Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100)
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior. Amen.
Each year we celebrate giving thanks as we traditionally bring in the harvest. Oftentimes we think about giving thanks and praise when things are going well. We also give thanks & praise when life plain stinks – when it is the most difficult to ‘make a joyful noise.’
No matter what the world or our experience tells us, we hear the reminder of the Psalmist, “For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” The Lord continues to be good on bad days (weeks, months, or years for that matter). The Lord continues to love on bad days. The Lord continues to be faithful on bad days.
It has always fascinated me to some extent how almost all the ‘lament psalms’ end in praise. These Psalms were composed during those moments in life when hope seemed to be long gone, yet they still end in praise. Somehow by the time the writers made it through all the railing at God, they circled back to praising Him – not for what had happened to them, but for who He is.
Paul reminds the Romans of that same reminder in different (albeit less poetic) language. Paul and other early followers of Christ experienced persecution and fear. Yet their praise of God is not dependent upon what is happening in their own lives, but upon who they have come to know Christ, (and therefore the whole of God) is. Jesus taught the disciples, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me;” (John 14:11a) They have taken heed of that reality. They have experienced the revelation of God in Christ. That understanding of who God is necessitates praise no matter what challenges they themselves face.
Life is full of loss and brokenness. There is a reason so many Psalms are laments. Ever since Adam and Eve, life here on earth has been imperfect. Paul and the other early Christians did not lead easy lives. All of us face challenges. We all face grief and loss. We face doubts and temptations. Oftentimes it is precisely when we have no desire to praise God that we need to the most – not for God’s sake, but for our own.
Praise reminds us who God is – even in the midst of those challenges and grief. In a broken world, God remains whole. In our crazy lives God remains sane. In lives that struggle with faith and doubt, God remains faithful. God and His love remain true. God continues to be ‘I AM.’ God doesn’t stop being God in the midst of brokenness.
The funeral liturgy includes a prayer petition, “Help us, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting.” There are countless problems in this world that defy understanding. We pray that the Holy Spirit strengthens us enough to give praise in the midst of pain. In the very moments we weep, we pray that the Spirit sustain our faith.
Luther’s explanation to the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed reads, “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.”
In all moments God blesses us with the Holy Spirit to sustain and strengthen our faith. By the power of the Spirit we continue to praise God. We continue to remind ourselves of the words of the Psalmists and the Apostle Paul. God is stronger than our grief. God is stronger than our fears. God is stronger than our doubts.
Shortly prior to reminding the Romans of God’s power to hold unto them, Paul reminded them of the Spirit’s role in their lives, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26) God sends the Holy Spirit to give people the voices to praise God in those moments when it is the most difficult.
Just as the Spirit helped the Psalmists circle back to praise, just as the Spirit kept up the hope of the early Christians, the Spirit intercedes for you. The Spirit fulfills for you the promise Jeremiah conveyed to the remnant of Israel, “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” God’s Spirit will help you turn your mourning, worry, fear, whatever else is troubling you, into praise. You will know God is God and God loves you. Nothing is able to alter that.
The grace and peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)