Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Let All the Peoples Praise You, O God!

Psalm 67 Thanksgiving gives us an opportunity to look back at the year gone by with thanksgiving for all that God has graciously done for us and provided for us—and--to look forward to the year to come with the sure hope and confident prayer that he will be the same loving Father in the future as he has been in the past.
And so, as we reflect on the blessings of the last year and give thanks to God for them, we also look forward to the year to come with confidence, knowing that our prayers for God’s provision will be met beyond what we could ever hope for or imagine:  that he will bless us spiritually and materially--that he will give us thankful hearts which recognize his gifts—and finally, that he will give us a mission to accomplish-- just as he has over this last year.  The psalmist writes:
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.
            While Thanksgiving is set aside to give thanks to God especially for material blessings, the faithful child of God cannot help but think first of all of the spiritual blessings that God gives to us --and most especially the blessings of salvation and forgiveness and eternal life that ours through faith in Jesus. 
What the psalmist and the patriarchs and the prophets had to look forward to in faith, we know as the accomplished fact of history—that God has made his saving power known to the nations by sending Jesus into this world as our Savior--dying on the cross and rising again to forgive our sins and give us eternal life.
If every other blessing from God was taken away from us on this Thanksgiving Day—the turkey and dressing—our friends and family—our health and jobs—we could still never exhaust eternity in giving thanks to God for the immeasurable, gracious gift of salvation that we have in Jesus Christ. 
It is because of Christ and Christ alone that we know beyond any shadow of a doubt what our heavenly Father’s attitude is towards us:  that his face shines upon—beaming with a Father’s love for his children.
As God’s children, he has not only provided for our salvation, he has also provided a way for us to live our life:  a way that is revealed to us in his Word—a way that we can be confident pleases his—a way that he promises to bless. 
His way is made known to us every time we hear and read the Bible.  We know how he would have us live our lives in our marriages and families and workplaces and church.  We know what sorts of things we ought to value and what we ought to avoid.  We know what pleases him and what earns his wrath.
So many people in our world tonight are lost, not knowing which way to turn, or which direction to go because they don’t know God’s will.  But God has blessed us by making his way known to us-- and so we go forward in life confident of God’s guiding hand upon our lives.
Salvation- and fellowship with God- and guidance for our lives are just a few of the spiritual blessings that God showers upon his children and we give him thanks for those spiritual blessings even as we also give him thanks for his material blessings. 
Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!  Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.  Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!  The earth has yielded its increase;
            Tonight we thank God for two broad areas of material blessing:  his guidance of the nations of the world-- and his ongoing blessing that brings the harvest from the earth to shelter us and clothe us and feed us.
Of all of those earthly blessings that we can thank God for tonight, surely the blessing of being citizens of this great country ought to be near the top of our list.  Yes, this nation has its own set of problems and they seem to grow larger every day as the genuine righteousness that exalts a nation appears to be in ever shorter supply—when even those who say they are Christians live like the unbelieving world. 
But when we look around at the other nations of the world, how can we not be thankful that the Lord has ordained that we would be born at this particular place and time?
Most important of all those national blessings that we enjoy as citizens of this great nation is the freedom to worship God according to the light of his Word.  All around us in the world are people who have not been blessed in that way—who suffer persecution from their own nation for their faith in Jesus Christ. 
And so, as we thank God for the blessings of freedom that we enjoy here in the U.S., we also remember this nation and its leaders in our prayers--that God would continue to bless us and keep us free-- and we remember those who don’t enjoy this freedom and ask God to bless them with the same. 
The second material blessing that the psalmist especially mentions is that “the earth has yielded its increase.”  Where the atheist sees nothing but biological and chemical processes that govern the natural world, the child of God looks at nature and he sees the powerful, creative hand of God that perfectly orders and sustains it all:  the planting and the harvesting—the rain and dry weather—the producer and consumer.  God wisely orders it all for our earthly good.
Our Creator invites us to lift up our eyes from our desks and computers and classrooms and fields and bank balances and paychecks and stores and open our eyes of faith to the One who stands behind it all—and thank him that he causes the earth to flourish so as to feed and clothe and shelter us. 
God has abundantly met all of our physical needs over this last year and he will do the same in the year to come and for that we thank him and praise his holy name.  Let the peoples praise you, O God; let ALL the peoples praise you! 
That we have thankful hearts- is another of the great blessings that we can praise the Lord for tonight.  What a blessing it is for us to recognize, by  power of the Holy Spirit, that it is God who does it all and in recognizing it, to give him thanks. 
In Luther’s explanation of the fourth petition of the Lord’s prayer—“Give us this day our daily bread:—he makes this very point:  that when we pray for daily bread what we are really praying for are the eyes of faith to realize that it is God who gives us all that we need and a heart of gratitude to thank him for it. 
The psalmist invites the world to do the same:  Let all the ends of the earth fear him!  Those words speak of another blessing for which we can be thankful tonight and that is the blessing of a God-given purpose for our life.  So many people in this world live out their lives without any meaning or purpose—going from one meaningless pleasure to the next to try and keep despair at bay.
But we know that there is a purpose for our lives.  We are here at this moment on earth so that other people, through our witness, can know that:  there is a God of love who desires to shine his face of blessing upon all people—that the LORD stands ready to bless those nations who humble themselves before him—that physical blessings don’t just happen, but that there is a God of love who gives them.  The psalmist reminds us that God wants all people everywhere to know him and that is our purpose: 
That your way may be known on earth—your saving power among all nations.  Let ALL the peoples praise you.  God’s love extends to all people and he wants all people of every nation to know him and believe in him and worship him and thank him.  That purpose of making him known to the world is one of the big reasons that we gather here tonight in corporate worship as the people of God. 
We gather here publicly in the Name of the Triune God so that those in this community would see that our thankfulness is not directed simply to something out there somewhere—but to the God who has revealed himself in Holy Scripture. 
That purpose is also why we gather an offering, so that in some small measure, each time we worship, we can do our part in supporting the work of the Church which exists to make Christ known to those who live in blindness and death. 
As we take our part in that mission making him known, we find a purpose that transforms our lives from simply “getting by” in the new year-- to working with God in his great harvest of souls.
 Because we have been blessed in this past year with spiritual and material blessings—because the Holy Spirit has blessed us with thankful hearts that acknowledge these gifts and because God has given us a mission to accomplish that gives purpose to our lives—that is what gives us the confidence to say with the psalmist:  God, our God, shall bless us! 

We have seen that hope and prayer fulfilled and answered during this last year and we will see it fulfilled and answered in the year to come.  Amen.

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