June 16, 2019

“Life Songs:  Who Is Like the Lord Our God?”
Psalm 113
A sermon for Hawaii Kai UCC by Janice Ogoshi
June 16, 2019 (1st Sunday after Pentecost) 

If you were to make a soundtrack for your life, what songs would you include?  I would probably include some Earth, Wind and Fire from my high school days; “Pass It On” from my youth group camping days; Handel’s Messiah from my college choir days; “And Can It Be” from Urbana; “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” from our wedding; Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and the Jacques Loussier’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons.  Any of these songs or recordings will instantly bring me back to a time or event in my life.  What’s on your playlist? 

The Psalms were the playlist for the Israelites.  We don’t have the music, but we have the words to 150 songs that reflect the experience of their journey as a people with God.  The Psalms are what I’m calling the “Life Songs” of the Hebrew people.  They sang at all times; not just the good times, but the hard times too.  They had their party songs and they had their blues, traveling songs, teaching songs, songs for everyday life. 

Today and for the next two Sundays, we will take a look at psalms that represent different aspects of the life of Israel.  Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament theologian, has offered a framework for thinking about the psalms that describes how the Hebrew people moved through the joys and challenges of life with Yahweh.  He has loosely categorized psalms into three groups:  psalms of orientation, disorientation and reorientation. 

Psalms of orientation are for the times when life is stable and the world is trustworthy.  These psalms celebrate God’s goodness and sovereignty.  Life is good in relationship with God.  God is in control.  But then tragedy strikes, and we experience trials and tribulations and our lives are disoriented.  Psalms of disorientation speak of distress, feelings of abandonment, questioning why all these terrible things are happening.  God hears the people’s cries, answers and saves them.  When they get back on their feet, they have a renewed faith in God and sing songs of reorientation.  The people have a different, more mature perspective on life and their relationship with Yahweh after having gone through some tough times.  

Psalm 113, today’s reading, is a psalm of orientation.  It orients our lives by issuing a comprehensive invitation to give praise to God:

Praise the Lord, you his servants;
    praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
    both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
    his glory above the heavens. 
(vv. 1-4) 

All of God’s servants, all God’s people are called to worship the Lord.  This worship is not to be bound by time:  now and forevermore, all day—from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.  This sentence is a bit confusing because it starts with a time and ends with a place.  It says to me that it is good and right to worship God at all times throughout the day, and in all places, wherever we are.  

How often do you praise the Lord?  Only on Sundays?  Maybe once a day, when you pray?  Three times a day, when you sit down to eat and say grace?  Or are you aware of God’s constant presence and giving thanks and praise to God at all times?  Do you thank God whenever you see or hear something that reminds you of God’s activity in your life?  It’s hard to worship God every minute of every day that you are awake.  I don’t think this psalm is setting up the expectation that we will worship God continually and consistently.  What the psalmist is pointing out is that God is worthy of our praise all the time.  This reminds me of the call and response:  God is good…all the time!  All the time…God is good! 

This orientation to worship God all the time and in all places gives our lives focus and meaning.  If our aim is to worship God all the time, the choices we make in life become clearer.  How we will live, raise our children, relate to our neighbors, what kind of career we will have, how we will spend our resources including our money, time, skills and talents will all be oriented toward giving God glory.  If we look for the goodness of God in our lives, we will want to respond—say thank you, tell others, live in active engagement with God.  In other words, we will want to worship God in all aspects of our lives.  Our relationship with the Creator of the Universe will shape our lives and influence our choices. 

The invitation to worship God is comprehensive with regard to people.  The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens” (v .4).  Have you ever been in a place where lots of people from different places, different churches have gathered to worship God together?  It’s an amazing experience.  Some of you have had this kind of worship at the HIM Conferences.  I remember walking into the sports arena at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana to join some 20,000 people in worship at the Urbana Convention when I was a college student.  It blew my mind.  People from all across the country and around the world were there.  Singing hymns with that many people gave me chicken skin.  Last weekend when Sharon and I were at the ‘Aha Pae’aina, we worshiped with sisters and brothers from all over the state.  The sanctuary at Kaumakapili Church was packed.  It felt great to know that God is being worshiped from Hawaii Island to Kauai in our sister churches.  The Lord is exalted over all the islands, over all the nations.  When we worship, we join with people all over the world to give God glory. 

After the invitation to worship the Lord, the psalmist gives us reasons to do so.

Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
    as a happy mother of children.
 (vv. 5-9) 

“Who is like the Lord our God?” the psalmist asks.  Well, no one really.  It’s a rhetorical question.  As the praise song goes, “There is none like you…” Our God is an awesome God, powerful, gracious, loving, and worthy of all our praise.  

But God is not satisfied to remain in heaven and receive our praise.  God notices the poor, stoops down and lifts them up.  In the Hebrew, “the poor” is singular, referring to a poor man.  The psalm also refers to a childless woman.  Both the poor man and the childless woman, both vulnerable and needy people, are seen by God.  God takes notice, stoops down and reaches out to them.  The poor man is lifted up and seated with princes.  The childless woman is settled in a home with her children.  In Hebrew, the same verb is used for “seated” and “settled.”  God sees us in our need, stoops down and lifts us up. 

The attention of God given to the childless woman reminds us of the story of Hannah in 1 Samuel, who desperately cried out to the Lord because she had no children.  Yahweh heard her cry and she conceived and gave birth to Samuel, who became a prophet of Israel.  Her song of praise in 1 Samuel 2 answers Psalm 113’s question, “Who is like the LORD our God?” when she says, “There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).  She echoes Psalm 113’s praise of God’s work saying, “He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of honor” (1 Samuel 2:8).  God sees the lowest, most vulnerable or humiliated persons and stoops down to lift them up.  This God of compassion and care is the God whom we worship. 

The language of stooping down also reminds us that God humbled himself and became one of us, a human, in Jesus.  As Philippians 2:6-8 describes Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
  rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
  And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

God stooped down and became Jesus, who experienced life as a poor man, who endured the trials and challenges of human life.  He experienced joy—friends, parties, food and drink, family life.  He experienced sorrows—the death of friends, sickness, poverty, rejection, and misunderstanding.  And he went to the cross and endured great suffering, dying and then rising so that we too may receive new life.  In Jesus, God stooped down and saw our vulnerable condition and raised us to sit with princes and settled us in a home. 

Who is like the LORD our God?  No one.  The Lord our God deserves our praise and worship. 

This psalm is a call to live a life of worship, to orient our lives so that we see God at work in and among us so that we give God the praise and glory God deserves at all times and in all places.  That means opening our eyes and seeing all that God does in our lives, and looking for opportunities to praise the Lord.  This psalm is a call to worship God, not only during worship services on Sundays, but every day, in all aspects of our lives.  

The soundtrack for our lives should include songs of praise and worship.  We want our lives to reflect the question and answer, “Who is like the LORD our God?”  “No one!”  There is no person, no god, nothing like the LORD our God, who deserves all our praise and worship.  Let’s sing songs of praise to our God with our whole lives.

Who is like the LORD our God?  No one!