God Answers When We Cry

“God Answers When We Cry”

Psalm 22:23-31 (22:24) – March 3, 2021 (Midweek Lenten Service, Week 2)

            How often do you cry out to God in prayer? Whether it’s sadness, grief, despair, or anger for yourself, or in pleading prayer for a loved one, this is an agonizing feeling that so many people have in common.

            This psalm, Psalm 22, may be familiar to many people from Jesus’ last words on the Cross. The first line of this psalm are those words of lament, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” These are words many suffering people have echoed throughout the centuries. And, some will more closely examine these words from the beginning of Psalm 22 in just a few weeks, when we enter into the Passion of our Lord, in Holy Week.

            However, there is so much more to this psalm! The reading for today is from the end of the psalm, verses 23 through 31. Yes, it comes from a psalm of lament. And, who has not complained to God at some time or other? Sometimes, more often than any of us wish to?

            These cries of lament and complaint have a specific pattern to them.

  1. the invocation, in which the psalmist cries out to God to hear and listen
  2. the complaint, in which the psalmist tells God what is wrong
  3. the petition, in which the psalmist tells God what the psalmist wants God to do
  4. the expression of trust, in which the psalmist tells God why she or he knows that God can do what the psalmist asks
  5. the expression of praise and adoration, in which the psalmist celebrates the goodness and sovereignty of God [1]

This psalm reading, from verse 23 on, is wholly in the last part of this pattern: the expression of praise and adoration. We are in the praise territory of this hymn, and this last portion of the psalm is tied closely to the beginning, which seems so dark and hopeless. The psalmist makes a journey from darkness and despair to light and hope.

Is that our journey, sometimes? Can we be in the depths of misery or sadness or grief or despair? And then, gradually, the light of God’s presence comes into our experience. God extends hope and encouragement into our hopeless or sorrowful situation.

As I learned from Dr. Ken Bailey in one of his excellent Bible seminars, centuries ago there were no titles or numbers for the psalms. Bible students and scholars would refer to psalms by the first line. So, when our Lord Jesus referred to “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Yes – I am sure He was speaking forth this great lament from Psalm 22. However, I believe Jesus may also have been thinking of this portion of the psalm, especially verse 24: “God does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering; God does not turn away from them, but answers when they call for help.”

            We do not have a distant, uncaring God! Yes, there is pain and suffering and sadness in the world. Yes, we will have sorrow and grief and even despair in our lives. Yet, God is present even amidst all that negative stuff. God will sit with us, or walk by our sides, as we go through all of that. And if we have a loved one who is going through the valley of the shadow, we can come alongside of that family member, or friend, and let them know that we are there, too.

            As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 1, the Lord helps us in all our troubles – vertically – so that each of us may be able to help others – horizontally – when they go through their troubles and difficulties. Praise God for God’s faithfulness to all generations.

Remember, this psalm assures us that all peoples will worship the Lord; from every part of the world they will turn to God. This is a promise from God, and it is faithful and true. Amen.  

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!


[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-psalm-2223-31-4  

Nancy deClaisse-Walford, Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University, Atlanta, GA


Give Praise! Give Thanks!

“Give Praise! Give Thanks!”

Psa 100 thanksgiving, praise

Psalm 100 – November 21, 2018

Who likes to be bossed around? Does anyone?

Listen to these examples: Do this! Come here! Watch out! Stop that! Go to your room!

It is not too pleasant to be bossed around, especially by someone mean or overbearing. But, what if someone who loves you is the one doing the bossing? What if that person has your best interests at heart? Imagine you are in a kitchen and someone cries, “Watch out! That stove it hot!” Or, when you are standing by an outdoor pool, and someone yells, “Be careful! You’re right by the edge!” That changes things a whole lot, to many people.

What about Psalm 100, our scripture reading for this evening?

As is the problem with written communication, we don’t have nuances and vocal inflection. There isn’t a certain way for us to tell whether the author of Psalm 100 was grumpy, joyful, or somewhere in between. However, I would like to think of our Psalm writer being joy-filled and excited. Doesn’t this Psalm sound like it’s written by an excited person?

I want to let you know: there are some commands, some imperatives in Psalm 100. Not suggestions, not “oh, by the way, could you possibly do this?” No. No, indeed.

A number of these verbs, or action words, are clear commands. In the first three verses, “Raise a shout!” “Serve!” “Come!” and “Know!” Verse four has “Enter!” “Be thankful!” and “Bless!” All of these verbs—and they are many of the chief action words in this Psalm—would be instantly recognizable as a command to anyone who spoke Hebrew!

I don’t know about you, but when some people try to twist my arm and bark commands at me, I don’t really like it. I may begrudgingly comply with such commands, rolling my eyes, but for sure not willingly. Not with my whole heart. Not freely, in worship and praise and thankfulness and gratitude, I can tell you that!

But, what if our psalm writer did not feel grumpy or mean at all? What if his situation was 180 degrees reversed? One commentary I read said “Surely the psalmist was imagining what it might sound like when all the earth is praising the LORD at the same time. What a joyful sound, indeed, that would be!” [1]

Let me tell you a few things about this psalm, in general. Psalm 100 is the last in a small collection of special psalms of praise and worship. Do these verses get you in the mood of worship? Of praise? Could we see ourselves marching to our particular house of worship looking forward to meeting with God? To serve and praise and bless and be thankful to God? That is exactly what this Psalm is encouraging—no, even more strongly—is commanding us to do.

