Make a Joyful Noise
A Sermon Based on the 100th Psalm
November 20, 2011
The psalm we read this morning is one of the 150 (or 151) psalms recorded in the Book of Psalms which functions in much the same way our United Methodist Hymnal functions for us today. These Psalms were written over hundreds of years from various authors. Many of them were written by King David himself some three thousand years ago. Others were attributed to Asaph, the sons of Korah, Moses, Solomon, and like this one by that famous writer, Sine Nomine, or Anonymous. Some of the psalms contain instructions on how they were to be performed and on what instruments to play them. We find similar materials in our own hymnal. If you would look at one of them we sang this morning: “All People that on Earth Do Dwell”, you will notice many of these instructions. You will see something at the bottom of the page that says OLD HUNDREDTH. Above the words you will see notes which tell us what notes are to be sung. There are a series of numbers at the bottom of the page called the “metrical index”. In this case the index is “LM” (which is 18.104.22.168). This means that any other tune with the same or compatible index can be substituted for the OLD HUNDREDTH tune.
Let me give you an example. Can anyone identify this hymn? (Start humming the Lyra Davidica, the tune used with “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” until someone identifies it). (Then sing the words to “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to that tune.) You see, the hymns can be sung to different tunes. We think of all the beloved hymns that Charles Wesley wrote, including both “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”. Yet most of the ones we sing today have different tunes from the original. And before that famous Christmas carol was adapted by George Whitfield and the tune we know as “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” was put to it, it was sung to a tune which Wesley wanted to be slow and meditative. The hymn that Wesley wrote in 1739 is sung today to a secular tune written by Felix Mendelsohn one hundred years later, a tune to commemorate Gutenberg’s printing press.
In a like matter, the Hebrew hymnal reflects different means of performing them which changed over the centuries. What was important is that the messages remained the same. Like our hymnbook, the Hebrews had different psalms for different holidays in the calendar. Some like this one are expressions of thanksgiving to God, although this psalm is the only one which is expressly titled “A Song of Thanksgiving”. Others are calls for Israel to repent, others for worship in the temple, what we would call those “High Church” songs. There are prayers for deliverance, psalms for teaching the people their history and of God’s mighty acts. We have hymns and responsive readings in our hymnal for the same things.
Now let us look in particular to today’s text. The Psalm begins with the call to “Make a Joyful noise, all ye lands”. What stands out here is the word “all”. It cannot be determined from the Hebrew text whether this is a call for all the people of the land of Israel or for all the nations on the earth to enter into the worship of Jehovah. There are other psalms which state more explicitly that God wants people of all nations to join in His worship. And the end of the psalm tells us that God’s “mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures unto all generations.” Taken together the Psalm cries out for people of all nations and of all ages to enter into worship of God. This is a poetic call of the Great Commission to “go into the world and make disciples of all people” so that they might enter into the true worship of the true God. And as John Wesley cried out, we are called to do this by offering “them Christ.”
Those who will hear this call are commanded to put their all into worship. The children of Israel were reminded every day when they recited the text in Deuteronomy 6 “Hear O Israel!” Jehovah is your God, Jehovah alone!” Reminded of what? – That they were called to worship “Jehovah your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Here in this psalm this call to worship is expressed with the command “Make a joyful noise!” This text has been used for a long time to justify bad, loud singing done with a good heart as being better than skillful music done by rote. And I do know that most of us here aren’t likely to make an appearance on American Idol anytime soon, although I am not sure how a Christian could be comfortable about appearing on a show by that name anyway. I am still waiting for our famous trio of Bill, Reggie, and Norman to sing a special for us. However, what is being said here is not to make an unskilled noise, but rather to make one’s worship like the blast of a trumpet. Worship is a testimony of the reality of God in our lives. If one were to mumble out jis/her praise, would it not sound rather grudging? The Call to Action plan encourages us to have enthusiastic worship services that are relevant. And although I would be careful to remind us that this enthusiasm must truly come from a heart transformed by God’s grace and not be worked up for the sake of enthusiasm, and that it is God and not the world which determines what is ultimately “relevant”, there is indeed a call for us to examine ourselves. What kind of witness is our worship to the world? Does it have substance? Is it real? Can we shout from our hearts our thanks for God’s transforming grace in Jesus Christ?
I know that our congregation here at Mt. Zion tends to be rather quiet; all except as Ms. Frances reminds us: “That Norman Kerley would be all right if he didn’t talk so much.” I know that this church likes to witness the transforming grace of Jesus in what it does. And Jesus can respond with “I know you and your works.” And so does the community. Although this church is small and seems to have little strength, your charity to those in need in the community is a clear witness to the faith. There is a saying “Preach the Gospel, if necessary use words.” And this has a ring of truth to it, as words without deed is an empty witness, but it is necessary to use words also. The world needs to know the reason for the hope that we have in these difficult times, why we do what we do and in whose name we do it. The Hebrews were exhorted by the Psalmist to “serve the Lord with gladness” and to “come before His presence with singing”. Let us take heed to do the same.
