The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 30, 2020
The God of the Bible is a God of fiery passion and exuberant enthusiasm. He burns with holy hatred over what is wrong, but dances with deep delight over what is right. He particularly delights people in getting right and fulfilling their potential and purpose. That’s why at the center of this Psalm there rings this stirring statement: “The Lord takes pleasure in his people”. God grins ear-to-ear when we become fully His and thereby come fully into our own.
When we sense God’s exultation over us, it’s almost impossible for us not to engage in exultation over Him!
Today’s Psalm tells “the faithful” to “exult in glory”, “be glad in” God, “rejoice in” Him, “praise His name with dancing” and sing to Him “a new song”. Juliana of Norwich grasped what this means when she exclaimed, “God loves us and delights in us, and so God wishes us to love Him and to delight in Him.” In other words, the God who takes pleasure in us wants us to take pleasure in Him. He doesn’t demand such worship. Rather He dares us to open our eyes and take in who He is and what He does, in order to discover what then happens of its own accord.
When we come to appreciate what God is like, we can no more resist celebrating Him than singing a catchy tune of which our mind won’t let go.
A while ago, a 38-year-old Montreal resident and father of two named Taoufik Moalla was driving home on a hot summer day with the car windows rolled down. When his favorite song, Gonna Make You Sweat (Everyone Dance Now), came on the radio, he couldn’t resist singing along to it with enthusiastic gusto at the top of his voice. Unbeknownst to Moalla, he was at that moment passing through a fuddy-dud Montreal neighborhood that had a noise ordinance banning “forms of uproar”, which included loud (and, I guess, bad) singing.
When Moalla noticed the police lights flashing behind him, he presumed the car wanted to pass him. So he slowed down and hugged the right edge of the lane. But he then heard an officer tell him over a bullhorn to pull over and park. When the officer walked up to the car, he asked him why he was screaming. “Screaming?” Moalla replied in astonishment. “I was only singing!”
Moalla was written up for “uproarious noise”, though he never had to pay a fine. Later he said, “I don’t know that my voice was so very bad, but I was very shocked.” When NPR reported this story, it concluded with a reasonable rhetorical question, “But how does anyone not sing to such a song?”
And the Bible asks, “And how does anyone not sing, once they take in the reality of God’s grace, a song of praise – especially when God, unlike certain Montreal neighborhoods, likes noise when it is a joyful and genuine expression of love. (Shameless plug: Remember that when you join us in the hymn sing next week!)
There are commands in this psalm, but God does not wield His commands like a brutal parent a belt. He doesn’t force our obedience. He trusts that if we just look at Him and listen to Him, with a little time and attention, we will become astounded at how great and good He is; and, if we become astounded at how great and good He is, we will be moved to lift our voice in a joyful noise of praise. Like a catchy song, His grace calls forth out of us exuberant celebration.
The delight of worship is a natural by-product to the delightfulness of the subject of worship. Notice how often this Psalm just commands us to “let” something happen, to let something arise from us: let us be glad, let us rejoice, let us have high praises in our throats, let us sing to God, let us dance before God, let us exult in His glory. Unless we fight it, our getting caught up in exuberant wonder and adoration springs up from us, unbidden and empowered by hidden forces, like a Yellowstone geyser.
A thought exercise: Imagine you can’t swim, and you fall into a cold swift-moving river. Fortunately, someone notices and jumps into action to save you. With perfect aim, they throw over your head and shoulders a life preserver ring, with a rope tied to it, so all you have to do is wrap your arms over the top of it and hold on. They then with mighty pulls draw you up on to the dry river bank, where they help you cough out the water, wrap you up in a thick blanket, half-carry you to a safe shelter, and there ply you with hot cocoa.
Would you complain they didn’t serve your favorite brand of cocoa? Would you criticize their blanket for not being soft enough or their shelter for not being nice enough?
Or would you spend any time boasting about how strong you were in holding on to the life ring and insisting that people admire the muscle definition in your arms?
No, you’d be all about thanking the person who saved you! And you wouldn’t think twice about hugging them or, if they prefer, shaking their hand! Heck, you might beg them to let you treat them to dinner.
God invites us to open our eyes to who He is and what He does, and find out whether grateful wonder and joyful adoration overtakes us. He who takes pleasure in us loves for us to take pleasure in Him!