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"Sing a New Song" -- Psalms of Praise -- Psalms 146-150 (7th Sunday After Pentecost)

Updated: Jul 31, 2023

Genesis tells us that in the beginning, the Earth was formless and empty, and God’s Spirit brooded over the waters. And God spoke: “Let there be light.” Light and dark. Night and day. Dusk and dawn. And God said that all this – was good. Then, God stretched out the sky, and separated the land from the waters. Again, all this, very good. God created and shaped plants and trees, and the seasons – stars, moon, and sun – the lights of the sky. God made the waters to teem with living things, birds to fill the air, and creatures to crawl and walk the earth. And God beheld it all, and said it was very, very good.

The Psalms tell us that, when humans arrive on the scene, all creation is already praising God.[1] God brings forth humankind – and we find a world already chock full of the goodness of God. We find creation singing – and then, as one hymn says, we mortals join the mighty chorus that the morning stars began. We arrive... and find creation singing praise.

Let’s listen in to Psalm 148:

1 Hallelujah! Praise God!

Praise God from the heavens; praise God in the heights above. 2 Praise God, all you angels; praise God, all you heavenly hosts. 3 Praise God, sun and moon; praise God, all you shining stars. 4 Praise God, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

5 Let them praise the name of God, for at God’s command they were created, 6 and God established them for ever and ever— and issued a decree that will never pass away.

7 Praise God from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, 8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do God’s bidding, 9 you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, 10 wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, 11 sovereigns of the earth and all nations, all you rulers on earth, 12 young men and women – all people, elders and children.

13 Let them praise the name of our God, for God’s name alone is exalted; God’s splendor is above the earth and the heavens. 14 And God has raised up for the people a horn, the praise of all the faithful servants of Israel,

the people close to God’s heart.

Hallelujah! Praise God!

We find creation chock full of the goodness of God, and we join creation’s singing. Praise is our response to the goodness of God. [2]

I don’t know that we talk much about praise. We do it. We do it all the time – praise – or at least we have the opportunity to do it. Every Sunday, the Call to Worship starts us off with praise; our prayers let us praise; every song we sing.... And, in those moments when we are on our own, and we experience something so much bigger than us, and say, “Wow!” – the world is full of moments of awe that draw forth our praise. We know the experience. But we don’t often stop, and put words to what we are doing.

Maybe, we talk more about praise’s close cousin gratitude. Gratitude is giving thanks – thanks for the blessings of life – thanks for the things that God DOES. Praise is close to that – praise and thanksgiving are never far from each other. But praise is more thanking or acknowledging God for who God IS. God is loving creator – creator of all that is. God is faithful. God is sovereign. God is our Rock and our Redeemer. God is just, and God is merciful. Praise God!

Our praise says who God is, and it also describes how we have come to know God – the broad expanse of how we have experienced God – over time – through the testimony of Scripture all the way up until now.[3] God is the God who rescues those in peril. God is the God who cares for the vulnerable. God is the God who lifts up those held low, who satisfies the hungry with good things, who sets captives free. We praise God’s actions over time – so steadfast and consistent that they are for us a way to say something of who God is. And to give God praise.

Now we don’t praise God for who God is – because God needs it – because God has an inflated ego that needs to be fed. We praise to name and acknowledge God’s goodness in the world, more powerful than anything that does us harm. Ellen Davis puts it this way: “Praise is not concocted flattery, but the most earnest human business we can undertake. We praise God in order to see the world as God does.[4]

We praise God in order to see the world as God does:

· When we say that God created all that is in love, and we then look around the world – we see in every bit of creation that which God longs to sustain and love into thriving.

· When we say that God is just, and we then look around the world – we see unjust systems that cannot stand, that call out for us to dismantle and rebuild.

· When we say that God lifts up those held down low, and we then look around the world – we see the hungry whom God longs to feed, the refugee whom God longs to shelter, all our broken places God longs to heal.

We praise God in order to see the world as God does.

This doesn’t mean, though, that we see the world through rose-colored glasses. Remember, we are in the Psalms – and the Psalms sing the whole of life – and they sing it true. They sing praise – and they sing lament, and longing, and rage, and bewilderment, and quiet calm, desperate fear, the experience of being utterly alone, and the experience of being loved in a community of kindred spirits.

Those moments when we hang our harps up in the tree and weep.

Those moments when God leads us beside still waters.

Those moments when we look into the abyss, and cry out, “Why?”

The Psalms hold all that – but did you know that the Hebrew title for the Psalms – for the whole book – is “Praises?” Our title “Psalms” comes from the Greek for songs; but the Hebrew title Tehilim means praises.[5] Our praises are not separate from the mess and muck of life – they are right there in the midst of it all. The psalms aren’t set out in neat categories – praises here, laments here – they are all mixed in together – all those experiences and emotions – sometimes in the same psalm. And the Hebrew Scriptures call them all together, Praises.

We live and move in the whole mess of life – and we look for and long for the goodness of God – and we sing our praises – so that even in the mess and the muck – and maybe especially there – we can see the world as God sees it – “God’s goodness planted more deeply than all that is wrong.”

Let's listen to how the Psalmist sings that in Psalm 147 and Psalm 149

Psalm 149:1-5

1 Hallelujah! Praise God!

Sing to God a new song, God’s praise in the assembly of faithful people.

2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their Sovereign. 3 Let them praise God’s name with dancing and make music to God with timbrel and harp. 4 For God takes delight in their people; and crowns the humble with victory. 5 Let God’s faithful people rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds.

Psalm 147:1-11

1 Hallelujah! Praise God!

How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise God!

