These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by others, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
A few weeks ago, in the first round, I was invited to one of the playoff games for the Canes at the RBC Center. It was the do or die game. What a treat. It is one thing to watch a game on TV and it is another thing to be there. You arrive… and they gave us this towel saying something like, scream loud. I don’t think we needed a towel to do that. There was electricity in the air… Let’s go Canes… lights… music… videos-there was energy in that place. Energy that fueled the team… and we won… "Woooo- Hooo" … Way to Go. And you know what we were doing… we were praising the Canes for their victory… What a night.
My son posted on facebook a video of the UNC Flash Rave… that instant gathering of 3000 Carolina students relieving stress by rushing to the library and cheering and dancing for eight minutes… culminating with singing their alma mater…
Hail to the brightest star of all, clear in thy radiance shine,
Carolina, priceless gem, Receive all praise as thine.
Hark the echo of those voices, boys of long ago
Singing Carolina’s praises as through life they go.
Praising Carolina! You should have seen it.
I’ve wondered if human beings are just born to offer praise to something or some one. Seems to be in our DNA. I think about other moments of praise-sometimes in quieter moments: You teach your child to swim… way to go! I’m proud of you. You praise and encourage your child… Or they take piano lessons and you encourage them… way to go! Or, you go to the theatre… and the acting and the show is so inspiring… at the end… you rise with everyone else to give a standing ovation….clapping… cheers… You are praising the performers for a job well done. This is why they do it after all.
Or you go to a concert-pick your concert… rap… rock… or Bach. In some concerts you stand and shout and wave a lighter… acts of praise. In others, that would be out of order (I can’t see this at a symphony) … it would not be proper… but at the end of the symphony, you stand and cheer… the conductor and the orchestra take their bows. Praise.
Praise. We must be made for praise. The part of the Psalm we read today is full of praise… directed at God. Way to go God! Let’s go God! Well, maybe not in those words… but still praise…
"From you comes my praise in the great congregation… All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord and all the families of the nations shall worship before him… before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him… future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it"
Way to go God!
My question is this: Where does this praise come from? I’ll tell you where it did not come from… an easy life… a life where his investments always rose… he always had a job with salary increases every year… never got sick. A life with easy decisions…He is not praising God for that… for that is not his experience. It did not come from a life that knew God was close to him all the time… or from a life where he felt safe and secure all the time… a life only filled with one blessing after another. That’s not where his praise came from. How do I know?
Because I read the earlier part of the Psalm… you start out and you wonder why this person would praise God at all. It opens with that famous line Jesus used on the cross… at the time of his cruel death. "My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but find no rest."
This Psalmist is not feeling God’s presence, but God’s absence… God feels about as far away as God can feel.
I imagine there are times when you have felt that way. I know I have. Think about 9-11. How did you feel that day? Or more personally, think of those honest moments when you wondered where God was when you lost your job… or your spouse asked you for a divorce or when you got the news of the death of someone you love.
I’ll never forget the moment that a couple in a former church found out that their baby… one month from being born… the baby they had prepared the room for… would be born dead. Dead. A baby almost to full term, born dead. It was one of the most distant moments I have ever felt for them. Where was God in all that? I know they were asking, so was I? When the dead baby was delivered, they gave her a name and we had a funeral. "Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?" Praise? Not yet.
Yet… in the midst of that feeling of abandonment, I noticed something important. The Psalmist was not ruled by his feelings of despair or distance. He says, "Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. [I don’t feel like praising, but someone else is] In you our ancestors trusted… to you they cried and were saved…"
Even there in despair… where many would have given up on God… he reaches deep into the heart of his faith to remember that God was there for others when they cried and they were saved… as if to say (which he will)… be there for me too. Be there for me.
Which, to make a long story short, God was… eventually. After more pleading and praying from the place of despair… something happens… "From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me. I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him!"
And with that, we finally hear the praise… Not because life was easy… but because life had been difficult… and this person of faith had taken it all to God in prayer… even his honest complaint and plea… and waited for the Lord to answer… And when the Lord answered… then praise… praise!
Where did that praise come from? Well he told us?
"From you comes my praise in the great congregation"
From God. God is the source of praise. From the God who listened… from the God who heard and responded… God is the source of praise… praise for what God has done and what God will do:
"The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord"
All the ends of the earth…everyone… all nations .. will one day see what God is doing and will worship God… Even those who died and those yet to be born will eventually see what God has done… Praise… Way to go God!-will come from people when we come to see the hand of God at work in the most despairing and desperate situations.
I think of the story I heard from a pastor who was praying with a group of people in a park in San Diego. He was between two young women from Sudan. He says, ‘As we held hands and offered our prayers aloud, I felt the deep wrenching that gripped their bodies, causing both of them to tremble as they spoke. What moved me most were the words of their prayers. The older of the two women who stood on my left prayed first. And then she said it. "Thank you, God, for the suffering of my people. Thank you for the hurt we have known. Thank you for the long journey from war to refugee camps, and now to this place. Thank you for the pain we feel leaving our families behind and not knowing their fate; not knowing whether they are dead or alive. "The pastor said, "Her prayer continued like that as she shared a very deep faith in a loving an present God whom she gave thanks through her tough times. I had expected another kind of prayer. Perhaps one that was more familiar like praying for the protection of her family or the end to the war, violence and death among her Sudanese countrymen. Instead, she prayed and I heard words of thankfulness in the midst of tough times." 1.
Praise. It’s not just for good times only. It’s for people who can trust God is at work, even when we don’t know how. One other story for this Mother’s day.
This is a time of year I think about my mother for more than one reason. One, of course is this day. But the other is because my Mom died on Memorial Day weekend in 1996. Only 71. After a lifetime of smoking, she had spent 10 years fighting cancer with diabetes thrown in… with many of the latter years living with only one lung and where taking even a few steps looked like running a marathon.
But you know what, during those 10 years, though I’m sure she had some deep and private honest to God prayers of lament to God… through those years… she kept going to church… singing songs of Praise… praying to God… listening to God… I’m sure when she was unable to praise, she heard the congregation praise for her.
In the year that she died, it had been a tough year. She went into the hospital with some heart problems… fell there and went into a coma. For a couple of months, she was in that coma. Then, miraculously, after Easter, she came out of it for a few weeks, before slipping back into unconsciousness for the last time. I remember hours of sitting with Mom… sitting… sitting… talking… praying…
When she died, can I tell you I felt the strangest feeling. Relief. Relief for her. She was finally at peace. Rest in peace Mom. Finally. She was. The God she had praised all those years had delivered her.
When the time came for her service, we gave thanks and praised God for Mom. We sang one of her favorite songs she wanted sung… Go tell it on the Mountain… Where did that praise come from… when we watched someone we love suffer for so long?
I can tell you now where it came from. It came from God. From knowing that God had delivered her from her suffering and from knowing she was at peace. And you know what is strange… it was in the midst of praise that I found myself being healed… healed by the knowledge that though we may feel abandoned from time to time, we never are. Not really. God is there and in God’s time, we will be delivered and we will be healed.
Way to go God! Way to go!
1. From Rev. Arthur Cribbs, Pastor of the Christian Fellowship Congregational Church