I think churches are a place where we should be able to be honest with one another, so I’m going to admit something and I’m going to need you not to be all judgey about it. I went to school in Evanston, Illinois, basically the north side of Chicago. Now, I have lived most of my life in Wisconsin. I grew up here, college, most of my working life has been here. Those three small years I lived in Chicago… well… everyone around me was a Cubs fan. And that was about the time I realized, I just didn’t care. So, to this day I have never owned a single piece of Brewers… stuff. But I had a Cubs hat and hoodie, we always ended up at games early in the season. Also, my first time at the current Brewers stadium, my friends and I drove up from Chicago to tailgate because there are no parking lots in Wrigleyville. I thought they were going to kick me out… of the whole state, when I showed my ID from here, while I wore a Cubs hat. It’s ok, I left it all behind when I moved back.
I did notice one day though, as the Bears and the Packers were playing, I had a visceral reaction, it pained me a little to think about cheering for the Bears. So I didn’t, but I had never realized until that moment that it might matter to me. And if it matters I might be a fan. And then I maybe could start to see how one might go from, “I really can’t cheer for the other team,” to superfan, wearing only paint in the middle of January. Not me personally but someone could be committed to the team and the game that to some, it defies reason.
Fandom can be like that, just search for pictures of ComicCon, which I’m not making fun of, I’d love to go. There is a young person in my life who, several years ago, received tickets to a One Direction concert, and was so excited and overwhelmed that she cried. And don’t think you’re better than her, go back a couple of generations and it was the New Kids on the Block. And a little further back, Beatlesmania overtook the world with fans screaming so loud the Beatles couldn’t hear themselves play and folks copying their haircuts.
NPR has suggested that the world’s first Rock Star was a Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt who lived and wrote in the 1800s. He turned piano concerts into performances, everything you expect to see at a piano concert began with him, including walking out at the beginning, sitting profile to the audience, and memorizing the music. His piano compositions remain some of the most difficult to play and when he played, folks, mostly women, were so overwhelmed with the emotion they tore their clothing to throw on stage and picked up cigar butts to carry with them.
Devotion that defies reason. We see it all around us. Author David Foster Wallace proposed, accurately I think, “There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.” Our psalmist has an idea.
We started this journey in the Psalms with the premise, the belief that the beginning has a purpose, was set in its place as the first, as the introduction, as the summary of what would come, then perhaps we can believe that the ending has a purpose as well. That it was set with a purpose to round out all that came before.
The last 5 Psalms that we have in this book are all Hallelujah Psalms–they begin and end with Hallelujah. Hallel: praise and Jah: a shortened version of the name of God. Psalms 146 through 149 tell us why we ought to praise God: the maker of heaven and earth, who gives justice, who protects the immigrants, who gives food to the animals, who is faithful. But 150 is just 6 verses telling us what praise might look like–filled with instruments and voices, and no reason given. Or maybe that’s the point.
Psalm 150 rounds out all the psalms. Yes, these are poems that can be read on their own but they are also part of a collection, they were put there with intent and they do tell a bit of a story in a way that only poets and songwriters can. So when we read or sing Psalm 150, we are carrying in Psalm 1, and 100, and 13, and 23, and 30–we are carrying the whole breadth of human experiences and emotions, the highest highs of victory and love and celebration, and the lowest lows of loss and grief and suffering–all of our own and all that the world has experienced. The Psalmist knows these feelings. The curators, the editors of the psalms knows them too. They would carry the cultural memory of the destruction of the Temple, of the exile, the knowledge that there are members of their Community they might never find again. They would carry the memory of foreign Kings, occupied territories, and were living in the reality of a community losing their religion to outside religions, to distance, to time, to apathy, to other things and gods they might worship. They carried all that into their work, we carry all our own into our worship this morning. And yet, the psalmist ends with Praise God.
