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fanfare_abstract.jpg (3916 bytes)Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so!
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. "Let’s 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 didn’t 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," she’d say, "and I just didn’t have the money to pay for it. I didn’t know what to do. So I just said, ‘Lord, you’re going to have provide; that’s all there is to it.’ But wouldn’t 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 woman’s testimony with loud amens and we’d launch right into an upbeat version of, Great is thy Faithfulness. With each verse we’d sing with more feeling, actually beginning to believe what we were singing. Such testimonies and singing inspired us all and would invariably trigger someone else’s 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 saints.

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 God’s 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 God’s working in the aftermath of his father’s 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 we’ve 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 didn’t 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 master’s 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!" That’s what Psalm 107 is all about. Stepping up to the table and telling the world that God has been active in your life.

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 Philadelphia’s 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. Andy’s 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 God’s working in nature, community, or relationships. You know what that’s 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. That’s 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 God’s past actions in one’s 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 God’s faithfulness and loving kindness. What can you discern of God’s 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 yourself.
"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 God’s 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.