:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell."
:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Every Praise (Hezekiah Walker, John David Bratton)
Singing Together: Great Are You, Lord (Ingram, Jordan, Leonard)
Offering of Music, Men's Choir: Praise the Lord! (Rick Bean)
Song of Praise: All Creatures of Our God and King (v.1) (LASST UNS ERFREUEN)
Hymn of Sending: Holy, HOly, Holy (NICAEA)
:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, halleluia; praise ye the Lord.
Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, halleluia; praise ye the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord; Halleluia! Praise ye the Lord; Halleluia!
Praise ye the Lord; Halleluia! Praise ye the Lord!
That is essentially Psalm 148 and Psalm 150. The word ‘hallelu’ is Hebrew for ‘praise ye’. It’s a command, and imperative: (you) praise. ‘Hallelu-yah’ puts the short version of the Lord’s holy name (Yahweh) onto the end, so: (you) praise the Lord! If you look at Psalm 148 in Hebrew you see something like this (I’m leaving out some of the articles and prepositions):
Hallelu Yah (the LORD)
Hallelu the YHWH min ha samayim (the LORD from the heavens)
Hallelu hu beha meromim (Him in the heights)
Hallelu hu kal we malakay (Him, all His angels)
And it goes on, ‘hallelu’ him all His hosts; ‘hallelu’ him, sun and moon. Psalm 150 is the same: ‘hallelu yah’ then ‘hallelu’ God in His sanctuary; ‘hallelu’ Him in His mighty expanse and so forth.
Today, looking at these two Psalms at the end of the Book of Psalms, we see that the theme of PRAISE is the grand conclusion of the collection of 150 songs of Israel. We will also look at a fascinating passage from the New Testament, in which Jesus speaks of stones crying out in praise of God. Today we will talk about what it means to praise God and see that it is one of the most important activities in which we can participate.
Praise: When, Where, and Why (Psalms 148,150)
We opened the service with portions of Psalm 148, which surveys the wide swath of creatures and beings engaged in and exhorted to praise God. These include angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, stars, heavens, waters, kings of the earth, princes and rulers, young men and women, old men and children, and more!
Psalm 150 is also all about praise, but takes a different tack, calling for praise in the sanctuary, in the mighty expanse, and with a range of instruments: trumpet, harp, lyre, timbrel, stringed instruments, pipe, cymbals, and more cymbals! There is dancing, too! We are invited to praise God for His mighty deeds and according to His excellent greatness – for Who He is and for what He’s done. And finally, as the last word of Psalm 150 and of all the collection of Psalms, we hear this encompassing charge: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord! (v. 6)
There’s not much room for confusion there – praise is the activity of all things in all places, for God is worthy. But what exactly IS praise?
What is Praise?
We know what it is to praise another person: “Hey, great game!” or “You look good today!” It’s a kind of compliment or acknowledgment of a positive action or attribute.
When we think about God it is easy to merge together things like thanks, love, and praise. Right? If we say, “I love you, Lord,” that is praise, right?
Psalm 150 provides a great definition of praise in verse 2 when it says, “Praise Him for His mighty deeds; praise Him according to His excellent greatness.” I summarize that as “for Who God is and for what He has done.” But we often imagine that as a private activity (like in the slide of the man, arms raised, at the sunset). But there is another component of praise that is important to note. Generally, praise is PUBLIC. Just look back at both those Psalms: praise is enjoined in all places, by all things, by all people, with every means possible. While private praise may be possible, it seems evident that the point of praise is that it be heard and witnessed and public.
For that reason, I want to suggest an easy mnemonic to remember what praise is: pull out the first letter and think of it as P-raise… the P is for ‘public’ and RAISE is what we do with the Lord’s name. We raise or lift up God’s name in a public way. That’s praise! That’s where worship and mission meet, for if we are loving and serving God, we will share God’s heart for the world and desire for the world to hear and know that the Lord is God. Our words and actions become a public raising of God’s name: PRAISE.
Can Stones Really Praise? (Luke 19)
I searched in the New Testament to find an example of the word ‘praise’ being used and found the passage from Luke 19. It is the account of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. He was welcomed as the expected Messiah and Luke tells us that “the whole crowd of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice.” (v. 37) Those folks who shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord” were publicly raising up God’s name and works for all to hear.
But here’s the part I want to focus on, because (for one) I’ve never spoken directly about this and it adds so much to the concept of praise. After the Pharisees tried to hush the disciples, Jesus responded to them, “I tell you, if these [disciples] become silent, the stones will cry out!” I’ve always loved that imagery, but never quite known what to do with it, other than kind of shame humanity into praise, like “you don’t want to make the rocks have to do your job, do you?”
But here’s what scripture says, in Psalm 148 (and elsewhere): God’s very creation engages in praise. That’s why the sun, moon, stars, and seas can praise Him. It’s because praise publicly raises up the character or work of God and what does that more publicly than God’s glorious creation. Think about the eclipse last week. What an amazing event, with the small moon at just the right distance from the earth to block out the ginormous sun. More than a few believing friends marveled at God’s power and design when they saw the eclipse. More than a few folks who don’t identify with a particular faith were moved deeply and spiritually by seeing it. Even a few agnostic or questioning folks marveled at the precision and specificity required for such an event to occur as it does. And that’s just one thing. Whether you explore the immensity of the universe or the tiny, tiny intricacies of cells, DNA, or sub-atomic particles; it is simply amazing. And sure, some people simply cannot or will not see God behind those wonders. But that’s not Jesus’ point: he claims, with Psalm 148, that the stones and very creation itself are publicly raising up God’s character and work.
An Essential Activity
So here’s why praise is so vital for us. It’s not because God needs the affirmation. That’s warping the definition of praise because that’s what WE so often get out of being praised. Instead, praise is where we engage with who God is and what God is doing, and that is our reason for being here. Praise then is more than singing ‘hallelu’ to God (privately or publicly); praise is living out our faith PUBLICLY – that is, in the community and in the world. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works… and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16) Praise is not a private me-and-Jesus moment, but following Jesus who left Heaven to enter into this world. The public nature of raising God up is not for the sake of you or I being seen, but in bringing glory to God. Praise asks what God is doing in the world He loves and joins in. It is as much or more what we do out there as what we do in here.
The stones crying out are not your backup singers; they are a reminder that God’s creation already publicly declares who God is. Our invitation is to join in, not turn away. It is the same invitation God gives every human and praise is our response to that gracious invitation. Amen.