Use your breath to exhale back to God in praise!
Oct 23, 2022
20th Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Psalm 150
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Psalm 150 was the one scripture passage Bob requested for today. So, of course, we had to read it. Then, I decided it might be interesting to focus on the closing words of the psalms, although writing a sermon on these ancient poems/hymns is not always easy, as became clear in Lent this year. Still, this particular Psalm is interesting for a number of reasons.
It is overflowing with the “H” word - in Hebrew, “hallelu-yah” - meaning to praise the Lord - which is proclaimed 10 times in this brief psalm. Remember, 10 is a number of completeness and fullness in scripture – so perhaps Psalm 150 is an intentional, fitting conclusion to the previous 149.
But here’s something even more interesting, those 10 “hallelu-yahs”, or praise the Lords, are in the imperative tense, which means they area a command, a summons, an order for God’s people to give God praise. And, no specific reason is given is given explaining why we should do so – perhaps because those reasons are listed in the previous 149 psalms.
The Psalmist does, however, tell us who is to be praised – God, who is at the same time in earthly sanctuaries and is high and lifted up in the heavens. We are told, in a general way, why God should be praised, that is for mighty deeds and for (or in a manner fitting) God’s surpassing greatness.
And then we get to the how, which I suspect is the what Bob particularly likes about this Psalm – God should be praised with music, with every instrument available, which may even inspire us to dance our praise. The point is, though, that our praise takes the form of music, which both expresses and moves the heart.
Finally, there is the who, who is to praise God? The final verse of the book of the Psalms proclaims, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” – not just Israel, but all people; not just people, but all creatures and not just earth’s inhabitants, but the hosts of heaven.
That praising will happen as God intended one day, but until the eternal, perfect, peaceable kingdom arrives we anticipate it by praising the Lord with music here and now. Listen to how commentator Stan Mast describes it, “The Psalter ends with a stunning call to praise, and history will end with such praise, and the new creation will be full of this praise, because that praise has been God’s ultimate goal from the beginning. The praise to which Psalm 150 calls us is the reason for our existence. When we praise this way, we fulfill our destiny and become all God means us to be.” (1)
Maybe that is why there is something deep down in people that wants to sing, or otherwise make music, even if it’s to Karaoke, or with the radio, or by belting out an old favorite at a concert. I would say that’s true for most people, even if they do not sing well. It occurs to me that the church is one of the few places where people with a wide variety of ability can sing in a group. Doing so is so important to people that not having the opportunity to sing hymns or songs they know well is a matter of frustration.
And just think of the thousands of pieces of music beyond hymns that were written for use in worship. As Bob knows, I appreciate the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, although I do not know that much about his music. I recently read that of the approximately 1000 pieces of music attributed to him, three-quarters of it was written for worship.
It was common in the Lutheran church of his day for a substantial musical composition – a cantata – to be offered in the middle of the service. It was usually 20 minutes long and featured soloists, a choir and instruments. Its purpose was to reflect on the Bible readings and prepare the congregation for the sermon. Can you imagine the exposure to music people received just by going to a worship service?
What is even more amazing is that for a period of three years Bach created a new cantata every week. Bob has a better idea than I do what that implies, but think of setting a German text to music, writing parts for soloists and instrumentalists, having it all copied, rehearsing and directing it on Sunday, only to start over again the next week, without repeating oneself.
It is said that his faith drove Bach’s music, and given what he accomplished, that must be true. “The aim and final end of music,” he wrote, “should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”
Music, regardless of the form it takes, touches us on a level that is different from ordinary speech, which is why it is natural that praising God takes the form of music, and music is a defining aspect of Christian worship. I’m sure that Bob and others of you who have studied music and its history could say more about that off the top of your heads than I could even after intense study. Yet, what I do know is that music draws us to God and enhances our praise of God and makes us a window through which God is visible.
So, writes commentator Scott Hoezee, we should read Psalm 150 as if someone is pointing at us and shouting, “You there! Yes, you! Grab and instrument, open your mouth and get going! Praise the Lord! I mean it! Move! Sing! Dance! Show some respect!” (2)
Use the breath you’ve been given to exhale it back to God in praise. Today we are thankful for Bob, and all musicians and singers, who make that happen. AMEN
“Psalm 150 Commentary” by Stan Mast, April 3, 2016, cepreaching.org
“Psalm 150 Commentary” by Scott Hoezee, April 24, 2022, cepreaching.org