Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 4, 2013

2013.08.04 “Psalm 107 – A Psalm of the Redeemed”

Central United Methodist Church

Psalm 107 – A Psalm of the Redeemed

Pastor David L. Haley

August 4th, 2013

Psalm 107 (1 – 9, 43)

 

Psalm 107 (1 – 9, 43) (Grail Version)

“O give thanks to the LORD for he is good;

for his mercy endures forever.”

Let the redeemed of the LORD say this,

those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,

and gathered from far-off lands,

from east and west, north and south.

They wandered in a barren desert,

finding no way to a city they could dwell in.

Hungry they were and thirsty;

their soul was fainting within them.

Then they cried to the LORD in their need,

and he rescued them from their distress,

and he guided them along a straight path,

to reach a city they could dwell in.

Let them thank the LORD for his mercy,

his wonders for the children of men;

for he satisfies the thirsty soul,

and the hungry he fills with good things.

Should not one who is wise recall these things,

and understand the merciful deeds of the LORD?

 

As I meditated on the opening words of Psalm 107 this week, I couldn’t help but think back 10 days ago in Jerusalem, when Michelle, Anna, and I visited Yad Vashem, the Jewish Memorial and Museum to the Holocaust.

 
The name comes from Isaiah 56:5 “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.”
After you get through the imposing gate

Holocaust Museum Gate

Holocaust Museum Gate

it is a large complex of buildings.

Holocaust Museum Building Complex

Holocaust Museum Building Complex

After leaving the information center, you walk down the Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations,

Holocaust Museum Avenue of the Righteous

Holocaust Museum Avenue of the Righteous

Holocaust Museum Avenue of the Righteous 2

Holocaust Museum Avenue of the Righteous 2

remembering those Gentiles who risked their lives and families to shelter, save, and rescue Jews.

The museum itself is architecturally interesting,

Holocaust Museum Architecture 1

Holocaust Museum Architecture 1

Holocaust Museum Memorial to books burned by Hitler

Holocaust Museum Memorial to books burned by Hitler

a long triangular hall, with rooms off the side chronicling the story of the Holocaust, from the rise of Adolph Hitler in 1933 to the end of the war and the liberation of the camps in 1945, and what followed. The story is told chronologically, through the use of exhibits, artifacts, and multimedia, including the stories of witnesses and survivors. For example, at one point you stand over a glass compartment in the floor, containing a pile of shoes from the camps, each pair representing a person. At the end is the Hall of Names,

Holocaust Museum Hall of Names

Holocaust Museum Hall of Names

Holocaust Museum Hall of Names 2

Holocaust Museum Hall of Names 2

a large circular room filled with pictures of those who died, surrounded by documentation.

Perhaps the most moving memorial at Yad Vashem is the Children’s Memorial

Holocaust Museum Children's Memorial

Holocaust Museum Children’s Memorial

you enter in darkness, as the names of the children who perished are read. Through the use of glass and mirrors – the darkness above and beneath you, behind and in front of you –

Holocaust Museum Children's Memorial 2

Holocaust Museum Children’s Memorial 2

is illuminated by what seems like infinite candles, shining like stars in the night.

Truly, to visit the museum is like a journey through hell; I can only imagine how horrible it was for those lived through it, and the 6 million who did not. For me, the overpowering question was and is: “How could people do this to other people?” And yet, despite the evil and the horror, the museum also tells a story of survival, and is a testimony to faith and hope.

Sadly, the story of the Holocaust of the Jews in mid-20th century is only one sad chapter in the long history of the Jewish people. Time and again in their history they have faced adversity, persecution, pogroms, exile, and execution; yes, sometimes by Christians. What is amazing is, how, time and again, the Jewish people have survived and prospered, and perhaps most amazing, in spite of all they have suffered, have continued to have faith and hope in God.

Some 2,500 years ago, a Jewish poet put his song of gratitude to God for God’s deliverance into words. Ever since, his psalm of thanksgiving has been prayed, both privately and liturgically, by both Jews and Christians. Psalm 107 begins with a chorus of thanksgiving:

“O give thanks to the Lord for he is good;

for his mercy endures forever.”

