This is the sermon for our Thanksgiving Eve service. The sermon text is Psalm 103:1-18. The sermon theme is: Thanking is Remembering. Here is the Written Sermon.
Thanking is Remembering
Thankfulness is a big word. When I say that thankfulness is a big word, I don’t just mean that it has a bunch of letters in the word. I mean that there’s a whole lot more to thankfulness than we usually think about. Year ago there was an elderly man who didn’t hesitate to teach people this fact. He recognized that at this time of the year people go around telling each other what they’re thankful for. And when someone would tell him that they were thankful, he would ask him one question. He would ask them, “who are you thankful to?” And with that one question, even the most hardened athiest would falter and slip and realize that there’s more to thankfulness than the word and the letters in it.
This evening we know whom we thank. We know who it is who has given us everything we have. We thank our triune God, the Lord. But we would like to know more. We would like to not just know whom we are to thank. We also want to know how we are to thank our Lord. And we find a beautiful answer to that question this evening in Psalm 103. In this psalm written by King David we learn that thanking is remembering. And so, in the opening verses of this psalm we read: “1 Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits —” (Psa 103:1–2 NIV)
David invites us to not forget. But what is it that we should not forget? We should not forget the Lord’s benefits. And it’s almost as if the answer opens up more questions than it answers. What benefits? What does the Lord mean here? In the words which follow his gives us a clear answer: “3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion” (Psa 103:3–4 NIV)
In the translation I just read we hear the words “love and compassion.” But we would know them better as grace and mercy. Each of those words describes this unique love that God has. God’s love is an unasked-for, unearned, undeserved love toward us, his sinful, fallen creation. Now, if you step back and ponder this for even a moment, you’ll notice that David urges us to thank God in a very different way than we are used to thanking God. When we thank our Lord above it is so tempting to thank the Lord for our nice car, our nice home, our nice family, or our nice TV. We find ourselves thanking the Lord for stuff. The Holy Spirit invites us to thank him by remembering the Lord’s grace and mercy. And just to make sure that we know what that mercy is like, he gives us a description of what that grace and mercy looks like in our lives: “8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. 9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever” (Psa 103:8–9 NIV)
The Lord shows his love in how he deals with his anger. The Lord is slow when it comes to getting angry. And the Lord is quick when it comes to letting go of his anger. That is what his grace and mercy looks like. And he continues with another description: “11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psa 103:11–12 NIV)
Notice the separation. How far is our sin separated from us in Christ? As far is heaven is apart from earth; As far as the east is separated from the west—that is how far and how fully our Lord forgives us.
We can only begin to grasp this when we contrast his love to ours. How often are we quickly angered? How often to we hold onto that anger and the grudge that comes with it? How often do we ‘bury the hatchet’ with the handle still sticking out of the ground so that we can dig it up again later on?
The Lord does not love as we so often love and he does not forgive as we so often forgive. He loves those who do not deserve his love. He forgives those who do not deserve to be forgiven. And he remembers our sins no more.
That is how we thank our Lord on this day. We thank him by pondering those two words, grace and mercy. We remember how much and how fully he has forgiven us in Christ. But the words continue. There is still more ways we thank our Lord. David writes: “13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust” (Psa 103:13–14 NIV)
We thank the Lord by remembering what he remembers. And just what is it that the Lord knows that we don’t? He remembers that we are dust. What can dust do? The answer is so simple and so sadenning: nothing. There is nothing that dust can do. It is powerless. And David goes on to show us just how powerless we really, truly are: “15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” (Psa 103:15–16 NIV)
When you mow your lawn in the spring, do you remember the blades of grass you cut? You don’t think of what is happening when you cut one of those blades of grass down. You don’t think of how it grew up. You don’t think of what happens to it after you cut it. It dies and nobody even knows where it dies, because it’s grass.
It’s the same with you. If the Lord delays in coming, then you will die. And a couple of generations down the road no one will remember the person that is under your grave stone. No one will remember that you are dust and ashes—No one except the Lord. And notice how fully he remembers how weak and powerless you are: ““But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Psa 103:17 NIV)
I remember years ago a woman who was dying. And she had been dying for years. The Lord was giving her every sign under the sun that it was time to take her home. But she still clung to this life. Why? Was it because of all that she would give up in this life? No. Was it because she was afraid of death? No, she was looking forward to heaven. Why then? She was concerned about her children. Who would take care of them when she was gone? Who would remind them what God’s word said? Who would encourage them to get to church, read their bibles and go to bible study?
How comforting these words are to people in that situation. The Lord is the one who will remember. He will remember to share his word to your children and to their children after them.
For all of this then we thank our Lord. We thank him by remembering his mercy. We thank him by remembering what he remembers: that we are dust. And what we cannot do for ourselves, he will do for us. And finally, we thank him one final way: “with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts” (Psa 103:18 NIV)
We thank the Lord by remembering to obey his precepts. I am beginning to realize that there are many people who treat the Lord as if he were a drill bit. You buy a new desk or cabinet and you have to put it together. But they use this weird drill bit. So what do you do? You go out and get that drill bit and use it. But then, after the cabinet is put together you put the drill bit in a drawer and then forget about it.
The Lord isn’t a drill bit. But there are so many who treat God like one. They go to a wedding or a funeral and hear the saving word of salvation. And instead of letting that be an invitation to know the one true, Triune God, they put the Lord away in a box in their soul. And when times get tough and when the health fails, then they’ll take God out again. But, what if, when you’ve put God into that box in your soul you forget. You forget where he was and who he was? Then on that last day you will panic in terror and he will say “I never knew you.”
My dear brothers and sisters, that is why I am so very thankful to be here with you tonight. For your Lord isn’t a tool to you. He is the living Lord and Saving God. Jesus has sent us his Holy Spirit to create faith. And with this knowledge of God and trust in him we both listen to his word and live our entire lives in line with it.
So this evening, know that thanking is remembering. We remember the Lord’s mercy. We remember what he remembers: that we are dust. We remember that thanking him means listening to his word and living in his word. Amen.
Image courtesy of Stock Xchnge.