October 9, 2011

You Are the Hope of All The Ends of The Earth

Passage: Psalm 65:5

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.

(Reader’s Digest) Our eldest daughter invited her college roommate to join our large family for Thanksgiving dinner. As families sometimes do, we got into a lively argument over a trivial subject until we remembered we had a guest in our midst. There was an immediate, embarrassed silence. “Please don’t worry about me,” our guest said. “I was brought up in a family too.”

The incongruity of arguing over something trivial at a Thanksgiving Day meal isn’t because a guest was present.  Does it ever surprise you that you can feel the euphoria of gratefulness one moment and the next find yourself grumbling about some trivial matter?  Have you ever participated in the incongruity of complaining about the weather on Thanksgiving Day?  And about having a guest whose presence highlights the incongruous; it would be good to set an empty chair at our tables to remind us of the unseen guest, our Saviour Jesus Christ.

“O God of our salvation”, prays the Psalmist, “you are the hope of all the ends of the earth”.   This is a line from Psalm 65; a Psalm of David written to offer thanksgiving for the earth’s bounty.  I invite you to reflect with me on the One who is “the hope of all the ends of the earth” and take this verse with you as a frame for Thanksgiving celebrations.

1.  There is a YouTube segment from Conan O'Brien's talk show entitled Everything's Amazing and Nobody's Happy, with guest comedian Louis C.K.  In the conversation this comedian was illustrating how we have so much yet remain so unhappy.  In one segment Louis talks about how he was on a plane that offered in-flight Wi-Fi access to the Internet, one of the first planes to do so.  But when the Wi-Fi access broke down after a few minutes, the man sitting next to him swore in disgust. Louis was amazed, and said to O'Brien, "How quickly the world owes him something that he didn't know existed 10 seconds ago."

Louis then talked about how many of us describe less-than-perfect airline flights as if they were experiences from a horror film: "It was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn't board for 20 minutes! And then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for 40 minutes!" Then he said mockingly, "Oh really? Did you fly through the air incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight? … Everybody on every plane should be going, 'O my, wow!' … You're sitting in a chair in the sky!"

When you consider all the things that we have so readily; things that have been created to promote good for human life from labour saving devices to instant communication; we ought to be the happiest generation on earth (or at least the most grateful).  Nobody really wants to return to “the good old days”.  When we pine for the past we usually mean that we want is to keep all our modern conveniences and also have some of the better aspects we perceive we’ve lost from bygone era.

Do you ever wonder if having so much has turned us into whiners? The advice Moses gave Israel thirty-five hundred years ago to not let prosperity be the cause of forgetting God—the true hope of all the ends of the earth—is as applicable to us now as it was then. “When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, ... Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth”.

Hope in wealth has a way of clouding our vision of who truly is the real hope for all the ends of the earth.  Wealth has a way of making us now focussed; lowering our horizons; fostering a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately attitude.  Think about our recent election campaign in Ontario; political parties each promising things are going to be better for you economically if they are in power.  To be sure, economic prosperity is a human good but it is not the human good.   Can you vote yourself prosperity?  I am stuck by the shortened horizon of political promises; we judge a political party by what they promise to do for us now.  This is yet another instance of how hope in wealth lowers horizons and shortens vision.

From time to time I find myself anxious about the future; I wonder if I have prepared adequately for when I am no longer able to be gainfully employed.  I find in those moments that when I remember God, when I remember that my Saviour went to hell and back for me, it calms my heart to know that he is my real hope—I am in his hands and he does all things well.

2.  According to John Thornes of the University of Birmingham, U.K. “The atmosphere is worth at least 100 times the value of the global economy”.  Thornes based his calculation on the current value of carbon dioxide under the European trading scheme, and says the true worth of the services that air provides is likely to be much higher.

Whatever dollar value you assign to air it isn’t big enough.  Without the air in our atmosphere there is no possibility of human life.  The staggering truth is that God created and sustains our atmosphere for free.  Calculating the value of the atmosphere using carbon dioxide trading schemes is rather arbitrary; still it illustrates for us the utter inadequacy of wealth to provide what is necessary for human life.

When we think of God as the hope of all the ends of the earth we often think way to small.  God is the hope of all the ends of the earth.  So often God is reduced to a kind of spiritual buddy whose functions in a role of inner inspiration.  The practical realities of life are thought to be up to us.  What often escapes our attention is that the sun rose today at God’s behest; the atmosphere necessary for all life on this planet God sustains yet again on this day.

Consider our oceans for a moment.  After a decade of research involving nearly 3,000 researchers, scientists have presented the first Census of Marine Life. The researchers discovered 6,000 new species, bringing the total number of known marine species to 250,000. The highlights ranged from the bizarre to the beautiful—the "yeti crab" which features long downy claws like fur mittens, and a jellyfish that uses "lights" to "scream" for help.

The scientists who worked closely with the project were constantly surprised—and even stunned—by the diversity, abundance and beauty of what we Christians know to be God's creation. One of the vice-chairs for the project said, "Life astonished us everywhere we looked”. Another amazed scientist said, "The most surprising thing was the beauty”.   The researchers noted that at least 20 percent of the ocean's volume has yet to be explored. One researcher confessed that even after ten years of hard work, they still only have "snapshots" of the diversity and beauty of creation under the sea.

