Sermon 5 July 2015: “Rethinking praising God”

Text: Psalm 146:1-10

“Praise the Lord; praise the Lord, O my Soul!”  This opening verse from Psalm 146 got me thinking this week: “What does it mean to praise the Lord?” and “What are we praising the Lord for?”  We see professional athletes taking a knee and praying after touchdowns and pointing to the sky when crossing homeplate after a homerun.  And so often, we feel compelled to praise God when we’ve received God’s blessings or after we’ve sensed or experienced God present in our lives.

And I think those, for the most part, are all good reasons to praise God.  But I wonder, is there more to when and what we praise God for?

I mean, what about the harder times, when there seems to be no concept of blessing in our lives or the world we live in?  I wonder what it looks like to praise the Lord in light of black churches being burned.  How do black female pastors receiving death threats praise the Lord? And this past week, my former Executive Officer’s daughter – both he and his daughter are African-American – while shopping in a store was told by some random stranger to “Go back where she came from.”  What does it mean for them to praise God? I wonder what it means to praise the Lord when we think about all the stress in our lives, all the bills that continue to pile up, and those who are getting older just seem to be getting sicker and more frail with each passing year?  What does praising the Lord look like, what does it mean to praise the Lord in light of all that happens to us in the present?

We have this saying about raising corn in Minnesota: “Knee high by the 4th of July.”  What that meant is that farmers, having gotten the corn in by the end of May, and having cultivated between the rows and controlled the weeds through June, the corn should have grown to about knee high, by the 4th of July. Yet there was one little thing the farmers couldn’t control: the weather, specifically, the rain.  The soil being sandier where I grew up, and there not being good sources for irrigation, farmers were at the mercy of the weather.  I remember my dad, listening to the weather reports on the radio where the weatherman would report that rain was in the forecast…..but of course, you never could really predict when it would rain, or how much would fall, and if it would be enough when it did.  And there were years when the corn wasn’t knee high, it was more like ankle high…and there were years it was knee high, but it showed signs of withering in the summer heat as it didn’t have enough rain. All my dad could do is continue to listen to the forecast and occasionally look up to the sky and wait…and hope…..and trust that the rain would fall, and that it would be enough for the corn to grow and thrive.

The psalmist sings praises to God, for a vision of life that brings justice for the oppressed, food to the hungry, freeing the captive, giving sight to the blind, raising up the lowly, and even watching over the strangers, orphans and widows of the world.  The psalmist’s praise is a song really…..of trust.

And that got me thinking: what if praise isn’t so much about our longing for what’s good about the past, but rather trusting in God’s promised future for us in the midst of an uncertain present?  The psalmist today praises God….but that praise isn’t for what God has done in the past so much, but rather it’s praise for the vision of life that God has promised in the future – a good and life-giving future for all people.

Praise looks like trust.  The psalmist turns to God in trust in light of the knowledge that human efforts have their limits. The psalmist trusts that God promises this future…..it will come…..and God alone will make it happen.  And the psalmist praises God, looking forward to this promised future.

The thing about God’s promised future is that while we know it is trustworthy and good and life-giving, we also know that it may not come when we expect it or it may not happen in the way we expect it to.  Trusting like that, praise like that, is certainly hard to do. It’s easier to keep the status quo.  It’s more comfortable to wish and long for the success of the past – the good old days.  Our expectations are much more realistic than God’s….mainly because we know and can control the outcome.

But to trust God, to look to God’s future…..trusting that what God has in store for us is so much greater and beyond what we could possibly imagine.  We trust a God who knows what we need – maybe better than we know ourselves.  We trust, we allow ourselves to be open and even obedient to God’s plans, remembering that words of the prophet Jeremiah, that God’s plans are “for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”

And perhaps such a God, who cares so much about us in our present that God would promise us this future full of hope…..such a God is worthy of our faith; worthy of our praise.  Amen.

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