I love the exuberance of children. They can be so uninhibited! So filled with joy and happiness and excitement that it just boils over. Sometimes, children just overflow with joy like fountains, bubbling up all over the place. This exuberance also reminds me of the worship styles and especially the musical expressions I have seen in African-American church services. I think this psalmist was expressing an intense feeling of worship very much like that contemporary praise. “One can almost hear the outbreak of jubilation described in this summons to praise in Psalm 100. This psalm calls the entire community to lift praises to God.” [2]

I’d like to tell you something about me. I love music. I studied music theory and composition as my undergraduate major some years ago, I love finding out interesting and historical things about music, too.

Around the middle of the 1500’s, John Calvin the Protestant reformer said that any music performed in the church had to be sung. No instruments, and no glorious sounds other than voices. That meant a number of the Reformed churches could not play any of the marvelous organ, instrumental, or choral music of composers like the Lutheran Johann Sebastian Bach, who came a little later.

John Calvin said only singing psalms set in verses, was right and proper for church worship. After all, the Psalms were the song book of the Bible. Very early after Calvin made that declaration, a clergyman named John Kethe turned this Psalm, Psalm 100, into verse. It was set to a hymn tune known—of course—as “Old Hundredth.” Let me read Psalm 100, in rhyme:

All people that on earth do dwell,

Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,

Him serve with mirth, His praise forthtell;

Come ye before Him and rejoice.

Stanza 2:

The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;

Without our aid He did us make.

We are His flock, He doth us feed,

And for His sheep He doth us take.

Stanza 3:

Oh, enter, then, His gates with praise,

Approach with joy His courts unto;

Praise, laud, and bless His name always.

For it is seemly so to do.

Stanza 4:

For why? The Lord, our God, is good;

His mercy is forever sure.

His truth at all times firmly stood

And shall from age to age endure.

.

This psalm text was written in the late 1500’s, and immediately was a big hit. Psalm 100 soon appeared in a hymn book, or psalter, and was regularly sung in church services. What I did not know before a few days ago was that this setting of Psalm 100 was in the hymn book brought across the Atlantic Ocean a few years later.

The church music professor Dr. Hawn said, “This is probably the oldest continuously sung congregational song in North America. When the first British explorers arrived in Jamestown Island on May 14, 1607, to establish the Virginia colony on the banks of the James River near Chesapeake Bay, they undoubtedly brought with them a Psalter, a collection of metrical psalms.” [3]

Just imagine: the earliest English colonists sang this hymn, using the words of clergyman William Kethe, the same words that congregations sing today, four and a half centuries later.

Dr. Hawn reminds us, “the important thing to remember is that William Kethe’s text ties us with the earliest settlers in the American colonies over 400 years ago. It was not long before a Psalter was published in the American colonies: The Bay Psalm Book (1640) was the first book published in North America.” [4]

What a marvelous chain of events, and connections. We can follow the verses of this Psalm across the ocean, into hymn books, and ultimately read it tonight in this service.

That’s all well and good, you might say. History is nice, but we need to dust off the cobwebs and come back into the modern age. Enough of these historical words like “doth,”  “unto,” “forthtell” and “seemly.” All right. I’ll ask some questions. Modern-day questions. These can be thought-questions, and you don’t need to answer them right away, or even out loud.

What is your attitude towards worship of God? Or, is that just for other people? Do you willingly and joyfully come into God’s presence? Or, is going to your house of worship more of a chore, where you are just reluctantly going through the motions? Penetrating thought-questions, for us all.

I pray that the Holy One might speak to hearts as needed.

How do I see this Psalm? I’m glad you asked! I come from the Christian faith tradition, and God has called to me from that understanding. What is more, the way my mind best understands God is through the lens of Reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. Calvin’s Reformed tradition especially treasures Psalm 100.

This Psalm’s essence might well be contained in the first question and answer of a respected historical teaching tool for young people, the Westminster Shorter Confession.

Question: What is the chief end of humankind?

Answer: The chief end of humankind is to glorify God and enjoy God forever. [5]

This is a way of abbreviating this Psalm, in a nutshell. But it does not matter how we abbreviate it, or turn it into verse, or read and meditate on it, or sing it from the rooftops. God wants to know our attitude towards worship, and is hoping our attitude is excited! Joyful! Praise-filled! May we all come into God’s presence with a joyful noise, giving thanks from the bottom of our hearts every day of the year, not only on Thanksgiving Day.

Alleluia, amen.

[1] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=98

Commentary, Psalm 100, Alfie Wines, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-all-people-that-on-earth-do-dwell

http://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-all-people-that-on-earth-do-dwell

History of Hymns: “All People that on Earth Do Dwell”. by C. Michael Hawn

[4] Ibid.

[5] McCann, Jr., J. Clinton, The Book of Psalms, New Interpreters Bible Commentary, Vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1996), 1080.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!