This sermon was delivered at our “Public Service of Praise & Thanksgiving” for recovery from COVID-19, July 25, 2021.
A Few Words
As we prepare to look at Psalm 100 together and as we continue to give thanks and praise to God through listening to his preached Word, I want to first offer a few words.
Firstly: as we pour our worship today, we don’t do so glibly. When we think on the massive world-wide impact of COVID, before we talk about its effect on the Church (and our church), we first acknowledge and realize that many have lost their lives. And we mourn that loss. The Church laments with the world. We know so well that we are not impervious to suffering. I go back to the words I wrote to New Creation on March 17, 2020: “Creation continues to groan inwardly because of its bondage to corruption and decay (Romans 8:20-23). The saints experience this groaning along with the rest of the world. As St. Augustine said, the church is “with, for, and against” the world. We suffer with, weep with, and mourn with the rest of our culture as we see and experience this virus as an expression of life in a fallen world.”
I have walked with family members as grandparents have died, not with not loved ones around their bed, but isolated behind thick glass and walls. I have watched my parents try to navigate the healthcare system, lost in the chaos and upheaval of the pandemic. Some here have loved ones who had a close call with COVID.
St. Paul tells us that we grieve, but not as those who have “no hope” (1 Thess. 4:13). What many neglect to see in this verse is that we are given permission to grieve. We do grieve, even still today. And we are given a place to take our grief: the pierced hands and feet of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Secondly: I realize that there are many places in the world who have not experienced recovery from COVID in the same way we have. Indeed, a priest in our Diocese who lives abroad recently wrote of life under a new 42 day lockdown in Uganda. For many, the frustrations and limitations of life under COVID continue.
But for us here to remain silent, would also be wrong. As we turn to Psalm 100, we see that we must speak of all that God has done for us. So that let us do that now.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing unto you, O Lord, our Rock and Redeemer. Amen.
Psalm 100 is a “Golden Oldie” of a psalm if there every was one. It is known as the “Jubilate” in the Prayer Book, calling all people to jubilant worship in the Morning Prayer service. It has been set to what is probably one of the most famous hymn settings of all time in the “Old Hundreth” (you know it as the Doxology). C.H. Spurgeon said that “nothing can be more sublime this side of heaven than the singing of this noble Psalm by a vast congregation.”
This great Psalm is basically a psalm in two parts: it is first an invitation to all people to praise, serve, love, thank, and obey the living God. Secondly, that invitation is grounded in who God is and what he has done. Let’s look at those in turn.
The Invitation (vs. 1 and 3): Come!
v. 1“O be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.”
This psalm calls people everywhere to shout with joy, serve with gladness, and to show up in his presence with a song. As we think about our Day of Thanksgiving and Praise for recovery, it calls us to do what should be the most natural thing in the world: to give glory to God!
Verse three goes out like a megaphone into the world, calling all into the temple of the Lord, “O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise!” And, if you listen carefully to the Psalm, you’ll find that’s it’s the Church’s lips that are at the loudspeaker. The people of God are the ones in this psalm calling the world to worship.
Patrick Henry Reardon writes, “This psalm’s invitation to worship is directed to the very catholicity of the world. ‘Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth!’ we say. When the people of God, ‘the sheep of His pasture,’ assemble to rejoice in His presence and enter His courts with praise, there is always an evangelical summons implied in the action. We believers are priests; we stand in, as it were, on behalf of the whole world. No one is to be excluded from our prayer, because no one is excluded from the heart of Christ.” (Christ in the Psalms)
Our worship today is, at were, before the face of the world. The question is, will our world come? The question is, why aren’t the churches full? Have we, as a people, as a nation, learned the lesson of COVID? Have we been broken of our imagined autonomy and sovereignty? Will we repent and turn to the Lord? Let’s look at verse two.
The Reason (vs. 2 and 4): Behold Our God!
v.2 “Be assured that the Lord, he is God; it is he that has made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”
The invitation to worship God is grounded in the fact that our lives are “given.” We are not our own. We are not autonomous. We proceed under his blessing. Many are not here today to take part in this joyful celebration because they believe the lie of autonomy. Listen, and you will hear it just about everywhere today.
In the movie Imitation Game, a team of World War II era British code-breakers are tasked with the seemingly impossible mission of decoding the German Enigma machine, used to encrypt military communication. Thanks to the work of Alan Turing, a brilliant and eccentric co-laborer, they crack the code, unlocking German transmissions and helping to turn the tide of the war.
What most caught my attention was Turing’s voiceover at the end of the movie. In it he expresses an approach to life that is antithetical to the “giveness” of life found in verse two. Here’s what he said:
“The War dragged on. Every day we performed our blood-soaked calculus. Every day we decided who lived and who died. Every day we helped the Allies to victories, and nobody knew. Was I God? No, because God didn’t win the war: we did.”
Now, when we think about recovery from COVID-19, I have a sense that that is remarkably close to the sentiment of many today. We did the hard work of closing down business, social distancing, wearing masks and all the rest. We tested and retested and developed and mass-produced the vaccines in record time. We won the war. What’s God got to do with it?
Everything. Not only every single, solitary breath, but all the blessing of intellect, ingenuity, economy and society are unfurled from God’s hand. “It is he that has made us, and not we ourselves.”
The People of God stand in the for the world, calling the world around to come to its senses and do what they were made to do: praise the living God! Again, in verse two it is the Church that praises God! This Psalm is part of the “Exodus Collection”, a group of psalms that look backward and recall God’s deliverance and creation of Israel out of Egypt. Verse two grounds the praise of God in what he has done.
Just as Israel did then, we, today, know the blessing of being his people. We know what it means to be sheep in the pasture of our Good Shepherd. We have walked backwards through COVID looking back upon the faithfulness of God in the cross of Jesus Christ, given a confidence that we invite others to share. Do you remember what I said to you at the beginning of COVID? I say it again today. There two great words spoken over the life of every Christian, and they have carried us all to this point: there is “Peace be with you” at the beginning and “Death where thy sting?” at the end. Those two words are enough to set us praising!
James Boice writes, “Regardless of what may happen to us, we are still his. Troubles inevitably will come. But it is no matter. We are his. We may lose a job. We are his. Sickness may come. We are his. Suppose death should come into our immediate family. We are still his, and we will always be his.” (Psalms, vol. 2) Today we come into his presence, we give him the praise because our highest good is God himself, our Shepherd! We shout it out for all the world to hear and receive!
I began by saying this psalm is a Golden Oldie, but it’s also Ever New. The last verse captures this, rooting the call to praise in who God is: “For the Lord is gracious (or “good”), his mercy (or “steadfast love”) is everlasting, and his truth (or “faithfulness”) endures from generation to generation.”
Paul Kretzmann writes, “His truth, the faithfulness of His promises and of His love, endureth to all generations, from one generation to the next, as long as the world will stand, every new generation of believers learning and proclaiming this wonderful song of praise in honor of Jehovah the Messiah, as it will be sung also throughout eternity.” (Popular Commentary)
As Archbishop Foley puts it, the Lord is renewing his church in every generation. Do we wish more were here to celebrate with us today? Absolutely. And the gracious call to come in continues! But we know the tide of praise will never run dry on planet earth. Because of who our God is and what he is done, it will flow high and wide until Kingdom come in Christ our Lord. Amen.