Reportedly, Psalm 100 is the second favorite Psalm in the Old Testament running just slightly behind Psalm 23. For those of you prone to reciting scripture from memory this maybe one of your favorites…a childhood recollection from Sunday school days. Unfortunately, I’m not adept at reciting scripture but, I will admit, the opening words to this Psalm have tripped off my tongue more than once. “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord…” I guess, I’ve used them as a counterbalance to critical comments made by unthinking parishioners in regard to the quality of music coming out of more than one choir in more than one church. When we sing to the Lord or about the Lord God, how well we sing, how in tune we might be or not, how melodious the voice parts, well it isn’t about any of that. It is about “Making a joyful noise”, not necessarily a harmonious one.
That seems appropriate to me somehow. There are those who would argue, rightly, I think, human beings must worship something. Even if they deny there is a God or gods, we need to express our appreciation for life in some way. As one writer put it,
“We all have objects that we consider worthy of praise: a finely crafted musical instrument, … or a particularly talented actor, or a beautiful panorama that appears after a bend in the road. ‘Magnificent!’ we say, making it clear that we have encountered something genuinely praiseworthy.” But the writer adds, “We all have various forms of devotion, not all directed toward God.”
Joy and expressions of joy are inherently part of our human makeup.
We can’t fully escape from our desire to express our appreciation for the beauty around us nor would we want to escape. The need to see joy in our world is always there; our human nature calls us to find a way to voice what our eyes see, our ears hear, our tongues taste, and our noses breath in when what has been revealed to us creates within us a deep, abiding pleasure. There are more sung expressions of this quality we call “Joy” than any other attribute in life with the possible exception of the one we call love, which gives us yet another reason to sing joyfully. The two expressions of pleasure seem to go hand in hand: can we have joy without a love of something or love without a sense of joy?
And, in the midst of all this reflection, the thought that catches me is this one – both joy and love give us reason to be grateful. It is gratitude – a sense of thanksgiving, which lifts us above a simple expression of joy in the mundane aspects of our life. I may believe that an actor has done a magnificent job in performing a part and it may bring me momentary happiness because I had the chance to witness the scene resulting from that acting expertise, but it isn’t likely that I would feel an abiding joy or feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Something more substantive gives me that pleasure and calls out of me a greater expression of appreciation defined solely by my sense of gratitude, my desire and my need to say “thank you.”
So, where do we get that joy…that desire to express a “thank you” in our day? Where do you and I find such joy? When do you express your gratitude? Moments of pure thanksgiving may come about through ritual and familiar occasions…the sight of a baby or the sound of a favorite hymn. Those “gratitude moments” may be unexpected but welcome. In a recent edition of the journal Christian Century, John M. Buchanan named a moment when he felt grateful for a memory and routine. He writes:
“…My mother sent me a copy of ‘God’s World’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It was her favorite poem, and she read it every autumn when western Pennsylvania mountains were bursting with vivid red, gold and brown color against the green pines.
O world I cannot hold thee close enough!…
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour!…
Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year.”
Psalm 100 is the psalmist effort to capture the joy in his heart. It is an expression of gratitude to his maker a simple gift of worship. Gratefully, we could borrow his words and make them our own. In a world where pain and joy, hunger and plenty, fear and peace mingle incomprehensibly to us, there is still one place we can go and see ourselves as beloved children of a healing divine parent.
“Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
For the Lord is good;
His steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.”
I am grateful. I hope in this season of thanksgiving, your hearts will be filled with joy, peace and gratitude. We are God’s own. It is enough. Amen.