Dr. Anne M. Cameron
January 23, 2011
Lake Highlands Presbyterian Church
This is the third week of our series, Praying the Bible. We've been looking at the psalms for the past two weeks; we conclude this week with psalms of praise. At least 25 psalms could be characterized as predominantly psalms of praise-but we see praise of God somewhere in nearly every psalm! 113 out of 150 psalms have at least one line that praises God.
You may have noticed in your Bible that there is often an introduction to the psalm. Sometimes this tells you something about who was thought to have written the psalm. These introductions were added long after the psalms were compiled, and they were probably done by more than one editor. Often we see this ascription: "For the Director of Music."
There is a strong connection between singing and praying underlined in the psalms. We would do well to pay attention to this, because there is enormous truth to the observation, "He who sings prays twice."
Martin Luther wrote "the word Psalter originally referred to a musical instrument. It was first used as a designation for a collection of prayers which were offered to God in the form of songs.1"
Peyton gave me a quick course on the music of the psalms on Wednesday afternoon. He rattled this off right off the top of his head, and I know he wasn't using notes because he was in his car! Originally (he said), the psalms were sung, but we have no way of knowing the tunes, because the psalms were being sung long before musical notation existed. Most likely the psalms were memorized according to a number of set tunes that people knew. This would have made it easier to memorize them.
At the time of the Reformation, John Calvin felt we needed to get back to basics in terms of church music. Calvin strongly advocated that the only music that should be sung in church would be psalms, which were sung in unison. Calvin also made sure psalms were sung in the language of the people, so people could understand what they were singing. Sounds pretty basic to us, but it was revolutionary at that time.
1 Praise the LORD.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
4 He determines the number of the stars
and calls them each by name.
5 Great is our Lord and mighty in power;
his understanding has no limit.
6 The LORD sustains the humble
but casts the wicked to the ground.
7 Sing to the LORD with grateful praise;
make music to our God on the harp.
8 He covers the sky with clouds;
he supplies the earth with rain
and makes grass grow on the hills.
9 He provides food for the cattle
and for the young ravens when they call.
10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
11 the LORD delights in those who fear him,
who put their hope in his unfailing love.
Praise the LORD.
When you love someone, you sing their praises. Or at least, you should. Think of your loved ones, your children, your nieces or nephews. Do you ever tire of telling of their latest milestone or their antics or their achievements? When you love someone, you count your blessings. You count all the ways they are good. You count all the ways you love them, and you look for more ways. "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways" says the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. "I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach. . ."
Superlative words for the one who is loved. So says the poet Browning, and so says the poet psalmist.
We sing praise to God because it's right. It feels good. We were created for this.
In Psalm 147, we see a connection being made. The psalmist speaks of God's concern for people: specifically, the oppressed, the exiles, the brokenhearted, the wounded, and the humble. And the psalmist speaks of God's power and providence. God is praised as both deliverer and creator. Both are emphasized equally in this psalm (even in the parts of the psalm we did not read). Let's look more carefully at the words of this psalm.
Verse 4: He determines the number of stars and calls them by name.
"Carl Sagen once famously suggested that there were 'billions upon billions' of stars in the universe. But according to a new assessment by Yale astronomer Pieter van Dokkum and his colleagues, Sagen's estimate was way too low. At the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, the astronomers discovered that hard-to-see stars called red dwarfs are far more common than anyone realized. The new stellar count, reported in the journal Nature, is 300 sextillion- 3 followed by 23 zeros" 2
This number is simply mind boggling, and so is God. Next let's look at
Verse 6: The LORD sustains the humble but casts the wicked to the ground.
I share with you a story I read in Alive Now, from last year.
The Commission brought an elderly black woman face to face with the white man, Mr. Van de Broek, who had confessed to the savage torture and murder of her son and her husband a few years earlier. The old woman had been made to witness her husband's death. The last words her husband spoke were "Father, forgive them."
One of the members of the Commission turned to her and asked, "How do you believe justice should be done to this man who has inflicted such suffering on you and so brutally destroyed your family?"
The old woman replied, “I want three things. I want first to be taken to the place where my husband's body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial." She stopped, collected herself, and then went on, "My husband and son were my only family.
I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van de Broek to become my son. I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out to him whatever love I have still remaining with me.
And finally, I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so, I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van de Broek in my arms, embrace him, and let him know that he is truly forgiven.”
The assistants came to help the old black woman across the room. Mr. Van de Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, fainted. And as he did, those in the courtroom---friends, family, neighbors, all victims of decades of oppression and injustice----began to sing, "Amazing Grace." 3
It is just such amazing grace that the psalmist sings of here: His delight is in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.
This psalm puts together creation and redemption. The force that drives the universe, the God who counts and names 300 sextillion stars, is not just something out there up there, something way back when in the days of Hebrews climbing temple steps, but someONE we know. SomeONE who is here. Who is now.
God is the same power that heals the broken hearted and casts the wicked to the ground. God is the same power that sustains an elderly woman and makes it possible for her to reach out in love to the man who murdered her husband and son. God is the same power that reaches into our lives today-NOW---and gives us strength to continue, the same power blesses us with friends and family and reasons for being, reasons for loving, and reasons for counting the ways.
This psalm of praise not only expresses our praise, but gives us hope.
Hope that is not only the power behind the universe, hope that is not only someONE awesome and beyond imagining, but hope that is personal.
Hope has a personal face that is turned toward us in love, a personal face who calls us to obey and to fear, a personal face who not only forgives us but makes it possible for us to forgive--- a personal face who most strangely of all calls us to love.
When we think about this, how can we keep from singing God's praise?