Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | June 9, 2013

2013.06.09 “Psalm 146 – Praise All Our Days”

Central United Methodist Church

Psalm 146 – Praise All Our Days

Pastor David L. Haley

June 9th, 2013

Psalm 146


Psalm 146 (Grail Version)

Alleluia! My soul, give praise to the Lord;

I will praise the LORD all my days,

make music to my God while I live.

Put no trust in the powerful,

mere mortals in whom there is no help.

Take their breath, they return to clay

and their plans that day come to nothing.

They are happy who are helped by Jacob’s God,

whose hope is in the LORD their God,

who alone made heaven and earth,

the seas and all they contain.

It is the LORD who keeps faith forever,

who is just to those who are oppressed.

It is God who gives bread to the hungry,

the LORD, who sets prisoners free,

the LORD who gives sight to the blind,

who raises up those who are bowed down,

the LORD, who protects the stranger

and upholds the widow and orphan.

It is the LORD who loves the just

but thwarts the path of the wicked.

The LORD will reign for ever,

Zion’s God, from age to age.  Alleluia!

Once a farmer was driving down the road, when he saw a sign that said: “Mule for sale.” So he decided to stop and have a look at the mule to see if the mule was worth buying.

The owner of the mule told him it was the fastest mule he’d ever owned, but it was different. It had been trained by a very religious man, who trained it to go, on the command of “Praise the Lord.” The more you yell it, the faster the mule will go.  And further, that the mule would only stop on the command of “Hallelujah.”

The farmer decided to give the mule a test ride to see if the owner was telling the truth.  He got on the mule and shouted, “Praise the Lord,” and off they went. And he yelled, “Hallelujah!” and the mule stopped.

Now that he was some distance from the owner, he decided to see just how fast the mule would go, and began to yell, “Praise the Lord,” repeatedly. Until he looked up and saw a cliff ahead, coming up fast.  Except now he can’t remember, what “stop” is.  So he starts yelling every religious phrase he can think of: “Amen! Glory Be! Sweet Jesus. Amazing Grace! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” He’s almost at the edge of the cliff when he finally remembers, “Hallelujah!”

The mule stops in his tracks, inches from the edge of the cliff.  The farmer, out of breath and shaking from fear, wipes the sweat from his brow, looks up to heaven and says, “Whew! “Praise the Lord.”

If you can appreciate this joke, it may be because of today’s Psalm and the four which follow – Psalm 146 through 150 – with which the Book of Psalms ends.  Each of these five Psalms begins and ends with the plural imperative phrase, “Hallelu Yah,” from which we get our word,“Hallelujah,” which means, “Praise the Lord.” So you may not have known it, but you know some Hebrew after all. Yes, these phrases which we know and use (whether or not we ride mules), come from the Hebrew Bible.  They had it first!

It is because of the Psalm’s centrality, in both Judaism and Christianity, that I began this series over this summer. Not only that I might learn more about the Psalms myself, but to help you learn more about the Psalms, to understand why they are so important for our public and private worship and prayers, and to help you draw upon them in your worship and in your prayers. Each week we’ll learn something about one psalm in particular, but also the book of Psalms in general. So before I turn to today’s Psalm, Psalm 146, let me recount briefly what we learned last week.

As the hymbook and prayerbook of Israel, the Psalms are 2,500 to 3,000 years old, originating before, during, and after the Davidic monarchy, around 1,000 B.C.E.

– In the Hebrew Bible, they fall under the third important division, after the Law (Torah) and the Prophets (Nabiim), in that section known as the Writings (Kethubim). In our English Bible, the grouping is different; the Old Testament is divided into: Law, History, Poetry, and Prophecy. The Psalms fall under poetry, which we’ll learn more about over the course of the summer

– Finally, we learned that while the Psalms have been used in the worship and prayer of Judaism and all forms of Christianity, in Protestant churches, the Psalms, more than anything else, have been the inspiration for almost all of our hymns . Each week I’ll try to give an example.

On this second week of the series, we are doing what we are not supposed to do, which is to jump to the end to see how the book of Psalms ends. But since the Book of Psalms is an anthology rather than a narrative, I don’t think the literary police will come to arrest us.

How does the book of Psalms end? Guess what: it ends in praise!  While – as we know already from reading and praying the Psalms, and will see week by week as we study them, the thoughts and feelings and prayers we encounter in the Psalms express the entire range of human emotions, from good to bad. And yet, as one scholar has said, if there is any master narrative to the Psalms, it is from lament to praise. (Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms.)  While the first of the five books which make up the book of Psalms begin with lament (as we will see next Sunday), today we learn, the book ENDs in praise.

When the ancient rabbis named the anthology that we know as the Book of Psalms, they called it Sefer Tehillim, the Book of Praises. Indeed, that is the dominant theme of the greatest of the Psalms, such as Psalm 146 through 150: a rapturous praise, a deep exuberant gratitude for being here. (Stephen Mitchell, A Book of Psalms: Selected and Adapted from the Hebrew, page xiii)

“Praise the Lord,” Psalm 146 tells us:

“Praise the Lord, O my soul;

I will praise the LORD all my days,

make music to my God while I live.

       Does that sound familiar? It should; we just sang it: “I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath,” by the English hymnist Isaac Watts (1674–1748). Up to Watts time, following the Puritan Revolution in England, hymn-singing had consisted of metrical singing of the Psalms. Watts was to change that tradition, with the writing of “new poetry,” such as this hymn inspired by Psalm 146.  Charles Wesley would take that one step further, not only with new poetry, but new tunes, including “popular” tunes.

