First Lesson: Isaiah 35:4-7a
Second Lesson: James 1:17-27
Gospel Lesson: Mark 7:31-37
Sermon Text: Psalm 146:1-8
What do a stay at home mom, a coach of a losing team, and God have in common? They all have thankless jobs. I hope the husband of the stay at home mom thanks her, but the kids she serves don’t (until they are a certain age). No baby says, “Mother, that diaper was quite full, and I am so thankful you relieved me of its oppressive weight.” The coach of the team struggling to win usually works harder than the winning coach. But for many, wins are all that count, and no one is thankful for a loss. I’m not saying it is right, but we can at least understand why thanks are few and far between for those two.
But that should never be the case with God, right? The Bible says, “in him we live and move and have our very being.” That is a fancy way of saying without him, not only would we not be anything. We wouldn’t exist. There’d be no us. He did it all – universe, solar system, world, body, mind, soul – all that he created and preserves. And all that is a gift from his hand.
That being the case, you’d think thanks from his creations would be non-stop. You’d think it’d be the 1st thing they do when they wake, something they do all day long, and the last thing they do before bed. It only makes sense, right? You say thanks to someone when they do/give something for/to you. God did EVERYTHING for human beings and God gave them EVERYTHING they’ll EVER need. Thanks should be such an obvious response to all this it shouldn’t even need to be said.
But, looking at Psalm 146, the psalmist does say it – to give thanks. And he has to say it because what should be natural – constant giving of thanks – has become unnatural. From the moment sin came into this world we went from thankful receivers to selfish takers. We started using terms like earn, deserve, and worthy. We questioned the fairness of who gets what, and noticed that what we have isn’t the exact same as what others have. And we began questioning the goodness of all these gifts. I know what I just said is general, but it is reality. And because it is, the psalmist had to write this psalm.
And in it, what does he do? He lists reason after reason for us to give thanks or, as he says it, to praise the Lord. Let’s go through them. Vs. 1: “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul.” Why praise him? Why give thanks? Because you have a soul with which you can thank him. There is only one species in all of creation that has a soul. It’s us. We are the crown of God’s creation. He wanted a special, distinct relationship with us that he did not want with the rest of his creation.
And that soul of yours is two things. 1) It is a believing soul. By God’s grace, you know Jesus, you work, and the results. 2) It is an eternal soul. When you die, that believing soul joins the Lord. On Judgment Day, body and soul will be reunited in glory. Why praise him? Why give thanks? Let your soul praise him because you have a soul with which to praise him.
Vs 2: “I will praise the Lord all my life. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.” The reason to praise and give thanks there? The life you have. You woke up today and drew breath. You ate food that nourished you. You stood on your legs to move around. Your mouth moved and talked to people. Realize your brain and body working together is a supercomputer the likes of which we won’t even come within a million miles of replicating in a lab. Life, your life, is a precious gift from God.
And that life is filled with precious, precious blessings, things for which to be thankful. We’ll focus on spiritual in a second, so just think about earthly things. You came from a family. Maybe you are married. Maybe you have kids. You have talents and skills to get a job. You have a home, a car, and a circle of friends. You know your personal list, the things that God has given you in your life. Isn’t that reason to praise him all life long, to be thankful as long as you live?
Vs. 3: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.” The reason to praise and give thanks here? God isn’t like anyone else. Leaders of nations come and go. And before they go, they often fail and make mistakes. They mess up. And in time, for all but a select few, no one ever remembers they existed. They are, at best, tiny footnotes in history.
But our God can be trusted. He has always been and he will always be. He never screws or messes up. He never has to apologize for a mistake or swallow his pride and admit an error. His faithfulness, his love, his grace are constant. Due to that, vs. 5 couldn’t be more true: “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.” Our help and hope, our never-failing rock, our mighty foundation – isn’t that a reason to praise and give thanks non-stop?
Vs. 6: “He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them…” Do you realize how amazing creation is, even after the fall into sin? The vastness, the beauty, the attention to details – it is mind blowing. More from vs. 6: “He remains faithful forever.” Like we just said, God will never change. Vs. 7: “He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free.” God is a 100%er. 100% of people he looks over. 100% of people he cares for. 100% of people are known by him and loved by him.
Are you getting the point? Everywhere we look and in every area of our lives, we have every reason – EVERY REASON – to give thanks perpetually and constantly. I know I could have said that with a lot less words, but I wanted it to sink in about how blessed we are, and how worthy of our praise and thanks our God is.
