Sermon 1747 Psalm 150 May 30, 2021
Hallelujah! What does it mean? Is it a tragic love ballad by Leonard Cohen? A shout of delight at a country western life going incredibly right? An ironic response to a speech gone too long? That’s the trouble with foreign words taken into our language. The meaning drifts. Let’s not let that happen this morning. At the heart of Hallelujah is unparalleled joy and happiness. The Psalms which start out with “Happy the man” end with
1. For all He is.
2. With all I am.
“Praise the LORD.” Hallelujah for all he is.
It starts here. The Hebrew Hallelujah literally means “praise the LORD.” At the very end of the psalm that’s what it means. Praise the LORD. The Masoretes, Hebrew scholars who spent their lives copying the Bible indicate that. Praise the LORD. Capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. The Savior God who promises to send a Savior into this world and will let no one and nothing stop him. This Savior God is also is the Savior, that Promise made flesh in the person of Jesus, true God, begotten of the Father from all eternity and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary. He is our Lord. Overlook that, and all life is a tragic love ballad. Overlook that and everything will go incredibly wrong. The LORD, capital L, capital O, capital R, capital D. That’s where we live.
Hallelujah for all he is. The LORD deserves our praise.
Now, let’s look at that first Hallelujah, the one mistakenly translated “Praise the LORD.” We’ve got phrases in our language that don’t mean what they seem to mean. Growing up in Minnesota we would say, “Kiss a pig and hope to die.” Nobody was going to visit the mortician and then traipse out to my uncle’s pigpen and smooch Daisy to seal the deal. It was an expression of surprise. The news that was so outlandishly unexpected, we’d say, “Kiss a pig and hope to die.” In some circles people might say, “God bless ‘em,” when talking about people who are clueless. It is a statement of (often condescending) pity. Figures of speech don’t mean what they seem to be saying. Everybody knows that. Unless you don’t.
Hallelujah is an expression of sheer joy, exultation and boundless happiness over the fact that you exist at this place, in this time for this very purpose. Hallelujah is a mother taking her newborn child into her arms for the first time. Hallelujah is a young man hearing that special girl say “I do.” Hallelujah is not meant for a perfectly roasted chicken coming out of the oven with potatoes, celery and carrots stewing in the juices. Oh, no. You don’t say Hallelujah when they spring a surprise birthday party which is no surprise to you. You don’t pull Hallelujah down to the ordinary, just as surely as you don’t use that scarf you bought at that fancy boutique on the Strip for a dusting rag. In our ordinary lives, if you can come up with twenty Hallelujah moments, you have lived. Your heart swells bigger than your ribs can cage it in. Hallelujah.
Hallelujah is the perfect word to describe our reaction to the LORD.
Hallelujah. For all he is.
“Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens. Praise him for his acts of power; praise him for his surpassing greatness (1-2).”
People often display in their homes what they are proud of. There may be a mounted deer head in the family room. A picture of the person with someone famous, a former president, an entertainer, or better yet, an Elvis impersonator. But always, pictures of the family. God has a family. The exalted one, the mighty one, the one above everything and everyone, God, God has a family. He has a family on earth, in his sanctuary. He has a family in heaven, his mighty heavens. Those families praise God for all he is.
God is praised for all he is in his sanctuary for his acts of power. The sanctuary for the Old Testament Jew was the Temple. That’s where the formal worship took place, the morning and evening sacrifices, the personal sin sacrifices offered during the day, the festive sacrifices, communal meals shared with joyous worshippers. There was no place like it. The Temple, religious instruction also took place there. Unlike the sacrifices which were to take place only within the Temple grounds, the instruction from God flowed from the Temple to the towns and dinner tables of God’s people. But it rang out the loudest and the best from the sanctuary. That’s why the rest of the country thought those who lived in Jerusalem were blessed. That’s where the young Jesus spent his time when in Jerusalem.
Forgiveness of sins rang out from the Temple. That’s what all those animal sacrifices were designed to do. Far from taking away sin, the blood of animal sacrifices taught the people God would substitute someone else to pay the penalty—death—for their sins. Every one of those bulls and oxen, sheep and goats, each dove sacrificed pointed ahead to the Savior whose death would be the real payment for the sins of the people. John the Baptist didn’t have to explain himself when he first pointed out Jesus as “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Everybody who had ever been to the sanctuary knew what he was talking about.
For that God is to be praised, first and foremost.
Oh, but we think forgiveness of sins is such a trifling. Why would the mighty God be bothered with that? Aren’t there better things we should praise him for? In part this attitude comes from unbelief. Our unbelieving sinful human nature doesn’t think God has much of an impact on this life. Yes, yes, my sins are forgiven, but did you catch that comeback by the Golden Knights? In part this attitude comes from our desire to change the topic. If I am caught red-handed, I want to point out others have done much worse than I. If God forgives my sins, it must mean I am a sinner. If I don’t want to admit that (and our sinful human nature doesn’t want to admit to anything), I want to talk about other things God does. Jesus was powerful. He performed many, many miracles. But he only died on the cross once. That’s why the psalmist links the sanctuary with his acts of power. It takes strength to win forgiveness of sins. It takes strength to march into hell, rub the devil’s nose in his defeat, and then march back out without even a whiff of brimstone clinging to you. Jesus did all that on Easter Sunday before the women had even come to the tomb as the sun was first rising. Jesus is our warrior who overcame sin, death and the devil. Nuclear weapons won’t cut it. Lasers are too slow. God is our mighty Savior. Praise him for all he is.
