Tuesday, August 31, 2021

"Making an Entrance" - August 8, 2021

Text: Psalm 100

Longtime Cyclone fans remember coach Johnny Orr.  Johnny was a highly successful coach at Michigan and surprised everybody by coming to Iowa State, which had not been to the NCAA tournament in 40 years.  He was a real character and had some great teams here.  I wasn’t here in those years, but I was at a Cyclones game in 2013.  Iowa State was playing Michigan.  Johnnie Orr was the all-time winningest coach at both schools.  Shortly before tip-off, Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg, who had been one of Johnny’s star players, entered the arena floor with Johnny.  The band broke into the Tonight Show theme, as they had when Johnny was coaching, and he raised his fist, as he had done years before.  There was pandemonium.  It was quite an entrance.  (And the icing on top was that we beat the Wolverines.)

We may not be a star athlete or famous coach or celebrity singer or famous politician, but we all make an entrance in one way or another.  Usually we don’t give it much thought, and most of our entrances are not especially memorable.  Although if we are going to something like our high school reunion or a big wedding – or maybe own wedding - we may give more than the usual amount of thought as to what we wear and how we carry ourselves.  

I bring this up because our text this morning actually has to do with making entrances – and it involves considerably more than what we wear or how we walk.

A few weeks ago we began looking at some of the Psalms.  We started with Psalm 1 – a wisdom Psalm that told us that the person who delights in God’s word and follows God’s way is like a tree planted by water – they will grow and thrive and bear fruit.

We took a detour for a couple of weeks, but last Sunday, as we met together with our friends from First Christian and Ames UCC, we looked at Psalm 139, which tells us that wherever we go, God is there.  We cannot run away from the love and the presence of God.

This morning we are looking at one of the most familiar of the Psalms.  Psalm 100 is a great Psalm of Praise; one writer said that this has probably been sung and chanted in temples and syangogues and churches more than any other Psalm.  We sang a version of this Psalm that was written in 1561 by William Kethe.  The tune was written by John Calvin’s musical composer, Louis Bourgeois, with a tune name Old Hundredth, a tune we most often identify with the Doxology.

Choir anthems aside, we may not sing Psalm 100 a lot, but we hear it a lot.  We often use it as a Call to Worship.  Our banners today were made by kids in Music Camp a number of years ago – I think maybe our very first Music Camp - and this is the scripture they put on the banners: “Make a joyful noise to the Lord.”

This is a psalm of praise that was likely used as something of an entrance Psalm as worshipers entered the temple.  There was an outer court of the temple, an area where people gathered and visited and where you might convert your Roman currency to temple currency – this is where Jesus had his little run-in with the moneychangers.  This was an outdoor courtyard – kind of like our narthex except bigger and better and outside and it surrounded the entire temple.  OK, it really wasn’t very much like our narthex at all.

So there was an outer court, and then for worship you would move into the inner court, or the temple proper.  Psalm 100 was an entrance song that people might sing as they entered the temple for worship.  “Come into God’s presence with singing… Enter God’s gates with Thanksgiving and courts with praise.”  Psalm 100 was used and up to this day continues to be used as a hymn, a prayer, as a call to God’s people to prepare and enter into worship.

But this is not simply a worship element – a kind of plug-and play component that is good for getting a worship service started.  Psalm 100 is packed with meaning – maybe unexpected meaning.  This Psalm has something important to say both about our worship and about our lives.

First – and you might not catch this, I usually don’t – this is actually a deeply political statement.  In fact, I thought about giving this sermon the title “The Politics of Praise” but I thought that might scare you.

Everything is so politicized these days – why do you have to go and politicize a Psalm?  Well first, don’t blame me – blame the Psalmist.  Where do you find a political statement in these words of praise to God?  Well, let’s think about these words again.  “Know that the Lord is God.  It is he that has made us and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”

Why would you need to say “the Lord is God”?  Isn’t that redundant?  I mean, who else would be God?

