Sermon for August 5th, 2018
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
The Last Psalm
Back in the days of the circuit riding preacher--the preacher who would ride on horseback across the plains to preach at several different churches each Sunday--a certain preacher wanted to train his horse, and, being a preacher he thought it would be clever to use biblical phrases as commands. So he taught the horse to giddy up and go whenever he said the words, "Praise the Lord." And he taught his horse to stop whenever he said the word "Hallelujah."
This worked out great, and really impressed the people when he rode into town, loudly shouting "Hallelujah," and bringing his horse to a stop. Then after the service, he'd mount his horse as the people gathered on the steps of the church, shout "Praise the Lord," and horse and rider would gallop off into the horizon.
One day, in between towns, the preacher fell asleep in the saddle. When he woke up, he found his horse had veered off course and was headed at a fast trot straight towards the edge of a cliff. Flustered, he tried hard to remember which command made the horse stop. He shouted, "Jubilation" and "God Almighty!" and even "transubstantiation" but nothing worked. Just as the horse was about to go over the edge, he remembered and cried out "Hallelujah" and the horse came to an abrupt stop two inches from certain death. Wiping the sweat from his brow, the preacher breathed a sigh of relief and said, "Whew! That was close, but we made it, praise the Lord!" He was never heard from again.
We've spent the entire summer talking about the psalms, prayer and praising the Lord in good times as well as bad. Today, our sermon series comes to an end, and fittingly we're looking at the very last psalm in the book of psalms, psalm 150. It is a Psalm of praise, just like Psalm 117 (the shortest psalm) and like most psalms of praise, it begins and ends with the words "Praise the Lord" or in Hebrew, "Hallelujah!"
But Psalm 150 does more than that. The final psalm has often been described as "instructions for praising God. It is divided into roughly four sections that answer the questions:
- Where should God be praised?
- Why should God be praised?
- How should God be praised? and
- Who should praise God?
Let's jump right in. Verse 1, after the injunction to praise the Lord, tells us where to do it: "Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament!"
Now, this might seem strange to our modern minds. We like to know *why* we should do something before we bother with where to do it. But perhaps the Psalmist knows something we've forgotten--the importance of sacred space to inspire us, and the importance of just showing up. Often when we do that, not completely understanding why or how, things just fall into place.
My kids are a great example of this: Why do we have to go to to this place? Why do we have to go see this person? Why do we have to go to this event? No explanation we could possibly give would convince them to abandon the comfort of their rooms, their screens, their comfortable routines. And yet when we get there, when we do the thing we set out to do, a lot of times on the way home they'll say, "That was really great! Can we go there again?"
Sometimes where can be more important than why. There are two wheres in this verse: Praise God in his sanctuary, which in Hebrew is קֹ֫דֶשׁ (kodesh) literally a place that is holy, set apart. We need places like that in our lives, places outside of our home, our work, our routines--places where we can encounter God.
I know some people like to encounter God on the golf course or in the park--that's my holy place, Pastor! But notice that verse one doesn't say Praise God in *your* holy place...it says praise God in *his* holy place, the place he has set apart specifically for that purpose, the place where his symbols adorn the walls, where his story is told, his songs are sung, and where his people come together to praise him.
But wait...there is some good news for golfers and nature enthusiasts after all. The *other* place mentioned in verse one, where we are to praise God in *addition* to his sanctuary is "in his mighty firmament." In Hebrew, this word is רָקִ֫יעַ (raqia) which has the sense of an expanse or something spread out. In other words, the heavens and everything underneath them. John Calvin, in his commentary on this verse, says that when we gaze into the night sky (the firmament) and contemplate the vastness of the universe, "our minds can never take in this immensity, the mere taste of it will deeply affect us." When we let out a gasp or a sigh, this is praise to the force that set millions of stars in place, and "God will not reject such praises as we offer according to our capacity."
So we praise God in the sanctuary, and under the heavens. Both are equally important, and one causes us to appreciate the other all the more.
In verse 2, we are (finally) given the reason why: "Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness!"
In other words, we praise God for two reasons: What he has done, and who he is. Here again, both are important and inseparable. I love it when my wife does things for me--when I had surgery earlier this week, she took time off from work and took care of me. But if I only love her when she's doing things for me...that's a pretty shallow, self-centered kind of love. And yet, that's often the kind of love we have for God. "God, you didn't give me that thing I prayed for. God, you let those bad things happen. God, you let my loved one die. So maybe I don't love you anymore."
We want to be loved for who we are, the good, the bad and the ugly. I think God wants the same kind of love from us. And yet...often it is in doing things for each other that we get to know each other, that we begin to fall in love with each other. Those small acts of kindness, gifts, and sacrifices can be signs and reflections of a greater, deeper love. The two go hand in hand: We come to know God through the things he does, then eventually we come to love God for who he is, and finally we come to see that what God does flows from who he is, and who he is is a reflection of what he does.
- Psalm 1 and Psalm 150 as bookends. Moving from obedience to adoration, from seeking wisdom to finding love.