Sermon for June 16th, 2019

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Psalm 103:1-22

Of David.
1 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name.
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and do not forget all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the Pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good as long as you live
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works vindication
    and justice for all who are oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses,
    his acts to the people of Israel.
8 The Lord is merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always accuse,
    nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
    nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as the heavens are high above the earth,
    so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion for his children,
    so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.
14 For he knows how we were made;
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 As for mortals, their days are like grass;
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting
    on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.

19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
    and his kingdom rules over all.
20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    obedient to his spoken word.
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
    his ministers that do his will.
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
    in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.

Psummer of Psalms II - 103

For those of you who carefully read our church's online newsletter, the E-Pistle, and observed that today I would be preaching on Psalm 91... don't worry. That's next week's sermon. Today, however, I'm going a little off script, a little off plan, because it's father's day. And I wanted to preach on a good, father's day psalm. But first, since it's father's day and I am a father, I thought I would take this once-a-year opportunity to indulge in a truly fatherly pursuit: The Dad joke. I have ten of them, actually. With absolutely no connection whatsoever to today's sermon, other than the fact that they bring great joy to... well... me. And Dads like me all around the world.

So here goes:

1. What do you call a fish without eyes? Fsh.

2. What do you call a nose without a body? Nobody knows.

3. What do you call an elephant that doesn't matter? Irrelephant.

4. What do you call a dog that can do magic tricks? A labracadabrador.

5. What do you call a person who loves to tell Dad jokes but doesn't have children? A faux pa!

6. After dinner, my wife asked if I could clear the table. I needed a running start, but I made it!

7. My daughter asked me if I was alright, and I said, "No, I'm half left."

8. I told my son I was named after Thomas Jefferson… He said, “But dad, your name is Neal.” I said, “I know, but I was named AFTER Thomas Jefferson.”

9. Last night Amy and I watched three movies back to back. Luckily I was the one facing the Television.

10. I only recognize 25 letters in the English language. I don’t know why.

11. Can a kangaroo jump higher than the Empire State Building? Of course. The Empire State Building can't jump.

I don't think there are any Dad jokes in the Book of Psalms, but in the NRSV translation of the Bible, the word "Father" does occur six times. Three of those occurrences are rather negative, as in Psalm 109, "May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the Lord and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out."

The other three are more favorable references, including verse 13 of this Psalm: "As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him."

The word compassion, in Hebrew, is רָחַם (racham), which in its broadest sense, simply means "love." A father loves his children, and in the same way, God loves those who fear him. In this context, the word fear (Hebrew יָרֵא - yarah) doesn't mean terror or distress in the negative sense, but rather the awe or amazement in which a small child regards its parents.

As a father loves his children (and protects them, and takes care of them) so the Lord loves (and protects, and takes care of) those who look up to him in wonder and in gratitude.

Psalm 103 is a Psalm of thanksgiving for that kind of love. It's also a model how to express gratitude and thanksgiving. Why is that important to us? That's why.

A recent Forbes magazine article entitled "The Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude" cites the following:

In a 2012 study, people who intentionally practiced acts of gratitude each day experienced "fewer aches and pains and reported feeling healthier than other people" in the control group.

In addition to physical health, are psychological benefits: According to researcher Dr. Robert Emmons, in multiple studies on the links between gratitude and well-being, gratitude "reduces a multitude of toxic emotions, ranging from envy and resentment to frustration and regret."

A 2012 study from the University of Kentucky found that gratitude enhances empathy, sensitivity, and reduces aggression in social situations.

There are so many other similar studies, demonstrating that intentional practices of gratitude improve everything from self-esteem, mental strength, athletic performance, and even quality of sleep at night.

So you want a better, healthier, happier life? Try practicing thankfulness. And Psalm 103 guides the way.

The ascription to Psalm 103 tells us that it is a Psalm of David, who was, incidentally one of the most successful and well-loved characters in the Bible. David experienced great joy in his life as well as unspeakable tragedies, but in both his youth and his old age, he is quick to give thanks to God for all things.

David's song of thanksgiving is not, properly speaking, a prayer. He's not talking to God. He's talking to himself.

Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me bless his holy name. David is reminding himself of what's most important--to bless, or give thanks, to God. "Don't forget," he says to himself, "all the benefits" that God provides. And then in verses 3-5 he lists them. These are all personal, individual blessings, and I imagine with each one David is thinking of specific examples where God has forgiven him, healed him, saved him from danger, raised him up.

When you are practicing gratitude, start with all the things God has done specifically for you, all the things God has given to you. And then bless his name.

In the next part of the Psalm, verses 6-13, David moves from the personal to the public, expressing gratitude for all that God has done for the people under his care, the people of Israel.