This week end my husband is in State College, Pennsylvania. State College is a little town where Penn State is located, Peter’s most beloved alma mater. There happened to be a football game there this weekend and he called me with about 2 minutes left to play. Penn State was beating Michigan State by four points or so. And he held up the phone so I could the cheering in the stadium of 108,000 people. Everybody on one side of the stadium yells, “We are!” And everybody on the other side yells back, “Penn State!” And the first side roars, “We are.” And the response: “Penn State!” Back and forth. Back and forth.
Then, because this is a very cultured and polite crowd, at the end the first side yells, “Thank you.” And the other side answers, “You’re welcome,” and then you know the cheer is over.
I got teary listening to all those people yell that cheer because there is something about thousands of fans shouting out who they are, claiming their heritage, their colors, their mascot, their school. There is something thrilling about shouting that declaration of belonging.
Psalm 100 shouts about an even bigger kind of belonging. Psalm 100 says, “We are — God’s own.” It might not be quite as catchy as the Penn State cheer, but it means a whole lot more. We are — God’s own.
That is the centerpiece, the focus at verse 3 in Psalm 100. Get this. Know this. We are — God’s people. There is nothing more important than that. Be thankful.
This morning we dedicated Hayden Joelle Hoi Yan Ma. When we dedicate a child here that is what we say and it is about the most important thing any church can do. We declare that this beloved child is ultimately, and most importantly, God’s beloved child, and so are we. And we remember that it is our responsibility to be the kind of people among whom Hayden and every other child can experience what it means to be beloved and to belong to God. You are — God’s own.
Everything hangs on it, forward and backward.
Going backward to the beginning of the Psalm, we see “Worship with gladness.” The translation of the Hebrew word for “worship” is not really comprehensive enough. Worship in this sense means to orient one’s whole life and existence to this sovereign, holy master, God. Always be turned toward and attuned to God. It’s what those WWJD bracelets tried to help us do. Saw the movie, The Queen, last week, and there is certain protocol and etiquette still when you are in the presence of royalty. Tony Blair and his wife met with Queen Elizabeth after he was first elected and they were told that you never turn your back on the sovereign. And so, at the end of their brief meeting, it was
time to leave and someone opened the door behind them and the two of them awkwardly stepping backward out of the room so as not to turn away from the queen.
And so Psalm 100 says worship God with gladness — keep your eyes and your heart on God – always. Tomorrow at Congregational Council we will seek to do this as we discuss budget, always a challenging and often a difficult time in church life. To keep our spirits turned toward God, we will be asking — What decisions are most in harmony with the kind of life Christ lived? What opens, rather than closes, doors for God’s healing, reconciling, forgiving and creating work to go on? Worship God with gladness, even in a Congregational Council meeting about budget. You are God’s own.
And if you wonder who the psalmist is talking about, go back again to the beginning of the Psalm and be reminded that God is Lord of all the earth. God’s beloved are not just Penn State fans, or even KU, KState, MU fans. They are not just Baptists, not even only Christians. The Lord is God of all the earth, made us all, loves us all. God does not just count Americans.
This you must know. We are God’s own. And then this centering verse carries us forward. Therefore — give thanks.
Sometimes thanks-giving is something we do because we feel like it, because the blessing of our lives fill us to overflowing. But not always. And probably not usually. Certainly the pilgrims did not give thanks because they had a lot of blessings. In 1621, they had uprooted themselves and sailed for America, a trip so dangerous that the travelers’ guides of the day said, “First, make thy will.” The Mayflower got blown off course and they landed in the wilds of Massachusetts in the middle of winter instead of Virginia where they were aiming and where English people had settled 13 years earlier.
They had not much food, not much shelter and in 2 or 3 months, half of them had died, sometimes 2 or 3 a day. When spring came, the Indians showed them how to plant corn but their first crops were pitiful and supplies ran out and sponsors in London refused to send more.
There was a lot to complain about. But they were no strangers to the 100th Psalm. They knew they were God’s own and they gave thanks.
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Author Dennis Prager writes in “Happiness is a Serious Problem” — “There is a secret to happiness, and it is gratitude. All happy people are grateful, and ungrateful people cannot be happy. We tend to think that it is being unhappy that leads people to complain, but it is truer to say that it is complaining that leads to people becoming unhappy. Become grateful and you will become a much happier person.”
Another way of saying it — gratitude makes us healthier people, more alive. Giving thanks is good medicine for depression. “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving,” “It is good to give thanks to the Lord” (92nd Psalm), not because God needs it but because we need it. Practicing gratitude opens the door to gladness.
Yesterday our Prairie seniors, older adults, met for their regular monthly program and lunch. I told them that I had read that now that we are living so much longer and healthier there is a new of talking about aging: 65-85 is no longer old, it is considered “young old.” So we decided that 85 – 95 must be “middle old.” And when I wondered what over 95 would be somebody said, “mature.”
But whatever you call it, aging is not easy and it comes with terrible loss of people and things we hold dear. Holidays are harder than other times so I hesitated a little about leading us in a prayer of Thanksgiving but we went ahead. I asked the group to pray aloud for something they were grateful for and each time we responded with “Most gracious and extravagant God, hear our prayer.” There was no hesitation. I should have known. Words of thanks came for a sister, a brother, a daughter, a marriage of 60 years, family, a friend, this faithful group of friends at Prairie, our whole church family, God’s mercy and grace surrounding us every day.
The Pilgrims had about 7 kernels of corn apiece, somebody has speculated. But they knew the doxology – literally, the word of glory and praise we often sing as we give gifts of thanksgiving and will, which comes from Psalm 100. They knew they were God’s own and they knew that God is good, and from this all blessings flow.
COPYRIGHT 2006, Dr. Heather Entrekin. Used by permission.