"REMEMBERING" - I Corinthians 15:50-58; Psalm 105
A Sermon by Alex W. Evans, Pastor
Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA
From Sunday, January 20, 2019
Texts: I Corinthians 15:50-58; Psalm 105
Some of you are probably familiar with the name Will Smith. Will Smith is an African American actor, singer, and comedian. In 2007, Newsweek magazine called him the “most powerful actor in Hollywood.” He has been nominated for 5 Golden Globes and 2 Academy Awards. He has won 4 Grammy Awards for his singing. Many of his films have been blockbuster hits, earning millions of dollars and millions of fans. And his ability to move easily between television and movies, between music and comedy, between serious roles and humorous ones, keeps Will Smith as one of the most popular and most successful names in the entertainment industry.
So, if you Google Will Smith’s name, you can find pages and pages of information. What you can also find is a Youtube video that he posted of himself. The video shows Will Smith skydiving in Dubai. That Youtube video has been watched more than 28 million times. It is not just a video about sky-diving. It is a video about over-coming your fears!!
Will Smith says, you know, you are “out with your friends and someone says, ‘Yeah, we should go skydiving tomorrow!’ You go, “Yeah, we’ll go skydiving tomorrow!” “Yeah! Yeah!” Everybody says, “Yeah, that will be great!” Then that night, Smith says, “you’re laying in your bed and . . . . . ‘Uh, uh!’ You’re terrified! You keep imagining over and over again jumping out of an airplane, and you can’t figure out why you would do that. You wake up the next day, and you go down to the place where you said you were going to meet, and everybody’s there. You get in the van and . . . still, ‘Oh my! How did we agree to this?!’ Your stomach is terrible. You can’t eat and everything; but you don’t want to be the only punk who doesn’t jump out of this airplane. You fly, and you go up, you go up, you go up, and you go up to 14,000 feet.”
Then, as Smith tells it, “Somebody opens the door, and in that moment, you realize you’ve never been in a airplane with the door open. You’re looking out down to death. They say, ‘We’re going to go on three;’ and they say, ‘One, two,’ and he pushes you on two because people grab on three. You go, ‘Ahhh.’ You fall out of the airplane.”
And this is what he says: “In one second, you realize that it’s the most blissful experience of your life! You’re flying. There’s zero fear. You realize at the point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear. It’s bliss. Why were you scared in your bed the night before? What do you need that fear for? Everything up to the stepping point, there’s actually no reason to be scared. It only just ruins your day. The best things in life are on the other side of terror; on the other side of your maximum fear, are all of the best things in life.” (see Youtube video)
Then this is what Will Smith says: “God places the best things in life just on the other side of fear. God places the best things in life just on the other side of our fears.” The bliss comes when you get past the fears; the bliss is just on the other side.
Like last week, I am preaching today on another Psalm, a long one – Psalm 105. Psalm 105 is even less familiar that Psalm 104 (last week). Here is a descriptive sentence about Psalm 105: Psalm 105 displays the act of REMEMBERING God’s good actions that move us to glad obedience. (see W Brueggemann, Christian Century, 12/19/2018, p. 28)
REMEMBERING is always important in the Bible. REMEMBERING is so important to Christian faith. The very act of Communion around the Lord’s table is about REMEMBERING – as we repeat those words – “do this in remembrance.” So much of what we strive for together in our fellowship is about REMEMBERING: REMEMBERING God’s abiding love and care through the ups and downs of life, REMEMBERING God’s presence and promises in the darkest days, REMEMBERING God’s call to do justice, love kindness, walk humbly; REMEMBERING that day in a day out, we trust God and seek to serve God.
Psalm 105 displays the act of REMEMBERING God’s actions that move us to glad obedience. You can find this Psalm on p. 484. Listen:
1O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples. 2Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works. 3Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
4Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.
5Remember the wonderful works he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, 6O offspring of his servant Abraham, children of Jacob, his chosen ones.
7He is the Lord our God; his judgments are in all the earth.
8He is mindful of his covenant forever, of the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations, 9the covenant that he made with Abraham, his sworn promise to Isaac,
10which he confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, 11saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as your portion for an inheritance.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
REMEMBERING God’s gracious acts, REMEMBERING God’s abiding care, gives us fortitude, courage, focus, especially in the face of our fears. REMEMBERING God’s presence and promises, God’s strength and miracles, REMEMBERING God’s covenant, always empowers us to live with trust and in loving service toward God’s purposes.
If you are looking for a brief history of the Biblical story, and how God was always present and always at work in that history, Psalm 105 is a nice place to find it. In those first 11 verses, we get the general reminder to REMEMBER – “give thanks, . . . call on God’s name, . . . sing to him, . . . glory in his name, . . . REMEMBER the wonderful works he has done. . . . God is our God!”
Then – in the following verse - the psalm gets into to specifics of Biblical history to help our REMEMBERING for the present, for the fears, for the chaos of our lives: “when we were few in number and strangers in the land, and wandering from nation to nation” – this refers to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants in the stories of Genesis – it says, REMEMBER: “God allowed no one to oppress them” (v. 12-15).
When “a famine broke out” God took care of God’s people. “He sent a man ahead of them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.” And on the surface, it appears that God’s people will suffer and struggle like everyone else. But as the story of Genesis tells it, God never deserted the people. God was always at work. Joseph – by God’s grace – became a instrument of help and care not only for the famine but for God’s greater purposes (v. 16-22)
Then “Israel came to Egypt, (slaves in that land). . . . but God “sent his servant Moses, and Aaron, whom he had chosen” (v. 26) After signs and miracles, after God brought plagues and darkness on Egypt, “God brought Israel out with silver and gold, and there was no one among their tribes who stumbled” (v. 37) Not one stumbled.
