June 15, 2003 Psalm 150
Name this tune. “You put your right arm in, you put your right arm out, you put your right arm in, and you shake it all about.” It’s called the “Hoke Poke”. When I went back to Wisconsin for my sister in law’s wedding - they did it. It’s a very popular song because it’s very easy to learn. All you have to do is follow the instructions. Put an arm or leg in, shake it around, then turn in a circle. That’s what it’s all about.
Worship isn’t quite that simple. Even though the Psalmist tells us to praise God - it isn’t as simple as doing the Hoke Poke. Today, as we look at the last Psalm written - number 150 of 150 - the Psalmist takes us into this topic of worship - and how we really can praise our Triune God. So let’s take an in depth look at this Psalm of worship and see how -
The Last Psalm Explains What “Hallelujah” is All About
When Cain and Able made their offerings to the Lord - the first ones seemingly recorded in the Bible in Genesis 4, God noted that there was a difference between them. Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. 4 But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, 5 but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. Abel gave his “firstborn of the flock”, while Cain just brought “some of the fruits of the soil.” Here Abel was thinking to himself, “the Lord has given me this wonderful flock, and I can’t wait to give him an offering - to thank Him for what he’s done. So he took some of the firstborn of his flock. Meanwhile, Cain must have thought to himself, “well, I guess I can give God some of this wheat and barley. I don’t know what good it will do Him, but I’ll do it anyway.” And so how did God respond? “You can keep your offering Cain. If that’s going to be your attitude, I don’t want it.” It wasn’t in the content of the offering, but the motivation - the why - that made all the difference.
Motivation is everything when it comes to worship. You’ve got to have motivation to come here. It can’t be just because your parents are making you come. It can’t be just to make your spouse happy. It can’t even be just to fulfill what you think your duty to God is. Then we are nothing more than modern day Cains. God will listen to your mumbling of songs or your sitting in church and say, “why are you wasting your time? If you think sitting in that pew will please me and make me say, ‘oh, what a wonderful person you are!’, think again. If that’s the best you can give me, don’t even bother.”
Maybe you came to worship this morning for the wrong reasons - but don’t leave yet. I want you to listen to several reasons the Psalmist gives to come to worship - to the Halleluwhy. Maybe by the time you finish considering them, you might want to stay.
1.) The Psalmist first says, Praise the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary; The Psalmist tells us to praise the LORD. Notice that the letters are all in capitals. With this name, he was saying to the congregation - remember WHO you are worshiping. This is the LORD, who described Himself to Moses as the “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love.” (Exodus 34) This LORD had always been there for the Israelites. He said to praise this LORD in connection to - in the sphere of the sanctuary. The whole concept behind that word tells us that God is someone who is set apart. Every time the Israelites approached God in the Tabernacle, they had to do it through a sacrifice and through a priest. They would put their hand on a ram, a goat, a sheep, or a bull - and slit the throat themselves. Then the priest would then take the blood of their sacrifice, and sprinkle it on the altar. The Israelites were ingrained with every sacrifice that God is holy - he cannot be approached by sinful people unless they are first cleansed. But when that sacrifice was made, the Israelites were assured - my sins are paid for. My LORD has forgiven me, for He will send a substitute to pay for my sins.
This is the key concept to worship. If we come to worship just thinking to ourselves, “I’ll throw God a dollar or a little song and he’ll be happy with me,” we’ve got it all wrong. You need to understand that God is set apart from you. When I went to Washington D.C. a year ago, I noticed that when I got to the White House there was a huge metal fence surrounding the White House. There were big white barriers and police officers all around. I couldn’t just knock on the door and expect George Bush to come out and say, “come on in.” It doesn’t work that way. So why should you think that you can just knock on a holy God’s door and expect him to come running to answer it? Your guilt and God’s law tells you differently. But when you come to worship and you realize that you cannot approach God as you are, that’s the first key. The second key is to know who the LORD is. Even though he is HOLY and set apart from us - he is also a God of COMPASSION and MERCY - who FORGIVES. Instead of punishing us for our sins, God wanted to provide a way for us to approach Him - through a substitute. Just as the Old Testament believers transferred their guilt to the animals being sacrificed, God would transfer the punishment of the world to a future Lamb of God - Jesus Christ. Why would God punish His only Son? Because our LORD is slow to anger and abounding in LOVE. Therefore, worship of the LORD is not a favor we are doing to God. It is a privilege for us to approach a holy God - because of HIS MERCY and FORGIVENESS!
