When I first started writing this morning’s message, I was working under the mistaken assumption that I would be preaching on Saint David’s Day; and since St. David’s Day celebrates not only Wales’ patron saint but also serves as an occasion for us to celebrate our church’s Welsh heritage, I had music on the brain. After all, besides cookies, the Welsh are known for their singing. Couple that with my wife sharing her thoughts with me about the priority of praise, and I was led to Psalm 150 and this morning’s theme of praising God in song. Now, for some joyfully singing God’s praises doesn’t mesh with Lent; for example, in one Christian denomination, they sing alleluia before the gospel reading all the time - except during Lent; but in Psalm 51, a Psalm often read during Lent, David doesn’t only confess his sin and ask God’s forgives, but he continues in verse 15 “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” (Psalm 51:15) So praising God in every way possible, including song, is always right and appropriate - no matter the season, no matter the setting, no matter the situation. That said...let’s talk about chocolate cake for breakfast.
How many people remember the Bill Cosby bit about making breakfast for his kids? He explains that one day his wife wanted to him to wake up and get breakfast for the kids. So he reluctantly went downstairs and started getting thing ready for breakfast, and the first child to come downstairs was his youngest daughter. “What do you want for breakfast,” Cosby asked, and his daughter answered “Chocolate Cake.” He looked, and there on the counter was chocolate cake. The child wanted chocolate cake for breakfast...how ridiculous. But then he thought about the ingredients: eggs...eggs are in chocolate cake. And milk! And wheat! So he slices up some chocolate cake. Just then, his other children arrive in the kitchen to see their sister eating chocolate cake and grapefruit juice...and they too ask for chocolate cake. And Cosby continues by sharing how his kids were praising him, singing “Dad is great...he gave us chocolate cake!”
Like Bill Cosby’s kids, we can praise our Father, we can sing “Dad is great” - fill-in-the blank. And why stop at singing? What about other musical instruments besides our vocal chords - woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings, whatever. We can praise God with those too. We can...but we don’t always. Sometimes we need a little prompting, a little exhortation, a little reminder; and that’s Psalm 150, the crescendo to the book of Psalms. Let’ read:
Psalm 150:1-6 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his heavenly dwelling; praise him in his mighty heaven! 2 Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness! 3 Praise him with a blast of the trumpet; praise him with the lyre and harp! 4 Praise him with the tambourine and dancing; praise him with stringed instruments and flutes! 5 Praise him with a clash of cymbals; praise him with loud clanging cymbals. 6 Let everything that lives sing praises to the LORD! Praise the LORD!
This morning, we’re going to unpack these verses and answer the questions what, why, how, and who.
First, what - what are we supposed to do; and the answer is pretty obvious: praise God. What does that mean? Well, a good explanation of what it means to praise God comes from an alternative translation of the Hebrew word Hallel, where we get the word hallelujah from. It can be translated praise, as it is here; but it can also be translated to boast or be boastful. Just like an athlete or celebrity might boast about himself, when we praise God we are boasting or bragging about our Sovereign, Almighty, Holy, Loving Awesome God. So this psalm is an exhortation to praise God. But notice...we don’t read it just once or twice or even three times. Thirteen times in six verses we are told to praise: we read praise the Lord, praise God, praise him.
The repetition reminded me of when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Scranton. I worked for the Athletic Department; and I recall watching a soccer match in which coaches on both sides yelled simple, no-brainer instructions in triplicate: run, run, run. Hustle, hustle, hustle. Defense, defense, defense. Go, go, go! Why? Why not just say it once? Why, if they were no-brainers, why say them even at all? Because these coaches knew their players might be getting physically fatigued as the match wore on or frustrated by blocked shots, missed opportunities, or foul play and they were trying to spur them on - to encourage them to run or hustle or play defense or go when they didn’t feel like it.
Likewise, the Holy Spirit through the Psalmist is like a coach encouraging us to praise God; and sometimes we need the encouragement. Yes it is very meet and right and our bounden duty always and everywhere to praise God who alone is worthy of our praise; but sometimes we just don’t feel like it. For example, a couple weeks ago, I was writing this morning’s message, when all the files on my flash drive - including this sermon - were erased. If you’ve ever been in those shoes, it’s not an instance when you feel like praising God. Sometimes we’re just too depressed, distressed, distracted, fatigued, frustrated, or fearful. We don’t feel like praising God when we’re in the midst of financial failure, marital strife, a debilitating or terminal illness, legal problems, or a defeated dream. And so, just like a coach shouts run, run, run....hustle, hustle, hustle...defense, defense, defense to his players, the Holy Spirit thirteen times tells us praise God, praise God, praise God.
Yes...we can praise God, even in the midst of tribulations. When Job, in a single day, lost everything - all his children, all his flocks, all his herds, all his servants save four, he praised God, saying “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.” (Job 1:21) When 30 year-old minister and hymnist Joachim Neander was dying of tuberculosis, it was then in the same year as his death that he wrote, “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation. O my soul praise him for he is thy health and salvation.” Japanese Christian evangelist Toyohiko Kagawa, disinherited by his family, was imprisoned during WWII and kept in the dark for months; and in that impenetrable darkness he said, “Health is gone. Sight is gone. But as I lie forsaken in this dark room God still gives light...I am constantly praising God for the joy of darkness...I am constantly praising God for the joy of the moments lived with him.” Let us, like Job, like Joachim Neander, like Toyohiko Kagawa praise the Lord in fair and foul weather, in plenty and in privation, in triumph and in tribulations.
