“Love Endures Forever”
Psalm 107: 1-9 November 10th, 2013
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
It has been written many times that: “The people of Israel suffered too much. They were enslaved by the Egyptians. They were conquered by the Philistines, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans. Their history is full of famines, wars, epidemics and corruption. Yet they had a hymn of thanksgiving that they shouted as much as they sang. We don’t know when it was written or who wrote it, but it is one of the most familiar and famous songs in the Bible.” Psalm 100: you know the words: ‘Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth’… and it closes with: ‘For the LORD is good; his steadfast love endures forever.’
The story of the people of Israel happened a long time ago, yet, why is it we still so fully identify with them and their plight? Could it be that we still seek the faithful and steadfast love of a God whom still loves us – despite all that has occurred all around us and even in our own lives? Perhaps: we still look for the assurance that God will still be with us – even after we spill that next glass of milk – and even after we have allowed it to sit and go sour. Yes, we, like the Israelites have a lot in common, surely, this is why we and many like us still refer back to ancient scriptures to help guide our lives in this modern world we live in.
I heard a preacher declare: “It won’t surprise you to hear me say that we live in uncertain times – a time of wars, terrorism, extremism, manmade climate change and global economic crisis.” It was a different time, yet, not that long ago. It was a different place yet as he continued and as I reflect on his words – I see how they can still speak to us now: “And these times offer us a stark choice” he said: “we can respond with fear, a most natural reaction if there ever was one to the times we face, or we can live out our lives in the hope born in the Resurrection.” The preacher proclaimed with clarity that day: “God’s steadfast love endures forever says the Psalmist!” Indeed, Psalm 107 says to us today: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”
Another theologian from years ‘long past’ asked that age old question: “What makes someone grateful when surrounded by suffering? It is not only a question for 17th century Europe” he stated, “but also for modern Americans and ancient Jews”. His thoughts come from his witness, to the lives of others who have found God’s love, in the midst of their times of suffering and hardship.
In the 17th century there was this Lutheran pastor in Germany named Martin Rinkard. In the ‘on-line encyclopedia’ we read how this clergyman and hymnist served his church, town and people for 30 very difficult years – during the Thirty Years War from 1618 – 1648. Some say it was the most devastating war in European history. Germany lost up to 30% of its population; the male population was reduced by half. Swedish invaders destroyed 2200 castles, 18,000 villages and 1500 towns (1/3 of all German towns). It is amazing how few people seem to know anything about this period of history.
All of Europe fought during those 30 years, but Germany was especially devastated. The war was horror upon horror with invasions, killings and epidemics that took hundreds of thousands of lives. Pastor Rinkard served God and his people the best he could. He gathered food that was often stolen. His own family was starving.
1637 was the year of the Great Plague. At the beginning of that year there were four pastors in town – one ran away; Rinkard officiated at the funerals of the other two. He sometimes conducted 40 to 50 funerals a day – a total of 4,480. In May of that year his wife died. Rinkard wrote a hymn for the times in which he lived and for which he is best know. He wrote the text to “Now thank we all our God.” Most church goers know the words: “With hearts and hands and voices; Who wondrous things hath done, In whom this world rejoices. Who, from our mother’s arms, Hath led us on our way, With countless gifts of love, And still is ours today.” In a few weeks, as we prepare for our annual time of Thanksgiving, we will raise up our voices as we sing this hymn. When we do so let us recall how gratitude has little to do with the state of things around us, but more about the state of our relationship with God.
So, let’s take a look at some other references to love in the Bible. The first epistle of John records the famous words, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” This reference to God ‘being love’ is an understanding that is rooted deeply within ancient scriptures. The word ‘agape’ is often used to help us speak of this type of love; a form of love that reaches the depth of our hearts and being far beyond that of simple romantic love. Often times ‘agape’ is interpreted to mean that love which is equal to God, thus God is love. Another way to say this is: God is love without boundaries. Many theologians, throughout the ages, have interpreted this word ‘agape’ to represent divine, unconditional, self-sacrificing, and thoughtful love. Agape love therefore is a love equal to God, which embraces the concept of thoughtful unconditional and self-sacrificial love.
One excellent example of thoughtful and unconditional love, a love that goes to the point of selfless sacrifice is that of a mother and how she gives deeply of herself to her children. Something amazing happens in the months between conception and birth. Most parents would willingly give their own lives for their children, and some do. Imagine a society that fully embraces this ‘ideal’ of motherly love. Now, please understand mothers and fathers; you are not expected to throw down your life or even your life savings, so that your son or daughter, or even your grandchildren can have a new laptop computer or a new IPod or even a new pair of the latest sneakers or jeans. Yet, giving up some sleep or private time to hear more clearly about their lives and their struggles, even if they seem trivial to you at the moment, may be the most important sacrifice you ever make! Don’t leave it to some stranger, whom you know nothing about, to be the one that helps your loved one to open up and express their true feelings and needs.
As you and I work to pass on to the next generation the values that we aspire to – let us be sure that we make ourselves available to them. That is to say, we need to sacrifice a smidgen of our own lives in order to be more aware and a part of theirs. If we do not do this then the next generation to follow us, will feel that we are disconnected from their realities, and therefore our value system is not pertinent to their lives. When we are living powers of examples, such as Jesus was, and when we embrace the fullness of the struggles of those around us, as Jesus did, then we shall have some influence on how they see the world and how they view God. Love begins with our relationship with God and with our selves first. People, like our children and grandchildren, see clearly when we do or do not do this. They will mold their lives based on what they see us do – more fully than on what we say or tell them to do.
The next generation is watching to see how you respond to the needs of this your church, the needs of this historic community church! They will look to see if you are willing to give of your Time, your Talent and even some of your hard earned money, your Treasures, in these uncertain and changing times. God is watching as well. God’s love endures in good times and in hard, turbulent, and changing times. Will your love for this church endure? What examples are you going to leave for those that follow you?
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus pushes us to take our use of love to another level. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Again I say to each one of us… others are watching us… to see what it is we shall do next. They want to see how we respond to difficult times. They want to know if this life we choose, the life of a Christian, the life of selflessness that we speak of… is it really how we live, they ask? How we treat others, especially those who do not speak well of us or respect us, will speak volumes to those who look to us for leadership. Those that look to us as an example to follow will copy our actions not our words.
Love which lasts comes from deep inside of you; this type of love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.” These words from 1 Corinthians chapter thirteen verse seven say it so clearly. One can easily conclude that love of this nature has sacrifices. Of course, in the ultimate sense God has offered such a sacrificial love to us. What do we read in the Bible? “God so loved the world that he gave his only son…” What is this thing called love? It is something that comes from God and is something so precious that although many may want to take it away from you, it is something that is freely given to you and it is yours to share and keep. It can not be stolen. Love is something that they can’t take away from you, but it is something you can give away.
Love is a precious gift that can keep on giving no matter what life has dished up for you! And there is no need to hide it or lock it away. No matter how boldly you share it with others, regardless of how frequently you use it… the source and supply of love is infinite and cannot be taken from you. Only you can shut the door on love. Remember always, that God loved you yesterday and loves you today and shall love you all the tomorrows yet to come!
Listen again to the ancient words of the Psalmist: “O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” Amen.
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, those he redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to an inhabited town; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.