After reminding us of WHO God is, the Psalmist then tells us to remember WHAT God does. Praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness. Up to this point in the history of the Bible, God had already performed awesome acts of power. Psalm 106 reminds us of some of these powerful acts. He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert. The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived. 12 Then they believed his promises and sang his praise. (Ps 106:9-12) When God led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt by splitting the Red Sea in two, this was a MIRACLE from ABOVE. Every day they witnessed that miracle in the heavens when they saw the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. No matter what the sorcerers of Egypt were able to perform, the miracles of God surpassed them.
When I was in my first year of college, I had a classmate who was sitting in my room looking at a Far Side book. I don’t know if you’ve ever read these comic strips, but I personally think they are hilarious. As my classmate was looking through this book, a friend of mine looked at him and said, “look at him. He’s read through the whole book, and he hasn’t even cracked a smile! How can you read that and not even crack a smile?” He then proceeded to lovingly jump on him and give him a noogie for his insolence.
I believe we are guilty of the same kind of insolence with God. The miracles from above were evident to the Israelites almost every day of their existence - whether it was from the pillar of cloud leading them around or the manna that miraculously fed them every day. The Psalmist shouldn’t have even had to MENTION the works of God as reason to praise him, but he did. We do the same thing. Some Sundays we come to worship feel that we have NO reason for praising God. God says, “Take a look around you! Look at the wonderful miracles that God has performed - they go beyond anything in this world.” First look front and center at the cross. His love and compassion sent Jesus to die on that cross. It’s through the cross that God says, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Col 1:19-20) Since Christ died for us God is no longer angry at us for our sins. God’s grace and forgiveness is greater than - covers every sin in the world. It’s a wonderful miracle from above that we stand before God as holy - that’s only possible through the forgiveness won by Christ.
Look over at the baptismal font, and think about what a miracle God performed - maybe not at that font - but at one like it. In the waters of baptism God took Jesus’ blood and righteousness and poured it on your soul. In baptism the Holy Spirit came into you and gave you faith in Jesus Christ! He turned you from a damned sinner into a holy saint. Then take a look on the altar - remember that every time you take the Lord’s Supper you are receiving the body and blood of the Lord - ASSURING you that Jesus died for YOUR SINS. Again, the Holy Spirit works through it to keep you in the faith and strengthen your faith. These are miracles.
When you finish all that - take a look at yourself. You were created by God the Father Almighty. The Psalmist once wrote, you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. (Ps 139:13-16) Look at the miracles of nature and creation! These will give you many reasons to praise God - if you just open your eyes to the miracles that occur in front of you every day! This is what worship is all about! It’s not about doing our duty - pleasing our parents or spouses - it’s about praising the LORD - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - for WHO He is and WHAT He does for us.
The Psalmist next shifts his attention on HOW to praise the LORD - the Halleluhow.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute,
praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals.
The Psalmist makes a whole list of a variety of musical instruments to use - trumpets, harps, lyres , tambourines, flutes - even dancing - you name it. When the ark was brought back to Jerusalem, David illustrated this festive atmosphere. 1 Chronicles says, Now David was clothed in a robe of fine linen, as were all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and as were the singers, and Kenaniah, who was in charge of the singing of the choirs. David also wore a linen ephod. 28 So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouts, with the sounding of rams’ horns and trumpets, and of cymbals, and the playing of lyres and harps. (1 Ch 15:27-28)
That’s what praising God is all about. Praising God in whatever way possible. You wouldn’t believe how many arguments and split ups have occurred in congregations over just the INSTRUMENTS that are being used. In the history of the church there have been people who have claimed that a guitar is evil in worship - that only a organ can be played. When I played my trumpet in one congregation I was told that some of the members refused to sing with it. I don’t know if that was true or not - but it’s sad that some feel that there is only one instrument to praise God - and that’s it. Back in Luther’s time the Reformed camp would not allow instruments of ANY kind in their worship. Even David’s worship had adverse reactions. Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David dancing and celebrating, she despised him in her heart.
It’s amazing that nothing upsets people more in the church than the STYLE of music that is used in the church. Should we really get so worked up over HOW we worship? Would it be illegal for us to clap our hands in church? Would Luther come back from the grave and strike us dead if we had a band set up in our church? Would lightning from heaven come and burn us down if we danced in our worship? If we see them worshiping this way in the WELS Connection in Africa, what would be wrong with us doing it?
Now I know some are saying, “whoa, pastor is a wing nut! He’s suggesting we dance and clap in worship!” No, that’s not what I’m saying. The point is that we are free to worship God with variety - using our talents to the praise of God’s name. But we need to remember to ask ourselves, “where are our talents?” A few weeks ago my wife and I took swing dance lessons. For three weeks I tried to learn the intricacies of one, two, three and four. But the truth of the matter is some people are not blessed with the feet of Patrick Swayze or John Travolta, and I happened to be one of them. Just because God says to praise him with dancing, it doesn’t mean that everyone should even attempt to do so. Since most of us have German heritage, I would venture to bet that we wouldn’t actually do to well at the dancing and tambourine thing. The fact is that we do hymns well. We do liturgy well. A part of it is because that’s what we grew up with. Another part of it is that’s just the way we are. The sad thing is that others judge us for this as well. They come to our worship and think we don’t have “the Spirit” just because we don’t jump around or shout “praise Jesus” like they do. That’s nonsense. The Psalmist is simply stating to praise the Lord in a variety of ways - making the most of YOUR abilities.
A lot of people who have never been to very many worship services often times come very nervous. I imagine that this would be multiplied when they come to a Lutheran one. They must be thinking to themselves, “when do I get up? When do I sit down? Why are we doing this?” After watching TV and seeing people swaying or crying or jumping around they might think to themselves, “that’s not for me. I could never worship God.” Well, who is worship for? What does the Psalmist say?
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD.
The Psalmist doesn’t say check you at the door and say, “let me hear your voice. Ok, I guess you can carry a tune. Let me see the kind of dress you have on. Hmm. That looks ok. How’s your demeanor - do you smile and say ‘praise Jesus’ a lot?” There’s none of that. You don’t have to fit into a certain mold as to what the world says is “Christian.” You don’t HAVE to know how to play the lyre, a guitar, or a trumpet to praise God. All he asks is, “do you have breath? Are you alive? Is your body warm? Then we’ll take you.” The neat thing is that when you look at God’s Word - he even accepts praise from things that aren’t even human.
Revelation 5:13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
Psalm 148:7-11 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth,
So we have different Christians here and in the world who worship Jesus in different ways. Some sit in front, some sit in back. Some use electric guitars, some use pipe organs. Some dance around, some stand up and sit down. Some sing loud, some mumble. Some smile a lot and greet others, while some prefer to keep to themselves. As long as you’re sorry for your sins and believe in Jesus as your Savior - your worship is acceptable - as long as it comes from the heart. You don’t need to meet any other mold than that.
A young man once climbed a tall mountain to see a very honorable and seemingly wise man who lived in the mountains. He desperately wanted to know the meaning of life. After climbing miles, he found the man - seated in a meditative state on a blanket. He was wearing a white robe and wisdom seemed to gleam from his face. Out of breath, yet excited, he stumbled his way to the seemingly wise man and asked, “what is the meaning of life?” The wise man looked him in the eye and slowly said, “you put your right arm in . . .”
The Hoke Poke is not the meaning of life. The reason we are here, as Jesus said is to let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:16) We are here to praise the LORD. It isn’t really that difficult. When we realize the Halleluwhy - that we are praising - a God of compassion and mercy the rest of it all comes into place. No matter who we are - Halleluwho - or how we do it Halleluhow - as long as we’re giving thanks to God for His mercy and compassion in Christ - our light will shine and give glory to GOD. So if you wonder what worship and praising God really is - that’s what it’s all about. Amen.