Sermon: Psalm 103
Epiphany 5 - February 4, 2018 - Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
Psalm 103 tells us a lot of wonderful truths, but if there’s one truth that it especially tells us it is why we live. Or we might rephrase those words, why we live, as a question - why do we live? So why do we live? Why do you live? You’re going to answer that question differently depending on how you interpret the question. You might look at the question from a purely physical perspective. We live because our bodies function the way they do. We feed and take care of ourselves. You might look at the question from a spiritual point of view. We live because we have a soul or spirit that inhabits these bodies. And we would say God gives us spiritual life. He created us with a body and a soul, and he feeds us with the gospel of forgiveness and salvation that gives us new spiritual life every day.
But you also might answer this question - why do we live - from the perspective of purpose. In other words for what purpose do we live? And that’s a question that many people wonder about. For what purpose do I live? Why am I here? What does my life mean? What am I supposed to do?
Psalm 103 really answers this question - why we live - why do we live - from all of those points of view - why we live physically, why we live spiritually, and why, or for what purpose, we live. Today we’re going to consider
WHY WE LIVE
Do you have a favorite psalm? You might consider putting Psalm 103 on your list of favorites and read it often. I’ve found that I often have used Psalm 103 as a devotional psalm when I visit people in the hospital. It’s appropriate for someone in the hospital because King David, who writes the psalm, says that God “heals all your diseases.”
God certainly has the power to heal our diseases and sicknesses. In our gospel reading today Jesus miraculously healed the disciple Peter’s mother-in-law. And then when word spread that Jesus was at Peter’s house many more people came hoping that Jesus could heal the sick people they brought to him as well as the demon-possessed. And he did. Jesus healed many people who were sick or dealing with some kind of physical problem during his ministry. And James in his letter encourages the sick to call upon fellow Christians to pray for them, and their prayers will be heard and answered.
Sickness is no fun. Sickness makes us feel horrible. It keeps us from our work and responsibilities. We cringe when we see our little children sick. Worse yet sickness can lead to death. You and I know that this winter has become one of the worst flu seasons that our country has seen in a long time. Adults and little children have died from this flu, an ailment that we usually think will just go away in a few days.
We should never take sickness or disease for granted or as insignificant. Go to God in prayer for yourself, for your children, for family members, friends, and fellow members here in our congregation. God is the one who holds power over this physical world. He has the power to heal any sickness from the common cold or flu to the most devastating illness.
That God heals our diseases is a good reminder that we live because God gives us life. We should never forget how God created Adam in the beginning. He literally formed him from the dust of the earth and breathed into him the physical breath of life. Our first parents were literally created by God, and we, as their descendants, are God’s creations as well.
And God is the one who preserves us and protects us in this life. David writes in this psalm, “[God] crowns you with love and compassion, [and] satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
What good things does God satisfy you with so that you enjoy life and sometimes even feel young again? Don’t take the simple physical blessings of God for granted. In these cold days of January I thank God for a home that’s warm, for plenty of food and clothing. I thank God for employment, for my car, for good neighbors, for fellow Christians who love God, for good health, and that we live in relative peace and safety. Those, and much more, are the good things that God blesses us with, the things that satisfy our desires. We live because God gives us life and richly preserves us.
When we sang this psalm this morning did you note how many times King David writes that God forgives our sins? In the portion of the psalm we sang we are told about ten times that God forgives our sins. If you read the entire psalm there are at least a dozen expressions of God’s forgiveness.
But in addition to the number of times David mentions God’s forgiveness, what’s really interesting and insightful are the many ways in which David expresses or describes God’s forgiveness. He starts by telling us to praise God because he “forgives all your sins.” But then he goes on to say that “the LORD is compassionate and gracious.” He’s “slow to anger, abounding in love.” In other words God is patient with us. If God were not patient with us, if he didn’t give us time, sometimes a long time, to repent of our sins, we would all have been lost a long time ago, condemned, and perhaps already in hell.
Do you think God gives you what you deserve in life? Some people get angry at God because they think he hasn’t given them what they deserve, what they think they should have in life, what they want. But be careful that you don’t ask God for what you deserve. His response may be way different than what you expected. What we deserve from God is his justice and anger, his retribution and eternal punishment for our sins.
But King David writes, “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.” King David does not write all these expressions of forgiveness because it’s just wishful thinking on his part. David was well acquainted with the concept of atonement for sin. He witnessed many times at the tabernacle animals sacrificed to atone for his sin. Animals died for him. And though he didn’t know all the details as we do, David knew that one day God would send someone who would fully atone for his and our sins.
God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. But he also didn’t overlook those sins. He took all those sins and placed them on Jesus his own Son, the son of David. God doesn’t repay us according to our iniquities. He made Jesus, his own Son, pay for our sins. He paid the wages of our sin. He died for our sin. He gave up his own life. And when God raised Jesus from the dead he was assuring us that our sins were all forgiven, that he did not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us for our iniquities.
And that’s why David could write, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; for as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” How far is the east from the west? In King David’s time, and with his understanding of the earth, he probably thought that the east and west were divided by thousands of miles, from one horizon to the other. Sin and guilt removed from us by thousands of miles is certainly a blessing. But we today have an even better understanding of what the Holy Spirit inspired David to write. How far is the east from the west? If you traveled from the east part of our country to the west you’d just keep going until you went all the way around the earth back to where you started. The distance from the east to the west is an infinite distance. It never ends. God has removed our sin and guilt totally, completely, an infinite, never-ending distance from us. We live because God forgives our sins and gives us new spiritual life. We live because God gives us eternal life.
Why we live. Why do we live? We live because God created us and preserves us physically in this world. We live spiritually and will live forever with God because he has blessed us with his Son Jesus and with forgiveness and eternal life.
But we can still consider this thought, why we live, this question, why do we live, from the perspective of purpose. For what purpose do we live? Anyone who has time to think and ponder life has got to eventually get to this question - for what purpose do I live? Why am I here? What am I supposed to do?
Psalm 103 answers that question very clearly. As a matter of fact, while this psalm speaks abundantly about God’s forgiveness, David’s main purpose is to encourage us to praise God, to worship and honor God, to thank him for all his blessings. In the portion of this psalm that we sang today David tells us to praise God two times. But if you read the entire psalm David tells us seven times in the twenty-two verses to praise the LORD. He begins the psalm with the words, “Praise the LORD, O my soul,” and he ends the psalm with the words, “Praise the LORD, O my soul.” And in between those two expressions of praise he gives us all the reasons that God deserves our praise and thanks.
David commands his very soul, his inmost being, to praise God. David is not simply talking about some quick, and sometimes even thoughtless, prayer that we say before a meal to thank God. He wants us to frequently and thoughtfully reach down into the very center of our being, into our most private thoughts, and give God abundant thanks and praise.
When you come to church on Sunday morning are you coming to get something or give something? You come to get something, certainly. You come to hear God’s word. You come to hear about forgiveness. You come to be comforted. But it’s far more important that you come to church to give something. Before we even talk about Jesus or forgiveness or eternal life, we come to church to praise God for being God who rules over us. We praise God for creating us and preserving and protecting us in this life. We praise God for his forgiveness and mercy in Jesus’ name.
Why we live. We live because God gave us physical life and sustains us. We live because God forgives us and renews us spiritually. For those blessings, for those benefits, we live for the purpose of praising and worshiping God. That’s why we live. Amen.