A Hymn of Praise
Psalm 100, important because it has come to typify the biblical hymn of praise, has recurring imperatives that guide the worship of the Christian church: “make a joyful noise,” “worship,” “come,” “know,” “enter,” and “give thanks.” These directives, Walter Brueggemann argues, make this a psalm of orientation, one of the bedrock psalms of the sung faith of Israel that functions to give believers a different imagination than those who would sing other songs—praise for earthly rulers, the brokenness of enslavement, and the cry of despair. This psalm proclaims a message that engages the worshiper in the world as the loving creation of the Creator. God loves us, is the message, and his character is marked as worship him with the return of what is ours from the beginning and will be eternally: the “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” of the God who has come in Jesus
Given the context of witness and testimony, Psalm 100 is as much thanksgiving as hymn. Further, the psalm is a call to all nations along with Israel, a common exilic theme of the people as God’s flock and God as their shepherd (vv. 1-3). The call to procession or parade at the end of the psalm reminds us that there will be a grand parade (Isaiah 35 and the Book of Revelation) both within and beyond it to the place where eternal witness will be our ultimate, collective destiny.
Most importantly, Psalm 100 as testimony and witness to praise as the work of God, not our own choosing of style or substance, sets the tone of the Psalm and opens the passage for some interesting ministerial work.
When preaching Psalm 100 it is important to note that praise of God is fundamentally “witness” or “testimony,” one of those too often ignored elements of worship in Wesleyan circles these days. We have all been subject to testimony services that missed the invectives of this psalm and this is the preacher’s opportunity to right the ship. A sermon from this psalm should note that we testify by praising God for the sake of God’s mission enacted as directed by God in our worship. Preaching this psalm should capitalize on the dual premise that first, we give ourselves to God fully and praise requires the willingness to come, to know, to enter, and give thanks. Secondly, we praise God as does the psalmist in the midst of the assembly, out loud and in public, so as to share our praise with our neighbors, i.e. witness and testimony is the ground of our Christian community, i.e. what we share (more on that below) by way of praise is akin to the idealized version of relationships that comes to us through the way the Trinity lives together with the Son praising the Father, the Spirit witnessing to the Son’s work (see John’s gospel for several parallel texts) and so the praise of this God brings us into line with that. Praise is witness and testimony to who God is and what God has done. There is a decidedly Trinitarian theology behind this that will require some careful work that when done well, will pay dividends beyond the sermon and create the kind of memory that precedes the praise and moral life demanded of those who follow God.
Pastoral Care Opportunities
The character of God sets the parameter requirements of all Christian relationships. This sentence may sound astounding to modern ears tickled by books on boundaries and the like from Christian relationship experts, but it is a necessary guide and needed corrective in the relationships that we share with one another in our local communities. In time and beyond time, we are bound to act as Christians by the morality of the relationships that God, the Trinity, shares and enjoys with God, the Trinity. The benefits of right relationship are decided by sharing space, knowledge of our purpose and practice, and shared testimony which binds us to God and to one another. In such a time as we live in, easily divided by politics, wage disparity, age discrimination, we must vigilantly remind the sheep of our pastures that our witness demands and depends upon what we share in common: witness. The practice of pastoral care here will take some doing as testimony inevitable involved judgement and inner examination of motives, prejudices, and decisions. What must be remembered at this point, is the patience of the sanctified life. Witness takes time to do its work. However, giving room of Psalm 100 and the public testimony it engenders and forms will be the power of the work. It will take some bravery to use this as a ‘constant’ practice of pastoral care, but the witness has its own power and needs the care to give it room in our public worship to do its work.
The Key is Worship Itself
This perspective of God’s ‘steadfast love’ and ‘faithfulness’ being poured out over all the earth, now scattered but eventually gathered, reminds us that we have made too much of idea of style as a guiding principle of worship. In Christian worship there is no style, only theology, and the theology makes all the difference. In many ways, this Psalm serves as corrective and panegyric to attempts at innovation and culturally-directed praise in the household of God. As a format the procession from coming to knowing to praising serves as a simple pathway for all Christian worship everywhere. When filled with orthodoxy or right praise, it points us to an eternal and Trinitarian world where all the joys of the saved/sanctified life are not only possible, but become that which possesses us and reforms us in God’s image. Of course, this also gives rise to a need to read all the Scriptures together, preach a unifying Gospel and a singing that rings out these themes in the hymns of the church, based on this ideal throughout the ages. One need only hear the sixteenth-century ‘All People that on Earth do Dwell’ or Thomas Ken’s doxology from this psalm which became known as the ‘Old Hundredth’ (Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow…) from a century later, or even the very cool and more current ‘Our Story, Our Song’ from Prestonwood Worship set within the worship parameters of Psalm 100, Isaiah, 35, or John 12 to get this. Our worship must be more the story of how the eternal Zion has been restored to us in the work of Christ and a reminder that God always has been and always will be our King, the ideal which should guide all of our praise and all of our testimony when we worship. With this as our guiding aegis, preaching and pastoral care become the happy work it should be.