David A. Davis
November 8, 2020
“It’s like the grand finale in a symphony of praise.” That’s how the members of my Wednesday small group described the last five psalms in the psalter. Along with several other Nassau virtual small groups we have been meeting each week to study and pray with the psalm that is the text for Sunday’s sermon. Psalm 145 to Psalm 150 is the psalter’s exclamation point that reverberates with so much adoration to the Lord that it creates an echo of never-ending praise. Or to use the title of a Richard Smallwood anthem/gospel classic: “Total Praise.” The psalm for this morning is tucked right in the middle of total, cosmic, divine praise.
When our daughter Hannah was very young we went with some extended family to Disneyworld. One night we stood along the route of the closing parade that is so full of Disney characters, huge floats, all kind of lights, loud music, with fireworks coming at the end. Hannah was on my shoulders holding on to my hair as I had one arm up to hold on to her. It was quite the overwhelming sensation of light and sound for everyone, especially I imagine for the youngest. Mickey Mouse came by on a huge float waving to everyone like his arms were going to fall off. He looked our way. Hannah must have thought he was looking right at me. She waved back and said in a whisper that only I could hear, “Hi Mickey”. She must have felt so small.
These last five psalms of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving are like the finale of an incredible fireworks show. Everybody at a fireworks show becomes like a child sitting on a parents shoulder. Constantly looking in the sky. Some holding their ears. Others making “oohs” and “aahs” like kids seeing a display like that for the first time. A good fireworks show is intended to make you feel like a child again; make you feel small.
The finale to the book of psalms can make the reader feel so small in contrast to the glorious, expansive, vast, cosmic portrayal of the Lord of heaven and earth. Just here in Psalm 147: “The Lord determines the number of the stars; the Lord gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord and abundant in power; God’s understanding is beyond measure…Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre. God covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.” On and on the praise of the God of creation, the Lord of heaven earth. And with every proclamation of God’s greatness, humankind seems smaller and smaller and smaller. Smaller in a Psalm 8 kind of way: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (Psalm 8:3-4) Feeling small amid the grand finale of praise to the “King of Kings, the Lord of Lords….Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”
This week long about Thursday I found myself sitting down at the piano and playing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” I know I am dating myself but the song has been important in my heart since I was young boy and someone sang it at my brother’s funeral. This week it was the first line of the song that invited me to sit down and play. “When you’re weary, feeling small.” Between those staying up late every night watching returns to those increasingly anxious watch virus numbers rise, I can’t be the only one who felt weary and pretty small in swirling realities of life. Growing up in my family if you just weren’t feeling up to snuff, you weren’t sick but you weren’t 100% either, you just felt off, the expression was “feeling puny”. The year 2020 and feeling puny.
It is abundantly clear this week that every vote counts. My goodness every vote counts. And regardless of your reaction to yesterday’s news, the massive divide in the country is also abundantly clear. It is one thing to ponder such striking division intellectually. It is quite another to experience it so viscerally this week and wonder deep inside if unity can in fact, be “one day restored”. That line coming from the hymn “We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord and we prayer that all unity may one day be restored” The divide had an ominous tone this week. More ominous were the numbers being pushed back to page 2. All eyes were on the election interactive computer maps while the infections are coming in at well over 100,000 a day. The magnitude of difficulty in the coming days and weeks of political transition and the virus in winter, it has a pressing chest heaviness to it. Yeah, “weary and feeling small”.
I kept hearing another refrain this week, not in my head but from clergy friends, podcasts and blog posts. It felt like I was hearing it, seeing it everywhere. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference”. Reinhold Niebuhr. The Serenity Prayer. Weary. Feeling small. Breath prayer.
In our Adult Ed video this morning, Professor Brent Strawn from Duke University points out the psalms function differently for the people of God depending on when and where they are read, sung, prayed. “When and where” is always key in the interpretation and function of scripture as a living word. Read Psalm 22, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me” on Good Friday and the church sees Jesus on the cross. Read Isaiah 40 in Advent “A voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” and church hears John the Baptist. Read I Corinthians 13 “love is patient, love is kind” at a wedding and everyone in the congregation says “aaah” when Paul’s infamous verses are not about marriage and romance but life in Christian community. So yes, “when and where” is important when it comes to allowing scripture to speak in and to our lives.
To read a psalm of thanksgiving this week, this Sunday, is to allow thanksgiving to God to become an affirmation of faith in your life. To sing a psalm of praise this week, this Sunday, is to allow praise to God to become an assurance of God’s presence and God’s future in your life. To pray a psalm of thanksgiving and praise this week, this Sunday, is to allow praise and thanksgiving to God to become a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path even in the most uncertain or worrisome of days. To read, sing, and pray a psalm of praise and thanksgiving to God “though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heard of the seas, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult” (Psalm 46), is to do what the people of God have always done, what the church of Jesus Christ has always done, to boldly allow praise and thanksgiving to God to push back on the powers and the principalities of this world, to allow praise and thanksgiving to God to become way more than a flicker of light amid the present darkness, to all praise and thanksgiving to God it itself be a foretaste of glory divine, a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
To hear Psalm 147 this week, this Sunday, is to hear Psalm 147 as a gospel word of hope and assurance. A word that turns “feeling small” in the world and in the eyes of God completely upside down. Because yes, indeed, there in the very middle of the psalter’s grand finale, smack in the middle of such a cacophony of praise, rising up with a piercing light and a trumpet blast there in the middle of this portrayal of the epic work of God, the Creator of the universe, is this promise never, ever to be missed or forgotten or even worse, ignored: “God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” The same God who names the stars, names and comforts the brokenhearted. The same God who covers the heavens with the clouds, reaches to cover the wounds of the afflicted with love. The same Lord who is so great and abundant in power, whose understanding is beyond measure, is so great and abundant in lifting up the downtrodden. The Lord of Lords, the God of God’s, whose greatness has us constantly looking to the sky toward the heavens, that same God through the redemptive power of Jesus Christ in our lives, reaches down to you and to me, gathers us in right to the heart of God because we are God’s precious own. And in and through Jesus Christ, God promises to transform humanity’s smallness, our perceived insignificance into wondrous acts of love, subversive cries for justice, and what one preacher friend of mine has called, a life committed to “fierce kindness”.
When you read, sing, and pray Psalm 147 “When you are weary, feeling small”, allow the words of the Apostle Paul to fill you as well: “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) When you read, sing, and pray Psalm 147 this morning, allow the words of the preacher in the Book of Hebrews to encourage you as well: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of join by rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12). When you read, sing, and pray Psalm 147 as the world has you feeling downtrodden, yes wounded, and even brokenhearted, allow the words of Jesus to inspire you. “Come unto to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) When you read, sing, and prayer Psalm 147 on the days when you wonder what you can do or if you can make a difference for the sake of God’s kingdom, allow the words Jesus spoke to the lawyer who listened to the parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer who affirmed that the one who showed mercy was real neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers, allow these words to send you out. “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)
Yes, indeed. Every vote counts. Just like very small act of mercy, every act of love. It counts. They all counts.
A friend shared a poem this week written by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. It was posted to his website Unfolding Light this week. The poem is entitled “We Can Love”. Here is part of it:
We are not called to end the winter
but to bear the light
that will become the spring.
The road is long.
The Suffering One walks with us,
bearing something. Come along.
The mending of the world
is threaded with simple
kindness and courage.
Attend to the small miracles.
Even as the cold descends
we can love. We can love.