Sermon or the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 06)

Text: Psalm 100
Sing to the Lord, all the world! Worship the Lord with joy; come before him with happy songs! Acknowledge that the Lord is God. He made us, and we belong to him; we are his people, we are his flock. Enter the Temple gates with thanksgiving; go into its courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise him. The Lord is good; his love is eternal and his faithfulness lasts forever.

Praise the Lord

A while back there was a segment on the radio called "Local Hero of the Day". A listener wrote or rang in and explained why a person they knew deserved special praise. One woman rang explaining how her car had broken down somewhere near Yandina. There was something wrong with the gears or the clutch or something like that. She rang a friend nicknamed "Scooter" to find out what to do. Even though he lived quite a distance away, had the flu and was feeling miserable, nevertheless he went to her aid.

This turned out to be quite an expensive rescue mission because he jumped out of his car without putting on the hand brake and it rolled down a hill, knocking over a sign and ran into an embankment. Regardless of this misfortune he got a mate to drop off the parts he needed for the womanís car, and on the side of the road he fixed what was wrong. The woman stated that her car hasnít given her any trouble since. The point of the "Local Hero of the Day" segment on the radio is that it gave people the opportunity to thank the person who helped them and to praise them for their kindness and unselfish attitude.

We hear a lot about greedy, selfish, unkind and uncaring people through the media. No doubt we all come across such people ourselves and because we hear so much that is negative we can develop a lop-sided view of people. Itís good to see that there are still those who are caring and unselfish and generous in their use of their time and energy in helping others. It is good to thank and heap praise on those who have been kind and charitable.

What is praise? Praise is not a brand of Mayonnaise.
Praise is telling people how wonderful they are.
Acknowledging that they have done a great job.
Telling them what was done was very special and meant a lot to you.
Praise is saying, "Well done!"
Doesnít it make you feel good when someone says to you, "What a great job you have done!" or "You are wonderful. Thank you for what you did!"? And isnít it great to be a recipient of someoneís goodness and charitable attitude.

I recall going to a seminar on leadership and the speaker said something that has always stuck in my mind. He said, "Feedback is the breakfast food of champions." Of course feedback can take different forms. Sometimes it is passing on a friendly tip at how a person might have done things differently. This is spoken with love and intended to be helpful.

An important part of feedback is praise.
Tell that person what their action has meant to you.
Tell them that their kindness, or generosity, or their well chosen words, were very helpful and meaningful for you at the time.
This kind of affirming feedback lets people know how you feel about what they have done, and through praise gives you a chance to encourage them to keep up the good work. Praise is putting into words your feelings of appreciation and gratefulness. If you donít praise that person, he/she will never know how much they are appreciated.

When a new baby comes into the world and the parents hold this tiny, new life in their arms they marvel at what has just happened. Their hearts burn with wonder and praise for the miracle of new life.
When standing on a high mountain overlooking the French Alps and watching the sun rise over the tops of those massive mountain tops. The rays of light shining through the mist and the clouds lighting up snow covered peaks with an indescribable light show is simply breathtaking. Miriam and I stood in awe at the sight and marvelled at the handiwork of our God.

The Bible is full of praise to God. In Exodus, when safely beyond the hot breath of Pharaohís army which had pursued them and trapped them against the Sea before the children of God did anything else, they paused to praise God. "I will sing to the Lord," Moses and Miriam sang, "For God has triumphed gloriously..." They realised that God had just done a great thing when he rescued them from certain death and sang his praises.

When Mary is told that she will give birth to the Saviour, the Son of God she says, "My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Saviour..." (Luke 1:46).
When the shepherds had visited the infant Jesus in Bethlehemís stable, we are told, "The shepherds went back, singing praise to God for all they had seen and heard" (Luke 2:29.

Paul begins his letters saying how great and wonderful God is because of what he has done through Jesusí death and resurrection, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Ephesians 1:3).

In Psalm 100 the writer puts into words how he feels about God. He is calling his fellow worshippers to praise God when he says, "Worship the Lord with joy; come before him with happy songs! Enter the Temple gates with thanksgiving; go into its courts with praise. Give thanks to him and praise him. The Lord is good; his love is eternal and his faithfulness lasts forever." The psalmist is breaking out in a song of praise, praise of God for all the ways he has shown his goodness and love to his people. In spite of their own lack of love and faithfulness to God, his love and faithfulness to his people goes on forever.

