Psalm 150

Psalm 150 – July 9, 2017

This week – and really every week I think about what one of my professors in seminary said in quite an ordinary way, “well, weren’t we created but to give praise to God?” I tell you, that phrase goes through my mind more than once in a day, especially if I’m not quite believing it. But what does praise look like? What does it sound like? Could it sound like this?

What are some of the songs you sing or your heart sings when you can hardly believe it? When joy is bursting from you? When you give thanks to God?  I especially love…

All That Hath Life and Breath, to me, sounds like a song of praise. A life of praise. It begins bright and fast paced and joyful in 4 part harmony.  And then we enter a period of dissonance, a slowing, and then one voice crying out to God as the rest of the choir provides the deep foundation, the bass note. The bass note of hope. The choir joins in again, slower, with words of praise and then something begins to happen. The pace begins to creep forward again, ever so slowly, thoughtfully, tentatively, praise coming again. Like raindrops increasing to a steady rain and then to a rainstorm. And then into another period of – is it joyful dissonance? Then it bursts into full-throated praise, but it sounds different, newer, deeper, like it’s lived a little.

There is a beginning to this praise and there is an ending, but in between it’s, well, complicated.

When I participated in a story telling event in St. Paul this spring, the most important part of the instructions the storytellers were given was this: know your opening line, know your closing line. Know where you’ll start, know where you’ll end. It’s like the person or people who assembled the book of Psalms took this advice as well.  Psalm 1 talks about what life with God looks like and what life without God looks like. Psalm 150 is unfettered praise of God. And in between it’s, well, complicated.

It is as if the book ends with an invitation for you to sing praise, to sing the psalms of your life in your life. In your every day life. And if you need to know anything about the book of psalms, know this: your song is in there. Whatever it is you’re going through, it’s in there. You want to curse God? It’s in there. You want to demand God show up or thank God? It’s in there. You want to rejoice? It’s in there.

The Psalms are our song book, our prayer book, our worship book. They reflect our lives when we are solid, life is good.  They reflect our lives when things are in utter disarray, when we’ve become disoriented in our lives, in our relationship with God. They reflect our lives when we find solid ground again, although it’s never the same ground, it’s always new ground.

For those of you keeping track at home, there are more psalms that cry out in lament, crying out to ask where God is than there are praise psalms. It’s 60 some to 50 some, so it’s not a wide [WOW]margin. Which I guess underscores Anne Lamott’s premise of the 3 essential prayers: Help, Thanks, Wow.

And today is one of the best WOW prayers there is. It breaks out all the instruments, summoning up the whole band to give praise to the Lord.

There is a difference between saying everything is fine and putting on a brave face and giving thanks and praise to God even when you find yourself on your knees. The first is in denial of the truth of the situation while the other has fully faced the music. And perhaps it’s the choir, the chorus of friends, the chorus of the unending body of Christ singing the bass note, holding the note of hope and praise for them as they cry out their lament.

When I participated in that storytelling event in St. Paul, the story I told was about a staff member going for a hike in the Sawtooth mountains of Idaho and never coming back. It’s an event that I could tell a million different stories about. For the storytelling event, I had to choose one. And so I chose to tell how our group of senior high campers dealt with the news that Jon Francis, a counselor that many of them had known over his 4 years at camp, had gone missing the weekend before their arrival to camp. He’d gone hiking and hadn’t come home. At that point his body had yet to be found. We were careful and thoughtful and prayerful in our telling of the camp that Wednesday afternoon. And a few hours later, after dinner, we gathered on the back deck to sing. And one of the campers yelled out, “Lord of the dance” and so we began to sing.

And you know what happened? In the midst of our sadness and grief and anger, we sang praise to God. We shout sang. There was a cabin group of senior high guys with arms draped around each others shoulders, stomping and shouting “Dance, then, wherever you may be!” And that’s when Forest busted lose. He was serving as a counselor in training that summer and now was a camper with the other teenagers. And Forest, who looks just like his name with impossibly long arms and legs, began to dance. He began to whirl and spin, a wide grin spread across his face as he danced for joy. It didn’t make sense, being so joyful. But there it was.

What does a life of praise look like? When are you dancing and when are you on your knees? When are you dependent upon the choir? What does a life rooted in God’s faithfulness to you look like?

I think it looks like this: I’ve seen you grieve, River of Hope. I’ve seen you laugh and I’ve seen you cry. We’ve done it together. I’ve seen you go through terrible times, times you weren’t sure you’d make it. I’ve seen you at your best. I’ve seen you at your worst. It’s what a life of praise to God looks like.

Thanks be to God.