O give thanks to the LORD
Psalm 105 & Genesis 37
by Jordan Farrell
August 10, 2014
Prayer: God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, be with us here today. Help us to remember and sing of the ways you have already broken into this world, so that we might see the wonderful acts you are doing now, and learn to hope for the wonders you promise to do in the future. As we seek to hear you speak this evening, we pray that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing to you. Oh, LORD, our Rock and Redeemer. We ask this in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. One God, now and forever. Amen.
At Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship our life together as church is sustained through the sharing of stories. Actually, no, no that’s not entirely true, let’s try that again: At Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship our life together as church is sustained through the sharing of stories and the sharing of really good food. Over the communion table at potlucks and in living rooms, the Holy Spirit continues to gather us and weave our lives together. Each Sunday we are led back to this new space that we haven’t quite figured out, this space that doesn’t quite feel like home yet, and here we remind one another of the Gospel Story, of the good news of Jesus Christ that is breaking into the world and re-organizing our place in it.
We tell stories and break bread. It’s who we are. Through four-part harmony, sermons, prayers, musical accompaniments, mutual discernment, and reading Scripture we give and receive stories that remind us of Jesus and teach us how to listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit. In this way our congregation embodies the Psalm that Catherine read this evening. Psalm 105 is a history of sorts—a historical, poetic survey that covers half of Genesis and all of Exodus in 39 short verses. Like all people who write history, the Psalmist is doing something with this series of short stories.
That is no secret; the Psalmist actually tells us her intentions in the first six verses:
O give thanks to the LORD, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually. Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he has uttered, O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones. (Psalm 105:1-6)
Through the sharing of stories the Psalmist is giving thanks, calling on the name of the LORD, evangelizing, singing praises, glorying in the holiness of God, rejoicing, seeking the LORD, and remembering the wonderful works, miracles, and judgments God has done. Telling these stories, the Psalmist declares, is a serious and joyful work. It’s the work of faith, of discipleship, of church. It’s the work through which the Holy Spirit has gathered us and woven our lives together.
While Psalm 105 stretches from Abraham to the Promise Land, the section we read tonight focuses in on one particular story. Namely, the story of Jacob’s son, Joseph—you might know him as the one who had the amazing technicolored dreamcoat. According to the Psalmist the LORD was fast at work in Joseph’s life. The Psalmist declares, “When [the LORD] summoned famine against the land, and broke every staff of bread, he had sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” (105:16-17). The LORD sent Joseph ahead of the famine, and this should be counted among one of God’s miraculous, wonderful works. Along with the Psalmist we have the privilege of knowing how things turned out for Joseph. He, however, didn’t have that privilege. It’s a bit easier to look back and give thanks for the wonderful acts that God has done in the past then it is to see how God is working in the present.
Reading Psalm 105 alongside Genesis 37 complicates an already troubling passage of Scripture. I can’t help but wonder how Joseph would have felt if, while sitting in the slop at the bottom of the pit that his brothers threw him into, he heard his brother Judah yell down to him that they were not doing all of this because they passionately hated Joseph. No. Instead, they attacked him, threw him into a pit, and were selling him as a slave because it was the LORD’s will to send Joseph away.
I wonder how angry Joseph would have gotten if, on the long, hot march to Egypt one of his newly acquired owners told him not to be so sad, because, after all God works all things together for the good of those who believe hard enough.
In Psalm 105, the Psalmist is able to name the active presence of God in a way that Joseph, his brothers, the travelling merchants, and the writer of Genesis weren’t. At least not at this point in the story. God doesn’t show up in Genesis 37, at least not explicitly, not in a way worth mentioning. When Joseph looked into his brothers faces after they sold him for twenty pieces of silver, I don’ think he saw or felt the presence of God. At this moment in his life, Jesus’ cry from the cross seems closer to his lips then the Psalmist’s shout of thanks and praise. This isn’t resurrection for Joseph, it isn’t good news. It’s Good Friday. It’s “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?”
While we often find ourselves in positions similar to the Psalmist, able to name and give thanks for the wonderful things God has done, we live much of our life alongside Joseph, as people in the middle of ongoing stories, unable to see or name the presence of God.
As disciples of the crucified and resurrected Christ we believe that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. And in Jesus we live with the hope of Resurrection. We have this belief and hope, but what do we do when we find ourselves sitting in the bottom of the pit alongside Joseph.
How do we see, let alone give thanks for what God is doing, when we are the people in the middle of a painful story instead of the ones telling it from a distance?
How do we see God’s deeds when all we can see are rockets flying through the air over Gaza?
How do we sing praises that tell of your wonderful works, O LORD when our voices are filled with farewells to people we love?
How do we rejoice when our hearts are burdened with loneliness and depression?
How do we hear your judgments when all we hear are your churches casting their own judgments about who can and cannot be a part of your Body?
It is here, into the pervading darkness of these pits, that the Psalmist speaks words of life. Give thanks. Sing praises. Remember! Remember the ways God has been faithfully present in the past, because that is the God we serve in the present. As followers of Jesus, we serve the resurrected God, we follow the God who is alive. The Holy Spirit, who hovered over the waters of creation, has not forsaken us. Having received words of life from the Psalmist we proclaim them again, to one another and to God:
We are woven together as the Body of Christ, and we give thanks to you O LORD, we call upon your name and make you’re your deeds known among all of creation. Through your presence in the fellowship at Chapel Hill Mennonite your Holy Spirit breathes life into our weary bodies. Thank you. We sing to you LORD, in sanctuaries and hospital rooms we sing praises to you that tell of your wonderful works, that Jesus is alive and your Holy Spirit is breaking into this world. We glory in your holy name, and our hearts rejoice and long for your presence. We yearn for you LORD, and we depend on the presence of your Holy Spirit to sustain us and be our strength; we long for your presence as we share stories, meals, and prayers. We remember the wonderful works you have done, the miracle of our continued existence and the judgments you have uttered.
When our hope is running thin we share stories and break bread, because it is through these acts that the Holy Spirit gathers us and weaves my life to yours, your life to mine, and our lives to Christ’s life. At Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship our lives are sustained through the sharing of stories and the sharing of really good food, because that is how we learn to see and give thanks for the wonderful works God is doing.