Praise the LORD!
Praise, O servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD!
2 Blessed be the name of the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore!
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the LORD is to be praised!
4 The LORD is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
5 Who is like the LORD our God,
who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 113 ESV)
Our psalm for today –Psalm 113 –you can go over it in the bulletin / hymnal –seems very much a praise psalm where the psalmist is calling the faithful –those hearing it, reading it, or singing it –to acknowledge God and praise him. It makes claims about God that the faithful of any deity claim –that their god is worth following. Please note that I didn’t say that all gods are good or loving or kind –those are things that we have become accustomed to thinking about God –but the ancient world and even people today want their god or gods to be, above all, powerful –to be the ‘top trump’ God, to be the ‘last one standing’ God –and his personal characteristics are not as critical. In the same way that we might prefer the airline pilot with the best skills, experience and competence but who is a slime in his personal life over the airline pilot with mediocre –just passed –skills, experience and competence but who is thoroughly decent Christian person –so people usually come to know and follow religion and God for the benefits. And that is why a God is praised.
So this psalm calls people to praise God all day long because God is above all the nations (with their own gods) –he is so high above even other religions’ gods that he peers down onus all. And this God raises the poor and lifts up the needy, brings equality of station in society –the prince and pauper type of thing –and even gives a barren woman a home full of children! Praise the Lord! Ergo, you here must be confident your God is the top God. You are not poor or needy. And you have families that make you joyful.
Are you putting your hand up to say,’ ‘Yep, that’s me!’?
Are you looking around and seeing everyone fitting this description?
Or are you saying, ‘That was me –once’? Or ‘I hope that’s me in the future’? Or are you looking around and saying, ‘That fits him and her and her and them but that doesn’t fit her and her’?
What do we do with psalms that tell us to praise God for things we’re not sure he’s done?
Welcome to the real life situation of people wrestling with religion, with God, and with every day real living! It can be hard when the God we hear about or the passage we read doesn’t square with our situation.
So what do we do? Firstly, we need to think about whether all of the Bible applies to us all the time? We can read what the Bible is saying but the question to ask is ‘What is the Bible saying to me right now?’. Since I’m male verse 9 about the barren woman having children, doesn’t apply to me directly but it might if I am married and we have difficulties conceiving. Or I might read it as a message to me that God cares for people –just as he did for Hannah to whom God gave the son, Samuel, and after him, Hannah had three more sons and two daughters.
So should I delete verse 9 because it can’t ever directly apply to me? That’s the issue! Do I pick and choose which Bible passages apply to me andthen chuck God away if the Bible passage doesn’t work for me? Or do I receive the Bible –all of it –the library of 66 books written over 1,000 years –as God’s Word which reveals who my God is and my relationship to this God and to the world around me?
There are Bible passages of healing or miracles but I mightn’t be healed today or get that miracle. But someone else in the congregation might raise their hand and say, ‘God helped me this week’. Or if I am honest and remember things, I might recall when God has healed me and did something miraculous for me. The Bible verses are true –and yes, that’s a faith statement –it is always a question of how are they true for me today? And that’s the people who wrestle with God, Jesus, religion are really asking. They want to know the story –the big picture –and then how these verses or chapters ‘fit’.
Psalm 113 is special in Judaism. It is the first of the Hallel psalms –which are Psalm 113 through to Psalm 118 and they are read alltogether or in sections at special occasions eg. the Passover, the Festival of Weeks (our Pentecost), and the Festival of Tabernacles. So the community and especially the family read these psalms to praise God. These are the psalms we believe Jesus and the disciples used at the Passover Meal which Jesus changed to our Lord’s Supper or Eucharist –which means thanksgiving –and for which we particularly thank Jesus because he has made himself personally close to us –individually, intimately through bread and wine.
Special as these psalms are, I think we can imagine Jewish young people who said the words but wondered where God was in their history? They said the words but where was the proof over the centuries of moving, pogroms, and last century the most horrific –the Holocaust?
And we can understand such thoughts. We may have had them ourselves.
Thispsalm begins the story ofwho the God of Israel is and why should he be praised and when you also read Psalm 114 through to Psalm 118 you get a landscape, a tapestry, the big picture, a whole of life, whole of a nation perspective and this God is revealed to be a God ofrescue, a God of faithfulness and a God whosesteadfast love endures forever.
The psalms give us the overview of centuries to pour into our day to day living. When the young might wonder, question, and doubt, often it is the elders, maybe the grandparents who counsel that God isn’t absent but is present and active.
When Christians read this psalm and the Hallel psalms as a whole we see the same landscape –the Exodus rescue, the faithfulness of God over the centuries, but because of a cross and an empty tomb –a lens, as it were, a pair of glasses gives us the insight to see that what the Judaism still hopes for in the Messiah has been revealed in the Christ whose name was Jesus and in him we discover not another messenger or servant –not another prophet, priest, orking –although Jesus is all of those –but we discover and this is why we praise this God –that he has come himself among us to rescue us and give us life!
Yes, this can be hard to believe –when things are going well for us –and harder when life is hard and cruel and we cry out, ‘God, where are you? God, why are you forsaking me?!’ But then, either through more Bibleverses –particularly those we call the Gospels or from otherfolkaround us –maybe with more life experience and more faith experience –we are pointed back to why we are called to thank and praise this God –not for his gifts and the things he does forus but for himself. We are drawn back to the story of Christmas and Easter and a God who gives himself for his creation so that it will not be ruined forever.
Human beings,by nature,want God’s blessings, his trinkets, not him personally. But in Jesus people only find the God who gives himself and promises life to the full –but it’s not on our terms! That’s the hard and galling part.
Can this God –this Jesus –be trusted? That’s the question! This psalm and all the psalms when seen as fulfilled in Jesus –the accounts of the Gospels and the stories leading up to and after –all point to the same foundational message –that this God is gracious, loving, full of mercy, forgiving and he calls us to live with him –but not on our terms.
Praising God is a powerful thing. It points us away from ourselves. It gives us a wider picture than our life and our days. It is best done in a community but of course we can praise God personally. Because what praising God does is it makesus look at our life, the world, and reality from a different perspective. From the perspective that says there is a cross and an empty tomb in your world –what are they doing there? What do they say to you –today? And the answer helps us live each day. For we praise God more for who he is than for his blessings or trinkets. And that does take some time to learn.