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06 Easter 03 Sixth Sunday of Easter Psalm 66

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Have you ever gone to one of those all you can eat buffets?  You walk in.  Pick up your plate, and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to fill the plate.  Now I am sure, I can’t prove it, but I am sure that some people have well thought out strategies and itineraries as to how to attack these things.  Me, I just start grabbing.  Now I know enough to not grab too much of any one thing, all you need is a little bit. 

You grab some potato salad, some pasta salad, some salad salad, and then your salad toppings, followed by some bread sticks, or roles.  Maybe you grab a little bit of soup and then you have to think about the main course, and by the time you get back to your table, you need a crane to help you carry your plate.  And with all this said and done, we haven’t even had a chance to talk about dessert yet.  Good thing that there is no limit to the number of plates that you can have. 

We have different kinds and qualities, levels of plates if you will.  We have plates for being on the go.  We have plates for those every day meals.  We have plates that come out for holidays.  And we even have plates that are so special that they can never be used.  They are so holy, which means to be set apart, that they can never be touched, never be used, and no longer serve a practical function.

In our lives and in our world plates are important.  What can you know about a person based on the kinds of plates that they use, and by how much they fill their plates up, and even by how clean they keep their plates?  And yet, talking about plates does not have to limit us to talking about food.  For it is not uncommon to talk about a plate as an analogy for our lives.  Have you ever thought or said, “I have too much on my plate right now?” 

It’s not a bad analogy.  Our plates are filled with family and friends, work and school, projects, assignments, sports, club sports, travel, church, entertainment, exercise.  For a student, the day begins at 6 AM, bright and early.  This allows for the morning practice or workout.  By 7:30 it is off to school.  At 3:00 there is that Honor society meeting or perhaps the afternoon shift at Target, or band practice.  Or maybe Soccer practice and if it happens to be a game day, you are full until 8.  Or if there is no game you are home by 7:30 which gives you just enough time to catch the end of Idol and then you are ready to go for those three hours of homework.  After all, you do want to stay in the honor society.

For parents, the day begins at 5.  This is so that you can have a quite hour for reading the paper and enjoying some coffee.  At 6 you get the kids up for school. By 7, you are out the door.  Maybe there is time for a quick workout at 7:30, but by 8:00 you are ready for a hard day at the office.  On your way home you grab the dry cleaning.  By five, you are checking in with the youngest to make sure they are home ok.  You pull into the driveway at 5:15.  You breathe a sigh of relief, you made it in time for the game for your oldest.  But that is soon replaced with dread.  Does the middle kid have a game or practive today.  You scramble to find them a ride.  By 7:00 you are picking up a gormet meal from Mickey Dees.  7:45 is a juggling act between homework for the youngest, science project assistance for the middle, and youth group fundraiser for the oldest.  8:00 holds a call from the church, “We missed you at the meeting tonight…check your e-mail for the agenda.” At 8:01 your checking your e-mail.  8:30 allows you to return phone calls left on your voice mail.  9:00 is bedtime for the youngest.  10 bedtime for the middle.  11:00 yelling at the oldest to get in bed.  Midnight.  Finally, peace and quiet.

It is amazing the amount of stuff that we try to cram into one 24 hour period, or over the course of one week.  We can come out feeling tired and exhausted from the burden of bearing all of this.  And we may talk about clearing off our plates, but like the buffet, each of the things we grabbed we grabbed because they are so very good and we so very much want them to be a part of our lives…

Now, I will sometimes warn my confirmation class before I ask them a question.  I will say something to the effect of, “this next question has a right answer, and a real answer.  I want the real answer.”    This next question has a right answer and a real answer.  I want the real answer.  When you are at that buffet, is your first thought to go for what is healthy, what is good for you?  Or is it to go for what tastes good?  Now you may choose the healthy food, but what is that first inclination?  Unless there is some self-control involved, we tend to think first with our taste buds.  And though those things do certainly taste good and are satisfying in the short-term.  In the long term, they eat away at our health and well-being. 

When our schedules are so full and busy that we are running ourselves ragged, we find that living is exchanged for survival.  If I can make it through this week, I will be ok we tell ourselves.  But by the time we get to the end of the week we are saying the same thing about the upcoming week. 

