A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr A ~ Creation 3 ~ Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
Give thanks, call on God, make known God’s presence, sing to God, sing praises to God, say what God has done in your life, exult in God’s name, rejoice, seek God’s presence, seek God’s strength, seek God’s presence continually, and remember – remember all God has granted, remember how the Spirit has surprised and delighted and moved you, and remember how following God’s way of love, love, love has guided your life on a better path.
That’s a paraphrase of how Psalm 105 begins. And it ends in a similar way.
Praise God. Literally, the last words in this psalm are “praise the Lord,” which in Hebrew is Hallelujah! Praise God! Hallelujah!
Why? Why all this praising?
Because of all that God has done.
Ok, but what if you don’t think that God has done very much?
Well, I guess that all depends on how you look at things.
People of faith tend to look at things through the lens of God’s omni-presence. And while it may be hard to discern how God might be moving or what God might be doing in a given moment, people of faith can look back on their history and discern that God was indeed there – present – acting – somehow.
For the Jews the history they always look back on was what we now call the Exodus – their release from the captivity of Pharaoh in Egypt and their following of Moses into the wilderness and ultimately into the Promised Land. It’s the story of how they became a people. And they are convinced that God was at the centre of the story – guiding and acting and bringing it to be.
I can think of another exodus story that I think you will find even more pertinent! It’s a story about how a group of faithful people ‘escaped from’ a situation in which struggling and floundering were dominant. They spent their fair share of time in the wilderness – in that in-between time of knowing that leaving ‘what was’ behind was the right thing, but not really knowing what’s next yet. And then there was their deliverance to the Promised Land – a land not without challenge, but filled with the promise of the potential of flourishing.
Does that sound familiar? It should – because that’s the exodus story of Faith United.
Once there was a time when two (and later a third) church were struggling and perhaps even floundering, who ‘escaped’ and wandered in the wilderness for a while.
For some (St. Andrew’s and Courtice folks) it was a season of church in a school because church buildings had been let go of and sold.
For others (Harmony folks) it was a season of looking for a compatible group to join with.
Either way it was a time of risk, and leaving behind, and an unknown future. It was a time in the wilderness.
And then, ultimately, there was this place – Faith United – the Promised Land! A land of milk and honey and wondrous blessings!
Exaggeration? No, not really.
This is the language people of faith use. After a time in the wilderness arriving in a place like this feels like the Promised Land! And all along the journey I will bet that those of you who were there felt like God was with you – providing!
When you didn’t have a place to go and this property became available, didn’t it feel like a blessing?
When the original plans for an additional church hall didn’t work out and we ended up with this single multi-purpose space didn’t this turn out to be a great blessing?
When just the right people with just the right skills emerged at just the right time to make things happen wasn’t that an example of God providing?
This is our exodus story. And we need to keep telling it over and over again to remember how we got here and to remember how blessed we are to be here, in this place, together.
The ancient Israelites felt the same way, and still today, thousands of years later, they still tell their story for the same reasons. And their story is epic.
They tell their story in terms of survival. Their sense of God’s Presence being with them through their time in the wilderness was so palpable and real that they understood God to be providing for them all along the way. God gave them a cloud for covering by day and a pillar of fire by night. That’s protection and warmth. These are a people in the wilderness without many resources or defenses so feeling protected and warm was a huge deal.
And because they were on the move they weren’t able to plant crops for food. So the stories emerge of how quails were provided and how “manna from heaven” appeared to sustain them in their time of trouble. And when everything looked barren and inhospitable God moved and the rocks were split and water gushed out like a river.
Is this science, or fantasy? Neither. It’s remembering a journey and looking back realizing that in the midst of troubling times there were incredible blessings.
They interpreted their experiences as times when God was present, and their realizing that presence made a positive difference for them. I’m not saying they made it up. And I’m not saying it didn’t happen. I’m saying that in hindsight we can see marvellous things and upon reflection we realize that it wasn’t necessarily just our doing and yet they still happened. So we name that benevolent mystery as an action of God – as God providing – and we’re grateful.
