July 22nd, 2012 “Praise God with the Harp” Rev. Heather Jepsen
Psalm 150 and 1 Samuel 16:23
Isn’t music wonderful! Music is such an important part of our worship and it is an important part of the life of the church. I have really enjoyed the way that this church in particular values music. From our wonderful choir and organ, to sharing our individual talents in worship, to exploring new hymns together, this church is rich in musical talent.
Our reading from the Psalms reminds us that music has a special place in the worship of our God. Psalm 150, the final psalm of the psalter is all about unrelenting praise to God. It is a unique psalm in that it doesn’t fit the pattern of most praise psalms. Songs of praise in the psalter usually consist of commandments to praise followed by the reasons one should praise God. Here we are given no reasons, we are just told to praise God with our music.
Theologian Walter Brueggemann writes that “This psalm is a determined, enthusiastic, uninterrupted, relentless, unrelieved summons which will not be content until all creatures, all of life, are “ready and willing” to participate in an unending song of praise that is sung without reserve or qualification. The Psalm expresses a lyrical self-abandonment, an utter yielding of the self, without vested interest, calculation, desire, or hidden agenda.”
Just praise God, the psalm seems to say. Use whatever you’ve got. The trumpet, the drums, shouts of joy, the clapping of hands, the music of the harp, and even your breath. Put your all into it and praise the Lord!
This Psalm was as meaningful in the first communities it was sung as it is in our own time now. The call to bring the whole of who we are, especially our gifts of music to worship, is a call we can still understand and rejoice in. Elsewhere in the psalms even folks that might not consider themselves musically talented are called to make a joyful noise to the Lord.
In our reading from 1st Samuel we are reminded of David’s original role in the leadership of Israel. David was the court musician. When the Lord rejected Saul and chose David as king over Israel, Saul became plagued by evil spirits. Before his time on the throne, David was called in to play music for Saul. It is well known that David was a musician and song writer. Here we read that while he would play the harp, the evil spirits would leave Saul and he was relieved. Music made him feel better.
This is the case with us today as well. Music just makes us feel better. Many folks surround themselves with music as a way of keeping themselves relaxed. Personally I almost always have music playing in the car (love 90.9!) and I frequently have it playing in my office here at the church.
When we gather together in church we get to hear live music performed. Something different, special, and wonderful happens when we hear a live musician versus a recording. When a community is gathered for a concert or to share music in worship, together they enter into a shared space, a shared event. There is a certain energy in live music. It is beautiful, it is exciting, and it is a gift from God. In the gospels we read that where two or three are gathered God is present among us. I think this is felt most clearly when we gather to share our music.
I really love this passage about David playing the harp for Saul. There is something in particular about harp music that has the power to sooth our spirits. As a pastor and preacher I have to admit that there is power in the harp. For me, to share the harp in worship is a vehicle to bring the presence of God to you in a way that a spoken sermon never can.
I believe that the power of music in our worship is equal to the power of the spoken sermon. When we rejoice in singing hymns we participate in worship and give our hearts to God in an exciting personal way. When we sit and listen to music, we meditate and God speaks to us in ways that go beyond our understanding. Words and thoughts are great in church, but sometimes it is best to just sit here and be.
The call from the psalmist to praise God with even our very breath, is a call to bring the whole of who we are to worship. Today, in the spirit of giving my all to the Lord, I am praising God with the spoken word and with the harp. Today I am bringing two gifts, my two talents, and placing them in the offering plate. I have preached the word as I see it, inspired by the psalmist and the figure of David. I will now preach the word in music.
I invite you to close your eyes, to listen, to let the spirit of God touch your heart in a way that goes beyond the words of sermon or scripture, in a way that goes beyond the workings of the mind.
“And whenever David took the harp and played, Saul would be relieved and would feel better.”
May God speak to us in deep and profound ways in this and in all our moments of music not only in worship, but also out in our world. Amen.(At this point I sat down and played Debussy's "Girl with the Flaxen Hair" on the harp)