Sermon for September 29, 2013

Psalm 103 (St. Michael & All Angels—Introit, Series C)

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT

September 29, 2013

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is the Psalm from the Introit today, Psalm 103:

Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! 2 Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, 4 who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, 5 who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. 6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. 14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. 15 As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. 17 But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, 18 to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. 19 The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all. 20 Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word! 21 Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will! 22 Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion. Bless the LORD, O my soul!

            “Bless the LORD, O my soul!”  To bless the Lord means to express our thanks and praise to Him.  In faith, praise is the greatest gift we can offer to our Lord.  And it is pretty easy to bless and praise God when life is going smoothly.  But can the same be said when your life turns into a living hell?  Today God’s Word from Psalm 103 shares with us the Good News that we can indeed bless the Lord at all times because God is always compassionate and gracious to us, even in the midst of trouble. 

            At the beginning of September, in our Sunday morning Bible class on the Psalms, it was this text that was under our consideration.  In fact, we (will be returning / returned) to Psalm 103 this morning in our class.  But for me, that was before, before the phone call of Saturday morning, September 7.  It was before my father died so suddenly and unexpectedly.  “Bless the LORD, O my soul”?  Now?  I don’t think I could even if I had the desire to do so. 

            Then Monday, September 9, happened.  There making arrangements for Dad at the funeral home, my dear mother went into cardiac arrest.  The paramedics came and shocked her heart a total of three times to restore its rhythm to send oxygen to her body.  Mom was rushed to the hospital, a breathing tube down her throat, paramedics working to keep her alive.  A balloon pump was inserted to maintain adequate blood pressure, supporting her severely weakened heart.  Those first 24 hours would be critical.  “Bless the LORD, O my soul”?  Now?  When my mother was so close to death?  I couldn’t even if I had thought to do so.  Yet, it was that first evening or the next when, in my devotions, Psalm 103 was presented to me again. 

            Of course, Psalm 103 is the text for the Introit today, St. Michael and All Angels.  So this Word from God has been given to me from the very start of this terrible month, just before Dad’s passing.  It was given to me again in the crisis of Mom’s stress induced cardiac arrest and recovery, through the time of Dad’s funeral, and now the final bookend of the month here as the Introit for the day.  I’d be a total fool if I didn’t receive His Word in this text for myself and then share it with my people, beloved in the Lord. 

            You see, God knows what we need from Him to comfort and strengthen and sustain us.  He knows our form, He tells us in verse 14.  “He remembers that we are dust.”  God is the Maker of heaven and earth.  He created the first man from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life.  God is our Father, our Creator, the one who loves us as the crown of His very creation.  “As a father shows compassion to His children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear Him.” (v. 13) But Adam and Eve rebelled against their heavenly Father.  They sinned, and therefore brought to all people the curse of sin, which is death.  From Romans 5, “Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”  In other words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

            And so our lives on this earth are short when compared to the grand scale of eternity.  And death comes all too soon for people no matter the number of years.  “As for man, his days are like grass; like a flower of the field, thus he flourishes.  For the wind passes over it and it is nothing and its place is not noticed again.” (v. 15)  Life here doesn’t last.  That’s because of sin.  

            But in contrast with the brief and frail nature of human life stands God’s steadfast love and compassion.  Earthly life ends, but His love is from everlasting to everlasting.  It does not end.  1 Corinthians 13:13, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” 

God’s never-ending love is what He continually gives to us in tender mercy.   It is the love demonstrated in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior.  St. John records for us, “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us. . . . In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God send His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 3:16; 4:9-10) 

It is Jesus Christ, the Lord, whom David praises in our text as the very One who forgives all of our iniquity and heals all of our disease of sin.  He is the very Lord who redeems our life from the pit of the grave and crowns us with steadfast love and compassion, the tender mercy of grace toward us that took Jesus to a cross to suffer death and hell for us so that we might receive forgiveness and life.  God our Father worked His righteousness for you and me through Jesus’ cross.  He didn’t deal with us according to our sins.  No, he dealt with sin through the death of His Son.  We are not repaid for our iniquities because Christ paid for them all in full with His own holy, precious blood shed for me and you. 

Christ’s death on the cross for us, for our forgiveness and life, completely removed our transgressions from us.  We are forgiven.  Death is defeated.  God’s everlasting love can never be taken away from us no matter what happens in this earthly life.  Through faith in Christ as our Savior and Lord we lay claim to God’s promise in Romans 8, which we know so well, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger or sword? . . . No!  In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am sure!”  Yes, having lived through the past two weeks, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

How can I be so sure?  How can you be sure?  Let me offer this as proof.  The Lord showed compassion and love to my father.  He called him to faith in the saving waters of Holy Baptism.  He nurtured that faith 64 years with His Gospel of forgiveness and through the Sacrament of Christ’s own Body and Blood given and shed for him.  Death had no power over Dad, because he simply fell asleep in this life and immediately woke in the presence of Jesus who washed away his sins.  The Lord Jesus has satisfied Dad with good and has renewed his youth like the eagle’s. 

Let me offer to you this as proof.  The Lord showed compassion and love to my mother.  He redeemed her life from death by sparing her earthly life and restoring her to health.  He crowned her with love and mercy by removing from her the intensity and the trauma of Dad’s sudden passing so that she could cope and press on with appropriate grief and sorrow, and with trust and hope in a happy reunion in heaven and the resurrection at the Last Day. 

What’s more, God showed his compassion to her, to me, and to my family through His holy Church.  From you, the people of God at LCOR, to the New England District, and beyond, the people of God were praying to Him, imploring His steadfast love and mercy for all of us.  And your prayer was heard.  God answered mightily, with awesome signs and wonders worked in and through my Mom’s healing.  “He made His ways known to Moses, His acts to the people of Israel.”  He has also made His ways of compassion and love known through the events of my family’s life, of which you have been a most blessed strength for us all. 

It is for the Lord’s compassion and grace, mercy and love show to every one of us for which we praise the Lord.  We all can bless the Lord for the forgiveness and everlasting life that He has given to us freely by faith in Jesus, our Lord and Savior.  We can bless and praise the Lord for His compassion in our times of sorrow and grief, fear and worry.  We can bless the Lord in the midst of sickness and death because He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love as He heals us and those we love, even by bringing them home to Himself.  We have the very proof of His love and mercy to us in Christ.  How can we not respond with glory, praise, and blessing to Him?

And not only do you and I bless and praise our God, but we also do so with the angels, the saints in His presence in heaven, and indeed, the whole creation.  “Bless the LORD, O you his angels, you mighty ones who do his word, obeying the voice of his word!  Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers, who do his will!  Bless the LORD, all his works, in all places of his dominion.  Bless the LORD, O my soul!”  Or, in the beloved words of the Preface, “Therefore, with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify your glorious name, evermore praising you and saying, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord.’” 

Because the steadfast love of our Lord and Savior is from everlasting to everlasting, we can bless the Lord at all times.  Even in the living hells of this world, God is with us—Emmanuel.  He is compassionate and merciful, abounding in steadfast love.  So bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!  Amen. 

In Memorium

John A. Coons

1949-2013

 I love you and miss you Dad!

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