If you're like me you like to check out the news now and then and you may have seen something about Occupy. Have you seen anything or heard anything about the Occupy Wall Street or the Occupy Knoxville or Chattanooga or Nashville? If you're like me you've also kind of tried to think through the issues. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
At first I kind of said to myself, yeah, sock it to them. All those rich people. Tell it like it is. But the more I have watched this and the more I've heard about it, the more disgusted I have become, quite frankly. I have to put a little caveat here. It seems as if this protest movement has been a bit politicized and it can be taken as if by me supporting or not supporting, that I stand in one party or the other. I want to make it very clear that I stand in neither of the two parties in our nation. I am registered with one of them. I will not say the name of it but it does start with a capital 'R'. I see myself as an independent, and I try to vote the issues and not according to party lines. I want to make that clear because I feel like as a Christian and as a pastor I need to minister to people in both parties.
However, this issue really bugs me. The complaint is, there's 1% of our nation's population who are holding all the money and keeping it from the 99%, and 'we are the 99'. That's their rallying cry. As I was thinking about this, I did some research on the Internet, because I wondered how poor are they really. They're complaining because they don't have money and the rich people do and I started thinking about it and I found this neat little website that helped me to see just how poor they were.
What you do is you plug-in how much money you make and it will tell you where you stand according to the world population. Not the United States population. So I started with my own salary just to see, and I was shocked. Then I said, okay, maybe these people don't make as much as a well-paid Adventist pastor, so I thought I would try maybe the poverty line in the United States. I researched the poverty line and I was still amazed at where they stood.
So I said, okay, they're probably disgruntled because they're broke. Maybe they don't have jobs a lot of them. I've heard that. So I said okay, let's put at $15,000. What if they made $15,000. I'm certain that they would at least make that if they get Social Security, right?. I mean they're going to get something. Most people. Maybe not. Many don't but we'll say they do. What if they made $15,000. Where would they stand according to the world population. I looked it up, and here's the results page. At $15,000 they stand at the top 12% of the world population, according to salary. I'm so sorry. Sorry for the sarcasm.
Now the median wage around here is about 55,000. I looked that up. If you're making around $55,000 a year you're in the top 1% of the world. It's astonishing. We have so much to be grateful for here in our nation. It's interesting that another fact I discovered is that 91% of Americans earn more than $15,000 a year so the majority of those people who are protesting are higher than the 12%.
It's funny to me because I was looking online and discovered that they celebrated Thanksgiving together. I thought, weren't they embarrassed? Celebrate Thanksgiving? Because all they've been doing is complaining. Now they're celebrating Thanksgiving. How can you say that you're being thankful when you haven't been thankful at all for the past three months.
It's a far cry from our early forefathers who came to our nation, suffered through a terrible winter, lost so many of their family and friends by death through illness and exposure. But at the end of it all they gathered together with the natives of the land who had helped them to survive and celebrated and had big feast and thanked God for what he had done for them. I suspect that the average occupy Wall Street protester has far more than what the Pilgrims had. In fact, the pilgrims I hear were so thankful that they wrote letters to go home when the next boat came saying, hey, we're doing better than you are. That's how grateful they were for the little that they had.
Today I would like to talk about a Psalm. Psalm 95. It talks about being thankful, and the importance of being thankful. This Psalm recalls the Exodus, the time when the children of Israel left the land of Egypt.
It's interesting. I learned one of my seminary classes that the whole Bible is written in the language of history. Once you get past the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the prophecies, all these books reflect back to what God has done in the past. This is how the Hebrews worshiped. They worshiped by remembering what God had done in the past. This Psalm 95 is remembering what God had done.
If you look through Psalm 95 you will see hints of the Exodus all the way through to the very end it gets very explicit and refers to the Exodus and the people of Israel coming out. In the Psalm I want to look at five reasons to thank God. Five reasons that we are to praise God for what he has done for us. I was hoping to do three, I wanted to let you know. I wanted to do three because that's a neat sermon, tidy, but I just couldn't narrow it down to three, so we're going to have five. It's Thanksgiving. Were celebrating. We can thank certainly God for five things, can't we?
So here's the first one. In Psalm 95. Reason number one to thank God. He is our salvation. Now if I were writing this Psalm I would have saved this for the last because this is the most important one, in my opinion. No, the writer puts it at the very beginning and so we're going to start right at the very beginning with the very best reason to be thankful. God is our salvation.
Oh come let us sing to the Lord. Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. You see the hint of the Exodus coming out in this Psalm. The rock of our salvation. What is that remind you of? Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving. Let us shout joyfully to him with Psalm. This is the very beginning where he commands us to thank God. To shout joyfully to him with Psalm. Harking back to the rock of Israel's salvation. The rock that was split in two and water gushed forth to provide for their thirst.
