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Rev. Sherril Willis

Psalm 148, from Psalms for Praying
John 13:31-35

Praise God. That is the message for this morning.  I could say Amen and make this a really quick service. But that wouldn’t be very inspirational. I prefer to ask the question, Praise God for what? I thought a good place to look would be newspapers, magazines and on the internet for events that occurred in the past several weeks. I found things like;

  • McConnell Declares Case Closed in Mueller Probe
  • South Africa’s Yearlong Energy Crisis
  • Food Insecurity; How Big is the Problem
  • Seeing Red Over Abortion
  • Students Injured in School Shooting
  • Child Removed from Home after Alleged Abuse
  • Pakistan Says Separatists Killed 5 in Attack on Luxury Hotel

I could go on, but I bet you get the gist of what I’m saying. To look at the news, we might think that our lives are only filled with negativity. We, however, know that isn’t true.

As humans we are a forgetful lot. We often forget Newton’s 3rd law of physics that we learned in 7th grade. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  Therefore, for everything bad, negative or wrong done in this world there is something good, positive, and right also done.

There is the old cliché that every day is a present.  There is so much truth in this saying. Most of us go to bed never giving tomorrow a single thought. We usually don’t ask God for another chance to fulfill our hopes and dreams. We take it for granted that we will get up tomorrow and continue on with our life. When we have said or done something hurtful, how many of us think to ourselves, “Oh, I’ll apologize, and make the situation right, tomorrow.” However, we don’t know about tomorrow. There are no guarantees. We shouldn’t take today or tomorrow for granted.

Suzy Kassem, who wrote Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem said, “The human ego is the ugliest part of man. We lift up men who only show us darkness, and put down those brave enough to show us the light. Likewise, people engage in darkness when it is light outside, and acknowledge the light only when it is dark. We abandon those fighting for us to cheer behind those fighting against us. And, we only remember good people and God when it is convenient for us, and take them for granted because their doors are always open – only to chase after closed doors and personalities void of substance and truth.” 

That is a rather negative view of humanity. I sincerely hope that we remember God not just when it’s convenient for us but that we remember God every day.  I know as Congregationalists we don’t go around singing our praises to God aloud.

In fact, some of us may take offense to people who punctuate every statement with “Praise God.” We find that a little of that goes a long way. We often have difficulty listening to people, who when speaking, seem to thoughtlessly replace all forms of standard punctuation with the words “Praise God.”  After a while, it feels trite, and stale. Perhaps, this is how some folks keep God in the forefront of their consciousness.

Singing God’s praises should be special, never commonplace. We do, however, need to remember to sing God’s praises.

Last week Pastor Vicki spoke of being Easter or Resurrection people; that is, folks who are always looking towards the resurrection because our world is such a mess politically, economically, spiritually, and environmentally.  Of course, I am summarizing, but that’s basically what she said.

We can’t be resurrection people without the day after. Our cross is empty. Jesus has indeed risen. The Good News has been fulfilled. Therefore, in the midst of this mess we call our lives we need to remember to be thankful for the resurrection and we need to praise God.  Last week, we focused on the negative.  Today, we need to balance out our view of the world so we don’t become overly skewed in one direction.

I like to think of Easter as one of the many reminders God gave us to remember to look beyond the negative news, and negative talk we may hear at work, or while in the grocery store, at the movies, while watching television or even the negativity we receive from our family and friends. Negativity is part of life but it doesn’t have to be the complete picture of our life. So today let’s PRAISE GOD!

Look around you. Praise God for the person to your left and right. They are here because they probably believe that God is not done with them yet. Isn’t hope wonderful? Look at this wonderful sanctuary that provides a sacred place where we are free to sing God’s Praises.

Outside, God has given us the lushness of spring’s bounty with flowering trees, blooming bushes, and song birds. Many towns, like this one, will soon hold their town fair, which is a place of blossoming love for young boys and girls.

Many schools are done with standardized testing, the colleges are mostly out, so we can drive down RT. 9, go out to eat in town, without hordes of students trying to cross the street.  Now these are all certainly reasons worthy of praise.

Soon we will dawn bathing suits and take to the water in kayaks, canoes, and motor boats.  Some of us will go fishing, water skiing, or just hang out by the shore and meditate on the rise and fall of the waves. Amen and Praise God for the seasonal changes.

