Sermon for August 4th, 2019
1 Praise the Lord! Praise the name of the Lord; give praise, O servants of the Lord, 2 you that stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God. 3 Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing to his name, for he is gracious. 4 For the Lord has chosen Jacob for himself, Israel as his own possession. 5 For I know that the Lord is great; our Lord is above all gods. 6 Whatever the Lord pleases he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. 7 He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth; he makes lightnings for the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. 8 He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both human beings and animals; 9 he sent signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants. 10 He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings— 11 Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan— 12 and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to his people Israel. 13 Your name, O Lord, endures forever, your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages. 14 For the Lord will vindicate his people, and have compassion on his servants. 15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 16 They have mouths, but they do not speak; they have eyes, but they do not see; 17 they have ears, but they do not hear, and there is no breath in their mouths. 18 Those who make them and all who trust them shall become like them. 19 O house of Israel, bless the Lord! O house of Aaron, bless the Lord! 20 O house of Levi, bless the Lord! You that fear the Lord, bless the Lord! 21 Blessed be the Lord from Zion, he who resides in Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!
Psummer of Psalms II - Psalm 135
Psalm 135, like a few Psalms we have encountered earlier this summer belongs to the category known as "Hallel" psalms -- all of which begin and end with the Hebrew phrase "Hallelujah" or "Praise the Lord."
Which reminds me of the story of the woman who bought a female parrot from the pet store, with the assurance that it was a "talking parrot." But the woman quickly learned that her parrot was silent most of the time, except for when she had guests come over to her house, at which point the parrot, in a sexy, seductive voice, would say, "Hey cutie, wanna have some fun?"
Embarassed and dismayed, the woman consulted with her pastor, who happened to be the owner of a talking male parrot. Her pastor reassured her, saying, "My parrot is very religious and spends all of his time praying and reading the bible. Bring your parrot over for a visit, and I'm sure he'll be a good influence on her.
On the day of the arranged visit, sure enough, the pastor's parrot was deeply immersed in reading the Bible and praying. When the female parrot was placed in his cage, he all but ignored her. And then she said, in her most seductive voice, "Hey cutie, wanna have some fun?" At which point the pastor's parrot slammed his little Bible shut, raised his beak to heaven, and said, "Praise the Lord! My prayers have been answered!"
Praise the Lord.
The first two verses of Psalm 135 are a call to worship, inviting all "servants of the Lord" to praise his name, and all those who "stand in the house of the Lord" or in the "courts of the house of the Lord." Basically, all who are gathered for worship in the Temple in Jerusalem.
For what it's worth, we begin our worship here at First Presbyterian Church with a call to worship as well. For us, it's our children, chiming the hour on the handbells and playing the tune "Westminster" which is based on an old rhyme with the words: O Lord our God / Be Thou our guide / That by thy power / No foot may slide -- which in turn is based on verse three of Psalm 121.
Having called the people to worship, to praise God, Psalm 135 goes on to give all the reasons why we should praise God. This is the first half of the Psalm, verses 3-12. Among the reasons are:
Verse 3: The Lord is good and gracious.
Verse 4: He has chosen Israel for himself, as his own special posession.
Verse 5: He is great, above all other gods (note this is one of those Psalms that does not deny the existence of other gods, just that the God of Israel is greater).
Verses 6 and 7 speak of God's creation: The heavens and the earth, the seas and clouds, the lightning, the rain, and the wind. All of these are things that, when we take the time to observe them in wonder, beckon for us to praise the one with the imagination and power to create and orchestrate it all. I like this thought: the idea that when we hear the thunder, when we feel the rain or wind on our face, when we dive deep in the water--all of these things are acts of worship, if we recognize and give thanks for them.
Verses 8 through 12 tell the story of the history of Israel, and how God was at work in that history providing for his people, leading them out of slavery in Egypt, defeating enemies they couldn't have possibly defeated on their own, and providing them a home and a heritage in the land of Israel.
You have a story, too. You can look back on your life, the life of your family and ancestors, and see how God was working to bring you to this point today, sheltering you from harm and providing a place for you, a home, and an identity.
Verse 13 is the climax of the Psalm, and the psalmist (presumably along with the people who are singing this psalm in worship) turn from speaking about God, to speaking directly to God: "Your name, O Lord, endures forever, your renown, O Lord, throughout all ages." Remember in your worship, your prayers, and in your life to speak *about* God, and all that God has done, but also to speak *to* God, and to give him thanks for all that is good and holy in your life and in the world.
Verse 14 is one more reason "why" we praise God: "He will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants."
Having given all this praise to God, verses 15 through 18 set up a contrast with "other gods" or idols, the things we worship that are not God -- gold and silver, things we make for ourselves that have no life, no soul. I love verse 19, which implies that whatever it is that we worship, that we put our trust in, we become like. This is the biblical version of "You are what you eat" only it's "You are what you worship," what you value most. If money is what you pursue most, you will become cold and hardened like your money. If you worship your career, it will consume you and you will become your career. If you worship political leaders and their promises, you will become like them. What a scary and dangerous thing.
But if you worship a God of compassion and love--you get the idea.
Psalm 135 ends as it began, calling more and more people, more tribes, more houses, to bless and praise the Lord.
This is our final Psalm in our series on the Psalms this summer, and I think it's a fitting end, a fitting example of what God looks for and hopes for in our worship, our prayers, and in our lives.
First and most important, there is a sense of WONDER that pervades the entire Psalm. In your worship, in your prayers, and in your lives, I hope you never lose that ability to see the world around you and be amazed at all that God has created, all that God is doing, all that God has provided. This ability is so important that our church has adopted it as part of our vision statement: To be a church for wanderers, wonderers, and wisdom seekers.
But there is also movement in the Psalm worth noting, and it is the kind of movement we should seek in our worship, in our prayers, and in our lives.
This movement starts in WONDER at the world around us, God's creation--nature and beauty and the vastness of the heavens and earth. But then it moves inward, to WONDER and amazement that God has chosen us, just as he chose Jacob and the people of Israel. We too, are God's children, and God loved us enough to send us his son, to teach us, to redeem us and save us from ourselves. God calls us his "treasured possession," and among all the vastness of all the billions of stars and planets in the universe, we are special. You ARE special.
Next, the movement of the Psalm calls us to WONDER (and this time, I mean wonder as in doubt) about all the things we are inclined to follow that are not worth our time, all the things that don't really matter in the end. All the things we spin our wheels chasing after, things of our own creation, that are not God, not wonderful, not eternal.
And finally, the movement of the Psalm invites us to broaden our sense of WONDER to include more and more in our worship, our prayers, and in our lives: more tribes, more families, more nations, and more people.
In a nutshell:
- The universe, and the world around us is WONDERFUL.
- You, as God's special creation, are WONDERFUL.
- Gold and Silver, lifeless material things, are NOT WONDERFUL, and not worthy of our worship.
- God's WONDERS rightfully belong to everyone, to all people, in all times and places.
Hallelujah. Praise the Lord!