The writers of the psalms doesnít just reserve their praise for those high moments of joy and well-being when it is absolutely clear and certain that God was with them and they have received many blessings from his hand - blessings of good health, loving family, peace, and good weather.
There are those times when we donít feel like singing God's praises. Things have taken a turn for the worse Ė we have health issues, relationships have soured, work is a chore and has far too many stresses. Still the psalmists praise God because they know that it is just at those moments when things are going well that God's power is evident as he "upholds all those who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down" (Palm 145:14).

Paul says something similar, "Rejoice in the Lord always! (Philippians 4:4). He goes on to tell how even in the middle of the toughest times he has reason to be contented.
The Lord is to be praised because he is there even when we donít recognise he is there.
He is there in our doubts, our times of searching.
He is there when we are down and feel we canít go down any further.
He is there when we are terrified of the future.
He is there even when we wonder whether he really cares about us.
He is there in our deepest agony.
He is there to reassure us of his love and to give us the courage, the patience, the determination to see our troubles through to the end.
It takes faith and courage to praise God in the face of trouble and to rejoice in the Lord always.

In 1871 Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna were grieving the death of their young son when The Great Fire of Chicago destroyed everything they owned which was quite considerable because the Spaffords owned a lot of real estate. A while later Horatio decide to take his wife and 4 daughters on a holiday to Europe. At the last minute Horatio had to attend to some business but sent his wife and children on ahead. The ship sank and 226 people died. Anna Spafford was rescued but not before her 4 children were pulled from her arms by the force of the water.

Horatio Spafford immediately boarded a ship to join his wife in Europe. One night the captain called Spafford to his private cabin.  "A careful reckoning has been made," he said, "and I believe we are now passing the place where your children perished.  The water is three miles deep."

Horatio Spafford went back to his cabin.  We can imagine the grief that filled his heart.  Yet, before that dark night had ended, near the place where his children had died, he penned these unforgettable words:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrow like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
'It is well, it is well with my soul.'

It took "guts" to write something like that when grief over losing all 5 of his children must have been tearing him apart. It took a bold act to praise God in his condition. It took faith in God's love to be able to say,
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
'It is well, it is well with my soul.'

In fact, praise often helps us to see things from Godís perspective. God is good and he is to be praised for his goodness, for the way he upholds us in trouble and gives us the "guts" to keep on going.

But there is one thing peculiar about praise. I canít tell you to praise. I canít command you to "rejoice in the Lord always". No fifteen minute sermon will drive anyone to praise. Praise only comes in response to something someone has done; something that you have appreciated deeply. If you donít recognise what that person is doing for you, you wonít praise that person. That goes for praising God also.

Too often we take for granted what God is doing. We ignore his goodness and graciousness. We forget so easily his blessings when in the middle of some trouble. God gives us his Holy Spirit to keep on reminding us through his Word and through the Sacraments that God is good. He tells us that Jesus is our Saviour and gives us faith to believe and trust him.

When we come here to worship we remember our baptism, we receive the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion and we are reminded of the Godís goodness.
He has adopted us into his family and continues to bless us with forgiveness and the promise of eternal life.
We are reminded that he continues to shower his blessings on us even when we donít realise what is happening.
He reminds us through Scripture that God is good and worthy of our praise.
"We praise you, and all your people will give you thanks. He helps those who are in trouble; he lifts those who have fallen" (Psalm 145:10,14).

Praising God is really expressing our faith in words.
We praise God because we trust in his love for us.
We praise God because we know that he is always faithful and good.
We praise God because we know that when the chips are down God's power and strength will enable us to rise above the temporary difficulties that arise. I say temporary because the present difficulties fade into insignificance compared to what he has prepared for us in eternity.

"Sing to the Lord, all the world!
Worship the Lord with joy; come before him with happy songs!
Give thanks to him and praise him.
The Lord is good; his love is eternal and his faithfulness lasts forever" (Psalm 100).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
15th June 2008

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Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Good News Bible, © American Bible Society, revised Australian edition 1994.
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