Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost/ 10th November 2013
Tradition says that Psalm 145 was written by King David. We don’t know for sure. What we do know is that whoever composed this song had a heart for God. Perhaps it was written by David after all, a man, scripture tells us, who was after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). Whoever wrote it this much is clear: this text flows from a very deep place in the human psyche. While it’s descriptive of God, it’s written with a sense of familiarity and authority. This person—we can call him David—knows God. David not only knows about God, David knows God. David knows the heart of God pouring forth through him. This song of praise pours forth from within his experience of God. Only someone who knows God can write a text such as this, compose a song such as this. David knows what he’s talking about.
And what does he know? It’s right there toward the center of the song in verses 8 & 9: “The LORD (that is, Yahweh) is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Yahweh is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”
That’s it. The center of the psalm, the center of David’s faith, the center of biblical faith; it stood at the center of Jesus’ faith and ministry. God is gracious and merciful-abounding in steadfast love—unswerving, unfaltering, persistent, committed, stubborn-love. God is good and full of compassion, abundantly compassionate toward all that God has made.
That’s it. When we know it, not just know about it, really know it—not in our heads, not in our thoughts, but in our hearts, in our souls, in our bodies, in our feet, in our guts, when we’re inside this knowledge, then everything changes, the world is transformed, and our lives are transfigured.
You can hear it, almost feel it in the psalmist’s song, sung from the depths of his heart: I will extol, praise, worship you God, I will bless your name, every day, forever and ever, for Yahweh is great and greatly to be praised, with a greatness that is unsearchable, that knows no ends. Glorious. Wondrous. Awesome. These are the words that flow from the fount of all blessing. Celebration and song come pouring forth because of Yahweh’s goodness. And not only God’s goodness, but God’s righteousness, God’s faithfulness, God’s relentless determination to love us, we who so often reject God’s love or run from it. Still Yahweh pursues you and me like a crazed lover, driven toward you with a love that will not rest until God finds you and once found, will never, ever let you go.
And when we know this is how God is toward us, our lives are changed and the world is transformed. The psalmist knows. The psalmist knows that love calls forth praise. When that happens the world is transfigured before our eyes and all becomes emblazoned with the light of God. For the psalmist the world shouts: Praise! For the psalmist the world shouts: Joy! For the psalmist the world shouts: Glory! Creation begins to speak—trees, mountains, flowers, sun and moon, women, men, children, even the stones themselves start to sing; the psalmist declares, “All your works give thanks to you, O Yahweh!” Can you hear them? Can you see them offering thanks? Can you see the world ablaze with the glory of God? That’s what God’s love does, its calls forth praise. It’s all in love, God’s love, with a capital “L.” It’s all in and through and for Love.
You know, Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) got it right. African-American novelist and anthropologist, got it right when she said, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” And then suddenly you discover a world all around you, people, neighbors, beautiful faces, but also faces of people whose hearts are wounded and broken…people in need, who hunger for what you hunger for, who dream of knowing what you have discovered, something of God’s love and faithfulness.
Love calls forth praise. But it doesn’t stop there. Love then calls forth acts of service. When you know how God is toward you, you then reach out to the world, you can’t help it. It just happens. Because Yahweh is faithful and gracious, upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down, because that’s what Love does, that’s what we find ourselves doing, it’s what we’re called to do, it’s what Christ calls us to do.
It’s what we’re doing as a church. We call it mission, but it’s really love. It’s Love in action. Everything we do is mission; everything we do is in the name of Love. We search for the one who is falling and we hold her up. We notice the one whose life is falling apart, coming unhinged and we reach out and hold him. We find the ones who are bowed down, oppressed and depressed, alone and scared, weighed down by life, by trauma, by natural disaster, by circumstance, by sin, and we raise them up, and we hold them, and we heal them, and we embody the steadfast love of God.
In love Yahweh provides for our every need, “food in due season.” That’s what God’s Love pours forth from within us. We, too, provide “food in due season.” Casseroles for the homeless shelter; the church school collects jars of peanut and jelly, the deacons have food drives, we go on CROP walks.
Love calls forth praise. Love calls for acts of service. Love calls forth generosity. The psalmist says of God, “You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. Yahweh is just in all God’s ways, and kind in all God’s doings. Yahweh is near to all, to all who call on God in truth.” You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing. That’s what Love does and that’s what Love does in us. Love gives. It does not hold back. It pours forth. When we know God’s Love toward us we find ourselves becoming more and more generous—generous with our love, generous with our hearts and thoughts, generous with time, generous with the things that we value most, generous with our resources. We open our hearts and then we open our hands to share what we have, although we’re really only sharing what has been entrusted to us, because nothing we have or own belongs to us. It’s all sheer gifts; it’s all sheer grace, like life itself.
This is a big-hearted church and we open our hands and share what we have, all for the glory of God. You can see God’s Love at work when you go into Fellowship Hall after worship today. Love is at work through you and me through our mission partners. This is just a sampling. This congregation has a big heart and with open hands you are financially supporting what God is doing through us. This morning we celebrate and give thanks for what Love is doing through mission, locally, nationally, and globally. But Love is also at work through Christian education, children’s ministries, youth groups, adult education. It’s at work when we invite people into this community of faith, when we extend hospitality, when we share a meal. It’s at work through the deacons, through the advocacy work of the peace and justice committee, through Presbyterian Women, in weekly worship experiences, fellowship, the faithful work of the trustees, the leadership of the Session, the many interactions that take place on Sundays or during the week that we never hear about, gestures of grace, a listening ear over coffee, silent prayer.
At the risk of singing our praises too much, this really is a special congregation. We are not perfect. We are not always thoughtful or kind. We’re both sinners and saints at the same time. But there really is a lot of love here, a generosity of spirit. Many people tell me they feel it as soon as they walk into the sanctuary. Not everyone feels this way, of course. Some have shared with me that no one said a word to them before or after worship. If that was your experience, please forgive us. Still, there is something at work here. It’s the Spirit. It’s the Spirit of Christ. It’s the presence of Christ who comes to us in love and calls us to love and sends us out into the world in love.
And I am convinced that God is at work through you and me, together, that God is trying to love something into being through us, forming us and reforming us in order that we might deepen our capacity as a church to embody God’s love in the world. God expects more, not less from us, both individually and together as a church. God wants more for us. God dreams of more for us, through us. What is it? What is Love asking of us? What is Love asking of me?
This is the question we’re being asked to consider in this season of commitment. I encourage you to think on these things, to meditate on these things this week as you consider your family’s 2014 commitment and then bring your pledges to worship next week. What is Love asking of me? That’s the question. If you think about it, the question is always before us, isn’t it? The answer to this question is life itself; and hearts that know the generosity of God want to be generous, want to respond with a life of profound, unending gratitude. There’s a great line in the song “Awake My Soul,” sung by the contemporary band Mumford and Sons. There’s a lot of good theology in this song and in so many of their songs. This is the line: “…where you invest your love, you invest your life.” Awake my soul.
This congregation isn’t yours. It doesn’t belong to your pastors. It doesn’t belong to the session or deacons or trustees. The church doesn’t belong to the presbytery—well, actually, it does belong to the presbytery, but you know what I mean. It belongs to God, because we belong to God. And because we are God’s people, God’s Love is pouring forth through us.
You exist to be a conduit of that Love. That’s why you were born.
It’s Love that called you into being.
It’s Love that has saved you and claimed you.
It’s Love that has called you into community.
It’s Love that holds us together.
It’s Love that then sends us, always sending us out
with joy and praise and big hearts into the world,
in order that every soul know, know in one’s heart, that
“The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”