Sing Yourself into God’s Presence
Psalm 148  May 19, 2019
Pastor Roger Barkley

Long ago when I first came to this church there was a member who lived immersed in bitter frustration.

He was convinced that his boss was a Neandertal who had a personal vendetta against him

If you so much allowed him to get started on how unfair his family treated him, you might find yourself trapped for an hour of his venting.

Maybe you’ve known someone like him.

They’re emotional sinkholes – nothing is right, and they won’t let anything be right, and if you allow it they will suck the energy right out of you.

Everything is about them: their frustrations, the world’s unfairness to them, how nobody listens to them, and the result is their world keeps shrinking smaller and smaller.

Eventually, their empathy, their passion, even their capacity to love shrivel to almost nothing.

Not surprisingly, he had a long list of complaints about the church, and if we chose a hymn that he didn’t like then he’d just stand there with his arms folded.

What is sadder than someone with a sour face and folded arms standing in the midst of their community that is praising God?

Afterwards, he’d glare at me and say, “I didn’t get anything out of today’s service.”

I wish I’d had the understanding back then to respond, “But the worship wasn’t for you. Worship is addressed to God.

“We were singing to God. We were praying to God”.

God is the object of our worship, but we find that we also are blessed because through worship we draw close to the Divine.

That is part of what Psalm 148 is about.

It expands our focus from our personal world outward to the diversity of creatures, to the magnificence of the earth, and to the expanses of cosmos … all of God’s creation.

Worship expands our awareness beyond our personal wants and fears and reminds us of our place in the created order.

Re-read Genesis 1 sometime and catch the exuberance God has as He creates.

God didn’t just create one world, one sun, and one moon.

He created countless galaxies and populated them with countless worlds.

God loves diversity.

My biology class taught me that there are two kingdoms of life: plants and animals.

Then as we learned more about fungi, biologists had to reclassify them as a third kingdom.

But biologists keep learning more about our amazing world so are now talking about needing twenty-five kingdoms to classify the diversity of life.

God did not create a few kinds of fish but a mind-blowing variety of every size, shape, and color of fish.

You could spend a lifetime learning about just one of them, for example, the hagfish.

No one thinks about the lowly hagfish, but they are one of God’s amazing creations.

Hagfish are bottom feeders that can thrive at more than a mile underwater.

They have developed a unique defense mechanism that protects them from even the fastest sharks.

While a typical hagfish is less than two-feet long, within a fraction of a second of feeling threatened, it blasts out several gallons of mucus that engulfs and then clogs the gills of its would-be attacker.

And that’s just one fish you’ve maybe not even heard of.

God didn’t just create a beetle – there are 350,000 species of beetles.

And what about people.

God went wild:
tall people, short people,
white, black, brown, yellow people,
skinny people and chubby people,
gay, straight and bisexual people,
shy people and life-of-the-party people.

Country music people and … well, actually, everyone loves country music.

You can almost hear God yelling “Whoopee!” as He keeps proliferating species, the mountain ranges,  the ocean depths.

Psalm 148 calls us to step out of our little world and join all those creatures in giving thanks to our Creator.

When the UN announced two weeks ago that 1-million species are about to vanish because of human pressure, I realized that if we had a true sense of worship, then we would be understanding ourselves as part of this amazing creation God has entrusted to us.

Psalm 148 teaches that human beings stand alongside all other animals and inanimate objects of the earth giving glory to God.

This psalm reminds us that when Genesis 1 says that humans have dominion over the earth it is intended to be a partnership for the good of creation and doing so gives glory to God.

If we had a true sense of worship, then every religious person on earth would be demanding that their nations’ leaders put climate change, water pollution and chemical poisoning at the top of their lists.

If we had a true sense of worship, we wouldn’t tolerate leaders who put short-term corporate profits ahead of long-term care of the gift God has entrusted to us to manage for generations to come.

A lot of Christian worship has become self-focused:
Was I moved by the worship?
What is God doing for me?
Am I going to heaven?

Even my personal relationship with Jesus … which is critical, of course, is only part of God’s bigger story.

In last year’s Harris poll, 71% of Americans reported that their spiritual lives are a positive guiding force in their life, and yet the fastest growing demographic segments are “spiritual but not religious” and “love Jesus but not the church”.

The problem is that people increasingly are separating their spiritual lives from faith communities and traditions which means that they are prone to flutter from one rootless spirituality to another.

