I gave the reflection. No, it’s not a sermon.
This is one of those praise psalms that feels like the psalmist might have shouted it from the top of some hill one day. Arms outstretched and twirling. Heart bursting with joy and wanting everyone to know it! A sort of hills of Jerusalem version of the Sound of Music opening.
Of course, I like it best when I feel like twirling and shouting – when things are going so well and if I was feeling any better I might have light shooting out my fingers and the ends of my hair. It’s easy then to hear “Hey, Self! Hey, Soul! Thank the Lord!” It’s maybe even easy to do it.
But I have to confess that on my worst days the opening part can sound a bit like a schoolmarm, reminding me to mind my manners and stand up straight. Bless the Lord, you! Don’t forget what God has done. What have you got to complain about?
On better days, I’m able to hear it in a gentler way and it sounds more like encouragement. Have no fear, little lamb. Keep trying.
Which is it for you today? Listen again, and breathe.
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
2Bless the LORD, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits —
3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good as long as you live
I suppose if I were to shout that from a hilltop, some bystander would want to know why. Why bless the Lord instead of any of the other things I could do?
The psalmist recounts the story. The psalmist next tells some of the great things God has done in the history of Israel and recounts the promises God has made and kept. She praises God so that we too can remember all the reasons we have to bless the Lord. It’s quite a list. And in the middle is a summary of who God is for us:
full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love;
For he knows how we were made; he remembers that we are dust.
God doesn’t know this in some vague intellectual way; like he read it in a book somewhere. He knows because he did it. He formed that dust and breathed into it.
And not only that, he’s experienced it. He knows what it is to BE dust. How it can hurt – physically, mentally, spiritually. He knows what grief is. He knows what it feels like to have relationships disappoint and break apart. He knows what it is to work until you’re exhausted and still not make everyone happy. He knows what it feels like to not be sure of God’s presence. He knows how much pain these bodies can withstand, and how much they can’t.
This is the God that bears all that with us. Who KNOWS that we are just fragile little bundles of dust. And he has compassion for us. This compassion is what we hear about in Jesus’ healing ministry – he had compassion on the people and healed them.
It was to this compassionate God-with-us that the Syrophonecian woman appealed for her daughter’s healing; this God who heard the plea of the Centurion for his son. This is the God who healed the woman who couldn’t bring herself to even ask – who couldonly summon the courage to touch the edge of his clothes. This is the God who knows what you are going through; where it hurts and how it hurts. And this God will walk with you through it — all the way to the end. This is the one who has healing for you. This is the One to whom we pray.
What I don’t know about how God heals and what it looks like in every case — is a lot. What I have learned is this: Being healed doesn’t mean my pain instantly disappears any more than having faith means that I’m free of doubts and questions. Being healed means I’m freed from the pain even while it might still be there; freed to keep on moving along my dusty trail. Freed to keep loving God and neighbor.
So we come to God in our dusty pain; with our pain. We remember together who God is. What God has done in the past, for us and for others. We ask. We hope. We have what little faith we have. And we bless the Lord. We bless God’s holy name. Amen.