First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
December 27, 2020
Psalm 111: A Hallelujah Helper December 27 2020
Millions of people have used this product since its introduction in 1971. You may even have a couple of boxes of it in your pantry right now: Hamburger Helper. It may not be what you serve at Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it’s obviously tasty and convenient enough for people to keep buying and using. It’s the same reason Kraft Macaroni and Cheese is so popular. Sometimes you just need a quick meal that everyone in the family is happy to eat.
Just as we need some help with meal prep from time to time, we Christians often need help with our worship prep. Maybe today was one of those Sundays. It’s not Easter, Christmas is over, and so you didn’t come to church with the expectation of an inspiring service. Instead you went through your morning routine feeling more obligated than excited to go to church. Wouldn’t it be something if there was a product that could put us in the right frame of mind for worship every Sunday? Hamburger Helper won’t do that, but Psalm 111 can. It’s a Hallelujah Helper. A close look at this Psalm will motivate us to lift our hallelujahs to God with genuine cheerfulness no matter what Sunday or day of the week it is.
Psalm 111 in fact begins in Hebrew with the word “Hallelujah!” Ever wonder what that word means exactly? It means: “Praise the Lord!” Why should we want to do that? Listen again to a few verses from Psalm 111. “Praise the Lord…Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. 4 He has caused his wonders to be remembered…” (Psalm 111:1a, 3, 4a).
Our God is worth praising because his deeds are majestic. You might think of how God created the earth in six days with his powerful Word. I’ve gained a new appreciation for this miracle when I compare it to the construction being done a typical house. It takes planning drawings, plumbers, carpenters, painters, carpet layers and others to get the job done. No matter how carefully a person builds a house or a church, there’s always going to be something that could have been done better. And yet when God was done with his work of creation on that first Friday afternoon, he looked with satisfaction on a universe with stars, comets, oceans, animals, and two people named Adam and Eve. Everything God created was absolutely perfect. Genesis 1:31 says “ And indeed it was very good.”
But then sin came into the world and ruined everything just as a single grain of sand can easily ruin an expensive camera. So perhaps you don’t feel so inclined to raise a “Hallelujah!” for God’s work of creation – not when it’s cold outside and we have the windows open. Consider more closely then these sentences from the verses we just read: “He provides food for those who fear him… 6 He has shown his people the power of his works, giving them the lands of other nations.” The author seems to be alluding to the way in which God provided for the Israelites after he rescued them from Egypt. He not only brought them out of slavery, He also provided food for them as they made their way to the Promised Land.
We’re not struggling through a wilderness like the Israelites did, but we are reliant on the food and homes that God provides for us every day. What’s amazing is that God continues to provide for us even when our attitude is less than thankful. Sure, you may have paid for the food that’s on your table but who gave you the ability to earn the money to buy the food? Who ensures peace so that the food could be delivered to the grocery store from which you purchased it? God. And so he is deserving of our praise.
But what ought to motivate us even more to give God our hallelujahs is what the psalmist said in this verse: “He provided redemption for his people; he ordained his covenant forever—” (Psalm 111:9a). This verse has special meaning for all who are baptized, for through baptism God has made a covenant with us. A covenant is like a contract. As in building a house each of those contracts states what the plumber, the electrician, or the painter will do in exchange for what we will do for them: pay them. Compare those contracts with the covenant God made with you in baptism. Through baptism God adopted you as his child. He washed your sins away. He gave you the Holy Spirit and has granted you eternal life through faith in Jesus. He’s done this all for free and forever. Have you ever seen a contract like that? Have you ever heard of a will in which the signatory left everything to his worst enemy, even pledging that his heirs will be the enemy’s servants forever? That’s what God has done for you and for me, for all those who have been baptized. For even though we, as sinners, were God’s enemies, through baptism God pledged himself to us and gives us blessings through Jesus we don’t deserve. That’s quite a covenant! It’s no wonder the psalmist concluded that verse by saying, “…holy and awesome is his name”
But if our God is so deserving of our hallelujahs, why can days, even weeks go by without any praises escaping our lips? It’s because like the Israelites we have such a short term memory when it comes to remembering God’s blessings and his love for us. The psalmist gives us a way to combat this attitude. He wrote: “Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them” (Psalm 111:2). The word “ponder” in Hebrew literally means to “visit often.” Does that describe your routine with God’s Word? Do you visit it often, as often as you visit your favorite Facebook page? No, the content of Faithbook (God’s Word) doesn’t ever change like the content on Facebook does so Satan makes us believe that there is no point in visiting God’s Word often. But although God’s Word doesn’t change, your life does! A psalm you read last year may not have seemed to say much to you at the time but what about today? What new challenges are you trying to sort through that this psalm would speak to?
The story is told of a church member who shared how visiting again a portion of the Bible she had read many times before led to a truth she knew well but was presented in an inspiring way she hadn’t thought of before. She was reading from the book of Exodus about the building of the tabernacle, that tent-church which served as the focal point for Israelite worship in Moses’ day. Besides the tabernacle itself, God wanted his people to build the ark of the covenant, the altar of incense, a lampstand, and other worship utensils all made from or covered with gold. God then appointed a man named Bezalel to be the chief artisan and gave him the ability to build these objects. You can bet that if we had these objects today, and if God permitted this, they would be on display in a world-class museum – not just because they would be 3,500 years old by now, but because they would be genuine works of art to rival anything Michelangelo sculpted.
But when Bezalel and his helpers were done with the work, these objects were kept in the tabernacle where only the priests got to see them. In fact, the ark of the covenant was only seen by the high priest once a year or when the Israelites moved from one place to the next. How did Bezalel feel about that? Wouldn’t he have wanted everyone to see his handiwork? It’s this thought that struck this student of God’s Word: all our gifts and talents come from the Lord and are to be used for his glory – even if no one else sees or appreciates what God has done through us. Doesn’t that truth help in your daily work as a mother for example? Very few people see how many vegetables you have cut for school lunches. Your family probably takes for granted the hours of your life you have spent in line at the grocery store for them. And that card you made to cheer up a friend? She treasures it for sure but no one else may know about the effort you put into making that. And that’s OK. Your talent and your faithfulness might not be obvious to the people around you, but God sees and delights in them just as he delighted in the works of art that Bezalel made for the tabernacle. What other truths like that will God open your eyes to this week as you visit again his Word?
That brings me to one last point our psalm makes. The first verse of the psalm reads like this: “I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly” (Psalm 111:1). The psalmist is encouraging us to do more than visit God’s word often in the privacy of our home, he points out the importance of joining with fellow believers to sing God’s praises. it’s God’s encouragement. Put it into practice. Now we are in the middle of a pandemic and many are afraid to come out. I get that totally. You can worship online with us and connect with others in church through phone calls and other means.
But will you be excited about going to church every Sunday? No. So what can you do? Well, when you’re stuck for a meal idea you can reach for the Hamburger Helper, but when your hallelujahs have become stuck in your throat reach for Psalm 111 – that Hallelujah Helper. As you read the psalm again, you’ll be reminded of the many reasons you have to praise the Lord, even if it isn’t Easter or Christmas. Psalm 111 teaches that we have an awesome God who saved us from our sin, and who never takes a break from caring for us. May we never take a break from praising him.
One year ago today I was up here and talked about new year’s resolutions. How do we successfully carry out our resolutions? It all begins with the vision of Christ in our hearts, in our minds, and before our eyes. May one of your resolutions be to spend time in God’s word, looking to see what he has for you to hear. Who knows what you may discover? “Hallelujah!” Amen.
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