That word translated “mercy” is an important word, not only in the Psalms, but in the Old Testament.  In Hebrew, it is hesed.  It’s often translated as steadfast love, but it might be better rendered by “faithfulness” or “loyalty.” Through the Hebrew bible, hesed is used to describe God’s nature and character, particularly in regard to God’s relationship with God’s people. God’s hesed, God’s faithful love, is what frames Psalm 107, (verse 1 and 43), and, in fact, our whole lives, from birth until death.

After this opening chorus of thanksgiving, the centerpiece of the psalm is the set of four word pictures of human predicaments and divine interventions, demonstrating God’s hesed.

The first, (verses 4–9) is of wilderness wanderers retrieved; the second (verses 10–16), is of prisoners released; the third (17–22), is of the sick restored, and finally, the last (verses 23-32), is of the storm-tossed rescued. It may even be that the Psalmist is not talking about four different categories of people, but the same people, in four evocatively descriptive ways. And what powerful images they are: hunger and thirst, darkness and gloom, sin and affliction, storm and sea, all belong to the symbolic vocabulary with which we, the redeemed, portray the trouble from which we have been rescued.

Look, for example, the first stanza:

“They wandered in a barren desert,

finding no way to a city they could dwell in.

Hungry they were and thirsty;

their soul was fainting within them.

Then they cried to the LORD in their need,

and he rescued them from their distress,

and he guided them along a straight path,

to reach a city they could dwell in.”

While most of us (hopefully) 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, every one of us will have times when we feel we desperately need the helping hand of God.

Because a sense of exile, of being lost and alone, is part of the human experience.  We may find ourselves wandering in the desert wastes of post-industrial societies (like Detroit), in small towns from which we cannot escape, in unhealthy relationships, in confusing situations, in the grip of addiction or dark nights of the soul.

Psalm 107 is also descriptive for those who enter a wilderness not of own making: such as the approaching death of a spouse, the silent maze of Alzheimer’s, a partner abandonment, a child shipping out to war, a sudden depression, a public failure or humiliation.

Isn’t it interesting that in the Gospels, lostness, hunger, thirst, and exhaustion are all figures Jesus employed in his offers to be the Way, the Bread and Water of Life, and the Giver of Rest.  And not only in his words, but in his deeds: in the Gospels, Jesus feeds the hungry in the wilderness, frees those possessed by demons, heals and forgives the sick, and quiets the storms.  It almost makes you wonder if the Gospel writers did their morning meditations in Psalm 107, before they wrote their story about Jesus.  Because he embodies God’s hesed.

As the followers of Jesus, we have experienced it for ourselves.  In the wilderness, when we are lost, God can provide a way, when it seems there is no way. When we are hungry and thirst, at God’s table we are fed. As long as we dwell in the land of the living, we know we have a companion along the way. And when we reach the end of our journey, there is the promise of a habitable city at journey’s end. Every he congregation of believers that learns to “say so” as the refrain to endless instances of God’s grace, can be the saving hand of God for people in difficulty; which is to say, sooner or later, all of us.

The good news of Psalm 107 is that even when we are desperate, it is never too late; there is always a way out. Recognize the situation we are in; cry out to tell God what we need; look for the deliverance God brings; and give God thanks. Even if you don’t see that deliverance coming in the way and form you expect, go ahead and give God thanks, as the people of God have done, to the words of Psalm 107, throughout the centuries.

Because, if in the past, God was good, full of hesed, gathering exiles from afar, guiding people through the desert, feeding the hungry, freeing those imprisoned, healing the sick, rescuing the storm tossed, surely, because of God’s never-changing hesed, God will be faithful in the future, and do the same.

After going through Yad Vashem and experiencing its horror, you come to the end, and emerge from the museum to look out on this beautiful vista.

View from Holocaust Museum Exit

View from Holocaust Museum Exit

It’s almost like saying, “You are home now. As long as this is your land, this will never happen again.”

Suddenly, the words of Psalm 107 come alive:

“Let the redeemed of the LORD say this,

those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,

and gathered from far-off lands,

from east and west, north and south.

They wandered in a barren desert,

finding no way to a city they could dwell in.

Hungry they were and thirsty;

their soul was fainting within them.

Then they cried to the LORD in their need,

and he rescued them from their distress,

and he guided them along a straight path,

to reach a city they could dwell in.

Let them thank the LORD for his mercy,

his wonders for the children of men;

for he satisfies the thirsty soul,

and the hungry he fills with good things.”

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