Even in newspapers, magazines and on television, we can find good news if we search. I found

  • Third Grader Saves Best Friend Using Heimlich-
  • Amherst Ultimate team is doing good
  • Hitchcock Center Wins Global Green Award
  • Pre School Sweethearts Reunite and Get Married-
  • Man Gets Kidney After Seeing Ad on a Car-
  • Best Friends Find Out They Are Actually Brothers After taking DNA Tests
  • Mom Follows Twins to College and Earns Her Degree- but skips her own graduation so that she was able to attend her twins’ graduation
  • Principal Reads to Her Students Every Night
  • New York Adopts Rules to Phase Out Coal Power Plants by 2020 

Praise God for all the loving, caring people who act like Christians even if they don’t call themselves Christian.

Our psalm this morning lists several ways that we can praise God .  This is in no way a comprehensive list, yet it provides us with some wonderful examples .  Some of these things are easy to understand why we joyfully praise God
for them . For example, sun, moon, stars, waters, trees, birds, and animals . Some things, however, we may not see as praiseworthy, like, sea monsters fire – depending on the situation, snow, frost, stormy winds – especially in May, and wild animals particularly,
if they are destroying your backyard birdfeeders .
Why praise these scary, unruly things? Perhaps God is telling us that we don’t comprehend all there is to know about creation.

This is actually my favorite psalm. I like it because it reminds me that I don’t have to be in charge of all of creation. I don’t have to try and fix everything that I think is wrong with this world. The most important line of the entire psalm is, “Let us praise God for God commanded and it was created.”  We may forget that God created the things we consider to be negative as well as the things we consider to be positive.

Are we supposed to praise the negative things in our lives, too? Perhaps praise isn’t the best word to use in this instance. Perhaps a more appropriate word would be interacting.

How do we interact with the negative aspects of our world? In our relationships do we resort to the least common denominator and respond to negativity with negativity. Do we turn the other cheek, so to speak, and try to seek out the positive in all circumstances? That does not mean that we need to become a Pollyanna, and only see the positive.  We must live in reality and acknowledge that some humans do bad things, some act in evil ways and some only find joy in being hurtful. We also know that some people exhibit hateful behaviors.

As I was reading parts of this sermon to my writing group, one woman noticed that positive, caring, behaviors often happen on a person to person level, while hateful, hurtful behaviors often occur on a dehumanizing global level. Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule but usually we are kinder to those we know.  Perhaps this is why we need to know our enemy.

I realize that some people harbor deep irrational hatred based on skin color, gender identification and economic status. I really don’t know what to say about this. Having been a target of hatred because of all three, from people I knew and know personally, I can’t say that getting to know someone is always the answer.  Maybe this is why I love this particular psalm so much. It clearly allows for us to fall short of having to making sense of all situations.

How do we praise God in these difficult times?  John, in his gospel, tells us of one of Jesus’ last encounters with humans. At that time, Jesus laid a hefty demand upon us humans. Jesus’ demand was short and direct, yet most difficult.  Love one another, as Jesus loved.  And how did Jesus love?  Some might say unconditionally. Does that mean in order to praise God we must love our enemy?  The short answer is, yes.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Discover the element of good in your enemy. And as you seek to hate him, find the center of goodness and place your attention there and you will take a new attitude.”

However, unconditional love does not mean put up with evil.  Jesus shoed evil away so he could continue to praise God.  We need to do the same thing. Push evil aside so we too, can praise God. Yes, that is so much easier said than done, but as Christians, as Easter people, as Resurrection people we have covenanted to never give up trying.  What does praise God behavior look like?

Reinhold Niebuhr said, “God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

There is no wrong way to praise God. Singing God’s praises can be in as many forms as there are people. Some of us do it with prayers, gardening, and making art, while others praise God by working for social justice with marginalized groups of people like those in prisons, the homeless, those who are food challenged and those looking for safety from abuse. Some of us praise God by working in the Sunday school, while others sing God’s praises in the choir on Sunday morning or enjoying a long walk in the woods. There are as many ways to sing God’s praises as there are people in this messed up world. We each need to praise God in whatever way seems authentic to us.

Yes, we live in a world that has a lot of negativity but we as Christians covenant to balance the negative with the positive. Praise God, not as a punctuation mark, but sing God’s praises because God created us and sent Jesus the man to teach us how to live as loving, caring and kind people. And praise God for Christ the Savior who lived out the covenant of the new creation which promises us everlasting life with God.  Alleluia. Amen.