Sermon: Gerhard Weissenbrunner
Psalm 66 Make a joyful noise to God …
Psalm 66 is a hymn of praise to God and an expression of gratitude for salvation. The people of Israel experience salvation and deliverance on their way with God. Moreover, they experience what real life means and what a true life goal is.
The psalmist thinks of the past and wants to proclaim to the whole world, what a wonderful God the God of Israel is. He begins with a beat of the drum: “Make a joyful noise to God all the nations!” What Israel has experienced he proclaims to the world and asks all people to join in the praise with joyful noise.
The psalmist composes his song from this cheerful, almost exuberant outburst of joy to the reverent insight and humble blessing, and concludes with the feeling of peaceful security. From the joyful noise (1) to singing (2), to speaking (3) to blessing (8) and on to wellness (12b).
In the present translation from Alisa Stadler, we read the last line from verse 12: “yet you have brought us out to a spacious place!” In the Luther translation it says: “yet you have brought us out and refreshed us!” In the old standard translation it says: “yet you have brought us out into freedom!” And in the new standard translation we read: “yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance!”
Four different expressions. I do not know the original text. (It would be of little use anyway, since I don’t speak Hebrew.) However, if the translations are so varied, we may accept all of them: A spacious place – refreshment – freedom – a place of abundance. That sounds like a wellness package of an East Styrian spa hotel, but it is not about a relaxing weekend. Rather, it is about much more than that!
The people of Israel have arrived! They have reached their destination. They were able to get to know the true, real God of this world. They have experienced his omnipotence, his care and his love and they feel comfortable in his presence.
However, this pleasant feeling was not something they were born with. Just like they say: “God provides for those he loves while they are asleep.” It was a long, educating and often also arduous journey.
How then does the psalmist justify his call for praise? Likewise the question arises for us, what reason we should have to rejoice, to sing, to speak and to give blessings?
It begins in the verses 3 and 5: “His doing to humankind is terrifying. Even the enemies flatter God’s power!” – Maria, the mother of Jesus, has aptly expressed it in her hymn of praise (Lk. 1:50-54): “He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things: He has scattered those who are proud and haughty in their hearts; he has brought down mighty rulers from their thrones and has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands. He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.”
I find it a blessing that I can put my pleas before God, against the stupidity and the greed of the current powerful and insatiably rich people. For I myself am powerless against them. They apparently fear neither humankind nor God. But I can bring my petitions and pleas before God and hope that one day their actions will come to an end.
When we speak of “fear”, we may be talking about “reverence” for God. However, personally I can also remember that in the past I felt fear or rather I was “afraid”, when I thought of what will happen to me when one day I stand before God and should be accountable for my life.
Will he accept me? And why should he? After all his presence was not important to me! I myself was important to me. And some people were important to me, when I could take advantage of them. God’s instructions were already important to me. But I wanted to be my own master. That is, by the way, also the principle of hell. It says: “I belong to myself!”
The tide only turned after I started to read the bible and joined the “only possible church” – the Emk. My first sermon text was Isaiah 12, the song of thanksgiving for those who have been saved. The first verses read: “and on that day you will say: I thank you LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away and you have comforted me. Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and will not be afraid, for God the LORD is my strength and my song and he has become my salvation.”
Here I have found Jesus Christ as my Lord and God and since then I no longer need to fear God. If I am still afraid of something, then of myself. Of what I would actually be capable of. But God guides me and also protects me from myself.
However, there is also another aspect of fear that I have only recently become aware of. It is the fear of having to admit that the current path is not right and that it should be changed. The look into our heart reveals it to us. As soon as we come into contact with God, his directions and the gospel of Jesus, we know: “There is simply something wrong with our lives!” The conscience is awakening and it is frightening!
A dear friend has invented a clever excuse! Someone has invited him to talk about the Christian faith. The friend responded that he didn’t have time right now. But the person did not give up and replied that he could also come to his home. Then the friend replied that this wasn’t possible at all, because “the cat is scared”.
There is the fear of one’s own heart. And the fear of the almighty God, who knows what’s wrong with me. In his presence my heart will be uncovered! Sooner or later! Yes, that’s probably true, because nothing remains hidden from God. But it is certainly not true at all that God wants to frighten us. That is why he came to our earth through Jesus Christ. And Jesus liberates us from this fear and instead he gives us love, joy and justice.
If we would like to convince people of Jesus and it doesn’t work, then we can take comfort in the fact that Jesus follows every person and doesn’t want anyone to get lost. He calls out loud and clear: “Where are you Adam! Where are you Eve!”
The topic about reverence, fear and anxiety” is only addressed in the verses 3 and 5 of this psalm. However, it has preoccupied me very much, because it forms a basis for the doctrine of God. That is why I wanted to discuss it in such detail.
This new perspective, the face of God, the face of love, has been experienced by the people of Israel long before us. God has taken their fear away. He has led them from slavery to freedom. In verse 6, the psalmist sings: “God has split the sea and turned it into dry land so that we could pass through on foot. Our joy was immense.”
In verse 9, they received the breath of God: “he gave life to our soul!”
After leaving Egypt the people of Israel wandered through the desert for 40 years. God gave them water, manna and quails. They didn’t have to worry about food or their existence. They had 40 years to directly experience the presence of God. Yes, in many events they were tested and refined, like silver is refined. But only in this way it was possible to get acquainted with this new God and to recognise how God really is. Only when you feel the consequences of your own actions in your own body, you are willing to correct yourself.
“God has given life to our soul”, what a wonderful testimony!
The verses 11 and 12 seem to describe a different way again. “You have brought us into the net” – “you laid heavy burdens on our backs” and “you have made us slaves again” –
At this point there is a reference from psalm 66 to today’s reading from the Old Testament, Jeremiah 29(1:4-7). King Nebuchadnezzar defeated Israel and took many captives. In Babylonian captivity, the prisoners remembered their origin and their God again. On the rivers of Babylon they sat, repenting their apostasy and singing their songs of grief to God.
It seems to be a recurring necessity that people forget God when they are doing too well. Perhaps then the “bad times” are the “good times”. For in many cases we only raise our eyes to God when we are unwell. Then we are more willing to call: “God help!”
That is also the experience of Israel in this psalm. Therefore, the psalmist can conclude with the grateful words: “we went through fire and water, yet you have brought us out to a spacious place – to refreshment – to freedom – to a place of abundance.”