Make a Joyful Noise
Quarter: Acts of Worship
Unit 1: In awe of God
Sunday school lesson for the week of Dec. 14, 2014
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Psalm 95:1-7a
In last week’s lesson our focus was on Jesus, His life and work – the reasons we worship Him. This week we focus on God (the Father), and the reasons we have to praise and thank Him. The scripture is from Psalm 95. The Book of Psalms is the hymnbook and prayer book of the Hebrew people.
I remember from the Disciple Bible Study, the unit on the Psalms was called “Songs of the Heart.” There are many different kinds of Psalms reflecting the broad spectrum of human emotions relating to God and to life. There are songs of trust, lament, thanksgiving, anger, praise, questions, wisdom, sacred history, and many, many more. Some of the psalms were written by David, but many, although attributed to him, were written by others. Some were written several hundred years later during the exile in Babylon. There are even instructions to the choral director about which tune to use in singing.
At the time of Jesus the sacred scripture (Old Testament) was called “The Law and the Prophets.” Later the Psalms would be incorporated into a third section of the Old Testament called “The Writings,” but this later date does not mean the songs were not well known and used frequently. Jesus uses one of them on the Cross! (Psalm 22) We believe Jesus, like us, learned to sing these hymns at his mother’s knee.
Even today we use the Psalms in our worship. An entire section of the United Methodist Hymnal is devoted to the Psalms, with indication of participation of the people in reading and singing! (We wish we used them more!) Let’s look more closely at Psalm 95 as an example of praise and thanksgiving.
Just as we sing special hymns at Christmas or Easter, there were special psalms for particular events. Psalm 95 is one of these. Scholars believe this Psalm was sung at the Feast of Booths (Tabernacles), when the people remembered God’s mighty acts of deliverance as they lived in temporary shelters in the Wilderness during the 40 years of wandering. During all those years God led, provided for their needs, and cared for them.
With a call to worship, the people are summoned to gather to sing and “to make a joyful noise.” (Or sing loud as one translation has it!) In other words, worship is to be exuberant, not placid. Without a doubt, this emphasis will give lots of United Methodists pause for reflection. Remember, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, was banned from Anglican churches because he was “too enthusiastic.”
Why should worship be this way rather than so refined? Ask yourself, what gets you excited? What causes you to shout out loud? The Dawgs? The Braves? The stock market setting a new high? Closing a deal? New grandbaby? Balancing the check book? Why shouldn’t the story of our salvation turn us on in the same way? When you really understand who God is and what He has done, you want to make some kind of “joy-filled noise!”
Why do we offer our praise and thanksgiving to God? “God is the Rock of our salvation.” Used more than 20 times in the Psalms, “rock” is a favorite metaphor for God’s redeeming power – the stable, indestructible, unshakeable, and unmovable source of deliverance. This “rock” is the one to Whom we sing our praise and gratitude.
Another reason for our worship, according to Psalm 95, is the sovereignty of God over all. God is “King” over all creation: mountains, earth, seas – everything is in God’s hands. “He’s got the whole world in his hands!”
The third reason for our praise and thanksgiving is because this creator God is also a personal God who cares about us. We are not “things,” but treasures to God. This dual nature of God is critical to comprehending the depth of God’s love in Jesus. The transcendent God who created all that is is also the immanent God who is with us, yea, in us. Here is one of the great biblical truths we need to grasp boldly. The God who is “up there,” “out there,” is also here – right now in this place and in this time. Let all the people say, “Amen!”
All this leads to the final and best reason we offer praise and thanksgiving to God. This transcendent Rock offers us a personal, covenantal relationship. God is our God and we are His people. In Him we find our identity and purpose. Blessed by God, we are sent into the world to be a blessing to others. So worship is more than the gathered congregation. Our very lives are holy offerings that reflect the God we worship. Everything we do or say declare Whose we are - “the sheep of His pasture.”
Psalm 95, like the rest of the Psalter, is a holy testimony to the Divine Presence in all of life. As such, it is a fitting study during Advent when we celebrate the Incarnation “of the Word made flesh.”
When we gather to worship during these holy days, be aware of the power of singing together. Singing is a corporate act, reflecting the whole body of Christ. As Disciple Bible Study said, these are “songs of the heart.” Songs are far more of the heart than the head. Emotions are elicited as we sing, and we feel the words and the music. What we sing with our lips carries over into the lives we are living. We find ourselves humming, or even singing when we are alone, because we have done this act in church.
The length and breadth of creation sings with joy together. “The birds their carols raise, the morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.”
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare Him room, and heaven and nature sing.” Yes, heaven and nature!
Sing it loud – sing it strong – sing our God’s praise with exuberant joy.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.