Let Everything That Has Breath Praise The Lord

graphics by Carrie JonesPsalm 150

Praise the LORD.

Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD.

In preparing for this year’s Black History Celebration, our choir director, Odetta Fields and I  were looking at songs and one song in particular stuck out. “Anthem of Praise” by Richard Smallwood. Like most of Smallwood’s music, it has it’s roots firmly planted in the traditions of gospel music, jazz and spirituals; however, it has a level of sophistication in it’s tone and texture.  We decided that this song needed to be the focal point of the celebration and so we took it’s scriptural basis as our text for the evening.

Psalm 150 is divided into 2 halves. The first section calls us to praise by giving us some good reasons to worship. We praise him in his sanctuary. The sanctuary is the place of rest and restoration. The sanctuary for the Psalmist was the Temple in Jerusalem where the presence of the Lord resided. So an invitation to praise him in the sanctuary means that we praise him because he dwells with us and he has provided for us a means of atonement. Next, we are called to praise him in his mighty heavens. Our gaze is taken up from the Temple and into the stars. The mighty heavens are monuments of the strength of his Word to speak the universe into existence. It might also bring to mind the image of Abraham gazing up at the stars as he received the covenant promise that his decedents would be more numerous than the stars in order to be the instruments of blessing to all the nations. The mighty heavens represent the power of God’s Word both to create and to fulfill covenant promises. Next, we praise him for his acts of power. It was ingrained into the worship of the Almighty to recount the powerful ways in which he had delivered his people. The story of the Exodus was remembered and recounted over and over in the psalms, stories and poems of their culture as well as in their religious practices of Passover and other feasts. The acts of power with which YHWH redeemed a people for himself were the basis of their whole religion. Finally, we are charged to praise God for his surpassing greatness. He is the only God. There is no other like him. He is greater than any god fabricated by men. He is the Alpha and Omega. He is more powerful than any kingdom, economy, or ideological system.

The second half of Psalm 150 gives us a list of instruments with which we aught to praise God. Chronicles tells us that King David invented instruments for the Levite musicians to use to worship the Lord at the Temple. The list represents instruments from percussion, wind, strings, and as well as dance.  The style of music that this list would produce would be both complex and raucous. There would be a rich diversity of sound and as well as visceral experience of observing this music being performed. This also represents a large group of people playing, dancing, and singing together. This is not a single priest chanting or even a stoic congregation singing in unaccompanied unison. It’s an orchestra, a carnival, and a ceremony all in one. The diversity of this list brings to mind for me the Apostle Paul’s metaphor for the church as  body with many parts. Like the body metaphor, what we see in Psalm 150 is unity of purpose combined with diversity of expression. One Lord and one faith for all the nations.

I thought this psalm would go well for Black History month because it affirms several key narratives of the African American  experience. It shows that we praise the Lord because of his presence in our daily lives (his sanctuary), the power of his Word (his mighty heavens), his deliverance from injustice (his acts of power) and his rightful Lordship over every power (his surpassing greatness). These themes are powerful parts of many cultures, but they find unique expression for American Blacks. Also the diversity of worship expression in Psalm 150 is paralleled by the diversity of unique music and art created by Blacks.

There was a time (not too long ago) in America when Blacks had very little voice in public affairs. They had very few rights as citizens. They were invisible to the powers that be except as a potential threat to the status quo. However, through the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, these same people were declared Sons and Daughters of the Most High God. They were given rights to sit at the table at the wedding feast of the Lamb. They were given a divine Intercessor who gave them a voice. They were given the power in the eyes of God to be restored to the glorious image bearing roll of humanity that was stripped from them by evil men. In the kingdom of Jesus Christ, the voices that were once silenced by oppression would be allowed to fulfill the mandate of the Psalmist: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!”

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