Rev. Charles Svendsen
God, Our Praise, Jul 30, 2017
Yesterday morning at 6am our SYFers took off from the church parking lot for their bi-yearly, week long mission trip to Philippi, West Virginia. Customarily, a WPC pastor prays our students and advisers off, but I live in Silver Lake and, did I mention the time? So, J.R. and Pastor Burnett had a running bet as to when I got asked by J.R. to come and pray, how long it would take me to "suggest" that John do it. John said 10 seconds. J.R. said 5 seconds. It was 3 seconds. Three seconds for me to say, "John will do it!" And he did. Thank-you. And they are off, and we will hear of their ministry and adventures in that part of the world when they safely return to us.
We are continuing our Summer Psalms sermon series.
Today, we come to the magnificent 100th, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth," Sometimes called Old One Hundredth, "All people that on earth do dwell." God, Our Praise. This was another portion of Scripture that we memorized as children from the old King James version, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all ye lands." Let me lift up for us from this Psalm 100, next to Psalm 23 maybe the best known and most beloved of the Psalms, lift up four certain and encouraging declarations about God, about Israel, and about the community. The community of all those who love and serve God. These are good declarations to bring to our hearts as we seek to believe and follow our Lord.
First of all, from this Psalm 100, we believe that worship is to be joyful, "Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth, worship the Lord with gladness, come into his presence with singing." Joy in this setting of Psalm 100 and joy in Scripture is a sense of contentment, of purpose, of centeredness. Joy is a real sense of being in the nearer presence of God.
Worship can and should take many forms. It will bring us to sing. Sing hymns, sing songs, sing prayers, sing loudly or softly - always soulfully with all of our hearts. I've been your Interim Pastor at Westminster for 20 months now, and I really appreciate your joyful worship.
Your first service here is traditional. You actually sing hymns from the hymnal when many churches have abandoned them. You sing with enthusiasm, you enjoy an outstanding Chancel Choir, gifted organists, a talented Director of Music Ministries. Lay leadership is a vital part of every service.
The second service is contemporary and is also joyful, and God takes joy in this worship, and we need to remember that worship is not about any one person, worship is not about the community of the faithful. Worship is week by week giving "worth ship" to God. And that worship to God is to be done joyfully. You at Westminster, we at WPC make a "joyful noise" in worship week by week. And we do that not simply within these four walls, we join all creation in worshiping the Creator God, "Make a joyful noise all the earth," - wind, sunshine, rain, ocean, mountain, far away galaxy. We join all the earth in the joyful "worth ship" of God.
Second declaration: We are created to belong, "Know that the Lord is God, you have made us and we are yours. We are your people and the sheep of your pasture." This Psalm 100 is really a political psalm. It's about the politics of Israel. Who is the sovereign ruler of Israel? To whom does Israel belong? When all the other powers and warriors are coming after Israel, when tribes and nomads and fighters are coming to capture Israel's heart, soul, mind and body, the psalmist declares, "Know that the Lord Yahweh is God, you, O Lord, made us." We were created by you, and we are yours, created by God to belong to God. If we have any further stomach for war, visit the Jezreel Valley between Caesarea by the sea and Galilee in that portion of Israel. Twenty-three different civilizations have conquered and have been conquered: living, fighting, dying - the futility of war. The psalmist sings we have been created and conquered by God, and then so beautifully leaves behind the "warrior imagery" when we hear "You have made us, we are yours, but not as subjects but as sheep. We are your people, the sheep of your pasture. Sheep are vulnerable and dependent. God is shepherd and reliable.
The Presbyterian Church is governed by Scriptures and our constitution. We hear and seek to obey the voice of God in the Scriptures, our primary authority, and we are also guided by our Books of Confessions and Order. The first line of one of our most recent confessions of our church is that we "belong to God." If someone were to ask us as a people, as a church, as a person: Who are you? Our first answer is not that we are someone who is a spouse or a parent, or a citizen of a given country, but we are a people who belong to God, and as Christians, we belong to God because Jesus Christ claims us to be his own. And Jesus has authority to make that claim on our lives because, said Peter, "We are purchased by the blood, the precious blood of Christ." The declarations that worship is joyful, that we are created to belong are essential tenets of our believing and following Christ Jesus.
