January 21, 2019

Epiphany 2 - Psalm 128

Theme: Stability isn’t Flashy, but it is Fulfilling
1. Stability in your family
2. Stability in your faith

One thing I really enjoy are Geico commercials. I don’t know what it is but I feel like they have perfected the art of advertising. I mean, you have to give them some credit that they are able to make something as bland as insurance entertaining and funny. That’s the thing about Geico commercials, they use humor. They play to the ironic and bizarre aspects of life. You may have seen on television that Geico is now offering a contest where people can vote on their favorite Geico commercial. Perusing the website brought back a few memories and lots of laughs.

One of the more recent Geico ad campaigns was focused on getting more from Geico. You might remember some of these commercials which usually contain a dialogue between two people doing some ordinary task. In one commercial there is yard work being done. In another, two neighbors are placing Christmas decorations around their yards. As one of the people is describing their savings from Geico, each back and forth scene change includes more items. As the insurance savings are described, the frame literally gets more and more items. It’s a clever way to reinforce their goal, get more savings with Geico.

A funny ad like that also plays to our emotions because we experience the same thing in life. Some people are better at things than we are. Some do have more. One person may think they’ve accomplished something well only to find out soon after that someone else has done it better. More and more is the direction we strive after.

When thinking about God’s work, we have to admit that He does it all the very best. No one is able to do more than He can, as the people humbly confessed of Jesus, “He does all things well (Mark 7:37).” Who would dare suggest that we could improve upon something God has done? Certainly, none of us. Yet, we often live as if we believe we can. We often get discontent with God’s way of doing things, with His order, His creation, and His plan. We often live and act like we know better, like we can improve upon His way. This isn’t part of a funny commercial. There is a limit to what is actually more. We’re reminded of that fact today in a Psalm about family and the blessings God provides through it. In today’s lesson we see that God’s plan – stability, isn’t flashy, but it is fulfilling. We read:

Psalm 128 A song of ascents. How happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways! 2 You will surely eat what your hands have worked for. You will be happy, and it will go well for you. 3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house, your sons, like young olive trees around your table. 4 In this very way the man who fears the LORD will be blessed. 5 May the LORD bless you from Zion, so that you will see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life 6 and will see your children's children! Peace be with Israel.

This psalm is the 9th of 15 in a compilation called the songs of ascent. No one knows for sure what this title refers to but it’s generally thought to indicate that these were worship songs used on the way up to Jerusalem for certain festivals. As pilgrims from around Israel would file into Jerusalem they would sing these psalms as reminders of the LORD’s blessings. Blessing is really the key concept here. We see the blessings of family, children, a spouse, prosperity, occupation, and even peace. These are all blessings that focus on normal life. But it’s not really any of these things per se that the LORD hones in on. The overall theme is stability. Stability in my family life. Stability in my job. Stability in my society. And the key to this stability is that the LORD gives more. More than we expect and more than we deserve.

These blessings sound very special, and they are. But the danger is that they are equally easy to neglect and take for granted. So quickly, they also become afterthoughts in our pursuit of more or more. That’s because what we often pursue is based on what is flashy. Think of things that are trendy and popular – things we see other people having and we want. The flashiness of our desires really has discontentment and coveting at its core. And the more we get the more we want. This is the unsatisfied pursuit of blessings. Behind every proper blessing from God is also the potential of a curse if we misuse it from God’s intended purpose.

The more stable, moderating, and God-pleasing blessings are often forsaken as ordinary and undesirable. Yet, both God and experience teach us that the most stable blessings are also the most fulfilling. Work, Family, Society. These are the staples of life. Each of these three blessings are inherent to a healthy world. And each of the three are connected to the other. But, one thing they are not is flashy.

Instead of viewing work as a calling from the Lord to serve Him and others, it’s easy for us to see it as a chore and obligation. We let this mindset dominate our thinking and we put in minimum effort with a cynical attitude that it won’t make a difference anyway in the long run. We’re just there to punch the clock.

How many of us make genuine, quality time for our family? Amidst the busyness of life do we take time to have meaningful conversations with children, looking at each day as a gift from God to lead them closer to heaven? Is the Word of God heard in our homes? Are we able to press to pause button for just a few minutes to read it or to offer prayer? Have we established a habit for our children, for our marriages, that leads us to the foot of the cross? Or are we too busy streaming the next form of media, binging the latest show, or simply going our separate ways?

Most of us are concerned enough about our society. We listen to the news. We read the newspapers. We’re aware of what is going on. But, where is the hope? Talk about sad and despondent reports – every evening we’re consumed by all the wrong things that are happening in the world. Adding insult to injury there seems to be so little we can do to improve things and to right the wrongs. Maybe it’s just better to avoid it. Yet, we quickly forget the connection that God makes here between our personal lives and our society. We can make a big difference in the world in how we carry ourselves, whether or not we speak of and live our faith, and what we pass down to our children. The individual home is the foundation of our society. When one suffers, it reflects on the other.

