Sunday, June 25, 2017

Drinking Deeply From the Psalms: Psalm 100 - Come let us Worship!

Last week, I introduced this series on Drinking deeply from the Psalms. For the better part of this summer, my sermons will be taken from various Psalms. My hope is that we will drink together from the deep and refreshing well that is the Psalms, that these words will be life giving water which hydrates and sustains us, spiritually. It is my request that throughout this summer we all take time to read the Psalms in their entirety in our daily devotions and scripture reading, drawing life from all that Psalms have to say, not just the few from which I have chosen to preach. In my sermon last week I proposed two things about the Psalms. Firstly, the Psalms are our words to God from us. They are words of worship and praise, words of trust and faith, as well as words of sorrow, pain, lament and anger. I also said that there are Psalms for every season of our lives, not just the flourishing and growing seasons, not just the seasons of abundance and harvest, but also the bleak seasons, when everything is falling apart and the world is cold and dark, when it seems like everything is death and destruction.
When I was in grade school I can remember my mother having me memorize scripture. I can remember her teaching me to pray the Lord's prayer, which filled my young mind with the glory and majesty of God. And as with most children there was more one thing I did not quite understand. For instance, I always wondered why we wanted God's eagle to come; “On earth, as it did in Heaven.” The eagle of God must be a pretty amazing thing. I was convinced that it was because of this heavenly eagle, for which we were longing, that my Father liked the American symbol of the bald eagle so much. Sometimes I am still disappointed that there is not some majestic heavenly eagle, which we are calling to alight on the Earth, who will bring us the peace and security that it provides in Heaven .
Not only did my mother teach me the Lord's Prayer, but she also had me memorize two Psalms as well. She taught me the 23rd Psalm, and Psalm 100. Although I loved the beautiful imagery and the flowery language of Psalm 23, I liked Psalm 100 better. It was shorter and easier to remember.
This Psalm comes from the joyful seasons of our life, when we trust in the order of God's universe. They are the words we write, when we know that God is good and the world is full of the wonderful and amazing things God has provided for us. It is a call for us all to come together and worship. Although it is a Psalm of words we say when our lives are full of the good things of God, it is also a reminder to worship God at all times in our lives. The call to worship and praise we hear in this passage is a call we give to ourselves and to one another that is written in the light, when our world is bright and beautiful, but it is also our call to one another and to ourselves that reminds us to worship and praise when our world is dark and bleak. It is a reminder that worship and praise are not just things for the joyful seasons of our life, but worship is our call, praise is our language, even when all the fig trees are bare, all the oxen have died and the world around us is falling apart, and seems to be filled with nothing but death and destruction.
Psalm 100 is a call to worship. This Psalm calls to us, each of us, to all of us, and for all the earth to give praise to the Lord, our God. Within these 5 short verses there are seven instructions we are given. We are to: Make a joyful noise, Worship God, Come sing, Know God, Enter with thanksgiving, Give thanks, and Bless God's name. This psalm calls us to full and well-rounded worship. This is a call to all the people of God to come together and give glory to God.
When I pastored in Mulvane, when the pianist was sick and the music leader could not make it and I led music, accapella, I was always thankful for this Psalm. Actually whenever I sing, I am thankful for this Psalm, because we are not asked to lift our beautiful, angelic voices, and bring before God our glorious harmonies, with tripping, melodies. No we are told that noises will do, as long as they are joyful.
The Wesley brothers, John and Charles, the former being the founder of the Methodist movement from which we as Nazarene's have come, the later being a prolific hymn writer, who wrote some of the most beautiful and theologically sound hymns in our hymn book, both complained that the church people of their day did not sing. Well not so much that they did not sing but they treated their times of worship and hymns singing as a tedious chore which needed to be done, like medicine which must be taken.
When they instructed their people in worship, they told them that the melodic nature of their singing was not of primacy but the joyful heart with which they were to come to worship should come out in the gusto and the heartiness of their worship, even if their physical short comings did not allow it to come out in beauty. In short they told their people that although they could not guarantee that the noises which came from their mouths were things of beauty, they could guarantee that they were joyful, as this Psalm calls for worship to be.
