Psalm 115.1-3, 18
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Most people like to sing, even if they aren’t very good at it. People are known to sing in the shower. You see people traveling down the road in their cars singing along to the radio. You see people with their headphones on, bobbing their head to their music. Karaoke has been popular. People have all kinds of different tastes in music- classical, jazz, blues, rock, progressive rock, punk rock, rap, Hip Hop, country, and whatever else might be out there. We may not agree on what we consider the best style of music, but we can all agree that music is a wonderful gift from God.
Because music with lyrics not only touches the mind but the heart, the emotions, it is very powerful. Those charged with selling a product know this. If they can come up with a catchy jingle, they know you will be unable to get that jingle out of your head. If you are from my generation, you can probably finish this one “My hotdog has a first name, it’s OSCAR.” Or “I’m stuck on Band-Aid ‘cause Band-Aid’s stuck on me.” Almost everyone knows that “you deserve a break today, at McDonalds.” Or “Give me a break, give me a break, give me a break of that KitKat bar.” I’m sure you never purposely tried to memorize those jingles, but they got into your head anyway.
Music has also been used by God in a similar way. As Israel was about to enter the Promised Land, God gave Moses a song and told him to teach it to the people. Look it up sometime. It’s recorded in the first 43 verses of Deuteronomy 32. Yes, 43 verses long and everyone was told to memorize it. But, when words are set to music, they are a lot easier to memorize.
The church of God has used music and art for centuries as a teaching tool, but also as a way of expressing joy, and thanks, and praise to God for all he has done. David was so filled with joy and thanksgiving to the Lord that he praised God not only in the many Psalms he composed, but even in dancing on occasion. Martin Luther said, “Next to the Word of God, music deserves the highest praise.” What a blessing that, with a new hymnal, we can continue the tradition of Luther, and have gifted poets and musicians craft new songs that help us remember Scriptural truths while giving praise to God. It’s Lutheran tradition to continue to add new songs to old favorites helping each successive generation join in giving praise to God.
Our Psalm for today reminds us that if we are going to praise God the focus can’t be on us. It has to be on God, on who he is and what he does for us. True praise is always humble praise.
Our scripture readings for today give us some examples of what happens when we focus on ourselves instead of on God and what he has done for us.
Aaron and Miriam gave in to the temptation to focus on themselves which caused them to become jealous of their brother Moses. There self-focus caused them to complain, Has God only spoken through Moses? Hasn’t he also spoken through us? They were seeking some glory for themselves and robbing God of his glory by doing so.
Moses had not sought to be the leader of Israel and the one to whom God spoke directly. In fact, when God first called him, he angered God by making all kinds of excuses and suggesting that God choose someone else. God calls him the most humble man on earth and he demonstrates his humility here in the way that he reacts to the challenge of Aaron and Miriam. He doesn’t argue and defend himself by listing all the things he has done. He humbly lets God defend him. And when God makes Miriam leprous, instead of saying something like, “I guess God showed her,” he humbly prays that she would be healed.
Earlier, when seventy elders were appointed to assist Moses and two of them didn’t come to the tent of the meeting for their installation as they were supposed to, but God still put his spirit on them and they prophesied, Joshua begged Moses to have them stop. He was worried that their prophesying on their own would take away from the glory and authority of Moses. But Moses told him, Are you jealous for my sake? If only all of the LORD’s people were prophets so that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”
Moses was indeed the most humble man on earth. He understood that he was not to get the glory. All the glory for anything he did, for the miracles done through him, all the glory and praise was to go to God because it was God who gave him strength and who worked through him to do the miracles. Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory.
The disciples were so filled with pride that they didn’t want to ask Jesus about something they didn’t understand. How foolish it is to want to be seen to be smart, to pretend to understand something to the point that you would rather choose to remain in the dark than ask for an explanation! Sooner or later your foolishness will be exposed!
The pride that lurked in the hearts of the disciples also showed itself as they argued about which of them was the greatest. James warns that where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. That’s why Jesus called them out and set a child before them as an example, reminding them that those who want to be first, who want glory, will be last, but those who humble themselves, who are willing to serve others, to be the least, will be first, the greatest, in his kingdom.
Pride sometimes rears its ugly head in the area of music. We are all tempted to think that the kind of music we like, the kind we are used to, is the kind that everyone should use to sing praises to God. We are tempted to think that the kind of instruments we are familiar with are the only kinds of instruments that should be used to accompany singing praises to God. We tend to forget that the Psalmist calls on us to praise the Lord with trumpet, ram’s horn, drums, cymbals, lyre, flute and dancing. It’s sinful pride to insist that everyone has use the kinds of songs, music and instruments that you like. As someone once said, we aren’t singing praises to you, we are singing praises to God. Pride turns the focus of worship from God to you. Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory.
Praising God requires humility. It requires that we realize who God is, and who we are. The Psalmist reminds us, our God is in the heavens. He does everything that pleases him. That’s how much greater God is than us. We are limited to this earth. We can’t do everything that pleases us. We are limited by time and space. We can only be in one place at a time. God is everywhere all at once. He fills the heavens. We only exist on earth for 70 or 80 years or a few more if we have the strength. We are just a dot, a fly speck on the timeline of history. But God is eternal. He has no beginning and no end, he simply IS. He alone can say “I AM.”
But even more amazing than this is that he is mindful of us. We are such insignificant beings compared to him. He has no need for us, he can do whatever he pleases with or without us. But he chooses to interact with us. He chooses to love us in spite of the fact that we have given him every reason to do just the opposite. As we confess, “we daily sin much and deserve nothing from God but his wrath and punishment” for not always loving him above all things, not always acknowledging him to be God, and often disobeying his very clearly stated commands.
Not only did he choose to interact with humans through words that he shared with Moses and the prophets, he chose to interact with humans in person. He took on flesh and blood and lived on earth. He humbled himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. He didn’t come and demand to be served, which he could have done as God, but he came to serve and to offer himself as the ransom payment to set us free from the punishment we deserve.
Knowing this is what leads to humble praise. We believe and confess that there is nothing good in us. There is nothing we can do for which we should be praised. With Moses we confess that anything good we do is really done by God working in and through us. Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory.
When we realize who God is, we can’t help but humble ourselves before him. When we realize what he has done for us, that he has not only not given us the punishment we deserve, but in addition has given us the forgiveness and eternal life we don’t deserve, we can’t help but say and sing, Hallelujah. Which means, Praise the Lord. Bless the one who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his own blood and made us a kingdom and priests to God his Father—to him be the glory and the power forever. Hallelujah, praise the Lord now and forever. Amen