Summary: Seeing how God has acted to give us all we have and how He has kept His promises we’re moved to offer Him thanks and praise.
Pentecost 14 A
Let Your Balloons Sail Free!
Based on Joachim Neander’s Hymn:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
“Hallelujah! Praise the Lord.” These are not expressions that ordinarily used in the Lutheran Church. Not because there’s anything wrong with that, but just because it’s not part of our Lutheran culture.
Evidently it’s not typical of some Presbyterians either. Not too long ago there was a conference at a Presbyterian church in Omaha, NE where worshippers were given balloons and encouraged to quietly let them go whenever they felt moved to show joy in lieu of loudly shouting their praise.
And that’s ok. The truth is, singing the praises of our God and king can be done in any number of appropriate ways – a glorious shout, a humble prayer, a quiet release of a balloon at an outdoor service. In the right setting any of these expressions are appropriate.
Praise comes in all kinds of fashions and for a host of reasons. And today we ponder a few reasons why we might want to consider doing it a bit more.
What is it that brings your heart to praise the Lord? Some are moved to return thanks to God when they’re given recognition for a job well done. For others it’s a touching story or a powerful song that draws those feelings of gratitude and praise. Maybe you feel it when you see what God has done in the life of your children, your grand-children or a student or friend.
For Joachim Neander such praise was evoked by life-changing memories from his youth. To say he was a rebel is probably an understatement. Most of his youth was spent with little regard for God and His Word. Sometimes he even outrightly mocked the Word of God and those who preached it. Neander and two of his friends were on such an excursion when they went to St. Martin’s Church in Bremen, Germany to hear a pietistic preacher by the name of Eyck. They went, not to worship; but to ridicule and scoff, to disrupt and belittle. But God had a big surprise waiting for Joachim. He came to poke fun. God came and poked a hole in his heart and filled it with repentance, with forgiveness and with power for a new life.
It’s the kind of thing God has demonstrated many times in the life of His people. Out of nothing, God spoke His Word and worked faith in Neander’s heart, just as he spoke His Word in the beginning and brought forth the earth, the sun, the moon and all life. By the power of His Word He brought forth life from the barren womb of Sarah and she in her old age gave birth to a son from whom the entire nation of Israel would be born. And it’s by such things as this that the Lord was hailed as the “almighty one,” the Lord of lords, the King of creation.
One reason we bring forth such praise in the face of God’s almighty power is that He’s often used it in the most unusual and unexpected of ways. Considering Neander’s past and his plans for that evening he’s among some of the most unlikely candidates for conversion. Yet God turns the entire situation on end and uses it to accomplish His purposes. Neander becomes a child of God, and more. God turns him into an accomplished hymn writer so as to move His entire church to share in his praises.
The same thing is demonstrated in our epistle lesson today when Paul sings to God’s wisdom, counsel and favor. What wisdom is this? It’s the wisdom of God’s mysterious workings among his people spoken of in the epistle lesson last week. If you remember, we heard how Israel as a nation had refused the gospel. Nevertheless, God used this unfortunate circumstance as an occasion to preach the Gospel to the rest of the world; and then thereby recall His people Israel again through them. Paul put it this way: “Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” Quite simply, Paul is saying that God in his great wisdom and power is overseeing all of history so as to use it call all people to His saving grace through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, and Him alone. He’s turns bad situations into occasions for good.
That’s how God often acts – not just with mighty displays of power that can evoke a sense of fear and dread, especially when we recall our sin. He also acts with mercy, with grace. He acts according to “promise.” That’s because He’s not just the “almighty” one. He’s Yahweh! He’s Lord and Savior!