Sunday, July 26, 2015

Let Everything PRAISE the Lord! (Psalm 150)

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
    praise him in his mighty firmament![a]
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
    praise him according to his surpassing greatness!

Praise him with trumpet sound;
    praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
    praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
    praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!


Ashley and I included a stop at the Grand Canyon on our fall vacation last year.  Neither one of us had been before.  We drove into the park through the east gate and stopped at the first observation point.  We parked the car, hurriedly walked down the path without stopping at the bathroom first – that tells you how eager my wife was to see the canyon – and crowded into a spot at the overlook with a few hundred of our closest friends, and we said the same first words of everyone who views the canyon for the first time: “Wow.”


We lingered for awhile, drove to the next overlook, parked, walked up to the edge, and said, “Wow.”  We repeated that pattern for the next two hours as we made our way toward the hub of the park and our hotel.  That evening, we ran through the village to crowd onto the last bus that would take us to points further west where we could catch the sunset over the canyon, and can you guess what we and hundreds of other folks said as the sun set and painted a continually-changing beautiful picture in front of us? “Wow.”


The next morning, we were up early to watch the sunrise – just like watching the sunset, but from the other direction and in reverse order, right?  I’ve seen the sunrise in beautiful places before, I had an idea what to expect, shouldn’t have been too surprised by what we saw, but do you know what I said as the sun rose that morning?  “Wow.”


There were also people there who seemed less-than-impressed.  People who walked up to the edge, snapped a few pictures, and hopped back in the car to drive to Las Vegas or Phoenix or Albuquerque or wherever they were headed next.  Families who complained about how expensive everything was, children who weren’t sure what their parents were so excited about, saying, “What’s the big deal?  It’s just a big hole-in-the-ground?”


Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  But for those with eyes to see, it will make you keep saying, “Wow.”  And I don’t know about you, but when I see something beautiful, something that takes my breath away, something that makes me say, “Wow,” I just don’t want to take my eyes off of it.  We spent about 24 hours at the Grand Canyon, not a ton of time, but every moment, would you like to guess which way my head was pointed and what had my attention?  I was looking at that big hole in the ground, that thing that kept making me say, “Wow.”


What if God held our attention in the same way?  What if, every available moment, our senses were drinking in the love and grace and holiness and majesty of God?  What if, we couldn’t take our eyes off of God, couldn’t even if we wanted to, what if God was constantly revealing some new facet of God’s self to us that we were constantly saying, “Wow?”


In today’s Scripture reading, the Psalmist says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”  Does everyone here have breath?  I hope so!  You may want to check the person next to you – everyone here still breathing?  Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  If you’ve got breath, praise the Lord!


That word, “let,” is a funny little word.  Sometimes we use it like we’re giving permission for something, or allowing something.  “I’m gonna let you go swimming” or “I’m gonna let you go to your friends’ house.” 


But there’s another we use that word, “let,” not so much giving permission, but giving a command.  At my house, that sounds like Ashley telling me, “I’m gonna let you clean up the kitchen,” or “I’m gonna let you take out the trash.”  In reality, is she saying, “I allow you to do this,” or is she really saying, “I’m telling you to do this”?


In the same way, when the Psalmist says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,” it’s not that we are being given permission to praise God, but being told, commanded, expected to praise God!  Do you have breath?  Yes, I do!  Good!  Then, as a person of faith, use that breath to praise God.


The problem is that many times we use our breath to do things other than praising God.  Ever used your breath to say things that were quite the opposite of glorifying God?  Ever found your breath filled with gossip rather than worship, or with giving grief to others rather than giving glory to God?


Today, the Scripture reminds us to use our breath, which is itself a gift from God, to glorify the God who gave us breath in the first place.


But, how should we praise God?  The Psalm says to praise God with all the instruments available at our disposal – with the blast of the ram’s horn – maybe that’s a trumpet.  Praise God with the lute and lyre – a guitar and a harp, perhaps?  Praise God with drum and dance – just don’t tell our Baptist friends that we’re dancing, I suppose!  Praise God with strings and pipe – sounds like an orchestra and an organ.  Praise God with loud clashing cymbals – in other words, expect worship to be loud!  Use every instrument at your disposal to glorify God.


Too often, however, we approach worship with our personal tastes, preferences, and sensibilities higher on the list than glorifying God.  We pick the instrument on that list that matches our own preference, and we begin to praise it rather than seeing all of it as an appropriate vehicle to praise God.  Too often, we use our breath to praise the organ or praise the guitar.  Praise the choir, or praise the band.  Praise the early service, praise the late service.  Praise what I like, praise what suits me best, praise what I most prefer.  It’s too easy to fall into praising those things, instead of recognizing that we praise God through those things.


We come to worship, a time to focus solely on God, and our first words are about ourselves. I like, I prefer, I want.  Nothing wrong with having or expressing a preference, but the word of caution is that we can worship our personal preferences rather than worshiping God.