2 God builds up Jerusalem; and gathers the exiles of Israel. 3 God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

4 God determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. 5 Great is our God and mighty in power; whose understanding has no limit. 6 God sustains the humble but casts the oppressor to the ground.

7 Sing to God with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp.

8 God covers the sky with clouds, supplies the earth with rain, and makes grass grow on the hills. 9 God provides food for the cattle and for the young ravens when they call.

God’s pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,

nor their delight in the legs of the warrior;

11 God delights in those who are in awe of God,

who put their hope in God’s unfailing love.

The Psalms sing God’s praise – the world as God sees it – and they come with a particular invitation. They invite us “to sing a new song.”

As I was thinking of teaching the Doxology to the kids this morning, I thought it was a bit odd to refer to the Doxology as “a new song.” We know it is an old song. For some of us, we have known it and heard it and sung it – all the way back to the beginning of our memory. But for them, it is a new song. When we sang it today, when we brought it to life, on this particular day, in our particular voices .. it was... a new song.

Back when I was serving as Chaplain of the Seminary, we had one worship service a week that we called “Worship Lab.” We had four chapel services a week, and at three of those services, we did all the traditional things. But we set aside Thursday chapels to try something new – to experiment. I worked with four student chaplain assistants, and that was their assignment for Thursdays – to design a 30-minute worship service that tries one new thing. So there would be drum circles, labyrinth walks, creating art together in worship.

One week at our worship team meeting, the student designing worship for the week presented their experimental idea for worship. They said, “I want to design a worship service that uses classical music to praise God.” I said, “OK, tell us more.” “Well, we have a lot of gifted musicians on campus – some we don’t even know about – I want to invite them to play classical music – and praise God like that.” That was the experiment.

Now after the meeting, Dan Hoggatt, the Professor of Church Music – and my partner in leading the worship team – pulled me aside and said, “Scott, I need to know that you know. There’s nothing new about classical music in worship. We’ve been doing that for literally hundreds of years.” I laughed and said, “True, but in that meeting it sure felt like we were experiencing something new.”

Psalm 149 gives me language for that moment: What we experienced that day was a new song. Sure, we were talking about what are, literally, old songs. But when that student spoke – and when those musicians played and sang that Thursday – what came to life – what they – what we – did was sing a new song – echoing the music of the ages, that was, at the same time, alive in us as it had never been alive before.

Monastic communities like the Benedictines sing the Psalms new every day – throughout the day – and they have for over a thousand years – the living pulse of their lives – reaching back through the generations gone before, and then stretching forward in hope.

Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, who writes out of the African-American church tradition says that the Black church sings the psalms of praise as what he calls “ritual rejuvenation” – in times of struggle they draw from what he calls “the musical redolence of the Psalms” – lamenting the struggle and pain – and praising God’s power over every power – God’s saving love fresh and alive for this day.[6]

David Tuesday Adamo, who writes out of the African context, reminds us that the Psalms are “words of the dead” – the songs of ancestors who lived long ago – “living, powerful, and present among us” – alive in our life.[7]

For us, the invitation to “sing a new song” is both literal and metaphor – it is an invitation to sing a song – and it is an invitation to live a life. Praise is seeing the world as God sees it and saying “Yes!” – praise is entering into that world and living our life – giving our life – to make it so.

· When we praise the God who binds up the brokenhearted, and then respond to the world with tender mercy, we sing a new song.

· When we praise the God who gives food to the hungry, and then help stock the community fridge, we sing a new song.

· When we praise the God who brings the exile back home and shelters the stranger, and then think how we might provide housing for a refugee family, we sing a new song.

And notice one more thing. Notice that in all this praising, no one is left out.[8] These psalms often begin with one voice, and then the chorus grows. The heavens. And then the earth. The sun, then the moon, then the stars. The birds, then the fish, then the crawling things. The psalmist, and then those who sung with them... adding voices, all the way down to us. All of us, together, praising God to see the world as God sees it – praising God and saying yes to helping God make it so.

So let’s do that together – let’s join our voices together as Jessica leads us in a reading of Psalm 150 – the culmination of the Psalms – and then let’s join together in singing some praise as we move into our time of prayer:

One: Hallelujah! Praise God!

Praise God in the sanctuary;

praise God in the mighty heavens.

All: Praise God for God’s acts of power;

praise God for their surpassing greatness.

One: Praise God with the sounding of the trumpet,

praise God with the harp and lyre,

All: praise God with timbrel and dancing,

praise God with the strings and pipe,

One: praise God with the clash of cymbals,

praise God with resounding cymbals.

All: Let everything that has breath praise our God.

Hallelujah! Praise God!

© 2023 Scott Clark

[1] See W. David. O. Taylor, Open and Unafraid: The Psalms as a Guide to Life (Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2020), p.175. [2] For background on Psalms 146-150 and psalms of praise generally, see J. Clinton McCann, Jr., “The Book of Psalms,” New Interpreters’ Bible Commentary, vol. iv (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), pp. 1257-80; Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger, Psalms (New York, NY; Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp.605-619; Ellen Davis, Getting Involved with God: Rediscovering the Old Testament (Lanham, MD; Roman Littlefield Publishers, 2001); Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Psalms Book 4-5 (Wisdom Commentary)(Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2020); Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, David T. Shannon & David T. Adamo, “Psalms” in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), pp. 220-234. [3] See Brueggemann, pp. 612, 618, our praise expresses (1) “the incomparability of YHWH,” and (2) YHWH’s saving action across history. [4] Davis, p.34. [5] See Taylor, p.95; McCann, p.1259. [6] Murrell, p.230. [7] Adamo, pp.229-33. [8] See deClaissé-Walford, pp.469-72.

Photo credit: Ian Stauffer, used with permission via Unsplash

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