Sermon Commentary for Sunday, June 23, 2024

Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32 Commentary

Ancient Israel was never know to be a seafaring people.  By Jesus’s day being a fisherman was clearly a common occupation on the Sea of Galilee but Israel did not have much experience with sailing forth on mighty sea vessels out into the Mediterranean or some such.  Yet the section of Psalm 107 that the Lectionary carves out for this Ordinary Time week in Year B focuses on the perils of sailing the high seas and describes what it is like to be caught up in a tempest quite vividly.

But that vignette is one of several within Psalm 107 that all play on the same theme: by hook or by crook people in the past have found themselves in perilous circumstances but when they cried out to God for deliverance, God came through.  Desert wastelands were the plight of some.  Utter darkness and life in prison were the lot of others.  Rebellious fools who broke God’s rules for this creation and suffered the consequences of their sins as a result are yet another group that this poem singles out.

In the end, most of this whole psalm is an example of the power of story, of what we often call in the church “testimony.”  “Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story” verse 2 says and this sets up the rest of the poem as story after story is recounted as a reminder of God’s faithfulness in delivering those who call to him from situations of distress and peril.  Then in the final verse there is a call to be wise in heeding these things and a final call regularly to ponder the mighty deeds of God.  “Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.”

If we zoom out a bit from the specifics of Psalm 107 and of even the chunk of the text the RCL highlights, this poem stands as a testament to something we are indeed wise to ponder and also to put into practice.  My colleague John Witvliet at the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship defines a Christian worship service as “Trinitarian New Covenant Renewal.”  We thought a bit about the nature of Christian worship in also the June 16, 2024, sermon commentary from Psalm 92 and now Psalm 107 gives us another chance to think about fitting worship.

The liturgical suggestion and consideration we get from this week’s psalm ties in with the idea that at its best, Christian worship recapitulates the whole Christian story, the arc of salvation history and its climaxing in the death and resurrection of God’s Son Jesus Christ. From Witvliet’s definition we worship our Triune God in ways that recall the New Covenant in Christ’s blood and in so reviewing all this, we renew our commitment to Christ and to this New Covenant as well.

In a line I quote often from Samuel Johnson, “We need more often to be reminded than instructed.”  And thoughtful Christian worship is at its best a reminder of the old, old story of Jesus and his love, to quote an old hymn.  Indeed, that hymn is titled “I Love to Tell the Story” and whether that hymn writer had Psalm 107 in mind when she penned that song, she well could have as being in love with the story and re-telling it over and over is the upshot of this psalm.

More than we realize, today we live in a world that is chock full of competing narratives.  The mainstream media, the talking heads on cable TV, social media platforms, pundits and prognosticators of all kind are telling stories, framing a narrative view of the world by which we are encouraged to make sense of our lives.  Some such competing narrative frameworks are sunk deep into the mire of conspiracy theories about all manner of things.  Other such narrative frames traffic in a view of life that is all about competition, of doing all you can to come out on top in this or that struggle because life is all about being a winner and not a loser.  And the list goes on.

What all such narrative frames have in common, however, is that they are counter-narratives to the Gospel.  Some are more strongly contradictory of a Gospel narrative frame than others but none just is the Gospel.  But it seems that at times the church does not always keep all this straight.  Too many sermons, too many congregational dynamics, too many of the theological wrestling matches that take place a synods and general assemblies are being driven by a narrative view of life that some seem to have concluded is the same as the Gospel when in point of fact those other views are most decidedly not the Gospel. Some are even the opposite of the Gospel.

Thus Psalm 107’s call to ponder the mighty deeds of the Lord, to re-tell the story of salvation as it is narrated by Scripture.  Worship needs to remind us of this as we listen to the Bible but also as we listen to the testimonies of fellow believers who talk about what God has done in their lives and not about what is going on in society or in the various culture wars that are taking place all over the world.  Wise is the congregation that is very intentional about all this in its worship practices.

A sermon on Psalm 107 could be an occasion to emphasize this in ways that will be deeply grounded in God’s Word such that it need not be seen by anyone as just the pastor’s agenda or some such.  But precisely because other narratives have crept into the church in various ways, it is fully possible this will not be heard well by some who will feel the narrative frame they have been trying to baptize is under threat.  But I suppose that is all the more reason why this has to be said.

Illustration Idea

In his book The End of Words, Richard Lischer notes at one point how children love to hear the same stories over and over.  Most particularly they gravitate to stories that involve the origin of the child in his or her family.  Children love to get to the good parts.  “And then out of all the children in the orphanage, you picked out me, right?”  As Lischer says, what child could ever tire of hearing that story again and again?  It ought to be no different for all of us as the children of God.  We need to hear the divine story of our salvation and we need to hear it told again and again to remind us of who we really are in resistance to all the labels the rest of the world tries to apply to us.

Note: the Psalm for the first reading this week is Psalm 9:9-20. Commentaries for this passage can be found on the CEP website:

Stan Mast:

Doug Bratt:


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