I occasionally get asked to speak at various functions. I share one experience as an introduction to today's message. The master of ceremonies got up to introduce me: “Unfortunately, our original choice to be today's speaker is unable to attend so we have Pastor Gordy.” Then he tried to make a point that no one should feel too bad about me there as their second or third choice; he pointed at a window that had been broken and replaced with a piece of cardboard. “Our speaker is like that piece of cardboard in the window. He's a substitute.” Not the greatest intro, but I gave my talk and it was well received. The emcee returned to the lectern with an attempt at apology, “Pastor, we want you to know you were not like that cardboard substitute. You were a real pane.”
I bring this up because one of my sources commenting on today's Psalm said this, “If I were tasked with introducing God as our visiting lecturer, I would use this psalm.”
I liked that, and after I decided to use it, I checked out the author. I discovered it was Rev. Dr. Shauna Hannan who hails from our own town of Litchfield. I dug a little more and she is moving up the ladder in the ELCA, a published author and now Professor of Homiletics at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary.
Got a little off track here. But she went on to explain that this short Psalm could be used to explain the traits of our Lord. It tells us of God's position, accomplishments, attributes, and makes a personal connection to us, the audience. And so I want to look at the verses Don read for us and expound on these attributes, but more importantly focus on the very first line, “Praise the Lord!”
So first, what kinds of qualities do we read about in the passage? Great works, honorable, majestic, righteous, world renowned, gracious and merciful. He supplies our needs, he keeps his covenants; the Lord is powerful, faithful, just and trustworthy. Wow, that would make a pretty good introduction, wouldn't it?
This psalm was written by King David. It has an interesting form as each verse in its original language begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in ascending order... for us--A, B, C and so on. He begins by giving thanks to the Lord in the congregation. When we gather to worship on Sunday mornings, giving thank and praise to the Lord is pretty high on the list of reasons why we are here. That's what we are doing this morning, giving praise and thanks to the Lord for the many blessings we receive. It is natural that we offer out thanksgiving to God in our private prayers, but once a week we gather to praise God in the assembly, in public worship. Many of the psalms are written for private devotions but they were also used as public worship. King David here calls on all of us to share our worship in fellowship with other believers.
And for what does the psalm tells us we give thanks? David points to the great works of the Lord; his righteousness, his majesty, his grace and mercy. Often thanks come simply for the gifts we have received. But the Lord is so much more than simply what we get from him. We are to praise God just for the fact that God is creator and Lord. The fact of creation means God is worthy of praise. There is a science laboratory in Cambridge, England, called the Cavendish Laboratory, named after the eighteenth-century English chemist and physicist Sir Henry Cavendish (1731-1810). It is distinguished by having the words of verse 2 inscribed over the entrance to its building. It reminds all who enter about their work as scientists: Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.”
V. 4 , “the LORD is gracious and merciful.” We talked a bit in our Tuesday morning Bible Study about how different God seems to be portrayed in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It seems harder to find the mercy and grace of God in the often violent writings of the Old Testament histories. We understand that this psalm was written about one thousand years before the time of the New Testament. The object for us of the psalms of praise changed a bit due to the appearance of Jesus. Our primary reason for worship is God's love for us as revealed in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. The grace and mercy of God that David wrote about is revealed to us in Christ.
And we read next in verse 5 of the psalm that we praise the Lord because “he is ever mindful of his covenant.” We understand that David was part of the Old covenant between God and Israel. The Old Covenant called for the people to earn their rewards through obedience to God's Law. But we are people of the New Covenant. The New Covenant under which we live calls for us to live in relationship to Jesus and our “reward” is a free gift of salvation. The New Covenant is a covenant of forgiveness and grace and mercy. Praise the Lord that Jesus has come to demonstrate the love of God. Praise God that you have been called as children of God. With David, give thanks to God with your whole heart for God's majesty, power and glory.
Another way in which the Lord is mindful of his covenant is that it is an everlasting covenant. Rev. Dr. Hannan points this out in her commentary on the psalm, “the permanence of the LORD’s works rings like a bell throughout the poem:
The works of the LORD, like his righteousness “endures forever” (verse 3).
The LORD is “ever mindful” of his covenant (verse 5).
The LORD’s works are established “forever and ever” (verse 8).
The LORD has commanded his covenant “forever” (verse 9).
Consequently, the LORD’s praise “endures forever” (verse 10), evoking awe — and the wisdom and understanding that come with it — for the present congregation.”
The Lord's praise endures forever... and so we gather to praise. The psalms were the hymns in Jewish worship and for much of the Christian church for hundreds of years. Today, we sing mostly music written in the last couple of centuries, the hymns of the church. But we mix in praise songs from time to time. As our worship has gone to most of you on zoom, it has affected our ability to sing as a congregation. But it doesn't limit our ability to praise in song. So whether you sing out loud and strong at home or here in the sanctuary, or if you sit quietly and contemplate the deep meaning of the words and praise the Lord in your heart, the thing is to make it a time of praise. And our next hymn is a relatively new worship song. But it seems to fit with the tone of this psalm. It is called “Majesty”. Like this psalm, the hymn lists aspects of the Lord which we praise/magnify. There is the majesty of Jesus the king, He has kingdom authority. We bring him glory, honor, and praise. Jesus who died is now glorified and so we sing his praises.
In our gospel reading we read a story of healing, but more a story of authority. Even the unclean spirit recognized Jesus as the Holy one of God. The people there recognized the authority of Jesus in his power and in his teaching. As we are people who confess faith in Jesus, we praise him for his power and teachings. We acknowledge that looks different for different people. Some raise their hands when sing, some shout out amens during the sermon, some speak in tongues and some dance in praise. There is a reason Minnesota Presbyterians are called the “Frozen Chosen.” Our praise is not external so much as internal; we sing but we seldom dance. But the important thing is that we recognize that the Lord is worthy of praise. We praise him for his eternal covenant of salvation he has offered us. We praise the God of creation, the gift of salvation and recognize the kingdom, power and glory that is the Lord's. Amen.