March 11th, 2018
Psalm 107:1-3, and 17-22
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Hear now the words of the Psalmist, Psalm 107, verses one thru three and verses seventeen thru twenty-two. Let us allow our ears to hear these words and our hearts to be open to their meaning.”
1 O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those he redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; 18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; 20 he sent out his word and healed them and delivered them from destruction. 21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. 22 And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.
“Let now consider the meaning of this ancient writing which has been passed to us for our consumption in the here and in the now.”
“Healed and Freed”
These last few months, commonly referred to as the “Flu Season” has been a really bad season. Quite a bit of attention has been drawn to just how bad it has been. If it were not for the larger news stories that keep clogging up our airways, it seems certain that we would have received even more data on just how bad it has been. Florida is one of only three states that are now reporting minimal flu activity, Montana and Maine being the other two. That means there are still a lot of people struggling with the flu across our nation. Most states are still reporting high flu activity. Not good. They say this is reaching the level of the 2009 pandemic. Which translates to a plague or epidemic. There are a few whom believe this could get a lot worse in the next couple of years. Analyst tell us that the average over the past 31 years is as high as 36,000 or as low as 23,000 people whom have died of the flu each year. Every year over 200,000 people are hospitalized with the flu. Seems like a large portion of our congregation was sick at one point in the last three or four months.
It is just awful when we get sick! You know this, and I know this. But, it is only worse if we do not ask someone to help us when this happens. We also know there are a variety of ways to become ill. Physical illness takes on many forms. One of course is the flu which we have come to know a lot about this year! Mental illness takes on yet another multitude of shapes and sizes. We don’t talk about this as much as too many of us feel embarrassed or mortified by our illness. This of course, is unnecessary as illness is illness. Hopefully, we can all agree on this. Right? Then there are emotional illnesses, often caused by our own state of mind and how we respond to life all around us. Most of us keep this a secret, especially from ourselves as we are in denial that anything is wrong. Unfortunately, denial is the leading cause of untreated emotional illnesses. Seems that the medical profession sees no difference between mental or emotional illness, which may give us some clues as to how serious this can be! Each one of these types of illness have different avenues we must take in order to become well. Healing is… to many of us a mystical thing… which we do not fully understand. We leave it up to the doctors and the trained nurses to help us through our times of recovery. Sometimes it is a caregiver, like our spouse or a parent whom are there to assist and in other cases there is no one who is there for that someone who is suffering from illness.
When I am sick I want to be healed of my illness. For the vast majority of us this is certainly true. We want to snap our fingers and be healed! Perhaps this is why so many seek out those who will promise them instant relief… no matter what the cost. How sad. As we mature and become wiser we learn that this is seldom the case. True healing often takes some time. Unfortunately, this is like dealing with a computer. If you have ever tried to resolve an update issue with your new laptop computer, you probably understand that these things take time and a bit of patience. Also, you need to be willing to trust the Windows update process. This is not always easy. In the same way, we need to be willing to trust a doctor, a councilor or a medical professional if we want medical help. You go to your doctor for instance and you are told you need a procedure. But, you wait until you are sure there is no other way to handle it… ultimately, the pain or the symptoms get to difficult to deal with. Reluctantly, you finally go and seek the medical help you need. Trust me, if this is you, you are not alone. Large numbers of us feel the same way. We try to self-medicate or hope time will relieve our symptoms. In some situations, this may be true. But, many times things only get worse and we need to seek some help.
In the psalm we are reviewing this morning – the psalmist speaks of yet another type of illness. “Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction;” /Psalm 107:17/ This is yet another type of illness; soul sickness. Sickness caused by doing things which are sinful, wicked, corrupt or just plain immoral or evil. Our reading speaks of how these folks become so distraught, over their errant ways, that they stop eating, they stop taking care of themselves. Unfortunately, these types of folks still co-exist here with the rest of us mortals. This has been true throughout the realm of time itself. The only good news is that this group of folks, they at least know they have become sick, suggesting to me at least, that they still have a conscience or at least a spark of morality and integrity left. They, like all of us here gathered, when we are trapped in our own quagmire caused by our own wrong doings, we eventually want to be freed of our anguish! And, like everything else, we want to be freed right now! Again, this is not always possible. Even through God’s grace and mercy, which existed before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born, this still often takes time.
