“I will continually sing hymns of thanksgiving” (Sirach 51.11)
This year, 2020, has been a long, challenging year, for a great many people. Not only disciples of Jesus but those who are not. Not only for those in the United States but those in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and literally around the globe. It is not the first pandemic that has ravaged humanity in history but COVID-19 is certainly the biggest in my lifetime. This has been a year where many of us have learned a great deal about ourselves and what we are willing to endure for the sake of loving the neighbors around us.
But even with the challenge of this year, as we enter into November, we have so much to be thankful, indeed grateful, for.
May I recommend a short reading to you. I want to urge you to read Psalm 103 and Psalm 111 tonight and even tomorrow. Read them out loud. Let the Spiritual words of the Psalm flow through your lips.
Thanksgiving bubbles to the surface of anyone who is genuinely grateful for what has been received. I hold it as a spiritual truth that the depth of Israel’s thanksgiving is living testimony to the profound depth of their experience of grace in the Hebrew Bible. The extent of our own thanksgiving likewise reveals the depth of our knowledge of grace. Thanksgiving is directly proportional to our knowledge of being graced.
Sometimes, we resist public (and even private) thanksgiving because it “demands” an “embarrassing awareness” that we are on the receiving end of gifts that are essential to life. These gifts we neither merit nor come close to earning. This is why the line between “thanksgiving” and “praise” is so often extremely fine. The more we know we exist by the grace of God, every second of the day, the more pervasive thanksgiving dominates our lives.
Psalm 103 (and 111) is pure thanksgiving to Yahweh, the God of Israel. The Psalm opens and closes with the imperative
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name.” (103.1)
“Praise the LORD!
I will give thanks to the LORD
with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright,
in the congregation” (111.1)
Then Psalm 103 proceeds to present a series of “benefits” that deserve our thanksgiving. For our purposes I suggest there are four as we follow the length of the Psalm.
Thankful for … “Forgiveness” (v.3f)
Ours is a world of ungrace. Besides being a world of full of COVID, the year 2020 has reminded the entire world how ungracious humanity can be. Democrats and Republicans attack each other as if possessed by rabies. Spouses hold grudges near their heart for decades. Our world is withering away in a slow agonizing death of ungrace.
We, all of us, crave to be forgiven. Yet we, all of us, have an extremely hard time forgiving. The Psalm tells us that Yahweh forgives. Forgiveness is not merely letting us off the hook. Rather forgiveness takes our broken lives and heals them from top to bottom. Grace makes us whole. We are set free by forgiveness and empowered to be a forgiver. So, we praise Yahweh,
“who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases …”
Thankful for … Renewal of Life (vv. 4-5)
An ungrateful life is hard. It sucks “life” right out of our heart. The world, and often the church, does everything it can to reduce us to mere existence rather than thriving. We become lifeless, almost like sectarian zombies. But God did not create us to merely exist but to have life to the full, as Jesus said (and Qoheleth shouts “Amen!”).
“who redeems your life from the Pit,
who crowns you with HESED [steadfast love, NRSV]
who satisfies you with good as long
as you live
so that your youth is renewed like
With Yahweh we receive renewal of life. We were in the “Pit,” living a death like existence. But we are “redeemed” out of that Pit and “renewed” like the wings of an eagle. Love and compassion are gifts of God that course through our veins making us feel new life. What a gift to be thankful for. Our lives are renewed. They are crowned with God’s HESED.
Thankful for … Love that is Gracious (v.8)
Israel is brought face to face with the “God Creed” in v.8 which came from Yahweh’s own voice in Ex 34.6.
“The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger
abounding in HESED [steadfast love, NRSV]”
When God “revealed his ways” to Moses (v.7), he revealed the depth of his HESED (i.e. steadfast love). God’s ways are Hesed ways! Hesed ways are compassion, grace, slow to anger and extremely rich in love. Hesed ways are not dolling our punishment on the basis of what we deserve but on the basis of HESED. “He does not repay us according to our iniquities.” What if this was the basis of how human beings treated one another or Christians (at the very least) treated one another.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, for his infinite HESED.
Thankful for … Covenant (v. 18)
I am so thankful that I learned what a “covenant” actually is. For years, growing up, I imagined (because I was taught) that God’s covenant was a contract. My fingers almost get leprous even writing the word “contract” next to “covenant.”
Psalm 103 knows nothing of a contract but everything about a covenant. Covenant is relationship. A relationship between a husband and wife; a relationship between parents and children. I pity the wife (or husband) or the daughter (or son) who has a spouse or parent who views him or her in the framework of a contract.
“As a father has compassion for his children,
so Yahweh has compassion for those who fear him.”
“The HESED of Yahweh is
from everlasting to everlasting”
for those who are true to his covenant of love. Why is it that God does not give us up? It is not because we earn it, deserve it, have precision obedience. God keeps us for the same reason a Parent never gives up on a daughter/son, because of his covenant of love (cf. Deuteronomy 7.7-9)! Because he is our Father.
I am so thankful for the Covenant of Love.
That is why We Thank Him (vv. 19-22).
Forgiveness. Renewal of Life. Gracious Love. The unbreakable covenant of love. These are Yahweh’s “benefits!”
So, the Psalm declares that is why we “bless” the Lord. That is why we lift our hands in praise. That is why we raise the cup of thanksgiving (116.13). This is why we gather with other people and feast at his table. This is why we “give thanks to Yahweh with our whole heart, in the company of the upright” (111.1)
Thank you, God our Father.
Thank you, Christ the Son.
Thank you, Spirit of Life.