Happy rainy Tuesday! I hope you all enjoyed your weekend. It was so nice out that I let my confirmation class “work outside” for about an hour and a half of our three hour meeting on Sunday night. I couldn’t even argue with them when they bargained with me to let them stay outside – I didn’t blame them!
Here is Sunday’s sermon … I got a lot of positive feedback on Sunday, so I hope you enjoy it!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
April 24, 2016
Why We Praise God
I used to be one of those people who could not stand when professional athletes would praise God after a good game/race/competition/etc. It is not that I was opposed to the whole God thing, but I just always thought that perhaps God had more important things to do than help a baseball pitcher throw a bunch of strikes so that his team could win the world series. I mean – shouldn’t world hunger take precedence over things like pitching percentages? Maybe it’s just me.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I was in Connecticut for the closing weekend of my dad’s musical. This year, I have mentioned before, they put on an enchanting production of Cinderella. It was purely magical, with the exception of the fact that during the Friday night and Saturday afternoon performances that weekend, Cinderella’s magical dress seemed to have lost its magic.
In other words, it was not working the way that it was supposed to. And when I say that it was not working, I mean that the ribbon that acted as a release mechanism got completely knotted up and the dress did not release the way it was supposed to when Cinderella and the Fairy Godmother were on stage in the middle of a very tightly timed musical number where there was pretty much no room for error.
Needless to say, everyone was anxious going into the final show.
I was having dinner with some friends in between performances when I got a text from my dad. It said:
The costume ladies want you to bless the dress.
Here’s the thing about my dad: A lot of times you never know whether or not he is joking. But in this moment, I knew, without a doubt, that he was not joking. So I got ready to leave the restaurant.
My friends were quite perplexed by what I was about to go do. They said exactly what I have said in the past when athletes are interviewed and thank God for winning something. “Shouldn’t God be working on world hunger or sick children?”
But for some reason, I knew that this was something that I needed to do. These women were not joking when they made this request; they were not asking in vain. They are women of faith; women who I know follow my ministry journey through Facebook, who tell my dad they read my sermons online and would love to visit RCC sometime so they can worship with us. In that moment, after pouring their hearts and souls into this show, after four months of physically exhausting, time consuming and mentally draining work to create magic on stage, they needed something to believe in.
We all did.
So I went back to the school, gathered up the costume ladies and we went back stage, formed a circle by the dress and prayed.
Well, most of us did. My dad took pictures because he wanted to remember the moment.
I do not remember what I said exactly, but I prayed for several things that were on my heart. I prayed for peace and for the release of the anxiety not only that we felt but that the students. I prayed that the magic that we had worked so hard to create would come alive and inspire the 800 people that were already starting to fill the theater. I prayed that we all would remember that the blessings bestowed upon us during this production were not just about the performances, but about the journey that we took together to get there.
By the time I said, “Amen,” we were all crying.
We probably could have spent that time testing the dress one more time, reassuring the actors or giving all of the props, costumes and scenery a quick glance to make sure everything was in working order. But in that moment, that prayer was exactly what we all needed.
I have told a few people this story and they always ask the same question:
So, did it work?
Flawless. Beyond flawless. Smoother than it has ever gone.
You could hear all of us cheering from various parts of the theater and, at intermission, one of the ladies screamed at me across the crowded lobby, “YOU SEE SARAH! IT JUST NEEDED JESUS!”
While I will never know if it was God that made that happen or the new ribbon that they replaced on the release mechanism in between shows, I do know one thing for certain: We all needed Jesus that night.
This morning’s psalm begins with a very clear and definitive, “Praise the Lord!” In 14 verses, the word, “praise” appears 13 times. This scripture is not only a call to praise God, but also offers justification for why we do it in the first place. The psalmist says that we praise God because God created us and established a covenant with us (v.5-6). We praise God because God’s name is exalted and God’s glory is high above anything that we can fathom here on earth (v.13). We praise God because God raises us up and holds us close (v. 14).
We are living in a transitional time where the Church is changing and God’s role in society is different than it used to be. Many of us do not feel comfortable sharing our faith publically. We need a space where it is safe for us to ask questions instead of blindly following ancient customs and rhetoric. We do not know how to praise God when we are not in the safety of our church sanctuary, and yet so often we feel like we need something; we need something to give our lives, depth and understanding.