That is exactly the point.  These are powerful words because in the ancient world – which is not really all that different from our world – ultimate power was often thought to belong to the king or some other ruler or authority.  “Know that the Lord is God,” we say.  Not the king, not the empire, not the powers that be, not The Man, not market forces, but the Lord is God.

“It is God that has made us and not we ourselves.”  We have myth of the self-made person.  We talk about pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  That was never true anyway, but as someone once said, somebody has to give us boots in the first place.  We are not self-made; we depend on each other, and as this Psalm reminds us, it is God who has made us and not we ourselves.

Where does our ultimate loyalty and trust lie?  If it is in our family or clan or social group or our identity as Americans, or in or own strength or intelligence or wealth or good looks, or if it is in an institution, even wonderful institutions, even the church – we will find ourselves disappointed.  Because they are not God.  Only God is God.

And so is this is a powerful statement about ultimate power and ultimate loyalty.

The other thing that really strikes me about this Psalm is what happens when we live a life of praise – when we go all in on giving thanks to God – not just in worship but in everyday life.

Kenneth Samuel went to court to settle a landlord-tenant dispute.  The judge referred the case to arbitration.  He wanted the two parties to work it out with the help of an arbitrator.

So Samuel showed up for the arbitration.  He entered the room with details that supported his claim and was pretty much convinced that a mutual settlement was impossible.  The two sides just had a completely different view of things.  The arbitrator entered the room and said that after reviewing the case, she believed that a mutual settlement could be reached.

Samuel thought to himself, “Yeah… right!”  But then the arbitrator proceeded to have the two parties talk about what common interests they shared.  Both sides kept bringing up points to support their side of the argument, but the arbitrator kept bringing the two back to what interests they had in common.

Three hours later, to Kenneth Samuel’s great surprise, they had signed a mutually agreed upon settlement.  Samuel wrote,

I entered the arbitration room with anger and doubt.  The arbitrator entered the room with hopeful expectation.  Thankfully, the hope she brought into the room overcame the doubt I brought into the room.  What we bring to the issues of life sets the tone for what we will receive.

He is absolutely right.  The guardedness or openness we bring to a relationship sets the tone for how that relationship will develop.

The cooperation or competition we bring with us to a work environment sets the context in which we do our jobs.  It can make all the difference.

The open-heartedness or closed-mindedness we bring with us to church goes a long way toward determining what we will receive from the worship experience.    

Samuel said, “It is difficult to enter a situation and find fulfillment if within ourselves, if we’ve already exited the room before we even enter.

I know that on Sunday mornings, some of us are exhausted from a long week.  If you are like me, there may be so many last-minute details to attend to on a Sunday morning that we may not arrive in a great frame for worship.

Mindy and Emma and Patricia and Joe can attest that there were many weeks of Zoom worship where we would have some kind of technical meltdown seemingly right at 9:40 am, from the computer crashing to the internet going out to having no audio on Zoom, and my focus was so much on the mechanics of it and the technology of it that really entering into worship was not easy.  

I know that some of you at home have been on Zoom calls all week and the prospect of yet another one on Sunday morning is not necessarily exciting.  Or maybe none of these things are going on, but nevertheless we can enter the sanctuary, or the virtual sanctuary, without a lot of thought or anticipation about it one way or another.

Kenneth Samuels learned from an arbitrator that what we focus on can make all the difference.  When we are focused on praise, we are open to God.  As Paul put it, “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

We are not talking about coming to church with a put-on, plastic-y smile.  We are not talking about fake optimism.  We are not talking about optimism at all.  We are talking about a life that even for all of the absurdity and craziness and injustice and pain around us chooses to focus on the love and faithfulness of God.

Psalm 100 points us toward a different way of living – a thankful, joyful, powerful way of living with gratitude.  

“Enter into God’s gates with thanksgiving, and into God’s courts with praise; be thankful unto God and bless God’s name… For the Lord is good, with steadfast love that endures forever, and faithfulness to all generations.”  Amen.

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