Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Psalm Passage – Bloom forth with praise and thanksgiving . . . . that is suited to who you are and what you praise the Divine for

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” Selah” (Psalm 66:1 – 4)

I continue to try to discern what it is about some psalm passages that, well, just leave me cold. Or maybe it has more to do with the mood that I am in than the words of the psalm. Right now I am craving quiet alone time. And this psalm just busts and bursts out with noise, loud wind instruments and many, many people being noisy. Could we just turn down the volume a little?

“Come and see what God has done: he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him, who rules by his might forever, whose eyes keep watch on the nations– let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah” (Verses 5 – 7)

Loud praise passages tend to draw on stories and lessons of long ago, and ones that do not resonant with my experiences. My times of praise and wonder have come in spaces and places of holy silence, or whispers of insight and understanding.

“Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard, who has kept us among the living, and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.” (Verses 8 – 12)

There are times, I will admit, that praising the Lord for the success of triumphing over the trials and tribulations that have been part of others’ lives, when we are celebrating with them. Or when a group or a community has emerged victorious from a time of testing. But it is hard to take on the joy and celebration of another when their path has not been your path. Even more difficult to use the words of praise and celebration of one individual or group when it does not fit your own experience.

I talked yesterday of group of ten lepers who were healed but only one came back to thank and praise Jesus Christ. And he was not of the same faith circle as Jesus and the other nine. But his praise and worship of Jesus and God deemed acceptable and worthy of recognition. So I do not feel I am erring here.

The psalmist primary exhortation is to praise the Lord God the Divine. All that follows is particular and specific to the agenda and celebration that the psalmist has in mind at the time of his writing. Praise the Lord God, beloved reader, for the blessings and mercies that have been given to you. And let you praise mingle with the words of praise from generations past and the generations to come. In this way there will be an endless chorus of praise lifted up to the Divine, which is actually the way it should be! Selah!

Fifth Sunday of Easter: The Psalm Passage – Looking at praising in a new way (for me at least)

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!” (Psalm 148:1)

I am trying imagine and image the psalmist, and what the occasion might have been for which he penned this psalm. Or maybe it was not a special occasion but an outburst of joy and satisfaction in life. It does not seem to be the writings of someone who is busy in life nor tied up with complications and details. In fact, if I were honest, it sounds like the writings of someone who has set aside worry and concern about the nitty-gritty worries and details of life and is taking it easy. A place in life I would like to be, but am not. And there is about an honest an answer you can get about why praise passages like this rub me the wrong way.

“Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.” (Verses 2 – 6)

This easy-going psalmist first considers the sky above him, and all that is there and praise worthy. Then he turns his attention to the land where he and all of humanity live. There are many who take for granted the earth and the resources we find there. When it come down to it, no matter where we live, and how above and beyond nature the infrastructure that surrounds us, we need earth and land to live.

“Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 7 – 10)

And we need nature, intact and thriving, so that we might live, thrive, and grow.

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven. (Verses 11 – 13)

And we do not live in isolation, but in community. We need relationships and connections. We need organizations and systems, the input and cooperation of others, to make our way through life. And others need us; we are at our strongest with we are intertwined with others. We are at our weakest when the connections to humanity are frayed and broken; and at our most vulnerable when we are destroying the people and the world around us.

“He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verse 14)

It is at this last verse, however, that we must pause and stop. The Divine knows what our wants and needs are, when and under what conditions we are at our best – as well as when and under what conditions we are at our worst. The “Horn” that has been raised up is Jesus Christ who the Divine sent to us so that we might know how to live. As well as knowing how, when, and what to praise.

We, as the people of the Divine, need to set time aside to consider ourselves and our world. The mess we may be in, and how to redeem ourselves and our world. Praise God that there have been those we came before us that can teach us. Selah!

Second Sunday of Lent: The Psalm Passage – Praise unbounded and foreshadowed

You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” (Psalm 22:23-24)

I told you last week, beloved reader, that the psalms have been a great comfort to me when I have felt weak and unsure. The Divine did not “abhor” me when I was lost, nor did the Lord hid the God-self from me but heard me when I cried out. The psalmist and I, at times, are much alike.

“From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.” (Verse 25)

And the psalmist and I have not been shy about sharing what the Lord has done, and what we commit ourselves to do because of what the Lord has done for us. I hope the same can be said about you, beloved reader.

“The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever! All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.” (Verses 26 – 28)

Verse 27 of the above passage may be more ably translated as turning back to the Lord, which is accordance to the overall theme this lectionary year. The psalmist suggests two reasons for remembering and turning back to God. The first is that the Lord provides, and hears us. That people all over should, and will, remember that the Lord is faithful. The second reason is, simply, that the Lord rules over all things and all people. If you believe in the truth of that, and whenever you remember it, you should turn back to God if you have bone astray.

“To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” (Verses 29 – 31)

In this last section of the psalm passage the psalmist is really letting loose. Looking at the different paraphrases and commentaries (which I did as the psalmist’s praise became more wide flung) vary somewhat in their wording. It almost seems as if this psalmist was written after the psalmist had emerged from a difficult situation and was praising the fact that the Lord God had brought him through it. It is not a critique but an observation that the psalmist is holding nothing back in praising and extolling the Lord God. That is a good praise attribute to have, but not seen much during Lent. Or at least not my experience of Lent. It almost presupposes the grace and mercy that Lent will end in. But our journey through Lent is not quite there yet. However, I am glad to give you the assurance, beloved reader, that the Lord God will always come through for us, even in the most severe of situations. Selah!

First Sunday After Christmas: The Psalm Passage – When one type of praise is not the type you are feeling

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!” (Psalm 148: 1 – 4)

I am still writing in the time before Christmas. I do not feel the disconnect as much in the psalm passage. After all, we praise the Divine for all the good things that come to us. But – if I can be nit-picky – it is not just humanity that is being exhorted to praise. But all of creation that is called to praise.

“Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Verses 5 – 10)

Also, it has the feel of praise from the Old Testament, for the majesty and strength of the Almighty alone. Not that the Almighty is not praise worthy. I will tell you, beloved reader, we will be entering into the consideration of what Jesus’ birth meant to believers of the Messiah. We will be journeying towards Lent – slowly yes, but persistently. This is not a focus that I can get into right now.

“Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike, old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!” (Verses 11 – 14)

If you were to ask what my “problem” is, I guess I would have to say it is because right now my focus is on the experience of Jesus, and looking for companionship on the journey of faith life. Maybe it says more about me than it does about the passages we are being presented with.

And thinking about it, I am more likely to be praising God for the small things; daily sustenance, strength for my days, wisdom for making decisions, and hope for the future. I am not into loud “out there” praise. Instead my praise is small and intimate. Praise that is a sigh of relief and not a shout of triumph.

There will be of course, many passages of praise to come in the future. And when a praise passage comes along that reflects where I am, I will be sure to let you know. In the meantime, I will praise God in the way that feels right to me; and I encourage you beloved reader to do so as well. Selah!

Second Sunday After Pentecost – Giving thanks that God is with us! (The Psalm Passage)

I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise; I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.” (Psalm 138 Verses 1-2)

A few days ago I was not ready to write or say anything about this psalm passage, because, well . . . I felt like there were too many things coming at me to be able to “praise.” It is the praise passage that is matched to the passage from I Samuel chapter 8 where the elders of Israel are demanding from Samuel a king. Samuel probably felt too many things were coming at him too!

I took my concerns to God, and over a day or two the Lord answered my spoken and unspoken prayers with the Spirit moaning for me when the words would not come. There are still things coming at me, but now I feel like I can cope with them. So I say with the psalmist . .

“On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.” (Verse 3)

I did not want to burden you or place on you my concerns, beloved reader; but wanted to speak from a position of courage and fortitude. I wanted to be able to echo and underscore the praise and thanksgiving found here.

All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth.
They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.” (Verses 4-5)

And I did not want to give impression that God does not hear our prayers and petitions, for God does. The answers may not come when we think they should or the way we think they should. In fact, while I was moving through my time of distress, I was not sure how or when the Lord would answer my pleas.

“For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.” (Verse 6)

But I knew I would be heard by the Lord; and that the Lord would be with me. And the outcome proves that.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me. The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” (Verses 7-8a)

So I am glad I waited. I am very glad I can affirm to you that Lord hears all prayers, petitions, confessions and thanksgivings. The Lord made and crafted humanity to be in relationship with the God-self. If we forget that, we must be reminded of it. I am not one who says God never gives us more than we can handle – that would be an image of God who brings great disaster upon humanity and then expects us to “buck up under it.” What I do believe is that God will never desert us in times of trouble but will be a tangible presence through the Spirit if we keep ourselves connected to the Spirit or ask the Spirit to be with us. The psalmist ends this praise psalm saying . . .

Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Verse 8b)

And I believe that the work of God’s hands might mean us, or God’s outreach to humanity. The plea is that God will not forsake us (which of course the Divine won’t) because we know we cannot make our way through this life without God. We should not make our way through this life without the Lord!

May God be with you, beloved reader, through all of your times of stress and times of thanksgiving. Selah!

The Sixth Sunday of Easter – When it is hard to make a joyful noise (The Psalm Passage)

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.”  (Psalm 98:1-2)

Sing a new song, meaning a psalm of praise and worship to the Lord. Each week of the lectionary a psalm passage is offered up – sometime one of praise, and sometimes of mourning or petition, or at times confession. But this Sunday the psalm is one of praise. But what if one does not feel like praising?

The other scripture passages in this week’s lectionary reading have been ones of positive outcome and of people coming to faith. We heard about the household of Cornelius who came to faith. And about God’s assurance of love for us and exhortation to us to love others. So it is not surprising that part of the lectionary reader would be a song of praise and worship in celebration of what has been told to us this week.

“He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” (Verse 3)

God is a might God; mighty in love and mighty in action. God is love. But humanity struggles to love, and struggles to show love. Living is not easy, and loving is not easy. We fail to love, and human love fails us.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody. With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.” (Verses 4-6)

When we are feeling low, and not feeling love, we might make noise. Not a “joyful” noise, but noise nonetheless. Perhaps this reflection of mine is a corporate confession of sorts, that we let things get in the way and get us down, so we don’t or can’t make a joyful noise, sing praises and make pleasing music in celebration and thanksgiving to our Lord.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth.” (Verses 7-8)

But thanks be to our Lord and God that others, and even creation, make a joyful noise. That is one of the benefits on being in a faith circle and having people surround you with support and love. When you cannot lift up your voice in joyful noise to save your soul!! . . . . Others around you can. Or, creation itself praises it Maker. Do not fear, beloved reader, if the noise you make to the Lord are not joyful or not filled with praise. Because our Lord is filled with love and mercy for us. The psalmist promises the reader concerning our Lord that . . . .

He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” (Verses 9)

God will not judge us harshly, nay not judge us at all that life and living has made it hard or near impossible to sing a new song of praise and worship. That our songs are of sadness and petition, or confession. The psalmist has written psalms like that also.

That is why it is important to read about the mighty things that God has done, and to be reminded that the worries and cares of this world will not overwhelm or undo the good things that God does, and will continue to do.

May you, beloved reader, be blessed by God so that there is praise and joy in your heart. And when you struggle to raise up songs of joy, may you have people around you who will praise God for you, and pray for you. Selah!