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Psalm 81

September 1, 2013
Psalm 81
"What Happens When We Say, “No Thanks!’”

Intro:  Tomorrow is Labor Day.   Most of us will take advantage of the holiday and have for years.  But how many of us remember why we have the holiday?
Time for a quiz.  All answers provided by Wikipedia.  
•    Can any one tell me the year that Labor Day was first nationally recognized?  (1894).  
•    Can anyone tell us what event in history led to the holiday? (The Pullman Strike).  
•    And do you remember what happened during that Pullman Strike to lead to a holiday? (. . . the deaths of a number of workers at the hands of the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the Pullman Strike, so the United States Congress unanimously voted to approve rush legislation that made Labor Day a national holiday; President Grover Cleveland signed it into law a mere six days after the end of the strike.)  
•    And does anyone recall how it was celebrated? (The form for the celebration of Labor Day was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday: A street parade to exhibit to the public "the strength and spirit de corps of the trade and labor organizations", followed by a festival for the workers and their families. This became the pattern for Labor Day celebrations. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the civil significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the Labor movement.)
•    What is the emphasis of Labor Day now? (With the decline in union membership, the holiday is generally viewed as a time for barbeques and the end of summer vacations.)

We’ve forgotten our history.  When we forget our history we forget where we came from and sometimes we forget the blessings we have received along the way. And when that happens we forget to be grateful to the One who has blessed us along the way.

Psalm 81 tells that story and the results for Israel.  There is a history lesson and a warning in this psalm for us.  So as we prepare to celebrate this last holiday of summer, let us be aware.

1-7    The hymn of praise (READ)
The first seven verses are a song of praise.  We used the first 4 as our call to worship.  They call on the people to worship God with energy and music.  It calls for shouts and horns.  It is praise to be used in celebration of a festival, perhaps at Passover or Jewish New Year or the Feast of Tabernacles. The event is unclear, but the purpose is established – God is to be praised.  Specifically, God is to be praised for rescuing the people from slavery in Egypt.  They were celebrating rest from labor!  I did not realize this when I chose Psalm 81 for this week.  See how God works?

You’ll notice the word in italics “Selah” at the end of this section.  When you see that word in a psalm it is an instruction to stop, breathe, rest, before going on.  It’s like a mini Sabbath rest in a psalm!  In this instance it is also a transition.  The poet becomes prophet and speaks to Israel regarding their forgetfulness and the consequences that result from lack of remembering what God has done for them.

8-10  What God has done and promised (Read)
How many of you parents have echoed God, saying to your children, “Listen, let me warn you!  I wish you would listen to me!”  Show of hands?  And how many of you have had parents tell you that same thing and in hindsight you wish you really would have?  God is a good parent, seeking the welfare of his children.  God knows the right path for us.  He knows that if we will honor him first, with all that we are, there will be blessing.  This is the God who rescued the people from slavery in Egypt!  This is the God who has protected the nation of Israel over and over again. God has proven himself trustworthy, he is calling his people to trust only him.  He is promising that if they do, he will meet their every need.  

What is your response to this?  I’m kinda like, “Well duh!  Israel! Wake up!  God wants to meet all of your needs!  Why don’t you let him?”  This realization makes me feel very smart, like I’ve been back to school for a week or something.  Until I realize that God is probably shouting the same thing at my deaf ears.  But it sounds a little bit more like this:
“Karen, listen and I will warn you. Karen! I wish you would listen to me!
Don’t have anything to do with the gods you have created.   
Don’t bow down and worship or depend on money, addictive escapes, or power. Karen, I am the Lord your God. I brought you, Karen out of slavery to sin. Karen, Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things.”

If we forget our history with God, we will forget God.  We will forget the good things he has done for us, chief of which is saving us from sin.  

The next section of the psalm is very sobering.  It tells the story of the people who wouldn’t listen.  I’m afraid it tells a bit of my story from time to time.  See if it tells a bit of yours.

9-16  The consequences of turning a deaf ear (READ)
God doesn’t control us in such a way that we have to do what he says.  He lets us choose.  The emphasis on parent orientation this past week at University of the Arts was on this exact topic.  Let go.  There were some hilarious skits performed which invoked loud laughter from us parents because we saw all the things we’d like to do to protect our kids from making mistakes or how we’d like to step in and fix them.  But college is the time when you hope your kids have listened and you hope they will choose to do what is right.  You send them off and you take the risk that they will not always choose what is best and sometimes you echo what God says here:  “But my children wouldn’t listen to me. Kirstyn (insert the name of your child here) wouldn’t obey me. So I let them go their own stubborn way. I let them follow their own sinful plans.”  

Ouch.  How painful is it to watch your children, at any age, make mistakes?  Don’t you wish they would just do as they were told?  How painful is it for God to watch his children make mistakes?  And his response again is:  “I wish my people would listen to me! I wish my children would live as I want them to live!”
And you know, this is not just about being obeyed, this is about God being able to bless us!  God would take care of the enemies/problems and bless us in the most excellent ways, but if we are bent on sinning, he will let us go.  Many a parent has had to do the same thing.  This reminds me of a few New Testament passages:

Acts 7 – Stephen has been arrested for preaching Christ and in his testimony before the Sanhedrin he retold them their history and referenced that time in the desert when Moses went up Mt. Sinai to get the law of God and the people below quickly forgot who had rescued them from Egypt so they  . . . what (made an idol) and in verse 42, Stephen says, “But God turned away and gave the over to the worship of the heavenly bodies.”  God just said, “Fine, you go ahead and do it your way.  I hope that works out for you.”

Romans 1 – Paul is proclaiming the gospel as the power of God for the salvation of everyone/anyone who will believe it.  This gospel being that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead to forgive us for our sins.  In that gospel the righteousness, the truth of God is revealed.  Paul continues with what else is going on in his world in contrast to the gospel.  I’m going to read the next section of Romans 1, verses 18-32. (READ)

God will give us what we want, if we insist on it, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good for us.  The good news is that God has already given us all that we need.  Sinner and saint we have been given our Lord, Jesus Christ, and his sacrifice.

Concl.  Today as we confess what we believe through the Apostle’s Creed and as we come to the table to receive the body and blood of Christ, take a moment to assess where you are.  What is it you want?  Do you desire to be holy as God is holy?  Or do you want what you want?  Is what you want, worthy of God?  Is it worthy of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross for you?  I would suggest that as you hold the bread, you converse with God about your desires and ask him to make them line up with his.  And as you receive the cup, remember. Remember what God has rescued you/saved you from in your life.

Let us stand and say what we believe.