I don’t know what you think about when you hear praise God or praise the Lord or Hallelujah. Maybe it’s what we call praise and worship music, the music that we often might consider repetitive or theologically shallow compared to our hymns. but it occurred to me this week but many of them are not so unlike Psalm 150. maybe when you hear praise the Lord you think of televangelists. often they will pause in the middle of their sermons and Proclaim praise the Lord. it could be about everything on Earth is terrible but God is good so praise the Lord. or that God is going to come and judge everything so praise the Lord. your life might be terrible the God is still good, so praise the Lord. Miss Susie made cookies today praise the Lord. I am sure for many it is very meaningful but it often makes it seem like praise the Lord is just the twitch or the um or the pause gather your next set of thoughts. praise the Lord? praise the Lord.
For the most part though what they’re saying comes from how they understand God, it comes from the god that they have met, for better or for worse.
Let me tell you about the God that I have met. the God that I have met on my journey and the God that I have met in the faces and in the lives of each of you. The God that I know is love. Yes, it is The God Who came enfleshed in Jesus and lived among us to reveal what love looks like. but that love is God. Is love revealed in the goodness of Creation, in the care of each creature, and the generous hearts of those who worship, and fight for justice for all that breathes, that all might be able to live into the fullness of who and what they were created to be. And of the case you were wondering, everything breathes. The trees and the seaweed, the flowers and the grass, the permafrost and the moss is breathing in and breathing out oxygen. they fill now that’s the Earth with that which allows us, and the birds, and the rabbits, the horses, and the snakes, and the spiders, and the dogs, and the cats to keep breathing. The very Earth itself breathes. Let everything that has breath praise God.
Let everything that has breath praise God simply for who God is, which isn’t simple at all. And it isn’t simple to praise God with all of the things that we carry, with all of the Psalms, with all of the prayers, with all of the life and the living and the feelings. but Psalm 150 is the prayer of the one who keeps praying, even in the times when we don’t feel like praising, even in the times when we are in deep Lament, even in the times when it feels like all we do is lose, even in the times when it feels like our enemies have surrounded us, Psalm 150 calls us to keep praying and is what comes when we keep praying. It isn’t necessarily a “praise God” that we announce in the middle of our hard times or in the middle of a sermon, Psalm 150 tells us all our prayers are all going to end in Praise. it may take a while, don’t rush it. there may be many, many prayers of sadness, anger, calling out for justice, hope, but they all find their way to praise.
Eugene Peterson wrote of this: Not every prayer is capped off with praise. In fact most prayers, if the Psalter is a true guide, are not. But prayer, a praying life, finally becomes praise. Prayer is always reaching towards praise and will finally arrive there. If we persist in prayer, laugh and cry, doubt and believe, struggle and dance and then struggle again, we will surely end up at Psalm 150, on our feet, applauding, ‘Encore! Encore!’”
So I offer us this translation, this interpretation, this version of Psalm 150 by Stephen Mitchell:
Praise God in the depths of the universe;
Praise God in the human heart.
Praise him for his power and beauty,
For her all-feeling fathomless love.
Praise her with drums and trumpets,
With string quartets and guitars.
Praise God in market and workplace,
With computer, with hammer and nails,
Praise him in bedroom and kitchen;
Praise him with pots and pans.
Praise her in the temples of the present;
Let every breath be her praise.
My heart is ready, O Beloved,
Be bearers of mercy and justice;
Let Love triumph over fear.
–translation by Stephen Mitchell, from, p. 85.
And so if you’re not in a moment of Praise today that’s okay: let everything that has breath praise God for you until you are ready. Persist, pray and laugh and cry and doubt and believe and struggle and dance and then we do it all over again. and we end in moments, we come to moments, we find moments of praise, and then we do it all over again. We join in the sacred chorus and the sacred worship of all of creation of the God who is love, who is revealed in love, who gives us love, who calls us to love, who taught us love is part of how we offer praise.
Praise God! Bang a drum! Lift your voice! Dance! Praise God! It might defy reason, it might look strange to others, it might seem over the top, but may it be with all that you are and may it always be with love.