St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church – The Rev. Bart Smith
The Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 9, 2017)
Psalm 150 – “Praise the Lord!”
Today’s reading is the last in a series on the Psalms. It’s fitting that we end the series with the very last Psalm in our canon, Psalm 150.
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary!
Praise God in his fortress, the sky!
Praise God in his mighty acts!
Praise God as suits his incredible greatness!
Praise God with the blast of the ram’s horn!
Praise God with lute and lyre!
Praise God with drum and dance!
Praise God with strings and pipe!
Praise God with loud cymbals!
Praise God with clashing cymbals!
Let every living thing praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
By word count, what is this Psalm about? Praise!
Praise the Lord! Praise God here! Praise God with this! Two Psalms before this one, Psalm 148 is one of my favorites because it’s also one of those extroverted, exuberant psalms in which the excitement almost crescendos.
Praise the Lord!…
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps…
creeping things and flying birds!…
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! The Hebrew here is where we get “Hallelujah,” or “praise (you) the Lord.” It’s an imperative—we’re impelled. We can’t not. “Praise the Lord!” That’s the last word in the entire collection of Psalms, that’s how it ends, with praise.
But why the repetition? Praise the Lord… Praise the Lord… Praise the Lord! We get it: we should praise God. But have you ever wondered why it is that God would need reminding of how wonderful, mighty, gracious, and awe-inspiring God is? Surely the Creator of Heaven and Earth doesn’t need to be told over and over and over again how amazing he/she/it is. Does God already know that?
No, I think it’s we who need the reminder. We need the repetition. It’s like anything else in that we have to “put our feet first.” The words lead and the heart catches up sometimes. Like saying “thank you”, it takes a while to cultivate gratitude. It takes a while to cultivate worshipfulness.
One scholar, years ago, categorized the Psalms into three types: Psalms of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.  They’re not just old, “churchy” words confined to Scripture, but poems intertwined with the rawness of daily life. Just as there are times of equilibrium and disequilibrium within our lives, the Psalter has that too. Psalm 150 is an orientation one. Did you notice how it starts in the sanctuary, listing all the different instruments used in worship, but ends with “Let every living thing praise the Lord!”? It’s almost as if this movement of praise starts in worship, gathers speed, and is flung out into the rest of life. That’s what praise is: it grounds us, it provides a center of gravity for the rest of our lives to orbit, the highs and the lows.
When I think of something that’s orientating, I think of mountains, especially here in Tucson with the Catalinas. You can be anywhere in Tucson and if you can find the tallest mountain range out there, you’ve found north you are not totally lost, at least.
Speaking of mountains, I read an article in the May issue of Smithsonian magazine about Mount Fuji outside Tokyo, Japan. It’s the highest in Japan at over 12,000 feet at its peak. It’s a sacred site, a focal point for pilgrimages, art, and poetry, and a place where deities and spirits were and are thought to have lived. It’s also an a dormant volcano that could erupt at any moment. This mountain/volcano has an interesting history and thousands of people visit it every year, some to their peril. One meaning of the word “Fuji” is “peerless one” or “deathless.”
One person who wrote a book, 36 View of Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan, said,
“It is powerful for any culture to have a central, unifying symbol… when it is one that is equal parts formidable and gorgeous… I do not know a single person who just climbs Mount Fuji. One experiences a climb inside and out, even amid tens of thousands of other climbers. The weight of the mountain’s art, philosophy, and history climb the path alongside you.”
Not a bad analogy for the Divine, is it? It’s truly the mysterium tremendum—that sacred presence that draws out both our fascination and our fear. One artist did a woodblock series, the original Thirty Six View of Mount Fuji, setting the mountain’s “calm permanence” against the changes in daily life—changes in weather, personal situation, perspective. While the rest of life shifts, Mount Fuji stands there solidly, eternally in the background.
It’s what writer Anne Lamott called the “uppercase Wow.” There are things in life that take away our breath by their beauty or awesomeness or majesty. As creatures, we need those magnets to help us align our world. We need them to hold our joy, to draw our curiosity, to hold steady while the rest of life seems chaotic or senseless. Whatever that reflex is inside of our souls, that is the same reason for praise.
It’s not that God needs the praise. We need to offer it. Like Mount Fuji, God was there before us. God will be there after us. Immense and glorious, forever, in a reliable way.
I am fresh of a vacation in which Elizabeth and I spent time in National Parks in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. I have to admit that part of this trip infuses this sermon (I’m just glad Psalm 150 was on the Lectionary; a psalm of praise instead of a psalm of lament makes it convenient). But seriously, our National Parks… wow! I found myself looking at jaw-dropping landscapes. There aren’t adjectives in the dictionary to describe some of these places. There’s just something spiritual about being out in nature that helps me feel a sense of connection to God that doesn’t always happen on Sunday mornings or in a sanctuary. Yes, that happens to pastors, too; I get it.
“Praise the Lord!” kept coming to my lips, or “well done, you!” as a prayer. I could go on and on about what we saw, but one memory lingered with me this week. In Petrified Forest National Park there are these logs of petrified wood. I’m not even into geology one bit but it’s fascinating how these log forms are preserved. There’s one that seems like an entire tree trunk is preserved and laying over a canyon like a bridge. I forgot how much it weighed, but it is HEAVY. Years ago (in 1917, actually) aiming to preserve it for posterity, some engineers laid a concrete slab under it to keep the bridge in place.
You know what I thought looking at that? “How cute! 100 years of human-built concrete upholding a piece of rock that is 217 million year old. That’s precious!” 100 years. 217 million. 100 years seems like forever to us, more than most lifetimes. But in comparison to 217 million… how, in the grand scheme of things, small we are, how brief our time on earth is. Talk about perspective. Praise the Lord!
Then I got back in the car, where the radio was tuned to NPR. I heard that name that just gets my blood boiling… Good vibes gone! But then I remembered the piece of petrified wood. And the concrete bridge. And I remembered to breath more deeply for just a little moment.
Remember Leonard Cohen’s (God rest his soul) song about the “broken Hallelujah?”
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
And even though the country is led by feckless people…
And even though the family drama rages on…
And even though the job hunt is not going so well…
And even though the addiction won’t loosen its grip or the pain won’t let up…
And even though we can’t get out of bed in the morning…
And even though North Korea launches another missile…
And even though…
Sometimes we crave the grounding of a hallelujah—and this is the key—not to escape our problems or to wash our hands of our responsibility to live as God’s loving, generous, justice-seeking people, but to remember our place in the world. We need to praise so that we can remember who we are, whose we are, and what is within and outside of our control.
Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
So rather than just talk about praise, let’s do it. Let’s stand and sing a hymn that’s a favorite here, No. 14, “For the Beauty of the Earth.”
 Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, Second Edition: Engaging Scripture and the Life of the Spirit (2007)
Featured image: Kelsey Leuzinger, https://blog.gaijinpot.com/worlds-heritage-fuji-san/.