Psalm 150- a Musical Maelstrom

Today’s Psalm is the last in our series.  It is also the very last psalm in the book.

This is when I kind of wish we worked out of scrolls… I can just imagine reading through the first 149 psalms, having rolled the paper from one side to the other… and now we are have hit the very end of the roll, the edge of the page, so to speak.

We would have read through psalms of lament, psalms of ascent, psalms of thanksgiving and trust, psalms that expressed anger and hope, fear and joy…

And then, we get to what is the finale… the benedictory response to the whole book of songs: Psalm 150.   Listen for God’s good word for you today:  

1 Praise the Lord! Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

So, there you have it…  your “The End” of the psalms. Though it’s not really an end, so much as call to begin… or to continue praising God.

The psalter actually ends with a call to praise.  A fairly extended call to praise, in fact, especially when you notice what is missing.

In each of the psalms we’ve looked at, the writer has included an attribute or action of God as the reason for giving thanks. The why behind the choice to offer praise or to entrust the present and future to God.

Here, we are just called to praise. All of the “why” – well, it’s just assumed.  

And so this call to praise becomes an invitation to take what we have already learned, to recall what we have already sung,  and then to go out into the world… singing, dancing, praising the Lord in our daily lives.  

While we can and do find settings of the psalms to sing or to pray responsively…. In fact, the hymn we started with this morning is a really fun setting of Psalm 150… By and large, the psalms aren’t meant for corporate worship. At least not worship as we know and experience it most Sundays.  

They are meant to be the songs we each sing Monday through Saturday after we have all gathered on Sunday to remember and to proclaim who God is and what God has done for us.

So when, on a Tuesday we find ourselves neck-deep in the muck and mire of life, we can believe that God hears our cries of lament. We sing or say “Lord, have mercy”, knowing it is more than a colloquialism, it is a prayer of the heart.  A prayer that will be answered in God’s time.

And when some Thursday finds us experiencing joy or we are wondering at the wideness of God’s grace in our lives on a Monday, we are ready to sing a song of praise, “Thank you God!”

And when we have the faith to persevere through a particularly uphill Wednesday through Friday – not because we are naive, but because we have already experienced God’s presence in the toughest spots –  we are ready to sing “I trust you, O Lord; you are with me.”

In all kinds of time and in all manner of places,  as our eyes are open to see God’s face, God’s hands…the psalms invite us to bear witness, in prayer and praise, to publicly make visible the invisible hand of God.

In particular, psalm 150, with its call for every living thing that breathes to praise God unabashedly, with music and dance, is a reminder that praise itself abides above and beyond everything else, even above and beyond a reason for praise.

It is a precise summary of the most valuable lesson we can gather from the poetry of our spiritual ancestors… Praise God  – no matter what, no matter why.  

All prayer (including lament) leads to praise. It is the movement of the Christian life.

Eugene Peterson writes of this movement of the Psalter toward praise, passing through all the other songs we sing.  He was thinking particularly of the last five psalms:
This is not a ‘word of praise’ slapped onto whatever mess we are in at the moment. This crafted conclusion of the Psalms tells us that our prayers are going to end in praise, but that it is also going to take awhile.

Don’t rush it. It may take years, decades even, before certain prayers arrive at the hallelujahs…. Not every prayer is capped off with praise.

In fact most prayers, if the Psalter is a true guide, are not. But prayer, a praying life, finally becomes praise. Prayer is always reaching towards praise and will finally arrive there. If we persist in prayer, laugh and cry, doubt and believe, struggle and dance and then struggle again, we will surely end up at Psalm 150, on our feet, applauding, and shouting “Encore! Encore!”

