A sermon on Psalm 150 given by the Rev. Justin Clemente at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD on June 7, 2020, Trinity Sunday.
Introduction: The Great Amen
For quite a while, I’ve been listening to the album “Jesus is Born” by Sunday Service. Okay, I’ve been more than just occasionally listening to it. My kids can attest that it has been on blast after dinner quite frequently. Overall, it’s an amazing album of worship, filled with the voices of men and women singing amazing choral music and spirituals, with creative instrumentation, beckoning all to come and praise the Triune God. The last cut on the album is entitled, “Total Praise.” It consists of one word: “Amen.”
It is utterly powerful and when I listen to it, I hear a faint echo here on earth of the mighty chorus that never ends in heaven.
In an even more powerful way, the book of Psalm ends, not with just one “amen,” but five. Psalm 150 is final Amen! to that series of five psalms. It begins and ends with this: hallelujah! That is, praise Yahweh! Praise the LORD! As Tim Keller says, this last psalm presents us with a vision that says It all ends in praise (and I give him credit for the way he has outlined Psalm 150, which we’ll get to in a moment). This vision of praise is for every person, every culture, and every language. It can be received by all who will have it.
What’s amazing to me though, is the way the book of Psalms takes us to this finale. The praise in this psalm doesn’t consist of cheap platitudes. In the book of Psalms, the range of human experience and emotion is given full vent. There is real lament, there is deep sin and open confession, there is terror, there is anger, there is fear, there is the reality of death.
As one writer on the Psalms puts it: “The Psalter knows that life is dislocated. There need be no cover-up. The Psalter is a collection over a long period of time of the eloquent, passionate songs and prayers of people who are at the desperate edges of their lives.” (Walter Brueggemann, Praying the Psalms, pg. 21)
And yet, the message of the Psalms is that, because of the faithfulness and goodness of our God, we can each move from lament to praise. In fact, the message of the Psalms is that we can know history itself will a good ending. That God will set the world to rights, bringing perfect justice, and establishing a world in which righteousness is at home and all evil is forever vanquished.
So would you come with me as we take a closer look at how we can embrace this great Amen, this great movement from the realities of life to praise that we find in Psalm 150 today.
Where is God to Be Praised? (V.1)
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens!
The answer: everywhere. If the first half of verse 1 refers to the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem, the second half either refers to all creation, or, to the worship of the angels in heaven.
God, the maker of all things, visible and invisible, is to be praised and blessed everywhere. Why? Two reasons: one, he made everything, but secondly he alone has entered into Creation as redeemer.
Think of how the Psalms take us here. The Psalms speak of the Messiah, the One who enters into the human condition, bears the weight of sin, becoming Earth’s redeemer.
There’s that famous example in Psalm 22, found on the lips of Christ on the Cross:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (v.1)
And how does that psalm end?
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you. (v.27)
Only the Triune God, the One who, in the person of the Son, dived down into Creation, bringing it back upon his shoulders, is worthy of the worship everywhere and by everyone.
And, he is worthy of praise in every part of our lives – in the home, on Facebook and Twitter, in the street, at work and at play.
Why is God to Be Praised? (v. 2)
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his excellent greatness!
Answer: for who he is and what he has done! When we think upon the blessed Trinity, how can we not be moved to praise? When we think upon the Lord’s mighty deeds and how God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit purposed from all eternity to come and dwell amongst us, accomplishing our salvation and giving us his Spirit, how can our tongue remain silent?
In this time, we must show the world that we can move from lament to praise because of who our God is and what he has done. If we contemplate that, we will be filled with words of healing, words of compassion, words of grace, words of mercy – Gospel words.
It’s been said that the Gospel always comes in Scripture in the words “But God…,” pointing us to how God meets us in our sinfulness, giving us Christ Jesus as our Savior and Lord. “Praise him for his mighty deeds!” is as close as this psalm comes.
Friends, when we think and speak about the events of the past two weeks–the brutal murder of George Floyd and the racism it represents (and we should not be silent here – we’re certainly and rightly not silent on abortion), the justified peaceful protests, the unjustified lawlessness and violence, we must constantly keep the Gospel before our eyes and on our lips.
So when we think about the Lord’s “mighty deeds” in our time, what does the Gospel say to us? It tells us that there is one One who has broken down the barrier. Broken down the barrier by bringing sinners together at the foot of the Cross.
Today, we need to hear the words of Ephesians 2. In the context of the world of the first century, characterized by deep hatred between Jews and Gentiles (that is to say, everyone else), Paul makes this astonishing declaration:
11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. (Ephesians 2:11-18)
Into the hatred, into the anger, into the malice of our world, we bring the mighty deeds of God to bear on our society and we declare that there is another way – the way of the Gospel.
Recently, four of our bishops in the ACNA released a letter entitled “A Letter Concerning the Death of George Floyd and So Many Others.” It was commended by both our Archbishop and Bishop John. Here’s how they put it:
“In the end, our hope is not in our efforts, but in the shed blood of Jesus that reconciles God to humanity and humans to each other. Our hope is that our churches become places where our life together as disciples demonstrates the power of the gospel to bring together the nations of the earth (Rev 7:9).Such work cannot be carried out by one letter written in the time of crisis. We commit to educating ourselves and the churches under our charge within a biblical and theological frame to face the problems of our day. We likewise commit to partnering with likeminded churches in the work of justice and reconciliation.”
Only people who know the mighty deeds of the Triune God can do that.
How should God Be Praised? (vs. 3-5)
3 Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
5 Praise him with sounding cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
What is the answer? In every way! John Goldingay says here that the instruments are those “that would be played by the priests (the horn), by the Levites (harp, lyre, cymbals) and laypeople (tambourine, strings, pipe).” (Psalms 90-150, BCOTWP,pg. 748)
In and outside of the sanctuary, from the youngest to the oldest, the whole people of God are involved in creating a symphony of praise to Almighty God. So, I ask you today, in this time, how you can sound that note of praise that is so missing from our world, using the instruments God has given you (literal or figurative)? How can you make the incomparable beauty and saving deeds of the living God known to others in our day?
An Invitation to All (v. 6)
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Our psalm today ends with open invitation to all to come and praise him. Tremper Longman writes, “Until now, the psalmist has called for praise using musical instruments, but he concludes with the most important instrument of all, the human voice.” (Psalms: Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series, pg. 478)
In short, having shown us where, why, and how God is to be praised, the psalmist now calls everyone to acknowledge who he is. Friends, in this world of lament, only the living God can take us through to praise. Our world is in desperate need of the Lord. Our world knows how to tear down, but now build up. It knows rage, but not how to worship. And as artist Makoto Fujimura has said, “We today have a cultural language to celebrate waywardness, but we do not have a language to bring people back home.”
Friends, we have that language. We can call people home to the Triune God because of who he is and his mighty acts in Christ Jesus. In all we are, in all we do, let us be about that work.
And so we give all praise, honor, glory, and thanksgiving to God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.