Narrative Lectionary for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year Three
July 9, 2017
Lessons: Psalm 150, John 4:24-26
Theme: God’s faithful and generous people recognize that praising God is an act of faithful stewardship in all situations and places.
Key Scripture: Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! Psalm 150:6
Sometimes it can be tough to see the good when the world seems to be slinging a case of the uglies your way. In fact, our broken humanness tends to lean toward seeing the glass as more empty than full. Gloom and despair are all too often default states of mind. Just check out what’s trending on social media if you don’t believe me. We can all use a heaping helping of good news and abundant joy!
This week we finish our summer Psalm series, and we end on a high note—a note of praise and hallelujah. Imagine how much better our world could be if we always ended on a note of praise with a song of joy and thanksgiving on our lips? What if we trusted God enough to offer our praise and thanksgiving no matter what our situation?
We know from prior weeks that the Psalms express the entire range of human emotions and that psalms of lament far outnumber the songs of praise and thanksgiving. Please don’t assume that I am calling us all to a Pollyanna version of real-life avoidance. Some days call for lament and tears. Of course it is not realistic to expect to sing praises in the face of great sorrow, tragedy, and devastation, but in most cases we can still find reason to lift our voices in praise, knowing that our weeping is for but a season and that God will have the last word. We can let the last word be “hallelujah” because we know that Jesus has indeed conquered death and the grave.
One of the best examples of this approach to life and death is the Jazz funeral tradition found in New Orleans. Musicians play more sedate and somber hymns as they lead the procession to the cemetery, but the mood changes to one of praise and jubilation on the return journey. It is a glorious celebration of life well-lived, of freedom from the woes and bondage (literally — from slavery) of this world, and confidence in the promise of resurrection. It is praise and hallelujah in counterpoint to grief and loss, and it is a beautiful thing to behold.
We can learn a lot from this tradition of our Black sisters and brothers, in this wonderful tradition that originated in tribal burial customs of West Africa, was transported to our country through the abomination of slavery, and that still today infuses suffering and grief with an amazing and resilient joy. Here’s the truth: Woe and sorrow will never have the last word. That word belongs to God, to the Word made flesh, and to our prayerful and praiseworthy “hallelujahs” lifted in worship and in all aspects and situations of this transitory life. This week make sure “hallelujah” is the last word.
No matter what your usual worship style/flavor happens to be, try to make this week’s worship service one that overflows with lavish praise and thanksgiving. Consider hymns like “Hallelujah! We Sing Your Praises” and “My Life Flows on in Endless Song,” or how about a jazz reharmonization of “Ode to Joy”? If you have liturgical dancers, let them dance. If you have some of the instruments mentioned in Psalm 150, let them play. Let the children process in with instruments and ribbon banners. Let the pipe organ really strut its stuff. Consider taking your sending hymn and joyous music clear out into the street. Let Hallelujah be the last word in worship today!
The short accompanying passage from John’s gospel is Jesus’ response to the Samaritan woman. When she realizes that Jesus is right in front of her, she leaves her water jug and goes to share the good news that she has seen the Messiah. We know about Jesus, and (hopefully) we see Jesus at work all around us. But do we share what we see and know? Do our friends and those people we encounter see us as joyous people with good news to share, or are we just faces in the crowd of same-old-same-olds? How can we better praise and give thanks to God while also praying for and building one another up? Can we see the Word right in front of our eyes?
Consider having the children do an “active” rendition of Psalm 150 (consider using The Message). Have them sit down and give each one a pom-pom, streamer, shaker, cymbal, or other small rhythm instrument (be careful that nothing can be poked in eyes or cause injury). Instruct them that when you read the psalm (with great dramatic affect, of course) and say the word “praise” they are to stand up and make some noise and then sit quickly back down. You might practice with one verse. You can invite congregants in the pews to join you. Trust me, everyone will be awake when you are finished! Tell the children that today is a good day to be lively and active in praising God and that God is pleased when we bring our best offering of worship and thanksgiving. Finish with a simple prayer giving thanks for the ability to move, make noise, and praise God.
Weekly Stewardship Bulletin Insert
The collection we know as Psalms ends with a song of pure unbridled praise to God. What if in everything we do and in all that we say praise has the last word in our lives? Imagine how powerful that could be! Praise is an integral part of faithful stewardship, helping us to see and remember all that God has done, is doing, and will do. Hallelujah!
Stewardship at Home
This week find ways to let praise have the last word in your home. Whether it’s turning a negative thought into a positive response, stopping periodically to offer a short prayer of thanksgiving and praise, dancing like no one’s watching, or singing hymns of praise in the shower, practice praise and thanksgiving in all you do. Let Hallelujah be your last word this week—and always.
Photos: Derek Bridges, spaceamoeba, and Rick, Creative Commons. Thanks!
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