By Amy Schifrin

Praise the LORD, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them;
but when they cry to him he hears them
.

Brothers and sisters, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ. Amen
The last thing we want to do some days is give praise. And then there are some days when no matter how much we want to; we can’t seem to do it either. Praise, if you’re faking it, it’s not really praise, but the veneer of false piety. It’s that thing you do because you’ve learned that you’re supposed to, like saying sorry to your older brother after he punched you first and you’re as mad as hell at him. Or like when your parents make you kiss your Great Aunt Bertha on the cheek, you know, the one who’s breath could knock out a horse, because you’re supposed to show that you honor her, and maybe even love her.

Praise works the same way. We’re called to; We’re commanded to; We know we’re supposed to do it. But the reality is, that until we get out all that’s burning inside of us, until we admit that we’re angry at our brother or our sister, or disappointed with our mother or father, or despise that bully down the street, or even, God forbid, that we’re furious at God himself for the mess that our lives are in, we are simply neither ready nor able to praise.

So then, why is it that God keeps putting these words in our mouths and writing them on our hearts? This God who does not deal with us according to our sins nor reward us according to our wickedness. This God who does not desire the death of sinners, but that they turn to him and live. This God who swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea and led his people through the wilderness. This God who promised a hundred-year-old man and is only slightly younger wife a child. This God who comes to us in the poverty of our hearts. This God who comes to us knowing that if he doesn’t teach us to pray, we would never figure it out on our own. This God who gives us himself, in any and every prayer written in the Scriptures, and most pointedly, in his Psalter, his Prayerbook, so that as he himself prays it in our hearing, we at last would cry it all out to him for real and discover that when we cry he does, indeed, hear us.

Praise the LORD, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them;
but when they cry to him he hears them
.

Now it’s helpful to know that when the lectionary is giving us only part of a psalm, it is simply trying to call our attention to something in particular, something that will help implant all the appointed biblical texts of the day into our hearts. We will hear this psalm in its entirety, when the table is cleared and the altar is stripped on that Holy Night when the Triduum begins, when we see he who the world despises take into his body the afflictions of the afflicted, when he is poured out like water, when the world pierces his hands and his feet. We will pray this psalm in its entirety as we see his body hang in the nakedness of the world’s poverty, a raw teeming garbage heap, its stench rising up toward the heavens.

And so we’re given part of this psalm to pray today, because God is hiding our life–in his body–to bring us to his place of praise. Your life is hid with Christ in God, he has promised, in the One who made you for praise. In the One who did not throw you out of the house in your rebellion but surrounded you with a promise that even before you could open your lips, he would know what word was on your heart. He knows that even in your anger, and most especially when you direct your anger toward him that you haven’t stopped praying, for such is the nature of the sorrow and grief that spills forth finally in the tears of lament.

You can’t get here until you let it all out, howling and wailing.  You can’t get here until you give up any hope of making it better on your own. But do not be afraid, you haven’t stopped praying, because you haven’t forgotten the One to whom you can call to when you think you’ve been forsaken, when you think you’ve been abandoned to this world’s forces, left adrift in a bloody battlefield, packs of dogs snapping and snarling, gangs of evildoers in every direction, as far as the eye can see. Call out to me, he says, hanging on a cross, call out to me, he says, risen from a tomb.

[For] it was fitting that God for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not afraid to call them brothers and sisters, saying, “I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters, in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

You cannot come to a place of praise until you trust that he who suffered is the same one who calls you to rise from the grave. You cannot come to a place of praise until you know that he is one and the same. You cannot come to a place of praise until he breathes his resurrecting breath into your mortal body. You cannot come to place of praise until with hands outstretched you eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Do this in remembrance of me. For the poor shall eat and be satisfied, and those who seek the LORD shall praise him. This is how all the earth shall remember and turn to him. This is where all the families of the nations shall bow before him. This is where we who are dust (Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return) shall be raised to an eternal life of praise. For this is the moment from which our prayer rises for every generation to come, My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him; they shall be known as the LORD’S forever.

Your praise and mine can only come through the great assembly. He proclaims it from the cross, with his arms stretched wide, so that every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that [he], Jesus Christ, is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.
Praise the LORD, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory
.

The Rev. Dr. Amy Schifrin is president emeritus of the North American Lutheran Seminary and associate professor of liturgics and homiletics at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.