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Out of Exile,                     Psalm 107,                   November 21, 2010
 
 
Have you ever been in exile? Have you been in an unfamiliar place with foreign customs, a strange language and even stranger food? Exile is a place no one wants to go because it’s as far away from home as we can imagine. 
 
This is an anecdote attributed to Mark Twain. A little girl and her parents were moving from the East Coast to Missouri. She stood wistfully in her front yard of their New England home, saying her last good-byes. “Good-bye house,” she said tearfully; “Good-bye neighborhood” as if she was moving to the ends of the Earth!
 
Exile means separation from what we most value. Exile means dislocation. It means our convenient equilibrium has been threatened and disrupted.
 
Exile is an experience of life that is beyond our usual coping mechanisms. It is life gone beyond our frail control, and Oh, how we want to control our surroundings! Exile gives us a feeling of powerlessness.
 
The book of Psalms is the hymnbook/prayer book of Israel. In the Psalms, we meet the religion of Israel at its greatest depth and its most passionate intensity. The Psalms represent close to a thousand year span of Israel’s history.
 
Coming from a vast variety of individuals who have learned both how to rejoice in unspeakable joy and to cry out to God with inexpressible anguish. The Psalms are a mirror of the life of the soul and a mirror of the life of the soul of humanity.
 
Psalm 107 is a psalm of thanksgiving. It is a call to thank God for deliverance. This psalm was meant originally for the recently returned exiles from the Babylonian captivity. Psalm 107 celebrates the homecoming of the Israelites after they were driven away into exile.
 
The people’s prayers were answered. They are back in old Jerusalem. Their city and temple may be in ruins, but God was merciful and brought them out of their captivity.
 
The opening three verses of Psalm 107 form a general introduction and sets the theme, which is that God redeems us, delivers us, and gathers us together from the four corners of the earth. The middle section of psalm 107 describes four different situations where a surprising turn around is experienced.
 

1)         vs. 4-9            Travelers

 
The travelers in this first group think it is a miracle that they have gotten home safely. To put this section in modern terms, we would need to talk of escapes from hijacking, air crashes, car accidents, kidnappings or even holdups. Even if we ourselves have had no dramatic escapes, we should never become as accustomed to the risks of travel as to forget to thank God every time we are safely home again.
 
2)         vs. 10-16        Prisoners
 
The next group is the prisoners. These are not cases for Amnesty International since they are imprisoned for rebellion against God’s laws. They did not ask for God’s advice but long hours of idleness in prison had driven them to prayer. Now they are delivered. God has broken their chains long before they had dared to hope for release.
 
Even though we may have no experience of literally being in jail, most of us spend a considerable time in prisons of our own making. We allow ourselves to be shut up in our self-centeredness, worldliness, doubt, routine, or sin. We affirm that we can do nothing without God’s help, yet we scarcely believe that and go on struggling as if there were no escape. . Jesus came to set the captives free. Have you asked Him?
 
3)         vs. 17-22        The Afflicted/sick
 
The third group is the afflicted: those who are sick in body, mind or soul because of deliberate sin or just plain bad choices. ”The wages of sin is death;” and “we reap what we sow.” Yet people are still surprised when they reap the consequences of their actions. Sickness is not a direct result of sin, but sin brings its own afflictions of the soul.
 
4)         vs. 23-32        Seafarers/Merchants
 
The last group is the seafarers. If any of you have experienced the terrors of a gale in a modern liner, you can imagine how much more alarming it must have been in a small wooden ship in ancient times. There is a proverb that says, “A man had better not go to sea unless he can pray.” These people prayed, and God delivered them.
 
In psalm 107 God has delivered these four groups of people and they are all extremely thankful.
 

Jesus, too, was surprisingly delivered. Jesus stayed in the wilderness of temptation, far from any city, where he was hungry and thirsty and his soul fainted within him, but God delivered Jesus, satisfied him with heavenly food given by angels.

 
At Golgotha Jesus sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, his hands and his feet bound with the misery of iron nails, falling down on the Way of Sorrows with only a stranger to help him, but God led Jesus out of the darkness of the Tomb, loosed him from his grave clothes, and raised him from the dead.
 
 
A person might begin to believe that God can and does transform our world—that God takes the chaos of things like: marriage failure, loss of job, financial reversals, illness, war, misunderstandings, criticism, depression, guilt, failure and bereavement to name a few, and God turns chaos into wholeness and new life.
 
God is at work making gracious new beginnings for us in all our exiles. God promises to deliver, to protect, to answer, to rescue, to honor, to satisfy, to show the way, and to be with us. All of life moves between the pit and the promise.
 
In the play “Old Wicked songs,” a 1996 Pulitzer Prize finalist, we encounter a “character” described in the music of Robert Schumann’s song cycle, Dichterliebe. Quoting the text towards the end . . .
 
 
“The old wicked songs, the grim wicked dreams, let us now bury them, bring me a great coffin. I have much to lay rest in it. . . . And bring me a bier made of tough thick timber; it must be even longer than the bridge at Mainz.
 
And bring me twelve giants; they must be even stronger than the strong St. Christopher in Cologne Cathedral on the Rhine. They are to carry the coffin away and sink it deep in the sea; so large a coffin needs a great grave.
 
Do you know why it is that the coffin will have to be so huge and heavy? – I am burying in it . . . my pain.”
 
 
At this time of thanksgiving may we let go of the pain of this year and embrace the good – God’s many blessings in spite of our losses.
 
To claim the freedom of new life out of exile we have to bury our fears and our chaos and our pain and let God transform us too, remembering always to be thankful for our deliverance. 
 
God delivers every exile from captivity, restores and renews. In faith, we can receive the new future God is constantly providing for us. If you haven’t done so recently, ask God to deliver you from whatever binds you just as the four groups in Psalm 107 did.
 
 
Give thanks to God, / Who all goodness has brought us;
God whose great love / Shall redeem us forever;
From earth’s wide corners, / God’s mercy has sought us;
May God’s redemption / Depart from us never.
 
Hear when we call from / Amid desolation,
Starving for life, / Yet more frightened of living;
When You, Holy One, / Offer true consolation,
Let us respond / With a song of thanksgiving.
 
Hear us the pris’ners / Of sin and affliction
Fast bound in shackles / Of doubt and misgiving;
When you, O God, / Offer strength to conviction,
Let us respond / With a song of thanksgiving.
 
Hear when the earth in its rage would destroy us;
Wind and the sea / Steal our passion for living.
When quiet shelter / And love You provide us,
Let us respond / With a song of thanksgiving.
 
 
Let us respond with a song of thanksgiving, as we turn to page 554 and sing “Let All Things Now Living”. Please stand.
 
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
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