Let us consider this for a moment. We Christians often speak about what knowing Christ is all about and what it means to be forgiven of our sins. These discussions often lead to a dialogue about what salvation is all about. Unfortunately, most of us Christians only have a fleeting understanding about all this; other than knowing we need to be forgiven when we get discovered doing a bad thing or caught saying something we ought not to have said. Apparently, this was the same for those whom lived before Jesus was even born. If this were not true why would the Psalmist have drawn us into this discussion this morning. If you are uncertain about what I am saying, then let it be known that it is believed that the Psalms were written way back before the time of Christ. Some believe it was King David who wrote the Psalms. If this is true, then we are talking about the time period between 1037BC thru 976BC. /Garfield/ Yet, “Most of the psalms are traditionally attributed to Kings David and Solomon, and on that basis would probably have been written in Jerusalem during the tenth century BC.”/Dick Harfield/ What? The Tenth Century Before Christ? But we are now in the Twenty-First Century after Christ was born. That means we are talking about thirty, thirty-one Centuries ago when the Psalms were written!
One can only surmise, humans are either slow to learn how to take care of themselves and how to repent from their wrongful ways, or at the very least, each generation must learn its own lessons and grow from where they are. Either way, it seems that it takes a long time for humans to respond to God’s grace and mercy. Especially, considering how we whom live in the Twenty-First Century are compared to: where humankind was back in the days of the Psalmist. Pastor and teacher Alan Brehm speaks of what it takes for many of us to get to the point of becoming willing to change our ways, thereby becoming healed of our sinful nature. “It takes a significant dose of humility to align our lives with God’s kingdom. ‘Pastor Brehm’ thinks that part of what Jesus is talking about is being willing to renounce the illusion of self-sufficiency. I think it is very similar to the perspective of the Psalmist about the ‘humble’ who recognize their need for God versus the ‘proud’ who think they can take care of themselves.” Again, we are talking about those willing and those whom are not willing to turn to God and ask for help and assistance in living one’s life.
An American Theologian offers us her insight into this quagmire, this perplexity of human nature. “We may never find ourselves literally wandering in a desert wasteland, forced to dwell in a place of deep darkness, sick to the point of death, or caught in a tumultuous storm at sea, but as James Mays points out, each of us have or will face those times when we need desperately the redeeming hand of God.” /Nancy deClaisse-Walford/ This is the crux of the matter. Whether it be the Flu, a broken arm, or a disorder of the mind, or even a distorted emotional understanding of life, we all need someone to help us through the maze of it all… as we seek to right ourselves and get back on track. The same is true when we turn our backs to the moral guidelines of the Bible; or the teachings of Jesus; or even the laws of social order… which we as a people need to abide by; thereby granting one another some level of equality and justice for others. Let us not wait until our lives become a wasteland. Let us turn to God and ask for help. Let us turn to those around us offering them a hand, whereas they in turn will be freed to do likewise when we or others are in need.
It has been pointed out that the author of this psalm tried to illustrate for us how God is in our lives. “The psalmist pictures God’s ears as constantly tuned to the noises we make. He instantly hears our pained cries for help and responds with rescue.” /Robert L. Hubbard, Jr./ Young parents have mirrored this illustration as they set up their nurseries for their new born children. The monitor picks up every gurgle and noise which comes from the nursery which is only footsteps away from the parents sitting room where they may be watching TV or entertaining a friend. They clearly understand and accept that their newborn is not self-sufficient and needs their attention. Therefore, they are constantly attentive to the child’s needs.
Like all children, we grow up, and we begin to care for ourselves and our caregivers take on different roles within our lives, and we become more and more capable of caring for our own needs. As time passes it is up to us to recognize when we need the help of another and ask for it. It is the same with our relationship with God. When we are helpless God reaches out to us and offers us assistance. When we able, we must be the one who reaches out to accept the mercy, the compassion, and the understanding ear of the God – whom has been with us and our ancestors since the start of time. When we do so, we shall be healed of what ails us and freed from the bondage it has ensnared us in. Healed and freed we can begin to make better choices and decisions.
Be at peace. God has been with humankind throughout the biblical narrative. God is with us now. Remember: things may not be what they could be, yet they are better than they would be, if God were not here to assist us along the way. Let us sing songs of joy and praise, giving thanks to God! Amen.