“PSALM OF THE YEAR- HALLELUJAH”
The Reverend Tasha Blackburn
January 8, 2017
So begins Psalm 146. “Praise the Lord!” that’s what the word is. “Praise the Lord” in its original language is “hallelujah.” The singer cannot help but rejoice. He calls us to praise, he calls his own soul to praise; he vows to praise God his whole life long. He just cannot stop himself.
Maybe it is because he has so much to be happy about. Maybe life is going well. Maybe that is why he shouts his hallelujah. Except that we should not confuse praise with a good time because they are not the same thing—there is no equal sign between them—and one does not necessarily lead to the other.
I am reminded of a woman Phil and I know who recently complained to her friend. “It’s just terrible,” she said on the phone the other day. “What’s wrong?” her friend asked. “You sound terrible. What has happened?” The woman sighed in a long-suffering way and said, “Mike wants to take me on a trip to the hot springs of Iceland…can you believe it?”
No, praise is not about good times. It is not something that just those with perfect lives do. Praise is a choice. It is one of the reasons we’ve chosen this psalm as our Psalm of the Year. Because, as Christians we are called to praise God and praising is a choice. The psalm writer shares a couple of tips on how we can best make this choice. First, he writes, trust in the right things. “Happy (meaning satisfied) are those who trust in God, who put their hope in him.” Choose to trust God and praise will come.
Second: don’t ask more of humans than they can give. Whether they are princes or not, don’t put your ultimate trust in them. They cannot save you and they will inevitably falter and fail you if you expect them to. We have people in our lives we love so much and that is good. But do not ask more of them than they can be. They cannot save you. So don’t ask it of them.
And finally: look for God’s work in the here and now. Often in the psalms the writer will harken back to God’s help as the people crossed the Red Sea, or God’s work through Moses, or God’s action in giving them the Promised Land. But Psalm 146 doesn’t do any of that. The writer doesn’t need to harken back to past actions because he is certain God is busy working here and now: executing justice, feeding the hungry, setting prisoners free.
Trust God alone. Don’t ask more from people than they can give. Believe in and look for God’s work here and now. That’s what the psalm writer does. And when he makes those choices, he chooses to begin it all with praise. He chooses to end it that way too. For this psalm, like all of the last five psalms in the book, both begins and ends with hallelujah. He chooses, no matter what happens in the middle, to praise.
So this year, let’s choose praise. Not because things are always easy or because life is always going so well but because we trust God. That is the message of this psalm. It is the message of the entire Book of Psalms, in fact. In the 145 songs before this one we have had it all: laments and instruction, some prayers and some scenes of joy. There have been descriptions of suffering and struggle. In the 145 before this we’ve experienced it all but, in the end, even with everything that has come before, it is praise. Our psalm begins and ends with it. So does 147 and 148 and 149. By the time we get to 150, the last one, it is hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. 10 times over again, hallelujah.
All of the life of faith is this way; Jesus’ life is this same way. We celebrate on this Epiphany Sunday that the wise men were filled with joy when they saw Jesus. But let us not forget that Matthew writes of praise at the end as well. While wise men praise Jesus at his birth, a soldier praises him at his death. Because, after it all, praise.
Call it our own epiphany on this Epiphany Sunday, our own realization that we have a choice in our life. We have a choice: choose praise. Choose praise because God is worthy of your trust. Choose praise because he is at work—not just long ago—but here and now. Choose praise because he has kept faith all this time.
Yes, that’s what the psalmist says. God is the one “who keeps faith forever.” We talk so often about our being faithful and our needing to remain faithful but faith is not a one-way street. God is faithful too and, no matter what we do, God remains faithful always…forever. No matter what has happened or will happen, what we have faced or ever will face, God remains faithful.
So, at the beginning of this new year, I want to leave you with this choice and with an image to help you in that choice. It is an image that early Christians surrounded themselves with when their days were dark and turbulent, days when the Church was in peril and so much of their lives were unsettled. We know what gave meaning to this fledging faithful because of what they drew. In the catacombs, they carved and painted and surrounded themselves with images that could carry them through hard times. Maybe surprisingly, they didn’t draw very many crosses down there. Hardly a one. What they drew were anchors. In dark corridors: anchors. In rooms that were filled with loss: anchors.
They drew anchors because the sea was thought to be the last wild place, the only part of the world that God did not control. And, of course, the earth was flat, so seafaring was dangerous and turbulent work. You could literally fall of the end of the earth by doing it. They knew what it was to face difficulties like that: the ones that seem to knock you off the edge of the earth, that toss you about. We know a bit about those difficulties too.
Into these fears, Christians imagined themselves in a boat. Together they would sail with the cross as their mast and together they could not only endure but flourish and thrive. In the midst of the scariest possible circumstance they could praise: because they were in the boat together and because Christ was their anchor. He steadies all voyages. He holds the boat firm. He keeps faith forever.
So before even the cross, there was the anchor. For Christ remains faithful no matter the waves. And even today we build our churches to look like upside down boats and we, each generation anew, trust God. Knowing the waters will rise, we get in the boat and, by getting in the boat, we choose praise. How can we not? No matter how the seas roil and foam, Christ is our anchor and HE keeps faith forever. So we choose praise, for those we meet; for our own souls; for our whole lives long. We choose praise. Hallelujah. Amen.