Do me a favor and please read Psalm 66.
Psalm 66 is a beautiful psalm of thanksgiving that invites the reader to worship God as they do in a few different “sections”. For me, as I read this, I appreciate how they weave from the singular to the plural as well as from the corporate to the individual. I picture the psalmist leading a group of people as they share their own struggles and joys and encouraging all those there to not only join in but find their own responses to God’s awesome deeds.
Isn’t that what all life is about? One constant praise of thanksgiving? One where we find and give thanks in our own lives and then share and encourage others as well to see and feel it too?
One of the things I’ve been told numerous times from fellow pastors is that people will eventually get tired of hearing sermons with my personal stories in them – so keep them limited. That it is better to find stories outside of me to share while inviting people to join in and find themselves within THOSE contexts instead of my own. While I agree that I shouldn’t only use personal stories I’m not quite sure simply stopping my own struggles and life experiences from entering the message and text is the right path either. I think people engage more when they can relate to the one speaking. I think people can be encouraged and challenged in many ways and I know for me that it helps, again I’m speaking for myself here, it helps ME hear from the pastor when I can find a connection with them. Obviously there is a balance here that is important to find – but I find a peace in knowing that the psalmist, while encouraging others to give thanks, acknowledges this amazing relationship with God through their personal relationship as well as corporate.
There are so many rich nuggets of praise in this text that it’s going to be really hard to draw them out in the limited space I’ve given myself – so I want to share something that may help us not only with this text but with our Bible as a whole.
First off, it’s really easy for a Christian to read the OT and say, “Yes…that is Jesus they are speaking of!” And while that IS TRUE because we should see scripture as not only a story of the brokenness and frailty of humanity and our “fallenness” but more importantly we should see scripture as a developing story that points to Jesus. So when we look through this lens (I had a professor call it the “Jesus Lens”) we DO proclaim that everything points to Christ. And not only this text but “this text too, and this text and here…and here. All of thi points to Jesus!” So I get it – but we do have to allow the author(s) to speak to whom they were speaking about and most of the time they did NOT have Christ, or the Messiah in mind when they wrote the text (most scholars feel that there is only 1 text that is Christ-specific and that comes in Psalm 2). We do now – but they did not then. So when we read verses like 3-5, 7, 9, and then 17-20 we have to allow the author to speak simply of God’s amazing love, goodness, glory, and redemption (in this case). Again, we see those words and hopes and praises fulfilled in Christ but they did not then. So we must allow their voice to be heard and not my own. Find your voice IN the text but allow the text to speak for itself (a good reminder for EVERY text we have).
But with that said the greater narrative of this text is exactly what we’ve already talked about in that the author of this song is encouraging you to find, proclaim, and give thanks to the God who is mighty, powerful, strong, and lord of all things. To give thanks to the God who is above all things, has and is still working on your behalf, and is simply worthy to be praised. The psalmist has lived and experienced so much that they are inviting the rest in attendance to see where and what he has done for them and to find God in that space for them as well.
So where and what has God done for you?
I think this is an important daily reflection for you and I. And just as the psalmist does so for the good times she also does it for those times of struggle – and so should you and I. And then just as you have given that space in the “personal” sense you should then carry those thoughts and joys and praises of thanksgivings to others as well and invite them to see God working in their lives.
For me (and I’m probably thinking this way since we had Communion yesterday at church) I see this as a sacramental-understanding. That just as we take the Cup and the Bread and reflect internally and just as Baptism is God’s anointing upon the person being baptized neither of them are about the individual and neither of them are done by themselves. There should always be others involved because it’s not about you…it’s about the body. Communion, while deeply personal, is not done privately. And Baptism, while deeply personal, is also about the body there and their witness as well as promise to walk, encourage, and help the baptizee.
Our walk, our joy, our faith is bigger and beyond us – so why wouldn’t we share, invite, and encourage others?