Worship with Gladness

Jeff Garrison

Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church

November 19, 2017

Psalm 100

 

It is deer season. In other churches I’ve served, we had to schedule things like Consecration Sunday around opening day just to make sure we had some men in worship. The hunting might not start till sunrise on Monday, but there was a lot to do to get the deer camp set up; men starting disappearing early in the weekend.

       One year, Bob and Tom, Bill and Fred headed out to deer camp. They camped at the base of a small mountain, at the confluence of two creeks that drained each side of the mountain.   They’d their figured out their plan for opening day. Bob and Tom were to take the creek along the south side of the mountain. Bill and Fred would head up the other creek. They set out before daylight, using flashlights, searching for the perfect spot to see a big buck as he came out for a morning drink in the creek.

It didn’t work out that way for Bob and Tom. They didn’t see a thing all day. As the sun began to drop in the western sky, they headed back to camp. As they approached the confluence, they heard trashing in the brush nearby. Checking it out, they saw Bill dragging the largest buck any of them had ever seen. He called over asking for help and they obliged, dragging the deer back into camp. As they were stringing it up in a tree to gut it, Bob asked Bill, “Where’s Fred? Why didn’t he help you get this deer out of the woods?”

“Oh yeah,” Bill said, “We gotta go back and get Fred.  Some other hunter mistook him for deer and shot him in the leg.  He fell back and hit his head on a rock.  He’s knocked out cold and lying next to the trail, about a mile back, near where I shot this fine buck.”

“Someone shot Fred?” Tom yelled. “And you just left him alone and unconscious while you dragged this deer carcass out?

Bill felt a little chastised. “Well, think about it,” he said. “Ain’t nobody gonna steal Fred.”

There are times we have our priorities mixed up. The 100th Psalm, which is my text for today’s sermon, reminds us what is important in life. It helps us to get our priorities right. When our priorities are right, things fall into place and we don’t forget the Fred’s of the world. Listen.  Read Psalm 100. 

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         Joy is essential to the Christian life. It’s a gift from God and that makes it different from the pursuit of happiness we in American so cherish. What we consider as “happiness” is transitory and fragile, dependent often on external circumstances such as the Pirates winning the pennant. If that’s the case, I haven’t been happy in a long time. You see, human joy is often contradictory. Hope rises on the sound of a well hit ball. The crowd holds its collective breath as the ball sails deep. The centerfielder runs and leaps high with his glove extended as he crashes into the wall. He falls to the ground, and then stands up and grins as he pulls the ball from his glove. The home crowd moans and the batter kicks the dust as he heads toward the dugout. Some win, others lose. Some celebrate, others mope…

A friend of mine commenting on this Psalm wrote, “This Psalm tells us that the joy we find in God is unshaken and unchanging because it is based on something lasting and unchanging.”[1] Yes, there will be plenty of disappointments in life to weight us down, such as homeruns stolen by a talented centerfielder, but true joy has another foundation.  True joy, of the everlasting variety, is found in God. To quote the prophet Isaiah, “the flower withers, the grass fades, but the word of God will stand forever.”[2] In other words, all we cherish and love in this life will come to an end. Flowers are beautiful only for a few days or maybe a week or two, youth lasts but for a season, friends and loved ones die. If we are looking for eternal happiness in our lives here on earth, we’ll always be disappointed.

       Focus on God, on that which is eternal, and we’ll be ready to join the chorus marching into heaven making a joyful noise.  “Worship,” as Eugene Peterson tweeted this week, “is the strategy by which we interrupt our preoccupation with ourselves and attend to the presence of God.”[3] We should want to worship God, to offer prayers of thanksgiving, to shout praises.  Focus on God; true joy is knowing God and that we are loved by our Creator, claimed by our maker. Psalm 100 is about the joy in God which “is the motive power of faith” and which lifts up our hearts.[4]

This a Psalm of worship. It was probably originally sung by the Hebrew people as they gathered in the Jerusalem temple.  The first two verses serve as a call to worship. Imagine the chief priest standing at the temple’s gate. Suddenly trumpets blast, quieting the crowd. Then, in a loud voice, the priest dressed in his finest robe summons the crowd: “Make a joyful noise, worship the Lord with gladness, and come into his presence with singing.” The crowd responds, breaking into a round of “Holy, Holy, Holy” or “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee…”

        Verse three, “Know that the Lord is God, that he made us and we are his, we are the sheep of his pasture,” reminds those who have gathered that they are present for one purpose: to worship God. God is king, but also a caring shepherd. Those gathered in front of the temple, preparing to enter, recognize they are to put away thoughts of grandeur for themselves. Furthermore, they are to put away petty differences between one another. This is not the place or time for selfishness or bickering. All who have come are to be together, in unity, in worship. We are to leave our petty differences at the door of the sanctuary. This isn’t about us; it’s about our God.

         This may be a short psalm but it has a wonderful message for those of us who gather on a Sunday to worship. “Psalm 100 initiates worship and sets forth a theology of worship,” according to one commentator.[5] The focus of the Psalm, as we learn in the fourth verse is God. As the final verse indicates, we worship because God is good, loving and faithful.

The key to being a Christian is gratitude.  It comes from us having our priorities right. Gratitude is not only good for our souls, it’s good for bodies according to an article in the Wall Street Journal this week. Let me quote this passage:

 

“Gratitude is good for us in many ways. Studies have shown that it strengthens our immune systems, helps us sleep better, reduces stress and depression and opens the door to more relationships. But to reap those rewards, we need to do more than feel grateful.  ‘The word ‘thanksgiving’ means giving of thanks.’ says Dr. Emmons (a psychologist at University of California at Davis). ‘It is an action word.  Gratitude requires action.’”[6]

 

Today we’ll receive your estimate of giving cards and this week we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. They go together. Both are opportunities to display our gratitude. Gratitude should lead into generosity. It’s a personal issue, one that we each need to struggle with and decide for ourselves. Are we generous? Are our lives gracious? Do we love God, our Creator, and want to praise him in thought, word, and deed? The Psalm calls us to worship, but our worshipful attitude should be more than just what we do on Sunday morning. Likewise, we should be thankful more than just on a Thursday late in November. Our thankfulness, our worship, should flow forth from our lives, from our hearts. It’s what should be most evident when others see us. It’s what helps us reflect Jesus’ face to the world. Amen.

©2017

[1] Laura Smit, “Come, Let Us Worship and Bow Down,” Reformed Worship, #52 (June 1999), 14.

[2] Isaiah 40:7.

[3] Eugene Peterson (tweeted @PetersonDaily, November 12, 2017).

[4] Artur Weiser, The Psalms, Herbert Hartwell translator, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1962), 645.

[5] James L. Mays, Psalms (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994), 321

[6] Clare Ansberry, “Cultivating a Life of Gratitude, The Wall Street Journal (November 14, 2017), A15.


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