Praise the Lord!
If you asked the church staff what is my favorite go to scripture for our staff meeting devotionals, they will tell you that it is either Psalm 146, 147, 148, 149, or 150. What do they all have in common? They open up with the words PRAISE THE LORD, and to make it these words extra special they are punctuated with my favorite punctuation, the exclamation point!
What a great three word prayer of adoration. Praise the Lord! This three word prayer has lots of moments it is used in life. This summer during my sabbatical while hiking in the mountains of North Carolina, or Scotland, or Montana, and overcome with the beauty of God’s creation I said this prayer a lot. “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!” I said this prayer when I arrived home from our sabbatical grateful for a time of renewal, but even more grateful to be back where I feel called.
You all might have moments when you proclaim this short and meaningful prayer. Maybe it is when you see one of those Auburn sunsets when God’s glory is revealed through the beauty of a sun kissed sky. Maybe those were the words you proclaimed with you learned about the approval of a vaccine during a pandemic, and you praised the Lord for the gift of medicine. We proclaim this short prayer the most in our worship. On Easter Sunday we proclaim this short prayer over and over again as we celebrate that the tomb is empty, Christ is risen, and God’s love through Christ endures all things.
Throughout the book of Psalms various prayers and songs are lifted up. In the book we hear prayers of lament, confession, thanksgiving, supplication. In the book of Psalms you not only have prayers lifted up to God, but songs of instructions of how to live a righteous and faithful life. Psalm 146 is the first firework of praise in this grand finale of the Psalms. Psalm 146 actually reflects what was said in the first and second Psalm creating a bookend for the entire Psalter. What is being said in the beginning and end of the whole Psalter is the good news that God alone is “sovereign and worthy of praise”. In today’s Psalm there is an amazing list of reasons to praise and trust God’s sovereignty: God is creator of heaven and earth, God is faithful forever, God executes justice for the oppressed, God feeds the hungry, God sets prisoners free, God opened the eyes of the blind, God lifts up and cares for the vulnerable, the stranger, the orphan, the widow. God faithfully loves us. To hear that list out loud, you want to say that simple prayer, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!”
Like the 1st and 2nd Psalms of the Psalter, in the midst of all the reasons to praise God, there are instructions for how to live a life that is righteous and faithful to God. The wording is almost exactly the same as the 2nd Psalm, to summarize: trust God and not human agencies, institutions, or even ourselves in place of God. The best leaders and people of the world might have good intentions, but the Psalm is reminding us today to remember they are not God. Praising God is about trusting God, and proclaiming loyalty to God. Praising God and trusting God go together.
Psalm 146 proclaims to us that when God is the foundation of all our trust in life we will be happy or blessed. As we continue reading the Psalm we learn why we should be happy, and it is not because there will be an absence of pain and trouble. We find happiness in the presence of God because God will always faithfully care about human hurt, and God will always act on behalf of the suffering and oppressed. We can be happy and full of hope, trust and praise because God’s sovereign love seeks justice for the oppressed, opens the eyes of the blind, tends to and cares for the vulnerable. This hopeful and happy good news is why we trust God and praise God.
Over the last year or so there have been a lot of conversations about trusting God. Everyone has different ideas of what trust in God looks like. Some proclaim and believe that their trust in God is so great that there is no need to receive preventative medicine or take part in the communal preventative measures of social distancing because they believe God will protect their individual self from getting sick. Others have a different approach to illness and trusting God, and they trust God will heal and protect them through God’s gift of medicine and communal preventative measures. This theological conversation is happening throughout the Deep South as COVID cases approach levels higher than ever, and at a time when just last week over 9000 children, teachers, and staff throughout our state’s public school’s tested positive for Covid-19 during one school week.
Believe it or not this same theological conversation happened over 500 years ago when Europe was trying to cope with Bubonic Plague outbreak in the 16th century. Some leaders, political and spiritual, were debating how to handle the plague and thought those who fled did not trust God to protect them. Others thought everyone should fend for themselves and there is no need to worry about taking precautions that might care for your neighbor because God would protect those who needed to live. Pastor and Theologian Martin Luther published a long letter to another pastor sharing his thoughts on the best approach to trust God during the pandemic of 1527.
He wrote this in response to those saying God will protect them “without medicines or our carefulness”…“God has created medicines and provided us with intelligence to guard and take good care of the body so that we can live in good health…“Use medicine; take potions which can help you; fumigate house, yard, and street; shun persons and places wherever your neighbor does not need your presence or has recovered, and act like a man who wants to help put out the burning city. What else is the epidemic but a fire which instead of consuming wood and straw devours life and body?” Then he goes to write, “Therefore I shall ask God mercifully to protect us…Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”
Obviously it is dated, but I imagine if we played a game of mad libs with this letter, we could easily replace nouns and verbs to reflect today’s current health crisis.
Since the days of Adam and Eve, God’s sovereignty has given us a free will to make choices for how we live our life in relation to God’s creation. This free will is why God’s instruction or law is important. It’s a guide for living a faithful life. In fact when we look at the laws God established for Isreal; caring for the poor, releasing prisoners, providing justice for the oppressed and tending to the needs of the vulnerable are not only ways God reveals God’s sovereign love, they are also God’s standards of righteousness for the children of God. For this reason Jesus Christ summed up the law in simple terms when asked what is the greatest commandment or law, love God and love neighbor.
Our calling as followers of Christ is to show faithfulness and righteousness to God by loving and serving others with our whole being. God is constantly empowering us to live our life in ways that serve others and love others with the trust and the hope that God’s faithful love is in control. Another wonderful reason to give all our praise to God!
Remembering and trusting that God’s faithful love through Christ is in control, and God is guiding us towards a life committed to caring and loving others, I want to get back to our three word prayer. The Psalmist reminds us that we praise God not just in the moment but we praise God with our whole life, we sing praise to our God as long as we live. Praise is a way we proclaim our faithfulness and righteousness to God.
You might think of praise as only words, but like any prayer it re-centers our whole being and our created purpose. Dr. Martha Moore Keish, who this summer led a workshop on prayer here at the church, talks about how prayer and work go together in her book Christian Prayer For Today. She shares that St. Benedict gave his followers a motto, “ora et labora”, which means Pray and work. She writes, “this motto sums up the shape of good living for all Christians…Prayer does not draw us away from work, out of the world, but forms the basis for all the work we do.”
May we let our praise form the basis for all the work we do as we love God and love neighbor. May our praise of God with our whole being help point others to the hope and trust we have in our faithful and loving God. While we sing our songs of praise that our faithful God is in control and that our faithful God’s love endures all things, may those songs inspire us to live out our calling to execute justice for the oppressed, feed the hungry, set prisoners free, open the eyes of the blind, lift up and care for the vulnerable. “Praise the Lord!” Amen!