Sunday 20 September 2020
An outpouring of praise
Psalm 145/144:1-9; Matthew 20:1-16
Context: a small congregation of all ages in a rural town at the Sunday morning Eucharist
Aim: to encourage praise and gratitude
Our psalm today is a beautiful outpouring of praise - in fact it is the first of a run of five psalms of praise that close the book of Psalms. Here we have King David praising God for being God, not for anything God has done but for God’s greatness. This is the same King David who, when the Ark of the Covenant was returned, made a total fool of himself dancing half naked in the street giving praise to God (2 Samuel 6:14-22).
AN ATTITUDE OF GRATITUDE
In today’s Gospel we find a parable of God’s love, justice, and generosity – and how they surpass, transcend, and subvert our human notions of love, justice, and generosity. We meet a landowner and four groups of workers whom we expect to express more gratitude for their wages, depending on the perceived generosity of their employer. It is not hard for us to imagine those who were hired at the end of the day thanking the landowner with the zeal of the psalmist. When we receive something beyond our expectations and, perhaps, beyond what we think we deserve, gratitude usually flows.
The idea of having an attitude of gratitude can be found suffusing the self-help books and programmes we find all over the place. Or even in the common wisdom of our culture. Be glad about what you’ve got. The trouble with such things is that they are, like in our Gospel, all about comparison. Be glad you are not homeless … not hungry … not like them …
From this perspective we might read our parable expecting those hired first to be glad they have work when others don’t. And while there is merit in knowing and acknowledging what we have, we are truly missing something if our gratitude, and praise, is solely about us.
The attitude of gratitude we find in King David’s song is a call to humility, which C.S. Lewis succinctly described as: ‘not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.’ The outpouring of praise and gratitude of the psalmist pivots upon him placing God (in God’s rightful place!) in the centre of his universe. The failing of those workers who were only paid a fair wage for a day’s work is putting themselves at the centre of the universe – seeing the actions of the landowner only through the lens
IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU (OR ME)
We return to our psalm of praise this morning, and the pattern that David gives us in the first verse of the psalm.
‘I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name for ever and ever’ (Psalm 145:1 NRSV).
First, David is addressing God directly and personally, this praise comes from relationship not duty. David’s story is one of the fullest told in Scripture, we follow his journey from giant-felling shepherd boy to his forty-year reign as King of Israel. A life full of highs and lows, mighty victories, and embarrassing personal failures. We find David’s relationship with God developing as we read his psalms. Perhaps the most poignant is Psalm 51 where David comes back to God to renew that relationship after he messed up dramatically in seducing Bathsheba and killing Uriah.
So, praise and gratitude come in the context of a growing relationship.
Second, he refers to God as king. This might not seem surprising to us. We are used to the idea of God as sovereign. But David was King of Israel, to acknowledge God as his King was to acknowledge that he was not the be-all and end-all, that he belonged to God and there was an authority beyond himself. To acknowledge God as sovereign is to see beyond ourselves and our own needs, wants, and concerns. To know our place as a beloved child of God – along with everyone else!
Third, this is ongoing. Just as in our human relationships, a dramatic gesture every now and then might be nice, but it is the daily work of love to be formed in relationship. It is not enough to write down three things we are grateful for every day, or even to take a list of thanks to God.
To live a Christian life is to live our lives fully in the knowledge that God is the centre of all, and all that is flows from God, for God – a God who enters into relationship with us, who knows us, and who desires to be known by us.
And for that … Thanks be to God!
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