This ties into the next instruction, which is that we should be filled with gladness, a sense of being pleased, at what we are saying and doing, when we worship God. Again this is not a tedious chore, which must be accomplished. It is not a mandated ordinance that we fulfill with all the gladness of taking out the trash. This also ties into what the Wesley brothers said in their worship instructions, saying our singing should be full of life, not as if we are half-dead. Worship is pleasing; pleasing to God and pleasing to us. We should find some amount of pleasure in our worship. It is not only designed to be pleasing to God whom we worship but is to also be pleasing to all those are participating in the worship. Worship is good for the soul, in more than one way.
All this is tied into the instruction for us to come into God's presence with singing. Come before the Lord, filled with joy and gladness singing songs of worship and praise. This Psalm being our words to God, is a Psalm which reminds us not so much what worship is but how we are to worship. The Psalm is not instruction on what songs we sing, or exactly what we do when we worship, stand, sit, lift our hands (either one or two), close our eyes, whatever. We are told about our attitude toward worship. At all times, in all seasons, worship is to be joyful and fill us with gladness. Our songs should be heartfelt and sung from the depths of our being, no matter what the circumstances of our life.
Worship is also does things for us. It helps us know God. At the beginning of service I always pray that as we gather, that we will come to know God that we will know what it means to love God and to be loved by God. Worship does just this, it helps us know God and who we are in relation to God. We are God's beloved people, taken care of watched over as sheep are by a good and kind shepherd who provides for us and leads us.
Because of God's provision we come into God's presence, into God's sanctuary with praise and thanksgiving. And we are to bless God’s name. We thank God for all the great and wonderful things God has done for us and for God's people. And we bless God's name, which is tell others about the goodness and greatness of God.
Worship is not only for God; it not only for us, worship reminds us that there is a world out there, with whom we are to share our God. We are to not only thank God and give God praise for all the good and wonderful things in our lives, but we are to share with others about how good and wonderful our God is. Even our worship is designed to reach out and gather others in. Even as we are called to worship God, we are always reminded that our God is not only our God, for us, but our God is the God of all the earth. And it is part of our responsibility to share with the world around us the goodness and greatness of our God.
In the end that is exactly why we give praise and worship to God. At the end, Psalm 100 reminds us why it is we worship and give praise to God. It tells us for what we are thankful and what it is God has done that is pleasing and has filled us with the joy with which we sing, and give praise. Our God is good; the love God has for us endures forever and God’s faithfulness is to all, generation, after generation, it has no end.
When our lives are full of goodness and wonder, when everything around is us green and growing we give praise to God. With the words of the Psalms, we call to one another and tell each other to come before God with thankfulness, to fill our worship with gladness and the words of or our worship with joy. But Psalm 100, although written with the joyful words of the good times, is a Psalm which also speaks to us in times of sorrow and pain. It calls to us when the land of our lives is barren, when there is no fruit, when the harvest is less than plentiful and it reminds us even when our hearts break and tears fill the days (and nights of our lives), to worship. To dig deep into the well of steadfast love, to remember God’s faithfulness and see that our God is good. It calls for us to come into God’s presence, to gather with God’s people, worship with the remembered gladness, to recall how thankful we have been in the past and give God thanks and praise, and it reminds us although in these dark times we may not be able to bring beauty and wonder to God, that whatever noise we are able to bring can still draw from the deep well of joyfulness God with which God has provided in the past. Our God is good, even when everything seems bad. Our God is loving, even went the circumstances of our lives fill us with anger. Our God’s faithfulness is steadfast even, when everything else in our lives withers, fades, dies and abandons us. God is still there. And for that we continually give God the thanks and praise.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Drinking Deeply from the Psalms: Psalm 1 – Two Paths and a Tree

Psalm 1 – Two Paths and a Tree
One of the first things I learned about the Bible when I was young, was how to find a particular passage, I was looking for. I learned how to navigate the Bible by opening up the Bible and then figuring out if I needed to turn forward or turn backward from that particular place. When you navigate scriptures this way you learn pretty quickly that the Psalms hold a unique place among the other books of the Bible. They are almost, nearly, directly in the center of your Bible. If you open up your Bible to about the center, you will be somewhere in the Psalms. So the first thing I learned when navigating the Bible was whether or not a particular Book of the Bible was before or after the Psalms.
