Cosmic PraisePosted: December 29, 2013
DAWNING OF A NEW YEAR
We are just over 48 hours away from the dawning of a New Year. Twenty fourteen is about to begin. Are we anticipating the New Year with excitement, or are we approaching the change in the calendar with trepidation? Are we optimistic about the future, or do we have a gloomy pessimistic forecast? The attitude we bring may contribute to the kind of year we will experience. It’s sort of like an optimist who stays up until midnight to see the New Year in, while the pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.
Our scripture this morning speaks to the importance of praise for helping us to adjust our attitude. Psalm 148 goes way beyond our human ability to offer praise to God the psalmist even presents us with cosmic praise: Praise God, sun and moon, praise God, all you shining stars! Praise her, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Give praise you sea monsters of the deeps. Praise you fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind, mountains and all hills, fruit trees and the great cedars of Lebanon, beasts and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds! The psalmist is pointing out that the whole universe gives praise to our Creator, so how much more so should we human beings. For as Psalm 8 points out to us: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, and the children of earth that you care for them? Yet you have made us little less than God, and you have crowned us with glory and honor, and you have even included us as co-creators on earth.
PRAISE CHANGES US – THE UNIVERSE IS NOT ALL ABOUT US
Does God need our praise? No! But praise changes us! How does offering praise to God change us? First, we are reminded that God is God and we are not. In case we had any delusions of grandeur the act of offering praise to our Creator reframes our perspective to take us out of the center of the picture – the Universe is not all about us. Humility is our rightful place in relationship to the divine.
HUMILITY OF POPE FRANCIS
We have been observing the power of the virtue of humility in Pope Francis. His dress, the way he carries himself, his spurning of the accoutrements of his office, his resolution to live simply have made Francis a worthy successor to Jesus and the disciples — the before and after pictures are striking. In his reflection on the meaning of Christmas, Pope Francis has urged all of us “not to place ourselves above others, but rather lower ourselves, place ourselves at the service of the poor, make ourselves small and poor with them.”
PRAISE SHAPES THE DAY
When we begin each morning with praise, we shape the whole day. Humility in the morning brings focus and perspective. Prayer and praise change us, and remind us that life is good as it is given. Now I know the affirmation that life is good as it is given is difficult for those of us who tend toward pessimism. Some of us just have a natural tendency to see the gloomier side of things. Certainly there are difficulties in this life, but as Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
PESSIMISM SHAPES OUR VIEW OF LIFE
Some people are so dedicated to seeing problems in everything they can’t appreciate anything. Like the story of an avid duck hunter was in the market for a new bird dog. His search ended when he found a dog that could actually walk on water to retrieve a duck. Shocked by his find, he was sure none of his friends would ever believe him. He decided to try to break the news to a friend of his, the eternal pessimist who refused to be impressed with anything. This, surely, would impress him. He invited him to hunt with him and his new dog. As they waited by the shore, a flock of ducks flew by, they fired, and a duck fell. The dog responded and jumped into the water. The dog, however, did not sink but instead walked across the water to retrieve the bird, never getting more than his paws wet. This continued all day long; each time a duck fell, the dog walked across the surface of the water to retrieve it. The pessimist watched carefully, saw everything, but did not say a single word. On the drive home the hunter asked his friend, “Did you notice anything unusual about my new dog?”
“I sure did,” responded the pessimist. “He can’t swim.”
Life is good as it is given. Believe it and change your life.
When we open our eyes with praise we begin to understand just how bountiful is our Creator. God doesn’t give us just enough. God gives us more than enough. From Psalm 67:5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its bounty; God has blessed us.
PRAISE BY SHARING
Yes there are people in the world who do not have enough, but that is because we fail to share what God has given to us. We have organized our life together as human beings based upon scarcity, when all the time God’s bounty is all around us. Some people do not have enough, and some people have more than they will ever need, and God has given us the solution. It’s called sharing. We could all change our lives and the lives of so many people around us, if we would take only what we need, recycle what we do not use, reconcile the difference between our wants and our needs, and join all people in praise by sharing.
ACCEPT THAT YOU ARE ACCEPTED
Praise changes our lives by reminding us how much God loves us. It is easy to acknowledge the possibility that God exists, but to affirm that the source of all life the ground of our being actually loves us is a leap of faith many folks just can’t embrace. And that is why praise brings grace. In the words of Paul Tillich, grace is sometimes when a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!” If that happens to us, we experience grace. After such an experience we may not be better than before, and we may not believe more than before. But everything is transformed. In that moment, grace conquers sin, and reconciliation bridges the gulf of estrangement. And nothing is demanded of this experience, no religious or moral or intellectual presupposition, nothing but acceptance. Grace comes to us through praise.
DISCIPLINE OF PRAISE THAT REMAINS JOYFUL
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is to develop a discipline of praise that remains joyful. So often our devotional lives become just another duty, another something we have to do before we can laugh or have fun or experience joy. Joyless praise will kill faith faster than a New York minute. And I looked up the definition of a New York minute: “The smallest measurable amount of time in the universe. Approximately equal to the time between a traffic light turning green in New York City and the cab driver behind you honking his horn.” Joyless praise kills faith. So how can we infuse our praise with joy and fun and beauty?
PRAISE AND JOY
The Psalms are full of praise with music, song and dance. Psalm 33:1 Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. 2 Praise the LORD with the lyre, make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! 3 Sing to her a new song, play skilfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
Psalm 150: 3 Praise God with trumpet sound; praise her with lute and harp! 4 Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise God with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!
DANCING OUR PRAISE
Let us remember, “joyful noise,” not funeral dirges. A song you want to dance with. I remember Terri Shows and Carol Howie dancing the Sunday we sang, “Don’t Worry Be Happy!” We need songs so joyful they take over our feet and make our hips move. It doesn’t matter what the words are if it makes you get up and dance before the Lord, it is a sacred song. Find your song and sing it every morning, and when the time comes you forget your own name, you will still be able to sing your song of praise to God.
WELCOME THE NEW YEAR WITH PRAISE
And as long as the New Year is coming, allow me one more suggestion. In some churches there is a tradition of a “watch night service.” People gather at the church on New Year’s Eve, have a good party and then about eleven o’clock they have a prayer service that ends with loud and joyous laughing and dancing to welcome in the New Year.
We have a hard enough time getting people here on a Sunday morning without planning an extra service. But wherever you are on New Year’s Eve, let me encourage you, if you stay up to welcome in the New Year to make a joyful noise, and let that be your praise to God for another Year of God’s gift of life. Life is good as it is given. Amen.