Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sermon: Psalm 148 Praise the LORD

This morning we’re looking at one of the Psalms, one of the songs in the Bible, and as we look at it together, you might find it useful to have it open in front of you. Have a look at it now - what is the Psalm all about? How does it open and close?

Our Psalm today is a call to praise - we’re told at the start and at the end ‘Praise the LORD’. But what does that mean? How do we praise the LORD? Some people think that when the Bible talks about praising the Lord, that it means those times when we are singing in church. So if we sing four or five songs on a Sunday, does that mean that the rest of the time we’re in church, and the rest of the week we’re not praising God?

I don’t think so! As we sing to God we are praising him, but praising God is so much more. Indeed, as we’ll see, the Psalm is a command for all of creation to praise the LORD, angels and people, stars and mountains. Everything that God has made is called to join in praising God. But I’ve never heard the mountains or the fruit trees singing!

The Psalm is divided into two main sections, and in each section there is a call to praise from somewhere, and then the reason why we are to praise. So let’s look at the first section. Can anyone see where the praise is from?

‘Praise the LORD from the heavens.’ When the Bible talks about the heavens, sometimes it means the place where God dwells, and sometimes it means the sky above us. Here in the Psalm, we see it refers to both - verse 2 the angels and heavenly hosts; and verse 3 the sun and moon, and shining stars. Do you notice what is being told to the sun? What should the sun and the stars do?

‘Praise him.’ From our place on earth, the sun and moon and stars seem so bright, so great, that we’re tempted to worship them. Some people even go so far as to think that the stars have an influence over how their day is going to turn out, if they’ll be lucky or not. But the Psalm reminds us that the sun and stars have no power of their own - they were created by God, just like us, and they also praise the Lord.

Over in Psalm 19, David tells us how the heavens above us praise God: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.’ (Psalm 19:1-2) Praising God is about declare God’s glory - even though the sun and stars never speak, yet they shout out God’s glory.

It’s the same with the angels. They exist to praise the Lord. Remember when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the angels were there to declare God’s glory, to praise the Lord as they told the shepherds about Jesus’ birth.

So why should the heavens and all that are in them praise the name of the LORD? Look at verse 5. ‘Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created. He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away.’

God is to be praised because he spoke, and everything was created. His word is powerful. God should be praised because he has made everything that exists.

In the second section, we see a similar pattern. First, there’s the command: Praise the LORD from the ...? Earth. So what on earth should be praising God? Is it just us humans? No, not just us, but also sea creatures, lightning, hail, snow, clouds, winds, mountains, hills, trees, animals, cows, insects and birds. It’s a catalogue of creation, isn’t it? Everything biological, everything geological, everything meteorological, everything on and in the earth, and even the earth itself is called to praise the LORD.

Verses 11 and 12 also show us that every person is called to praise - not just the young, or the old, or the middle-aged. Not just kings, not just princes, not just important people or celebrities. Everyone!

Earlier we thought about how some of us can praise created things like the stars, or angels. Maybe we’re more tempted to praise other people. Here in the Psalm, we might be tempted to praise the kings of the earth. Well, we say, they’re really important and powerful, so we should praise them.

Can you think of some people we might praise? Maybe we’re caught up instead with praising our favourite singer, or football player, or whoever is on Dancing on Ice or the X Factor this year. A few years back there was another reality TV show that hit the nail on the head: Pop Idol. The show was trying to make a new idol, a new someone to worship and praise.

But the energy and time that we devote to praising people is ultimately wasted. Our celebrities, heroes, politicians are just human - and make mistakes, and fail us. They’re not really worthy of our praise. Their failures make us more wary of who we praise. So why should we praise the name of the LORD?

Verse 13 gives us the reason: ‘Let them (that is, all of us) praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.’ If you go to a Northern Ireland game, you’ll spend the night cheering for David Healy or Steve Davis (not the snooker player!). But in the grand scheme of things, they’re just one person from little Northern Ireland. The name of the LORD - the Covenant making God, the promise-keeping God - his name is exalted or lifted up and praised everywhere. His is the only name that is praised.

Two Sundays ago, we were in Times Square in New York. There’s so much advertising that you can’t even see the buildings the ads are hanging on. All the big brands are there: Coke, McDonalds, Gap, and each one is fighting to be seen, to have the brightest and biggest and best advert. In the world, in the universe, there is just one name that is exalted and lifted high: The LORD (Jesus). It’s not just that his glory and splendour and wow-ness fill the earth - his splendour is above the earth and the heavens. God made the world to reflect his glory, like the moon reflects the sun’s light. We’re called to praise, to declare God’s name and glory and character. The sun and moon and stars are doing it, will you do it too?

Because, as verse 14 concludes, God’s people have an extra-special reason for praise. God has ‘raised up for his people a horn.’ Horns on animals are there for strength - so goats have horns and they try to overpower the other goats. Or the rhinoceros. The horn of strength that God has raised up for his people is his king, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was he who created the world (Col 1:16), he who upholds the universe by the word of his power (Heb 1:3), his the name that is above every name (Phil 2:9), whose glory fills the skies.

Psalm 148 is a call for all of creation to do what God made it to do - to praise the name of the LORD - to recognise the greatness of our God. The sun praises God - how much more we who are saved, adopted, and are members of God’s family? Praise the LORD.

This sermon was preached at the Family Service in St Elizabeth's Church, Dundonald on Sunday 20th September 2009.

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