6/17/2012 sermon: Why are we here?

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14
Proper 6, Year B

Why are we here?

I have a very serious question for you today: Why are we here?

There are two parts to this question. The first is an existential wondering: Why are you here—Why do you, why do any of us, exist at all? This is the most basic question that we ask ourselves, usually in the early and late days of our lives, ponder (perhaps) in our darkest hours. The second part of this question is a more pragmatic inquiry: Why are you here—Why are you at the Church of the Resurrection this morning? I am going to suggest today that our Psalm, Psalm 92, offers some answers to both of these aspects of the “Why we are here,” question.

Are you ready for the first part of my question, Why do you exist? There is a “book answer” to this question. Perhaps the answer is too simple for us to grasp fully unless we are very young or very (UM), in the PRIME of life. I learned at seminary that Richard Hooker, the first Anglican theologian, explained that we are made for loving God.[1] And because we were made expressly for loving God, loving God gives us joy and happiness. When we turn our lives toward the love of God, when we begin to understand the great gift of life that we have been given, our love of God begins to include love of everyone, love of all creation. Our true purpose in life is to love, and thus to worship and praise, God, and then to put this love into action toward others.

Isn’t this the basis for the overwhelming joy that we encounter in our Psalm today?

It is a good thing (verse one says)
to give thanks to the Lord,
and to sing praises to your Name, O Most High;

Overwhelming joy and gratitude are at the very heart of this psalm. We express joy and gratitude by singing to the Lord. You don’t have to be a member of the choir to know that there is a natural connection between worship and music, and where worship and music meet, there is great joy, a oneness with God our creator.

Now I know that for some of us, especially for those who suffer from clinical depression, being joyful is not an easy state to achieve. There are very real aspects of our existence that sometimes can get in the way of our God-given joy.

When we undergo trials, for instance, thanking and praising God can be very difficult. Giving thanks to God during trials requires us to rest assured God is with us in our suffering. When we lose our job, or suffer a serious medical issue, giving thanks to the Lord requires us to believe that God is sustaining us and providing for us in ways that we can neither see nor understand. When we are the object of evil, giving thanks to the Lord requires us to believe that God sees what is going on, and will make things right in the end. When we are upset about a family member or friend who is at odds with life, giving thanks to the Lord right then would require that we believe that God is at work in their lives in unseen ways, ways that will become evident in the future.

Giving thanks to God under these types of conditions requires faith to act in the belief that God hears our prayers and answers them in ways that will one day become apparent. Our job at such times is to be thankful anyway, not in denial of our situation, but in the assurance that God is at work in the midst of whatever is going on.

Of course, no one can be joyful all the time. We’re human. So I don’t think anyone is necessarily ungodly if they are not joyful. Our whole lives are a journey to stay connected, through faith, with our God-given joy and hope. However, I think that the converse is true: that whoever is genuinely joyful more than they are NOT, is a sign that this person has a close connection with the source of life, the source of joy.

Verse four tells us why we are joyful and grateful to God, why it is “good” to give thanks to the Lord:

For you have made me glad by your acts, O Lord;
and I shout for joy because of the works of your hands.

You will notice here that the psalmist has gone from the very general observation that giving thanks and praise to God is a “good” thing, to actually beginning to give God thanks and praise. The pronouns tell us this; here we begin a whole series of “you” statements: “For YOU have made me glad… O Lord, and I should for joy because of the works of YOUR hands.” In my experience, the best way to remain joyful is to literally express joy. We become what we practice being.

In the Bible, especially in the psalms, the “works” of God’s hands are a reference to creation. We are to be glad, to rejoice, because we exist. And we are to thank God, our creator, for our existence. That’s the whole reason for our existence. For us as Christians, our proof of existence should NOT be, “I think, therefore I am.” Instead, our proof is this: “I am, therefore I rejoice!” When we stop rejoicing, stop giving thanks for our being, our psalm today suggests, is when we start to wither and die. When we stop rejoicing when we stop giving thanks for our being, is when we begin to turn away from God.

What our psalm today emphasizes is not what happens to the unjust, but rather what happens to the righteous, those who love and give thanks and praise to God:

The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.

Palms and cedars are substantial trees which will endure forever, not like the weeds, which we know will wither away. Not only will the righteous flourish, verse thirteen gives us an image that I absolutely cherish:

They (the righteous) shall still bear fruit in old age;
they shall be green and succulent;

The last verse, verse fifteen, tells us that the reason that the righteous shall be juicy in their old age is not for their own sake, but to show that God is God.

So here is a test for you: How green and succulent are the fruit that YOU bear? Which brings me to part two of my “Why are you here?” question. Why are you at Resurrection, not just in general, but this morning specifically? Are you here by habit? To see your friends? Do you love the music and the worship? I hope and trust and pray that all of these things are true. But ultimately, aren’t we all here to express our joy and our gratitude to God for our existence, both as individuals and as a parish? I expect that we are here to utterly rejoice for all that God has given us. Today we rejoice—shout for joy—because of the works of God’s hands.


[1] Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie,  IV.21.3

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