April 19, 2015 Sermon: “Hallelujah”

April 19, 2015

“Hallelujah”

The Rev. Maren Sonstegard-Spray

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!

 

On this day when we are celebrating and dedicating a new hymnal it is very appropriate that we hear God’s word from the Psalms.  Of all of scripture, the Psalms come the closest to a hymn book – it is a collection of songs, and sacred poetry and prayer.

Psalms have been used in worship by the faithful for thousands of years.

They speak of God’s faithfulness, but also of betrayal, loneliness, and pain.

They speak about how to walk faithfully in this life, they speak with joy about the law of God, and they also speak to defeat, failure and death, but also birth and life.

There are more prayers and songs of pain and sadness (laments), then there are songs of praise, but where we arrive at the end, the final word of the Psalms, which we read this morning, is one of praise.

In fact the last five psalms in the whole book begin and end with the phrase, “Praise the LORD” (in Hebrew, hallelujah!).

But in the last psalm, Psalm 150, the word hallelujah is used repeatedly – it becomes like a drumbeat, like the beat of our hearts.

“Hallelu” is the plural form of praise and “jah” is the short-hand terms for Yahweh so we are encouraged again and again in this psalm “Y’all praise God!”

It is a summons not just for us as individuals but to our whole community – everything that has breath praise God!

Commentator James Mays writes: “No other use of breath could be more right and true to life than praise of the Lord.”

Psalm 150 with all its calls for praising God, that may not be what all of us want to hear – we are struggling with the mess and the pain of our lives which feel more like a psalm of lament than a psalm of praise.  And that’s ok.  The point of Psalm 150 isn’t to somehow to convince us that “Everything Is Awesome.”  The psalm writers knew that – but they also knew that praise is the hope, and goal, it is where we will arrive in the end, with God’s help.

Eugene Peterson, the writer of the paraphrase of the Bible “The Message,” writes of this movement of the Psalter and 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 a while.

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, “Encore! Encore!

In this psalm we are reminded of many things that matter – that God is to be praised in his sanctuary.  This is temple language, where this psalm was likely used with regularity.  Praise God where you meet for worship.  Praise God where you stand with others in awe of God.  Praise God where you expect to find God.

And the psalm tells us to praise God in his mighty firmament.  Praise God in the wild places, out in the world, in the dark places, in the lonely places.  Praise God knowing God has no limits.  Praise God in the unexpected places.

In the psalm we learn that praise involves all aspects and spheres of life – we see that every section of the orchestra – horns, strings, pipes, percussion – is invited to join in this symphony of praise.  No one is left out of this invitation.

 

Psalm 111

Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
He provides food for those who fear him;
he is ever mindful of his covenant.
He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the heritage of the nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name.
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it[a] have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever.

In moving towards God in praise, we praise God for who God is.

And how we know who God is, is by how we have seen God act.  So we begin our act of praise with God’s mighty acts, which is a helpful way to reorient ourselves in worship.

We do not begin and end in ourselves.  We begin and end in God.  We begin with all the ways God acts – in creation, in incarnation (God becoming a human in Jesus Christ), which we have already sung about.

We begin with God coming as Holy Spirit among us and remaining with us and we feel the Spirit moving and know that God has drawn near to us.

We begin with how God is moving and acting in this very moment through God’s people and God’s church.

We begin with the end – with God’s kingdom which is coming and has already come – a new heaven and a new earth – and God embracing all of creation.

Through God’s mighty acts, God reaches out to us.  We praise God that he is not far away, and absent, and removed from us, but instead through all these ways, he has shown us that he longs to draw us near – his arms are outstretched . . .. .

 

Psalm 63:1-8

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.

 

We stand on the other side of the embrace.  We long to be embraced and so we reach out our arms to God.  That is our response.  Everything thing that we do, every human act of faith is because God acted first.

 

We respond with unending praise, and prayer, with faith in God’s promises, and the humble entrusting of our lives and future to God.

 

We respond through the acts of justice and mercy that are God’s passions for this world.

 

One of the most highly respected international leaders of the twentieth century was Sweden’s Dag Hammarskjold who served as the as Secretary-General of the United Nations.

 

He devoted the final years of his life to pursuing the principles espoused in the United Nations Charter – international cooperation and reconciliation toward a peaceful world.

 

One account of his life tells that: “On his travels around the world Hammarskjold always took three items with him.  These items were found in his briefcase that was recovered after the plane crash that took his life in September 1961: a copy of the New Testament, a copy of the Psalms, and a copy of the United Nations Charter.”

 

Hammarskjold understood that the book of Psalms presents nothing short of God’s claim upon the whole world and that it articulates God’s will for justice, righteousness, and peace among all peoples and all nations.

 

Let us respond in faith by singing our praises, by hearing the call again and again to live and die in Christ, to be faithful to God call for acts of justice and mercy, trusting God’s promises, and offering nothing less than our whole selves, every breath to God.  Amen.

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