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I'm Back & Giving Thanks, 9/17, was my first Sunday back in the pulpit after 7 months. I am not completely healed from February's back surgery, but am mostly there. The doctor is letting me work only part time until our next visit. This is the sermon from Sunday, 9/17, preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church and St. Mark Lutheran Church.  based on Psalm 103 1:-13.

When I read today’s lessons, I couldn’t take my eyes of of Psalm 103. This psalm is an individual psalm of one who was struggling in a desperate situation, who called out to God and God delivered him.This is my story too.

As most of you know, I had back surgery in Feb. and I too, received God’s deliverance. Following the back surgery, I contracted an Ecoli infection that nearly killed me. I am here today to declare with the psalmist:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits…”

The odd thing about this psalm is that it isn’t a prayer. It is not addressed to God, but to the psalmist, addressing himself.

We can divide Ps. 103 into 2 sections: The first is a celebration of the personal benefits the psalmist has received (vv. 3-5). The second is a recollection of God’s mercies to his ancient people Israel (vv. 6-19). Ps. 103 starts out with the individual and then goes to the collective people of God.

What are the benefits God has given the psalmist, to you and to me? The first is God’s forgiveness. God does not hold a grudge. We mess up plenty and think, say and do things we shouldn’t. Our gracious God listens and forgives us when we confess our failures to him.
Another benefit is God’s healing. God can and does heal people supernaturally and God uses the medical community to heal. We have all been recipients of God’s healing in our lives (whether physical or emotional healing).

The next benefit is God redeems his people from the Pit. Pit is another word for adversity or death, which may be spiritual or physical.
Another benefit is that God crowns us with steadfast love and mercy. Mercy comes from the Hebrew word meaning womb. God’s compassion is tied closely to the concept of the love a mother has for her unborn child. Repeatedly the psalmists remember and call upon God’s mercy and the love of a mother for her unborn baby. Later God’s steadfast love is mentioned in connection with his dealings with the children of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness.

Next, God satisfies us with good so our youth is renewed like the eagle’s. Eagles with 6 foot wingspans soar effortlessly for long periods of time. Ancient people marveled at their endurance and used this observation to compare the sustaining strength that comes from the Lord.

Finally, God provides vindication and justice for the oppressed. Vindication can mean justice, deliverance or vengeance. It occurs more deeply when a point of view, belief or action that has been condemned, dismissed or undervalued is finally shown to be true. It can be by the endorsement of some authority or by a surprising unfolding of events.

What about the tragedies we see around us today? Does blessing the Lord seem incongruous in today’s world? When the psalmist wrote, the people of Israel were a displaced people. They were not in their own land, that land which was for some a distant memory.

But that is little compared to the other harsher realities the people of that time and people today face. Racism has reared its ugly head. After we felt like we had surely made progress in recent decades. The threat of nuclear war is again before us as well, like the former Cold War at its worst. Does it seem that history is repeating itself?

The Lord does not tolerate injustice in the world. Righteousness characterizes his rule, righting what is wrong. Vindication relates to God’s deliverance of his people from evil and oppression and to his punishment of oppressors.

On top of all these concerns are those that are outside of anyone’s ability to control: forest fires, hurricanes, tornadoes and floods. We see the devastation on tv from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. We hear the death count of each. Our hearts cry out, “How long O Lord?”

What we see in Ps. 103 is a theology of hope in the midst of hardships. God allows problems into every life—not because of what we do or do not do. God is not in heaven with a tally sheet waiting for us to do so much wrong, then WHAP—he sends sickness or a disaster our way.

Our God is an active loving presence that removes the impediments to full relationship with him and that which contributes to an abundant life. The recognition of a God who is worthy of praise, who meets his people in the midst of life providing solace, comfort and strength. Such recognition, coupled with personal experience, draws out from deep within us praise with our whole heart.

God has compassion for his children. In the middle of the awfulness of our day, God is with us. When life seems like a pile of garbage that we’re stuck in, Jesus is right there with us.

God uses us to show his compassion. How do we respond to the disasters around us? Are we simply grateful that they didn’t happen here? Some of us may be able to pack up and go help the people of Texas or Florida. Many of us cannot, but we can give. Lutheran Disaster Relief gives 100% of our gifts to aid the hurricane victims. Thrivent will match a gift to them. Through either of these resources we get a good bang for our bucks as we help those in need.

If we can’t give—pray! In fact, no matter what, pray. Stand with those in need in this profound way. In prayer we stand shoulder to shoulder with hurting people everywhere. We ask for God’s comfort for them and strength for those helping them.

Words of quiet despair are transformed into words of thankful praise as the singer of Psalm 103 brings to mind all of God’s benefits. The psalmist recognizes that while God is not a God of retribution, we are called upon to respond to and embrace the mercy, the motherly love of God and to uphold our responsibilities of the steadfast love and covenant relationship of God and God’s people. Together let us imagine and help reveal the will and mission of the Holy One who can see all the way to the east and west simultaneously. Amen.

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