Now I don’t know about you, but if you are like me, when I get busy, the things that are most important, devotional time or exercise time are the first to go, so that I can keep my other obligations.  The irony of this is, is that within those things are the ability to deal with all the stresses that life throws at us, and in the long run, makes things more difficult.

So what do we do when our plates are so full that we need the help of a crane?  Or what do we do when the burdens of life weigh us down so bad that it takes all of our energies to just get up in the morning?  I think that it is at this point that the words of our psalm are very helpful. 

Bless our God, you peoples; let the sound of praise be heard.  Our God has kept us among the living and has not allowed our feet to slip.

Now this psalm is one that invites all people to come and praise our God.  It is not an arbitrary praise.  But it is a praise that comes as a response to the works that God has done in the lives of you and me, to the works he has done in the lives of his people, both in the past and in the present.  When we reflect on how God has worked in our lives, we can’t keep the sound of praise from being heard. 

He has forgiven us our sins, brought us to himself, through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  He made us his own dear children through the waters of baptism.  But this is not something that happens and then God leaves us alone until we die.  But he lives with us in relationship with us.  In each and every moment of our busy days he is with us. 

And when we take the time to recognize that, to allow his word to fill our minds and hearts, we can take great comfort in this truth that God is with us.  It helps us to put our busy lives into perspective and even gives us permission to let go of some of those things that in the long run are not very helpful.

For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us just as silver is tried.  You have brought us into the net; you laid heavy burdens upon our backs.  You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water but you brought us into a place of refreshment.

Have you ever felt that way?  I got a cool e-mail this week talking about the refining of silver process.  The refiner holds the silver in the hottest part of the fire.  But he or she has to keep a careful watch.  Too little time and not all the impurities are removed.  Too much time and the sliver is destroyed.  And do you know how the refiner knows when the process is complete?  They can see their image in the silver. 

Sometimes God allows us to go through times of testing.  This is never a fun process, but it doesn’t happen because he is petty and wants to see us sweat.  But this is a way of removing those things from us that are harmful.  It is a way of God allowing us to see that trust placed in anything else is trust misplaced.  Only God will not disappoint us.  And he leads and guides us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death to places of refreshment. 

I will enter your house with burnt offerings and will pay you my vows – those that I promised with my lips and spoke with my mouth when I was in trouble.  I will offer you burnt offerings of fatlings with the smoke of rams; I will give you oxen and goats.

Having experienced and recognized God’s presence and part of our lives we respond with praise and offerings.  Here the psalm mentions offerings that were specifically part of the sacrificial system that was in place for the temple in Jerusalem.  What we are to realize here is that this is offering in the sense of worshiping, praising and giving thanks to God.  This is not saying that when the offering is collected today that you should place an ox in the plate.  Or that you can have a goat deposited in the office automatically once a month through simply giving.

Come and listen, all you who believe, and I will tell you what God has done for me.  I called out to God with my mouth and praised the Lord with my tongue.  If I had cherished evil in my heart, the Lord would not have heard me; but in truth God has heard me and has attended to the sound of my prayer.  Blessed be God, who has not rejected my prayer, nor withheld unfailing love from me.

Again, we see this recounting the story of God’s work in our lives.  The confidence that he hears and answers our prayers, and the assurances that he does not withhold his unfailing love from you and me and his people. 

We can fill our plates with all kinds of stuff, some we put there ourselves, and some others place there for us.  But whatever reason there is for the stuff on our plates.  We have a God who lives in relationship with us.  The things on our plates don’t always satisfy us, but our God never disappoints us. 

It is worth spending time with him and in his word.  It is necessary, it reminds us of what is important in life and how we can enjoy life in the way it was meant to be lived, and not merely be a survivor.  Jesus said, “Come to me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”  In Jesus we enjoy a peace that surpasses all human understanding.  And so the time spent in his word and in prayer is of the utmost importance. 

It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, you can use your celebrate inserts or the handouts for families. But something to remind you of this.  That way, when you bite of more than you can chew, you can still find what is most important in life, and see God’s presence in your life and once that happens what else is there to do but to praise our God, and tell of his wonderful deeds.  Amen.

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