Sermon Commentary for Sunday, March 10, 2024

Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 Commentary

Psalm 107:2 invites people to tell their stories.  Ironically no sooner does that begin to happen in this poem and the Lectionary has us stop reading to jump over a lot of the stories that get told!  Truth is, Psalm 107 is semi-repetitive but it is structured that way to make a point about the faithfulness of God in rescuing those who call out to God for help.

The pattern in this psalm is curious on several levels.  What we get here is a litany of difficult and perilous circumstances:

Nomads who wandered in desert wastes in ways that threatened their lives.

Prisoners who sat in chains in dark cells.

Rebellious fools whose folly leads them to mess up their lives in multiple ways.

Sailors who find themselves in grave peril on storm-tossed seas.

In some of these scenarios people come under threat through seemingly no fault of their own.  In other scenarios God actively punishes those who rebel against God and God’s laws.  But in every situation those in danger eventually cry out to God for help and every time without missing a beat, God comes through and the people in turn praise God for his deliverance and salvation.  Even when the situation from which people needed to be rescued is described as coming at the behest of God himself—God is perhaps punishing people for their sins or at least allowing people’s actions to lead to predictably bad consequences—but this does not deter God for a moment when it comes time to answer people’s prayerful pleas for help.

The picture that emerges of Israel’s God from all this seems to be that this is a God who cannot pass by wrongdoing and rebellion but whose default setting is actually God’s eagerness to do acts of salvation.  God does not want to punish or even to let actions earn the consequences they deserve.  What God wants to do is save.  The Lectionary does not go clear down to the end of the psalm but the closing verse directs the wise to ponder all these things and to ponder the loving deeds of God.

If we are wise and we do ponder all this, we will conclude that it appears God has a hair-trigger when it comes to doing things that contribute to life and flourishing.  Some of the gods and goddesses of the Ancient Near East—as well as the gods later in the Graeco-Roman world—seemed to have a hair-trigger for the loosing of lightning bolts.  The best you could hope for with these kinds of deities is to appease them enough that they would hold back on the mayhem they seem so eager to unleash.

But not with Israel’s God.  It is just the other way around.  The kindness and mercy and grace are all standing at the ready all the time.  God’s posture vis-à-vis even people who have suffered the just deserts of their actions seems to be, “Come on: give me an excuse to rescue you and prosper you and love you!”

In this way Psalm 107 is one of many examples that expose the error of the misunderstanding that has come in church history that tries to say the God of Old Testament Israel is so different from the God Jesus taught us to call “Our Father” in the New Testament that they must be two different gods altogether.  Not so.  The God who loved us while we were yet sinners and so sent Jesus to die for us is indeed the God of Psalm 107: eager to forgive and restore and save.  And again as this poem demonstrates: that is God’s attitude not only toward those who seem to be suffering or who are in trouble through no fault of their own.  It is equally the case for those whose sins and foolish rebellions were plain for God to see.  But even this became no barrier to God’s unleashing his grace.

Too often the church comes across as a place eager to wag bony fingers in people’s faces but slow to proffer love and acceptance.  Psalm 107 reminds us that while we absolutely must take sin with utmost seriousness, we want to do so while simultaneously displaying our own default setting of our eagerness to let grace flow like a mighty river.  We should make it easier—not harder—for people to sense this and to experience this in our preaching and in the posture of our congregations.  Preaching on Psalm 107 could be an occasion for all of us to be reminded of this.

[Note: In addition to our weekly sermon commentaries, we have a special resource page for Lent and Easter for you to explore!]

Illustration Idea

 CEP writing colleague Doug Bratt borrowed a nice image from Bible scholar and commentator Terrence Fretheim nine years ago in a commentary on this site.  Fretheim was playing around with the idea that comes through in Psalm 107 that God is never far from the cries of his people, particularly of people in various forms of distress.  This put Fretheim in mind to think of baby monitors.

Some decades ago parents were able to have a new tool in their child-raising toolbox in the form of wireless baby monitors.  The microphone part of the system was placed near a baby’s crib while the receiver end of the system was carried around by a parent or placed in whatever other room in the house where the parents were while the child was in bed.  If the baby woke up, cried, or somehow expressed distress, the parents knew right away and could go and give whatever help or comfort was required.  Baby monitors meant parents were never far from the cries of their beloved child.

God of course can pull this same thing off without the aid of a device as the omniscient and omnipresent God is always aware of the cries of his beloved ones.  And that is a great comfort indeed!


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