Praise Lord

Apr. 24, 2016

Acts 11.1-18; Revelation 21.1-6; John 13.31-35

Sometimes we get so caught up going through the motions of living that any real verve, or joy, or exhilaration can get washed out like a red sweater that isn't colorfast. Mostly we rush here and there, and we dash everywhere and when we get there, we wonder, "Now what was it that I came here for?" It reminds me of the comedian Woody Allen who took a speed-reading course and the first book he read after completing the course was Leo Tolstoy's massive novel War and Peace. He said that he read it in only 20 minutes to read all 1000 pages or so of the huge book. But when he was asked what it was about, all he could say was, "It's about Russia."


That's kind of how I feel when I hear the 148th Psalm that we read today. The word "psalm" actually means to "sing praise". There's so much in this psalm. And I'm sure that I'm not the only one who's getting just a very small portion of all that's really there. But one often repeated word in the psalm is the word "praise". That's what I want to talk about today. This Psalm says, "Let us praise the Name of the Lord, for he commanded, and (so we) were created." And the psalm continues...let all of creation praise the Name of God...angels, sun and moon and stars...fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous wind, mountains and hills, beasts and cattle, creeping things and winged birds...let all things praise the Name of the living God. So, we praise Him! But it seems to me that an essential part of every word or shout of praise must be accompanied by the realization that God is God and we are not. Humility has to be a part of our praise filled responses to God.


What is the nature of this "praise" that we are to render to God? You'd think that there would be one word in the scriptures for "praise," but there are actually several words. In addition to the word "psalm" the scripture also uses the word 'επαινοσ meaning to commend praise, to laud, and to sing praises. I suppose there are several words for praise because praise is several things.


Praise is like a tide that lift everything up on the waters of life. Praise lifts us to the presence of God. Praise "exalts," it "glorifies" and it "magnifies" the Lord. Praise is that feeling we get when we see those images sent back from the Hubble Space telescope...the images of stars and galaxies and the massive motions going on across the vast expanses of space that appear frozen in time although those heavenly bodies are warping along at tens of thousands of miles an hour! All of those godly views of creation make our jaws drop in speechless praise...all of it has been made and kept in motion by the God whom we praise. When we behold the mighty works of God we're like people watching a fireworks display...all we can say is "Ohhhh" or "Ahhhh" or "Wow!". Praise is that...it's the expression of awe as the light of God opens our minds to eternity.


The Book of Revelation we read today presents another such image of heaven as a place where everything is made new and praiseworthy. That's important because praise gives us the big, larger picture of life! As we rush about with our nose to the ground trying to sniff out the trail our life is supposed to go, we continually see this part or that part of our lives, but they are just that...they are parts of our lives...but rarely do we see how those parts become whole. Life is lived like a comic book, one frame at a time. So if we have problems, everything in our life becomes that problem. When we get frustrated, everything can be about that frustration. But praise brings us up higher to a more godly view. There we can see the whole thing. All of humanity has experienced these kinds of praise events and recorded them in their holy books.

The first sūra or section of the Muslim Koran declares, "Praise be to God." The ancient Hindu scriptures called the Rig Veda command, "Sing praise to him, the Lord of Light." The Bhagavad Gītā, an ancient holy book from India, instructs all of humanity with the words, "It is wholly just that in praise of You (this) world should find its pleasure and its joy." Our Old Testament scriptures see the Exodus from Egypt by the Hebrew people as a reason to praise God. Moses said, "The Lord has recognized you this day as his special possession, as he promised you, (so) keep his commandments"....and Moses said belief is not enough, sacrifice is not enough...we must express our unbounded and exuberant praise! So, the world oversees the deep mystery of God made known...and it draws praise...from all of us. Even voiceless nature praises God. Psalm 148 bids the birds and the beasts, the mountains and hills, angels and stars to join in the praise of God. Praise is our duty in God's universe.1 But let me close with a cautionary note.


Praising God is not a quid pro quo. Praising God doesn't put God in our back pocket. But instead it reminds us that we are creatures and God is the Creator. We must humble ourselves. The Scottish poet Robbie Burns wrote a satirical poem called "Holy Willie's Prayer"...in the poem/prayer Willie very presumptously says, "O thou that in the heavens dwell! Sends one to heaven and ten to hell, all for thy glory!...But Lord remember me and mine with mercies temporal and divine!...And the glory shall be thine! Amen. Amen." But it isn't so.


We must remember that we are God's possession, but we do not possess God. This poem presents an ambivalence that we all have in our relationship with God. We are drawn to worship God with our praise, but also we can falsely believe our praise brings God into our camp, almost as our personal enforcer. So, we are inclined to think that God is on our side. Abraham Lincoln was once asked by a well-meaning supporter, "Mr. President, aren't you just so pleased to know that God is on our side?" To which Lincoln replied, "Sir, I am much more concerned to make sure that I am on God's side." The simple truth here is that we all must be praising God with the rest of creation. In the words of Psalm 148 today, "Let (us) praise the Name of the Lord, *for his Name only is exalted, (and) his splendor is over heaven and earth." Let us praise the Lord together! Amen.


The Reverend WA Ray
St Thomas Church

Diamondhead, MS

04/24/16

1 Regier, Willis Goth. In Praise of Flattery. Lincoln, NE, USA: University of Nebraska Press, 2007. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 18 April 2016. 2007. University of Nebraska Press.