Jesus asserted that the heavenly Father has his eye on the sparrow; we would conclude that God’s eye is also on the sea creatures as well—sustaining all life.

The Psalmist prayed “By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance”; as he reflected on God’s awesome deeds it was this that made him confident to pray: “you are the hope of all the ends of the earth”.  It is interesting to note that the King James Bible translates this text: “thou art the confidence of all the ends of the earth.”

What are the “awesome deeds” the Psalmist has in mind? He lists them in what follows. “By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.  You silence the roaring of the seas, …you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy.  You visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich it; you provide the people with grain, for so you have prepared it. …You crown the year with your bounty”.  In other words the Psalmist sees in the rhythms of the year the renewal and continuation of the mighty works by which God first formed life and healthful order.

Every season has its loveliness but I find the fall particularly appealing.  I love Thanksgiving.  It may be the memory of farm life when the harvest was gathered in and we were ready for winter; God’s provision actually in your hands with each crop that is harvested.  Here is the thing that I so often overlooked; God is already working on next year.  The earth is being replenished for next years’ crop in land lying fallow in the fall; the winter snow both covers from winter’s harshness and at the same time waters the earth.

When viewed against the backdrop of God’s mighty deeds I find my prayers are often so small.  I am praying for the next ‘thing” I need and he is working on feeding the planet.  I can see against the backdrop of God’s mighty deeds that my worries and anxieties are misplaced.  O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth”.

3.  I have often remarked that love for God is the proper ground for love of the neighbour. “The greatest command”, said Jesus is “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”.  A second is like it: “you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” In a similar way we could say that our gratefulness to God is the ground of our gratefulness to one another.  Put another way, a Christians’ gratefulness to God ought to overflow into a life of gratefulness towards others.

Our gospel reading today is the story of Jesus healing ten lepers and only one offered a thank you to him.  As this one leper returned to offer thanks Jesus asked: “But the other nine, where are they?”  We know that our Lord, being fully human, is tested in all points as we are; I think that we be able to understand that he too is wounded in his heart by ingratitude.  I am not suggesting that Jesus is expressing sour grapes here but there is possibly an element of wounded heart. Think about our home life; if the members of our household never offer thanks for the good rendered to one another how inspired are you to continue to do for each other?  I wonder how we make God feel by ingratitude for his bounty.  Thankfully God’s love for us is not diminished by human ingratitude; all ten lepers were healed.

Ingratitude little by little kills those who never receive the gratitude they deserve in life. But anything that kills others is not exactly healthy for the person who fails to say "Thanks" either. Failing to express gratitude sooner or later coarsens us even as it fosters an undue sense of entitlement. After a time, we don't deign to say "Thank you" to various workers in our lives because we feel we deserve the service they've rendered. We've earned it. We've paid our dues, laid down our cash.  To say "Thank you" to certain people would be to admit that maybe what we're getting in life is less an accomplishment and more part and parcel of the larger gift of God.

I think you will also find that generosity and thankfulness go hand in hand; that stinginess is a close friend of thanklessness.  Generosity with yourself and your resources is an act of thanksgiving.  “By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.”

4. We have been thinking about some implications of the magnitude, the mightiness of God’s deeds for us: “you are the hope of all the ends of the earth”.  Let us take a moment to reflect that in the final analysis God is the only real hope.  “You are the hope of all the ends of the earth”.  God is not only worthy of our hope and trust, but is so exclusively.

There is an order here in this Psalm that has important implications.  The Psalmist’s recitation of the mighty acts of God in creation follows the declaration of God as saviour; the Psalmist comes to understand that God crowns the year with his bounty after he knows God as Saviour.  This follows the pattern of Israel’s experience.  The book of Genesis that has the account of God’s creating the world is written after the experience of the exodus of Israel from Egypt.

God makes himself known to us as saviour and then in the fullness of his own self-disclosure to us we come to understand he is also the creator of the world.  This is the logic of the gospel.  I am fully convinced that we will never deduce God as saviour starting with a study of the created order.  Yes, Paul said that certain things are suggested in creation of God, but we would never work our way from the science lab to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I also find that much science purposely keeps God out of the science lab.  I understand a level of necessity for this because science can address what is observable to the five senses.  Still, to keep God out of the lab has the affect of diminishing the wonder of both creation and human life.  For example, there is a new series of studies thought to provide insights on why some people have stronger religious beliefs than others.   Harvard University researchers believe the answer is tied to an individual’s preferred cognitive style – that is, the way people think and solve problems.  The mystery of faith has been reduced to a function of cognition.

5.  Let me ask, do we not pray because we know God as Saviour? When you need help you call to the one you know as deliverer.  In a fire you call the fire department not the manufacturer of the fire trucks and equipment.  Knowing that God made me is a wonder; knowing that Jesus loves me enough to give his life for me—this is life itself.

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.