Learning to give thanks in the moment
1 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
5 For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100 ESV)
Like meeting people who always seem happy – maybe even insufferably so – reading parts of the Bible can seem like it’s not for us. To be told to make a joyful noise when we’re not joyful is confronting. For that moment we don’t relate to it – or it makes us think – maybe about times when we have served the Lord with gladness or it encourages us to serve with gladness in the future. Some Sundays we might come into his presence with singing but other Sundays it’s definitely with sighing. To be told how to behave is always contextual. How does this Bible verse apply to me at this point in time?
But the Bible also tells us about relationships – the relationship itself, not how we should feel or react or behave – and those messages are true whenever we read them. Know that the Lord is God. He made us. We are sheep to his shepherd. And then above all – For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
So when we read the Bible we hear often two messages. One speaks to us in our moment, our situation, our context, our emotions, our hormones – and because we live in the moment – now – we hear these verses variously – relevant, irrelevant, speaking to us, encouraging us, mocking us. The other message is about our relationship with God or God’s relationship with us and there is usually an objective quality here because it is stating truths or facts that are not subject to emotion in the same way that I can say that I am married (truth – fact) whether Charlotte and I are happy in the moment or fighting in the moment.
Because psalms are personal they often express the now and assume or are based on the fact of the relationship. Jesus would cry out the beginning of Psalm 22 on the cross – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? – and in doing so express both his now moment, how he felt – forsaken – and the relationship with God – ‘my God’.
Today’s psalm is Psalm 100 and it doesn’t have a known author but it does have a description or a context ‘A psalm for giving thanks’. It Is a psalm that is not spoken to God per se – although, of course, God hears everything – but it is spoken to other people – and not just the other people who know this God but to all the Earth! This is a psalm of thanks from God’s people to the world encouraging them to join in with the giving of thanks. It’s like celebrating good news with your neighbours some of whom may be related to you but others are not, they know you because of proximity.
For the psalmist and the people of Israel, this psalm is fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham that through his descendant all the world will be blessed. And now Abraham’s descendants are calling the world – that’s the proximity in view here – to give thanks for creation first of all and then later Christians will add salvation to the story.
So we have a call to give thanks which we hear in our context, with our historical perspective and sometimes we can find it easier to do than at other times. But it is something God’s people have been doing for over 3,000 years – this psalm is probably about that old – giving thanks and encouraging the world to join in … whether facing famine or a bumper harvest … whether you were born in 1929 which by the end of the year was well into what became known as the Great Depression or in 1939 when the storm clouds of war were gathering or 1949 when the war was over and rationing wasn’t going to last forever or 1959 when babies and the economy were booming or 1969 with the achievement of the Moon Walk, Woodstock, and social revolutions or … you get my drift.
The world and the reasons for giving thanks will always be changing. It was for the Old Testament people too but what they learnt was that God was the constant, that he was faithful and that he had their personal and their communal and their long term best interests at heart. That’s something to stop and think about – that God who has made us wants the best for us but he won’t turn us into puppets, switch our brain off, and make us do his will but he calls us, guides us, gives us words to follow and we choose how we behave and many of those choices we may come to regret but God patiently stays by us bringing good out of all things. Should we get depressed by our lives, God doesn’t despair. Should we feel trapped by our behaviours, addictions, poor choices, God never tires of setting the captives free. Should we forget God and his goodness then he doesn’t sulk but waits patiently for us to return. And through all our behaviour, God is weaving good things while he lets us feel the consequences of our actions.
And above all to help us God established the means for us to be forgiven, to have new starts and that occurred through worship and the sacrificial system we know throughout the Old Testament. All of that – temple, sacrifices, blood, altars, regular offerings, priests – will be fulfilled and made for all the Earth in the person Jesus who will become the temple, the sacrifice, and the priest so that people – you and me – and again, all the Earth – can rejoice and give thanks for God’s presence with us during the week and this gives us a confidence to come to worship because we are not coming to an unknown God but to God who has established a relationship with us through Jesus Christ. That is why this psalm has a fulfilment in Jesus Christ. And thanksgiving – from the Greek we hear the word today ‘Eucharist’ – is not just us looking up or talking to those around us – but even here God leads it as he still gives himself to us in bread and wine – and we focus on Jesus.
Jesus has dealt with what plagues us most – sin, fear, and death – which swirl around and within us – and plague us by robbing us of life – sucking the life from us so to speak to make us human husks, the living dead. But Jesus gives us his life – forgives sin, casts out fear with love, and defeats death’s power – so that we can face our now moments fully alive and give thanks. It is an amazing – almost out of this world – way to live.
- Psalm 100