Philippians 4: 4-9
When Christopher (our organist) suggested focussing on church music for the month of February, I just knew that we had to begin with the Psalm we read this morning – Psalm 150 – a Psalm that exhorts us all to Praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord!
Music exerts a powerful influence on us in our every day.
How often have you caught just a snatch of a song on the radio and been instantly transported back in time to an occasion that song was played that sticks in your mind.
Sometimes the memories evoked are so powerful that we can recall smells and atmosphere, taste the food we shared or, in other ways, relive the moment.
Music can move us to tears – tears of sadness, tears of joy, tears of frustration.
Many of the acclaimed revival periods in the history of the church have been accompanied by distinctive music – from the music of Wesley, to the songs of Moody and Sankey, all capturing the mood of a moment, and, many would claim, eternal truths.
My early church days were accompanied by strains of being washed in the blood, waiting for the roll to be called up yonder.
Strange language for our young folk in church circles today.
Even much of what we would consider to be modern praise music has already been discarded by our youth whose tastes and interests move on so quickly, it’s hard to keep up.
This Psalm reminds us, though, that it’s not just about the words, but about the methods of our praise.
We can praise God in so many ways – with hearts and hands and voices and instruments.
My colleague, Alec Shuttleworth, over in Tarbolton, exerts that “there is nothing, simply nothing in life that is not significantly improved by the addition of a banjo.”
With his talent, he is probably right.
We all have our favourite instrument of choice or style of praise music.
When we moved here, from Inverkip, Zara (then 10) insisted on calling the church Castlehill Praise Church.
It took me a while to realise that it was her mis-reading of Castlehill Parish church – we didn’t use the Parish in Inverkip church’s title.
But perhaps that’s a more fitting title – something to which we aspire – Castlehill Praise Church.
The book of Psalms has been edited into 5 sections – and this last section, of which we read the final Psalm, is all about praising God.
Hallelujah is repeated again and again – literally - Praise the Lord.
You may remember at the beginning of Lent last year, we “put away the Alleluias” – symbolically in a big tube for the young folk – but also literally in our praise for the rest of Lent.
We only unleashed them again on Easter Sunday.
And while, initially, I’d stumbled on that idea as a way to teach the youth church something of the austerity of Lent, like all good illustrations, it became much more than that.
The absence of Alleluias for those 6 weeks, made their reappearance all the more wondrous when Easter arrived.
And the careful screening of hymns to make sure we didn’t include any alleluias during Lent, made me so much more aware of how many of our hymns praise the Lord with alleluias.
And, it is fitting that a Psalm so full of Hallelujahs should end the Psalter, a hymnody of praises.
It might seem strange to describe the Psalms as a hymnody of praise when so many of the Psalms are full of sorrow and lament.
Indeed, the first part of the Psalter (Psalm 1-41) is composed mostly of laments: "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?" (Psalm 13:1) "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1).
But lament is not the whole story.
Praise often wells up in the middle of the laments and, gradually, through the course of the whole book of Psalms, the laments give way to praise until finally, at the end, "hallelujah" is the final word.
Eugene Peterson wrote:
This is not a 'word of praise' slapped onto whatever mess we are in at the moment. This crafted conclusion of the Psalms tells us that our prayers are going to end in praise, but that it is also going to take awhile.
It seems to be the way of Christian life that answered prayer is not something that can be rushed,
It requires patience.
IT requires persistence.
There is a lot of lamenting before we reach the Hallelujahs.
But in the rhythm of laughter and tears.
In the doubting and the believing.
In the resistance and the dance.
There is movement, inevitably, towards praise.
And even when we reach that point when we are moved to praise, our lament is not forgotten, our sorrow is not cast easily aside.
Our Hallelujahs are an expression of having reached the light only through the darkness.
Praising God, in our lives as individuals and in our life as a community in worship is a culmination of our struggles together, another stage in our journey, marked by all that has gone before and all that has yet to come.
And our praise is all the more real for having found a way to burst through lament and sorrow and darkness and questioning.
Our Alleluias are not a denial of all the sorrows we face.
They are not an escape from the realities of life.
Our Alleluias are a response to the God who, in darkness and in light, in sorrow and in joy, leads us on, a response to the God who brings life even out of death.
And that brings us to our New Testament reading this morning.
How are we able to keep on praising God through all that life brings?
St Paul tells us:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
I know that so many of you can testify to that peace that passes all understanding – seeing you through the darkest of times.
So many of you live out your every day in the knowledge that The Lord is near.
And focusing on whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable and the things worthy of praise – focusing on those things enables us to go through all that life brings praising God.
So whether for you, it’s the Redemption hymnal, or the old Scottish Psalter or CH4 or Mission Praise – whatever loosens your praise cords, don’t be inhibited by the times you’ve been told to keep quiet, don’t be subdued by the burdens you carry right now – Let everything that has breath Praise the Lord.