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Psalm 146

Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. 

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.

When I was a teenager I worked for McDonalds for almost 2 years. Part of working there was working a particular shift when the food delivery truck would show up and it would have to be emptied. To be sure, it wasn’t the best shift to be scheduled for: the deliveries often happened late in the evening after the dinner rush as to not affect the drive thru lane; the drivers wouldn’t help with the unload, but would sort of disgruntledly point at what to unload next and get upset if it was taking too long; from the cold truck the majority of the product would be stored in the walk in fridge or freezer – in our store the freezer had a door to the outside and the truck would pull up along the side and put out a rolling ramp… which meant as the worker you were always in the freezer or fridge with the door open to the cold winter air. Like I said, not the most fun shift a teenager wants to work.

And yet, even though we all started out grumbling and complaining, by the end of the shift, no matter how cold it was (or how hot), no matter how late (or how early) it ended, almost without fail the group doing the work finished singing and laughing together – sometimes because of the work, sometimes despite the work. Even when you started angry, the regular rhythm of push, lift, place; push, lift, place; repeat, seemed to have the effect of smoothing out the rough edges of our attitudes. Even when we started complaining about the cold, the habitual practices of sharing stories and laughter and even singing while we worked had the effect of getting us to the place of enjoying the time together. 

Finally, at the end of the shift – and in our store it was patterned for this – those who worked the delivery shift would share a meal together, without cost, as a small but appreciated thank-you for the hard work of this unique shift.

This is also the rhythm of liturgical habits and even the trajectory of the Psalter. Psalm 146 is the beginning of the closing quintet of psalms that ring out with the Hebrew refrain “Hallelujah” – Hallu-Yah(weh), “Praise the Lord!” In the 145 psalms that precede this one, we have sung the gamut of human emotion from joy to sorrow; celebration to grief; trust and faith to doubt and despair; blessing and being a blessing to anger and crying out for vengeance; a call for mercy and a call for justice. From the opening call to walk in the righteous way and to be like a tree planted by streams of living water, the life of worship ends with, “Praise the Lord.”

Eugene Peterson has a line that I love, all true prayer “pursued far enough, becomes praise.”[1] Whether it takes a long time, a life time, or until the end of time and the return of Jesus, songs of prayer that seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Mt. 6:33); prayers that desire to see God at work in the world and that come from a heart willing to be the way God is at work in the world; prayers that come from a person who longs to love God and love neighbour; all these true prayers will end in praise of the God whom we seek and love.

Not regardless of what comes before it, but building on everything we experience in life and faith, Psalm 146 capstones the journey of faithful singing in the psalter with a beautiful reminder of who God is:

He is the covenant God and the hope of his people (vs. 5). Before the foundation of the world he has chosen his people and promised to love them and be with us forever. His plan includes us and draws us towards history’s goal: God’s own glory.

He is the creator of all there is (vs. 6a). Heaven and earth, the chaos of the sea – all of it – is his. He made it and him we live and move and have our being. Without his will nothing happens, without his word nothing is.

He is faithful to his Word (vs. 6b). All scripture is God breathed, his word to us is living and active, grass withers and flowers fall but the word of the Lord lasts forever; when God speaks you can trust it; when God speaks life pours out; when God speaks he will not fail you.

He helps the oppressed (vs. 7a). Whether in this life or the next, justice will come for all. God hears the cries of the hurting and defends the cause of the marginalized. If God is for us, who can be against us? Even those whom the world ignores or rejects, God upholds.

He feeds the hungry (vs. 7b). Throughout the Old and New Testaments the community of faith is called to care for the hungry in our midst; ancient Israel had legal provisions for gleaners and the church of the New Testament has deacons to ensure equal distribution of care and resources. It is significant that Jesus gives his disciples a great commission (Mt. 28:16f) and a great feast (Lk. 22:14-23).

He frees the prisoners (vs. 7c). The microcosm of the Lord setting free those unjustly imprisoned; or of those Christians through the ages who have helped fight systems of oppression; are signposts revealing the cosmic freedom brought about by the gospel of Jesus setting us free from sin, death, hell, and the wrath of God. “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free.” (Gal. 5:1)

He gives sight to the blind (vs. 8a). In his ministry Jesus healed physical blindness on several occasions (cf. Mt. 9:27f; 12:22f; 20:29f). But even more than that, he healed spiritual blindness for all of us (cf. Jn. 9:35f), saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12)

He exalts the humble (vs. 8b). Whether like the tax collector who prayed, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.” (Lk. 18:13); or the widow who gave her last small copper coins (Lk. 21:1f); Jesus exalts humility because it reflects a heart of service – a heart which Jesus models in his life and death, and a heart we are called to model our lives of service after (Phil. 2:5-11).

He loves the righteous (vs. 8b). “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Rom. 3:21-22) In Jesus you are made righteous and made able to live righteously. We have a newfound freedom – “Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16)

He watches over the foreigner (vs. 9a). The scriptures are clear: God cares for the stranger, the alien, the sojourner, the outsider, the minority, and/or the immigrant. As the Confession of Belhar so pointedly says, “We believe… that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.” Is our heart the same?

He sustains the fatherless and the widow (vs. 9b). Have you lost a parent? Have you lost a spouse? God will sustain you. He is the true and better Father; Jesus is the true and better husband to us all, his bride. In him, and with him, is the relationship all our hearts are created for, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” (Augustine, Confessions)

He frustrates the way of the wicked (vs. 9c). Whether in this life or in the judgment of all, “the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Ps. 1:6) For victims of injustice, this is a promise of God for justice; for those unconcerned with their ways in the world, this is a warning to see the truth of it all.

Push, lift, place; push, lift, place; repeat… and repeat again. The liturgical rhythms of the psalter carry us through the entire spectrum of human emotions; and journeying with God through them all, feasting through feeling forsaken, all our prayers turn to praise when we are reminded of who God is as we seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. “Praise the Lord!”

Lord God may all my prayers turn to praise. Even as I experience life and death, may I know the comfort of being known by you. Seeing you more clearly, may I sing, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” Amen.

[1] Peterson, Answering God, 128.