All these amazing blessings and potential for a happy life at our fingertips – given by God. Yet, at the same time so many of them seem so far out of reach. Stability is key. It’s not flashy, but it is fulfilling. Through the stability of these seemingly common and ordinary blessings, we see the more of what God offers. In verses 1 and 2 the psalmist talks about happiness. How happy is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in His ways! 2 You will surely eat what your hands have worked for. You will be happy, and it will go well for you. He builds on this thought by describing aspects of a happy home. These are tremendous blessings. Blessings from God. Blessings that bring fulfillment to our lives.
Yet, the LORD can give even more. The psalmist continues by saying, 4 In this very way the man who fears the LORD will be blessed. 5 May the LORD bless you from Zion. Happiness and blessedness are synonymous terms in the Bible. It is in these ways that God wants us to be happy. Not in that we get what we want or we see the fulfillment of our desires. Rather, that we humbly receive what He gives. Things like: a good job, a loving family, and a healthy society.

Yet, there’s also a reason why the two words are translated differently. There’s a reason why “happy” is used in verses 2-3 and “blessed” is used in verses 4-5. Those words mean something different too and they highlight what God gives that is far beyond what we can even receive. In verses 2 and 3, with the word happy, the psalmist is describing a word that refers to an important blessings, but blessings that are a normal part of life. In verses 4-5, with the word “blessed,” the psalmist uses a word that is only used in the Bible to refer to what God does and what God gives.

This is the progression. All blessings come from God. In that sense they are all at the root of truly fulfilling happiness. But, there’s an aspect of God’s grace and power that goes even beyond the typical blessing. It’s not about the object involved. In both words the LORD connects work, family, and society. The special power is in the One who gives. Jesus said in Matthew 7: Matthew 7:11 "If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

God is able to give more. Not in the sense that automatically comes to mind. Not in a flesh-gratifying, flashy, get ‘what I want and when I want it’ type way. But, in God’s own way, through God’s own power, and in His abundant mercy and grace. And always remember, these amazing blessings are always about stability. God doesn’t want your happiness to be fleeting or temporary. He wants you to have something that lasts. So often we pass up what God gives because it doesn’t seem to be what we want. But we lose so much more in the process.

The heart of the gospel, God’s love for sinners in His Son, is at the core of each of His blessings. He wants you to believe and trust that. And the gospel changes our perception of blessing and happiness by showing us how much more God can give. It causes us to take a difference perspective at what God gives. So, when it comes to your job, recognize it as a calling. Take time to thank Him for being able to work, for having a job no matter how miniscule or insignificant it may feel like. Look at it as opportunity to serve, not as a chore. See it as a way that God preserves and prospers your time of grace, to hear His Word, to repent in humility, and to receive pardon in Christ.

The gospel changes your perception of family. It leads you to make time for your family – for your kids. Not just time driving around to school or running errands. Not just time for soccer or basketball practice, or going out to eat. Make time to share and receive the God’s Word and sacrament with your children. Let the Word of Christ dwell in your home richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Show your family that they are a priority in your life, not by giving them whatever they want by using money or possessions to gain influence but by taking time to talk about life. Open up to one another – parent to child and child to parent. Bring each other closer to Jesus and therefore closer to heaven. Use forgiveness regularly. There is no greater gift. With all the things in life that we can’t take with us when we leave, you’d think we’d give a high priority to the one thing we can bring to heaven – each other. Yet, sharing and using the Word of God – the one thing needed, the way of salvation, is matter of stability and fulfillment – not style and flash. God’s gift of more in the gospel, His greater blessing, helps me trust that and re-shapes the way I treat my family.     

When it comes to society, I could tell you to be the change you want to see and it wouldn’t be a bad thing. But I can give you so much more than that. Give the world Jesus. It’s much simpler than trying to do everything yourself and trying to constantly prove to people how good you are. And what greater Friend can there be? A Savior – one who is not just concerned about bread, water, and lilies of the field or the sparrows. But one who has won heaven and a crown of life. One who speaks light and salvation. Yes, give the world Jesus. What more do we need? Yet, He is not flashy or stylish – He’s stable and fulfilling.

God is always about more. But it’s His more – not ours. It’s about the gospel of Christ – an eternal blessing of sins forgiven that only He can give. This blessing is for all – and it changes everything about life. Thanks be to Christ, our Savior, for being stable when we’re not, and for keeping us fulfilled. In His name and through His Word.

Ephesians 3:20-21 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

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