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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Dr. Todd B. Jones

October 28, 2018

 You Are As You Worship

Psalm 100; John 4:16-26

            Today our hearts turn towards the Tree of Life Synagogue, which sits in the middle of Squirrel Hill, Pennsylvania.  It is one of the most venerable and established Jewish communities in America.  I confess I grew up discovering it as a high school student, then later as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, because you could get really good Jewish food in Squirrel Hill.  Now another act of senseless and heartbreaking violence shows us how broken our world is, and how desperate we are for it to be healed, for it somehow, someway, by the power of God, to be made well again. 

            Some of you know Walter Brueggemann by reputation; some of you have heard him speak.  He is one of America’s preeminent Old Testament theologians.  In writing about this psalm, the hundredth Psalm, a psalm about worshiping Almighty God, he records these words: “Obviously, our world is at the edge of insanity, and we along with it.  Greed is celebrated as economic advance.  Violence is confused with power and strength.  In a world like this our psalm is an act of sanity, whereby we may be re-clothed in our rightful minds.  Life is no longer self-grounded without thanks, but rooted in thanksgiving to “God, from whom all blessings flow.”

            I love Brueggemann’s notion of Psalm 100 as an “act of sanity.”  “Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth.”  This psalm assumes that God is sovereign over all the earth, and all the nations, and all the peoples of the earth.  The Psalmist turns from joy to gladness.  “Worship the Lord with gladness.”  I love that word “worship!”  Josh talked about it with our children this morning.  In English it comes from two old English words, “weord scipe.”  They mean together “to shape the worth” of something or someone.  In worship we ascribe value, we give weight, we “shape the worth” of God, as the highest and the best, to which we may offer our prayer and praise as life-giving, life-transforming gifts.  Sadly, too often we think of worship as something religious, hence, separate from the rest of the life that we are called to live.  When the Hebrew people spoke of worship, they thought of that word “worship” as that call to orient our whole lives around a sovereign God. 

            There are seven imperatives in the first four verses of this incredible five-verse Psalm, and every one of the seven imperatives is a call to worship, a call to make a joyful noise, a call to offer praise and thanksgiving unto God.  Right in the middle of those seven imperatives is verse three, which is the most important of them all, “Know that the Lord is God.”  The word for “know” in Hebrew is “yada.”  To know someone is to have the most intimate possible knowledge of that one.  “Know that the Lord is God, and we are His.”  Or as the King James Version puts it: “Know that the Lord, He is God, it is He who made us, and not we ourselves.”

            There are many different elements to the word “know,” but there are some things more important, more crucial, to know than anything else in this world, which is why when John Calvin wrote his first draft of the Institutes of the Christian Religion, at the age of twenty-six, he began with words that stayed in it through all of the edits that he offered for the rest of his years.  “Nearly all the wisdom we posses, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”  Calvin goes on to explain, “But, while joined by many bonds, which one precedes and brings forth the other is not easy to discern.”  What Calvin was saying was that you cannot begin to know yourself apart from a lifelong adventure and prospect of coming to know God as your Creator, and you cannot come to know God without the wonderful discovery of knowing both who and whose you are, in all your giftedness, from the great Giver of Life itself.  “Know that the Lord is God.  It is He that made us and we are His.”

            We are doing two things when we “know” that the Lord is our God.  We are acknowledging that our identity is grounded in God.  We do not create or possess our own lives; they come to us as gracious gift from an incredibly loving, endlessly inventive and giving God.  We ground our identity in an understanding of ourselves that we are beloved children, sons and daughters, of a great and generous God.  Further, we trace every gift that we have received back to its source, to the Giver of Life itself, who is God.

            It is almost Thanksgiving, and I am reminded on this count of one of the most unforgettable television moments I ever spent in front of the boob tube.  It was The Simpsons Thanksgiving episode.  The table was set, and Bart came in and took his seat at the table.  Homer said, “Bart, why don’t you return thanks?”  Everybody folded their hands and bowed their heads.  Bart prayed, “God, since we bought the food, and since we did all the work to prepare it, and since we set the table, thanks for nothing.”  There are people who sit at the great table of life, and by the lives that they live, in effect, embody these words, these empty, shallow, self-centered, self-serving words.

            In the African American Church there is a kind of unwritten liturgy.  Josh referred to it at the very beginning of the Prayer of Confession, where the preacher stands up and says, “God is good,” and the people respond, “All the time.”  Then the preacher says, “All the time,” and the people unerringly respond, “God is good.”  The first four verses of Psalm 100 serve as a call to worship God, to center and ground your life in this Creator God, who has given us all good things freely to enjoy.  The fifth verse of the Psalm tells us why we should worship God, because “The Lord is good.”  We worship Almighty God in the knowledge that God is good, and that everything that God created is good.  And when this God created humankind in the Divine image, and we are told, “male and female, He created them,” God said that what He created “was very good.”  “His steadfast love,” the Psalmist says, “endures forever, and His faithfulness endures to all generations.” 

            In a world where it seems everything has gone insane, I want to suggest to you that what we are doing here this day, in these moments, can be seen as an act of sanity, an act of orienting our lives where they came from, which is in the goodness, the grace and the generosity of the Living God.  God’s steadfast love, His “hesed,” endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations, which is why I close, expecting you today to have just a little more soul than we Presbyterians often have: “God is good” ... “all the time.”  “All the time” ... “God is good.”  Amen.

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