Praise is, of course, something we ought to be doing every Sunday
when we gather for worship, whether we name it or not. But I’d
suggest that praise is more than something we do between 9:30 and
10:45 on Sunday mornings. It is not a chore to check off the To
Do list for the week -- whew, I sang three songs and even raised
my hands at the end, thank goodness that’s over with. Praise
isn’t something we can have someone else do for us: Hey, could
you take care of my praise today? I have to get ready to teach Sunday
School. Praise doesn’t even depend on how we’re feeling
-- whether it’s a bad day, or a long stretch of difficult
days. I believe that praise is about who God is, and who God created
us to be. We’ll see if you agree with me by the end of this
I’m going to try to give you something meatier than peanut
butter this morning. I’m not a Hebrew scholar, but in order
to understand Psalm 148, it’s helpful to understand a bit
about the language and the culture from which it came. The book
we know as Psalms in the Old Testament is a collection of 150 separate
psalms: poems of lament and confession and thanksgiving and blessing
and praise. The word psalm comes from a Greek term meaning “song.”
In Hebrew, the language in which all the psalms were written, this
collection is called Tehillim, or songs of praise. They are all
poems, and some were set to music, although we no longer know what
that music sounded like. These were songs and prayers which were
part of worship and private prayers, and were organized into a collection
of five books of psalms. They were likely written over several hundred
years -- it’s hard to tell exactly. Many of these psalms say
they are written by King David -- it is quite unlikely that David
wrote them all, or even wrote all the ones which have his name attached
to them. But certainly some of these psalms were around as far back
as the reign of King David and the beginning of the nation of Israel.
The Psalms end with a flourish: Book Five of the collection is
just five psalms long: Psalm146 through Psalm 150. They are called
the “Hallel Psalms” because they each begin the same
way: Halleluia! This translates from Hebrew as Praise the Lord!
Some of you have heard me explain before that we lose a bit in the
English translation; maybe it’s because we’ve use the
phrase Praise the Lord! Simply as an exclamation. As in, “I
got my tax refund -- praise the Lord!” or even, “Church
Board meeting is cancelled this month -- praise the Lord!”
(we’re still having Church Board meeting as far as know).
You can decide whether it’s appropriate to praise God in these
circumstances, but when we use the phrase in that way, it loses
the sense of being a command. It is a second person plural command
-- that is, you -- all of you -- DO THIS. Like when the worship
leader says “Please Stand!” You -- y’all -- praise
the Lord! Of course that’s the command we use for people.
But Psalm 148 is not only for people.
If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn to Psalm 148: we
heard the Message version this morning, it doesn’t matter
which version you have with you. This psalm is commanding praise
from all creation, in a very systematic way. That system is about
the ancient Hebrew understanding of how the universe was put together.
Any understanding of the earth and cosmos, including our own understanding,
is called cosmology. Cosmetology is something else. Here’s
an illustration of Hebrew cosmology.
[Slide 1 Hebrew Cosmology]
This is how the ancient Hebrews thought the universe was put together.
If you think back to the creation stories in Genesis, we can see
that sequence reflected here: first there was light, then a dome
to separate the waters from the waters -- under the sky and over
the sky, and then the waters under the sky are separated into the
seas and dry land. I won’t go through the whole thing, but
Psalm 148 goes through this exact same sequence. Beginning with
God and the angels. If you’re writing a poem and you want
to describe everything, well, you can’t just make a list of
everything. That’s not interesting, and it’s way too
much stuff. As comedian Steven Wright reminds us, “You can’t
have everything -- where would you put it?” It wouldn’t
work to simply list everything, so the psalmist describes categories
of things: heavens, angels, sun moon and stars -- and throws in
some interesting details for good measure: like sea dragons and
fruit trees. Although the cosmology is a bit different, the intent
is exactly the same as the spiritual, “He’s Got the
Whole World in His Hands” Do you remember some of those verses?
We’re singing about God, and the words are He’s got
the sun and the moon and the wind and the rain, and the little bitty
baby, and you and me brother and sister. You can make up verses
about anything you want, because from the highest heavens to the
smallest and most vulnerable things on earth -- God has them all
in his hands.
So, that is awesome that God has us all in His hands. But remember,
this psalm begins with a command. And that command is ----? Praise
the Lord! Is that command conditional? Praise the Lord if you’re
willing? Praise the Lord if the week has gone pretty well? Praise
the Lord if you get up in time for church? No. It’s really
just a straight up command: praise the Lord because He is the one
and only God, the God whose glory fills every place we can imagine,
and He’s the One who created you and every other living thing.
Well, of course we have questions, we’re human after all.
This psalm doesn’t tell us anything about how to praise the
Lord, it just commands us to do it. We don’t know exactly
what worship looked like or what praise music sounded like when
these psalms were collected. And that, I think, is one of the gifts
of this psalm. We don’t have to praise the Lord in any specific
way for it to be praise. I love to sing, and I’m glad to have
so many folks in the choir who share that passion; but you don’t
have to sing in a choir to praise the Lord. You don’t have
to play an instrument to praise the Lord -- although Psalm 150 suggests
a bunch of instruments you can use, if you want. In fact, this psalm
suggests that praise is not a prescription for what we do, it’s
the recognition of who we are -- or more accurately, whose we are.
We are the people who God created, who are held in God’s hands.
And if God manages the sun and the moon and the sea dragons and
the snow and the apple orchards and the snakes, then I think we’re
in pretty good hands, don’t you? And where would we be without
sun and rain and oceans and animals? We wouldn’t last a day
without God’s provision. When we understand that we were created
by God and we belong to God, then we can’t help but praise
We can praise God in whatever way is natural for us, with whatever
gifts God has given us. We can praise God through our work, we can
praise God in our rest, we can praise God with art or accounting
or caregiving or hospitality. Whatever we have to give, if we live
it for the glory of God, then it is praise. Of course the inverse
of that is true, as well: if we share something with a motive other
than the glory of God, it is not praise. Not even, as we heard last
week, extravagant offering of a thousand rams or ten thousand rivers
of oil -- that’s not what God wants. God wants us to acknowledge
that we are his people and we belong to Him.
It’s good for us to be together as brothers and sisters in
Christ to be reminded that we are God’s people and we belong
to God. A worship service like this one is just one time and place
that we can praise God, but we all need that time and place and
it can be hard to do it on our own. I know that we have all kinds
of things which get in the way of praising God: having schedules
that are too full, poor health, financial struggles, bad relationships,
the death of someone we love. These are real things, and coming
to church doesn’t change those real things. But when we come
together in worship and offer our collective praise to God, we proclaim
that we are not alone, and God will never abandon us. We proclaim
this even when we don’t feel like it, even when we’re
struggling to believe it. We praise God because God deserves our
praise, but also because spreading praise changes us. This doesn’t
mean it changes our circumstances -- praise won’t put money
in our wallets or cure our illness or bring back the people we have
lost to death, but praise reminds us that there is a whole world
out there which is bigger than what we are experiencing, and God
has got that whole world in his hands.
I visited with someone from Creekside this week who made a simple
statement to me: I’m sure they didn’t intend it to end
up today’s sermon. I don’t know if you can agree with
this, but I think it captures the idea of praise pretty neatly.
Here’s what this person said, “I’ve been better,
and I’ve been worse; but I’m just grateful for what
I have.” If you can say that, then you have an attitude of
praise, and you can start spreading that PB&J around. You --
all of you--praise the Lord! Amen.