Saturday, August 16, 2014

Calling the Whole Of Creation To Join Us In Worship Of the Sovereign Savior. (Psalm 148, Romans 8:18-25)

You know sometimes you can get discouraged by numbers in Church… or the lack of them.

You can become aware of the empty seats about you rather than full lives and full hearts.

You can feel like a remnant, the last few

Out of step and out of time,

Out of kilter with a world that has other Gods that seem so much more powerful and persuasive.

It’s easy to wonder if it is all worthwhile.

In the end does it make a difference… what good does it do…

If you’ve ever felt like that then Psalm 148 is for you

Psalm 148 was written to encourage a group who felt just like that. The remnant who had come back to Jerusalem ‘The politically insignificant people of Israel simply a vassal state under Persian rule.’ In the book of Ezra it tells us when they were called to give a festive shout a Hallelujah as they celebrated the reestablishment of the altar of the temple, they wept instead because it seemed so small, so unlike it was back in the day… they were aware of the rubble and the empty places.


This series is called ‘the last word on Praise and Worship’… not because we are about to close it all down, box it all up and bury it in some dusty archive… or that we arrogantly have the definitive word on Worshipping God, but because we are looking at the last five songs and prayers in the book of Psalms that start and finish ‘Hallelujah’.. Five Songs that round off the soundtrack for the journey of the people of Israel from its high point under the reign of David, through times of trial and trouble, defeat and exile and finally to the restoration of Jerusalem and the reestablishment of temple worship.  Not to an end point but the place where the Hebrew Scriptures rest and turn and wait for fulfilment with the coming of the messiah: A soundtrack that acts as a wonderful overture to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Psalm 148 is a hymn of praise. While it follows the usual pattern of such songs with a summons to praise leading to reasons to praise, there is something unusual about it. It’s long on summons and short on reasons. It seems a bit out of place, this long call to worship would be better suited to the front of the book not the back. But as I said before it is there to provide encouragement for a small worshipping community, the remnant that had come back to Jerusalem and it does it two ways. In the long exhaustive roll call, and the surprising reason that is given for this universal call to praise.


Let’s have a look at what the roll call has to say to us.

Isaac and I are off to the second Bledisloe cup match at Eden Park next week, we booked our tickets about a month ago and even then we had a limited range of seats available. So we are sitting up the top of the exposed west stand… but we got tickets. It’s going to be a sell out.

This Psalm speaks to the remnant in Jerusalem and says that when it comes to worshipping God, there are no empty seats it’s a sell out from the nose bleed seats at the top of the stand to those buried at the back on the lowest level. When we gather to worship God it’s a sell-out. From the highest of heights to the depth of the sea. From spiritual beings and vast celestial bodies to the creepy-crawlies all are summons to give praise to their maker.

The Psalm breaks this universal call into two groupings to express this universality of praise. The first six verse focus on the heavens and the second focus on the earth below. I tried to pick that up in the image we used for our service this morning. One of the places I feel closest to God is the wild west coast beaches, I don’t often get out there as much as I’d like, but when I was younger i used to go out in the evenings two or three times a week during summer. You could walk under the stars, and in summer your feet on the wet sand would set off a series of sparks and the crashing waves would glow
with the florescence of the
Phytoplankton that came down from the tropics in the warm sea currents. Both the vast distant gas bodies and the small single celled plants radiating and showing glory to God; In the heavens above and the earth below from greatest to smallest.

We are not alone, when we worship God we are joined as John Goldingay puts it by ‘the music of the stars and the swish  of the water, the bellowing of the sea creature and the howl of the wind, the laughter of Children and the gossiping of old people (which he mean in a good warm hearted companion way  not malicious rumors)” all praising God as they do the things they were created to do. When we join together to worship God and give him praise we are not alone, our praise is joined by the whole of creation. In fact we are at the center of what the whole of creation is called to do.

This roll call of worshippers also acts as a polemic a theological statement about power. Science may have helped us understand the universe but In the ancient near east the sun and the moon and the stars were worshipped as deities; it was they who were seen to control the movements and the fate of humanity, here as in Genesis they are simply seen as objects that give God glory as they go about the rolls and tasks they were created for. To use the words of Rudolph Bultmann they are demythologised, stripped of their narrative power and become simply well-crafted creatures that reflect the power of their maker. Likewise with the spiritual realm, angels are mentioned by their roles in creation, simply as God’s messengers and host or army, the means by which God achieves God’s purposes. It’s interesting that the scientific amongst us might be concerned at the mention of the waters above because it reflects the false understanding of Ancient near eastern cosmology that there was a fresh water sea above the sky where the rain came from, But even in that we can see that our understanding of the universe is also called to give God glory and as we understand more and more of how it works we understand the craftsmanship and glory of the creator. The song of praise is more wonderful and complex than we had imagined.