I know this is tricky.
The last thing we want to say is that God is like a drive thru menu that we can order what we need from and instantly it’s delivered to us. So saying “God provides” doesn’t mean we think God just gives us what we want or need. And yet, as people of faith, as people who claim to know deep in our hearts that God’s Presence matters and is somehow mysteriously active in our lives, we want to say that God does give us things.
So how do people like us talk about providence – how God provides?
When you sit and spend some time with one another, listening to each other’s challenges or worries, what’s going on? You’re being a faithful friend, right? You aren’t there to solve a problem, or fix what’s wrong, or wave any magic wands – you’re there to listen, to be a friend. I’d say that you are “providing” support, inclusion, care, love. Your presence matters, even though you can’t probably make the physical situation change – you can’t miraculously heal an illness or change an unfortunate circumstance. But you can provide help – just by being present. Just by representing the love of God. Just by being a tangible reminder to the person that they are not alone.
And when you leave that conversation, and your hurting friend reflects on your time with them isn’t it possible that they might say something like, “Thank you, God, for sending my friend to me.”
I bet that hurting person has a profound sense that God provides!
A few weeks ago we talked about how in the burning bush story God said to Moses that God was going to act and the way God was going to act was by sending Moses!
How does God provide?
Maybe by sending you!
If you are inspired and energized and empowered through your ever-deepening faith and as a response to the love of God that is filling you and transforming you you find yourself moved to act isn’t that the same as God providing?
What does God provide for you? Some of us will readily use that kind of language and others of us may struggle with giving God the credit for what seems like either our own efforts or just plain luck.
One lovely way to look at the world is to see it all as a gift – a gift that we didn’t earn, but that we enjoy. If you like this kind of language you could say that God has granted all of creation to us – that God has provided. It’s all gift. Being granted something is wonderful.
When this place was built there was a big mortgage. Through hard work, good stewardship, and faithful people a lot of that debt was paid down. But up until last year we still owed over half a million dollars to our Presbytery.
And then the Presbytery did something amazing – they changed our loan into a grant!
We didn’t earn that – it was granted to us. We may have hoped and prayed for it, but we didn’t ‘deserve’ it nor could we count on it happening.
Why did they do it?
Because the Spirit moved in their hearts. Because they were filled with God’s loving presence and responded by loving.
Now, how will we tell the story? Won’t we look back and say, “See! God provides!” – And doesn’t the story remind our hearts to sing praises in gratitude – not for the good deed Presbytery did but to the God that inspired them? Hallelujah!
This is why we need to keep telling the story, and remembering to be grateful and to worship. Because the truth is that when things come as a gift and the gifts flow in abundance it is really easy to take what has been granted for granted.
We do this with things all the time, and certainly with our environment, and with our quality of life here in Canada, and perhaps with our vitality and health as a church – and we do it with people too. I suspect we’ve all, at one time of another, felt like someone has taken us for granted. And while that might hurt our feelings it’s the person on the other end who’s actually suffering greater consequences. The giver is in harmony with God because they’re giving love – whether it’s taken for granted or received with gratitude.
The burden is actually all on the receiver.
How shall you receive the things that are granted you?
Will you realize what a gift you’re getting?
Will you recognize the blessings that are flowing your way?
Will you notice the bounty and the beauty that surrounds you?
Will you perceive that these blessings, these gifts, these coincidences and happy accidents, and good fortune are really glimpses of God’s Presence?
And when you pause and ponder them will you say to yourself, “Hallelujah! God provides!”?
We have been granted so much, we have received so much – will we remember to say thanks? We will if we keep telling our exodus story – because it teaches us to look for God’s movements, and to notice God’s Presence.
And when we notice, we worship.
God provides – we praise.
Give thanks, sing praises to God, rejoice, seek God’s presence continually, and remember – remember how the Spirit has surprised and delighted and moved you, remember how following God’s way of love, love, love has guided your life on a better path, and remember all God has granted.
God provides indeed! Hallelujah!