The Lord is Worthy of Praise


Please join me in reading the words of Psalm 100 again.

1 A Thanksgiving Psalm

Shout out to the LORD, all the earth,

2 worship the LORD in rejoicing,

come before Him in glad song.

3 Know that the LORD Is God.

He has made us, and we are His,

His people and the flock he tends.

 

4 Come into His gates in thanksgiving,

His courts in praise.

Acclaim Him,

Bless His name.

5 For the LORD is good,

forever His kindness,

and for all generations His faithfulness.

 

The word of the Lord! Thanks be to God!

Pastor John has asked me to kick off the first of the narrative lectionary’s five-week sermon series on the psalms. I, a lowly seminarian, have been given the task of introducing this massive, deep, and powerful book of scripture. I’m beginning to suspect Pastor John’s “vacation” was just an excuse for getting out of this first sermon.

The Book of Psalms is truly unique among the books of the Bible. Most of the books, like Genesis, Kings, and the Gospels, contain stories and narrative. Other books, like Leviticus, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Romans contain the words of God for communities. But the psalms are unlike any of these—they are the only book in the Bible devoted solely to the prayers of humans to God. One of the most famous books of the Bible, the psalms are a collection of poems compiled over hundreds of years, some of which date back past 1100bc. The psalms were important for the spiritual life of ancient Israelites and Jews as they were often chanted during temple liturgies and recited for personal devotion. The importance of the Psalms is evident in Christianity, as well: the writers of the New Testament quote the psalms more than any other book of the Old Testament, and the church has made the psalms an integral part of its liturgy.

As you may know, there are essentially two basic kinds of psalms: lament and praise. Since Psalm 100 is praise psalm, we’ll save the discussion of lament psalms for next week. At their core, the praise psalms are just what they sound like. They are the words of a believer praising and thanking God for God’s kindness and faithfulness toward God’s people. The Hebrew word הָלַל, which means “praise,” shows up over 200 times in the Old Testament. Two thirds of those appearances are in the psalms. Furthermore, the Hebrew title for the Book of Psalms is actually “Tehillim” which simply means “praises.” Even the lament psalms, which come from a place of great grief and despair are rooted in praise. In fact, only two psalms in the whole book don’t end praise. Psalm 100 is a wonderful introduction to the Book of Psalms because it gets at the core message of the whole Psalter: the LORD is worthy of praise.

We don’t know exactly when Psalm 100 was written or in what context it was originally used, but it is clear that the writer wanted to convey one simple message: the LORD is worthy of praise. After the helpful little epithet, “A Thanksgiving Psalm,” the writer of psalm 100 begins by inviting all of creation to praise God: “Shout out to the LORD, all the earth! Worship the LORD in rejoicing! Come before him in glad song!” The psalmist has a heart full of joy and love for God and seeks to join with others in offering prayers and praise to God.

“Come into his gates with thanksgiving, his courts with praise!” The psalmist is here referring to the temple, which had an outer gate and inner courts. Rather different from our modern notions of God, the ancient Israelites believed that God lived in the temple, that the closest one could get to God was inside the temple. The psalmist is using metaphor here to invite us into the presence of God, to draw near to God, if not physically (as with the temple), then in our hearts with praise and thanksgiving. “Acclaim him! Bless his name!” the psalmist continues inviting others to join him or her in praise to God. Invitations to praise God are all over this psalm. But why is the writer so concerned with praising God? The answer, we find, is because of who this God is.

By definition to praise someone is to tell them why they are great. That Hebrew word הָלַל, which means praise, also means “to shine.” So to praise God is to tell God about all the qualities that make God shine. For the psalmist, there are plenty of qualities, the most important of which are that LORD is God and the LORD is good. The LORD is worthy of praise because the LORD created us. But the LORD didn’t just create us and then step back to let us fend for ourselves. No! the LORD is like a shepherd who tends humanity as God’s flock, the psalmist writes. Shepherding, as I’m sure you’ve heard far too many times from the pulpit, is a hands-on task—it requires knowing each sheep intimately, protecting them from thieves and wolves, leading them to the right pastures, and seeking out the ones who go missing. The LORD is God and the LORD is good, and so the LORD knows and loves each and every one of us intimately, the psalmist argues.

The LORD is good and worthy of praise because the LORD is faithful, loving, and forever kind. The psalmist believes that God is worthy of praise not only because God has created us, but because God also sustains us. It is God who walks with us through trials; it is God who shows us kindness and blessing and love and, at the end of all things, brings us safely into God’s kingdom where there will be no more sorrow and only joy.

Psalm 100 is the quintessential praise Psalm. It invites the world to offer praises to God and then provides a whole host of reasons why God is worthy of praise. If you’re like me, though, sometimes you look around and wonder, in the midst of this messed up world, what’s the point of offering praise to God? Maybe you’re gripped with fear about globalized terrorism, maybe you’re weighed down with depression, maybe you can’t get a handle on your debts, or maybe a treasured relationship is crumbling. If God is so great, why doesn’t God just fix it. When the painful realities of life set in, what’s the point of a praise psalm like Psalm 100?

One of my professors once said that the act of praise is actually a profound act of hope. In the moments of greatest despair the psalmists believe that God is worthy of praise. This does not mean that our despair and pain are invalid or unwarranted. On the contrary. The psalmists call us to give praise and thanks to God in all things not because they think our lives should be all sunshine and roses—but rather precisely because our lives are not all sunshine and roses. Psalms of praise like Psalm 100 give us hope that the God we are praising is who we say God is: that is, faithful, kind, compassionate, good.

Indeed, if we believe that scripture is trustworthy, then the psalms are not just human prayers to God, they are also the words of God to humanity. Psalm 100 is not just one believer’s take on who God is, it is also a promise from God about who God is. One of my favorite lines in this psalm is: “know that the LORD is God.” What a comfort it is to know that, despite appearances, the LORD is ultimately in control. Psalm 100 is simultaneously our statement of belief that God is good, kind, and faithful and also God’s promise that God is good, kind, and faithful. When all else seems to be going wrong, God’s promises of kindness, goodness, and faithfulness are trustworthy. Isn’t that truly good news.

The beauty of the psalms is that they are not just the poetic prayers of some ancient Israelite, they can also be our prayers as well. When we don’t know what to say to God, or when we can’t stomach praising God, we can lean on psalms like Psalm 100. The psalms give us honest words to offer to God, and, over time, they teach us. They can teach us how to pray to God and they can teach us who God is. And in the midst of that teaching lies a promise from God to be the God the psalms describe.

 

Here the good news one more time:

1b Shout out to the LORD, all the earth,

2 worship the LORD in rejoicing,

come before Him in glad song.

3 Know that the LORD Is God.

He has made us, and we are His,

His people and the flock he tends.

 

4 Come into His gates in thanksgiving,

His courts in praise.

Acclaim Him,

Bless His name.

5 For the LORD is good,

forever His kindness,

and for all generations His faithfulness.

 

AMEN.

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