With all creation celebrate and PRAISE God, as key to mercy grace
|Praise: the key to know God's mercy and Grace
In looking back on of the most confounding mysteries are the moments that stir one to praise God and in the course of them happening lead me to know more about God's love than I ever thought possible.
One of my key stories involves getting so lost in the woods as a youngster that I wondered if I would ever find my way home. It was one of those awe inspiring moments, because I knew it was my fault that allowed me to be in such a predicament. I took it upon myself to show a couple of other children the way to the family well. I was absolutely sure I knew where it was as I fought my way through briars and tripped over branches. Those kids were no fools and after a while they abandoned me. I was faced with my own folly and the panic I felt inside, I cried out for mom and dad and then ultimately I cried out to God and Psalm 148 happened for me. I started listening and looking at all around me that was not disturbed at all by my predicament. The birds still sang, the trees still swayed their majestic branches toward the heavens, the water in the creeks bubbled down from the mountains. You see even if I could not praise God at that moment they could. And it was amidst the praise of creation that I found myself going in the opposite direction I had been. I stopped and listened and heard vehicles and farm machinery, I started walking toward that noise which had a note of praise in itself to a clearing with all manner of ever greens lined up like Christmas trees and I started running because I was no longer on the beaten path, I was as I can recall now as so long ago HOME. At no time was the love for God so clear. Amazing grace how sweet the sound. I was lost and now found.
I have a favorite story that illustrates what I believe to be our own human struggle with remaining in a state of praise. It is a story that you may or may not have heard: "the tar baby". In the story the key character brer rabbit is being sought after by brer bear and brer fox. They are annoyed by how this rabbit can be so happy and determine to make him miserable by putting a tar baby in the middle of the road. When the tar baby does not listen to the rabbit there is frustration and not just once but twice the rabbit hits the tar baby and is stuck. One might say trapped in a world of misery likes company. Brer fox and bear seek to teach the rabbit a lesson he will never forget. Make him suffer. Brer rabbit says: whatever you do don't throw me into the briar patch." Well of course that is what happens and it is in that place brer rabbit is freed of the tar that kept him stuck and joyously rings out to his friends that he is home. It is a lesson we can all take to heart when we get into a similar predicament.
I. In our moments of existential doubts we are called with David to pay attention to the praise that comes out of the heavens.
A. What a beautiful tapestry is painted her by David who is a man after God's own heart. It is beyond clear why victory has happened at so many junctures of life. I think of these moments as mountain top experiences that cause us to want to shout to the heavens with the heavens at how wonderful God is. It is clear that God signature is upon what has happened. We can get in the stuck place and yet looking at the stars and sky and grandeur are reminded of all that God brings us through day by day. David has been called a man after God own heart in the course of Samuel looking for someone who be the next Israelite king. Little did David know the trials that would be ahead that would all but threaten to put an end to his life, his song. Yet listen as he meets up with the giant goliath. He hears the praise of creation, those moments when as shepherd he was lead to rescue the flock with God's help and now is another opportunity to share with the heavens themselves how wonderful God is. The giant is indeed defeated and yet even then David is only on the road to becoming a king. He will need to for more reasons to listen for the praise of God and celebrate with others victory that can only come from God.
B. One of the many seminal moments that I experienced was the event of being baptized when I was a tall six foot one teenager in high school. I had one of those moment of knowing that God had a plan for me. And as time went on I cherished experiences that involved water that reminded me and still remind me of God's favor showered upon me way, as a reminder over forty years ago by that baptismal experience. I am reminded of graduating college and seminary. Against all odds I had succeeded. I had come face to face with my own giant in the form of mental illness and was even told at one point that I would never leave the confines of a state hospital, even though I did nothing to deserve being there. The consolation for me was looking forward to showers and times that I could be out on the grounds and listen for praise that came to me out of the skies, heavens annointing me with hope even when there seemed to be little or none. There was one of those stuck moment. I was given the label bipolar some months before and did my best to manage and yet despite taking care of myself as best I knew how I was in the state hospital running away from Saul, that sense of letting the label of craziness imprison me and keep me from being the person created me to be.