Why are we to do this? It is because that the LORD is God. The term “God” basically says that the Lord rules over all. The next verse tells us that He is the Creator of all. This alone should cause us to pause and think, because for us Christians, God has re-created us into the His image though the offering of Jesus Christ in behalf of our sin. It is indeed He who has made us.
The next part of the verse could be translated “And not we ourselves” or “because we are His,” depending on which set of ancient texts one consults. The modern person naturally would prefer the latter. It is much more comfortable in this broken world to feel that we belong to God, but there is much better evidence for “and not we ourselves.” This is the word which we do not want to hear; therefore I am sure this is what is intended. In a nation which worships success, we like to boast of the self-made person who makes a name for himself/herself. But the Scripture reminds us that it is God who has made us who we are, and not we ourselves.
I can remember seeing an old Jimmy Stewart movie called “Shenandoah”. It was a long movie which took several nights on television to show -- much too long for this current generation’s attention span. But it powerfully demonstrates this point. Jimmy Stewart plays the part of a grieving father of several children who has lost his wife whom he loved, which caused him to lose whatever faith he had. He would say a prayer like this over the meal: “We give thanks to you God for this food. I don’t know why. After all, we plowed the ground; we weeded and cultivated the field, and by our sweat we reaped the harvest. Our hands prepared the meal. But I promised my wife before she died that I would pray grace over the meal, so I am giving you thanks.” This is an example of the grudging lip service that is offered to God in the place of joyful praise. We are so blind to the praise of God who has made the seasons, the rain and sun to fall upon the fields, who has kept us from harm, who has made us as well as the seed which is planted into the ground. The best cure for the narcissism of our society is to be reminded “It is He who has made us and not we ourselves.”
To continue with the movie, the father was of a pacifist tradition who did not believe in war. But the Civil War came anyway to the Shenandoah Valley. And if I remember the movie right, some of his sons volunteered, much to the father’s chagrin, and some were drafted. One of the boys was killed. And reports came to the father that his youngest son was killed, the son whom his wife died giving birth to. This was too much for the father to take. But the report is a false one. Instead, his younger son was wounded and taken as a prisoner of war. After the war he starts limping toward home.
He arrives in the village at church time. The father, true to the commitment he made to his wife is in church with a glum face; the offering is taken; and the playing of the doxology “Praise God Who from All Blessings Flow” begins. The father stands out of duty, but has no heart in the worship. Suddenly the door to the church opens, and his youngest son enters, limping. The father is startled and turns around to see his youngest son, whom he though was dead coming into the church. And the joy of worship comes over the father who now is truly thankful, and he joins loudly into the singing of the doxology.
I know this is only a movie, but I can scarcely hold back the tears when I think about this story. It tells us a great lesson in that when we come to realize what God has truly done for us, even though we are blinded by our troubles, our worship will be changed. We will “enter His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise.” When we stop thinking about ourselves and our own trophies and lay them, like the hymn reminds us, at Jesus’ feet. We will be, as Charles Wesley reminds us in another hymn, “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
On Thursday, we will remember Thanksgiving. The tradition comes back to the days of the Pilgrims who came to New England in 1620, well north of their destination of Virginia, either by the sleight of man or perhaps by the winds. They were supposed to come over on two boats, but the other boat, the Speedwell was so rickety that is probably would have sunk on the journey, so the Pilgrims refused to take it. Everyone piled in on the other boat, the Mayflower. There is evidence that many in the government hoped this congregation which was made up of those who would not conform to the Church of England would fall off the face of the earth. The government also took the opportunity to get rid of petty criminals and other undesirables, and made the Pilgrims take them along also.
It was a miracle that everyone survived the dangerous voyage in an overcrowded boat. One person fell overboard and was rescued. A little girl was born on the way. But after landing first at Cape Cod, and later at Plymouth, the clouds of starvation, sickness, and death swept away half of the congregation. It could be clearly seen that the Pilgrims had not made themselves. When all was lost, deliverance came from the strangest quarter. A Native American named Squanto had been taken as a slave by the Europeans in a slave raid. He eventually found himself in a Spanish monastery where he served the monks. At some point he found freedom, went to England, and then returned to America, only to find that the dreaded European plague, the Smallpox, had killed off his entire tribe. Squanto had every reason to be bitter to these Pilgrims for the wrongs done to him by the Europeans. Yet by God’s grace, he became the means that saved them from complete destruction. The Native Americans showed pity on them and helped them to survive.
The Pilgrims showed their gratitude to God and to the kindness of the Native Americans by inviting them to a Thanksgiving feast. These Pilgrims would have probably sung the 100th Psalm at that occasion, which was one of their favorites. In fact, the Psalms were their hymnbook. These were the only songs allowed in their worship.
And now, remember when I talked about the tune OLD HUNDREDTH tune to which we sang “All People that on Earth Do Dwell’? What do you think OLD HUNDREDTH refers to? -- That’s right, the Old Hundredth Psalm. For three thousand years it has been sung by people of faith as a part of their worship and giving of thanks to the God who cares for us. And the words we sang in that are a paraphrase of the 100th Psalm itself. It is not just the Methodists who can be said to “sing their theology”. The style of worship may change, but the message is timeless. Let all people for as long as time endures come joyfully to worship the Lord God.