Of course, when you think about praising God, the God of their salvation as the people of Israel, they had very recently been rescued from the land of Egypt and been taken out through the Red Sea. Certainly they can praise the rock of their salvation for that as well.
We look down through the ages to our time, we can apply it to a different rock of our salvation. The higher rock. The rock that was cleft for you and me so that we could be rescued from the sea of sin and placed on a higher land and one day live for eternity. That's an incredible reason to thank God. Thank God for his salvation. That's the first reason.
Reason number two. He is the great God, which I would have to say, is something that would be very important to the people of Israel after they had gone through the Red Sea. Let me read the text. For the Lord is the great God and the king above all gods. The children of Israel had very recently been rescued from a people who had numerous gods and who claimed that their gods made them strong.
God in the ten plagues had demonstrated his power over very specific gods in those plagues. You look at the plague where he turned out the lights and put darkness across the land. That was a great affront to the god ra who was the sun god. Ra could not prevent the God of the universe from turning off the son. And then there's hapi. Hapi the Nile River God. When God turned the river into blood and also sent frogs out of the river to plague the Egyptians it was an affront to that god. By the way, to the Egyptians, blood was horrific. It was a desecration to have their River God, the nile, filled with blood. So God was definitely fighting against hapi when he did that, saying, listen I'm more powerful than hapi.
Then when God sent his angel down to slay the firstborn of the nobles and the first born of the slaves it was a direct affront to the goddess Isis. Isis began in the early years of the Egyptian kingdom. Isis was the god of the slave. The protector of the slave. As time went by she became not only the protector of the slave, but the protector of the nobles, and by God slaying the firstborn of both the slave and the noble, everybody throughout the land, he was saying Isis cannot protect you. I am the real God. I am the only God. I am the great God. The children of Israel saw this as a great battle of the gods and God won and protected them and they had reason to give thanks to him.
I think now in our world, in our time, we can thank God for the gods that he's delivered us from. These are the gods of our age. Luxury. He delivered us from the need for that. I hope he has. Perhaps he hasn't and it's time to ask him to do so. I think many of us can sit here and say, yes, I can be content. The God of fast cars. Sometimes we put our trust in relationships or leisure. Entertainment. That's one of our big gods of this age. We even sometimes idolize our families and success. By God's grace he's delivering us from all of them. We have reason to be thankful.
I believe it was St. Augustine who said, in the heart of every man is a God sized hole and only God can fill it. We can sit here today contented knowing that God has replaced our need for all these false gods and replaced them with himself and giving us contentment and peace and hope for the future.
So number one, we can be thankful to God because he is our salvation, the rock of our salvation. We can be thankful because he is the great God above all gods.
We can also be thankful, reason number three, because he is the Creator. God is the creator God. By the way, the Egyptians had a god who was the god above all gods and he was the creator god who actually created himself. So when they were praising the creator they were also saying that this is our god who's a creator god, not yours. In his hand are the deep places of the earth, the height of the hills are his also, so because of his creative power he has authority over the deep places of the earth and the height of the Hills and again we see hints of the Exodus, coming out here because the people of Israel were walking through the Sinai area. You can see the deep barren valleys and the high mountains. As they're traveling through this place it may have been a barren place, a wilderness, they should thank God because he made it all. If He can make all this around them, he can also take care of them.
The sea is his for he made it and his hands formed the dry land. Once again referring back to the Red Sea, remembering how God the creator was able to split the waters in half and create a path for them to travel through to safety from the Egyptians. Oh come let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord our maker. Not only is he the creator of all things, the creator of the land and sea, the creator of the mountains and valleys, he is the creator of me. If he can split the waters in two and create a pathway through them because he made them, he can also separate me from my sins and rescue me as well. Lord, is my maker, and I will worship him because of that.
Nowadays we can do the same because God is our maker. We are to be thankful because he has made us. I don't know about you but that's a good reason, in my opinion, to thank God. I can exist. I can think. I can feel. I can enjoy.
This Thanksgiving I had the privilege of running in the Chattanooga Turkey trot. If you don't know me, you don't realize that three years ago I could hardly limp in a race. Now I'm running, and I said, I don't want to get in the way of the fast people so I'll get back in the lineup. Then I ended up passing a lot of people and getting stuck behind people because I was actually too fast for them and I couldn't believe it. I can praise God that I have my being and my health. I can worship my maker. Because he made me he can also make me whole, physically and spiritually.
When I got done with the 5K race I went home and I was so excited and I felt so good I said, honet, I'm cooking Thanksgiving dinner. So she got to sit around while I made Thanksgiving dinner and I was saying, this is amazing. I can do so much. I'm healthy and happy. It was awesome. And the food even turned out okay.