And so, when our prayers find their way to praise…

What does that look like? What does it sound like? If we have the why sorted, what does the psalm say about how to praise?   Basically, think the opposite of what we stereotypically think of as Presbyterian- the opposite of decently and in order…

Let’s look back at what happens in Psalm 150… With each verse, the worship grows more and more intense. The the praise seems to get louder and louder:
first with trumpet (v. 2a),
then with lute and harp (v. 2b);
next with tambourine and dance (v. 3a),
then next with strings and pipe (v. 3b);
then again with clanging cymbals (v. 5a),
then with “loud clashing cymbals” (v. 5b).

With each additional instrument listed, the crescendo of praise grows louder, less controlled.

From this… what do we learn about how are we to praise the Lord? Well, some would say that we learn to praise God according to God’s being.

Think about how we experience the Lord’s surpassing greatness in the world…
God’s greatness is a mighty rushing wind,
the roar of a lion,
the millions of gallons of water rushing over Niagara Falls,
the flash of lightning followed by the crash of thunder

And so, how do we, created in God’s image, reflect that glory back in all its noisy, physical grandeur?

I want us to go back one more time to that listing of instruments… but this time, I’d like Stephen, perhaps you can help us hear and create something like that sound – the cacophony created when the following instruments are mixed: Can you creates the sound of trumpets on the organ?  Now let’s add something like a lute… the harp… a string section…
I can add this sound for the pipe…
Now – who’s got our tambourine and other shaking instruments? How about some cymbals… clanging chimes and bells?

Let’s get all of that going together…

Seriously – This is no ordinary composition of sounds. And we don’t even have any really loud clashing cymbals.  To the ear, especially a trained ear, the choice of instruments defies logic.  But you sure can’t miss it.  It is a musical maelstrom… a storm of sound that is beautiful in its power.

The greatness and glory of our Lord also defies most human organizational logic. And you have to admit that God’s capacity to make and then calm a storm – it is difficult to miss.

Psalm 150 suggests we cannot hold back and demurely return the praise due to our great, passionate and powerful God.  It will take all manner of sound.

Sometimes I walk across the bridge over 441 to get some fresh air or pick something up for lunch.  While I walk, I’m especially aware of the the sounds around me. The saws going at the lumber yard, the busy parking lots and and streets produce a fair amount of people talking or shouting, horns honking, and all manner of music coming out of windows…
Then there’s the occasional hawk or peacock screech, and do you know how loud all those squirrels can get?

I’m sure you can imagine a similar illogical combination of sounds in your neighborhood…   

Is it possible for that every day, quotidian cacophony to be a means of praising the Lord, too? Can we hear all that commuting noise as giving thanks for having good work to do, for the provision of a car and air conditioning on a hot day, for the joy of music (even the sort we don’t like!), for being healthy enough to walk outside and experience creation, even for the gift of life…

Commentator Shauna Hannan points out that praising the Lord requires many sounds; even sounds that are not traditionally considered worshipful. Psalm 150 is then, a reminder that praising the Lord will not be a silent endeavor.

This idea should not come as a surprise, since the one we praise is not silent; after all, God spoke all of creation into being.  

Psalm 150 also invites us to praise God through the movement of our bodies.  The physicality of who we are and how we were made. We are invited to praise God with tambourine and dance… like Miriam and David and many others in scripture and beyond.

During my tenure here, we’ve not seen anyone offer liturgical dance as worship during a service. I have seen and participated in liturgical dance over the years, and it can be a truly inspiring art form, moving the dancers and the viewers to worship.

But even without dancers, we PresbApopkaterians still move. You got in here, of course. And we’ve already more than one opportunity to sit and stand and move around. We greeted one another in the passing of the peace. And perhaps some of you were feeling sassy enough to move a bit as we sang and played our instruments this morning.

Even as I joke about how staid we can be as Presbyterians, I do hope that you feel that freedom to move as the Spirit leads you… to worship God wholly and authentically. To clap or sway and allow your body to be part of your praise is to honor the reality that the Word also became flesh- walking, singing and dancing among us.

And as he left, Jesus commissioned his followers to be just that, his words, his commandments lived and made flesh for all time – his ministry embodied here on earth.

