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Psalm 66:1-12

My wife and I have two puppies, Agnes and Lola. They are floppy and wiggly dogs with an abundance of energy. We have noticed, however, that they like to put on a show for “mom” and “dad.” There are times when they are awake and playing with their toys, but when one of us walks in the room, they move from playing with a toy to each other. When they know that we are present, they will run harder, faster, and freer.

My dad said the same was true of his three sons. At times we would check to see if our parents were home. And if they were, we would pray harder, faster, louder, and freer. We could do this because we knew that if anything happened mom or dad would take care of us. They were good parents (and still are). We knew that they loved us and would meet any of our needs.

We were free to play as children ought to play.

This type of play is something that can be lost in adulthood. We can become filled with anxiety about our work, relationships, finances, and any other number of things. And if we are not anxious we may simply be bored. Life may have beaten us down or dried us up. Many have become experts at escape. And the forms are endless, crossfit, netflix, porn, alcohol, sportsball, etc. In states of anxiety or boredom, play is incredibly difficult.

How can one play when athletes are making us look at systemic racism? How can we play when police are killing our black brothers and sisters? How can we play when good cops aren’t speaking out against injustice? How can we play when mass shootings happen almost daily? How can we play when we believe that “terrorists” are out to get us? How can we play when the presidential candidates are so disliked? How can we play with massive unemployment and underemployment? And on and on. Play is no easy task.

Play, however, is a sign of our ability to enter into sabbath rest. Play is something we can only do when we remember that God is in charge. We do it better when we recount, “How awesome are your deeds” (Psalm 66:3) when we “See what God has done.”(Psalm 66:5) And we do that best when we praise God.

This week’s psalm is an invitation to praise God. Norman Wirzba quotes and expands upon Ellen Davis saying, “ ‘Praise does more for us than it does for God.’ The reason we worship is not so that God will be impressed with us. It is rather that we will become less sentimental, less self absorbed, and more realistic about the life God has given.”[1] Because we live in a time of great anxiety and boredom, we need praise more than ever. We need to be reminded of what God has done for us, but not at the exclusion of lament or cries for justice. We can lament and cry out to God, and God can turn our wailing into dancing.” (Psalm 30:11)

This Psalm may be a correction to people who have become bitter or hopeless. It should be a correction to Christians who are full of fear or anger. But it reminds us that even correction is a cause for Joy. The Israelites had to be reminded of who they were. They were “tried as silver.”(Psalm 66:11) Yet God brought them “to a spacious place.” (Psalm 66:12)

We all face trials, though some are greater. We should never diminish the trials that our flocks go through, but we should see the ways that God is still working to bring the victory. We should praise God as people whose “Salvation comes from the Lord.”

This Sunday we have several options. Perhaps this is a week to retell the Gospel. Remind your congregation of the hope that we have in Christ. Teach them about the God of love whose perfect love drives out fear. Show them that God is not angry, but we are the angry one who God is trying to reconcile to Godself. Show them how the Kingdom of God has come near. Take the advice of Mr. Rogers and show them the helpers. Show them how good and beautiful this world is. Reimagine the world as full of possibilities and mysteries. Create awe in God’s wonderful beauty and bounty. Be aware of the darkness, but be a light that your congregation and this world desperately needs.

Or, perhaps, cut the sermon short. Make it a sweet message at that explains why we praise. Then untuck your shirts, loosen your ties, and let your hair down. We are supposed to make a joyful noise to the Lord. This may be a Sunday to sing about “the wonderful love of Christ Jesus my Savior way down in the depths of my heart.” Or perhaps you can remind people what God has done for the children of Abraham, “I am one of them, and so are you. So let’s just praise the lord, Right arm, left arm, right leg, left leg nod your head, turn around. Sit down.” And laugh and praise God. In praising God we are called to break out of our boredom or anxiety. Those who know that they are children of God can play harder, faster, louder, and freer because we know that God “is awesome in his deeds among mortals.”(Psalm 66:5)

Our lives should be ones of praise, and “If we are serious about praising God with our lives and not just our words, we will learn to act differently, for it is in our mundane daily living that we show most honestly what we think life is finally for.” Help your people rest, help your people play by teaching them how to praise God.

[1] Wirzba, Norman Living the Sabbath, 28