By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered thee, O Sion. As for our harps, we hanged them up upon the trees that are therein. For they that led us away captive required of us then a song, and melody, in our heaviness,  sing us one of the songs of Sion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song  in a strange land?  Psalm 137:1-4

Psalm 137 is written against the back ground of the Jews’ captivity in Babylon. Some 500 years before the coming of Christ the Babylonians defeated Israel and took its people captives. The psalmist described their new home as a ‘strange land’. This period is called the exile and represented a significant time in Israel’s history.

The time spent in exile was a miserable period for the Jews who were cut off from Jerusalem.  Jerusalem was more than a home for the Jews; it was the location of the Temple and as such it was a visible expression of their faith and belief in God. To be separated from Jerusalem was to experience a form of death.

The exile was an experience of homelessness, uselessness and powerlessness. In this terrible situation the Jews found it difficult to give full expression to their faith. Their Captors rubbed salt into their wounds by asking them to sing some of Zion’s song. The psalmist responded to this request with the question: ”How shall we sing the Lord song in a strange land?” It is a picture of a people over taken by hopelessness and despair. They found it difficult to sing Zion’s songs in a strange land.

This psalm raises the issue of praising God in a situation of hopelessness. Is it possible to praise God when we experience what might be called ‘exile’?

Today’s Mass invites us to offer thanks and praise to God. For many people this might be a challenge as they ask ‘what do I have to thank God for?” How can I thank God when my life is in shambles? How can you ask me to praise God in my pain and struggles? The notion of a Thanksgiving Mass might even create problems for some of you as the parish asks you to give God thanks. And some of you might ask: “For what?” These questions echo the Jews lament ‘how can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’?

Offering thanks and praise to God in every situation can be a test, especially for persons whose faith is wavering. Sometimes when we say to persons you must give thanks to God for everything you meet in your life, we are asking them to do what is unnatural. It is not human to be thankful in conditions of adversity; it is human and natural to be angry when we encounter conditions that are devastating.

We all go through periods of anger when things do not go our way or the way we expect. At times we are angry with God, with ourselves, with families and loved ones. Anger is part of the human experience.

We accept that life can be a struggle. We know that given the present economic crisis gripping all nations throughout the world, life is a trying experience for many people. People are faced with the crises of unemployment, sickness and disease, the high cost of living, domestic problems, financial issues and the like. This Mass of Thanksgiving does not down play the reality of anguish, anxiety and anger caused by these problems; neither is it opium for the people. This Mass of Thanksgiving is cognizant of our trials and tribulations but it invites us to recognise God’s love and care for us. It could be worse if not for God’s care.

This service says to us not to complain about life and our present situation; to make the best use of the opportunities we have and to thank God for life as we experience it, knowing that they are persons whose conditions are worse than ours.

Every year at his time the parish provides an opportunity for its members and friends to offer a special act of thanksgiving to God for his goodness. We acknowledge that our lives are broken from time to time and that we do not live in a perfect world. But at the same time we are duty bound to thank God for his goodness and love. Can you imagine what life would be like if God did not love and care for us? It would be much worse.

Our presence this morning says that we accept all that life brings and place it in God’s hands. We accept that every situation we encounter in life makes us who we are. What we make of our experiences is what counts, not the experiences. This morning we are thanking God for life- its joys and sorrows, its ups and downs. Life is a mixed bag. If we don’t accept this fact and place it in God’s hand, we will always be angry people. Thankful people take life as it comes and live peaceful lives.

How do we show our gratitude to God?  By serving him faithfully all the days of our lives. Above all we thank God for Jesus Christ our Saviour and Redeemer. The psalm we used earlier presents us with a challenge: ‘Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” We are to be people of praise, people whose lives are acts of praise. We join with the whole creation in offering praise to Almighty God.

The thank offering which we will shortly offer to God is meant to be a visible expression of our love and thanks to God. As we come up this morning and present our special offering we are saying to God that we are giving back to him a meaningful portion of what he has given us, to be used in the service and ministry of this parish.

We can never repay God for his goodness. However, we offer to God this gift of money this morning as a sign of our thanks and gratitude to Him for all his mercies and blessings. Like the widow, we offer him the ‘mite’, the best that we can afford. Listen to the words of King David : “I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing."

God is good all the time.

We do not have to sit by the waters of Babylon and cry. Even as we live in this strange land we can still sing the Lord’s song.

Can we sing the Lord’s song in a ‘strange’ land? Yes, we can.

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