother Louie honked the Doxology while passing and sometimes even just for his own pleasure.

    “On occasion,” Keillor writes in Lake Woebegone Days, “vexed by a fellow driver, he gave in to wrath and leaned on his horn, only to hear ‘Praise God from whom all blessings flow.’  It calmed him down right away.”

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Ephesians 1:15-23

    Author: Stan Mast