The Works of God … In Your Life
These are confusing and difficult times: war in Afghanistan, fires out west, an earthquake in Haiti, and a resurgent virus all over. You may be struggling with personal, even private matters: your own health diagnosis, an impending divorce, the loss of a job or the death of a friend, the failure of a business.
You need this word of assurance today: God is at work in the world. God is also at work in your life. This is the promise of God. It is also the testimony of many people. It is my testimony as well.
I hope you have a testimony of what God is doing in your life right now: giving you direction, freeing you from addiction, opening up a surprising opportunity, convicting you of jealousy or anger or theft, or bringing into your life a new friend, a new community, a new faith in Jesus Christ.
Today we read a hymn from the worship of the Hebrew people perhaps 3,000 years ago. This is a song they sang. Psalm 111. It speaks of the mighty works of God.
Before I read this wonderful psalm, let me explain something. The Bible was written many, many years ago. In a land far, far away, perhaps even in a galaxy far, far away! The language it uses to speak of God is sometimes awkward for us. It must always be translated and interpreted. In this particular psalm (in most translations), the masculine pronoun is used 18 times to refer to God: 18 times in 10 verses! We know God has no gender, is not a man or a male; but it is hard for our imaginations to counter this repetitive use of him and his and he. Today, I am replacing these pronouns with the nouns to which they refer: either God, or the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is the work of God,
and God’s righteousness endures forever.
The Lord has gained renown by these wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
The Lord provides food for those who fear God;
The Lord is ever mindful of the covenant.
The Lord has shown the people the power of the works of God,
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of God’s hands are faithful and just;
all precepts of God are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
The Lord sent redemption to the people;
The Lord has commanded the covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is the name of God.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it, have a good understanding.
God’s praise endures forever.
Psalm 111 reminds us of the mighty acts of God. We need to be reminded. Our attention is often distracted by other things, by our excitements and our disappointments.
The psalm mentions three mighty acts of God. First, God provides food. Verse five reads: The Lord provides food for those who fear God. Many people fear God: that is, honor God and worship God and give God glory. This is what “fear” means in these hymns. It does not mean we are fearful of God, or that we are afraid of God, or that we cower before God as if the Lord is an irrational tyrant who favors those who are subservient.
God rules the world, including the natural rhythms of the seasons. God is the Lord of the springtime and the Lord of the harvest. God causes it to rain upon the righteous and upon the wicked, Jesus said. The crops grow for the believer and for the unbeliever, for the Christian and for the Muslim, for the righteous person and for the wicked person.
Psalm 145 takes this mighty work of God much further: The Lord is faithful in every word, and gracious in every deed. The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
This compassion of God is wide and deep. It circles the globe. It gathers into the care of God every person. God wants everyone to eat. God supplies food for everyone. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, Give us today our daily bread. God cares about eating. He wants people to have food on the table. Not just you and me. But everyone!!
We live in a wealthy country among wealthy people. I have never had a single day when I wondered if there would be enough food. That is why our calling is, yes, to pray this prayer, but also to answer this prayer. Millions all around us are praying for something to eat. Some of them will come this afternoon to Providence House, as they have for ten years. They will come to get something to eat. They may believe in God and honor God and pray to God for help. We are the answer to their prayers. This is how God feeds the faithful. This is how God feeds the righteous. This is how God feeds the poor. This is how God feeds all the people of the world, even those who disdain God, who disobey God, who dismiss God.
Do you remember what Paul the Apostle wrote to the Church in Corinth? There was a great famine in parts of the world. Paul and others appealed to those of The Way, Jesus followers, Christians to supply the needs of others. This is what he wrote: God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance so that by always having enough of everything you may share abundantly in every good work…. The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for the food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God…
God provides food to the people through us!
Second, the psalm also asserts that God provides a place for the people. This was important to the Hebrew people. Think about their story. It begins with Abraham leaving home and looking for a place. Then came hard times, and the sons of Jacob headed to Egypt looking for a place to prosper. Then bad times came in Egypt, and the major event of the entire Hebrew Bible describes the search by the Hebrew people for a place. They called it the Promised Land.
People need a place to call home. Everybody needs a place to live in peace and work in community and prosper in life. People are coming to our country every day looking for a place. People are coming to our county looking for a place. You might be looking for a place: to work, to live, to play, to serve, to be the person God wants you to be.
Sometimes people in search of a place seize the land of others. Sometimes people in search of a place seek to live in peace among the inhabitants of a place. Sometimes people in search of a place stand at the door and knock and ask for mercy and grace and hospitality and friendship and opportunity.
