Between Text and Sermon: Psalm 146

Article excerpt

Despite the fact that many believe that the psalms should be sung (which they should!) and not preached, I believe they are permeated with rich homiletical possibilities. Psalm 146 is a good example.

The psalm introduces the fifth and final division of the Psalter, a series of five hymns known as the Hallelujah Psalms. Each of these psalms begins and ends with an invitation to praise God (Hallelu Yah). The Hebrew verb halal means to make a show, to boast, to rave, to celebrate, perhaps even to be clamorously foolish--an image that may offer a fair description of the exultant experience of the first Christian Pentecost. As acts of corporate worship, these psalms summarize the joy of the returned exiles and create an appropriate doxology at the close of the Psalter, a doxology that exudes trust in God as the community's only true help and hope.

But what--in a post-Constantinian, postmodern and (some believe) post-Christian world (See Loren Mead's The Once and Future Church)--does Psalm 146 have to do with evangelism? The answer is everything. In fact, this little Hebrew song holds in proper tension evangelism and social action.

The twentieth-century divorce between evangelism and social ministry, between sharing the Good News of God and naming and doing justice in the world, is one of the unfortunate legacies of contemporary Christendom. And yet, the interconnectedness of both of these expressions of God's redeeming presence in the world rings forth throughout the Old Testament and the New. We see these twin themes in the patriarchs and the prophets, in the Abrahamic and the Sinaitic covenants, in the Luke-Acts tradition (with its emphasis on spreading the Word and caring for widows, orphans, and strangers), and specifically in the person and work of Jesus Christ himself. Christ never separated the two.

What, then, does this text say about evangelism? First, it says that evangelism begins and ends with praise, not just the corporate praise of the people of God, as important as that is on a weekly basis, but the praise of each individual believer. What do we do when we evangelize but praise God, the creator of the heavens and the earth, who condescended to take on our earthly flesh and pitch tent among us?

Sharing the Good News is not the duty of the Evangelism Committee alone but that of every individual believer. "Praise the Lord, O my soul!" (v. 1). As it is used here, the term soul (nephesh) means vitality, and connotes praising God with every aspect of one's being. This suggests that each one of us should praise God not only in the morning and in the evening but with our entire life (chay). We are to praise God, in fact, up to and with our very last breath.

When a church is filled with individuals who begin and end their days with praise for God, evangelism occurs naturally. In such a setting, techniques and clever strategies for marketing the church do not have to be taught. Rather, individuals, like the psalmist, communicate the message of God's kingdom with their very lives. They never cease communicating this message, even when tragedy strikes (as it inevitably does) or boredom afflicts. These individuals understand, as did the psalmist, that evangelism, that praising God in the world, is a lifelong commitment.

The second word concerning evangelism in Psalm 146 lies in the verbs the passage uses to describe a God who acts in history and who calls for a response. The community and individual believers are called to praise God and to trust and hope in God on the basis of God's sure and saving deeds and attributes (vs. 6-9). There is a sense of urgency and immediacy in the imperative mood used: "Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul!" Notice, too, that the psaimist begins with himself before he tries to tell anyone else what to do. Clergy and lay leaders need to search their own souls and to examine how they are "praising the Lord" before they call on others to do so in their lives and in their world. …