“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,
and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God."
Several years ago, I wrote a history of the denomination I’ve been a part for all the days of my life, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, a project I was asked to do. When I put down the pen, it struck me that I could create a stage presentation of that history that would be interesting and even inspiring. So I tried.
That play—I had a role myself—was, I believe, very successful, playing to large crowds of denominational members across the continent. But something happened one afternoon in
that I’ve never forgotten.
We’d just finished the presentation—a 2 ½ hour show telling the story with all its joys and sorrows—when a man came up to the stage, a retired gentleman—white shoes, pastel sport coat. He pumped my hand with the kind of vehemence I could tell wasn’t perfunctory. “Thank you,” he said, looking into my eyes. “Thank you very much.” And then he bit his lip as if to stop himself from going too far. I never caught his name, and he never said another word. Just “thank you.” Then walked away.
It wasn’t the kind of accolade I’d come to expect. Generally, people came up and said good things—how professional the show was (we had a cast of non-professionals), how interesting, how it told them stories they’d never known. I don’t remember another time, however, when someone came up to me and simply said thanks.
Today, denominations are dying. The sociology of ecclesiastical structure in American evangelicalism has been revamped by largely independent mega-churches, where thousands of parishioners gather, often drawn by mise-en-scene, or spectacle—or, in particularly American fashion, by the celebrity of the preacher. Denominations, most of them at least, may well be artifacts of evangelicalism’s European roots. Today, in the highly charged spiritual atmosphere of post-modernism, few seem to care about the doctrinal character of the ye olde fellowships, things people once upon a time actually went to war about.
I say all of that because, in that retired gentleman’s single-word response, I believe he was telling me something he didn’t have the words to say himself. He was thanking me for telling his story, his joys and concerns in a lifetime’s membership in the CRCNA. Around him, he could feel things change, but the story we had told he must have considered his story, and by our telling it, simply by its telling, we’d given his story—and thereby him—some measure of dignity. That wasn’t anything I’d intended.
This very difficult song, Psalm 50, that carries the spit and vinegar of some quarrelsome minor prophet, has, as its core, honor. It takes the entire psalm to get there, but the final verse makes it clear. All the vituperation of a snarling, angry God—all of that is aimed at a singular warning: honor is what God wants of us and what he deserves. What stinks is dishonor—even though his nostrils are full of the scent of blood, of perfunctory praise.
The last verse is the whole story of this harsh song. God wants us to honor him and honor his story by treasuring it deeply, and by telling his story in a million ways.
He wants us to know—every time we see them—that those cattle on those thousand hills, just like everything else in this world, belong, as we do ourselves, to Him.
That’s the whole story in Psalm 50--and not just there either. It’s all about honor.