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6 Easter, Year A

6 Easter, Year A

Psalm 66:8-20

Sermon by Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

 

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” says Jesus to his followers in our gospel today. And in Psalm 66:8-20, we are given a snapshot of Israel and the psalmist expressing God’s saving love of them and their responsive love of God. In both the words of Jesus and those of the psalmist; several profound truths are proclaimed. For both Jesus and his followers as well as for Israel and the psalmist; there is an intricate connection between worship of God, relationship with God in good times and in times of suffering and trial, and loving, faithful response to God. God’s people know and trust that God loves them and is with them always. God’s people grow in their relationship with God especially during their times of hardship and testing—since that causes them to depend more upon the LORD. God’s people respond to God’s love for them by loving and worshipping God and keeping the commandments. Thus worship, loving relationships, and practical, faithful actions are all of a piece for Jesus and his followers and for Israel and the psalmist. 

  

One day, several years ago now, I was visiting a gentleman who had been in and out of hospitals for ten years. He told me his condition was worse, and he gave himself one or two more years to live. So I asked him what it meant for him to be sick for ten years.

  

He told me that, at first, it was difficult for him to accept it and adjust to it—for up till then he had been a healthy, vigorous, active person. At times he said it was very depressing and frustrating for him. But as time went on, he had grown to accept it and live with it. He said that he might never discover God’s purpose for allowing this to happen to him. Yet he did believe and trust that God had a purpose for it all; that God still loved him; that God had not abandoned him in his suffering. He also told me that, on one occasion, when he was very close to death, he could remember that he felt and trusted God’s presence with him. After that, he had the desire to share this word of encouragement with others—and in so doing, worship God by bearing faithful witness to what God had done for him.

  

He had experienced first hand what Israel and the psalmist had experienced in slavery and the Exodus, and later in exile and through deliverance out of exile: “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.”

  

 

We too experience our times of hardship and testing; and in those times it is crucial that we respond not by giving up all hope and losing our faith in God. Rather, it is during times of suffering that we are instructed to remain faithful to God and act on that faith.

  

Some of you may remember that back in January of 1988, classical music lovers of Canada were shocked to learn that the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra was going to be dismantled on account of inadequate funding. The decision to dismantle the VSO was reached by the board of governors.

  

However, when the members of VSO learned of their tragic and abrupt fate, they did not sit idly by on their laurels and accept the board of governor’s decision. Rather, they held their own meeting and expressed their determination and commitment to continue playing even if that meant their salaries would be cut back.

  

As people of faith, it is also necessary for us to be determined and committed to our LORD and his church—even if that means making personal sacrifices, as in the case of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Keeping the commandments is certainly not always easy—especially in times of testing when things are difficult. Yet, it is precisely then that we need to trust and act in faith the most—like the psalmist and Israel, like Jesus and his faithful followers. In so doing, we witness God’s love at work in us and, in turn, others witness our love and through us, God’s love for them. Such faith active in love is always rooted in the worship of God and the loving relationship we are privileged to have with our LORD. The following story is a good example of how loving Christ means keeping his commandments.

  

The Rev. Timothy Njoya is full of hope and courage in the face of an openly repressive regime in his native Kenya, people look to Njoya as a voice they can have confidence in. Njoya has become a national figure in Kenya. He credits the media with extending his pulpit, giving him a national and international audience.

  

He recalls an incident when he went for dinner in a fancy restaurant in a small town on the shore of Lake Victoria. He ordered a rare and expensive tilipia fish—caught mainly for export. Before long, some street children found him there and they wanted to eat too. Njoya invited the children to sit down with him and ordered a plate just like his for each child. Some even called their friends and soon the posh restaurant was full of poor children having their meal with Njoya.

  

Some of the children were so dirty that when they sat down they left a ‘rubber stamp’ on the seat. After eating Njoya checked his pocket. He counted his money one, two, three times. He had barely enough to cover four meals, let alone forty. The restaurant owner come over and stood on the table to make an announcement:

  

‘Today we are very greatly honoured to have Rev. Njoya come and eat in this hotel. We have never seen anything else like this. All my life I have always seen these children eat from the dustbin. From now on these children will be eating here every day without pay until I die.’ 1

  

This beautiful, inspiring story is a wonderful witness to the fact that there’s no telling what miracles can happen when faithful people of God keep the commandments and in so doing love the LORD by loving one another—especially those in greatest need of being loved. Would that we too might be as inspired as Rev. Njoya and the restaurant owner in this story to love Christ by keeping his commandments!

  

Another aspect of keeping Christ’s commandments by loving is to be witnesses to others. This involves both careful, attentive listening and speaking, proclaiming to others what God has done for us, like the psalmist did in our psalm today. Sometimes we very well might not bear faithful witness because we fail to listen carefully, attentively enough. The following joke is a good illustration of how we hear things the wrong way and then act on the basis of what we’ve heard incorrectly.          

 

There were three retired seniors, all of them a bit hard of hearing. One day they met on the street-corner.

   “Hello, Jeannie,” said the first one. “Windy today, isn’t it?”

   The second shook her head. “No,” she replied, “it’s Thursday.”

   The third old friend smiled and replied, “Me too! Let’s go and have a cup of tea!” And off they happily went to the nearest café.

  

As humorous as this joke is, it nonetheless is most instructive to all of us about the profound consequences of how we listen. If we hear only what we want to hear; if we twist what is being said to suit our own selfish needs; then chances are that we shall misunderstand the message and not act in accordance with God’s will and purposes for us and for others. Careful, attentive listening will inspire and motivate us to respond to act in faith; to keep God’s commandments by loving one another; and to spread the Good News to others of what God has done for us.

  

May the love and grace of our LORD help all of us to faithfully worship him, and respond to him by acting faithfully and keeping his commandments; and in so doing spreading the Good News of God’s saving, resurrecting activity to others.

 



1 Cited from: The New Internationalist No. 298/Jan. – Feb. 1998 (Toronto: New Internationalist Publications Ltd., 1997), p. 29.

 

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