We sing "mi mi mi" to warm up our voices, but too often "me me me" becomes the theme in much of our worship. We come to worship as consumers, ready to absorb and receive and evaluate based on our personal fickle preferences.


It's not that worship shouldn't touch us or move us or speak to us in some way. Worship is very much a conversation - we offer praise to God and God offers something of his love and grace back to us. What God offers us may look a little different from week to week - encouragement, inspiration, comfort, challenge, instruction. What God says to us at any given time may well make us glad, or sad, or mad, but at the end of the day, worship must be focused more on God than on ourselves.  Worship is not about me, me, me.  It’s about God, God, God!  We are not the audience in worship. God is.


When we make worship primarily about ourselves, in terms of style and taste and preference, we miss both the opportunity to glorify God, and to hear God speaking to us in unexpected ways and places.  I’ve participated in worship in various places in a variety of styles that run the gamut, some of it very familiar, some of it brand new and strange.  I’ve attended worship in languages I didn’t understand, and worship conducted in English where I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.  Some of it I liked more than others, but in every instance, when I was able to discern that a genuine offering of praise was being offered to God, well, then that was worship.  As long as God is at the center, regardless of the style, regardless of whether or not I “like” it, I’m pretty much good to go.


Those of us who lead in worship - pastors and musicians and choirs and any one else who contributes and leads in some way, we are not here to perform and entertain.  My hope is that you walk away, not thinking about what a good sermon or not-so-good sermon it was, or what a good preacher or not-so-good preacher I am.  My hope is that you walk away having seen more of God than you have seen of me.  Likewise, if the choir or our musician plays a piece and you glory in how great they are rather than in how great God is, then it may have been a wonderful performance, but as an act of worship, it has failed.


I say that even with my friends in the quartet sitting right here. They are talented. They are gifted. They got up early this morning, drove up from Charlotte, are singing two services today, and then driving back to Charlotte this afternoon.  But, they didn't drive up here to perform for us, they are offering their gifts to God as an act of worship. They aren't performing for us, they are leading us in worship in their own unique God-given way. If we walk away today praising them, while stopping short of praising the God who gave them their gifts, then everything they've done today will have been for nothing.


Whether you are up front or sitting in the seats, don't come to worship for yourself. Come for God.  Don't come to worship as a consumer. Don't come as a spectator, don't come as a passive recipient, don't come with your list of likes and dislikes and preferences.


We don't come to evaluate; we come to participate. Say that with me. We don't come to evaluate; we come to participate. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Come to use whatever breath you've got to praise God. It doesn't matter whether you've got a great big and flashy breath like some of the people in our choir, or a little off-beat can't carry a tune in a bucket breath - whatever breath you've got, use it to give glory and honor and praise to God.


The Westminster Catechism says “the chief end of [human]kind is to glorify God and enjoy [God] forever.”  When we give ourselves to the worship of God, using all our life and breath in praising the one who gave us breath, we fulfill the chief and most basic purpose with which we were made.  Some have described the human heart as having a God-shaped hole within it – when we worship as Psalm 150 invites us to do, we fill the hole with God.


When Jesus was asked about the Greatest Commandment, he summarized it as “loving God and loving our neighbor.”  Those two go together.  They are inseparable.  But how he told us to love God is so important – he said to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind.  All our life, all our breath – not part of our breath, not dividing our breath, giving glory with this breath and grief with the next, dividing our breath between worship and gossip – no, let everything that has breath use all of their breath to praise the Lord.


We’re invited into a lifestyle of constant worship, and if we’ve used all our breath to glorify God, then there won’t be any left over for less-than-godly pursuits.  If we love and glorify God with everything we have, then that love spills over into everything else.  When our faculties are dedicated solely to God, they cannot be co-opted for anything less.  Praise the Lord!


If you come to worship as a critic, you can always find something to criticize.  If you come to worship as a consumer, you can always find something that met your needs and something that didn’t.  Worship can be very much like standing next to the Grand Canyon.  One person can be standing there saying, “Wow,” and another person may be asking, “What’s the big deal?” or “How much longer ‘til we’re outta here?”  Beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder, and what we put in will have a tremendous impact on what we get out.


So, don’t come to complain; come to contribute!  Don't come to give grief; come to give glory!  Don’t come to gossip, come to worship!  We don’t come to evaluate.  We come to participate.  Come to join your breath with others in giving glory to God.


Friends, as we give glory to God, God gives grace to us.  And that grace changes us.  Makes us better disciples.  More like Jesus.  More transformed into the image and likeness of the God who first placed breath within us.


That’s enough to make each one of us say, “Wow.”  Wow, God.  Wow, God, for who you are, and Wow, God, for what you’re still doing in me.  Wow.


Don't come to evaluate. Come to participate. Come to give glory to God.  Let’s all resist the temptation to make worship about, “me, me, me,” and let it be about “God, God, God.”


Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord!

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful sermon... In the spirit of the sermon, praise God!!