There’s a joke that bounces around the halls of seminaries about praise songs, praise bands, and praise worship. It’s usually told with an air of cynicism that all praise music can be boiled down to this – three chords, four words, five times. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this kind of worship, but it usually looks like a service in a big space where the congregation looks up something that looks much more like concert stage with pianos, bass, guitars, trumpets, saxophones, trombones 5-6 vocalists, and a drum set right in the middle. As disparaging as this joke about 3 chords, 4 words, 5 times is meant to be, it does speak to a truth that worshipping God singing “Jesus is my friend” five times with a simply melody and harmony, while entertaining can be a thin worship experience that is designed to be more about entertainment than the depth of God’s presence in our whole life, good time and bad.
Now let me take a moment right now to say that the contemporary service lead by our Sanctuary Singers does not fit the mold of that disparaging 3-4-5 joke. The old hymns that we love are most often old folk songs of the people who gathered in Christ’s name hundreds of years ago, and I’ve to see that the songs that the Sanctuary Singers leads for our contemporary services are the real, authentic folk songs of this parish, especially as many of them are written by the people who live and work in this area of Jackson County and Trempealeau County. Moreover, there is depth in those songs which speak to the profound presence and love of God in our whole lives. Praise songs too often come nowhere near that depth of meaning, yet in this Easter season, hearing Psalm 150 which our children helped tell this morning, maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to discount simple praise of God.
We really don’t need to look much further than the Book of Psalms. The Psalmist regales us this day with in which the beginning of each line is Hallelujah! Praise! Praise! Praise! Praise! Praise! and ending with another triumphant Hallelujah! Clearly taking some time to simply praise God is an activity that we should engage in. As jaded about praise music as I and other learned people can be, there can be profound truth about God and what God has done expressed in praise music. But that truth is not something that can be left to the wayside in hopes of making church “fun.” You see songs lifted in praise of God and especially the hymns of praise we find in the Psalms have to carry with them the implication that the wondrous things that God does begin with the sorrow of God reaching down to all the suffering and sorrow of creation in the crucifixion of Jesus who died for our sins, who joined with us in our suffering and death so that we might be united with him in his death and rise up to new life with him in his resurrection.
I bet you didn’t know that a praise song could imply all of that. Yet that is exactly what Psalm 150 is doing in praising God. When the psalmist decries “Praise God in the holy temple; praise God in the mighty firmament,” the psalmist is in fact proclaiming our life, our whole life comes from God whose home is all of creation. When the psalmist decries “Praise God for might acts; praise God for exceeding greatness,” the psalmist is in fact proclaiming the greatness of God in restoring, redeeming, forgiving and most of all loving us, the creation God has made. You see, this praise arises from a God who weeps upon the death of one his friends. This praise arises from a God who proclaims that the poor will be blessed. This praise arises from a God who frees his people slavery in
Our songs of praise should never deny or hide the fact that there is wrong, evil, sin and suffering in this world. Instead our songs of praise should be solid declarations that God sees our plights, hears our prayers, and bears our sins. So to simply declare “Jesus is my friend” five times over using only three chords, should always be sung with proclamation that Jesus’ friendship is that of a love in which he lays down his life for my life and for your life. To skip the hard stuff, to make this with all its pains and sorrows just a deviation from the glory the in which we were created until we enter back into the glory of heaven cheapens cross the suffering Jesus went through to bring us back from the dead through his blood. We must always begin at the cross, because in the cross unites us with Christ in our faith so that when he is raised that promise is raised for us as well. Our songs of praise are then statements of belief where we say with all assuredness that yes, Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and we do indeed have life Jesus’ name.
And so this morning, I want you all to join me in singing a simple song of praise. Don’t worry if you are singing it right enough of well enough, for whatever it is it will be a joyful sound to the Lord. It is an African American spiritual called “I’m So Glad, Jesus