Message Delivered on August 16, 2015
Psalm 111; John 6:51-58 “Praise the Lord!”
You are probably wondering why I would choose to preach on Psalm 111, right in the midst of lectionary passages about Jesus as the Bread of Life—and on a Communion Sunday. I want to emphasize that everything in the Old Testament points to God at work, preparing the world for Jesus, establishing a new covenant and making it possible for believers to become heirs to Jesus’ righteousness and the promise of eternal life with God. WOW! What an awesome God we have to make elaborate, detailed plans to open the gates of heaven to those who put their trust in God.
Hebrew poetry is very different from the style we grew up studying in American and English literature in grade school, high school or college. We tend to think of poetry as stanzas ending with rhyming words. The Hebrew poets thought of repetitive ideas as the focus of their literature. “He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations (111:6). The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy (111:7).” Everything God has done intentionally to benefit the faithful (and to redeem the unfaithful). That is God’s promise and is worthy of thanksgiving and praise. In fact, the psalm opens with “Praise the Lord!” Psalm 112 can be set alongside Psalm 111 to parallel the thoughts that the righteous are rewarded for their faithfulness to God. God’s blessings endure forever.
Psalm 111 is a carefully crafted, alphabetic acrostic with the Hebrews letters beginning each line. The subject of the acrostic is the praise of God for all that God is and does. The theme is developed by 22 lines of Hebrew poetry, each one of which begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (aleph, bet, gimmel, dalet) The content of this psalm makes it very clear that it was written by someone who wanted to give thankful testimony about God’s goodness to the worshiping community.
The psalmist begins with a call to the community to praise the Lord (like our traditional “Call to Worship”). This praise is expected to give attention to the way that God has blessed those who worship and then the psalmist goes on to lead the worshiping community through a litany of confession about the great deeds of God. Did you ever wonder why the confession comes after the Call to Worship? The psalmist gives considerable attention to God’s character, which is described as the motivation for the great deeds God does. The Lord is described as “gracious” and compassionate. God is a nurturing presence among the people. “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Genesis 28:15). “The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). The Lord remembers the covenant promises and always works for the well-being of those who approach in faith.
The psalmist is also concerned about the character of the worshiping community. He tells them thanks should be offered with the “whole heart,” and we might add “our whole mind.” The heart in ancient Israel was believed to be the source of human thought. Deuteronomy 6:5, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength,” the words of the Shema, which follows the Law of God, the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. Every home had a copy of the Shema in the Mezzuzah attached to the doorpost. They would touch the box on their way going out and coming in to keep God in their hearts and minds everywhere they went.
The main point of the psalm is that a God as great as Israel’s Lord (and our God, as well) deserves more than half-hearted worship. Readers of the psalm are also reminded that proper thanksgiving takes place in “the company of the upright” (v.1). Worshipers are not expected to be morally perfect; that is impossible. Think of King David, the young shepherd anointed by prophet, Nathan, to become king over all Israel. He had God’s support and everything material he could ever want–but–he still lusted after Bathsheba, making God very sad. When David’s son, Solomon, followed his father to the throne, he prayed for wisdom to lead God’s people in the way of the Lord. God was pleased and most likely relieved, and blessed Solomon with wisdom, power and wealth. God faithfully keeps promises and is always attentive to the needs of the people, and asks that we have consistency between what we say and what we do. The worship of a God with integrity is carried out by a people of integrity resulting in a level of spiritual and ethical maturity: “wisdom.” Worshiping God with integrity leads to wisdom that allows for meaningful living.
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (v.10). “Perfect love casts out fear” (1John 4:18). When God saw that his people kept wandering from the ways he set before them, he created a plan that Jesus, his only Son, would suffer and die to show how great God’s love for them truly is. Perfect love, or agape, is the answer. Love engendered and nourished in the context of Christian community can, and does, banish fear. In a community that understands the need to create a safe place for peoples’ spirits, emotions, and bodies, fear will dissipate. In a community rooted in the Holy Spirit and leaning into God’s healing grace, fear will fade into the holy qualities of trust, Spirit led affection and hope. Fear or awe leads to wisdom, being full of hope in the fullness of God’s presence.
The gift of Holy Communion reminds us of God’s eternal love for us and his plan to draw us together into community. Through the grace and power of Jesus’ death on the cross, shedding of his blood for us, we experience forgiveness and receive strength to follow in his footsteps–all the way to eternity. And now, you know the rest of the story. Praise God for everlasting love, mercy and goodness! Praise the Lord!