Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Last Word On Praise and Worship is an Open Ended Invitation... (psalm 150, Revelations 4:1-11)


We’ve been looking at the last five psalms in a the series called the last word on praise and worship’ and today we come to that last psalm, Psalm 150, and maybe you’d expect that this great book of prayers and songs would finish with some deeply profound statement about God, ‘To Attempt to say something final about God would inevitably be anticlimactic’. Psalm 150 rather continues to summons and call us to worship. It builds into a crescendo of invites , like wave after wave crashing on the shore, praise him praise him praise him and in that crescendo is an open invitation for all to come and hallelujah

And in the end Psalm 150 has to be open ended because how can we put a full stop to the worship and praise of God. To do justice to the mighty acts of God and his surpassing greatness,  is a never ending call on our lives, a never ending task a never ending joy. It’s going to take all of us, all we’ve got and all of time, all of eternity.  The Psalm acts, like the choir in the video we opened the service with, processes us out of the church into the world as they sung it… it opens the door for us to the ongoing life task and privilege of Praising God.

It opens the door by the way it is an open ending to the journey started in the opening psalm.   Psalm1 and psalm 150 are book ends to the five books which make up the collection. Psalm 1 starts us off by talking about how we should live in relationship to God’s word. It is a call to obedience, to put our roots deep and stay rooted in the word of God which is a water source that will not run dry. Psalm 150 finishes that by showing us that such a life is a joy, is a life of praise, of relationship, a spring that bubbles up within us and cannot be contained. Proverbs tells us that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of all wisdom, but we often stay at that starting point, whereas the greatest commandment in scripture is that we ‘love the LORD with all our hearts and our minds and our strength’.  The journey through psalms can be seen as a journey from simple obedience and fear through times of orientation, disorientation and reorientation; through the calm seas and storms of life to trust in and love of God: To drinking deeply and immerse ourselves in the river. Perhaps that is why music is such a large part of this open call to worship because it engages both hemispheres of our brain, the creative and the analytical, our intellect and our emotions,  and with dance our body as well as our minds all of us caught up in the love and worship of God. Our Presbyterian forbears summed this up in the opening question of the shorter Westminster confession… what is the chief end of humanity? To which the answer is to know God and enjoy him always and psalm 150 acts a resounding amen.

Psalm 150 also opens up a life of worship for us by providing some answers to some open ended questions. Open ended questions are those designed to get conversations going, not be cut off with simple one word answers… the Psalm opens us up to the where, why, how, who and when of praising God.

Where should we praise God?…Verse one invites us to see that we should praise God in his sanctuary.  The Jews once understood the sky to be like that TV show under the dome, they believed that the sky, the firmament,  was a dome over us.  You get the idea that the place to praise God is both in his heavenly court; above the dome.  As we saw in our reading from revelations this morning; heaven is full of the praise of the LORD. But also the earthly sanctuary as well, here on earth under the dome… Of course for those returning from exile that was gathering in the temple in Jerusalem, but for us from beyond the cross and resurrection, it is in the body of Christ that we are called to gather. As 1st peter says we are the living stones being built into the temple of God. There is a move today to place gathering for worship low on the list of priorities, to simply say I can do it on my own, but Psalm 150 tells us that praise is polyphonic, symphonic and it starts in gathering together.

But it does not stop there it is open ended everything that has breath is called to praise the Lord. The dome is to vibrate and resound not with people wanting to get out but with people acknowledging the renowned of the LORD.  It goes beyond the gates of the sanctuary… out into the whole of life.

Verse two gives us the why we should praise God? it gathers up all the reasons that had gone before  in the psalms, God’s creation, God’s promises Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God’s bringing his people out of Egypt, settling them in the promised land, his provision, his goodness to individual and to the community, his answers to prayer, his presence in times of lament and trouble, his keeping his word even when it meant taking them into exile and his bring them back from exile and re-establishing them in the land… It sums that all up in “his saving acts of power”. But it does not stop there it leaves the door open for that continuing story, the coming of Jesus Christ, his life death and resurrection, the sending of the Holy Spirit, how the gospel has been passed on and worked out in the lives of individuals and communities, amidst the churn and blur of history, our stories joining the story, our voices joining the choir, as we have come  to know and experience God’s saving acts of power  and as we saw last week in Psalm 149 on to the ultimate victory of the justice of God. All those great acts of power, reflecting the very character and greatness of God, the surpassing greatness of God shown in his love and grace.

