“BLESSINGS FOR A LIFETIME”
-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 2-17-2019 Pardeeville
I don’t preach on the Psalms very often. I’m not sure anybody does. But one thing the Psalms teach us is that we live in community. What I really mean is all of our communities. We have our church community, something we call a community of faith. There’s our family community, the community of the city or town we live in, and for most of us, a few other communities. And in each and every one of these communities, we find the full range of emotions that are so beautifully brought to life in the book of Psalms. Open up this book and point your finger at random and you can find individual or community laments, individual or community songs of thanksgiving, hymns of praise, joy, hope, despair, and a lot of other emotions people are experiencing every day. In reading the Psalms, try to remember that it’s not just about how we feel. The Psalms remind us that, in each of the communities we find ourselves, there are people who are happy and people who are struggling. There are those who are offering their thanksgiving to God and those lamenting something that’s going on in their lives.
Psalm 30 happens to be an individual song of thanksgiving. Since I was able to address the assembled masses at yesterday’s Presbytery meeting about gratitude, I thought I would continue here this morning. Psalm 30 is the story of one individual. It’s told in the first person, yet the writer’s intention is to share his experience with his community. He encourages if not demands that the community profit from his experiences. We don’t get a great deal of detail in this psalm but we get vivid descriptions of the writer’s emotional swings. We hear his pleading with God and the ways God has acted in his life. And we get his expressions of thanksgiving. That’s what comes through loud and clear in Psalm 30. Thanksgiving is at the core of this psalm. At the beginning, something has gone wrong. Then things get worse. But God stays faithful throughout the entire ordeal and ultimately acts to save. And rather than just say “Thank you” to God and move on, the writer vows to live a life of thanksgiving in response to God’s grace and encourages the rest of his community to follow suit. He is telling others in his community, others he knows either feel as bad as he did or others that will someday, to profit from his experience.
You may have noticed a lot of movement in Psalm 30. It moves freely between the present, the past and the future. The writer acknowledges at the beginning that he was is deep trouble, some sort of life threatening trouble. It may have been an illness because there is talk of “keeping me from the grave” and being “on my way to the depths below”. Definitely something serious. The good news is that, when he called on God for help, God restored him to wholeness.
He has already expressed his gratitude to God but, as the psalm continues, the writer speaks to his community. He uses the imperative voice. This is more than a suggestion, it’s a command to remember what God has done and to offer praise and thanksgiving. The big reason for all this is stated in verse five. “God’s anger lasts only a moment. God’s goodness lasts a lifetime.” Isn’t that our idea of the way a good parent acts? Sure there’s an angry moment every now and then but, over the course of a lifetime, there is only love.
The writer of Psalm 30 now takes a look back at his life to a time when things were going very well. And he sees the false hope that he had when he felt he could never be defeated. Frank Sinatra sang about “flying high in April; shot down in May.” Sure enough, when the writer senses that God has turned away, his life falls to pieces. During that time of difficulty, the psalmist pleads his case before God with great emotion. He shouts, “God, save me! I cannot praise you if I’m dead!”
And it is indeed God’s saving action in this man’s life that changes everything. That’s what he continues to share with his entire community. His sadness has become a joyful dance. His sorrow is gone. His time of mourning has become a time of celebration. Psalm 30 ends with a promise on the writer’s part to continue his thanksgiving. He’s not going to be quiet about it either. He is going to continue to praise God for everything God has done for him. He is also going to adamantly demand that his entire community do exactly the same thing.
Several years ago, I read about a person who lived a lifetime of thanksgiving. It was also someone who wanted to share his knowledge with a community…Morrie Schwartz. Some of you may recognize that name. You may have read the book “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom. Morrie Schwartz was Mitch’s college sociology professor. They had been apart for 16 years when Mitch happened to see his old professor being interviewed by Ted Koppel on “Nightline®”.
Morrie Schwartz loved to dance but he had to stop dancing. A few years later he had trouble walking. As time passed, he was tired all the time. Many thought it was just old age but Morrie knew something else was wrong. He went to doctors, had lab work done, and spent eight months trying to figure out what was going on. After a biopsy of his calf muscle, the verdict was in. Morrie was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It’s a neurological disorder that affects muscle movement but leaves the mind intact. There is no cure for ALS…only some medications that help to slow the progression of the disease.
Like many people who are faced with a difficult diagnosis (and an incurable disease is a whopper!) Morrie Schwartz could have opted to retire from society, embarrassed by his physical symptoms, unwilling to let others see him in such a condition. But Morrie Schwartz was not like other people. Always the teacher, he wanted others to learn something about dying through his own death. That’s why he went on “Nightline®” and was interviewed three times by Ted Koppel over the course of his disease. Morrie wanted to share much with his television audience. That was his community. He said to accept death, to keep an open heart, to be alert to the things that interest you and to go after them. Morrie recommended people be compassionate and that they be kind to themselves.
It was tough for Morrie Schwartz to experience the slow disintegration of his muscle function. He was quite independent as a younger man and found it difficult when he started being able to do less and less for himself. But the day he was diagnosed, he made a conscious decision. He opted not to withdraw but to make the best of the time that he had left. Now you may say that Morrie’s story is not one of thanksgiving but rather a story about staying positive and making the most of your lot in life. To that I say there’s no way you can make the most of your life without thanksgiving being a large part of your day-to-day activity! Psalm 30 asks us to thank God in everything…not for everything…in everything. That means offering our thanksgiving to God regardless of whether we are on top of the world or facing a crisis. Our prayers of thanksgiving during those good times are responses to the blessings we’ve received. Our prayers of thanksgiving during our times of struggle are expressions of trust that God will act to help us. Such trust is based on our prior experiences and the way that God has acted in the past.
Thanksgiving is a habit we can all cultivate. We just need to be intentional about it. The more we practice thanksgiving, the more it becomes a part of our nature, a part of who we are. There is at least one amazing benefit of intentionally practicing gratitude. The more we express our gratitude to God, the more we notice things in our lives to be grateful for. As we do so, we’ll find it becomes easier to see the many blessings that God sends into our lives.
Some of the TV evangelists tell people that, if a person’s faith is strong enough that everything will line up for them. They’ll be healed of illnesses and have nothing but happiness in their lives. (Then they flash the address across the screen so you know where to send your contribution.) I have a different idea to share. We are going to continue to have some great times and some not-so-great times. But by putting into practice the advice we find in Psalm 30, we will be reminded that God is available during every experience we have in life. God will never abandon us. In taking the psalmist’s advice, we won’t take the good times so much for granted, actually thinking that we had something to do with it. And we’ll trust God to act during any times of difficulty or conflict. Either way, we will come to understand that God is willing to be a part of our lives. So share your experiences with your community. Encourage others. Remember that every community you are a part of, experiences highs and lows. That’s just one of the things we learn from the Psalms. Be supportive, feel supported, and enjoy all of God’s blessings…blessings that last a lifetime! Thanks be to God!