Reason four. He is our shepherd. Once again we see the God who took the children of Israel out of Egypt. For he is our God and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. God not only rescued them but he led them. Remember the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day. You may recall that it was Jesus himself who stood in that pillar. It was him. He was the one who led them out of Egypt. He was the one who not only led them but went back behind them and protected them as the good Shepherd would from the Egyptian soldiers. He was the one who hovered over the sanctuary, the tabernacle.
He's the one who leads us today. He's the one who shepherds us in our day. When we're going through trials or we're being falsely accused or bad things are happening to us, losing loved ones, we can remember that Jesus is our shepherd. Our protector. Our leader.
Then, reason number five. This is where this Psalm gets depressing. It's the strangest thing. This is how I stumbled on this. I was in college and I was going through the Bible, reading the Psalms at the time. As I was going through the Psalms I came across Psalm 95 and it bugged me because it starts with all this praise. Thank the Lord for all these different things, and then it gets dark and it turns into a curse. I'm thinking what is going on here and how are these connected? In connecting them I discovered what we're about to look at now.
Reason number five, we will likely rebel against God if we don't thank him for what he's done for us. This is the reason to thank him. Psalm 95 suddenly goes into this darker portion of the Psalm and it says, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, which in some Bibles reads, as in the day of trial or bitterness in the wilderness when your fathers tested me. They tried me though they saw my work. Masa and Meribah refer back to the time when the children of Israel rebelled, refer to when Moses struck the rock and water came forth out of the rock to provide water for the thirsty congregation.
God is recalling this time and he's saying, don't harden your hearts like my people did at that time. My people, who rebelled against me and who complained in the wilderness even though I had done so much for them in the past. He said, your fathers tested me. They tried me though they saw my work.
By the time they got to that point in their experience God had already completely defeated the gods of Egypt with the 10 plagues. He had rescued them from Pharaoh. He had taken them out of Egypt. He had split the waters of the Red Sea. He had put the cloud behind them to protect them from Pharaoh and his army. He had destroyed the army of Pharaoh in the Red Sea. Then he had provided water. He had turned water thet was bitter into sweet water when they complained and then he provided meat for them with the quail. He had provided so much for them and now they have the audacity once again to complain.
As I thought about this text I thought why is this in here? Then it dawned on me. The very beginning of this thing is all about Thanksgiving, and the second part, it doesn't say it explicitly, but I believe it's talking about Thanksgiving as well. It is saying that the reason why the children of Israel rebelled against God was because they stopped giving thanks for what he had done. Because they had stopped giving thanks even though they had seen what God had done they forget very quickly what he had done and they were not able to have faith enough to believe that if he could do it in the past he could do it again in the present. Because they were unwilling to give thanks, they turned against God and then God said, fine, I'll provide water for you, and he did provide the water for them in spite of their rebellion.
But then the Psalm says something interesting. It says, for 40 years I was grieved with that generation and said, it is the people who go astray in their hearts. They do not know my way so I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest because of their unwillingness and their forgetfulness to thank God. They lost faith in what God could do and in the end as they continued in this bad habit of ungratefulness and forgetfulness, they ended up rebelling so much that God said they will not enter my rest and they wandered in the wilderness and their skeletons were strewn throughout the wilderness. Left behind and their children went in to the land of Canaan.
Well that is a depressing way to end a sermon. I don't want to end there. That's the end of the Psalm, but the good news is that in God's curses there are always hidden blessings. Even though because the children of Israel failed to give thanks and because they rebelled against God they ended up there in the wilderness, it reminds us that all we have to do is the opposite. If we give thanks we will enter his rest because as we give thanks our faith will be strengthened and we are saved by grace through faith.
So thankfulness is a crucial portion of our salvation. Sometimes we kind of treat it as an aside. Oh yeah, and thank you, God. By the way, thanks. No! It's an important part of our salvation because in giving thanks our faith is strengthened and we're able to put our trust in God who saves. A God who is intent on celebrating the most important Thanksgiving feast ever in his kingdom someday. A God who is invited each and every one of us to be there. Which makes me feel thankful. And we should.
I want to take some time to thank him. I'd like to have some volunteers who are willing to come up and share a quick thanks in some of these categories. Can I have four volunteers to tell what they're thankful for?
So we give thanks. We thank God because he is our salvation, because he is the great God, he is the creator, he is our shepherd, and because, quite frankly, it is dangerous not to thank him, because we might just rebel. Remember to be thankful.
Hymn of Praise: #560, Let All Things Now Living Scripture: Psalms 95:1-6. Hymn of Response: #27, Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart!
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 12/06/11.