Psalm 30

I love Jimmy Fallon’s “thank you notes” segment on his show. Jimmy sits with a pile of thank you cards and pretends to write as he says things that are funny or sarcastic or silly. And today’s psalm, a psalm of thanks, made me think of this.

And then it made me wonder, when do you say thank you? When someone has been kind, when someone has gone out of their way for you, when someone has been thoughtful. It is common courtesy to say thank you for even the smallest gesture. I say thank you to the waiter for re-filling my water glass and I say thank you to parents for, you know, just being my parents. These 2 little words cover the spectrum of gratitude.

Yet nestled underneath these 2 little words is need. To say thank you implies that we had a need. And when we say thank you we acknowledge that the need has been recognized or even met.

I don’t know about you but I don’t enjoy being in need. I would rather just take care of it myself, thankyouverymuch. Which is ridiculous since I am a pastor and the very notion of following Jesus is need. My need for Jesus, my need for community, my need for other people.

Yet, need, as you have probably experienced for yourselves, is viewed as weakness, especially in our American, boot-straps, self-made, self-sufficient, look what I did culture! Or, here in the heart of the Midwest, “Oh, I’m fine.”

I took a trip to Guatemala during seminary. We stayed in a mountain village and worked with the Catholic church in town to do service projects and to immerse ourselves in the culture as best we could. We attended mass during our stay and it was standing room only in the sanctuary with people in the doorways spilling out into the street. Father Greg met with us, all future pastors, a few times and openly admitted that his job was way easier than ours would be. “They know they need Jesus here” he said. “Where you’ll serve? They’ve got money. Houses, cars, lots of things. They think they’re fine.”

What is it to admit we need Jesus? What does it say about us when we meet at worship on a Sunday? It is to say that we need others, that we can’t do this alone. We gather together to ask for help and to say thank you and to give praise to God.

Anne Lamott wrote a book called “Help Thanks Wow: The Three Essential Prayers.” And in the book she says this:

A lot of us religious types go around saying thank you to God when we find a good parking space, or locate the house keys or the wandering phone, or finally get a good night’s sleep. And while that may be annoying to the people around us, it’s important because if we are lucky, gratitude becomes a habit. You say “thank you” when something scary has happened in your beloved and screwed up family and you all came through (or most of you did), and you have found love in the intergenerational ruins (maybe a lot of love, or maybe just enough). Or you can look at what was revealed in the latest mess, and you say thanks for the revelation, because it shows you some truth you needed to know, and that can be so rare in our families, let alone in our culture, our world, and in our marriages, and in our relationships with our teenagers and with ourselves.

You say, Thank you for lifting this corner of the curtain so I can see the truth, maybe for just a moment, but in a way that might change my life forever. And that moment is astonishing, because everything is taking place all at once, the micro and the macro. You walk through the glittering city and gaze up at the heavens, and yet down here you can see clearly what you have on your hands, or even what you have lost.[1]

Psalm 30 takes on this journey, showing us that when we say thank you, it is because we have come through something and we cannot possibly return to how it all once was. And while there is loss in that there is also gratitude. Thank you.

This thank you psalm begins by calling for praise to God for who God is and what God has done.  Look at verses 1-5. Just look at all the action words that God has done. God has drawn me up, restored me, healed me. God’s character is one of favor for a lifetime and a moment of anger.

Then the psalmist remembers and describes what they’ve come through, the time of crisis, the time they called out for help.  Look at verse 6-10. “As for me I said in my prosperity – I shall not be moved.”  Or in our terms, “Hey, I’m good. It’s all good. I’m fine.” or “Look what I did!” Only to discover, well, that maybe it all fell apart. That we, as good or as together as we pretend to be, are not the ones to be thanked. We are not the ones who ultimately provide. We are the ones uttering thank you when our desperate need has been exposed.

The psalm ends by describing what help God gave. “You have turned my mourning into dancing.”

This thank you note isn’t a glib Jimmy Fallon segment taking stabs at popular culture. This is a thank you note that willingly exposes the psalmist’s need, our need for God’s grace and mercy that we know, that we stand in awe of through Jesus.

It’s where we are changed, in our time of need, at the foot of the cross. It’s where things and life and we will never be the same again. It’s when we reflect back on this, this moment of humiliation or raw grief or anger or sadness or confusion – it’s when we can look back that we can humbly get out our pens and write a shaky, earnest thank you and mean it with all our hearts.

So thank you, River of Hope. Thank you for showing up on the corner to greet strangers and offer them a cookie. Thank you for being the kind of congregation that rolls with whatever is happening with kids in worship, letting them just be who they are with us. Thank you for asking brave and smart and curious questions during the sermon time, thank you for taking a risk at digging into this story. Thank you, most of all, for teaching me how to live and how to love.

We are in need. It’s why at the end of every sermon I prompt you to say thank you. Not to me but to God. Because we are in need for good news, for new life. And that’s what being a weak, needy Christian is all about.

Isn’t that good news?

And we say,

Thanks be to God.



[1] Help Thanks Wow pp.48-49