By the way, our dear old Daddy, John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, sang “I’ll Praise my Maker While I’ve Breath,” on his deathbed, on March 2nd, 1791, almost to his final breath.  That’s why it occupies the No. 2 position in the United Methodist Hymnal, only after “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.”

One of the reasons the Psalms retain such power, I believe, is that though we may not know exactly where, when, or by whom they were written, or what long-lost music they were sung to, at some point some person, with faith and emotion similar to ours, sat down and expressed in an enduring way the exultation of his or her heart.  Though they lived long ago and far away, though they been different from us, though they spoke a different language, but over the centuries his/her desire to praise God still rings true, not only for Isaac Watts or John Wesley, but still for us today.

Because, as people of faith, there are times when we want to sing God’s praise.  It’s not just the big times of life, when we fall in love or at the birth of our children or when we stand on top of Mt. Ranier. Sometimes it’s on a day to day basis (like when the mule doesn’t go over the cliff)! As children, we express it with our bodies. But as we get older, and our inhibitions increase, we may feel less inclined to express the praise we may feel in our hearts. As one woman said in a comment to a new contemporary hymn of praise, “This song just makes me want to go in the bathroom and sing praise!” I think we know what she means: while we may not always be comfortable breaking out into song in public,  “How Great is Our God” never sounds as good as when I sing it in the shower.  You too?

Psalm 146 goes on to give us cautions and commendations of where to place our faith. The caution is not to put our ultimate faith in the powerful, whether Presidents, Popes, or politicians.  Why? Because they are, after all, mere mortals like us, whose breath comes to an end, whose bodies turn to dust, whose plans come to nothing.

If we haven’t learned by now not to put our ultimate trust in the powerful, then we are still coming of age.  As James Luther Mays wisely notes, “The hymn does not say that leaders are unnecessary or not useful. It does warn against trusting them for salvation.”(James Luther Mays, Psalms (John Knox, 1994), 440.)

In constrast, says Psalm 146, the reason we should put our ultimate trust in God, is because God is ALWAYS working – not for the wealthy and powerful, but for the poor and powerless. In contrast to those who put their trust in mere mortals:

“Happy are those helped by Jacob’s God,

whose hope is in the LORD their God.

Because not only did God make the heavens and the earth,

The LORD keeps faith forever,

and is just to those who are oppressed.

God who gives bread to the hungry,

And sets the prisoners free,

the LORD gives sight to the blind,

and raises up those who are bowed down,

The LORD protects the stranger

and upholds the widow and orphan.

The LORD who loves the just

but thwarts the path of the wicked.

Do you see why the prophetic faith of ancient Israel was so powerful and enduring? Because as far back as 3,000 years ago, they had the chutzpah to say that God was on the side of the poor and powerless, and they praised God for it. Maybe because as a nation and a people, they were so often poor and powerless. In the light of this, does it make more sense why Jesus lived the life and ministry he did, with his “friends in low places?” This is the faith we have inherited, and explains not only why we should be in ministry with the poor and powerless, but why we, too, should still be praising God for it.

On May 18, 2011, Krista Tippett, on her radio show on National Public Radio, On Being, spoke with renowned Old Testament scholar, Walter Brueggemann, who not only looks like what we think an Old Testament prophet might look like, he actually is a contemporary prophet. In it, he demonstrates his passion to use these ancient texts such as Psalm 146 to guide our modern experience.  This part, which was not broadcast, is still available to see and hear:

       [Readers:  Here you have two options:  The first – which I recommend, if it is possible for you – is to go to Vimeo and watch the video:  Note: The particular segment I am referring to, which was not a part of the broadcast, begins at about 58:45 into the program, near the end.)  If this is not possible, I have included a transcription of Krista Tippett’s questions and Walter Brueggemann’s responses below.]

Krista Tippett:   I would love for you just to read just a little bit more, a Psalm that you love right now, you know, something, maybe a couple of readings that you love for whatever reason.

Walter Brueggemann:  OK.  Part of Psalm 146: “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;  who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry;  the Lord sets the prisoners free, the Lord opens the eyes of the blind,  the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous, the Lord watches over the stranger, he upholds the ophan and the widow . . . and then he adds this: “But the way of the wicked he will bring to ruin (laughs wickedly) The Lord will reign forever, your God O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!”

Krista Tippett:  What does that say to you”

Walter Brueggemann:  Well, it contrasts – the verses that I didn’t read – contrast people who trust in God with princes, who trust in themselves. And then this is a recital of who you’re trusting in if you trust God, and it’s the God who sustains the world, who looks after the vulnerable, and who makes the world a livable place. And then that last line, “The way of the wicked he brings to ruin,” I take it, are when we act to make the world not a livable place. Those are the wicked and uh . . . they don’t have any future. (laughs wickedly again)

And then I’ll do one other. The book of Psalms ends with these outrageous doxologies: “’Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and cedars, wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth, young men and women alike, old and young together!’” (Psalm 148)

It’s an image of all creatures joining in doxology. I love that to think that sea monsters . . . I don’t know . . . if sea monsters howl, or how they express their faith but it’s an early form of (Brueggemann sings): “All creatures of our God and King.” The whole world is coming in doxology and I just think it’s wonderful!”

What if we joined not only Psalm 146, not only the last five Psalms, not only the book of Psalms, but with all creation, in living lives of doxology to God? It was Saint John of Chrysostom, who while being drawn and quartered, was said to have exclaimed. “Praise, praise for everything. Thanks, thanks for it all.”  Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord.  Amen.


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