This is the sermon for New Year’s Eve. The sermon text is: Psalm 116:1-11. The sermon theme is: Call On The Name Of The Lord. Here is the Written Sermon.
Call On The Name Of The Lord
Call on the name of the Lord. When I think of this phrase I think of a story I heard years ago. The story was about the art of translation. A person told me that translating one language into another is like biology class. You’ll remember back to those days in high school. And how was it that you were supposed to learn about how beautiful and wondrous God’s creation of a frog was? The first thing you did was kill it. Then after there was no more life left you then took out a scalpel and cut it apart. Translation can end up being the same sort of thing. There is the danger that when we take these words from their original language and try to convey the beauty of it in english we can end up killing the meaning of the word.
I mention this because there is so much meaning and beauty in that phrase, call on the name of the Lord. We first see it being used in the book of Genesis. The descendants of the unbelievers went to work learning about food, technology and arts. That was their life. That was their god. But the believers—what did they spend their time in? They began to call on the name of the Lord.1 That phrase means more than you might expect. It means to call to the Lord. It means to call based on the name of the Lord. We would call this preaching. In other words, while the world was so busy and engaged in its hobbies and work, what did the believers spend their time doing? They set aside time for public worship. That is what it means to call on the name of the Lord.
This evening, our psalm is really quite simple. In these words the psalmist invites us to call on the name of the Lord in the fullness of its meaning. He invites us to call to the Lord and speak based on the Lord and his name. And, after giving us the invitation, he gives us real reasons for calling on his name: “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me; I was overcome by trouble and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “O Lord, save me!”” (Psalms 116:1–4 NIV)
The psalmist says “I love the Lord and I called out to him.” Why did he do this? Why did he call out to the Lord? He called out to him because “The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came upon me” (Psalms 116:3 NIV) You’ll notice something in how he speaks. He doesn’t give us many details, does he? We might like to know more about what he went through. But, what we do know is enough. What he went through was enough to bring him to the brink of death.
Now this torment could have been an anguish on the outside. It could have been a physical problem. He could have had a disease. He could have been wounded. But the Lord rescued him. But this problem could have instead been a problem on the inside. He could have had something so traumatic happen to him or someone around him that it caused him to doubt his faith and tempt him to despair. And so, the death he speaks of here could have been spiritual death, hell, instead of physical death.
We don’t know all the details. But what we do know is enough. What the psalmist went through was bad—very bad. But the Lord heard him. And perhaps it’s good for us to not know the details. For if we knew the details we might be tempted to say “Well, I didn’t go through that. So this part of God’s word doesn’t apply to me.” But with the wording as open as it is we can find find ourselves in them. For, if you have a pulse and if you live in this sinful world, then whether physically or spiritually, all of you have had times when death was at your door or despair almost overtook you.
And our great sin, especially tonight, as we look back at the past year, is that we know two things. We know that we have had this deep anguish in the past. And we know that the Lord has delivered us. We know these things and yet we forget. We forget that these evil events happened to us. We forget to praise and call on the one who rescued us from them.
And even when we ponder this fact these words very quickly become important to us, don’t they? For here in these words the Psalmist is doing what we so very often do not. The Lord rescued him because he called out to him. And because the Lord rescued him, now he continues to call out to him.
And with these words he invites you to call on his name too. Call on his name because you can look back in the past and see many times that he has rescued you from strangling and entangling of death. And even more times he has rescued you but you can’t see him working with his angels. All that much more so, call out to him because of what he did.
The psalmist continues though. And he answers another question we might have. If we have the question “why did the Lord rescue him,” notice what the answer is: “The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me. Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” (Psalms 116:5–7 NIV)
The Lord didn’t rescue the psalmist because he was good enough or smart enough or in any way deserved his help. The Lord rescued him because of who he is. Notice the three words the psalmist uses to describe the Lord:
- Merciful:2 Mercy is this amazing quality where God looks down on us, his fallen creation. And he has pity on us. It’s like all those people out there who never planned on having pets. But, either on the street or in their back yard they saw a dog or cat. And they knew that if they didn’t didn’t take care of it, then it would die. That is the same sort of attitude our Lord has for us.
- Righteous:3 This right here is the word that Luther stumbled on for months and years. God is righteous. God is holy. God is without flaw or sin. And the only way we can come into his presence is we are holy. And Luther was so joyous and so thankful to be taught by the Holy Spirit that the Holiness God demands he gives to us in Christ. This is the sort of God we have—one who knows how helpless we are, so he declares us “not guilty.” Then in our baptisms he clothes us with the righteousness Jesus won for us.
- Compassionate:4 This word is a very motherly sort of word. It describes the tenderness, the care and the concern a mother has for her children.
The psalmist invites us to call on the name of the Lord and worship him. He invites us to do this because of what he has done in the past. But, even more so, he invites us to do this because of who the Lord is and what he is like. He is merciful, righteous and compassionate. And then, just so that we know what he means, in the next verse, he moves on from abstract adjectives and gives examples of how the Lord shows that he is merciful, righteous and compassionate: “The Lord protects the simplehearted; when I was in great need, he saved me” (Psalms 116:6 NIV)
Simple and small. These are the two types of people the Lord guards and guides. These two words describe the humility we have. As Christians we know how weak and helpless we are. We also know that it is not our job and task to get vengeance. It is not our goal to get even. So, day by day, we learn to call on the name of our Lord. We learn to go to him when we need justice. We learn to cry out to him who is perfectly able to make things right and fair.
Years ago, I remember visiting one of my shut-ins. She was a widow. But every month I stopped over to visit she had her bible on the desk and the offering envelope on top of her bible. She suffered from health problems on the outside and loneliness on the inside. But she had joy and strength in her Lord. For she had learned what the psalmist here sings about. Her goal in her life was not to be more and more self-sufficient. No, instead, her goal was to be more and more Christ-dependent. And so she called on his name daily.
My prayer for you this evening is that the Holy Spirit would continue to give this sort of attitude to you. Call on the name of the Lord. Call on his name because of what he has done for you in the past. But also call on his name because of who he is. He is merciful, righteous and compassionate. And he shows it by guarding the simple and small. Amen.
1 Gen. 4:26
Image courtesy of Stock Xchnge