Sermon for July 17th, 2022

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The Lord sets the prisoners free;

8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
  The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
  the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
    he upholds the orphan and the widow,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

Psalm 146: Ten Things I Love About God

Ten years ago, right around this time, I stood before you and preached my very first sermon as your pastor. It doesn't seem like it was that long ago. I still sometimes think of myself as a "new" pastor. But in the 140 year history of this church, there have been only two pastors who have served longer than ten years (Bill Burroughs and Bob Young). From my graduating class at Princeton seminary, there are no other pastors besides me who are still serving in the same church they started in when we all graduated, ten years ago.

I say all this not to pat myself on the back (ok, maybe just a little) but really just to say that this milestone caught me by surprise. I guess time flies when you're having fun. Or, to quote one of my favorite amphibians, Kermit the frog: Time's fun when you're having flies.

Today's psalm, number 146, is ten short verses long. And in those ten verses is a list of ten reasons why God is worthy of our praise. If you grew up in the 1990's you might remember a movie called "Ten Things I Hate About You." Riffing on that, I think we could call this Psalm "Ten things I love about God." Let's dive right in...

The psalm begins and ends with the words "Praise the Lord!" I say words but in Hebrew this is just one word, and it's one you all know quite well: Hallelujah! Hallel is the Hebrew word for praise; the U ending (Hallelu) puts it in the plural imperative, so "All ya'll praise" and the final part of the word, "jah" is the shortened form of the divine name, YHWH. So "All y'all praise YHWH" or simply, "Praise the Lord."

The last five Psalms in the book of Psalms all begin and end with a Hallelujah--they are known as the Hallel Psalms, and this is the first of that collection. This is the beginning of the grand finale to the Psalms. In earlier Psalms, the Psalmist would cry out to God in grief, despair, or anger about his enemies. But now at the end, looking back on it all, there is only gratitude.

In verse two, the Psalmist essentially proclaims that he will praise the Lord until he draws his very last breath. It's a nice, quaint sentiment, but I want to think about this for a minute. Because in the past ten years, I've had the opportunity several times to be present at that moment when a person draws their last breath, speaks their last words. And what I've noticed, is that our last words tend to be an echo of all the ones that came before. In other words, if you are a constant complainer, you're probably going to complain with your last breath. If you're a gossip, that's probably what you'll do, out of habit, right up until the end. People who are always worrying...tend to worry in their last moments, too.

So if you want to be the kind of person who praises God right before you go to meet him, I have some advice for you: Don't wait. Start right now. Make it a lifelong habit.

In order to associate ourselves with God, in order to say “Hallelujah” and really mean it, we must also sometimes disassociate ourselves from things (or people) who get in the way. In verses 3 and 4 the psalmist warns his listeners not to put their trust in princes or human beings—influential people who promise to solve all of our problems, but who are, at the end of the day, just as flawed and helpless as we are.

That’s not to say we can’t help each other out. In fact, elsewhere the Bible says that we can and we should help our neighbor. But that’s a different thing entirely than putting our unwavering confidence and faith in a mere mortal. No matter how great, how intelligent, how compassionate and good a human being can become in this lifetime, that lifetime will someday come to an end, and so will all that person’s greatness, intelligence, compassion, and goodness.

Instead, says the psalmist, if you want to be happy, put your faith and your confidence in the one who created heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them (including every great, intelligent, compassionate and good person), the only one who is able to keep and hold that faith...forever.

What follows from verse seven to the end of the psalm is the list of ten things that are so amazing, so wonderful that the psalmist can’t help but praise God. The “Ten things I love about God” list. You should read the list, and often. But I think Psalm 146 is also an example, a model, intended to inspire you to come up with your own list. What are the 10 things YOU love about God? Why do you pray at night? Why do you show up on Sunday mornings? Why do you say “God bless you” and “Hallelujah?” and “Thank the Lord?” What are your ten reasons?

Here’s another way of looking at it: If you are in the habit (as I am) of occasionally (or frequently) telling your spouse “I love you,” and one day your spouse heard those words, turned to you and said, “Oh, really? Why do you love me?” Would you be prepared, on the spot, to rattle off ten genuine, sincere attributes that back up your three casual words? If not, or if you find yourself stumbling through a list of tired and generic cliches, your spouse might legitimately wonder if there is any truth to your love.

So it is with God. If you profess to love God, but can’t tell anyone why, then it’s probably one of two reasons: Either (one) you’re just going through the motions, and don’t really have much of a relationship with God, or (two) you haven’t really taken much time to think about it. Guess what? Making a list can help you with either of those two scenarios. Sometimes the act of reflecting on our reasons to love, can deepen that love, as well as help us to better express it.

By the way, after you finish making your list of ten things you love about God, you should totally make the same kind of list for your spouse. Especially if your spouse is sitting here with you today, and will likely ask you that question at some point in the next week… (did you see what I just did there?).

I want to conclude today, in the spirit of Psalm 146, with my own list of the ten things I love most about God, on the tenth anniversary of my commitment to serve God through this congregation. I had a lot of fun putting this list together, and I hope you will to, whatever yours may look like. Also, yours doesn’t have to be in rhyming iambic heptameter.

  1. I love you, Lord, for loving me, before the dawn of time.
  2. I love the way you formed the mountains in this home of mine.
  3. I love the people that you’ve made; their burdens and their cares.
  4. I love the way I see your face reflected within theirs.
  5. I love the way you speak to me through thunderstorms and stars.
  6. I love the way you listen when I ramble long and far.
  7. I love just how you show up where you’re not expected to.
  8. And how you turn things upside down to make them right and new.
  9. I love how much you love this world, still, when it rejects you.
  10. I love you, Lord, because you are love—you are everything that’s good and right and true.