Thus the highest form of praise and greatest gathering of worship is for the church to be the church- to be the living, breathing, singing, dancing, giving all the glory to God – Body of Christ.

We will be thinking more about how that works over the next few weeks in our study of Ephesians.  What it means to be the Body of Christ is a recurring theme in the apostle Paul’s writings.  We see this effort to live for Christ in community tied most directly to worship in his letter to the Romans.

Listen to this exhortation from chapter 12:1-8

1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.

Paul is not advocating here – any more than he does elsewhere – that this sacrificial worship is a accomplished by obsessive and slavish adherence to the law, so much as understanding the grace of God as embodied in Christ, and seeking to live more like him out of gratitude.   

We must pursue this Christlikeness individually – as Paul reminds us to present our bodies in 12:1; and now he reminds us that we are one body in Christ with many members (verse 4).

4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

In other words, we belong to each other….

6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us:
prophecy, in proportion to faith;
7 ministry, in ministering;
the teacher, in teaching;
8 the exhorter, in exhortation;
the giver, in generosity;
the leader, in diligence;
the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;
10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.
13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;
do not claim to be wiser than you are.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

Paul is working from ideas he introduced earlier in this letter. The revived body and the renewed mind that result from union with Christ allow believers to present their bodies, not to sin as instruments of unrighteousness, but to God as living sacrifices; and Christ enables believers to employ a mind fixed not on the flesh, but on the Spirit, in order to discern what kind of deeds are pleasing to God.

Paul’s list of gifts helps us see what builds up the body of Christ (the church) based on the presentation of the living bodies of sacrifice. The list helps us to see what it might look and sound like, if we, together live more and more like the Christ we follow.  As believers use their gifts for the sake of others, they are to act according to the “measure of faith” that God has given to each one.

Looking only at the first two verses, we might conclude that worship is adequately performed through our corporate liturgy, preaching, and music.  These are the very things we are doing today; things we do pretty well.  

The good news is that these practices are not wrong; But Paul would say that they do not reach far enough… Worship must be full-bodied.

Worship is what happens in community as we live out our faith by serving one another to build up the body of Christ.

The quality of our worship is not measured solely by what happens  Sunday mornings, but also by what happens when we are together Monday through Saturday. When we gather as a body to play or watch movies or make cards or pray  or study the scriptures… Or make decisions about our future…  

And the quality of our worship is measured by what happens when we are out and about in our larger community,  taking the word of God, making it flesh among people who need to see Jesus.

Saint Irenaeus of Lyons said, “The glory of God is man fully alive; moreover man’s life is the vision of God: if God’s revelation through creation has already obtained life for all the beings that dwell on earth, how much more will the Word’s manifestation of the Father obtain life for those who see God.

Glory of God is humanity fully alive
Humans come fully alive when we know who we are
That we are God’s people – the Sheep of God’s field

We humans are fully alive when we know we are never abandoned
That we have been and will be redeemed from the pit
That the work of Christ is done, that salvation has come

We humans come fully alive when we recognize that the power to save,
the resurrection power that lifted Christ from the grave- that power is alive in us.
It is the heartbeat, the rhythm at the center of the musical maelstrom that is the body of Christ at work in the world…As messy and illogical and noisy as that work can be…

Humans are fully alive when we enter God’s gates with thanksgiving in our hearts and fill God’s courts with praise

God’s glory is most beautifully and completely on display in our lives
when we bear witness to all that God has done,
Are being mindful of what God is doing,
And tell others of our trust in God to continue to be at work in and through us

The glory of God – the worship of God – is you fully alive.
Tapping into the resurrection power that brought you into the fold to begin with.  

The glory of God is You,
fully engaged in the work of the Body, building one another up

The glory of God  is You
singing boldly, praying fearlessly, loving tirelessly, praising wholeheartedly.

The glory of God is You – right up to your very last breath, praising the Lord.  


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