Psalm 107
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 14, 2016

“The honeymoon is over.”

Sooner or later, newlyweds always end up having to say that (at least to themselves). After all, who can sustain forever the honeymoon level of marital enthusiasm? The wear and tear of long-term familiarity eventually dampens the fevered pitch of first love.
God, however, claims to never lose His first love. God in fact likes to compare His enthusiasm for us to that of a groom for his bride on their wedding day. God insists that, after all our false steps, He’s still nuts about us, with a steadfast and everlasting love that no failure or faltering on our part can diminish.

Just as marriage is defined as a covenant, God speaks of His relationship with us in terms of a covenant – that is, a solemn commitment constituted by an exchange of promises. The foundational promise in it is God’s pledge to us of steadfast love.

Appreciation of that steadfast love pervades Psalm 107. With verse 1 the Psalm begins with the thought of God’s steadfast love, and with verse 43 it ends with the same. In between it recounts four typical instances of how God’s people through their own fault bring potential disaster upon themselves, and how nevertheless God rescues them from their self-inflicted troubles. In recounting each of those four instances, the Psalm urges God’s forgiven and delivered people to “thank the Lord for his steadfast love”.

The honeymoon – despite the ups and downs of life – endures, because God’s faithfulness in compassion and benevolence endures. It is steadfast because it is based in the quality of One who never changes. It is gracious because it is rooted in the nature of One who is ever true to His passionate desire to do us good all out of proportion to our deserving.

In this covenant the terms are way better than any “tit for tat” arrangement in which we get back just what we put out. God refuses to limit His goodness to our level of goodness. God is – of His own initiative and independent of our action – good to us first, and way better than we have any right to.

Though they don’t often use the term, most people who miss this about God follow some form of the doctrine of “karma”, that “tit for tat” arrangement in which we obtain from life just that degree of good we put into life.

Even the religious often think this way, and thus live as if their blessedness depends upon their ethical and spiritual achievement, as if good comes to them by virtue of the good they do. If they are Buddhist, they think they have to detach from desire. If they are Hindu, they think they have to be absorbed into the great “all in all”. If they are Muslim, they think they have to submit to God and obey His will. If they are secular moralists, they think they have to do their duty in the social contract of justice and compassion. Pursuit of these spiritual and ethical achievements is a worthy enterprise, but pursuing them in a karmic tit for tat limits the degree of goodness we might expect to the extent of our achievement of them.

Only the religion of the Bible tells us that we may hope for life at its best, not by commending ourselves through our conduct, but by acknowledging our incapacity to commend ourselves. The Bible alone invites us to count on God’s covering our shortcomings and giving us better than we merit – if only we bring Him nothing but our desperate need for forgiveness and gratuitous kindness. The Bible alone invites us to hang our hope entirely on God’s goodness, and not at all on our own, and to trust that, no matter how wrong we’ve been, God will make everything right again.

Bono, the lead singer and songwriter for the rock band U2, believes in this God of grace and steadfast love. He exclaims, “It’s mind-blowing that the God who created the universe might desire our company, a real relationship with the likes of us.”
Indeed! And that relationship happens, not as a result of our good deeds outweighing our bad, but as a gift of undeserved mercy and generosity. In other words, it’s not that our good comes back to us, but that a goodness beyond anything of which we are capable blesses us of its own accord.

Bono continues, “Along comes this idea called grace to upend all that ‘as you sow, so you will reap’ stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of our actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff. … It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the cross; because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.”

We all better hope we don’t have to depend on our spiritual or ethical doing. For none of us has it in us to earn salvation. But each of us has it in us to choose to rely on God to accomplish everything that needs accomplishing, and to believe that God’s riches become ours just by our emptying our spiritual pockets and asking Him to fill them.

Our situation is like of Michael Horton the summer after his junior year in college. He had decided to explore Europe with some friends. Before long, however, he realized he’d misjudged his expenses by several digits, and he had to call home for help. His parents not only immediately transferred money from their account to cover all his outstanding bills; in addition, they also sent a generous unexpected bonus amount to make sure that he wouldn’t run out of funds again and that he would have a great old time the rest of the trip. Michael enjoyed the high life in Europe with money he’d never earned but which had become his out of sheer grace and steadfast love.

These are the terms of God’s covenant. By them His generosity far exceeds the “tit for tat” rules of karma. Though we are capricious, He is constant; though we are unfaithful, He is faithful; though we put in less than we could and should, He puts in far more than is possible for us, blessing us according to the bigness of His heart.

These are the terms of God’s covenant. Given the infinite riches of God, I can’t think about a better way to go. How about you? Let us pray.

Category
Write a comment:

You must be logged in to post a comment.

© 2015 Covenant Presbyterian Church
Follow us: