Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sermon on Psalm 146 for Advent Midweek 3, "Praise the Lord!"

            Psalm 146-150, all 5 Psalms begin with the Hebrew word “Hallelujah!” Which translated, is “Praise the Lord!” v. 1-2 Like every Psalm, this one praises the Lord by telling back God’s mighty deeds. The Psalmist views the singing of praise to God as a lifelong endeavor—that as long as he draws breath, he will praise and bless God’s holy name. And yet even a lifetime of praise would fall short of declaring the riches of God’s glory. To Him we owe our very existence, our body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason, and all our senses. And He still takes care of them. He does this all only out of His fatherly love and divine goodness, without any merit or worthiness in us. For all this it is our duty to thank and to praise, to serve and obey Him. Praise is God’s rightful due—it’s the worship God expects and deserves from all creation, as the 1st commandment says: “You shall have no other gods before me,” the 2nd: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God,” and the 3rd commandment “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.”
            These commandments tell us that God alone is to be worshipped, and that proper worship reveres and uses His name in honor, and that the day of worship and rest should be set aside for the Lord. All creation does praise Him, as Psalm 19 tells, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Or Psalm 148 tells that all the creatures and all the mountains and hills of all creation praise Him. Or Jesus said that if the crowds who praised Him were somehow silenced, that “the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:40). Our voices join the whole chorus of creation rendering praise to God.

v. 3-4 In an election year, with all the races now decided—some Americans are excited, some are disappointed, and still others are indifferent to the results of the election. But wherever you stood on the spectrum of joy, sadness, or indifference toward our newly elected leaders, we are all reminded of these words of the Psalmist: “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” We are reminded that no president, Democrat, Republican, or Independent, nor any other earthly ruler can save us, and that in the span of history their lives are but a passing moment. Their plans cannot bring us salvation—they are but mortals like us. Our trust must rest with someone greater than them.

v. 5-7 Trust that is well-placed is in Jesus Christ, who alone can bring us salvation. He is the Righteous King we spoke of last week in Psalm 72—the helper to the poor and the needy. This Psalm reminds us of the same—that blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord His God. God is our helper; the helper of all those who can afford no help. Spiritually poor and needy, we are all “flat broke” and unable to purchase our redemption, our help. Nothing we could pay, nothing we could render in service could “cover the cost” of our salvation. Because we are so poor and needy, because we can give Him no help in return, God is the helper to the helpless. The One who will not turn away from us, but can help in every time of trouble. This is the meaning of His grace. A pure and undeserved love—that isn’t owed to us, but graciously given out of His love. It was a costly gift He gave, when Jesus died, the world to save. His death and blood were the costly price, but to us His salvation comes free.
            From the wealth of God’s grace, we are given countless spiritual blessings, free of cost to us. It’s as though God has opened a limitless bank account, paid for by His grace, and offered to us to “charge it to Him” when we come and eat at His rich banquet—feasting on the gifts of forgiveness of sins; His comfort and consolation in times of distress; His gifts of patience, joy, and self-control; the Sacrament of His body and blood given and shed for our forgiveness. All these spiritual blessings and more are God’s free gift to us, like Isaiah the prophet described: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1).

v. 7-9 describes all we who receive help from the Lord. Those who trust in the Lord and on “account” of His grace can now “afford” His help include the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, those bowed down by the burdens of life, the righteous, the foreigners living among us, and the widow and the fatherless. To all who are disadvantaged, discouraged, disheartened, He “comes with rescue speedy to those who suffer wrong; to help the poor and needy, and bid the weak be strong.” See what a wonderful King we have? See why we praise Him? He looks to the poor and neglected—His eyes are toward those who suffer—and His hands are help and healing for the lonely and the broken. His wounds are the healing for our sin, guilt, and shame. He sees the way of the wicked, and brings it to ruin. He is the God of Justice, and the only One who can one day set right all the wrongs that have been done.

The gathering of those helped by our King’s righteous and gracious salvation begins to look a lot like the list of attendees who come to the great heavenly banquet Jesus described in the parable in Luke 14. The poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind. Those whom people often overlook or count of little importance become Jesus’ honored guests. It’s a little reminder of the kindness King David showed to Mephibosheth in the Old Testament, who was the crippled son of his dear friend Jonathan. King David seated Mephibosheth at the king’s table for all his meals, and treated him as one of his own sons. That little known episode is a distant Old Testament echo of the truth that Jesus taught, that it is a kingly thing to help the downtrodden and poor. It is a blessed and God-pleasing thing to invite those who cannot repay you to your banquet. And in this blessedness of being His guests, we are treated as royal sons and daughters. We are seated at the kings’ banquet. We have been made a kingly priesthood, called to proclaim His excellencies who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. In showering down His help on the helpless and undeserving, Jesus is the King par excellence.
            It was a kingly thing when Jesus laid down His life for us on the cross—the single most astonishing act of loving service that our Heavenly King could perform for us lowly, sinful creatures. Truly He has no other earthly counterpart—there is no king or ruler on earth that deserves our trust or offers any hope for salvation. Blessed are we whose help and hope is in the Lord our God, who alone can save! He alone deserves to rule forever and to receive our praises forever. And so we lift those praises on high: “O God of God, O Light of Light, O Prince of Peace and King of Kings: to You in Heaven’s glory bright, the song of praise forever rings. To Him who sits upon the throne the Lamb once slain but raised again, be all the glory He has won, all thanks and praise Amen, Amen!”

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