The Exclamation Point

Sunday, May 12, 2024
God’s Playlist
Isaiah 55:1-3, 12 & Psalm 150
Rev. Dr. Troy Hauser Brydon

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If you grew up in the church, I’m guessing that you have many memories that stand out in your mind — a favorite Sunday school teacher, seeing a friend get baptized, a song that you came to love and still stirs your soul. Church has been a part of my life Sunday after Sunday for my whole life. I have a lot of church memories. 

I remember playing piano while my dad was on the organ. My head was shaved from the district swimming meet the previous day. The pastor, not knowing I was going to be bald, was preaching on the prophet Elisha, who gets mocked by young boys in one story this way, “Go away, baldhead!” The comedic timing could not have been better. (Incidentally, it’s not good to mock prophets. As Elisha passed by the boys, two bears come out of the woods and maul the mockers, 42 of them it says. Touché.) To continue in the vein of embarrassing stories, I also remember playing catch with a football in the church’s Fellowship Hall. A pass came in low, so I squatted to catch it, only to hear a loud rip. My pants had split straight up the back. That was fun and not embarrassing at all. 

On a more serious note, another church memory I have is sitting on the front right pew in the sanctuary while my parents were rehearsing with the choir. This would have been in the late ’80s or early ’90s, so the only thing I had to entertain myself was the pew Bible or the hymnal. That Sunday I opted for the Bible. I liked to let the Bible fall open and see where it landed. Well, the psalms sit basically in the middle of the Bible, so it frequently opened to the psalms. Over time I noticed that there were a lot of them, so I flipped the pages until the book ended, finding out there were 150 psalms. My eyes fell on that last one — number 150 — and I read it. Then I read it again. And again. 

I liked it because it was noisy. It had trumpets. It had lutes and harps. It had tambourines and dance. It had strings and pipe. It had loud, clashing cymbals. I was hooked, in part because I was wondering where all of those sounds were in the church. We had an organ, but it was basic, certainly not anything close to what we experience here. The choir would sing with piano or sometimes with backing tracks on cassette, but that seemed so tame compared to this psalm. When the time came for me to choose an instrument in fifth grade, I knew it would be the trumpet. I dug out my high school yearbooks this week and found this picture that exists because I flipped to Psalm 150 one day at church. 

Since Easter we’ve been thinking about the psalms. There is so much more to say about them, but I thought it would be fun to end with one of my favorites. There are so many more I’d love to share with you — psalms 1, 19, 27, 84, and 139 come to mind — but I decided to end on one that is both a favorite and pretty straightforward in its meaning, Psalm 150. 

The psalms are a collection of poems described as praise. They span the full range of human emotion and much of our experience. They are about the relationship between the divine and the human. The very first psalm begins with these words, “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season and their leaves do not wither. In all they do they prosper.” In other words, the psalms begin with delighting in the Torah (that is, the Law) and then conclude with the movement of that life of obedience into a space of unrestrained adoration. From obedience to praise. You can trace the way faith matures over time in the trajectory of the psalms. 

By the time we’ve reached the end of the psalms, it’s all about adoration. Each of the last five psalms begins and ends with the words, “Praise the Lord!” or in the Hebrew, “Hallelujah!” They are about life defined by unrestrained adoration. Psalm 150 is about praise is its rawest form. 

There is little to interpret in this psalm. It is a series of ten imperatives, all of which use the same verb, praise. It’s structure is simple. Verse 1 tells us who we are to praise, God. It also tells us where we are to praise him — in God’s sanctuary and in God’s mighty firmament, that is everywhere.  Verse 2 moves into why we are to praise God. We praise God for what God has done and for God’s surpassing greatness. The next three verses move into how we are to praise God. We praise with wind blown through trumpets. We strum guitars, lutes, and harps. We bring out the percussion and slam together the cymbals. 

The psalm ends with a request, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Hallelujah!” Adoration of God is not just for Israel. It’s not just for those who keep the Torah. It’s for all. You. Me. Everybody. Praise is the culmination of this book, and I would say it’s the chief goal of our life, which is actually the first answer to the Westminster catechism that is foundational to the Presbyterian church. Yes, we do this with music. Yes, we do this throughout our worship services right here in this sanctuary. But it goes beyond music. We also do this with every breath of our lives. There is no higher calling than that. 

It is breath that marks the beginning of our days. It is the lack of breath that marks the end of our time in this life. With each and every breath we have the possibility of praising God. Our lives can be worship in all that we do — on a long walk with a friend, in our schoolwork, in all that we think, say, and do. God calls us to worship in it all. God made us for worship, and the more we awaken to that reality, the more we come to realize what a great gift God has given us in our lives. 

I began this sermon reflecting on how God formed my faith through the church, which is fitting because today is a special one in the life of the church. Today we welcome eleven youth into membership. They have taken the past year to engage deeply with Christianity, and today they are publicly professing their faith, a faith that their parents claimed for them when they were baptized years earlier. This is a really great group of kids. I am grateful for them, for their energy, enthusiasm, questions, minds, and so much more. Today is another step in maturing. They are in the process of moving from mere obedience (I come to church because my parents told me we’re going to church) to the deeper reality that God loves them and calls them to lives that move from mere obedience into a sense of awe and adoration. I pray for them that today is only a new beginning. There is no better life than the life that is in harmony with the God who created us, loves us, saves us, and calls us to love. 

Since this is my last sermon before taking a sabbatical, I do want to share a couple thoughts related to the sabbatical. The first is gratitude. Thank you for being willing to engage in this. This isn’t just for me and my family. It’s for the church. I’ve been in church almost every Sunday of my life. I’ve been a pastor for the past 17 years. I have never taken a break to be filled and renewed. It’s time, and I’m ready for it. 

When my favorite band, U2, finished touring on their massively successful album, The Joshua Tree, in the late 80s, their singer, Bono, said that the band had to go away for while and “dream it all up again.” So, they did. The outcome was an even bigger album, Achtung Baby, and an entirely new era for the band and their fans. In our small way, that’s what this is going to be for us. 

You are in great hands this summer. You’ll have worship led by some people I wish I could be in the pews to hear preach. The plans are all laid. The session is strong. This is an opportunity for the church to live into its skills and gifts in a new way. I hope you grow in faithfulness while I’m away.

A couple of weeks ago I made this collage as part of my spiritual direction. We were given magazines and asked to see how the Spirit was speaking to us as things caught our eye. You can see where my heart was. It’s time for a necessary, holy break. I am not exhausted, but I am on the dry side. On the collage you’ll see this, “Sabbaticals are a must for healthy pastors and healthy congregations.” I am eager for this time of renewal and reflection, a chance to “dream it all up again.” Don’t worry. I’ll be back. I’m not planning to go anywhere else any time soon. I believe God’s call has put us together and that call remains. While I’m gone, be the church. 

Like Psalm 150 is the exclamation point on the psalms, I hope that this sabbatical will be an exclamation point on the end of one season of ministry. But the Bible goes on and so does the church. I can’t wait to see what God will do with the next chapter we will be writing together.