So what’s the problem? You know the problem. The problem is that I have to preach this sermon at all, to you or to myself. I would like to stand up here and say that I never fail to be thankful, that I praise the Lord night and day for all the blessings he has given me, and that it people were asked to describe me in one word, that word would be “appreciative.”
And to drive this home, let’s do an experiment. I’ll probably never say this in church again, but if you have a phone with you, take it out. My number is on the screen. If you are willing, text me a few things you’ve complained about lately. You don’t have to add your name. You can if you want so I have your contact info in my phone. These can be little complaints, like the weather is too hot or lights are too long by Culver’s, or big complaints about job or a relationship. (Read texts)
I know we almost view complaining as a God-given birthright. But what is complaining? It is not being happy about what we have or about a situation we are in. Well, who is in control of everything? Who runs everything? Who is the boss? You better get this right because we spent 6 minutes outlining it. It, of course, is God. And when we complain, what are we doing? We are accusing him of not caring. We are telling him we know better. We are acting like we should be in charge. And, to tie it into our focus today, when we complain, we are not praising, and we are not being thankful.
I know complaining sounds like such a small thing, but it isn’t. We are believers, but there is still that sinful residue we talked about before lurking in our hearts. Hear that part again… From the moment sin came into this world we went from thankful receivers to selfish takers. We started using terms like earn, deserve, and worthy. We questioned the fairness of who gets what, and noticed that what we have isn’t the exact same as what others have. And we began questioning the goodness of all these gifts. That is not praise. That is not thanks. Let’s call it what it is. It is sin. It is the opposite of praise. It is unthankfulness, unappreciation. And not one of us here can say we aren’t caught smack dab in the middle of all this, as red-handed as red-handed comes.
And for that reason, take these words to heart as I pray them… “Lord, for not being appreciative for all that you have done, forgive us. Forgive us for failing to give thanks for the believing soul your placed in us. Forgive us for failing to praise you for the gift of this world and our lives in it. Forgive us for thinking you haven’t given us enough when it comes to things of this world. Forgive us for comparing what we have with what others have and not being content. Forgive us for our greedy hearts and forgive us for putting too much focus on ourselves and on stuff instead of on you. And forgive me for complaining about all this instead of giving you the praise and thanks you absolutely deserve. Amen.”
Not fun to admit that, but what I said is true – for all of us. And even now, when our consciences are hurting, we still have reason to give thanks, reason to praise. Back to our Psalm. Vs. 8: “The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.” Haven’t we put the blinders on, failing to see the amount and the goodness of God’s gifts? And didn’t we just bow down in humility and admit that too often we aren’t the thankful people we should be? So what does our Lord do? He takes the blinders off, again reminding us of all we have. He lifts us up from our position of lowliness and brings us to his level. Why would he do this? Finish the verse. “The Lord loves the righteous.”
Righteous (which is another word for holy)? Me? Yes, you. And you know why? Because of the greatest thing for which we can and will be thankful – the work of our Savior. Think about all that we have said about sin – our sin – since we started the sermon. Think about all the areas of our lives where sin is present and rears its ugly head. Think about the amount of sins – be they sins of a lack of appreciation or any other sins – should be on our record. But they aren’t. And we are righteous and loved by the Lord. How?
You know. Thank God you know. We have talked about so many gifts from God today, so many things for which we should be thankful. But you know what is at the tippy top of the list, at the summit of the mountain. It is the cross and everything it stands for. On that cross, our Savior took every single sin – complaints, whining, greed, self-love – all of them. And he paid for every single one of them. The price was his life – his holy, perfect life – but it was a price he willingly paid. He became nothing, that we might have everything.
And we do. We are righteous. We are holy in God’s eyes. It is as if we have never, ever sinned. We can call God our Father, we can call ourselves his children, and we can call heaven our true home. In Christ, God opened our eyes to all these blessings. In Christ, we have been set free. And in Christ we have been lifted up to a status that would have been impossible for us to attain – status as a dearly loved member of the family of God.
Pastors are always accused of repeating themselves too much (and sometimes that’s fair). To avoid doing that, take out your phones again. This time, text things for which you are thankful – be they big or small. (Read a bunch of texts)
That is what God wants. That is what the psalmist wants. And that is what the righteous part of us, the believing part of us wants as well. So let’s not treat God the way people unfairly treat the stay at home mom or the struggling coach. Let us instead count our blessings on a daily basis, and as that total skyrockets each day, praise and thank the gracious Lord who made all that your reality. Amen.