This is the closing Psalm attributed to David in the Book of Psalms. There are five more in the book, but for David, this is the final verse, and it crescendos above and beyond where he has taken us before. I will praise your name forever and ever.
There are those who do not like to preach from the Psalms. It’s hard to get a toehold in a psalm and still be faithful to the remainder of the song—we tend to read or preach from Psalms in earwig style—you know, where you get that one little phrase of a song echoing over and over—You can’t get it out of your head. And you know that’s true because when I say Psalm 23 you say…
Psalms make no promise of being internally consistent or logically ordered to direct one’s preaching. They use literary devices that sometimes sound odd to our ears and we’re inclined to try to over analyze each word so that we don’t miss anything important instead of looking at the whole song as a unified experience. Instead, Psalms circle back on themselves and sometimes have refrains like the songs they are. They can also get messy and emotional—like the lives we bring to them. Unlike stories with a beginning, middle and an end, they are attempting to represent a concept or an experience holistically. As such, they often call us to a deeper more intuitive understanding than a story or a letter or a historic account requires.
There is something in this psalm that seems to parallel a poem familiar to several generations. You may recognize it as the opening entry of the book, “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein.
If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer,
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire…
Come in! Come in!
It may seem odd to invite liars and pretenders along with hope-ers and pray-ers, and yet in many ways, this psalm does exactly that.
The poet, Wordsworth is perhaps a bit more to the liking of those older than fifth grade. He says that poems are “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings…emotion recollected in tranquility.” Imagine the powerful feelings David must have been having as he penned these verses! Imagine the poet who begins to think about the attributes of God recorded in this Psalm! Abundant goodness, righteousness, graciousness, compassion, slow to anger, rich in love, good to all, He has an everlasting kingdom, he is trustworthy, faithful, he upholds those who fall, lifts those who are bowed down, he feeds all creation and satisfies every living thing. He is near to ALL who call on him in truth, he hears our cries, he watches over all who love him and the wicked will he destroy. Imagine—or experience—the “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” when you consider WHO THIS GOD IS! He is MOST worthy of praise and I WILL praise him, WE will praise Him, ALL will praise him!
Have you come in yet? Are you feeling those powerful feelings about God? Come in….
This final song of David is an acrostic poem where each verse starts with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The fact that it follows this restricted form has some interesting implications. Sometimes acrostics of this nature signify to the readers “This is it. This is the whole nature of the thing; I’m going to tell you the A to Z of it.” Imagine David saying, “after all I’ve shared with you, it all comes down to this…I will exalt you O Lord, the King.” Here is the whole of it, Friends, from A-Z. Adelle Berlin says, “the entire alphabet, the source of all words, is marshalled in praise of God. One cannot actually use all of the words in a language, but by using the alphabet one uses all potential words.”
Finally, the particular structure of an acrostic for the original audience provided a memory cue. If you forgot part of this Psalm, but you knew the alphabet, you could find your way back into it. And this memorability feature is important.
Jewish commentators tell us that Psalm 145 is the most quoted of all the Psalms, traditionally repeated three times daily. It anchors the children of God in three concentric circles of praise from the declaration of “I will praise you” in vs 1-2 to the community praising God in the central portion of the Psalm, to the whole of creation praising God forever and ever at the end—hence the liars, magic bean buyers, and pretenders are invited to this party. All creation. No exclusions. Come in.
This is a great vision of the absolute dominion of the King we serve. He is worthy of our personal praise, he is worthy of our corporate praise, and he is worthy of our “creaturely praise” where we take our place with all creation, across all time, and across eternity. Jesus takes up this idea that even the rocks could cry out. The Apostle Paul picks up the theme in Philippians, “That at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the Glory of God the Father.”
So that is the big overview of the poetic nature of this Psalm, in its passionate, emotional glory.
But I also hope that you can grasp the earthy practicality of it as well.
Because the word of God is given to us to be living and active and to touch us in deep passionate places of our souls so that we are motivated to participate in the practical mission of God to the world.
And what a world it is…a wonderful world, yet a world where praise has sometimes become cheap and baseless. We often praise shallowly. We use superlatives indiscriminately—best! Favorite! Most amazing! At worst, we’ve even used praise manipulatively in our world to get some result we want.
But this is no haphazard marketing copy or motivational script. The praise David gives God is grounded and focused in deep reflection on who God is and what God has done. The praise is not cliché. It is based in relational context, and it means something relational. It is not offered to God as a bargaining chip or to manipulate God to do our will. This praise is sacredly specific. According to vs.4 the particular reflections are passed on from generation to generation. You and I have an understanding of what God did in previous generations because we have read the history and absorbed the faith stories of our mentors in the faith, but it is also our sacred responsibility to add to those received teachings what God is doing in our lives today: How has God been God to you this week? Where have you seen God’s wonderful works and how have you meditated on them? Have you been influenced by God’s righteousness? Witnessed God’s compassion? Have you given account of the works of God? Have you testified to God’s active presence in your life? Have you written a record in a journal or email? Most of us can confess that the amazingly impressive evidence of God’s intervention we saw on Monday is often forgotten by Thursday afternoon. Yet if we are to truly practice the quality of praise found in this passage, we must be intentional about taking inventory and meditating on not only the acts of God in Scripture and history, but the acts of God we have witnessed. These become the stories of God’s character that we talk about and tell our children to the praise and glory of God. As we remember these acts together, we bring them from the prison confines of our own minds into active engagement with others. Your story matters to my faith…when you tell it…and I listen.
Beyond that, we must allow and encourage our children to identify the mighty acts of God in their world. Each generation must be able to see God at work through their own eyes if our praise is to be authentic and focused. This psalm reminds us that Life generates occasions to give God praise and we will never run out of fresh material from birth to death, from generation to generation. And so his praise continues forever and ever.
I love what St. Augustine said and his droll sense of humor echoes over more than 1000 years….”’And of His Greatness there is no end;’ therefore said he ‘greatly to be praised:’ lest perchance you begin to wish to praise, and think that you can’st reach the end of His praises, whose Greatness can have no end.” We will never run out of reasons and opportunities to praise God!
Not only is there no end to WHAT forms occasion to recognize the greatness of God, there is also no end to WHO can experience the greatness of God. The faithful, and those who fall, all who are bowed down. …Nor is the benefit of the greatness of God limited to humanity only, for God satisfies the desires of every living thing. Every… living…thing.
You and I are invited to take our place with all creatures and express our praise from our unique creature-ly-ness, capable of identifying the works of God, meditating on the nature of God, and participating in the poetry of God. “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord. Let every creature praise his holy name forever.”
And so, this Psalm beckons us all to praise from wherever we are—from deep inner recognition of God (I will praise you!); from observation of God in the community of saints (we will praise you); even from the distanced arena of being a fallen or bowed down “living creature.” Whoever you are, wherever you find yourself, hear the message of this Psalm: come in!