(watch here: https://youtu.be/7Dg96TIiE6o)
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
Our psalm for this morning reminds me of the one about a pastor who was walking past a pet shop one day when he noticed a sign in the window that read, “Christian Horse for Sale.” Being that the pastor owned a large ranch, he was immediately interested, and went into the shop. The owner took the pastor out to the back, where he saw a beautiful Arabian stallion. He agreed to allow the pastor to take a “test run.” The pastor grabbed the reins and yelled, “Giddyap!” The horse ignored him. “No, no,” counseled the owner. “This is a Christian horse. If you want him to move, you must say, ‘Praise the Lord!’” The pastor did as he was told, and the horse started off on a leisurely walk. However, he soon found that the horse would not stop. “He won’t answer to ‘Whoa,’” said the owner. “It’s ‘Amen.’” The pastor decided that he liked the horse, so he bought him and took him home to his ranch in the country. He saddled the horse up again, said, “Praise the Lord!,” and went riding into the countryside. Suddenly, the horse saw a rattlesnake crossing the path. Frightened, he reared and bolted straight for a cliff. The pastor cried, “Whoa!,” but the horse only ran faster. In vain, he tried one word after another. Finally, he remembered the correct command and screamed “AMEN!!!!!” just as the horse approached the edge of the cliff. The pastor was so thrilled that his life had been saved that he raised his hands to the sky and shouted, “PRAISE THE LORD!”
This morning we’re setting out on a 4-week series on the book of Psalms. It’s interesting that our lectionary would dedicate a chunk of time to exploring a book that is routinely used in the more familiar Revised Common Lectionary. As we all know, each week the RCL lifts up a passage from the Psalms to accompany the Old Testament reading, the New Testament reading, and the Gospel and the lectionary authors chose thematically linked passages between the four readings. Sometimes the passages fit, sometimes they don’t. I believe one of the responsibilities of the preacher is to figure out how the passages are linked and help others become aware of the common thread even if the readings appear incompatible. Regardless, it is amazing that one of the four readings always comes from one book-the book of Psalms. The other readings have 65 other books to choose from! Perhaps there is some truth to Luther’s statement after all. He once wrote, the book of Psalms “might well be called a little Bible. In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible. It is really a fine handbook. In fact, I have a notion that the Holy Spirit wanted to take the trouble himself to compile a short Bible and book of examples of all Christendom or all saints, so that anyone who could not read the whole Bible would here have anyway almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book.” The Revised Common Lectionary may lift up passages from the Psalms for worship each week but most congregations simply glide over them to get to the meat of the other three readings. I appreciate that this Narrative Lectionary offers us the opportunity to focus on the Psalms and dig deeper into them, in turn giving them the honor Luther felt they deserved.
At the basic level, the book of Psalms, or Psalter, is comprised of 150 psalms compiled over a period of a 1,000 years. They are grouped into 5 smaller books possibly to reflect the first 5 books of the Bible, or Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Though most of the psalms were written by King David as the first great musician of the kingly court, there are many different authors including Moses and Solomon. Because they were mostly written by a musician, they were inherently meant to be sung instead of simply recited or prayed. They were the church’s original song book or hymnal and throughout the church’s history many have committed all of them to memory much the same way others commit popular, mainstream songs to memory. For many, it’s easier to remember words set to music. The psalms can be organized even further into 10 thematically similar groupings. There are prayers for help, hymns of praise, liturgies, instructional psalms, songs of thanksgiving, royal psalms, trust psalms, acrostic psalms, festival psalms, and historical psalms. In our 4-week sermon series, we’re going to look at 4 different psalms: psalm 113 (hymn of praise), psalm 69 (prayer for help), psalm 27 (trust psalm), and psalm 40 (song of thanksgiving).
That’s the basic breakdown of this book of Psalms and how we’re going to dig into them a little deeper than the Revised Common Lectionary typically allows for. Our psalm for this week is a praise psalm…hence my opening joke…”Praise the Lord!” Along with psalms asking for God’s help, praise psalms are the most common type of psalms found in the Psalter. And isn’t that fitting? Do we not most often cry out to God only when we need his help or when we receive his help?! It’s fine distinction between praise psalms and thanksgiving psalms but we’ll explore that distinction in the last week when we look at Psalm 40, an actual thanksgiving psalm. Praise psalms are designed to give witness to God’s love and grace through a call to praise followed by reasons for such praise. Recall the opening verse of today’s psalm: “Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord.” Immediately we are called into praising God. Why? Verses 7-9 offer the reasons: “He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” So why are such things praiseworthy? The poor and needy are helped every day. Organizations all around the world are dedicated to providing food and supplies to the poor and needy, organizations like the World Food Program (WFP), Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), Oxfam International, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and Action Against Hunger (AAH). Didn’t Jesus himself say that the poor and needy will always be among us? Why does God deserve our praise for helping them out? Perhaps because of the breadth and depth of his grace and mercy. Human efforts to help other humans are limited by the resources available. But God is not limited. God actually creates the necessary resources! We just shuffle them around but God actually creates something out of nothing. God raises the poor from the dust, from a place of absolute nothingness. God lifts the needy from the ash heap, from a place of burnt residue. God enables barren women to nurture life! We, in all our scientific glory, can’t create life out of nothing in environments unable to support life. But God CAN!! God makes the impossible possible! God creates life out of nothing in hostile environments all the time!! His work is most certainly worthy of our praise!
Praising God for all He does in our lives ought to be easy. Not a single one of us hasn’t been blessed with opportunities for growth and new life. God is the true source of ALL life! Whatever life we have a part in creating is nothing more than an extension of HIS creation. He is the almighty Creator creating life from nothing! We should live in awe of his mighty creation! 1 Chronicles says, “Praise the Lord, all people of every nation; praise the Lord’s glory and power!” (16:28) His glory and power is unmatched. Deuteronomy proclaims, “He is your praise; he is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things that your own eyes have seen.” (10:21) Our God, our most awesome and mighty God, has done and continues to do mighty things in this world…this world that exists tenuously in the emptiness and nothingness of outer space. Talk about a hostile environment!! Life out of nothing!! What a fine way to begin our reflection on the Psalms with a praise psalm! God’s work is worthy of nothing but praise! Let us sing out our praise alongside the Psalmist. All praise be to you, our Almighty God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.