Thirdly, the declaration is made in Psalm 100 that thanksgiving and a life of thanksgiving is central to our faith. "Enter God's gates with thanksgiving and God's courts with praise. We will give thanks to you, O God, and we will bless your name."
In the little book in the New Testament, Philemon, Paul is writing to an old friend, and the carrier of Paul's letter is a runaway slave who belongs to that friend, Philemon. And Paul in prison, probably in Rome near death, as he does in so many of his letters, Paul thanks God "when I remember you in my prayers, Philemon, I always thank God for you."
That's remarkable. In prison writing to request a slave's release, coming to the end of his life, at the heart of Paul's life is thanksgiving! I trust you are living a thankful life. Thankful living does not depend on life's circumstances. Prison, a long shot request and life coming to an end, and Paul always, always, thanked God for Philemon, and thanked God for a host of other believers and congregations. I am so thankful to be at Westminster. You are the gates of God for me, and we enter with thanksgiving.
Last declaration of Psalm 100. The psalmist has said it before: God is utterly reliable. "For the Lord is good, your steadfast love endures forever and your faithfulness is to all generations." That phrase, "steadfast love" in Hebrew really means "promised loyalty." God has promised to be a shepherd that will guard and guide the sheep. God has promised to be a good and faithful and utterly reliable God... and God will be utterly loyal to that promise, like a rock.
Where's the sin in the psalm? And where's the grace in this Psalm 100? The sin here is that when we read this Psalm 100, we're not always joyful in worship. We don't always remember that we belong to God. The sin is that we don't always live a thankful life, and sometimes we aren't very reliable, and don't even believe God is.
The grace is that in the face of our weakness comes the face of Christ. In Jesus we can and do here at WPC joyfully worship. In Jesus we can and do know that we belong to God because we were bought with a price. In Jesus, we can and do live a life of thanksgiving no matter what the circumstances, and in Jesus we believe we know that our God is utterly reliable. Psalm 100: "make a joyful noise unto the Lord all ye lands."
Just a brief word about our Gospel lesson assigned to us on this 8th Sunday after Pentecost, seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The text is Matthew 13:31-32 and Jesus is still telling stories to his disciples, we call them "parables." This "Parable of the Mustard Seed" finds our Lord making another observation about the realm of God, what Matthew describes as the "Kingdom of Heaven." The Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus taught his disciples and us, is like a mustard seed. This tiny mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, a farmer takes and sows, scatters in a field.
Jesus again uses a common agrarian scene so familiar to his disciples. In fact, in this Matthew 13 "parable chapter" Jesus illustrates discipleship and the realm of God with many familiar pictures: sowers, seeds, hard, rocky, thorny, fertile soils that we looked at two weeks ago. Weeds and wheat - here mustard seeds, later yeast and treasures. But now this "mustard seed" is sown in a farmer's field that may not seem like a "big deal," but just wait a while you disciples, taught the ever patient Jesus, that humble, tiny mustard seed when it has grown will become large shrub. And that "greatest of all shrubs" will someday become a tree, not not just any tree, a large and healthy and glorious tree that will attract birds of the air who will make their nests in that large, healthy, glorious tree.
So this parable of the mustard seed articulates the primary theme of this 13th chapter of Matthew, and that is a "word of encouragement" to Jesus' first disciples and to us in 2017 at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Westlake Village. For those of us who puzzle over our investment into the Kingdom of God: time, treasure, talent, prayers, teaching our children, or serving in mission projects or choir or off yesterday to West Virginia, it sometimes looks like this Kingdom of God ministry is as insignificant as a mustard seed. Wait a while, taught Jesus. That mustard seed will later become a huge shrub. Take heart, that mustard seed and later huge shrub, the greatest of all shrubs, will become a large, healthy, glorious tree that birds will not only be attracted to, they will make their home in that tree. Don't be deceived by modest beginnings. The final day will yield a "tree of (literally) life."
S.D.G - Soli Deo Gloria, Glory to God Alone. J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel would put S.D.G at the end of their manuscripts. We are here to worship and serve at Westminster and beyond. S.D.G. for not a minister, not a staff member, not even for the good church itself, but for the glory of God alone.
Psalm 100, "God, our only praise."
The grass withers, the flower fades, but the promises of God abide forever.
Westminster Presbyterian Church