When I was a pastor in Pittsburgh, I was called one day by a church leader. He was a layman in a Hmong community. Hmong people are from Vietnam, Laos, and China. They were displaced by the war in Southeast Asia. Wars create many hardships, one of them being people in search for a safe place to live. Thousands of the Hmong people came to America. They eventually settled in two places: Minnesota and North Carolina. But before they gathered there, they were scattered all over North America. A large group lived in Pittsburgh. They called me and asked if I could ordain one of the leaders so they could have a minister.
Many people in search of a home have come to America. It is our duty as Christians to welcome these people, these strangers, these sojourners in search of a home. God is in the business of guiding people to their home, to their Promise Land.
In this psalm, verse six reads like this: God has shown the people the power of the work of God in giving them the heritage of the nations. Many translations word that to mean, the people have found a new home in the territory seized from another country. The Hebrew Bible actually describes just such a movement. But God’s people should never be in the business of forcing others to flee. Thirty years ago, the most Christianized country in Africa, Rwanda, erupted in civil war. They killed one another. We in the United States have a memory like that: brother against brother, church against church, state against state. It was ungodly; we are still suffering the bitter consequences of that unholy war.
God’s people should never be in the business of keeping people from finding a new home. What did Jesus say: I was a stranger, and you took me in. We remember that Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were refugees from danger and death. We recall that Jesus said, The son of man has no where to lay his head. One of the most gripping scenes in all of history is the night when Mary and Joseph read that sign, NO ROOM IN THIS INN FOR YOU. They found a place. The star led the magi to that place. And the shepherds. And the Angels. And us.
The book of Hebrews commands us this way: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers and thereby some have entertained angels unawares. I pray to God: send us some angels. Send us some strangers. Send us some people looking for a home. Make your home among us. We receive you in the name of Jesus. This is your place. Here is my testimony. God led me to Hendersonville. This year. God led me to Providence. This year. Maybe God is leading you.
Third, this psalm says God sent redemption to the people. Verse nine. Can you mark it? Can you read it? God send redemption to the people. God commanded or established the covenant forever. This is the work of God: redemption. From slavery. From ignorance. From the virus. From despair. From sin. From addiction. From death.
The great event recorded in the Christian scriptures is this: God raised Jesus from the dead. God redeemed Jesus from the dead. God redeemed Jesus from the wickedness of jealous and ignorant people. God redeems us from our prejudices, our sadness, our failures, our blindness. God sent the Spirit to pull you away from things, to push you into things, to lift you above things.
What is God doing in your life? What redemption is going on in your soul, with your family, through your work? Where is God at work with you?
It is one thing to read these psalms and note how God worked three thousand years ago or two thousand years ago or even 20 years ago. We just celebrated what we call the imagination of the Holy Spirit, by which we mean, the work of God to call into being this faithful congregation. But the question today is: what is God doing now? Here? Where we are? Where you are? What do you need to happen?
This psalm is focused on the memory and mission of the Hebrew people. It inspires all of us. But remember: God’s covenant with Israel is not the only covenant. The Bible describes God’s covenant with those who have been drawn into the community of Christ, the fellowship of the Way, the church of Jesus Christ. We call it the New Covenant. God has a covenant with us: to protect us and prepare us and send us into the world to be the hands and feet of God.
God wants to fill your life with good things; but mostly God wants to bless somebody through you. I grew up singing that great prayer: Make me a blessing to someone today. God wants to work in you; but mostly God wants to work through you: to heal and lead and help and protect; to bless and not curse; to build up and not tear down; to help and not hurt; to pray and not curse; to give and not take.
God also has a covenant with all people. Remember Noah? Remember the rainbow? Remember this word of God? When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth. God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that have established before me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
I know a lot of dog owners who smile when they hear these words! And cat lovers and horse lovers. I’m not yet convinced those pythons slithering around and out of the everglades are included in this broad and inclusive covenant. But I know this: every person of every color and creed, of every nation and state, of every status in life is precious to God. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. You remember that, don’t you?
God is in the redemption business. Is God redeeming you from something? Some habit, or memory, or relationship, or attitude? What has you in its grip? What is pulling you down?
What will those around you say: Oh, she needs an attitude adjustment! Oh, he needs to just shut up! She needs to practice grace and generosity and give people the benefit of the doubt. He needs to slow down and listen and hear what is on the hearts and minds of people instead of being so consumed with his own preferences. She needs to forgive somebody. He needs to make restitution. She needs to confess a mean spirit. He needs to get off his high horse and wash the feet of the saints. She needs to clean up her dirty mouth. He needs to see and hear the racism that seeps out in his speech. She needs to get on her knees and pray. He needs to stand up and give glory to God. Is that what somebody is saying about you?
What redemption is going on in your life? What prayer do you need to pray today? What hymn of praise do you need to sing today? Or maybe you need to sing the old spiritual: Its not my brother, not my sister but its me o lord, standing in the need of prayer, and confession, and renewal, and forgiveness, and a new spirit within me.