Slideshow image

Psalm 148

Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever – he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. And he raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart.

Praise the Lord.

Some years back I went to Boston on a trip with Rachel, my wife. We walked a portion of Downtown called “The Freedom Trail.” This includes the Old State House, the balcony from which the American Declaration of Independence was first read; we visited Faneuil Hall, a 18th century market place, the steps of which have hosted many of American history's famous speeches: the idea of “no taxation without representation” goes back to protests against the Sugar Act of 1764, Samuel Adams roused Bostonians to revolt for American independence, and George Washington celebrated the newly formed republic's first birthday here; we took in a free pipe organ and flute concert at King’s Chapel, originally an Anglican Church established in 1686 – you can imagine the tensions during the revolutionary war and the shrinking church membership when British troops evacuated the area; we stood on the ground at the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre; and we toured Trinity Church, an episcopal church known for many things, not the least of which for her Rector from 1869-91, Phillips Brooks, a well-known preacher and hymn-write (he authored, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”).

Coupled with a whale watching tour during which we must have seen 30 whales – this was one of my favourite vacation trips (we also visited Cape Cod south of Boston and Salem [famous for witches and pirates] to the north).

While in downtown Boston – probably somewhere around Faneuil Hall and the markets – we came across a particular busker banging out an amazing rhythm on some buckets and pots with a set of drum sticks. The variation of sound and the complicated rhythms were amazing to witness; even to feel as we watched. Even as we watched, another person (probably planted/staged) also with a bucket and drum sticks sat down beside him and joined in perfect tempo. A few seconds later a young child, maybe 8 or 9, joined in with the same… At this point it was clear that it was part of the act – but he joined in perfectly and the trio played some amazing drum music together.

By this point a crowd had gathered to watch. When that happens, the other buskers take notice and move towards the crowds to get some of the action. Now jugglers and even a mime joined the display.

And then, straight out of a movie scene, someone walking by with a instrument in a hard black case stopped to listen. After a few beats he opened up the case and pulled out a trumpet, looking and nodding at the lead drummer – as if asking for permission to enter – he waited for a quick nod in return and lifted his trumpet and started to freestyle along with the beat. When he took a few steps forward and took position alongside the drummers, another person with a violin appeared and started jazz fiddling right along with the rest of the group. (I am choosing to believe these two weren’t staged and it was just a fortuitous musical occasion we were lucky enough to witness – but I will never know for sure…)

The harmony and synchronicity of these three drummers and two “random” other buskers is a testament to their individual skill and ability; but the music they made exceeded the sum of the parts and was almost magical to experience.

This is the reality of all creation praising the Lord in Psalm 148. Praise beginning in the highest heavens, including angels and the armies of God (vs. 2), moves to include the sun, moon, and stars (vs. 3), then gathers up all the ocean’s creatures and its very depths (vs. 7), mountains and hills and trees of the field all praise the Lord (vs. 9), the biggest wild animals and domesticated ones right through to the smallest insects and birds (vs. 10), and then all people everywhere – regardless of station or status (vs. 11); everything everywhere is called into praise: “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens.” (vs. 13)

The diversity of all the cosmos coming together to make beautiful music in praise of God, its – our – Creator. The music we make together exceeding in exalting beyond the sum of our individual parts to a majestic experience of the glory, and glorifying, of God.

Like the buskers on the streets of Boston and like a great jazz performance, the individual players have a freedom to feel and take the music as they are moved; the individual musician contributes uniquely to the movement of the music; and yet, to play harmoniously rules must be followed: rhythms, keys, and scales all set parameters for playing well together; trading back and forth, leading and following, synchronously moving around a shared tune or theme or musical structure. Beautiful music requires boundaries for the fullest abundance of its magnitude to be felt.

It won’t surprise you that our individual and communal flourishing in praise of God is the same. Following God’s order and design for life and life in him is the truest way to experience freedom and beauty. Without structure there is only chaos.

And yet, unlike the rest of creation, humanity has the inherent autonomy to reject the invitation – and in Genesis 3 we read that our first parents, Adam and Eve, did; since that day all creation groans because we are out of tune, our song of praise is marred; sin has stained the beauty of the world’s worship. We need a way back into the song.

And he has raised up for his people a horn…” (vs. 14) In Luke 1:69, Zechariah – the father of John the Baptist and a priest in the temple at Jerusalem – prophesied in praise saying God has, “raised up a horn of salvation for us” who will bring salvation, mercy, and rescue as he remembers his covenant and enables us to serve (Luke 1:69-75). We have stepped out of tune with the universes praise of its Creator, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:57)

And now, the diversity of the church catholic, throughout all times and places, only adds to the majesty of the music we make. One of the beautiful powers of the gospel is that natural enemies come together in the grace of the God to join the choirs of heaven and of earth to sing praise to the Lord. Derek Kidner, an Old Testament Scholar, calls this, “the only potential bond between the extremes of mankind: a joyful preoccupation with God.”[1]

When the heavens and earth, and all that is in them – including you and me – come together as one to praise God, that is the life for which you were created; the life Jesus lived and died and rose again to draw you into. It is abundant, it is beautiful, and it is full of majesty and mystery; may he move you to praise him, and may our praise move others to the same.

Lord, help me to know that I was born to praise you! Help me to hear the praise of creation and to find my voice in the song. Thank you for the majesty of worship beyond me and bigger than my preferences and personal tastes, but that is centered on faithful expression of your glorious name. Draw us all together in united and diverse praise! In Jesus’ name, Amen!

[1] Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (2008), 525.