The Psalms are easy to find. Not only are they generally in the center of almost any Bible, but there are 150 of them, which means the book of Psalms if a fairly large book, so even if you are quite a bit off from the exact center of your Bible, if you get somewhere in the ballpark you will find them. Also they are the only book that is made entirely of poetry. It is a rare modern translation that does not print Psalms as poetry instead of prose. The fact that they look very different creates an easy visual guide when one looking for them.
But the unique location and ease with which they can be found among the other books of scripture is not what make them truly unique. All of scripture is the Word of God to humanity. God speaking to us, giving us instruction, guidance, and providing us with our faith narrative. Whether that be the narrative of creation found in Genesis or that of the life of Christ as found in the Gospels. The scriptures are the words of God spoken to us. And although no one can argue that the Psalm are not, also, the Word of God, they are alone among the scripture, in that they speak for us.
The Psalms are our words to God. But they are not merely the words we should speak to God. They are not only words of laud and praise. They are not simply our words of acclamation. They give voice to the words of our hearts, all the things we want to say, as well as all the things we might not dare say. They give voice to the heart of our relationship with God. And like all relationships all the things we might ever say are not always good and kind, and full of wonder and praise. 
The Psalms give voice to ALL the words we might want to say to God. If the scripture is a record God's relationship with humanity, God's continual reaching out toward us in love and friendship, then the Psalms contain the words of our conversation, the dialogue of relationship. But is it is not a one sided conversation. The Psalms are not instruction as some of other scripture is. They are not a record of teachings, commands or warning. That is not dialogue. The Psalms are conversation, and as such they are genuine dialogue, they give us both sides of the conversation of faith. And most uniquely they give voice to our side of the conversation. They give us the entire gamut of faith speech, from profound praise to unspeakable anger and doubt. Worship, praise, thanksgiving, anger, doubt and lament they are all here within these pages.
The Psalms give us language with which to journey through our relationship with God. And that language helps us make it through times of intense faith and appreciation of who God is and what God has done for us. They give us language of praise and thanksgiving when we are feeling grateful for who God is, and thankful for what God has done. But they also give us language for our deepest anguish, when everything is falling apart and the whole world seems to be turning against us. They give voice to our most heartfelt cries of abandonment and hurt. And they give us permission to say ALL the things.
So for most of this Summer, we will drink deeply from the Psalms. I will be preaching from the Psalms. Not all the Psalms, because to do so straight through would take at least three years. So we will look at selected Psalms. I encourage you to spend time to drink deeply from the Psalms yourself. Listen to the words of this book, and allow the words of the Psalms to become your words, because this this is our book, full of our words. I encourage you to read through the Psalms this Summer at least once. Quite a few Psalm reading schedules are out there that allow you to read through the Psalm in a month, find one that works for you and give it a try.
The Psalms are a refreshing stream from which we who drink deeply can find a sustainable source of spiritual drink. One that will provide nourishment along the road of life, which is exactly what first Psalm speaks. It speaks of the road of life.
Just like the famous Frost poem, the road on which we travel has two choices. We in all we do, chose the road down which we will go and by default make a choice concerning which we don't and the road we choose makes all the difference. The Psalmist tells us there is the road of those who delight in the law of the Lord and those who don't. And does more to explain that road by telling us what it is not.
The road of the righteous is not the road of those who take advice from the wicked, of those who follow the path of the sinners or sit in the seat of scoffers, or mockers. If we want to choose the good road, we do not take advice from the wicked. The wicked are those of evil character.
