Praise the Lord!

Good morning, Friends! Thank you all for coming to worship today!

We’ve been looking at some different parts of the Old Testament this month. It’s always important for us to go back to our roots. There are some really good things there:

  • Our sense of call.
  • Our sense of God’s commandments.
  • Our sense of prayer and waiting on the Lord.

It’s all great stuff!

We could spend a whole year on the Old Testament. Because it’s not just ancient history, a lot of it is still God’s living word to us. We read it, and we come alive.

This morning I want us to look at something very basic in the Hebrew Bible.

It’s not original sin – that’s disobeying God, deciding for ourselves what’s right and wrong – what the book of Genesis calls the knowledge of good and evil. God has that knowledge. We don’t. If God says it’s wrong, it’s not up to us to change that.

It’s not murder – the story of how Cain killed his brother, Abel.

The basic thing I want us to look at today isn’t even the Ten Commandments – not worshiping other gods; worshiping fake gods which are not even gods at all; not putting God’s name on things which God has nothing to do with.

There are lots of basic things in the Ten Commandments which are identified – taking a full day of rest, every week; not breaking the promise you made to the person you marry. Dishonoring your parents. Murder. Theft. Lying about your neighbor. Wanting what isn’t yours.

Those are all important. But they’re not what I want us to talk about today.

One of the things we all do, almost every day, is to take God for granted. We don’t thank God for our blessings. We don’t praise God for all the wonders of this world.

We don’t praise God for giving us life, for blessing us in hundreds of ways, every moment of every single day.

The Bible talks all the time about praising God. Especially the Psalms – the Psalms are almost a praise manual. “If you forget how to praise, here’s how to do it!”

The Bible is emphatic that praise isn’t something you keep bottled up inside yourself. You praise God out loud, in front of everyone, in a voice that everybody can hear.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens!
Praise the Lord in the heights!
Praise the Lord, all his angels!
Praise the Lord, all the host!

Praise the Lord, sun and moon!
Praise, all you shining stars!

Praise, all you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord, who commanded and they were created
Who established them forever and ever.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,
Fire and hail, frost and snow, stormy winds at the Lord’s command!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars,
Wild animals and cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

Kings of earth and all peoples, princes and rulers of earth,
Young men, young women, old and young together!

Let them praise the name of the Lord, whose name alone is exalted;
Whose glory is above earth and heaven.

Praise the Lord!

Psalm 148

As I said before, we all take God for granted, way too much of the time. Earlier this month, I read an article by Debi Thomas in Christian Century magazine.

She said, “What is worship for? We take church stuff for granted. We grow up, and it never occurs to us to ask why we worship God. Our parents make us come to church. We stand next to them on Sunday morning. We listen to the hymns. We go to church camp, and we listen to somebody talk about the Bible while we eat s’mores.”

She said, “Why do we worship God? Does God need our praise? Does God need to be stroked all the time? Is God some kind of a narcissist?”

And she said, “No. Praise is something we need to do. God notices our praise, of course, but praise is something which shapes and changes us. What we worship makes us who we are.”

She says, “We are always worshiping something, whether we notice it or not. Worship is the act of giving honor, reverence, devotion, or admiration to something or someone.

We’re wired to do it. We flock to objects of devotion, we pay adoring attention to things that draw our gaze and our respect. We put pretty things on pedestals. We’re ascribe greatness to people, places, ideas, and objects outside ourselves.

We do this with athletes and movie stars, political candidates and TV commentators. We do it at football games and rock concerts, at car dealerships and all kinds of other places.

We spend our time with the little gadgets we hold in our hands and manipulate with our thumbs, allowing these compact miracles of technology to capture our attention for hours each day.” (Debi Thomas, What Is Worship For?)

All this stuff is really a kind of worship, she says. It’s putting people and things up on a pedestal, and praising them.

We do this so much, that we forget to praise God. We let these things, mostly man-made things, take God’s place in our hearts and minds.

Just a quick question: do you pay more for things like your cell phone, your cable, your entertainment, or your hobbies, than you contribute to charity each year?
You don’t have to answer out loud, but ask yourself.

Do you check for text messages more often than you pray?
Ask yourself.

Do you cheer more loudly and more often when you’re watching sports, than you thank God for the beauty all around you?
Ask yourself. God already knows the answer.

Praise is something which costs little or nothing. Thanking God is actually enjoyable. It brings joy into your heart!

Did you know that Jews have a prayer or a blessing for almost everything? It’s true! Devout Jews praise God and bless God many times a day. They say a blessing over every kind of food or drink, even a snack or a sip of water. Jewish blessings usually goes something like this:

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.

Blessed are You, God, our Lord, king of the universe, who makes the work of creation.

It’s remembering who made everything, and being thankful for it. It’s praising God for all that God has done.

One of the rabbis said, “Whenever you see a hill or mountain, whenever you see a cloud in the sky, a sunrise or sunset, whenever you watch the sea or a landscape which catches your attention – Blessed are You, God, our Lord, king of the universe, who makes the work of creation.”

An ancient prayer which Jews say three times every day goes like this:

May the great Name of God be exalted and sanctified, throughout the world, which he has created according to his will. May his Kingship be established in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of the entire household of Israel, swiftly and in the near future; and say, Amen.

May his great name be blessed, forever and ever. Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, honored, elevated and lauded be the Name of the holy one, Blessed is he – above and beyond any blessings and hymns, Praises and consolations which are uttered in the world; and say Amen.

May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us and upon all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who makes peace in his high holy places, may he bring peace upon us, and upon all Israel; and say Amen.

Kaddish prayer

Part of the deal, in Jewish thinking, is that you don’t say this prayer in private. It has to be public, in front of people. According to Jewish custom, this prayer – it’s called Kaddish – has to be said in front of a minimum of 10 people.

That’s not because God wouldn’t hear it. It’s because Jews believe we need to gather in community to pray and to praise God. Unless we share our praise, it doesn’t count.

There are plenty of prayers we say in private. One prayer which I’ve heard from many of my African-American friends, runs something like this:

Thank you, God, for waking me up this morning. Thank you for giving me one more day to live on this earth.

Thank you that I have eyes to see, and ears to hear. Thank you that I have food for my table, a roof over my head, and shoes for my feet.

Thank you for hands to work and love with. Thank you that I have a voice to pray with.

Thank you for faith in my heart, and knowledge in my head.

Thank you for every good thing I receive today.

Thank you for Jesus and his saving word. Thank you for the Holy Spirit that flows through everything.

If you pray like this, it will change your life. It will completely change your attitude. It will turn you from a victim into a victor. It will change you from being broken to being strong.

Because we always have things to be thankful for. We can always find things to praise God for.

There is no limit for anyone who thanks God in all situations, and who praises God, every day.

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