“For He is Good”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
You don’t need me to tell you that you should be thankful. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good (Psalm 136:1, et passim)! If you haven’t experienced the goodness of the Lord, then you are unlikely to give Him thanks. But if you are here; if you have life and breath, food and clothing, a house and a car, family, and all the blessings that belong to this life; then you have experienced the goodness of the Lord. And the Lord seems to fling His blessings around heedlessly. “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45, ESV). He gives good things to those who surely don’t deserve it, and He gives good things even to us, who think we do deserve it.
And who doesn’t love giving thanks? Or, at least, Thanksgiving? Sure, the pious will gather before the meal and everyone will say something for which he or she is thankful. Like one of my teenage years when I thanked God for girls. Because, well, because without girls none of us would be here. I had to think of something that sounded good. But many people are far from even my superficial, teenage piety. What is Thanksgiving? It’s Biggest Shopping Day of the Year’s Eve. It’s the day when we consume enough food to feed a small, third-world nation-or maybe a not-so-small, third-world nation. It’s the beginning of Thursday night football and the push for the playoffs. It’s the day when the whole family can finally gather together to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, or, better yet, Survivor. It’s a day for giving thanks, but we can’t quite remember who it is we’re supposed to be thanking. Ourselves? Our parents? Our bank accounts? And all the goodness that we experience, all the gifts we have been given, are consumed or left over. But we don’t need to be reminded to be thankful, right? On the other hand, maybe we need it pounded into us. Maybe the Psalmist was on to something when he kept repeating (endlessly, it seems), “for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:1, passim). Over and over: His steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 136 is the great retelling of the work of God, from creation, to bringing the people of Israel out of Egypt, to bringing His people into the Promised Land. And throughout the psalm, the refrain is repeated, as we repeated it this morning: “For his steadfast love endures forever.” All these things that God does for His people, that’s just the way He is. He is steadfast love, everlasting mercy, unending grace. He creates a people-His steadfast love endures forever; He leads them out of slavery-His steadfast love endures forever; He fights for them-His steadfast love endures forever; and He brings them to the land of His promise-His steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.
“It is he who remembered us in our low estate” (Psalm 136:23, ESV). And here we come to it. We find that all of the created goodness of the Lord is only a prelude to His best work. Have you heard those words before? In fact, though our English translations might use a different word, it is the mother of our Lord who speaks with the words of this verse. Like God’s servant Israel in Psalm 136:22, whom God remembered in his low estate, God looked upon the “humble estate” of His servant Mary in Luke 2:48. And no less has He remembered and looked upon you in your low and humble estate. You have received good gifts from the Lord; He has blessed you with the fruit of the field and with a bountiful harvest. If He did not grant sun and rain, good soil, and the growth itself, you would not have a harvest, despite your best work. And if He had not sent His Son, you would remain in your low estate, stuck in your sin and waiting for death. Because the steadfast love of the Lord is for eternity, not just for this life. Food, clothing, house, car, family-these are all great blessings from the Lord for which we thank Him today. But they are for the living of this life. They are for ourselves and for those whom God chooses to bless through us. But the goodness of our Lord is beyond telling! Not only does He give us good things in this life, He is good to us into eternity. With or without the blessings of this creation, He gives us the blessings of the new creation. He gives His Son even into the hands of murderous sinners. The Son of God entered our human flesh, ate the fruits of the earth, shared the shelter of His friends, rejoiced with them at weddings and feasts-and lived the perfect life of the lowly servant. Without sin Himself, He faced the deadly consequences of our sin. He fasted and gave thanks to forgive our gluttony and thanklessness. God removed His steadfast love from His Son so that we don’t ever have to know that Hell. God remembered the low, entombed estate of His faithful servant and raised Him from the dead. Now He looks on us with favor in our humiliation and one day He will raise these dead bodies.
Today is a national holiday, and though people forget for what and to whom they are supposed to be giving thanks, our God still blesses all people. He gives and gives and gives because He wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). That’s just the way He is. But people ignore the gifts; they take credit for the gifts; they thank themselves and their ingenuity. So remind them. Remind them that it is the God of creation who gives them food and shelter. And remind them that the God of creation is the same God who came and lived and died for them. Pray for the opportunities; pray for the questions and the doubts and the chances to tell them where life and forgiveness can be found. Don’t worry; as you offer supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all people, and as you live the peaceful, quiet, godly and dignified life which God provides, they will ask you what keeps you going when earthly blessings are taken away. They will ask you how you can still have hope when life seems hopeless. They will ask, and because you know that Jesus is the bread that endures to eternal life (John 6:27), you will be able to give the Reason for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15). Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! “Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever” (Psalm 136:26, ESV).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/20/07