Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 24)

Text: Psalm 96:7-10
Praise the Lord, all people on earth; praise his glory and might.
Praise the Lord’s glorious name; bring an offering and come into his Temple.
Bow down before the Holy One when he appears; tremble before him, all the earth!
Say to all the nations, “The Lord is king!”

Praise his glory and might

Do you ever get fed up with the news on TV or what you read in the newspapers?  Take the TV news for instance.  For the first 15-20 minutes you get one tragic story after another – murders, robberies, attacks on people in the streets and in their homes, stories about alcohol and drug affected people, road rage stories, horrific stories of innocent people in war torn places.  We get image after image on our screens with nothing but sadness and cruelty and horror.

After our senses and our humanity have been attacked and we are so disgusted in what people can do to other people, we might, and I emphasise we might, get a one minute item that tells us something good and praiseworthy that someone has done.  The news broadcasts are presented in such a way that one could easily come to believe that the whole world has gone to hell in a hand basket and this one thing is the only good thing that has happened in the world today. 

A local radio station decided to correct this lopsided view of the world and asked people to ring in and tell the community about ordinary people who have done special things for them that were worthy of praise.  It was amazing how many people had stories to tell of friends and strangers who went out of their way to do something that made a difference to the recipient’s day.  Sometimes the person on the phone would say that they didn’t know who the person was who had helped them but hoped that he/she was listening.  The caller wanted the person to know what a difference his/her kindness had made.

One woman rang explaining how her car had broken down.  An elderly man stopped to help but as he walked from his own car, it rolled down a hill, knocking over a sign and ran into an embankment.  Regardless he got the woman going again and on his insistence she happily went on her way.  She rang the radio station praising this man’s selfless attitude and if he would ring the radio station she would be happy to pay for any cost involved in fixing his car.   

This local radio station achieved its goal of highlighting that there are some good news stories worth telling.  It’s good to thank and heap praise on those who have been kind and charitable.

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. For this feedback to have a positive effect this needs to be 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. 
Thank them.
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 go keep up the good work.  Praise is putting into words your feelings of appreciation and gratefulness.  If you don’t praise that person, he/she will never know how much they are appreciated. 

The Bible is full of praise to God.  In Exodus, when safely beyond the hot breath of Pharaoh’s army which had pursued them and trapped them against the Sea, before the Israelites 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 and so they 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 Bethlehem’s 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 Jesus’ 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).

The Psalm for today, Psalm 96, starts,
“Sing a new song to the Lord! Sing to the LORD, all the world!
Sing to the Lord, and praise him!
Proclaim every day the good news that he has saved us”.

The writer puts into words how he feels about God. He is excited about God’s saving power and is calling everyone to join him in praising God.  He goes on.

“Praise the Lord, all people on earth; praise his glory and might.
Praise the Lord’s glorious name; bring an offering and come into his Temple. Bow down before the Holy One when he appears;
tremble before him, all the earth!
Say to all the nations, “The Lord is king!” 

The psalmist is breaking out in a song of praise, praising God for all the ways he has shown his goodness and love to his people. He calls the heavens, the sea, the trees, the fields, and all creatures who live in these places to join him in his praise of God.  He is really getting carried away. 

The writers of the psalms don’t just reserve their praise for those high moments of joy when everything is going really well and it’s clear many blessings of good health, loving family, peace, and good weather have come from God’s hand.

There are those times when we don’t feel like singing God's praises.  Things have taken a turn for the worse – we have health issues, relationships have soured, work is a chore and we have far too many stresses.  Still the psalmists praise God because they know that it is just at those moments when things aren't going well that God's power is evident as he “gives a hand to those down on their luck, gives a fresh start to those ready to quit” (Palm 145:14 Mess). 

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 don’t recognise he is there.
He is there in our doubts, our times of searching. 
He is there when we are down and feel we can’t go down any further. 
He is there when we are terrified of the future. 
He is there in our deepest agony. 
He is there to reassure us of his love and to give us the courage, and the patience, and 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 from scarlet fever 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 the 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 God’s 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 can’t tell you to praise.  I can’t command you to Sing to the Lord, and praise him! and really mean it.  No sermon will drive anyone to praise.  Praise only comes in response to what someone has done; something that you have appreciated deeply.  It comes from a realisation that you have been the recipient of something wonderful.  If you don’t have that appreciation, you won’t praise that person.  That goes for praising God also. 

Too often we take for granted what God is doing.  We ignore his goodness and grace.  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. 

That God is full of grace and mercy in itself is something to sing God’s praise. 
God’s grace is so amazing and so undeserved it’s no wonder the psalmist shouts,
“Sing to the Lord, and praise him!” ... “The Lord is good; his love is eternal and his faithfulness lasts forever” (Psalm 100:5).

Praising God is really expressing our faith in words. 
We praise God because we trust in his never-failing 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, and praise him! Proclaim every day the good news that he has saved us.
Proclaim his glory to the nations, his mighty deeds to all peoples.
The Lord is great and is to be highly praised” (Psalm 96:2-4).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
19th October 2014

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