Between Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving

Psalm 126

Between Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving

November 20, 2016 Maple Grove UMC

So what do you think? What is the mood of this psalm? I assume most people would say something like . . . joy. Anticipation. Gratitude. That’s why I chose it for Thanksgiving Sunday. It’s a happy psalm, right? I always thoughts so; in fact, I still think so. But Old Testament scholars classify this as a psalm of lament. Why is that? you might wonder. Well, right in the middle of the psalm is this verse: "Restore our fortunes, O Lord." Restore our fortunes, O Lord: it’s a prayer for deliverance. Which means that something has gone wrong, that help is needed, that in other words this is a lament.

But it’s a certain kind of lament, isn’t it? It’s not a whiny lament, not a let-me-go-into-great-detail-about-how-bad-I-feel kind of lament. Rather it’s a cry for deliverance that calls to mind God’s faithfulness in the past and that envisions the good God is going to do. Lament does not have to be hopeless or bitter. Rather lament is an opportunity to remember times of thanksgiving past and to anticipate times of thanksgiving to come. Some of the time we’ve just been delivered from trouble and therefore actively giving thanks to God. Much of the time we can remember that deliverance, but we are again in need of some kind; and so we’re lamenting in a way, we’re praying, we’re envisioning God’s new deliverance. We live, in other words, between thanksgiving past and thanksgiving to come. And that means no matter how bad things get, Thanksgiving is always on the way.

Let me point out to you a few wonders of the poetry in Psalm 126:

  • Note the artful shift in verb tenses from past to present to future. The psalm begins in past tense, "When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion (that is brought the exiles back from Babylon), we were like those who dream." Past tense—looking back at what God has done. Suddenly in verse four, it bursts into present tense, "Restore our fortunes, O Lord!"—right now, present tense. And in the final verse we taste the future tense: "Those who go forth weeping . . . shall come home with shouts of joy." That’s the movement of the psalm, the movement of our lives—from deliverance past , to present prayers for help, to a future of joy once again. We live between thanksgiving and thanksgiving.
  • Notice that in this psalm, no reason is given for its lament. We don’t know why Israel feels threatened or what they need to be restored from. It simply says, "Restore our fortunes, O Lord." That vagueness makes this prayer anyone’s prayer, it makes this lament everyone’s lament. We can all pray this psalm. We all live between thanksgiving and thanksgiving.
  • The psalm compares the community’s fortunes to the watercourses in the Negeb—that is, to streams in the desert. Sometimes they are lush and full, at other times painful and dry. There is an ebb and flow to life—sometimes we win and sometimes we lose. We may not like, but we learn to live with it in faithfulness.
  • And then there’s this lovely image: "Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy!" Our tears don’t just water the earth, they actually become seeds which later sprout into joy. Be not afraid to plant your tears of sorrow, so that in God’s good time you can have a harvest of joy. We live between thanksgiving and thanksgiving, which means that no matter how bad things get, Thanksgiving is always on its way..

We can learn to tell the stories of our lives in this way, as living always between thanksgiving and thanksgiving. The people of Israel were delivered from slavery in Egypt and danced and sang for joy. Then they wandered in the wilderness for forty years and lamented. Then God led them into the Promised Land and they gave thanks. But in Judges we learn that even in the Promised Land life was full of enemies and trouble, and they cried out for deliverance. God raised up King David to unite and protect them and they gave thanks. But his successors were often weak and idolatrous, which finally resulted in the Babylonian exile, and O how the people lamented. But God restored the exiles to Zion—that is, God miraculously brought the exiles back from Babylon--and their mouths were filled with laughter. But hard times followed . . . And on it goes. We live between thanksgiving and thanksgiving.

My own mother was born in 1929, her parents’ first child and there was much thanksgiving. But the Great Depression came her childhood was filled with dust and deprivation, and they lamented. Finally the Depression lifted and granddad got a good job, and their mouths were filled with laughter and plenty of food. But then came W.W. II with its rationing and its grief. But soon after she married my dad and started a family—sweet thanksgiving. Then came a son with Down Syndrome, and prayers and concern. But you know things were fine and thanksgiving returned. And one day my dad died, a long lament for my mother. But she emerged from that and gave thanks again for grandkids and good work to do. And on it goes. We live between thanksgiving and thanksgiving.

So here’s what I want to ask you this Thanksgiving Sunday: can you tell your own story as a series of thanksgiving and laments, and thanks -giving and laments? What would be your great laments? And how has God restored your fortunes?

And one last question, if we live between thanksgiving and thanksgiving, where are you in the story right now? What are you thanking God for right now? Or . . . what deliverance are you envisioning to thank God for in days to come?

We live between thanksgiving and thanksgiving, so that no matter how bad things may get, Thanksgiving is always on the way.

 

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