See, . . . this REMEMBERING intends to give us fortitude and faith with whatever we are dealing with. REMEMBERING God’s amazing actions leads us into glad obedience: trusting God with present circumstances and concerns, and serving God always.
Psalm 105 continues. As they moved from Egypt through the wilderness, God “spread a cloud for covering, and fire to give light by night, . . . and God gave them food in abundance from heaven. He opened the rock (when they were thirsty) and water gushed out. It flowed through the desert like a river” (v. 39-41).
This is a psalm to remind us that the best things in life may be just on the other side of our greatest fears, our deepest setbacks. REMEMBERING displays for us how God is always at work – in the worst moments, like when Joseph is sold off into slavery. No, God made a better way out of that mess. REMEMBERING displays for us how God never deserts us. God provided abundance in the desert, care in the critical times, sustenance even in the season when it seemed like God was most absent. No, never was God absent, or not bringing about God’s loving, caring purposes and plans. This is THE GOSPEL!
How often, or how recently, have you heard that statement, “God won’t give you more than you can handle?” Maybe you have heard it, or maybe you have said it to someone else in the midst of a hard time. And maybe that statement intends to be helpful, but when you think about it, it is one of those shallow comments that needs a bit more thought.
Let’s start with the first four words of that statement, “God won’t give you. . . .” When we say that, we are implying that whatever happens to us, whatever painful, difficult, frightening situation we are in, comes from God. God somehow “gave it” to us.
Certainly, in the way that Psalm 105 reviews the history of God’s people, so we REMEMBER God’s abiding care, God is NOT ever the one giving, or creating, the hardship and difficulty. God is NOT the one causing the crisis and fears. The only thing God is doing is making a new way when there was no way. The only thing God is doing is tending to whatever happens, and providing steadfast love and care that leads to God’s purposes and plans. Again – the GOSPEL!
Here is the deal: we will face adversity in our lives. We will experience hardships. We will find ourselves at various times at a major crossroad – maybe in our work, or our personal lives, or with relationships, or with medical diagnosis, or as a nation. We may struggle with debilitating depression, or suicidal thoughts, or anxiety so real that we are not sure what to do, or grief so heavy we feel we will suffocate. These things can absolutely feel like more than we can handle. What Scripture shows us, what Psalm 105 shows us, is NOT that we wont go through hard times. What Scripture shows us and promises is that at all times, good or bad, God wants to be and remains our help and strength. The hardships and struggles are NOT part of God’s plan. They are Not sent by God. They are part of the human experience. What God does – what God is about – is walking through it with us, always caring, never departing from us, promising light for the darkness, hope for the despair, love and justice prevailing. (see A. Hamilton, Half Truths, p.94)
It is not that God won’t give you more than you can handle. It is MORE true and MORE real and MORE promising that God will help you handle all that you have been given.
Psalm 105 displays the amazing love, abiding care, and endless acts of God. By REMEMBERING God’s faithfulness, by REMEMBERING the stories of God’s boundless care working God’s purposes out, we are strengthened for whatever happens in our lives. God does not ever let us go. God is trustworthy and powerful, always present, always at work.
This week, the poet, Mary Oliver died, moving on from this life to the next. As I have said before, her poems have been a means of grace for me, leading to reflection, faith, and a sense of God’s goodness and beauty.
Mary Oliver has a poem entitled “At The River Clarion.”
I don’t know who God is exactly.
But I’ll tell you this.
I was sitting in the river named Clarion, on a water splashed stone
and all afternoon I listened to the voices of the river talking.
Whenever the water struck a stone it had something to say,
and the water itself, and even the mosses trailing under the water.
And slowly, very slowly, it became clear to me what they were saying.
Said the river: I am part of holiness.
And I too, said the stone. And I too, whispered the moss beneath the water.
I’d been to the river before, a few times.
Don’t blame the river that nothing happened quickly.
You don’t hear such voices in an hour or a day.
You don’t hear them at all if selfhood has stuffed your ears.
And it’s difficult to hear anything anyway, through all the traffic, the ambition. . . .
This is a long poem, with several chapters. It is about finding God, finding holiness, finding grace in unexpected moments. Towards the end, we find these words, . . . . back at the river:
Along its shores were, may I say, very intense cardinal flowers.
And trees, and birds that have wings to uphold them, for heaven’s sakes–
the lucky ones: they have such deep natures,
they are so happily obedient. (See DEVOTIONS. P. 86f.)
“Intense cardinal flowers, . . .trees, . . .birds that have wings to uphold them, . . . . happily obedient.”
What makes us happily obedient?
REMEMBERING God’s actions and care – which never end – REMEMBERING intends to move us as God’s people to glad, happy obedience.
The apostle Paul says it so confidently in our first lesson: “what I am saying brothers and sisters is this: . . . thanks be to God who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . . be steadfast, immoveable, . . . because you know your labor is not in vain.” Or in another place, Paul says, “we do not lose hope, . . . we are being renewed day by day.”
REMEMBERING God’s presence, help, and strength, we can move past our fear, and disappointments, and difficult seasons; we keep living and serving, trusting God and spreading God’s love, with glad obedience.
May we be so filled with the knowledge of God’s presence and promises, so surrounded by reminders of God’s steadfast faithfulness, so confident of God’s love, that we remain steadfast, immoveable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, for our labor is never in vain. May it be so. Alleluia. Amen.
Prayer of Commitment: Through all the moments, circumstances, and seasons, you, O God, are always present, always at work. Increase our faith, strengthen our courage, deepen our fortitude; we seek to love and follow Jesus. Amen.
Alex W. Evans, Pastor, Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA preached this sermon during Sunday morning worship on January 20, 2019. This is a rough manuscript.