Delivered 11 November 2018.
“Praise the Lord!”
We often say this when things go well or when we hear good news. For most of us, it’s only a stock phrase that shows excitement.
For the Old Testament Hebrews, “Praise the Lord” went deeper.
Today’s sermon text reminds us that praise may begin as a saying, but it should become the standard by which we live. Praise should happen everywhere and at all times. Praise should happen in good times and in bad times. Praise reminds us of God’s grace and informs others of our trust in God. Psalm 146 teaches us that a living, vital relationship with God will result in praise.
We don’t know the circumstances in which the anonymous psalmist wrote Psalm 146, but we can find clues in the text. We know the psalmist believed in God. We also know he had, at some point, witnessed the failure of human leaders to protect those in their care. He believed strongly in God’s care as evidenced by His power revealed in the creation.
The psalmist declared, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” The psalmist had committed his life to God, and his experiences as a believer in God had convinced him that God deserved his praise in all circumstances.
The psalmist had also realized the superiority of God’s security over that offered by human rulers. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” Human leaders have promised protection and provision for centuries. Sometimes, human rulers offer protection because of their good nature, but they sometimes offer benefits out of self-preservation or selfishness. Regardless of the motive, the psalmist realized rulers’ promises often end at their deaths: “When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.”
God, on the other hand, can give eternal promises. “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.” Why can God make promises that human rulers cannot? God revealed His power when He “made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them.” God’s power infinitely eclipses the power of human rulers, regardless of their wisdom or might.
Human rulers will also change their minds, often breaking promises when those promises start costing them more than they care to pay. God “keeps faith forever.” Believers can always rely on the promises of God, because He makes eternal promises.
God also cares for those forgotten or ignored by human societies. God “executes justice for the oppressed” when society exploits the helpless; He “gives food to the hungry” as part of His provision. God “sets the prisoners free” from their bonds, and He “opens the eyes of the blind.” He “lifts up those who are bowed down” from the burdens of life and from the sins that crush them. God lifts the humble who confess their need for Him. God “loves the righteous,” those who live rightly before Him and keep His commands. The righteous will care for the helpless and exploited and thus show God’s love for all people.
“The Lord watches over the sojourners.” God had specifically commanded the Hebrews to care for the sojourners: “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:33-34). Too many sojourners could find themselves before foreign judges they couldn’t understand, accused of laws they couldn’t have known. God’s command to the Hebrews reminded them that He cared for all people, not for the Hebrews alone.
God also “upholds the widow and the fatherless.” In the ancient world, widows and fatherless children lacked standing before courts of law. God often condemned societies for oppressing the widows and children. Widows often found themselves forced to sell their children into slavery to pay their husbands’ debt; they sometimes had to resort to prostitution to provide for themselves and their children. God commanded the Hebrews — and commands all societies — to care for those who can’t care for themselves.
We know that many people exploit the system for their own greed and lusts. The psalmist knew God would oppose and destroy the wicked: “The way of the wicked he brings to ruin.” The Hebrew word for “wicked” refers to those who intentionally, habitually break the commandments of God. While these people may repent and change, many of them refuse to do so because of their pride. The Hebrew word for “brings to ruin” implies a twisting of their way. The wicked may concoct devious plans, but God will twist their plans and destroy them.
The psalmist ended his song with a joyous proclamation of God’s eternal reign: “The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!”
What does this psalm say to us? Where do we start with the promises in this short psalm?
First, in all situations, we should praise the Lord! Unlike those who put their trust in political powers or in economic systems or in their own strength, we know we can trust our eternal God to rescue us and provide for us. Our God created heaven and earth, or in the words of the Nicene Creed, “Of all that is, seen and unseen.” Our God can make eternal promises because of His eternal nature. He deserves our praise throughout our lives.
We also see that God cares deeply for the defenseless and oppressed in our societies. I’ve noticed that God made no exceptions for nationality or religion; He commanded His people to care for all humans, without exception, without prejudice. The Church best demonstrates the grace we have received when we serve others graciously, accepting them and loving them as God has accepted and loved us.
We know of God’s love for us because of Jesus, His Son. Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus came to earth not as a secular ruler, but as a baby; not as a prince, but as a prophet; not as a man on a throne, but as the Messiah on the cross. Jesus lived as a sojourner in His life, never claiming a place as home during His ministry. Jesus cared for the children and for the widows.
Human princes put Jesus to death, but God raised Him from the dead. Now, everyone who believes in Jesus will receive eternal salvation. Jesus will one day rule eternally over all creation. St. Paul wrote that the day will come when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). At that time, all heaven shall sing: “The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
In the meantime, we live by faith in God, trusting in His provision. The Church, the people of God, serves as the means by which God cares for the helpless. We have a mandate from God Himself to love others as He has loved us. We have a mandate to accept everyone who travels to our lands, to our sanctuaries, and to love them so much they cannot help but see the love of Christ.
As long as I live, I will praise God for Jesus, His Son. As long as I live, I will praise God for the blessings He has given me. As long as I live, I will trust God to provide and protect me. As long as I live, I will serve God through worship. As long as I live, I will serve God by serving others. As long as we live, let us praise the Lord!