Now we can turn to everything else. He paints every rainbow. He gives life to every germinating seed. His eye is on the sparrow and he rides the solar winds. He juggles galaxies in a heavenly dance that stretches beyond our imagination. He called into being angel hosts as bright as the stars. Awesome, transcendent, beyond even the lyrics of the music on Christian radio. He is beyond human words. Maybe that’s why the psalmist is reduced to talking about God’s surpassing greatness. To rejoice in the beauty of nature, to thrill at the life force so stubborn in the face of disaster, that’s Hallelujah. Hallelujah for all he is.
Hallelujah with all I am.
“Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals. Let everything that has breath praise the LORD (3-6).”
Don’t take this as the musical score for the Old Testament worship service. It would create quite a racket. Cymbals, we understand. The clash and crash. Tambourines go with the dancers, but it would seem to indicate a pretty robust performance. Strings and flute, harp and lyre may be more to our thinking of quiet, contemplative music. But the sounding of the trumpet? Don’t think of a nice three valve Conn trumpet you are renting for your sixth grader. This is a ram’s horn, a shofar. And it isn’t being played softly in the bedroom until Junior can learn his part in the William Tell Overture. It is the clap, the blast, the jab. It is the sort of thing they’d sound over a city wall to let everyone know the enemy had been sighted coming over the hills. It is the sort of thing they used to ring in the New Year before they invented electric balls to drop. Even a hard of hearing rabbi would have a hard time sitting through a service with all of this going on.
But that’s just the point. The psalmist has included everything that went on in the Temple worship throughout all the year, throughout the day, from the blast of the ram’s horn on New Year’s to the dancing with tambourines in one of the festivals and the strings and lyre for more solemn services. Everything was enlisted in Hallelujah. Everything they had was to be put into the Hallelujah.
Hallelujah. For all he is with all I am.
Everything we have is to be put into the worship. Worship calls for the best in each of us. I will participate in the worship. I will give it my all. I will try to follow Pieper’s sermons and if I don’t catch what he is saying, I’ll grab a copy of the sermon and reread it at home. I will join in the prayers, join in the liturgy, the confession of sins and the Apostles’ Creed. I am not the greatest singer in the world, but you know what? God wants to hear my voice singing his praises and when everybody around me sings, it sort of drowns me out so there is a glorious anonymity. I will be the clashing cymbal or the blast of the ram’s horn in the singing. And it will be great. I will give it my all, my best, and the Holy Spirit will mix and mingle the voices together as he will.
And we will give of our best. We will encourage our young to consider the public ministry for the work of their life. When I graduated from high school the Watergate scandal was unfolding. Politicians were seriously telling the youth of the country not to get into politics. It was beneath them. Maybe we are living with the results of that advice. I am here to tell you today that the public ministry is not beneath anyone. It has been the calling of my life. I have been challenged, frustrated, perplexed, thrilled, honored, proud and humbled, but never bored. Even being at the same congregation for thirty-three years, not a single one has been the same. After this past year, I think everyone can identify with that. When the next guy comes along, I don’t worry that he will suggest to his buddies Pieper didn’t organize the church very well. When the next guy comes along he will have a heart and brain big enough to realize the believers gathered at Green Valley Evangelical Lutheran Church organized four churches and sent three of them away, either to heaven or to other parts of our valley or country. You look at the homegrown talent we have been given, our teachers, from Mrs. Nielsen (two days into her self-proclaimed “forever retirement”) to Mrs. Revis, our Director, Mrs. Redmond, Griest, Crowe, Birnbaum, Ploetz, Heiny, Tapani and Snider, they are first-rate, top notch. They are not serving as your public ministers at Green Valley Lutheran School because they didn’t have any other options. We called them and the Holy Spirt moved them to accept that call.
We have two young men in our congregation, Mr. Anthony Navarro, our Congregational Assistant who will start his duties in August and Zachary Turley, who has just finished his undergraduate studies and will enter the seminary this fall. They have not chosen this course because of the benefits package.
And now put that together with the fact that our entire national church body graduated and assigned twenty-eight pastors this week. They had to sing a few extra hymns and say their names real slowly to make the service last an hour. We can do better. We need to do better. If you are sharp, if you like hard work, if you like being knee deep in people, if the love of Jesus is moving you to help other people, don’t rule out going to a humble college in Minnesota to start your journey towards the public ministry. They have OK athletics, the dorms are so-so, no one has ever died from the cafeteria food, but the training in God’s Word is unsurpassed. Encourage your children or grandchildren to consider it.
We will not stop the Hallelujah when we walk out of church. We will see the LORD’s forgiveness at work in our lives and forgive others as we are being forgiven. We will say our prayers. We will think about the stories in the Bible and start to see modern retellings of them in the events of our lives and the lives of those around us. We will rejoice in the beautiful world God has given us. We will fill our heads and hearts with noble and gracious things and be ennobled by them. Our God doesn’t just rule within these four walls. He rules in our world, protecting his people, thwarting the plans of the wicked.
1. For all He is.
2. With all I am.
Hallelujah! It was the only way to end the psalms. What higher praise could we give to God our LORD? Hallelujah for his surpassing greatness. Hallelujah for his mighty deeds of forgiveness. Hallelujah with everything I have in me. Hallelujah from hearts renewed daily by the joy of God’s salvation. Hallelujah!