So in answer to our first question what - praise God. Our second question this morning is why praise God or what are we praising God for? There are many things to praise God for, but this Psalm focuses on two: his holiness and his Almighty Power.
First, his holiness. Verse 1 reads, Praise God in his heavenly dwelling. The word here rendered heavenly dwelling is the Hebrew word Kodesh, and is better translated as sanctuary or holy place. That God is worshipped in his holy place reminds us that God is holy. When Isaiah saw the LORD in his temple, he heard the angels calling one to another, saying “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:4) Holy, holy, holy. Why thrice holy? One answer is that the thrice holy points to the three persons of the triune God-head: the Holy Father, the Holy Son, and the Holy Spirit; but another answer is this: the thrice holy points to, per Matthew Henry, “the superlative excellency of God’s holiness, above all that of the purest creatures.” Thrice holy points to the fact that God’s holiness is perfect holiness, that none can accuse God of the least moral imperfection. Such a cause for praise is God’s holiness that in Revelation 4, we read about four beasts who surround God’s throne and which ceaselessly praise God with the same unending hymn. We read, “Day and night they never stop saying ’Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8) So one reason Psalm 150 gives us to praise God is his holiness. “Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy... Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy hill; for the LORD our God is holy. (Psalm 99:5, 9)
Second, Psalm 150 tells us to praise God for his Almighty power. We read “praise him in his mighty heaven! 2 Praise him for his mighty works; praise his unequaled greatness!” There are so many things that seem impossible; but we know and serve and love an Almighty God for whom nothing is impossible and all things are possible - a God of perfect power, unfailing, unequaled might, and limitless ability. In the midst of trials and tribulations, how it behooves us to redirect our gaze away from our big problems to our bigger God, to set our eyes - not on what is too mighty for us but on the Almighty God who is for us and with us. Praise the Almighty God who made all things from nothing, speaking light and matter and living creatures into being. Praise the Almighty God who covered the earth with water as with a garment and at whose rebuke the waters fled. Praise the Almighty God who gave Abraham the child of promise when he was as good as dead and Sarah his wife was aged and barren. Praise the Almighty God who redeemed his covenant people Israel with outstretched arm, smiting the land of her captivity with terrible plagues, triumphing over Egypt’s false gods and her powerful Pharaoh in signs and wonders. Praise the Almighty God who safely delivered Israel through the parted waters of the Red Sea, heaping them up on either side; and who set a table before his people in the wilderness. Praise the Almighty God who gave his people victory over seven nations more and mightier than they. Praise the Almighty God who, in the person of his eternal and only begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, rebuked the wind, walked on the waves, turned water into wine, multiplied loaves and fishes to feed multitudes, healed the sick, drove out demons and raised the dead. Praise the Almighty God who has shown his power in raising his Son Jesus Christ from the dead. Praise the Almighty God who has done wondrous things for you in your past: who freed you from the powerful grip of an addiction, who miraculously healed you to the stupefaction of doctors, who repaired a relationship you thought was damaged beyond fixing, who made you able to walk away from an accident, who furnished your need when you were most unable to meet it yourself. “O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you.” (Psalm 89:8)
It was called the Devil’s bagpipe, an object vilified and viciously attacked by zealous 16th century Protestants in their reaction against the Roman church. In some places it was recycled into hospital dinner ware, wine cans, or prison tower roofing material. One eyewitness account shares an instance in which, as this pernicious musical instrument was being destroyed, the man who played it watched crying and helpless. What diabolical, what fiendish musical instrument was so maligned and mistreated? The pipe organ.
This sort of thing still happens today. For instance, I knew someone whose church thought drums were bad. Some Christians denominations reject all musical instruments without exception. I’m not sure if this was true of the denomination, but the first church I attended when I was a little kid sang all their hymns a cappella - no piano, no organ, no guitar, no nothing. But here in Psalm 150, the Psalmist pulls out every instrument in the worship music arsenal - praise him with trumpets, harps, lyres, tambourines, cymbals - even one non-instrument: dancing. If we were to paraphrase this psalm with an updated list of instruments, it would include drums, guitars, keyboards, xylophones - you name it!
Now, I do not intend to step on any toes, I do not presume to speak in anyone’s behalf - but as far as I’m concerned, and as we already said, if you want to praise God by playing anything from accordion to zither - you want to praise him with your violin, jug, bagpipes, harmonica, spoons, flute, trombone whatever - praise the Lord.
Verse 6 answers that question: let everything that lives, or per the King James all things that have breath. This exhortation doesn’t stop at mankind - every living creature exists to the praise of God, whether a tweeting bird, lowing cow, or barking dog. And rest assured, if we don’t praise God, even the rocks will cry out with his praises. We exist to know and enjoy and glorify - GLORIFY - God forever; so let us who are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand, let us who know him personally having believed on his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, let us praise him now, because forever includes this day, this very hour. Let us praise him in song, as we focused on this morning, but let us also not forget to praise him in everything - by speaking his praises, by living holy lives, by our offerings and service and every other way we can. Let us praise our holy God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - the only true God who lives and reigns forever and ever perfect in power, love, and purity. Amen.