Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 26, 2017
Psalm 100 Commentary
It is interesting that the Lectionary begins and ends Ordinary Time with Psalm 100. We looked at this beloved Psalm back on June 18, the second Sunday of Ordinary Time. Now we return to it on this last Sunday, when we celebrate the fact that Christ is King of all the earth. If you preached on Psalm 100 back then, you might choose another of the Lectionary readings for this celebration of Christ the King. I mean, how can we say much new just a few months later? Besides, isn’t Psalm 100 a bit of an odd choice for this day? It never uses the word “King” at all.
Why did the Lectionary compilers choose this Psalm for this day? Well, it is traditionally seen as the last of the songs of Enthronement that begin with Psalm 93. All of them claim that Yahweh is King not only of Israel, but of all nations and all peoples. Psalm 100 seems to be the capstone to those Enthronement Psalms, raising the claim up a notch when it commands “all the earth” to “shout for joy to Yahweh.”
Further, there are hints of royalty in the language about entering his “gates” and “courts.” Clearly that is a reference to the Temple, but the Temple was the earthly seat of the King of the Universe. And that reference to Israel as “the sheep of his pasture” echoes Psalm 23, where David picks up on the ancient Near Eastern idea that Kings are the Shepherds of their people. So, there is good reason to use Psalm 100 in our celebration today.
Plus, it gives us a fresh angle on that celebration. As I read and re-read Psalm 100, I began to hear it as a protest song, a counter-cultural protest song against the negativity of our culture. We are a clamoring culture, filled with competing choruses of criticism and complaining. Anger and sorrow, pain and braggadocio, black and white, rich and poor, Republican and Democrat, Trump and anti-Trump—we are a people divided. Add to that the suffering caused by natural disasters and the fear caused by saber rattling nuclear powers. There are a million reasons for all the unhappiness that grips the United States and our world, but at the root of it all is the fact that so many are worshiping the wrong king.
Psalm 100 calls us to sing a new song to the real King. Its predominant tone is joy and gladness, because it is focused on a particular name. All day long every day of every week, we hear “Trump, Trump, Trump,” or “Kim, Kim, Kim,” or “Putin, Putin, Putin.” With those names drummed into our brains 24/7, it is tough to find joy and gladness, thanksgiving and praise. Psalm 100 beats the drum for a different name. “Shout for joy to Yahweh, all the earth. Worship Yahweh with gladness. Know that Yahweh is God. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise…. For Yahweh is good….” Psalm 100 points us again and again to the real King.
As I reflected on those words, I was reminded of Paul’s soaring words in Ephesians 1:20-22, where he speaks of the power of God that “raised [Christ] from the dead and seated him at [God’s] right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church….” Shout for joy and sing with gladness because Jesus Christ, Yahweh incarnate, crucified, and risen is King over all things for the sake of his people.
Psalm 100 highlights two reasons to celebrate the reign of Christ the King. He is God and he is good. After the opening command to shout for joy and worship with gladness (verses 1 and 2), we hear that first reason. “Know that Yahweh is God….” In the Hebrew, there is a little particle, hu, which emphasizes that Yahweh alone is God. Against the background of polytheism, Psalm claims that all of those “gods” are not truly God. There is only one true God, and his name is Yahweh.
Knowing that will bring great joy and deep comfort. The Hebrew word for “know” goes far beyond intellectual knowledge. Just knowing about Yahweh’s sole divinity will not bring us comfort and joy. We need a more personal knowledge, an intimate knowledge, a relational, covenantal knowledge. Not accidentally, the word “know” in Hebrew was often used to describe sexual relations between husband and wife. (“And Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore a son.”)
Indeed, the words immediately following the command to know that Yahweh is God are covenantal. “It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” That is a reference not to the creation of all humans, but to the creation of Israel as God’s special people, his covenant people, the flock he shepherds as the Divine King. Jesus incorporated all this pastoral language into his own understanding of his ministry in John 10. Thus, we can sing for joy and sink into comfort because Jesus our Shepherd King is God, and we belong to him body and soul, in life and in death. “This is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent (John 17:3).”
After the second command to approach Yahweh with thanksgiving and praise (verse 4), we are giving a second reason to live in a positive way even in a negative world. “For Yahweh is good….” There are multiple ways to approach a King. Think of all the power figures that reign in our world today. You might want to approach some with fear because they are cruel, and others with great care because they are complicated and unpredictable, and still others with fawning adoration because they are so narcissistic. We are encouraged to approach Yahweh/Jesus with praise and thanksgiving simply because he is good.
What does “good” mean? It might mean that he is morally pure, never doing anything wrong. Or it might mean that he is beautiful, heroic, noble, aesthetically pleasing. Or it might mean that he speaks his mind, stands up for what he believes in, always does the right thing, doesn’t worry about political correctness. But here the goodness of Yahweh is defined in terms of his relationship to his covenant people. We know that because the Psalmist uses the two most common words for God’s covenantal relationship with his people: chesed and emunah, love and faithfulness.
We can live positively in a negative world, offering thanksgiving and praise no matter what goes wrong in the world, because “his love endures forever [and] his faithfulness continues through all generations.” We never know what will happen tomorrow, except that tomorrow will bring unexpected change. But we know that two things will never change. