John Killinger tells about the manager of a minor league baseball team who was so disgusted with his center fielder’s performance that he ordered him to the dugout and assumed the position himself. The first ball that came into center field took a bad hop and hit the manager in the mouth. The next one was a high fly ball, which he lost in the glare of the sun – until it bounced off his forehead. The third was a hard line drive that he charged with outstretched arms; unfortunately, it flew between his hands and smacked his eye. Furious, he ran back to the dugout, grabbed the center fielder by the uniform, and shouted, ‘You idiot! You’ve got center field so messed up that even I can’t do a thing with it!'”
Our scripture this morning is a Psalm of thanksgiving. I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. The whole psalm overflows with praise for God. You can almost feel every muscle in the psalmist straining to give thanks to God. But note, we are talking about the 138th Psalm, it has taken a long time to get to this point. The road for King David hasn’t always been easy. He has made lots of mistakes along the journey. He has had to wait for God and God’s intervention. David has matured in the years.
A student is on the verge of failing a class. In order to stay in school, the student needs to pass the course. Everything depends on the final paper. Work, work, work. Turn in the paper and again wait. Wait, wait, wait. The student comes to the office to pick up the graded paper. “Pass”, and without thinking says, “Thank God.”
The surgeon comes from the operating room and says, “It’s benign.” The woman grabs his hand and says, “Thank you…thank you…thank you.” In the service the pastor asked the congregation for prayer concerns, she is first to her feet to give thanks.”
Why all of this THANKSGIVING? Have you ever been delivered? The Hebrew people went through several exiles, two major ones. They spent 420 years in Egypt and when they were freed, they rejoiced. They came out singing and rejoicing. But still didn’t have the faith. So they spent another 40 years in exile in the desert.
When we are finally delivered we are happy and give thanks. Look at the deliverance in the New Testament! (Mark 10:46-52) Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” How many of us know that when we are in exile we shout all the more? We want deliverance, we want to be set free. Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road. When the people return to Jerusalem following the exile in Babylonia, they rejoice. When I called, you answered me; you made me bold and stouthearted. A short time before, they were in exile, 500 miles from home.
The problem with exiles, is that we are forced to go places we don’t want to go. In exile, the people around you don’t speak your language. They don’t have your type of food in their stores. My neighbors are from India. They have a different garden. In exile, they don’t know the name of your God. In exile, you have to do things you don’t want to do.
Chuck Colson writes that his first night in prison was that way. He heard the dull “thunk” of the door locking behind him. He felt like someone had hollowed out his insides.
Sometimes God exiles us, as painful as it may be, so that we will grow. According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when he saw an old man, weary from age and journey, coming toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent. There he washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?” The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out of his tent into the cold night air. When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.” God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?”
Exile forces us to deal with things we don’t want to have to deal with. One day a friend of Phillip Brooks, a great preacher of another generation, called on him and found him impatiently pacing the floor. He asked what the trouble was. With flashing eyes Dr. Brooks exclaimed, “The trouble is that I am in a hurry and God is not!”
The economy is strong and yet some get laid off, exile. An active man all of his life, and now he spends his time in a nursing home in exile. What do we say, when the exile isn’t over? Our scripture provides the clue.
This psalm was first sung following the return of the Babylonian exile. That was not an easy time for the Hebrew people. They returned home to find their land desolate. Cities in ruins. Everything had to be rebuilt. However, it was better to be in Jerusalem than Babylon.
When I called, you answered me….To survive the exile, calls for patience. The secret of patience is doing something else in the meantime. Second only to suffering, waiting may be the greatest teacher and trainer in godliness, maturity, and genuine spirituality most of us ever encounter. Now I understand the Psalmist, I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart….