“Alleluia!” by Rosanna McFadden

Good morning!  I want to express my thanks to Tim Morphew who finished our Jerks of the Bible series last week — Tim has a district commitment this morning at New Salem COB in Milford.  I want to be sure you know that this series is complete, so if you tell me after worship today what a jerk I was during the sermon, my feelings will be hurt.  You are, of course, entitled to your opinion.

I have been especially aware of international news as I was preparing my sermon this week, and you don’t have to be a political scientist to know that the news is not good.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine has the potential to de-stabilize decades of peace in Europe.  No matter what you think about the United States leadership and response, this Russian action puts other world leaders in a tough spot.  If you’re looking for bad news, you don’t have to stop there: global temperatures are warming, ice caps are melting, and sea levels are rising.  If you don’t want to consider the big picture, consider the people you see every day: someone has likely been a jerk — by design or just because that’s who they are. 

And really, if we’re honest, we don’t even have to look at other people to see what a mess things are: our own disfunction, resentment, and passive-aggressive behavior should be sufficient evidence that the world is a darn mess.  I feel like we should cue the opening theme from the sitcom “Cheers,” which began:

Making your way in the world today

Takes everything you’ve got

Taking a break from all your worries

Sure would help a lot

Wouldn’t you like to get away?

All those nights when you’ve got no lights

The check is in the mail

And your little angel

Hung the cat up by its tail

And your third fiance didn’t show

Sometimes you wanna go . . .

I believe that a community of faith should be a place where everybody knows your name, but it is so much more than that.  Church is more than a haven from all the difficult stuff in the world which is waiting for us just outside those doors to crush our hopes and our spirits.  The Bible offers good news: a powerful counter-narrative to the reality of our human short-comings and our world.  The Bible acknowledges human shortcomings, but that’s not the big story it tells: the good news is God’s faithfulness and God’s teaching, and the hope and promise and death and resurrection and forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ.  I am not going to try to cover all of that territory today.  I am just going to emphasize one word.  You might even be able to guess what it is:  Alleluia. Or Halleluia, with an “h.”  This word will not magically solve all the world’s problems, but it can help re-calibrate the messy realities we experience.

Halleluia.  It isn’t just a word — it’s a phrase, really, taken from Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament.  English doesn’t typically take a command and smush it into a single word: putyahandsup or getouttahere   When I try to write these as one word it looks weird and my spell-checker doesn’t like it.  But that’s essentially what Halleluia is: a word which means praise the Lord!  Understood but unspoken is the plural you — you all — praise the Lord.  Praising the Lord is not just a way to take our mind of our troubles, or to help ourselves feel better for a little while.  Praising the Lord is an antidote to chaos and hopelessness and despair.

The last 5 psalms of the collection of 150 — that is numbers 146 through 150 are called the Halle-psalms, because they each begin with phrase Praise the Lord! Halleluia in Hebrew. Psalm 148 is my favorite because it talks about the way God has ordered creation — including human beings.  This is where the counter-narrative begins: the world isn’t random, it was ordered and created and affirmed as the handiwork of God.  Of course the ways it has become degraded or messy are realities that we can’t simply turn our heads away from and ignore because its up to God to take care of those things.  God didn’t create the world then walk away from it either; God didn’t create human beings knowing that they would sin and hurt one another and go to war and then just say, “Oh well, I did the best I could; I guess the people will just have to figure it out for themselves.”  God continues to walk and work in our world: God sent his Son to redeem the world, because God loves the world — it is God’s world.

So God made this beautiful creation — sun. moon, stars, seas and dry land, sea creatures, weather, mountains and hills, trees, wild and domestic animals, and all the people of the earth — princes, peasants, young and old.  That’s just a summary of the list in Psalm 148 — I didn’t have Sue read the whole thing, but you can check it out for yourself.  All that great stuff created by God — not for our enjoyment, but to give praise and glory to God.  Halleluia!  That is what creation was made to do.

Of course, any faith community which loves God should be in the business of praising the Lord; but that is more than just a feel-good phrase or a song lyric.  Embedded in that command Halleluia — you, praise the Lord — is the conviction that God is in charge.  That’s the re-calibration I referred to earlier.  Things on the cosmic or world stage, and even on an interior personal level can feel hopeless or overwhelming if the only resources we have are ourselves.  I don’t know how many people have told me in the course of pastoral care, “I don’t know how people without a church family get through an illness, a loss, or a death.”  I don’t know either.  I never want to find out.  But a church family is more than a group of people who provide transportation, or meals, or goodwill: a church family is a group of people who pray and support you with the conviction that God has the power the see us through whatever it is, and that God is not only great, God is good and wants what is good for each one of us. Halleluia!

I don’t know what specifically re-orients you to God and God’s goodness: I’ll show you some of things which do that for me in a moment.  But praising God is not escapist.  In other words, we don’t simply take a break for the cold, hard world to praise God for a little while, and then go back out there to get kicked around again.  Praising God means committing to work for the things which God created and God loves — the oceans, the climate, the creatures, and the people: especially the people.  Praising God means working for justice on behalf of those who have not had a seat at the table, it means practicing random acts of kindness without the expectation of anything in return, it means praying for people we love and praying for people we hate because we believe that prayer changes things — including us.  Praising God means being willing to work on our own behalf — to take care of our bodies and nurture our spirits.  It means knowing our limits and being willing to take risks for others.  Every good thing we do can be used for God’s glory: our actions will say Halleluia louder than our voices.

I want to finish by showing you some photos of things which make me praise God.  The photos you would choose might be different than the ones I have chosen — I decided to use professional photos rather than my personal ones, but this is an exercise I would recommend to anyone: go looking for things that remind you of the skill and the care of our Creator: the infinite scope of the universe and tiniest details which were formed with infinite care. Look on Google, look on your phone, look at the world around you, look at the people around you. Look with the eyes of God so that you can see with the heart of God.  I’m going to say just a bit about each of these images; I will end by saying Praise the Lord and invite you to respond with Halleluia!  Ready

Moon and stars:   For the moon and the spangled heavens, which are visible only in the darkness, and which we have to turn our gaze upward in order to see: Praise the Lord!  Halleluia!

Lake and sunrise:   For the gift of each new day; for quiet waters with the promise of mystery lurking beneath if we are patient and persistent enough to find it: Praise the Lord!  Alleluia!

Tree:  For the opportunity to stand on the earth and reach toward heaven and let the light shine through us: Praise the Lord!  Halleluia!

Dolphins:  For the joy of being alive; the freedom to follow our own path, and for companions on the journey: Praise the Lord! Halleluia!

Baby:  That we are fearfully and wonderfully made and were known when we were knit together in our mother’s womb, and that each one of us is precious to God through all the length of our days: Praise the Lord!  Halleluia.  Amen.