Our Scripture lessons for this Sunday are some of the most comforting passages in Scripture. They focus on our heavenly Father who always loves us and takes care of us. He provides for us, forgives our sins, heals us, and has sent His Son to lead us and atone for us. One of the best hymns I could find to preach this comfort to us and also express our overwhelming thanksgiving is the beloved hymn, Praise to the Lord, the Almighty by Joachim Neander. It really captures the comforting themes that run through our Scripture readings for this week. I plan to give lots of Scripture quotations in this week’s post, so perhaps this is more of a compilation of passages of comfort than a true journal entry; but here go:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!
O my soul, praise Him, for He is your health and salvation!
Let all who hear
Now to His temple draw near,
Joining in glad adoration!
The Scripture reference given for this hymn is Psalm 103, of which I’ll give you the first fourteen verses:
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
6The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
7He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
8The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9 He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
14For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
It also reminds me of Psalm 24:
1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein,
2for he has founded it upon the seas
and established it upon the rivers.
God is our health and our salvation! He satisfies us with good and renews our strength. He removes our sins from us. We respond to this great love with our praise and thanksgiving as we join with all of the Christian church in praising Him. All of this takes place in the presence tense when we gather for worship on Sunday. God forgives our sins through the Word and Sacrament. He promises to take care of all our needs, and we get to praise Him! All of this takes place during the week as God richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life.
Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things is wondrously reigning
And, on wings of an eagle, uplifting, sustaining.
Have you not seen
All that is needful has been
Sent by His gracious ordaining?
The image of God holding us up as on wings of an eagle is a common one throughout Scriptures. The language of this stanza, however, reminds me the most of Isaiah 40.
27Why do you say, O Jacob,
and speak, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”?
28Have you not known? Have you not heard?The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29He gives power to the faint,
and to him who has no might he increases strength.
30Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
31but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint.
I love the phrase in this, “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” It’s a rhetorical question. Of course we know! But how often we forget and doubt! Our God is the Creator of the ends of the earth, who never grows tired. Don’t you know that He is capable of taking care of us?!
Praise to the Lord, who has fearfully, wondrously, made you,
Health has bestowed and, when heedlessly falling, has stayed you.
What need or grief
Ever has failed of relief?
Wings of His mercy did shade you.
This stanza starts by referencing Psalm 139:14
4I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
It starts with this, but then moves to some strong parental language, “when heedlessly falling, has stayed you.” We could give a rough paraphrase of this by saying that God has taken care of you and me when even when we are really stupid and get ourselves in trouble. This parental language also brings to mind the Old Testament reading for this Sunday from Isaiah 49, where we hear:
14But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
my Lord has forgotten me.”
15“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
16Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
You mother is more likely to stop loving you than is your God. Even when it feels as though God has forgotten you, He has not. Have you not known? Have you not heard? This same God hides us under His wings, as it says in Psalm 91
4He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
What does it mean that we have refuge in God’s wings? It means that He is the place where we can run and hide and be safe. He is the almighty creator of the universe who loves and cares for us.
Praise to the Lord, who will prosper your work and defend you;
Surely His goodness and mercy shall daily attend you.
What the Almighty can do
As with His love He befriends you.
All these passages of comfort help lead us to the Gospel reading for this Sunday from Matthew 6:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
That last verse would be a very helpful motto for all Christians to say to themselves and to each other every single day. Do not worry about tomorrow. Is God’s salvation not enough? Will God forget you? Does God not love you? Is God not powerful enough to help you? We rest in Him, who is our health and salvation.
This leads us into our last stanza, which again connects to our Old Testament Readings from Isaiah 49:
13Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
for the Lord has comforted his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted.
We again respond to our God with our praise and thanksgiving.
Praise to the Lord! O let all that is in my adore Him!
All that has life and breath, come now with praises before Him!
Let the Amen
Sound from His people again;
Gladly forever adore Him!