14 July 2019 Hallelujah Martin Baker
1 Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord.
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time on and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!
Psalm 113 starts off in Hebrew with the proclamation, Hallelujah. Hallel same in Arabic when we talk about Hallel food – praise - and then Jah. Praise God.
So it goes Hallelujah. Hallel Yameed Yahweh, Hallel eth shamah Yahweh.
This Psalm 113 is then called a hallel Psalm. And it is used when the first cup of wine was shared at Passover. Passover is the most important celebration in the Jewish year when people gather to remember God delivering the ancient Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt.
We remember the last supper. Where Jesus gathered with his disciples to share the Passover over meal in the upper room. And though no doubt Jesus could see where things were heading, it is quite likely that the psalm we said today was the same psalm that Jesus and his disciples recited together on the same night he was betrayed by Judas.
So there is a simple message here. This basis for living, this perspective, this starting point is praise and thanksgiving, even in the midst of adversity.
All of us probably know what that’s like. We have a lovely winter’s day that lifts our spirit and we see things a little differently. Some good news and the future about many things look a little brighter.
Several of you have told me about the two happiest days in boat ownership – the day you buy it and the day you sell it. When you buy a boat you imagine all those days of being out on the water. Exploring around the coast, taking friends out, the fish you are going to catch. That is the starting point of boat ownership. And the day you sell it you have this wonderful sense of relief and release. That’s an ending but also a new starting point.
It’s often too easy to construct the lists of all the personal things, the world things, that are wrong. But the psalm in the first verse says three times, hallelujah. Praise God Praise God Praise God. The starting point .
Praise the Lord Praise o Servant of the Lord. Praise the name of the Lord. Halle eth shem Yahweh.
To praise the name of the Lord. We pass over those words easily. But this ancient psalmist is saying to us something important when we are called to praise the name of the Lord.
Just think about who and why you were named? What are the most popular names this year.
For girls so far Olivia, Emma, Ava, Sophie. For Boys Noah, Liam, Elijah, Oliver. Quite a few Biblical names but no one much calls their boys Trevor or Bruce or Martin even John is now only 50th on the list . Margaret, Sarah, Lynette do not even feature in the top 50.
But in ancient times the name meant everything. It embodied a sense of your history, your character, your identity, even where you fitted in a family.
So when we hear, praise the name of the Lord we are hearing about something important.
In the creation story in Genesis, God brings the animals one by one to the first human and we read, “and whatever the human called every living creature, that was its name” (2:19). Here we have a wonderful picture of humanity working together with God as co-creator. Naming brings the animals into being – a kiwi becomes a kiwi; a weta becomes a weta; a kereru becomes a kereru.
In Exodus chapter 3, Moses encounters God at the burning bush. God wants Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery. In that encounter, Moses replies to God's command with a seemingly simple request. “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?”. Moses asked for God's name. What is the nature and character of the God who is requesting such a thing? God replies with self-naming words of existence, “I am that which I am.” From the Hebrew words ehyeh asher ehyeh. The ancient Israelites derived the personal name of God, Yahweh. They possessed an important aspect of the being of God.
This morning that is how God is named. Hallel eth shem Yahweh. We simply translate praise the name of the Lord. But when you look deeper into that something profound is being said.
This is Yahweh who we praising. Not just any Lord not any God but the God of creation. The God of deliverance. For those with an interest in New Zealand art, think of the Colin Mcahon painting –the great I AM that features so often. This is the God being praised.
The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.
I read last week that one of the great theologians of last century, Karl Barth, was asked a question about whether science made faith irrelevant. All the discoveries about the cosmos, the new physics, the universe in size beyond imagination. Our miniscule part in it all occupying the third planet in an out of the way place in the milky way galaxy.
He was asked about this, and he answered in the lines of a nursery rhyme, “ twinkle twinkle little star how I wonder what you are” in other words. This drive we have to wonder, to be curious, to behold and be amazed to overcome despair and not to be dwarfed by the enormity around us. The psalm it is engaging with the same dynamic.
Psalm 8, “O Lord , our sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” Verse 4 of Psalm 113 “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.”
We have both the ability to recognise that somethings are enormous but there is also something within us that makes us both mortal and gives us the capacity to engage with enormity. For us as followers of Jesus, we hear in John’s Gospel and the word became flesh and dwelt among us full of glory and truth. The enormity above all heavens revealed in Jesus.
The psalm tells us that God who dwells on high looks down upon the earth; sees the needy and the poor; raises them up from the dunghills and places them in the dwellings of princes; sees the barren, and gives her children a place to dwell. Repeats again and again “to dwell”. The importance of a place to dwell. When Moses encountered God at the burning bush, God said to him, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. ... Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them and bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land” A dwelling place, a homeland, that was the ultimate promise of God to the children of Israel. Jesus said, in my fathers house there are many dwelling places. In the last verses in the last Book of the Bible, Revelation, we hear these words: And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; Homelessness is one of our biggest social challenges, but it has this deep spiritual basis as well. We all need a dwelling place.
The psalm is telling us that God sees things differently from us. God will have no reason to prefer the company of kings and nobles. Instead, God takes a special interest in the "dirt poor" and in sterile women. God focuses on people who have so little social usefulness that they are counted human refuse, fit to be consigned to sewers and rubbish dumps and dust heaps. What God does when God notices them is to "lift them up" and reintegrate them into society.
When we listen to these psalms we need to remember that they aren’t songs or poetry that came from a vacuum. People who study these things, and you can pick it up yourself when you read them, lines repeated, the same things said in different ways, they were all words that were first said or sung, remembered, cherished, for centuries before they were ever written down. The artists and the communities who gave us these words would have all been aware of the beliefs and religions of those all around them. Look on a map; they lived in a place which was the main thoroughfare between the north and the south. The great kingdom of Egypt and all the powerful empires north of them. All with their religions, their idols, all with their huge state machinery, their extraordinary buildings and technology.
Over centuries of wrestling, wondering, praying, thinking about the nature of God.
The Psalm ends with the same word with which it begins – hallelujah.
So this morning let’s remember that Psalm 113 is a hymn calling a community of believers to praise a God above the heavens, who cares enough for humankind to look down, reach down, and rise up the poor and needy of the earth. And gives them a dwelling place.
The psalm affirms the immeasurably great power of God but also the astonishing affirmation of God's tender care. The greatness of God includes both God's grandeur and God's closeness. A God who cares only for us is much too small; a God who cares for us not at all is also much too small.
Many of us face a difficulty, a challenge. Small things. Sometimes enormous things.
But we are invited, in the midst of all we face, to praise God, not only out of gratitude for what God has done, but out of hope for what God intends to do. However closed our world has become, whatever difficulties we face, the psalm calls us to be people of anticipation. Even when somethings don’t work out, there is still something more. More to give thanks for. Whatever we face this is the promise - that God is steadfast there is still reason to say Hallelujah, Praise God. AMEN
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