April 24, 2016
2 years and 8 months ago, we switched our lectionary readings practice from reading the Old Testament lesson to reading the Psalm. In 4 months, we'll revert back to Old Testament lessons. When we, the worship committee and myself, made that decision, I really thought I'd find lots of Psalms to preach on...I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've based my sermon on the Psalm of the day. Not sure why that is, but today we are going to spend our time looking at Psalm 148. As David read and perhaps as you read along in the pew bible or the bulletin insert, it should have become clear what the subject of the reading is—praise!
The second section of the call for praise deals with the earth: “Praise God from earth, you sea dragons, you fathomless ocean deeps; Fire and hail, snow and ice, hurricanes obeying his orders; Mountains and all hills, apple orchards and cedar forests; Wild beasts and herds of cattle, snakes, and birds in flight.” Again, these items do not use an act of will to praise God, their being inspires praise; some more than others. Creeping things; spiders, snakes, worms?? Some are pretty common, hills, fruit trees, cattle...things we see often. Not necessarily considered inspiring but as part of God's creation, offers us the chance to realize again the creativity and provision of our God. Leading to praise.
Third section brings us to human beings. Now we see the choice to praise become part of the equation. We are reminded often in scripture to praise, but we always have the choice. Earth’s kings and all races, leaders and important people, Robust men and women in their prime, and yes, graybeards and little children. Calls for each of us here, from graybeards to the children.
Now, all this commanding for us to praise can raise a question: why does God feel it necessary to command us to offer our praise? Does God need our support, our encouragement to...what, save us, help us, keep the world spinning on its axis? Why do the Psalms so consistently tell us to offer our praise to God? And I can't say what God receives from our praise, but I can suggest some things that we receive when we obey this call to praise...to worship God, to glorify the Lord.
First, it is often in the process of being worshiped that God reveals his presence to us. This idea comes from C. S. Lewis, and he tells us it is not the only way. But for many of us, it is when we are gathered together in worship that we recognize the presence of the Lord. In the liturgy, we draw near with a call to worship, we clear our conscience with the prayer of confession, we make a joyful noise to the Lord as we sing the hymns of the church. We offer our praise to God; but in reality, we receive from God the knowledge of God's love and care and presence. We can forget the idea that God craves our praise because of a great vanity, a need to receive compliments. God desires our praise so that God can draw ever nearer, ever more personally involved in our lives.
Second, there is a certain satisfaction we receive from offering honest praises. And this is not just to God, but to offer praises to Savannah for her music, to the Graphenteens for the cleaning of the prayer garden, to Marshall for leading the adult Sunday School class. It feels good to offer honest praise. And not just in church, from Lewis again, “The world rings with praise, lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians.” I like to praise a good play in baseball, a good joke, a good meal. There is something within us that draws us to praise the things we truly value. When the psalm writer tells us to praise the Lord, he is encouraging praises for the thing he truly values, God.
Third, praises to God completes our relationship. We can talk about Jesus as our friend, companion, confidante; but when we offer our praises, we are reminded that this friend is the creator of the world and Savior of humanity. Our God is a big God, an awesome God! Worship is our acknowledgment of God's greatness, and we may gain the slightest understanding of the unknowable glory of the Lord. Lewis writes, “If it were possible for a created soul fully to appreciate the worthiest object of all, and at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude.” If it were possible....could it be that we could ever reach a state of constant praise for God? We Calvinists don't believe it is possible in this world, the Methodist do hold that perfection is a possibility; perfect obedience, perfect praise. Maybe we just know ourselves too well to consider that we could achieve this level of praise, of the perfect knowledge of the presence of God with us.
So how do we do for an hour on Sunday morning? Can we get close to a level of perfect praise for a few moments drawn from our week? I haven't been able to. That won't happen until heaven. Which, by the way, won't be sitting around on clouds playing harps. It will be perfect praise, perfect joy, no more tears. We cannot fully understand this perfection because our limited understanding can't comprehend it. But our purposeful praising can draw us closer to God which draws us closer to perfection which draws us closer to understanding.
Now, what does praise look like? Strangers to our church could join us here on Sunday morning and would be hard pressed to find evidence of praise. There is a reason we have been called the frozen chosen. We tend to sit quietly in our pews....can I get an Amen? We don't get many Amens....
We had a gentleman worship with us for a while, he liked to raise his hand during the hymn—an outward sign of praise to God. He told me he felt uncomfortable because no one else did it. We are not a hand raising church. How many of you feel comfortable raising your hands in praise during a hymn? Let's have a show of hands! I admit I don't like to raise my hands in praise in community. It may be my Scandinavian/Minnesotan upbringing, but it feels like “look at me” when I do something like that. Driving down the road singing a hymn or praise song; I do raise my hand... sometimes both of them. No need to be self-conscious all by myself. Tim Hawkins tells about the various version of hand raising during a hymn—the safest and least noticeable—the elbow flap. Carry the TV; my fish was this big. We're getting bolder here, there is hold my baby, dueling light-bulbs, wash the window and Mufasa. Yeah, I'm kinda making fun of the hand raisers, but that is not to say there is anything wrong with it, it is just not me. Perhaps we could do a little more expressive body language during hymns. My family pew does hug and sway during Edelweiss. We did sway once when we worshiped up in the choir room.
But I'm straying from the point. Praise doesn't have to be apparent on the outside. Our deepest time of praise for the Lord may come in our quietest times. Head bowed, hands folded, eyes closed; the presence of the Lord becomes very real and we are speechless. Praise is from the mind and from the heart. When we realize the magnificence of the God we serve, when our hearts overflow with joy and peace—then we praise our maker, our redeemer, our savior, our friend. It is a part of who we are as we come into the presence of God. It is, in fact, what we were created to do. Our Catechism, question one: What is the chief end of man, of humans? To glorify God and enjoy God forever. That is our chief end and purpose.
The psalm concludes with everything listed reminded again to praise God, “Let them praise the name of God--it’s the only Name worth praising. His radiance exceeds anything in earth and sky; he’s built a monument—his very own people! Praise from all who love God!” That looks a lot different here in First Presbyterian than in a Pentecostal church in Mississippi. It looks different here than in your private time with God, different than when you are singing along with a hymn on CD when you are all alone, different when a special blessing has been recognized. It looks different for someone who is waiting on God for promises to be fulfilled than for someone who has been blessed beyond measure. It looks different for each of us. There is no right way to praise but it is important to praise our God and creator. All creation calls on us to praise. Creation reminds us to praise the creator. And our gathering in community calls us to worship in unity. Let our whole lives be time of worship, and right now, in this place, let's sing our praises to our Lord, savior, friend and God. Amen.
Praise to the Lord, The Almighty 482 PH,