Programmed to Praise

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho

June 10, 2017

Psalm 100

Today we begin a series of sermons on the Psalms. While I’ve preached from the Psalms before, including my very first sermon I preached when you called me as pastor 9 years ago this past week, you are more likely to have heard the Psalms in worship as either hymns we sing or adapted into the Call to Worship.

The Book of Psalms is a large collection of poetry, written over hundreds of years. The Hebrew word for Psalm is “mizmor”, which means “something sung”. It’s a word that implies singing in praise, maybe with an instrument.

In the Hebrew bible, the collection of psalms has a different name than we give it, however. It’s the “Tehilim”, which means “praises”. Whether you sing them, as I did at the start of worship, or read them, as we did just now, the emphasis, according to the Hebrew bible, is on the act of praising. In most cases, even the psalms of lament have an element of praise involved in them.

As scholar Robert Alter writes, “….the psalmists tell us that (our) man’s ultimate calling is to use the resources of human language to celebrate God’s greatness and to express gratitude for (God’s) His beneficent acts. This theme is sometimes given special urgency by being joined with an emphasis on the ephemerality of human life. Only the living can praise God.” (page xx, Introduction to The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary)

Some of the psalms we’ll hear the next month will be favorite verses, others will be vaguely familiar, and others may be completely new. Some of them will resonate with you, and others may not. While this could be true of any story in scripture, it is especially my experience of the psalms. Different psalms speak to us at different moments of our lives.

So, if you hear a psalm that makes your eyes glaze over a bit, don’t feel bad. Just flip to another psalm and keep reading until you find one that resonates. Trust the words you don’t need to hear today will be available for you, when you need them at some point in the future. The psalms “sing the faith” for us, in their varied expression and understanding, even when, perhaps especially when, we cannot sing the faith for ourselves.

Today’s psalm is a Thanksgiving Psalm—-make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.

It’s not a long poem. In it’s few short verses, it reminds, though, of some important things.

All the earth is called to praise. Which means you and me and other human types. It also means ALL the earth—the trees of the forests, the birds in the air, the fish in the sea, and the adorable baby panda bears—we are all called to praise God.

The earth is called to praise because praise is a job description of those God has created. And, for the record, that’s all of us. We, along with the rest of the earth, are a part of God’s creation.

The NRSV translates it as
“Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;”

Included in that verse is the sense of “God made us. We did not make God.” We are God’s creation. God’s people. The flock God tends.

This may seem obvious, something that shouldn’t need to be said. Often, though, we forget we are created, that we are a part of a larger creation, all made in love. We act as if we created our own selves by our own proverbial bootstraps and are fully in control over everything we survey.

Until, of course, we recognize we aren’t in control. And we scurry back to the shelter of the wings of God, who did make us, and who spun the whirling planets, and we say “The Lord is God. God made us, and we are God’s. We are the sheep of God’s pasture.”

Why are we called to praise God?

We don’t praise God because God is an egomaniac who wants the divine creation to focus all attention on God. We praise God because it is the way we are oriented to God and to the world.

Calvin, in his Commentary on the Psalms, wrote:

“The whole world is a theatre for the display of the divine goodness, wisdom, justice, and power, but the Church is the orchestra, as it were—the most conspicuous part of it; and the nearer the approaches are that God makes to us, the more intimate and condescending the communication of his benefits, the more attentively are we called to consider them.”

Using Calvin’s imagery, all of creation is a stage to display God’s goodness, so our very existence is sign of God’s goodness and our praise is our work in the orchestra at the theater.

Anyone who has been a part of an orchestra, band, or choir knows what a great metaphor this is from Calvin. If we are in an orchestra only for our own selves, to play whatever we want while ignoring the musicians next to us, it will be a cacophony of disaster.

When you see yourself as one of many musicians, you have to pay attention to what the other musicians are doing, listening for tempo, style, and volume. You have to watch the conductor, looking for direction. It orients you to looking beyond yourself.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

Make a Joyful

Our call to praise God orients us toward God. And in a world where we could focus our attention in many, many different places, the reminder to orient our lives, in praise, toward God is powerful.

You may have heard of the practice of a “gratitude journal”, where you spend a few minutes each day writing down a few things for which you are thankful that happened each day. If I’m looking for things about which you can be thankful, I’ve discovered I tend to see them everywhere.

Some days my gratitude is easy to see and abundant, making it hard to choose only 3 things. Even on crappy days, I can always find 3 things. I’ve been grateful for laughter at the bedside of a dying friend, for a day with no new political news, and for the church not flooding during torrential rains.

Sometimes it’s the little things.

Gratitude is another form of praise. It is a claim that in the midst of the world we’re in, we’re aware of blessing and gift.

Studies have shown that this simple exercise has beneficial health effects. Tending to Gratitude improves physical and psychological health. It enhances empathy and reduces aggression. It improves self esteem and increases mental strength.

Orienting my life toward praise and gratitude is not an act of putting on rose colored glasses and refusing to see the broken and painful parts of the world. It helps me from letting the broken and painful parts of the world take over too much real estate in my soul, which gives me the energy and the strength to work to make the world less broken, less painful.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

Making a joyful noise to the Lord, when the world around us seems hellbent on destruction and pain, is a counter cultural act of defiance. When we can find joy and praise in the face of death, loss, and human-caused pain, we turn, we re-orient the world toward God. We claim that death will not win. We sing hope to a world hearing despair.

My heart shall sing of the day you bring.
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near,
and the world is about to turn!

The Canticle of the Turning, which we sang earlier in the service, speaks of this re-orientation. This hymn is often sung during Advent, because it is Mary’s song, the magnificat, the one she sings when pregnant with God’s son.

Like the psalmist, Mary’s song begins with praise for blessings received. Even in the midst of an unplanned pregnancy, Mary orients her life toward praise, seeking to recognize her blessings.

And as far as we can tell, in either the biblical text or in our world, Mary is speaking of things that haven’t quite happened yet. Powerful people still seem to be on their thrones. The lowly still seem to be low. The hungry are still going to the food banks and, despite the worsening economy, the rich are not quite empty. Children are still dying.

As Christians, we are a people oriented in praise toward hope. Hope that the promises God made to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ’s birth and will be fulfilled in Christ’s return. So, we make a joyful noise in hope that our work together as God’s people will make Mary’s song, and the song of the Psalmist, true for the people in our community, for those who mourn, for the people still seeking the justice of equality, for all who live under the crushing blow of the oppressor.

We answer the psalmist’s call to shout with joy.

Not blithe happiness, as if nothing were wrong in the world around us, but that joy that wells up in our souls when we remember that the pain and sorrow in this world do not have the final say.

One of my friends shared this quote with me.

Joy is not the absence of suffering. It is the presence of God.

So to “make a joyful noise to the earth” is to announce God’s presence in the midst of every situation of our lives.

For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

May it be so.


One thought on “Programmed to Praise

  1. Pingback: How Long? | Glass Overflowing

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