And perhaps that something – even if it is changing and even if we are not quite comfortable talking about it all the time – is God.
I was thinking about my own struggle with how and when to praise God this week as I thought about this psalm. I think part of my hesitation to be outwardly public and expressive with my faith all the time is that I do not want to make people uncomfortable. I also do not want to be naïve to the bad things in this world and praise God when the people around me are going through really difficult times.
And yet, I do not think that I could ever find words to tell you just how meaningful that “bless the dress” prayer for us. It calmed us down; it connected us in a way that I do not think anything else can. It gave us permission to bring God into our midst that brought us an immense peace.
It is important to praise God. Scripture teaches us that it is important to praise God.
Thousands of years ago, a psalmist shared why he thought that it was important that people praise God. And those reasons still ring true today. But, this morning, I think it is equally important for us to think about why we should praise God, specifically in our lives and to our generation.
So here are five reasons that I think it is important for us to praise God.
1. When we praise God we realize that it is not all about us.
Praising God helps us to have a better understanding of the fact that there is a force at work in this world that is beyond our control. We recognize that there are other people with different cultural upbringings and ideas that are trying desperately, just like us, to figure out this journey called life. Praising God helps us see the good in the world and allows us to marvel at our small piece of this enormous puzzle.
2. When we praise God we keep our focus on God on a more regular basis; we get ourselves in “Godly shape” so that we are more apt to focus on God when we go through a difficult time.
You do not run a marathon without getting yourself in shape to do it. I would argue that it is equally important to get yourself in “Godly shape” so that in those moments when you need it most, turning to God is a natural instinct and not an uncomfortable feeling. Praising God creates room for God in our day-to-day lives.
3. Praising God helps us to see the bigger picture.
As much as I hate to admit that I was wrong, I can see now how honorable and faithful it is for a professional athlete to use their platform not to tote their own abilities, but to thank God for the opportunity to do what they love in that capacity. I am not still not saying that God cares about who wins the Super Bowl more than world hunger and suffering, but I do think that sometimes a little perspective is a good thing for all of us.
4. When we praise God we are inclined to appreciate more and see the good in a situation.
Sometimes bad things happen and more often than not, we are not in control. But if we make it a regular habit to praise God, it is much easier to cry out to that same God when we are walking through the darkness of the unknown.
5. Praising God changes lives.
You never know when you are going to talk to someone who needs to hear the promise of God’s love, redemption and grace. You never know when you are going to encounter someone who needs hope. You never know when your life – your life of praising God – will inspire someone to praise God in their life.
I know that this is not always going to be easy. I know that there will be things that happen in our lives that cause us to ask questions and have doubts and lose hope.
But we have to try.
We can praise God in our lives. We can take little steps every day to try to make this a part of who we are. We can read prayers and psalms out loud and to ourselves. We can come to church and be involved in the community. We can talk to others about our faith – not in a confrontational and crazy way, but in a real and humble and “this is how my life has been changed” kind of way. We can make a commitment to pray and read the bible. We can take on a spiritual practice and incorporate that into our daily lives. We can come to church as a way of resetting ourselves when we start to lose perspective (because, let’s face it, we are all human and do from time to time). We can pray for others and let them know that we are praying for them. We can praise God outwardly and publicly for the things that we are grateful for. We can thank God for both wins and losses and lift up the things and the projects and the goals in our lives that we have worked so hard to achieve.
This is a charge for all of us to praise God – and not in subtle ways. We need to praise God from the comforts of our homes and church and we need to praise God from the discomfort of the outside world. We need to praise God in the ordinary and the mundane and we need to praise God in the extraordinary and the bizarre. We need to praise God when things are good or bad, big or small, hopeful or helpless. We need to see God in the midst of our lives and offer thanks and praise that we are not trying to do this alone.
The world can be a very crazy place for us to live in. But we need to praise God in the midst of this chaos. I truly believe that God can change our lives; God can help us find balance, God can bring us closer to the people that we love and God can take the pieces of us and make us whole again.
So let us go forth and praise God – really and truly praise God – within these walls and, more importantly, outside of these walls. And let us bear witness to that unexplainable, yet miraculous power in our lives and in the world.
Thanks be to God!