September 22 2019

Worship, Wonder and Praise
Psalms 145:1-13

Some memories never leave your mind, and for me, one of those indelible memories is the memory of my first experience preaching in an African American Church. I was overwhelmed by the passion and energy with which the congregation worshiped God.

In the black church the preacher doesn’t preach by himself. It’s a team effort between the preacher and the congregation. In fact, when I first preached in the black church I had to learn to pause so the congregation would have a chance to respond. In fact, if the black preacher doesn’t think the congregation is responding enough, he’s got several ways of cuing them to do so. He might say, “I can’t hear you.” Or he might simply say, “Well,” and when he says “well” the people know it’s a cue for them to respond.

Believe or not, congregational response didn’t start in the black church. It started in the Hebrew Synagogue, and we find it in the Hebrew hymnal. Of course, you know what the Hebrew hymnal is, don’t you? It’s the Book of Psalms. The Book of Psalms was the hymnal for the Hebrew congregation.

Today, I want us to read one of those Hebrew Praise Songs. Our text is Psalm 145 and when it was read in Hebrew worship the reading was a team effort between the priest and the people of that congregation.

So that’s the way I want us to read it today. The passage is on the insert in your bulletin. I’ll sing the cantor’s part, which is in the light print and you respond with the congregation’s part which is in the bold print.

1 I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
2 Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.
4 One generation commends your works to another;
they tell of your mighty acts.
5 They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty—
and I will meditate on your wonderful works.
6 They tell of the power of your awesome works—
and I will proclaim your great deeds.
7 They celebrate your abundant goodness
and joyfully sing of your righteousness.
8 The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
10 All your works praise you, Lord;
your faithful people extol you.
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures through all generations.
The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
and faithful in all he does.
This is the Word of The Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Now, before I move further in to today’s sermon, I need to give credit where credit is due. The idea for today’s sermon came from something said to me years ago by John McGraw’s wife, Ann. One day, in talking with Ann, she said, “The other day, I was thinking about worship, and realized that many times we ask the wrong question. Too often we ask, ‘What did I get out of that worship?’ When, instead, we ought to be asking, ‘How well did I worship you, O God?’”

When Ann said that, I realized she was so right. How many times have we attended a worship service where we’ve felt like the preaching, the music or the style of worship was less than expected and we said, “You know, I really didn’t get a whole lot out of that worship service.”

Do we realize what we’re saying when we say that? We’re saying that worship is all about us. We’re saying that the purpose of worship is to meet our needs, to meet our expectations or, at the very least, to keep our attention.

But that’s not the primary purpose of worship. The purpose of worship is not to entertain us. The purpose of worship is to give our praise and adoration to a God who has already given us far more than we could ever deserve. Even the dictionary definition of “worship” dispels our self-serving intent. “Worship” is defined as: “the reverent honor and homage paid to God.” That definition says nothing about what we ought to get out of worship. It talks about what we ought to do to honor and glorify God.

In today’s text, the Psalmist tells us why we come to worship and praise the Lord. First, we come to worship and praise the Lord because he rightly deserves our worship and praise.

That’s the language the Psalmist uses in verse 3 as he says, Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise. Because God has done so much for us, we would be irreverent and ungrateful if we failed to acknowledge the goodness and love of God.

All throughout this Psalm, the Psalmist praises God for who he is and what he has done. He praises him because of his mighty acts and his wonderful works. He praises God because of his abundant goodness, his graciousness, his patience and his love. Yes, God is so good to us, and in our worship we acknowledge the goodness and graciousness of our God. That’s why worship isn’t about us. It’s about God, about who he is and what he does.

Can I share with you one of my pet peeves? I like to think of myself as a fairly courteous driver. If there’s a crowded intersection and a driver needs to pull in front of me, I typically slow down and let him squeeze in. But when the driver squeezes in, I do expect some small acknowledgement of my kindness - nothing big, just a head nod, or a smile, or a hand wave. But when the driver pulls in front of me and acts like he owns the road, without ever acknowledging my kindness, I feel snubbed and unappreciated.

Some folks are like that with God. They pull into the intersections of life without ever acknowledge the God who paved their way. That’s both ungrateful and irreverent.

You see, when someone gives you more than you deserve, it’s only proper that you express your appreciation. And that’s why we come to worship. We come to acknowledge God’s goodness. We come to praise him for who He is and for all He has done. Yes, we come to worship and praise the Lord because he rightly deserves our worship and praise.

But secondly, we come to worship and praise the Lord because our worship proclaims to others the importance of our God.

Do you realize that our worship is our testimony? It’s a way that we witness to others.

Listen, again to verse 4. One generation will commend your works to another, they will tell of your mighty acts. And then, in verses 11 and 12, the Psalmist says, “They will tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might so that all men may know of your mighty acts and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.”

Why do we come to worship? We come to worship so that “all men may know God’s might acts and the glorious splendor of His Kingdom.” Yes, according to the Psalmist, our worship is our witness. Our worship helps us pass on our faith from generation to generation. And our worship makes a public statement to the community that sees us here. By coming together and worshiping, we are telling the folks of Rutledge and Grainger County that God is the center of lives and that his kingdom is greater than all other kingdoms.

Yes, our worship is our witness. It makes a statement of our faith.

But the opposite is also true. When we neglect worship, we are telling our children and our community that God really isn’t that important and that He’s not the center of our lives. Yes, our worship makes a statement of our faith, and our lack of worship does the same.

Several years ago I was asked to do the funeral of a lady who died in the local nursing home. She had been a resident there for years. The deceased lady had 5 children who lived within 150 miles of the nursing home, but according to the staff, they rarely visited her. On the day I conducted her funeral there were only 5 people in attendance: one of her daughters with her husband, and three employees from the nursing home.

When I got to the cemetery, the only people standing by the open grave were me and two men from the funeral home. It was one of the most foreboding experiences I’ve ever had as a pastor. The absence of that lady’s family told me just how little that woman was loved.

Do you realize the same thing is true about an empty church? When God’s people neglect to come and worship it’s a statement – a statement to the community, a statement to the world - about how little they love God.

We live in a day where Christians have become less and less attentive to their worship attendance. In days gone by, church folks worshiped God every Sunday unless they were sick or about to die. But today, because there are so many other things to do, Christians let these other activities interfere with their consistent worship of God.

And then we wonder why children grow up without any allegiance to the Christian faith, and we wonder why the number of believers in our society keeps declining. Do we not realize that our empty pews deliver a not-so-subtle message? Do we not realize that lack of our worship attendance passes on the message that God is not so important after all?

Yes, our worship is our witness; and through worship we proclaim to others the importance of our God - and by our neglect, we proclaim his irrelevance.

Earlier I talked about preaching in the African American Church. I’ll never forget how they started their worship that day. The pastor walked in, looked at the congregation and sang,

“What did you come here for?” (Congregation repeats)
“What did you come here for?” (Congregation repeats)
“I come to praise the Lord?” (Congregation repeats)
“I come to praise the Lord, oh yes.” (Congregation repeats)

So what did you come here for? I come to praise the Lord, oh yes. I come to praise the Lord.