And, those spiritualities are increasingly introspective, and individualistic.

True worship moves us beyond individualism back to connection to our community, and our connection to magnificence of all creation.

Psalm 19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And the expanse [of heaven] is declaring the work of His hands.

Scripture tells us to abandon ourselves to worship.

Psalm 100:1-2 On your feet now—applaud God! Bring a gift of laughter, sing yourselves into his presence.

One of the things I learned this week as I did a word study is that Psalm 148 is not an invitation to worship … it is a command to worship.

That is how seriously God takes worship.

In Hebrew, hallelu yah is actually a two-word phrase, not a single word.

The Hebrew hallelujah that we translate as “praise the Lord” is in the imperative mood.

What’s that got to do with me?

A little grammar refresher: In English, we might say to a friend, “Let’s sit down”, but the imperative mood would be a cop ordering us, “Hey you, sit down now!”

The first part is the imperative verb hallelu means “you people praise,” the second is Jah which is shortened for YHWH, representing the name of God which is considered so holy that it cannot be spoken aloud.

So, halleluiah literally means, “Hey you – yes you – get up and throw yourself into praising God.”

The Book of Psalms is the prayer book of the Bible.

These 150 psalms were carefully selected, edited, and then ordered to build up a larger theology.

The book opens with Psalm 1’s rather stark landscape of this world: there are the righteous who serve God and the wicked who do not.

The righteous who are like well-planted trees by a stream while the rootless wicked fly hither and thither like dust in the wind.

Then Psalms 3-41 contain many laments and prayers from times of trouble.

As we progress through the Book of Psalms, we encounter prayers for every celebration, fear, defeat, and anger we might experience.

We learned last week that Psalm 23 is a response to Psalm 22.

My god, my god why have you forsaken me is answered by the Lord is my shepherd who is with me always.

But stepping back, we see the overarching theme of the Book of Psalms is a calling of the righteous — and then more and more of the entire creation — to praise God.

Psalm 146 starts the wrap up of the book with one of the Psalter’s most important theological claims: “the Lord reigns”.

The proclamation is striking because Israel had experienced repeated humiliation, defeat and domination by the great empires of their day.

It must have seemed at times that God was not in control.

Yet this proclamation and the call to praise reaches a crescendo in Psalms 146 to 150 – in effect commanding – “No matter who or what, praise your Creator.”

God made the first move by loving us… worship is our response.

1 John 4:19 We love Him, because He first loved us.  

Do you remember when you were 13 or 14 and you had a crush on someone?

And you really wanted to say, “I like you”, but you were too nervous?

So the way it works at that age is that you send out emissaries who ask, “Hey, do you like Roger?”

And if you get the green light, then you could go and tell her that you like her.

All the while, you were shaking in your boots … why?

Because you didn’t know if they would say, “I like you” back.

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

He’s already said so by creating you in the first place and since then He has shown in a million ways throughout your life that He loves you.

God even cares so much that through Jesus God left the glories of Heaven to walk with us and to sacrifice for you.

Now God’s the one wondering if you will say it back.

That’s because God is all about relationship.

God created you in His image and likeness so He could have a relationship with you.

Pure and simple, it gives God pleasure to feel you love Him back.

That’s easy to understand.

If you’ve been a parent you know how good it is to hear your child say they love you … it also affirms that everything is alright between you.

It may be that the two biggest threats humanity faces today are ecological disaster and tribalism.

Tribalism we’ve talked about a lot over the past two years: the blind obedience to people who look like me or claim to think like me.

Tribalism naturally devolves to nationalism, antisemitism, racism, xenophobia – all of which are on the rise around the world, most strikingly right here at home.

Martin Luther King’s warning that “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools,” seems more critical today than we might have imagined five decades ago when he spoke it.

Psalm 148 is God’s command – not invitation – to join with all creation in humbling ourselves before God, stepping out of our personal or tribal wants and abandoning ourselves to worshiping alongside the magnificent world we share.

Here are two things you can do this week to praise God.

First, you’ve got Psalm 148 in today’s order of worship.  Read it a couple of times this week, and as you do, see yourself as part of the network of creation.

Your skin, your hair, your entire body is made of elements born in the stars.

Visualize that as you read the psalm.

Second, before get up each morning – before your foot touches the floor – spend five minutes thanking God for the day.

It’s a gift – and a gift you won’t always have.

Give thanks to the Creator of this day, the One you put you in the magnificent world.