Psalm 148 and John 13:31-35
In Psalm 148, the Psalmist calls for everything (and everyone) created by the Lord God to praise the Lord God. It is interesting to take note of the categories he assigns.
In verse 1, the Psalmist calls upon the angels and all the heavenly hosts to praise the God. According to the New Testament book of Colossians, the heavenly hosts include not just angels, which are ministering spirits sent forth to serve, but principalities and powers and all rule and authority. Like Plato this suggests that God made “ideas” before God made the “expression of those ideas.” In other words, God created the idea of a great light to rule the day and a lesser light to rule the night, before God created the sun and moon themselves. Likewise, God created the idea of rules and governments before the nations themselves came into being.
In verse 3, the Psalmist calls upon all that is the heavens to praise God. He solicits praise from the sun, the moon, and the shinning stars. According to verse 5 God commanded, and they were created. God established them forever, and fixed their bounds which cannot be passed. The Psalmist was speaking even more truth than he knew. Remember, most people in his day thought that the sky was just a bowl turned over a flat earth, and that the heavens themselves could be reached if only human beings could build a tower high enough. Little did the Psalmist realize that the moon was 238,900 miles from the earth, and the nearest star to our sun is in the Alpha Centauri system which is more than 4.2 light years away. In case you are wondering light travels 5.88 trillion miles in a year. In 1969, man stepped upon the moon. Neil Armstrong said, “That’s one small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind.” Direct quote! We have traveled to the moon; but only in science fiction can we make the jump to warp speed, this despite the best efforts of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and all the Avengers. It matters not. The sun, moon and stars will endure as long as God pleases.
In verse 7, the Psalmist exhorts all that is of the earth to praise God. He solicits praise from sea monsters and everything that lives in the depths of the sea. He solicits praise from fire and hail, and snow and frost, and the stormy wind. He solicits praise from mountains and hills, and from the fruit trees, which people use for food and the cedar trees, which people use for building. He solicits praise from all animals, wild and domestic; and from the birds of the air; and from all the creepy crawly things of the earth. According to the thinking of the Psalmist everything that God has created works according to the laws laid down by God.When a tree takes in carbon dioxide and returns it to the atmosphere as oxygen for animals to breathe, it is acting according to the nature God has given it. When a wolf kills a lamb, it is not committing murder, it is acting according the nature God has given it. When a buck deer impregnates a dozen does in a single year, it is not being promiscuous at all, it is acting according to the nature God has given it. Likewise, when a hurricane makes landfall and leaves a wide-path of devastation, it not being wantonly destructive, it is merely acting according to the nature God has given it. Hurricanes have a purpose. They vent heat from the lower levels of the atmosphere. Without them, global warming would be worse than it is. Unfortunately, this means that, as the world heats up, hurricanes will become more and more frequent. When things get bad enough, insurance companies, and their investors will force Washington to do something about Global warming. The only question is: Will it be in time?
In verse 11 the Psalmist exhorts all the people of the earth to praise God. First, the Psalmist calls upon Kings and princes and rulers to praise God. Of course, rulers praise God only when they act according to God’s laws and God’s justice. In a democracy like ours, we the people are governed by our leaders, and our leaders are governed by law. George Washington was and always will be our greatest president because Washington understood that the American democracy is a government of laws, not people. Washington could have been President for life, or an American king, but Washington refused to put himself above the law. No true servant of the people puts him or herself above the law. Those who do, no matter how successful, are not servants, they are pretenders, and a threat to our democracy. Jesus himself said, “He would be leader of all must be servant of all.”
Next, the psalmist exhorts both men and women, young and old to praise God.
When the Psalmist solicits praise from men and women, young and old, he is speaking inclusively of all people. People can praise God only if we like our leaders live in accordance with God’s laws and God’s justice.
Human beings are unique in all creation. We live in a half-way house, caught always between heaven and earth. Like the animals, we are physical beings, created from the earth itself. Even the word “adam” means earth. Unlike the animals, we were created in the image of God. At the very least, this means that we possess reason, self-awareness, and imagination. Animals are guided by instinct. Ducks fly south for the winter. We can go against our instincts. We are free to travel north in winter, and south in summer. We are free to do right, and we are free to do wrong. When we do right, we achieve the divine humanity God always intended for us.
The Law that God gave to Moses is also human and divine. Long before God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, people in advanced civilizations, like ancient Sumeria, were already learning to live by laws that served to protect people from one another. As a dear friend once said to me, “Sin is anything we do, or fail to do, by which we hurt ourselves or another.” Even people who do not believe in God believe in sin! That is the major area of commonality between believers and unbelievers, and it is at this place of agreement where we must begin any conversation with them.
In Verse 13 the Psalmist sums up by asserting that only the name of the LORD is worthy to be exalted and above the heavens and the earth. This is because God alone is the creator, and only the creator stands above, and beyond the heavens and the earth. ‘No wonder, Jurgen Moltmann says that God had to withdraw himself to make room for the creation.
Finally, in verse 14, the Psalmists suggest a new reason for praising the LORD God. Not only is the LORD God the creator and sustainer of the cosmos; but he has raised up a horn for his people. In this context, the word “horn” is unfamiliar to us; but it was familiar to the people of Israel. They knew that both a wild ox and a victorious king had horns. They knew that the Army of Israel took direction from the sound of the ram’s horn. And they knew that the altar where priests offered a sacrifice for the sins of the people had horns. Undoubtedly, the horn that the LORD has raised up for his people, for all who are near to him, is the horn of salvation.
Unlike the creation, the horn of salvation benefits only those who draw near to God. Not all human being will do that. In his book, “The Stranger,” Albert Camus tells the story of a man who is sentenced to die for a murder he did not commit. He is convicted, in part, because the jury hears evidence that he was indifferent to the death of his own mother. He spends his last night on earth, in a jail cell, thinking about the death he is to die in the morning. A priest comes to him, but he drives him away with curses. He contents himself by contemplating “the benign indifference of the universe.” The universe does not regard him malignantly; it does not regard him at all.
How sad it must be to live in a world that takes no notice of us, a world without God and without hope. Thankfully, we do not. God not only created and sustains our world, God has raised up a horn of salvation for us! He has drawn near to us that we might draw near to him. And that provides us with a perfect Segway to our Gospel Lesson.
In our gospel lesson, Judas, has gone out into the night. Only Jesus and the “faithful” disciples remain. They live in a world that is created and sustained, and now, in Jesus, invaded by the Love of God. Jesus says:
“Now is the son of man glorified, and God is glorified in him,
and God will glorify him in himself.”
In speaking of his glorification, Jesus is speaking of the death he is about to die on the cross. He the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. His glory is obeying the will and purpose of God. His death is not the end of his glorification, it is the beginning, for God will raise him from death and glorify him in himself. The death of Jesus is glorification for God, because, in Jesus, in ways that we cannot fully understand, God enters into the suffering of the world God has created. As followers of Jesus, we may think ourselves distant from God—and sometimes, through sin and doubt, we are; but never again think that God is distant from us.
This is important for believers because our world is filled with sin and suffering. We saw it on 9/11. We saw in Columbine, and Parkland, and in Charlotte. We see it daily at our borders, and on our streets. We see it in Washington, and New York and Boston, and Winston-Salem.As I wrote this sermon on my laptop, I watched a young homeless man sleep the best sleep of his night as he enjoyed the warmth of a coffee shop. I shook his foot, woke him up, and bought him a sandwich and a coffee. We talked. As we talked I thought about this gospel lesson. In it, having brought God close to human beings, Jesus seeks to bring human beings closer to one another. Jesus says:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you.”
Jesus commands us “to love one another,” not mildly, or indifferently, but passionately and sacrificially, for he commands us to to love one another as he has loved us. His love took him to a cross, and that was his glory. Where will our love lead us?
I looked across at the boy in the coffee shop, and I asked him how old he was, He said, “Eighteen.” I asked him his name. He said, “They call me _______—because part of me is a killer.” I asked him if he had family. He said, “Yes, in another state; but they have disowned me.” I asked him if he had sought help from places like the Bethesda Center or the Samaritan Inn. He said, “Yes, but I am barred from these places—for violence.”
I don’t know what the future holds for that young man. I know only that it took him a long time and a lot of effort to pack the bag of troubles that he drags along with him, and it will take him and whoever finally reaches him a long time and a lot of effort to unpack it. Even while meeting with him I knew that I alone was not up to the task of helping him. I knew that helping him will take more time and expertise than I can bring to the task. Yet, as I left him, hoping (and fearing) that we would meet again—I have looked for him of several occasions, two questions still haunted me. 1) “Are we—the disciples of Jesus, all together, up to the tasks of helping this young man and others like him?” And 2) ,”What am I personally willing and able to contribute to the task?” It is only when we attempt seemingly impossible task of loving one another—and the people who share our world, that all people will know that we are the disciples of Jesus.
Worth Green, Th.M., D.Min.