Today's lectionary reading: Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Daniel 12:5-13; Ephesians 1:7-14
Selected passage for reflection: Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22 (NIV)
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
3 those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways
and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
18 They loathed all food
and drew near the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave.
21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for humankind.
22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy.
“Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story,” the psalmist declares, and please don’t skip over the hazards and hardships. If you take a glance at the entirety of Psalm 107, you’ll see that while the psalmist invites worshippers to celebrate the enduring love of God, their call is also to tell the whole story, including the ugly and embarrassing bits. The bits about wandering, rebellion, confinement, sickness, and desperation.
Part of the invitation of Lent is to name the ugly and embarrassing bits of our stories and to offer them up to God. We cry out in our trouble, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”. There is a difference between dwelling on our troubles and directing those troubles towards God in prayer. The invitation of Lent is to turn our troubles towards God in prayer. To make an honest confession of where we have wandered, got stuck, and suffered.
For me, that means naming the projects I’ve left unfinished, the friendships I’ve abandoned, the truths I’ve avoided in favor of “peace”. I can dwell on these and other missteps and failures that haunt me -- or I can turn them towards God in prayer. It means naming cancer - and the doubt that lives right alongside my faith as I fight this disease. I can absorb myself in the challenges of cancer, or I can direct my concerns towards God.
We name the ugly and embarrassing bits of our stories, but there is a bigger story. The bigger story is always one of God’s grace. The bigger story is that time and time again, God comes to rescue and reclaim the one who has wandered and rebelled. Time and time again, God heals and restores the one who has been injured and broken. I hold my shame before God and God shows me something bigger and far more beautiful -- God’s radical, unending love. I hold my disease before God and I can’t fully explain how I receive reassurance that everything will be alright -- that the grave will not define me.
Brennan Manning writes that God “has a single relentless stance toward us: He loves us. He is the only God man has ever heard of who loves sinners. False gods--the gods of human manufacturing--despise sinners, but the Father of Jesus loves all, no matter what they do. But of course, this is almost too incredible for us to accept.” While I wander through the ups and downs of life, God has one single relentless stance towards me: one of love. Incredible indeed!
And in Psalm 107, we are also given an image of God gathering the redeemed together into a community, the brave ones who will tell the whole story of sincerely needing grace and also miraculously finding it.
If we can actually believe that God really does love and accept us, we are called finally to turn towards God in gratitude. “Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for humankind. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.” (21-22) Just as it’s right and healthy for us to be honest about our sins, mistakes, and struggles, we would do well to be intentional about giving thanks to God for our redemption.
Making and sharing playlists is a hobby of mine - and at times, it is even a spiritual practice. During certain seasons, I have relied on a handful of songs to get through and remember the bigger story of God’s grace (for example, a “Grateful for Life” playlist in the early and intense days of my cancer journey). What songs might go on your playlist right now to help you “tell of God’s works with songs of joy”? (Or you could just listen to my Lent 2021 playlist!)
God of relentless love, you know my troubles and trials. I offer them to you, and ask you once again to cover them with grace. Show me your bigger story, bigger than me, bigger than my sins and suffering, your story of redemption and love. Let me live in that story today, thanking you all the way. Amen.
About the Author
Kelly Gillan Johnston is a mom of 3 boys who is ideally outside right now, but is probably just cleaning up a mess. She serves as Pastor of Children and Family Ministries at Naperville Covenant Church in the Chicago suburbs. Thanks to COVID, she’s been spending most of her ministry time making videos for kids.