Let the Redeemed of the Lord
a sermon based on Psalm 107
by Rev. Thomas Hall
I grew up in small town, mid-western America at
a time when churches still held Sunday evening services. We would let our hair down a bit
on Sunday nights and be less rigid in our liturgy. In fact, the only liturgy we had was an
oral liturgy. Nothing was written down-we had an idea of the basic flow of the service,
but at times we had to just kind of wing it.
I can still recall what happened when we got to "testimony" time. The worship
leader would ask, "Does anyone have a testimony for the Lord?" You could hear
the crickets praising God. "Lets not all stand up at once, folks," he
would say to relieve some of the tension. "God done anything good in your life this
past week? Tell the rest of us." There would be an awkward silence for several more
moments before someone would finally bail God out. (We didnt want to entertain the
possibility that God had not been active in our lives during the past week and might have
instead been off for some R and R on St. Thomas instead of in Fairmont, Minnesota.)
"I want to thank God for providing for our unexpected bills," an older lady
would begin. The testimony might sound like this: "An extra bill came in the mail
this past week," shed say, "and I just didnt have the money to pay
for it. I didnt know what to do. So I just said, Lord, youre going to
have provide; thats all there is to it. But wouldnt you know, the very
next day a neighbor gave me money that I had lent her a year ago-the exact amount to pay
this unexpected bill. God is faithful."
The rest of us would affirm this womans testimony with loud amens and wed
launch right into an upbeat version of, Great is thy Faithfulness. With each verse
wed sing with more feeling, actually beginning to believe what we were singing. Such
testimonies and singing inspired us all and would invariably trigger someone elses
memory so that most of us would end up giving a "testimony for the Lord."
I know times have changed. Our services sometimes seem to me to be more scripted, more
controlled. Corporate testimonies have replaced "testimonies for the Lord" which
can be risky and spontaneous. So in most congregations testimonies have been cut from
worship or reserved for small group intimacy. Still I miss them among the community of
Psalm 107 reminds us of the importance of putting testimonies back into the life of the
church. "Has the lord redeemed you?" the psalmist asks the congregation
rhetorically. "Then, speak out!" he says. One of the most transformative moments
in the life of any congregation is when someone from among the congregation narrates a
piece of their life but tells it in a way that reflects Gods faithfulness and care
that is at work in their life.
Recently, a man in our congregation stood up and shared a small slice of his life with
the congregation. It was really no huge, earth-shattering story, just a context for giving
thanks. His bore witness to Gods working in the aftermath of his fathers
stroke. "We had tried to find a language therapist to help dad, but we just struck
out. But my own dad, in his stroke-impaired words, mentioned a person he had worked with
in his career. We called him and found out that he was a retired principal and a trained
speech therapist. And he was delighted to help dad!" His words were thoughtful and
authentic and we were deeply inspired to trust God in our own journeys with God.
Not all of testimonies emerge from the daily grind. Sometimes God rescues people in
extraordinary ways; reaches deep into the Pit to rescue some dying soul. We need to hear
their stories too.
"Thank you for praying for me for the past twelve years," Willy Reyes said to
our congregation. I remember the congregation doing a double take on that line. Like
"what do mean weve been praying for you? We only met you this morning!"
"Yeah, you been praying for me-Willy," he insisted in his quiet gravely
voice. "You see, I was doing time in prison for shooting a guy in a drug deal gone
bad fifteen years ago." Spent twelve years in a cell. I didnt know it then, but
while I was in prison, every Sunday morning you were faithfully praying, . . . and
be with those in prison. I was the guy in prison you were praying for. Thank you for
praying for me-Willy Reyes."
That testimony for the Lord, coupled with the fact that Willy was now in his
masters program for family counseling so inspired the congregation that it was
months before we would yawn through that part of the "Prayers for the People."
"Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak it out!" Thats what Psalm 107 is
all about. Stepping up to the table and telling the world that God has been active in your
A busy mother from our congregation who lives in a fine suburban community recently
accompanied me-along with her three children-to help pack bags of groceries to help feed
the homeless and foodless in Philadelphias poorest and most dangerous borough. We
drove past neighborhoods with people still sleeping on the grates and children playing
unsupervised. Graffiti scarred the apartments near where we were to work. So we did our
work and returned. Come Sunday morning, Andy got up and shared her testimony for the Lord.
She had written her words neatly out and proceeded to read them. About half way through
her testimony, her voice cracked as she put the paper aside and described what she had
experienced. God had shown up there and given hope through the little group of Christians
that lived there. Andys words inspired the rest of us to get involved in also
helping out our brothers and sisters in Kensington. It all happened through a spontaneous
testimony for the Lord.
According to biblical scholar, Claus Westermann, the word, praise refers to a
spontaneous unrehearsed response to flashes of insight into Gods working in nature,
community, or relationships. You know what thats like-you see a gorgeous sunset, see
your baby for the first time, observe a self-sacrificing act, and you want to express the
sheer fullness of your heart to God. Thats praise, according to Westermann. But in
Hebrew worship, giving thanks was an entirely different thing altogether. Giving thanks
was more of a planned thing-similar to a carefully scripted worship service. To give
thanks required that some time be given to reflecting on Gods past actions in
ones life or community. Giving thanks is going back through the pages of our stories
and finding God in the narrative.
"Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!" Try this. Look back through the
good, bad, and tragic chapters of your life, but this time look at your life through the
lens of Gods faithfulness and loving kindness. What can you discern of Gods
redemptive, saving, loving, and presence-filled action in your past? Then speak out!
Inspire your family. Startle your friends. Rouse faith. Trigger holy imagination. Astound
"Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!" Testimonies are for 12-steppers,
survivors, CEOs, stay-at-home moms, school bus drivers, pastors, pet store owners, karate
kids, and everyone else who has taken the time to stop to reflect on Gods goodness
in their life.
Nothing will encourage you or inspire others more than a full-bodied, authentic,
God-honoring testimony that comes from your lips.
"Has the Lord redeemed you?" You know what to do! Amen.