In many superhero movies there is a moment when the bad guy, the person who is evil, the villain, attempts to explain his or her actions to the superhero. Often times, they try to make it sound like what they are doing is good and right, that the course of action they have chosen is truly the proper choice of action. Our super hero being of good and honest character, does not listen to the advice of the one who is evil. Our hero instead turns away from the word of the villian, not heeding their advice and instruction. This is the way it is with the righteous. When those who heed the words of the Lord, when we hear the words of those who are evil, we turn away from what it is they say and instead turn to do the things that are good and right, as laid out by God.
We are also to not follow the path of the sinners. These are those who are known by their behavior. Evil is a state of character, it is a pattern of life. It is played out over time whereas sin, is played out in our individual actions. One is a sinner in one instance or in many, it can be a temporary side trail down which one's life turns, or a wrong road mistakenly taken, or even a divergent path down which one goes, but it is easily remedied by choosing to go back and take the proper road once again. Those who delight in the ways of God do not use the lives of sinners as templates. We do not live as they live, we do not use their actions and their behaviors as a model for our own, they are wandering in the wrong direction, their path will not take us where we want to go.
Nor do we sit with the scoffers and the mockers. In every high school drama there is the table where the mean girls sit. These are the ones who sit and make fun of those around them. They treat others with scorn and use language to lash out and make those round them feel small. Mockers are those who can be recognized by their speech. Their words are used to break down and destroy instead of being used to encourage and build-up .
All of these are known to the Psalmist as the wicked. Those of us who wish to choose the path of God do not follow the path of the wicked. We do not listen to the words of, so called wisdom, and advice of those whose character does not reflect that of God. We do not follow the example of those who continue to disobey the instruction of God, who choose to not live as God calls for us to live. Their lives do no serve as a wholesome pattern on which to base our own. Nor do we listen to the words of those who use speech to degrade those around them. We do not join those around us who use language and speech to tear other down, to speak falsehoods and present them as truth. People who do these things are not the people we follow, use as examples or model our lives after.
Instead we are to be like a tree near a life giving stream. We sink our roots deep in the words of God, listening only to those whose speech build up and encourage. We use as models, those like Paul who calls us to imitate him, as he imitates Christ. And we heed the advice of those whose character reflects the character of God.
If we follow the path of God it makes all the difference. In a land dry and barren we are like a tree planted near clean streams of water. Most trees in a desert and dry land are small scraggly things. They are dry and brown. Their leaves are withered and die, because they are dying. They will not bear fruit in season. But a tree near cool life giving water will flourish. It will be lush and green and it will bear fruit in season. When we draw close to God, instead of being like all the trees in the land around us, we will be like this tree.
This Psalm, being set up as the first Psalm, also speaks to us of the book which is heads. It tells us that this book shows us the right path, that it is the cool stream by which we are to be planted. When we sink our roots deep into the Psalms, when we allow its words to nourish us in all the seasons of life, we will be like a green and growing tree, we will bear fruit in season.
The Psalms are a book for all our seasons. Here in the first Psalm we are given a glimpse of the grace which the Psalms offers us not only in times of joy but also in times of hurt, dismay and sorrow. In each year there are four seasons. Only one season is the season of harvest. We are trees who bear fruit in season. We are not required to bear fruit in all seasons (that’s ridiculous). Some seasons are marked by abundant harvest and the joy of God's faithful provision as a fruit tree in Summer. Some seasons are marked by grace filled growth in which we produce new leaves and grow new sprigs or give forth fragrant flowers, like a tree in Spring. Other seasons of life are not as hopeful. We may break forth in a flourish of color or our lives may seem barren and cold. Fall and Winter are seasons as well. They are a part of life.  Times of miraculous provision of growth and gratefulness are not the only seasons of life. Seasons of lament, of sorrow, of brokenness and pain, and seasons of anger and even wrath during which we lash out against God. The Psalms lead us beside still waters and they scream with us out of our depths, they accuse God of abandoning us to our enemies, to death and destruction. All of these are seasons in life, the seasons of growing and flourishing tree. The Psalms gives space for all of the seasons of life.