II. I listen out of the depths for the presence of God in creation.
A. David knew this in many forms as he ran from Saul, who was jealous of David and the love that was lavished on David even as Saul was battling his own demons. Their were times in the midst of this that David was summoned to play his harp, so that Saul would feel peace. David knew amidst all the creatures, hiding in caves in the wilderness that God was there and it was in this course that David learned to love even one like Saul who was despised of other people. After all he was someone God loved. He was a person annointed by God. And even as he sought to love Saul he was faced with learning what it meant to have compassion on himself. There was a time that he was watching Bathsheba take a bath and the in a sense took his mind off of God and on to God's creation and used his kingly power to kill a soldier. God held David accountable. It was the story told by Nathan, a prophet that freed David from his lusts. He shared the story about how a rich man took a poor man's sheep and David could see that he was that rich man and from that moment David repented of his wrong. God is with us in those moments when we feel shame. I am bad, and not just doing it. And that was why Jesus came in the midst of God's own briar patch in the form of a cross. It was there that Jesus died for all of us and rose from the dead that we might know the rule of God.
B. My own story follows a similar vein. I found myself caught in moments of infatuation that held me captive, until I learned in the midst of my deepest despair that Jesus loved me. I caught a vision of Jesus on the cross, even as I had been experiencing the blizzard of 1976 in the Boston area, wondering why God was letting me be alive at all. God has a purpose and reason for us all. It is at the cross that we can know Jesus understands. Somethings happen that we do not understand. An example would be a tornadoe or flood that rips our life out from under us. It might even be in the form of sickness or relationship that does not work out like we thought. I am not the man or woman of someone's dreams after all and sometimes it seems to turn into a nightmare without end. Jesus on the cross beckons us to listen to the depths of creation witness. God is ruling and is in control and that is why I can stand before you and preach a sermon on praise. The witness of God's creation will speak long after I am gone. God loves me and all that attend to the praises that come from all creation. As we hear on palm Sunday, even the stones will cry out if we don't at the fantastic things that God has done is doing and will do. Praise God from the heavens and the earth.
III. In the last part of the psalm we celebrate with David the rulership of God that comes with praise.
A. David does become king and yet even that is not enough, for it is in those moments the whole idea of what it means for God's messiah to come in the form of Jesus Christ is being planted in the hearts of men and women. David hearkens us to the messianic moment that includes listening to children and old men. Someone is coming who will speak with all creation in such a way that we can truly understand what it means in Philippians 2, when it says every knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is the elation that David points to. God has a victory and praise to share that we can know for all eternity. The words from the cross speak out father forgive them for they know not what they do. It is this moment we are invited to know God's love as never before for ourselves others and all of creation.
B. It is truly amazing to know that even beyond death there is the continual praise of creation, of the whole universe and all that is in it. I have celebrated as I have been able to work for a time with the intellectually disabled and one of my first friends was someone with cerebral palsy who has such a wonderful passion for God, that one can not help but know God is at work and can work through us despite our own crippledness that we feel inside. So it is my prayer that we attend to those moments that children the elderly and women speak loudest about how God is ruling, giving birth, second chances and life after death experience. Each day I am reminded of a time when I failed and I gave myself over to a second opinion that left me freed to consider what do you want for yourself that might speak most powerfully of love for God.
The praise of creation is ever before us and it is out of those moments that we can not help but to want to praise God. One of my first sermons I shared involved what am I doing here. We all know that distress that Elijah knew when we feel uncomfortable and wonder what God is wanting me to do next. This psalm is a response to this. We are called with the breath that we have left to seek the message of praise, whether it come from the heavens and earth or even people that God has given over to our care. It is the key to knowing the grace of God that will be with us for eternity.
In the July 4th moments let us consider as we open our eyes, ears and hearts how God can set the captive free. Let our life song be our own declaratoin of independence as long as we live, because with God there is hope of better things to come.
Our hymn of invitation: How Great Thou Art