“Because…It Serves as Our Response to God’s Blessing”
Stewardship Series: “Because”
October 27, 2019
There is a quaint expression that I grew up with in rural Alabama. It was something I remember hearing people say when someone else did something nice for them. Instead of saying, “Thank you,” I remember hearing them say, “Much obliged.”
When you think about it, that expression is more than a polite expression; it is also a deeply spiritual one. It means that I understand my obligation to the person that’s done something nice for me. I don’t take the act for granted. I don’t presume upon that person’s grace. I am “much obliged.”
I don’t hear that expression much anymore. Yes, I know that language is fluid and there are many expressions we may have used twenty or thirty years ago, which we do not use today. But I’m not sure that our expression of obligation to others is simply a result of our fluid vocabularies. I think it has more to do with an evolving soul, or perhaps I should say a “devolving” one.
For example, in our prevailing culture, entitlement has seemed to win out over obligation. We have convinced ourselves that we are truly special and when we may have doubted out privileged status, we have leaned upon marketing messages that assure us that “we deserve a break today.” This point of view has afflicted every part of our society. For example, poor people have come to believe they deserve welfare. Rich people have come to believe they deserve a tax break. Workers deserve better fringe benefits. Corporations who consider themselves “too big to fail” deserve a bailout. Special interests deserve a public hearing. You get the picture. I could go on and on.
So, what does all of this mean in terms of our relationship with God?
That’s the question that’s posed for us by this psalm that is before us this morning. The 116th Psalm is what scholars call a “thanksgiving psalm.” By that they mean that the psalm contains the deep and heartfelt expressions of one who has been on the receiving end of divine mercy. In this case, from the context of the psalm, it appears that the psalmist is thanking God for having preserved his very life. We’re not just talking about someone who hit a rough patch or had a few folk get upset about something he was doing or not doing. We’re talking about someone who didn’t think he would live to see the sun rise another day; and now that it has, he cannot contain himself for the joy that he feels.
What I find most noteworthy is the obligation toward God the Psalmist clearly feels. He exclaims, “What shall I return to the LORD for all His goodness to me?” There is not a shred of entitlement in this cry of praise. It is instead all indebtedness and a profound recognition of his unworthiness for this act of deliverance only God could have made possible.
I am particularly struck by the Psalmist’s use of the word “return,” or as some translations render it, “repay.” The root word in the Hebrew comes from the same word as “repent.” I’d never thought about it before, but what the Psalmist may be saying is that the best way we can show our gratitude for God’s blessings in our life is to be honest about the things in our life that are not pleasing to God and then to turn away from those things – to repent of those things – so that we position ourselves better to take those blessings and employ them in advancing God’s purposes in our world.
In other words, as the old saying goes, “We cannot outgive God.” Try to get in a giving contest with God and you’ll always find yourself on the losing end. So, instead of trying to come up with some measurable way of matching God’s goodness with some of our own, what difference might it make if we simply offered up the entirety of our being in response to how God has given to us the entirety of His very being in Jesus Christ so that we show our obligation by how we make good on the promises we have made to Him along life’s way.
For example, we have promised to be faithful to our families. We have promised to be faithful in our time and our talents and our treasures. We have promised to bring up our children in the fear and admonition of the LORD. We have made promises at our baptism to name Jesus as Lord. We have made promises to correct wrongs and drop unhealthy ways. What might it look like if we were to take back up all of those promises, dust them off, and begin to practice them in everyday life? I tell you what it would like. It would look someone who was serious about Loving God and Living with Grace and Generosity.
If you are truly “much obliged” to God today, then show it by going back and revisiting all of the promises you have made to Him. Ask God to release you from the ones you cannot keep and to forgive you for the ones you have broken. Then commit yourself with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength to living by the rest.
Can you do that this morning? Can you return to the LORD a heart that is full of obligation toward Him?
Somewhere I came across the story of a desert monk who one day stumbled across a precious diamond. Not long afterwards, the monk met a traveler who approached the monk for some help. As the monk opened his bag to share his provisions, the traveler saw the diamond and asked the monk to give it to him. To his surprise, the monk handed over the diamond without delay, sending the traveler on his way overjoyed because of this unexpected gift.
A few days later the traveler returned in search of the monk. When he found him, he gave back the diamond with this request: “Please give me something,” he said, “much more precious than the diamond. Give me what enabled you to give me the diamond in the first place.” He was asking the monk to give him that which only God can awaken – a heart that is so full of gratitude that it must give as surely as one’s lungs must breathe.
Come to think about it, that’s pretty much what we are doing every time we come to this Lord’s Table. We are asking God to give us the same heart that compelled Him to give us the gift of salvation through His Only Begotten Son – a heart of love, a heart of mercy, a heart of grace and generosity.
Think about that as you come forward in a moment to receive these gifts of God for the people of God. Only then will our gifts ever begin to show how when it comes to all God has done for us through Jesus Christ, we are “very much obliged.”