A Joyful Noise – June 10, 2018

A Joyful Noise

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Psalm 98

June 10, 2018

Main Idea: We are called to praise.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Last week and this we are celebrating the programatic ministries of our church; Church School last week, and Music today and we are also celebrating the completion of the renovation of our kitchen and whole first floor.  First Baptist has much to be thankful for in terms of what has been accomplished this year and so it is fitting that the sermon this morning will be one of praise.  In fact, this sermon could be entitled the Power of Praise for today we remember and acknowledge the blessings with which God surrounds us and we lift up the truth of God which empowers our ministries and our very lives. Our God has created all that is, and loves us with an everlasting love.  How can we keep from singing God’s praise?

Now, everybody likes to receive praise, yes?  It makes us feel good.  It encourages us and it refocuses us away from our troubles and toward our blessings. It lifts our spirits and brings a smile to our faces.  It gives us energy and strengthens our persistence to continue with challenges.   And it is fun to praise others.  To watch them smile and to encourage them.  A word of praise can mean a world of difference to someone who is struggling to work through difficulties, whether it is a hard math problem or painful life circumstance such as a divorce or job loss.

But praising God is much more than saying “Nice Work, God! Keep Going!”. Praise is our orientation to God, it is a world view which recognizes that all that we have and all that we are are gifts from our creator whose love is infused in all that is. Praising God counters cynicism and despair with hope and gratitude. Praising God reminds us of our blessings and brings us joy by lifting us beyond our own concerns to contemplate the beauty around us. Praising God brings us strength and confidence because who can go wrong when we are “lost in wonder, love, and praise” to quote the old favorite (Love Divine, All Loves Excelling). Praising God draws us together and builds community. Praising God is our attempt to articulate the greatness of God and just as there is no limit to God so is there no limit to our opportunities for praise.

Psalm 98 is a song of great praise to our God who is our creator and redeemer, and who continues to care for us in every moment; past, present, and future.  Known as an “enthronement psalm”  Psalm 98 was written during the exile in Babylon.  During a desperate time when Israel’s king and kingdom were no more, Psalm 98 boldly and joyously declares God’s lordship over all creation and sings praise to God for the love and faithfulness of God’s reign.

The psalm has two parts with parallel sections.  The first part, vs. 1-3, has a short invitation to praise with a long explanation about what God has done.  The second part, vs 4-9, has a long invitation to praise with a short explanation about what God will do.

“O sing to the LORD a new song; for he has done marvelous things.” This new song is not just a new piece of music.  It is new recognition of God’s presence with us. We remember what God has done for us and continues to do. Remember that this psalm was written during the Babylonian Exile when Jerusalem had been destroyed, the people conquered, and the elite taken hundreds of miles away to Babylon.  Despite all appearances, the psalmist proclaims “[the LORD’s] right hand and his holy arm have gained him victory. The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations. The LORD has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.” (98:3)  The power of God’s love is victorious over all systems of oppression and evil. And the love and faithfulness experienced by the people of Israel is extended to “the ends of the earth”. We experience this steadfast love and faithfulness every moment of our lives.  When we sing to the LORD a new song, we praise God for what God has done for us and all creation.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.” (98:4) We sing praises with our voices and with beautiful and loud instrument, like lyres, trumpets, and horns, for what God still will do. It doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect, a joyful noise is just full hearted and full voiced. And it is not just us making this joyful noise but the world itself praises God; the vastness of the sea,”Let the sea roar, and all that fills it”; the energy of the rivers,”Let the floods clap their hands”; and the strength of the hills, “let the hills sing together for joy”. Creation’s praise of God can be seen in the awesomeness of an atom and of a sunset, in the power of a volcano and of a hand held during grief, in the complexities of all life; the uniqueness of each human being, the countless species of insects and plants, and the intricacies of flowers or weather patterns. The beauty of creation, the wonder we experience (see/hear/touch/taste/smell) all proclaim the greatness of God whether we lift up praise or not. Can we notice this as we move through our day?  Can we hear creation’s praise and God’s voice speaking back to us in the world around us?

All creation praises God because the LORD is coming to judge the earth.  The LORD “will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.” This judgement is not something to fear but to welcome.  The LORD is coming to walk among us, to guide our footsteps,  and to lead us in the path of peace.  The LORD is coming to bless creation, to sustain our lives and the lives of all people and all nature.

Now in our celebration of the power of praise we cannot ignore that there is much in the world that is broken. People are suffering and dying because of war, oppression, and hatred. Our Environment is sick because of pollution, overconsumption, and greed. Our nation is being torn apart along racial, religious, and economic lines. Our communities are dealing with incivility and distrust.  We are not here to sing happy songs and pat ourselves on the back while pretending that we have no responsibility, no calling to help the suffering and the vulnerable and to strengthen the bonds of respect and community.  We can’t just make ourselves feel good for one hour here and then forget to what we are called the rest of the week.

Praising God empowers us to see all of our struggles, all of the world’s challenges as opportunities to persevere with God on our side.  We praise God for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness and we work for peace and justice knowing that God is greater than us and working with us. We praise God for being with us as we face personal challenges to our families, our health, and our neighborhoods.  We praise God for giving us the hearts and the minds to love others and to care for them.  We praise God for giving us communities to care for us. We praise God for this community! We praise God for our world and for each day which brings us both challenges and blessings. God is present with us, in every moment of everyday and for this we praise God.

This psalm, written during the Babylonian exile when the people of Israel were vanquished and scattered, fearlessly proclaims what Jesus will preach during his ministry.  “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” (Mark 1:14)   “Of course, the most marvelous “thing” God ever did was visit us on earth.  Jesus, by simply showing up on earth, by teaching, touching, suffering, and rising, was and is marvelous.  Jesus is the victory of God, and our only sensible response is to praise.” (James Howell, workingpreacher.org) We know that Christ’s spirit continues to come to us, inviting us to praise God.

In the Acts of the Apostles,  Paul invites the people of Athens to praise God.  He says; “The God who made the world and everything in it….made all nations to inhabit the whole earth and allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him – though he is not far from each one of us.  For ‘in him we live and move and have our being.'” (Acts 17:24-28).  We are invited to join with all creation in singing the praise of our amazing, gracious, generous LORD. May our hearts be filled with praise and joy.

Let us pray,

         LORD of all, we praise you.  Your goodness fills our senses and your graciousness sustains our very beings.  Thank you.  Help us to praise you and to serve you in gladness.  Amen.