“A Countercultural Lesson”
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Dr. Robert J. Anderson
March 29, 2015


Today we continue our journey through the Lenten Season looking at Old Testament passages, rather than the more usual New Testament Passages that are often chosen.


Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday as it is also known, is the day the church celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entry into the holy city and the beginning of the last week leading up to the crucifixion and beyond to Easter!  We are familiar with Jesus sending a couple of disciples into the city to secure a donkey upon which he will ride into the city.  The disciples find it just as he said they would, and they bring the donkey to Jesus.  Jesus gets on the donkey and rides down the hillside from the Mt. of Olives.  People begin to line the way and shout Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Palm branches are cut and waved!  People take off their cloaks and lay them in the path.  The religious leaders tell Jesus to make the people “hush up,” but he replies that if that happened the rocks would shout out the praise!


Today I want to turn away from the familiar to the less familiar.  The unfamiliar is Old Testament passages.  Yet, Psalm is a familiar one.  “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever!”  (NRSV)


Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his steadfast love endures forever!  Psalm 118 is clearly a psalm about God.  God is named 12 times in the 13 verses we read today.  God’s attributes are laid before us: goodness, enduring love, and answer to distress.


God’s steadfast love endures forever!  Woven in verses 5-18 are life experiences that include a cry for help to acclamation of deliverance: an anguished cry for help, surrounded by nations pressing in on every side, swarming like bees, pushed to the breaking point with the back up against the wall, and shouts of victory resound, for the Lord has done many things!


Who among us hasn’t had an anguished cry? A spouse, a child, a parent, a family member, a close friend dies.  The car slides on the wet pavement, wet leaves, or snow or ice and lives are changed in an instant and forever!  Everything seems to be going well, but we are living from paycheck to paycheck when something happens and the checks stop.  We get sick, injured, laid off.  And, an anguished cry comes out of our mouths, so anguished that it doesn’t sound like our voice!  We’ve felt surrounded by people pressing in on every side, swarming like bees, and we were frightened.  Maybe we were the only white person in a room full of people of color.  Maybe you were the only person of color in a room full of white people.  Perhaps you attended a business meeting where you were the only woman.  Maybe you walked to your car when a group of young people approached and you walked a little quicker, held your bags a little closer.  May be you went to your first day of school and didn’t know anybody.  Whatever the situation you felt surrounded by people pressing in on every side and you were frightened!


At some point you felt pushed to the breaking point.  Your back was up against the wall; you were caught between a rock and a hard place: a husband recovering from surgery, a sick relative, trying to work, and company coming, too many demands at work and too little time to do them.  Your plate is over full, your back is breaking; you’ve reached your limit.  People are getting on your last nerve!  We cry out in anguish, fear, and frustration and God hears and sets us free.  God helps us.  God heals us.  God comforts us.  God strengthens us.  Think of the times you said, “God got me through it!”  Or, I couldn’t face the week without God in my life.  God’s steadfast love endures forever!  We feel it!  We’ve experienced it!  We live for it and in it! 


In spite of it all, slavery in Egypt, wondering in the wilderness, unfaithfulness, God’s love endures!  God is active in the present in the lives of the faithful.  We are confident of God’s saving love in the present, because we’ve seen it in the past.  We have seen God at work in our lives in our yesterdays; so we believe he is active in our lives today (even when we can’t see it), and he will be active in our lives in all of our tomorrows!


Look how God reverses the seeming irreversible.  Israelites had their backs against the Red Sea when God parts the waters and they escape the pursuing Egyptian army.  The homeland is destroyed.  The temple lies in ruins; the king is carried off in chains.  Everything that was visible about their faith was gone, and God brought a remnant home to start again!  A tiny baby is born in Bethlehem, and people thought he was the long-awaited king.  Then Herod killed all of the boys in town, but Jesus escaped!  A large crowd followed Jesus into the countryside for a day of learning and at dusk they were hungry.  From two fish and five loaves Jesus fed over 5,000 people.  Peter’s mother-in-law died, the soldier’s son died, and people were mourning; but Jesus breathed life into them again!  Lazarus lay in the tomb for four days, but Jesus called him out to life!  Jesus was beaten, crucified, and buried; but God called him forth on resurrection Sunday!


We look back over our lives and see God’s hand in it:  a hand of comfort, power, and transformation.  In the midst of tragedy, we emerged stronger.  In the midst of sorrow, we found hope.  We made the right choice, said the right thing did the right thing.  God present and active!


Thanksgiving is the appropriate response to all that God has done and does.  The Psalmist, confident in God’s steadfast love and saving mercy, loudly proclaims “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  Giving thanks to God is an act of prayer.  Giving thanks to God is a reminder to the community that each new day is a gift from God.  Because of what God has done there is reason for hope in the future.  That hope is what stands beside us in whatever life throws our way, welcomes us into relationship with him.  It is hope that God acts for the benefit of all in spite of what it may look like that gives us the ability to step into the future not alone!  Hope and thanksgiving spring from the same source and it is God.  Hope and thanksgiving give us energy and reason to move into the fullness of life that is full of the saving presence of God.


The Psalmist calls us to rousing worship of thanksgiving!  “Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the Lord.”  This is counter cultural.  We live in an age where thankfulness and gratitude are not often found.  You hear more about entitlement than gratitude; where more “selfies” are taken than pictures of others.  We want what we want when we want it and believe we are entitled to all we want.  And, when we get what we wanted, we don’t think of gratitude; it is just what we expected to receive.


According to Clinton McCann and James Howell, the Psalmist underscores how important it is to hear the message of gratitude and praise.  In an age of social isolation and lack of connectedness the message of the psalm needs to be heard.  In age of rampant greed, there is a simple lesson, and that is how to say “thank you.”  And, we need to learn to say “Thank you” not just because it is good manners, but because we are learning the countercultural lesson of gratitude.  Life is a gift, and the things we have are gifts.


The Psalm sets our lives in the context of God’s enduring love.  Our experiences and our possessions are set in the context of God’s enduring love.  God’s enduring love enables us to know that in whatever happens, God’s love is faithful, and it endures forever.  God’s enduring love and our gratitude has a lot to say about how we view possessions.  Prosperity isn’t entitlement, it is stewardship and gratitude.  You and I are called to live a life of gratitude and joy because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  We are to greet each new day with gratitude and joy.  We close each day with gratitude and joy.  We greet each person with gratitude and joy.  The joys and the sorrows are to be embraced with gratitude and joy.


Give thanks to the Lord for he is good and his love endures forever.  This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.