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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

First Praise God - 10/13/2019

Psalm 111
Praise for God’s Wonderful Works
Hallelujah!
I will give thanks to the Lord
with my whole heart,
          in the assembly of the upright,
          in the congregation.
Great are your works, O Lord,
          pondered by all
          who delight in them.
Majesty and splendor
mark your deeds,
          and your righteousness
          endures forever.
You cause your wonders
to be remembered;
          you are gracious
          and full of compassion.
You give food
to those who fear you,
          remembering forever
          your covenant.
You have shown your people
the power of your works
          in giving them
          the lands of the nations.
The works of your hands
are faithfulness and justice;
          all of your precepts are sure.
They stand fast forever and ever,
          because they are done
          in truth and equity.
You sent redemption to your people
and commanded your covenant forever;
          holy and awesome is your name.
The fear of the Lord
is the beginning of wisdom;
          all who practice this
          have a good understanding.
          God’s praise endures forever.

I imagine this psalm could have come from the lips of that one person who, upon seeing he had been healed of his unbearable circumstance, turned (This is the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for repent, btw. Shuv שׁוּב) and began to praise God, to prostrate himself, which means to throw himself – all and fully -- in a posture of pure obedience at Jesus’s feet and then he thanked Jesus.

We often focus on that act of thanksgiving, something the others Jesus also liberated from their unbearable circumstances seemed to have neglected.

But this time around, I’m drawn in by what this person does before he says thank you to Jesus. I’m not sure I really noticed it before … the healed man turned and began to praise God. First and foremost. And so I’d like to talk about this act of praise.

I guess you could say it’s a tithe of sorts – the man is experiencing healing and liberation from a seemingly impossible situation. He is literally stopped in his tracks at the awesomeness and deep care that has happened on his behalf and at the hand of God, he is certain. And so the first thing he does with that gift is praise God out of his gratitude and astonishment and, I think perhaps a sense of being a very vulnerable creature in the hands of a benevolent Creator who clearly loves him in ways incomprehensible, mysterious, infinite.

Thinking of this act of praise in this way seems quite appropriate on this day we are asked to submit our stewardship pledges. Commitments, ideally, each of us discerns prayerfully; commitments to give God some of the time that has been given to us … commitments to give generously of our spiritual gifts or ministry – the way we walk our Jesus-talk … commitments of our earthly treasure and riches … and commitments of our worship – our praise of God. These are the commitments that breathe life into the ministry of this faith community, whether it’s the ministry that takes place among us, or ministry that inevitably spills over from here into the rest of the world.

The man stopped in his tracks and praising God is indeed an appropriate and inspiring witness for us today.

***

For me, his witness has also brought back a memory strongly, a memory of a time when I was the one in need of healing and I think I experienced something like what he experienced.

I think I’ve told some of you at least parts of this story before. Just after completing my first semester at seminary, I had a small stroke.

I was at Gospel Choir practice one evening, and I noticed that my right arm and leg felt very numb, all of a sudden. And then it seemed to go away, but as I walked the block and a half home, it started happening again and I really had to concentrate to get my right leg to take a step at the appropriate time. It was all rather subtle, but something gut-level told me I should be alarmed. I told Larry what happened. He was alarmed too. He had me take some aspirin and we rushed to the University of Chicago ER.

Because of my symptoms, I was brought into a room immediately and before I knew it, I was hooked up to all kinds of things and undergoing all kinds of tests, and getting shots of heparin. And then there was some waiting. While we waited I noticed that my arm and leg were already beginning to act and feel normal again. And I wondered and kind of had myself convinced that it probably wasn’t a stroke, probably not even a mini stroke. Maybe I had overreacted, I worried.

It wasn’t long before the neurologist team came in with a picture of my brain on an I-pad. The image showed that I had experienced a stroke. There was an almond-sized spot on the left side of my brain, very clearly. And so, maybe because I had noticed that my arm and leg were already feeling normal again, I asked if my body was already healing that spot. No, I was told. That spot is permanent ... which meant, I realized in a moment profound epiphany, that when God created us, it was with brains that have the ability to immediately begin forming new synapses and communication routes in the face of something like a stroke.

Now I understand that this is really not new knowledge for humankind. I had some basic knowledge of brain development and the ability of our physical bodies to regenerate and heal.

But it was different in that moment, maybe because I became so acutely aware of the fact that it was taking place in my brain at that moment, as I sat there and thought about it … it felt like an act of creation taking place and I was aware of it and I knew, it was God. I could do nothing but close my eyes and praise God for the resilient and wondrous ways in which I had been created, in which we all have been created.

I don’t remember anything else from that first talk with the neurologists. All I could do was praise God for all that God ingenuity and resourcefulness and deep abiding and perfect love for me and all of humankind, all of creation.

I think that experience felt very much like what the man stopped in his tracks and praising God felt.

And so that’s got me thinking about another way I suggest this man serves us as an inspiring witness.

We come together today around two central and powerful rituals of our Jesus-following identities – the font and the table, our sacraments of faith.

At the font this weekend, we welcome Violet Kristine Sickelsmith into the Christ-centered life so many of us have already been adopted into – a life in which we hear (as many times as we need to) that we are forgiven our sins and washed clean. That our sparkling souls are already claimed by our ever vigilant Creator.

And it is at this table, remember, that we share a simple and humble taste of bread and wine that has the power to redeem us and nourish us for a life of worshiping God and loving one another fiercely.

Our sacraments are meant to stop us in our tracks as quickly as the man healed of his unbearable circumstance was stopped in his.

Just as the miracle of how wondrously we are created can move us so easily to praise God, our sacraments too are meant to compel us to praise God out of our gratitude and astonishment before we can do anything else.

Because it is at the font and the table we can truly sense that we are very vulnerable creatures in the hands of a benevolent Creator who clearly loves each of us in ways incomprehensible, mysterious and infinite.

Praise God first and foremost – all else follows from there. Amen. 

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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