Psalm 148

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord all the creatures! Praise the Lord all the creation!
Praise the Lord all the peoples! Praise the Lord all the nations!
Let everything that lives and breathes praise the Lord!

“The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard.”
The shepherds returned to their fields, to their jobs, to their daily, hum drum, activities,
but they had seen the Lord!
They had been to the mountaintop, so when they returned to the lowly hills,
when they returned to the ups-and-downs of daily life,
they did not return in silence. They glorified and praised God for all they had seen and heard!

This past Wednesday at Bob Thurman’s funeral, Ginny Corradino, and Jennifer Gilbert
sang the duet “Pie Jesu” by Andrew Lloyd Weber.
Their music was extraordinary. Not only did it help us all in our grief over Bob’s memorial service,
the music it gave a sense of wonder and awe in the presence of God.
Many people after the service were talking about the music,
about how the music brought them such comfort, hope and joy.
Pie Jesu, dona eis requiem. Pious Jesus, grant them rest.
“Pie Jesu” is one of those many songs written across the generations
that draws our attention to the mercy and grace of God.

In human life, there exists a need to praise, to offer glory to God,
to turn our attention to the one who created us and sustains us.
When we praise, we make room in our hearts and minds for God.
When we offer praise, our spirits are lifted and any darkness is driven away.
Praise is, as Walter Brueggemann asserts:
“an unrestrained yielding of self and community to God.
Praise is a disinterested, uncalculating ceding of life over to its pioneer and perfector.
Praise is an act of self-abandonment that embodies the first answer of the Westminster Catechism:
‘the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” (The Message of the Psalms, p. 160)
Harry Ironside claimed: “We would worry less if we praised more.
(Praise) is the enemy of discontent and dissatisfaction.”
Psalm 150 calls out: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

There are many forms of praise, but music is perhaps the most common form.
Music is a central, critical aspect of praise.
Throughout human history, natives of every land have formed instruments out of the elements of the earth
in order to make music to their gods, to make music for celebration and praise,
to make music as offerings, to make music in order to become more fully human.
In the songs of the church, we stand before God and sing with joyful abandonment,
with hopefulness and sincerity.
In songs of praise, somehow, by God’s grace,
we are lifted above our every darkness to the light and peace of God’s presence.

Some of you may have noticed that one of the most popular activities in international football,
i.e. soccer, are for the fans to stand and sing together throughout the game.
In many cities in Britain, in particular, the entire stadium joins in song,
often a song that resembles a form of praise.
We have a human need to be involved in something larger than ourselves.
Human beings make great sacrifices of time and money
in order to be involved in something like a college football bowl game – Roll Tide! –
or a special event at the Fox Theater.
What human beings discover over time is that,
while all expressions of praise or corporate gatherings can be meaningful and exciting,
all are ultimately just a shadow of the experience of divine worship and praise.

Human beings from our earliest days have offered praises to God.
From sacrificial offerings of grain or animals, to human sacrifice meant to appease the gods,
from small fist size ornaments carved from wood
to the grand Moia statues erected by the Rapa Nui people on Easter island, far off the coast of Chile,
human beings seek some way to honor, to praise something, Someone, larger than ourselves.

There is an aspect of humility in praise. The praise of another requires some measure of humility.
In praise, we defer to another, we bow before another, we look up to another.
In praise we shift our attention from ourselves, from our own bellybuttons, so to speak,
from our own desires and needs, to the wonder and glory of another.
Praise lifts our heads and our hearts and joins us with others in an act that can bring wonder and awe.

As you are aware, many face the challenge of depression during the holidays.
Many experience the depths of loneliness during the longest nights of the year.
Many find themselves ill – mentally, physically, or otherwise – at a time when all is supposed to be well.
I would attest that all of our dis-ease can be improved by actions of intentional praise.
Praise may well be an antidote for some forms of depression.
Praise may well serve as a remedy for loneliness.
Praise may well reveal itself as preventative medicine for illness of various forms.

We will be spending time with the book of Psalms over the next six weeks.
While the book of psalms has been called the prayer book of humanity,
it could also well be called the song book of humanity as well.
The Psalms, as far as we can tell, were nearly all combined with music.
The unusual “Selah” in the margins of the psalms indicates some form of musical instruction.
Bible scholars do not fully know the history, but the “selah” may indicate a refrain or an interlude.

Not all of the psalms are songs of praise, of course.
The psalms are often categorized into songs of praise or song of lament.
They have been categorized into Psalms of orientation, disorientation, or new orientation.
Some psalms are called the kingly psalms; others are mostly about creation.
The psalms are full of praise and wisdom, and occasionally include violence and the desire for revenge.
The Psalms are complicated, just like human life is complicated,
and they appeal to nearly every human emotion.
Even so, the very heart of the psalms, what drives the psalms,
what has made the Psalms endure for generations and generations,
is the heartbeat of praise from Psalm 1 to 150.

Next week, we will focus upon “worship of the Lord” as encouraged by the Psalms.
Worship is a broader category then praise. Praise is but one form of worship.
So for today, for this week, for the first week of this New Year,
I encourage you to find ways and means to offer praise.
Before you make your New Year’s resolutions,
before you create your family budget for the next year,
before you plan your summer vacation or sketch out what next year’s holidays will look like,
before you set your goals for your business or for your next semester…
Offer praise to God!
Praise God for God’s creation! Praise God for all of God’s wonderful and awe-inspiring creatures!
Praise God for who God is and for what God has done and is doing in the world.
Praise God for carrying you through this past year.
Praise God for sustaining you even to this very day.
Praise God for the hope and promise of eternal life.

As Psalm 148 encourages, drive outside of the city gates, get away from all the manmade lights,
and lift up your head on a clear night – allow the stars and moon to elicit your praise.
Go to the shores of a beach or a lake, gaze across the mighty waters,
consider what swims in its depths, and offer praise to God.
Watch a lightning storm from a distance and gaze at large flakes of snow falling to earth.
Notice the power of the wind in the trees and the oddity of a hail storm.
Look to the hills; dwell upon the purple mountain majesty above the fruited plain.
Pause for a while to watch the slow movements of the great blue heron, –
like the one that landed on my garage roof the other day! –
then allow your eyes to dart around as squirrels enjoy their play.
Consider the majesty of a race horse and the utility of a milk cow.
Go for a walk in the woods. Dwell at the foot of a massive poplar tree,
then take a seat by a waterfall.
Or sit in a busy place, where they are many people.
Notice the wonder and diversity of human beings, each with their unique gifts and abilities.
Reflect upon the beautiful structures and amazing machines that humankind has created,
and give praise to God!
Then come, come to praise God in one of God’s many sanctuaries,
whether a simple chapel or grandiose cathedral or wooded amphitheater.
Come, praise God with others. Allow your voice to be lifted along with others.

Every human being will face challenges in this life.
Every human being will find themselves at some point in despair or confusion or grief.
Every human being will find themselves, at some juncture, at the end of their rope,
or in a deep pit, and will discover that undeniable need for help and hope.
Offering praise to God, alone and together, will somehow, some way, by God’s grace,
engender hope for days yet to come.
Offering praise will lift us above our every darkness to the light and peace of God’s presence.
Offering praise will remind us that, regardless of our station in life, we all have something to give.
We can all give praise and reverence to the One that made us,
to the God of us all, who is above all and in all and through all.
Offering praise, like receiving communion, will unite us in a bond that cannot be broken.

This is the day the Lord has made…let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Great is the Lord and…and greatly to be praised!
Praise the Lord…the Lord’s name be praised!

Alleluia! Amen.

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia