June 6, 2017 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon for Sunday, June 11, 2017. The start of a short series, “Psalms: Prayers of the Old Testament Saints.”
The text is Psalm 100.
An audio link is embedded for those who’d like to listen.
The Psalms teach us to pray
In Luke 11.1, the disciples asked Jesus: Lord, teach us to pray. They’d overheard him praying and wanted to learn from a master. So Jesus taught them a prayer—more on that later, near the end. But what I want us to notice right now is that we must be taught to pray. The apostle Paul confirms this idea in Rom. 8.26, where he says: We don’t know what we should pray.
Prayer doesn’t come natural to us. Without some sort of teacher or guide, we inevitably end up speaking to the God we have imagined in our own minds. A God we have created in our own image. A God who thinks we’re awesome! Who agrees with us about what is right and wrong with our neighbors and the world. Who loves and hates the same things we do. Who just wants us to be happy and get our way. Even those of us who have peered deep into the mystery and wildness of our God have only glimpsed a sliver of who God is. Without a guide, a master who teaches us to pray, even at our best, we will only be speaking to that tiny slice of God we already understand.
In this series, we’ll be learning to allow the Psalms to be our master and guide that teaches us to pray. The book of Psalms records the prayers of our faithful ancestors. Through the Psalms, we learn how the Old Testament saints talked to God. And as we pray and meditate on the Psalms, we may also be surprised to hear God answer us.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the brave German preacher killed by the Nazis, wrote a commentary on Psalms called The Prayer Book of the Bible. Here’s something he had to say about letting the Psalms teach us to pray:
The child learns to speak because his father speaks to him. He learns the speech of his father. So we learn to speak because God has spoken to us and speaks to us … Repeating God’s own words after him, we begin to pray to him … If we wish to pray with confidence and gladness, then the words of Holy Scripture will have to be the solid basis of our prayer. 
Over the next several weeks, we will be learning to pray from the Psalms. Jesus once told his disciples: whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it (Mark 10.15). As we make this short journey through the Psalms, I hope we will receive them like children. Just as children learn to speak from their parents, let us learn the language of prayer from our parents in the faith. And since their words have been gathered up into scripture, these words have also become the words of our heavenly Father. His gift to us, to teach us to speak to him. To teach us to pray.
A Psalm for all seasons
Now the Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann has broken the psalms into three distinct types.  First, there’s the psalms of orientation. These are a kind of praise Psalm. The Psalms of orientation see God as always good and faithful. His Torah, or Law, is always just. The world is viewed as a stable, fair, and orderly place. God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. These are prayers of joy, peace, and contentment with God. They help us express a life of simple faith and deep trust. Psalm 1 is an example of a psalm of orientation. This Psalm promises that people who love the Lord’s Instruction are like are like a tree replanted by streams of water. And: Whatever they do succeeds (vv2-3).
The second type of Psalm is psalms of disorientation. These are also called Psalms of lament. They come from those seasons of life when our world has crumbled under our feet. They express anguish, betrayal, confusion, and self-pity. They question whether or not God is as good as we believed. Whether the world is as fair and orderly as we imagined. There is still faith, but there are also many deep and troubling questions. Jesus quoted one of these kinds of Psalms from the cross: My God! My God, why have you left me all alone? (Ps. 22.1) These songs come from the long, dark nights of the soul. When God seems absent and our world makes no sense.
Finally, there’s another kind of praise Psalm called psalms of new orientation. These come from the time after God’s people have experienced disorientation. The people who composed these prayers have come through the crisis, and God has surprised them on the other side of their ordeal with new gifts and blessings and insights into God’s faithfulness. These are Psalms about coming out of darkness into light. Death emerging from life. They celebrate how God is faithful to deliver his people from impossible situations. Psalm 23 is a famous example of this kind of prayer. In the middle of this Psalm, the author tells God: Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me. This kind of prayer can only be prayed by someone who has come through a dark and lonely season of life, and realized that God had never left their side.
So there are Psalms for every season of life. The Psalms teach us the words to use to celebrate God’s goodness; to speak honestly to God when we are hurt; and to reaffirm our faith after times of deep distress. The well-rounded life of faith needs all of them.
The new normal
Our Psalm today is Psalm 100. Psalm 100 is a prayer of thanksgiving—a praise Psalm. This short prayer of praise is interesting, and here’s why. We don’t know who wrote it, or when, or exactly why. Remember how we just heard Walter Brueggemann break down the three types of Psalms: psalms of orientation, disorientation, and new orientation? This Psalm is weird because it’s hard to know if its a psalm of orientation, or a psalm of new orientation. Brueggemann suspects it’s a psalm of new orientation that’s on its way to becoming old news. That whatever the crisis was that caused trauma and doubt for the people who first prayed this prayer was so far in the past, they’ve almost forgotten it. This is a prayer from people who have settled into a new life. 
Think about it this way. There are some events—both good and evil—that change you forever. Like the thrill of your wedding day, or the dashed hopes and resentments that go along with divorce. The hopes and joys that well up in your soul when you’re expecting a child; or the nightmare that descends on you when that child dies in your womb or in its crib. After these things happen to you, you go on living, but your world is never the same. Eventually you adjust to your new normal. Psalm 100 is a prayer from the lips of a person or community that has adjusted to their new normal. It shows us the kind of trust in God and joy in life that comes from spiritual maturity. This Psalm expresses the seasoned faith of someone who has learned from experience that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God (Rom. 8.28). The Westminster Confession declares that humanity’s “chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” And that’s also what this Psalm teaches us.
An invitation to all the earth
Psalm 100 opens with a command that is also an invitation to glorify and enjoy God:
Shout triumphantly to the Lord, all the earth!
Serve the Lord with celebration!
Come before him with shouts of joy!
The Psalmist didn’t just call the faithful saints, or God’s people, or even the church to celebrate God, but all the earth. All peoples, every tribe and tongue. All creatures great and small. Yes, and even for the trees of the field to clap their hands, and the stones to cry out. Everyone and everything is invited to serve Israel’s God with joy, because the God who has rescued Israel time and time again is also the King of the Cosmos.
And why should everyone and everything praise God that way? Because we have come to know that the Lord is God—
he made us; we belong to him.
We are his people,
the sheep of his own pasture.
This image of God as the shepherd of his people comes from their experiences of salvation. Israel knows that God has saved them. From slavery in Egypt. From captivity in Babylon. They know their God created everything, and their God makes everything new. And they have learned that the Lord has saved them not for their own sake, but the sake of all creation. So that all the families of the earth will be blessed because of them (Gen. 12.3). And so they gladly invite all the families of the earth to join the flock of their Good Shepherd, the Lord. They know God has created all humanity to serve him, and care for his creation—so they invite everyone to do just that.
The Psalmist is speaking for everyone God has rescued when they extend God’s own invitation:
Enter his gates with thanks;
enter his courtyards with praise!
Thank him! Bless his name!
They’re talking about the temple in Jerusalem, but they know that all creation is God’s temple. They don’t want anyone to remain a stranger to God. They’re inviting all peoples to beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, and cultivate and renew the earth, with the God of Israel dwelling in their midst.
Above all, the Psalmist wants everyone on earth to know from experience and confess with their lips that the God of Israel and King of the Cosmos:
his loyal love lasts forever;
his faithfulness lasts generation after generation.
The Psalmist knows this because God has saved them by his grace. He has been faithful and loyal to his people even when they sinned and forgot him. Nothing has ever made the Lord stop loving them, and nothing ever will. Today, the church should be able to say this even louder, because through the cross and resurrection of Jesus, God has gone through hell and back for us. We of all people can testify to all creation that his loyal love lasts forever.
Psalm 100 and the Lord’s Prayer
Today’s lesson began with the disciples asking Jesus to teach them to pray. Jesus taught them a prayer, which has been passed down to us through the ages. If Jesus has taught us a prayer, why do we need the Psalms to teach us to pray?
In his little commentary on the Psalms, the German martyr-preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains that the Psalms and the Lord’s Prayer go together. Hand in hand. They illuminate one another. So he says:
Every prayer is contained in [the Lord’s Prayer] … All the prayers of Holy Scripture are summarized in the Lord’s Prayer, and are contained in its immeasurable breadth. 
So we shouldn’t think that just because we have the Lord’s Prayer we don’t need the Psalms anymore. The Lord’s Prayer summarizes the Psalms, and the Psalms help us learn what the Lord’s Prayer means.
So what if we read Psalm 100 as a commentary on the Lord’s Prayer? What do we learn?
The Lord’s Prayer is found in Luke 11.2-4. The first thing we learn when Jesus teaches us to pray is to call God Father. Psalm 100 helps us understand what it means to call God our Father. It means confessing that he made us; and resting in the assurance that we belong to him (Ps. 100.2). It also means humbly acknowledging that even though God is our Father, he is not our private property. Because we’ve also learned that God is Father of all the earth (Ps. 100.1).
Next, Jesus teaches us to pray: uphold the holiness of your name. Bring in your kingdom. Ps. 100.4 invites all the peoples of the earth to: Thank him! Bless his name! The holiness of God’s name is upheld when his creation blesses him, serves him with thankfulness, and enjoys his good gifts. This verse also invites all the earth to: Enter his gates with thanks; enter his courtyards with praise! God’s kingdom is wherever and whenever God’s will is done on earth as in heaven. All creation is God’s temple, so we enter his gates and his courtyards and his kingdom whenever we serve him with thankfulness. Whenever others can see our good works and glorify God.
Next, we are taught to pray: Give us the bread we need for today. We can be assured that Father God will sustain us every day in every way because the Lord is good, and his loyal love lasts forever (Ps. 100.5). Because God is a good Father who faithfully loves his children, he provides for us every day.
Jesus also teaches us to ask God to: Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us. We know that Father God forgives his children because Ps. 100.5 teaches us: his loyal love lasts forever; his faithfulness lasts generation after generation. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins because he loves us. One of the ways we, as his children, bear his image and likeness is by forgiving others as we have been forgiven.
Finally, Jesus teaches us to pray: don’t lead us into temptation. And Ps. 100.3 promises us Father God would never do that. Because we are his people, the sheep of his own pasture. Our Good Shepherd doesn’t lead us into temptation. Even when he leads us through the darkest valley (Ps. 23.4), he is always leading us to life and blessings.
See how that works? The Psalms really do teach us to pray. So here’s my challenge for us this week. On the backs of your bulletins are a list of Psalms to read each day.  Let’s speak them aloud to God, as prayers. And meditate on them, as God’s response to our prayers. Let us begin learning to pray, as Bonhoeffer advised, by repeating God’s own words after him.
 Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1970, 11-12.
 The Message of the Psalms. Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984, 19-23.
 Ibid., 158, 165.
 Psalms, 15-16.