This process continues in the second section as well down here on earth. We may have charted the depth but for the Hebrews the sea and the depth and the sea monsters were seen as powers of chaos. But again they are demythologized and simply called to worship the creator. The wild wind and winter storms as we saw in Psalm 147 last week come and go at God’s command, here they are seen to join the choir as well. Even the powerful rulers and kings of the world are called to come and to worship God. To recognize God’s sovereignty, they are not allowed to do their own thing in the corporate boxes in the arena of worship but to join all people, from children to the old, in worshipping God for his great power.

In a lot of conversations I have with people at the moment there is a lot of disquiet and worry about what is going on in the world: Concern over conflicts in far off places, worry about the wild and unpredictable weather, climate change. We need to hear the words of this psalm about God’s sovereign power that these things to are called to worship their creator. When it comes to the way we treat creation seeing it all as a fellow worshipper, sitting in the pews and singing in the choir with us may actually change the way we treat it. Worshipping and acknowledging God’s sovereignty is a prophetic act that speaks to the powers in this world reminding them of a greater power, a just and righteous God.

The roll call starts in verse one in the highest of heights and finishes in verse 13 by saying that God’s splendor is above the earth and the heavens. The whole of the universe is seen as joining us in worship. Then the psalm takes a surprising direction its second encouragement comes from the reason it gives for all creation to praise God in its final verse. That is God’s goodness in saving and restoring his people. 


Israel may feel alone may feel small weak vulnerable, but the whole of creation is called to give God glory for the way he has bought them back from exile to worship him.  The high point of God’s sovereignty and power in creation is not the vastness of the universe, or the snowcapped mountain vista, or the rolling waves but God’s saving grace. All the powers that Israel may have seen arrayed against them are called to worship God for the fact that despite them God has restored his people.


To raise up a horn was a way of talking about strengthen them. But in other places it also has the idea of raising up a savior for them as well. The NIV uses this wonderful phrase ‘the people close to his heart’ to finish talking about Israel. What a wonderful image for us…This picks up the Hebrew which can be interpreted in two ways…either the people who draw near to God, refereeing to the special relationship that Israel has with God, that they are invited to lead and to call the whole of creation to worship the God who loves them, but equally it can mean the people that God draws close to and talks of the act of God coming near, God coming down to save and to restore. The thing that is to leave Israel and the whole of creation open mouthed  and awestruck is that the mighty sovereign of all creation would draw near to do such a thing, to use that power to save his people.

 Paul picks this up in the passage we had read in Romans 8, and sees it fulfilled in what Jesus Christ has done for us. He tells us that the whole of creation waits holding its breath or panting in anticipation at God revealing his beloved children. The completion of God’s saving work shown to us in Jesus Christ. That the whole of creation joins us in worship and waits to give a special hallelujah because in Christ for us also God has drawn near and invites us to draw near to his heart.

On Friday I went to lunch with the Maungarei Ministers Association,  the gathering of the ministers and pastors from Churches from the area around Mt Wellington, and I heard the story of one of the pastors who had been saved out of a gang background, Battered and bruised fearing for his life he had called out in a hotel room bathroom ‘God if you are real help me’, and his life had turned round. Everyone was amazed and our hearts filled with praise for God. Yesterday I went for a walk … It wasn’t a walk along the iron sands of the west coast but rather down through the hustle and bustle of Newmarket and into the city, then up Queen Street and down again and back home on the train. Not alone in creation but walking amongst the amazing array of people in our city. People that God made, people that God loves, people God wants to come and experience and know his saving grace. In these two events I saw the reason that Psalm 148 gives to our worship and praise of God. It does have a purpose and a reason, not only because God is worthy, but in proclaiming the power of the creator shown in what Jesus has done for us. There is the hope that the empty seats around us maybe filled as people hear of God’s goodness and power and come to know it for themselves. Israel’s story was missional, inspiring creation to praise God, our story is missional as our vision statement puts it  “inspiring others” to join us.. in knowing following and worshipping Jesus. To use a very New Zealand metaphor we act called to act like the pointers those two bright stars in our southern sky that point to the cross.
So beloved let us not be discouraged let’s join our voices with all of creation to hallelujah.

Hallelujah to sovereign king of all creation

Hallelujah to the one who in Christ draws near to save

Hallelujah Christ is at work in the world to strengthen his people

Hallelujah…Christ is bringing people to know and worship him,  

Hallelujah?... hallelujah

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