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A Song. A Prayer. A Promise.

Psalm 100
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 
2   Worship the Lord with gladness;
   come into her presence with singing. 
3 Know that the Lord is God.
   It is she that made us, and we are hers;*
   we are her people, and the sheep of her pasture. 
4 Enter her gates with thanksgiving,
   and her courts with praise.
   Give thanks to her, bless her name. 
5 For the Lord is good;
   her steadfast love endures for ever,
   and her faithfulness to all generations.

Welcome to a summer in the Psalms. From praise, to lament, and back again. Verses variating on a theme interspersed with refrains, with riffs. It’s a song book, an anthology of love ballads, pop anthems, funeral dirges, and redemption songs. It’s the song of God’s people as we grapple with faith and fear, heartbreak and hope, love and loss. From Psalm 1 to Psalm 150, the authors of the Psalms don’t hide their hearts, but offer the full range of lived experience. It’s a raw and primal expression that speaks to our best and our worst.   And in that way the Psalms follow a rhythm of orientation, disorientation, and reorientation.  Like our lives which take shape and form around central things…until something, someone, some experience disrupts us….until we come to a new way of being that isn’t merely a return to what was.

Psalm 100 is a Psalm of thanksgiving, a Psalm of praise.  From the beginning, notice how gratitude and celebration live side by side.  It begins with joy – that word which eludes easy definition but deserves more than the tidy translation of mere happiness, as if it is on par with that which comes to us by way of a relaxing vacation or really good queso. This “joy” confounds even the wisdom of the wise and yet beckons us closer.

1600 years ago, St. Augustine once reflected on this Psalm, saying, “Of what use is it to be jubilant and obey this Psalm, when it saith, “Jubilate unto the Lord, all ye lands,” and not to understand what jubilance is, so that our voice only may be jubilant, our heart not so? For the understanding is the utterance of the heart.

This jubilation is a joy which bursts forth from the page, a joy that consumes not only the feeling in our hearts, but the sound that demands to be heard. It is a joy that must be experienced, that must expand beyond the bounds of good and orderly melody into boisterous noisemaking.  The gladness in our gut leaps off of our tongue in notes that cannot sit still, in ways that can only be sung. And yes, this unruly exuberance, this messy and chaotic clanging….is worship. This is an invitation to direct our hearts toward God, to come together in adoration, to marvel and wonder at all that we have seen, to come into the presence of the divine. 

This invitation, which is as near as our nose, also reaches as far as the horizon. “Make a joyful noise to the lord, ALL the earth. “  The Psalm speaks of a joy which is not just for some, but for everyone.  It brings us to envision a world where every. single. voice. Has reason for equal rejoicing. It is a day when joy is known not only in pockets of populations, but in full. This joy transcends the notion of either/or, of zero-sum praise which demands that in order for things to be better for me, they must be a worse for you.  It dispels the notion that there isn’t enough to go around or that there is no way for everyone to be happy at once. This is a scene where women can celebrate the triumph of a female-directed, woman-centered superhero movie like Wonder Woman, without the bitter stain of knowing it washes over women of color. This is a way of the world where we wouldn’t have to lament for the lost life of Philando Castile and his family left to grieve without justice.  This is a vision of creation without any more death or mourning or crying or pain for the 9 black children of God who gathered for a bible study in Charleston until they were gunned down by a white boy (who grew up in the ELCA...our denomination) who needed to destroy their humanity. The Psalm voices the possibility that this Juneteenth weekend, which celebrates the emancipation of black slaves, is one where maybe we can lament these things together for the tragedy that they are without feeling backed into opposite corners.

Can you imagine the sound of all the earth united in joyful praise? Not because we just learned to get along or get over it, but that we are actually reconciled and made whole in the way that God declares? This is a joy with the power to reach all the earth.  This is a joy that streams sunshine through the tears. So is this Psalm a song? Or is it also a prayer? A prophesy? A promise?

The first stanza is praise, the second stanza is why.  Who inspires this exuberant display of delight? What could fill our hearts to this point of bursting and abundance?  Why does it keep showing up again and again, giving us a glimpse, a taste that leaves us ravenous for the full feast?

“KNOW that the Lord is GOD.    It is GOD that made us, and we are GOD’S;
   we are GOD’S people, and the sheep of GOD’S pasture. “

Because of God, we belong. We belong to the author of love. We belong to a family of people.  We belong to the light, we belong to the thunder. We belong to the sound of the words we've both fallen under. Whatever we deny or embrace for worse or for better. We belong. You didn't know Pat Benatar was a Psalmist, did you?

In the bible, the word “to know” is this intimate kind of truth. It is the same word that speaks to the knowledge of good and evil as it is to lay our body next to another as two become one, cradled in the arms of our beloved – naked and unashamed. The Psalmist speaks to joy and gladness that isn’t just superficial but sinks through to our bones.  It is both light in its transcendence and weighty with its depth. This is a kind of knowing that is to know by experience, to know in our hearts and in our souls, to know that we belong – to God and each other.  It is to know that God, who holds us close… is the God of all the earth, is ALSO the creator of galaxies of stars and a single blade of grass. This same God made us, our inmost being, knit us together in our Mother’s womb, and claims us as God’s own.  This God nurtures us and cares for us, as a shepherd cares for their sheep, as if God’s livelihood depended on our well-being. 

That’s what lies behind all this joy and gladness.  This is the kind of belonging that roots us and moves us into becoming.  This is a relationship that inspires not vain empty praise, but true worship…from every edge of creation. God is not demanding that we smile because we would look prettier, but inviting us to discover all the reasons we have to smile – past, present, and future.   It’s the difference between a begrudging but polite ”thank you” vs. exuberant backflips, something out of a viral video with kids at Christmas losing the mind over the perfect gift. And so we move back and forth between getting lost in our thanks and praise, basking in our blessing, and recognizing its source.

Continue the conversation:. 

What has happened in your life that has helped you to KNOW God, and not just know something ABOUT God?

When was a time that Psalm 100 “fit” with your life?


Write two stanzas of your own Psalm of thanksgiving.  It doesn’t have to be elaborate or rhyme, you don’t have to put your name on it.  Write one stanza of praise, worship, or joy. Write a second stanza that speaks to why God is worthy of your gratitude.  Even if you find it difficult to speak to these things with integrity of heart today, I invite you to just put pen to paper and see what happens.

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