Praise God, and Do It Now!
Psalm 146   9-29-19

Earlier this week I met with a young couple who will be getting married next month.

Their marriage will reprioritize everything about their lives as they shift from just doing their own thing and chasing after their own pleasures.

A healthy, enduring marriage elevates the care and nurture of the marriage entity above individual wants.

It may seem counterintuitive, but in a healthy marriage, we don’t lose ourselves.

In fact, in a healthy marriage we grow in love, forgiveness and patience and actually become more of ourselves.

In the same way, as we make our relationship with Jesus our priority – maintaining, and nurturing that relationship above all else – we become blessed.

Remember the first time you said to someone that you loved them?

Most likely, you broke out in a cold sweat because you didn’t know if they would say, “I love you” back.

Well, you don’t need to sweat it with God because He already took the first step.

God created you, and in a million other ways He has shown that He loves you.

Now He’s the one wondering if you are going to say it back.

Exodus 34:14b He is a God who would kind of like a relationship with you.

No … that’s not what it says.

Exodus 34:14b He is a God who is passionate about His relationship with you.  

If you like Starbucks, then you may have tried one of their drive-through stores.

They’re great if you are in a hurry … but suppose a friend asks to meet you at Starbucks and you order your Venti Mocha at the drive through window and just wave at your friend inside as you pull away?

How would that help your relationship?

God doesn’t want you to just go through the motions … He wants closeness and commitment and … the Book of Psalms gives a roadmap for intimacy with God through all the seasons of life.

Psalm 145, the one immediately preceding today’s reading ends with these words:

Psalm 145:21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.

In response, Psalms 146-150, the final five psalms of the Psalter, affirm this commitment and give instruction about praising God.

Each of these five begins and ends with “Praise the LORD!” which in Hebrew is “Hallelujah!”

In Hebrew, hallelujah is actually a two-word phrase.

The first part, hallelu, the second-person imperative to give praise – meaning it is a command.

It’s like, “Hey, you. Praise God, and do it now.”

And it calls for a special kind of praise because the root hallel can also mean one who acts madly and foolishly.

And then yah is a shortened version of YHWH, a name for the Creator.

So, hallelujah is an order to joyously, madly praise the Lord.

Why is giving praise to God so important?

Isn’t it enough to believe in God?

Because praise opens us to a passionate and intimate relationship with God.

It isn’t enough to be like the stereotypical aloof man who asks, “Why should I tell my wife I love her all the time? She already knows I do – that should be enough.”

And making praise a life habit, sustains and deepens that relationship.

It’s like you can’t just say “I do” at your wedding and then go off and do your own thing and expect your marriage to sustain itself.

Craig Barnes, the President of Princeton Seminary, grew up the son of a revivalist preacher.

He says, “What I remember of those hot nights [under the revival tent] was the altar call. Just before the choir began singing, I Surrender All, my father would stand at the front and say, ‘Jesus was dying to love you.

“’All you need to do to accept this love is to step out of your seat, come down the aisle, and give your life over to the forgiving love of Jesus’.

“Since those days,” Barnes goes on, “I’ve collected too many academic degrees in a theology that no longer fits my dad’s revival tents…. (so) that I have grave doubts about the long-term benefit of altar calls.”

But at the same time, Barnes cannot get out of his mind the knowledge that even St. Augustine, who lived long before tent revivals, confessed that “Salvation came [for me] only when I heard a voice that invited me to step out from the life that I’d built for myself and surrender it to God who in Jesus Christ was dying to forgive and love us.”

James 4:8 Come near to God and He will come near to you.

There’s some very practical advice from Mark Moring about navigating today’s dangerous world.

After doing some “extensive research”, he suggests the following:

Avoid riding in automobiles because they are responsible for 20% of all fatal accidents.

Do not stay home, because 17% of all accidents occur in the home.

Avoid walking on streets or sidewalks because 14% of all accidents occur to pedestrians.

Avoid traveling by air, rail, or water because 16% of all accidents involve these forms of transportation.

Of the remaining 33% percent, 32% percent of all deaths occur in hospitals.

Above all else, avoid hospitals!

However, he says, “You will be pleased to learn that only .001% percent of all deaths occur in worship services in church.

“Therefore, logic tells us that the safest place for you to be at any given point in time is worshiping at church!”

These final five psalms – 146 to 150 – cast an ever-widening circle of those invited to praise.