Then in verse 3-5 we have a list of how we are to worship the LORD. This is a song for human singers but the focus is on what accompanies those voices. Some people have tried to use this passage to quantify what is in and what is out when it comes to worshipping God. But we need to realise that in these verses is a comprehensive list of musical instruments, the whole orchestra is here. In the ancient near east you only had stringed instruments, wind instruments and percussion. The list is wider now and maybe more wired than stringed but the call is still open, all should praise the LORD.

At the beginning of this series we talked about the worship wars, about what was appropriate music for worship and Psalm 150’s answer to that is simple, bring it all, bring it on. When I was preparing the service this week I went looking for musical expressions of Psalm 150.. I googled it and I was amazed at the depth and variety of hits I got. The Hits just kept coming…  Gregorian chants by Romanian orthodox monks, the Episcopalian choir from New York, various hymns, Hillsong and Vineyard churches, soulful black gospel choirs, rocky upbeat bands, even Hip Hop complete with amazing choreography (We are going to play that one foryou after the service).

But this is not a Cacophony of competing sounds; each instrument plays a part in the worship of God. This is an open ended summons but it is both structured to give it solemnity and gravitas and also bubbling with joy and spontaneity.  The trumpet that is mentioned in verse three is a Ram’s horn, used to summons people to worship. The lyre and harp were instrument used by the Levites and professional musicians to accompany choirs. The tumbrel and dance and strings and pipe are the instruments of the congregation in response to that. There is place for both the formal and informal, the great performance pieces and the sing-a-longs. The happy clappy tap your feet move about and the soaring stilling reflective artistry. And I am sorry James the two lines about the cymbals is not that percussion takes precedence that it is all with a driving beat. Cymbals were used in two ways in worship. To let people know that they needed to listen this next part was important, kind of like the gong at a dinner party or polite clinking of glasses to get everyone’s attention. So they could hear what’s coming next, in this case the word of God. But also to let people know when it was time to respond with a festive shout, which the second cymbal does in the psalm coming right before the call for everything that has breath to praise the Lord.

It echoes our reformed tradition, of gathering confessing and worshipping to prepare us to hear the word then hearing the word read and preached, then responding to the word with praise and mission.

Everything that has breath leads nicely into looking at the who of worship?  We may simply see instruments here and I’ve often heard this called the musicians psalm. But that is not the case, behind the instruments it is a summons to all people to come and worship. The ram’s horn was blown by the priests they are to come and to lead and direct, the lyre and harp were used by the Levites, so yes the musicians were called to come and worship. But the other instruments are the everyday instruments of the people, all of us are called to come and join our joy and creativity in worship.  The timbrel and dance were used by women in festivals and times of celebration. So it is inclusive of men and women to bring who we are to add to the worship. Music and Dance are also an expression of culture and it is an invitation to bring that as well to worship.  In Thailand the church has flourished away from western influences in many of the tribal areas because the main theologians and bible teachers in those areas are choreographers who use traditional dance to teach and preach. The Tokelauan’s similarly have dances that tell bible stories. Sadly they won’t use them in church because the western missionaries said it wasn’t appropriate to dance in church. In the end it is an invitation to all people all that has breath to come and join us in prasing the God who they have come to know... It's a missional call.

Finally it opens up the question of the when of a life of worship?

Maybe for some of us that might be a closed question and the answer is 9:30am on a Sunday morning, for an hour or at least 9:45am for a bit longer when Howard goes on.

But more than that I hope that this morning what you will take away from this is both the importance of gathering and worshiping together and structuring worship into our lives but also that you might be open to the worship of God in the whole of life.

May accept this open invitation to a life of worship, may you step through the open door of psalm 150.
May you be attentive to the rams horn, above the blaring traffic horns, inviting you to see and to know and to acknowledge God’s saving acts and his surprising greatness as you experience them. Now I happened to be day dreaming at the lights the other day and I needed a horn blast from the car behind me to wake me up to the fact that the lights had changed. I did resist returning the traditional hand signal… but we often need the horn blast to wake us up to seeing God’s great saving acts and surpassing goodness. On facebook recently people have been doing a challenge… they are asked to post five things they are thankful for for five days in a row. It is designed to change a person’s outlook… Can I invite you this week to do the same thing… not on facebook (unless you want to) but to take some time each day to actually write down somewhere five things you want to praise God for.

That you may find your feet dancing in tune to the praise of God as you are aware of god guiding your steps as you weave your way through daily life.

That you may hear the cymbals calling you to be quite this is important and to listen as God speaks. That you may hear the cymbals of the spirit call you to proclaim God’s goodness. 

That you may find your life being a psalm a song to God, as Adrian Aldrich says in lifestyle evangelism, our words be the gospel and our love be the wonderful tune that makes it catchy. An open ended invitation for everything that has breath to come know and praise the Lord.

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