First, the individual calls himself or herself to praise:

Psalm 146:1b-2 Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Then the next psalm calls the people of Jerusalem (147:12) and then Psalm 149 extends the call to all of Israel (149:2) to praise.

Finally, the Book of Psalms closes with the universal invitation, Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. (150:6).

After the command to praise God, Psalm 146 offers a few words of instruction.

You may remember that Psalms 1 and 2, that serve as the introduction to the Psalter, promise readers that they’ll be blessed as they delve into the full collection of psalms that follow.

Psalm 1 opens with the Hebrew word asherey which we translate as “blessed” or “happy”.

Psalm 1:1-3 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers
.

That same word for blessing also closes Psalm 2.

Now, returning to Psalm 146, we find reminders and a summary of instructions found in the preceding psalms to receive your blessing.

First and foremost, don’t be suckered into thinking your salvation will come from kings or princes.

Psalm 146:3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in human beings, who cannot save.

We are seeing this played out before our eyes right now.

The white Evangelical Right placed their trust in Donald Trump, repeatedly winking at his immorality and corruption.

But he has failed them in almost every way except for getting them Supreme Court justices who may oppose abortion.

But Psalm 2 introduces the psalms by specifically warning about following leaders who are not godly people themselves.

As Nietzsche said, “If there is anything Jesus Christ comes to do it is to deliver us from our addiction to power.  There is an inverse relationship between power and love.”

But if you are from the other side of the aisle, don’t be too quick to wag your finger at them.

Those who felt giddy as they voted for Barack Obama were also let down, some of that through his own doing.

For a whole variety of reasons, his promised changes have largely evaporated.

Psalm 146:4 says they are mortals (the Hebrew word is adam) who will one day die and return to the earth (Hebrew: adamah).

One day the breath (one could translate the Hebrew as “wind”) of these politicians will stop blowing and the dreams and schemes of these windbags will disappear with them.

Psalm 146:4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

On the other hand, God keeps faith and executes justice forever.

Verses 7 to the end summarize God’s work, and if we are going to walk the path of the righteous, then we are to emulate these qualities ourselves.

First, God does justice for the oppressed (v 7).

There are at least twelve different words in Biblical Hebrew that mean “to oppress.”

The oppression highlighted in Psalm 146, ashuqim is primarily financial oppression.

Second, God is the one who gives food to the hungry (v 7).

Third, God sets the prisoners free (v 7).

Fourth, God opens the eyes of the blind (v 8).

Fifth, God lifts up those who are bowed down (v 8).

Sixth, God loves the righteous (v 8), that being the lifestyle we saw introduced in Psalms 1.

Seventh, God watches over the foreigners, strangers or aliens (v 9).

Here and throughout scripture, God calls his faithful to care for the foreigner.

Israel needed to be reminded that they once were impoverished foreigners, fleeing slavery and brought by the grace of God to their land of plenty.

Can you imagine a nation of immigrants reviling desperate foreigners seeking safety and opportunities?

Who leaves foreigners fleeing for their lives to die in the dessert, imprison(s) people seeking asylum, who tears babies from their mothers’ arms?

God’s Word was a reminder to Israel and others who forget God’s special concern for foreigners.

Eighth, God upholds the orphan and the widow (v 9).

In the Ancient Near East, a woman who was widowed or divorced for not pleasing her husband was left with nothing.

She might have to turn to prostitution or begging to survive.

And children were considered orphans if their fathers had died or divorced his family, even if their mother was still alive.

Ninth, God brings the way of the wicked to ruin (v 9).

To summarize the Bible’s call for us to praise, Old Testament Professor John Stek once used this analogy: suppose a widowed young mother works her whole life to give her son, Charlie, the best possible life.

Suppose she toils in some sweat-shop during the day and scrubs toilets in an office building by night just to scrape together enough money to give her son decent clothing, education, food, and shelter.

But then suppose that Charlie is an ignorant clod who little notices his mother’s efforts and who even squanders a good bit of what his mother gives him.

What if instead of fulfilling any of his mother’s hopes for him, he spends his time in cheap bars and casinos.

Then suppose one day, after having her son once again tell his old lady to get lost, this mother finally says, “Son, I deserve better than this from you!  I deserve more gratitude than you’ve ever given to me–in fact, out of sheer respect you should try a lot harder to live a decent life.”

Now, would you conclude this woman was arrogant and vain, looking for praise to boost her ego?

Hardly.

It would be only fitting if such a son were to thank his mother.

Anything less would be rude.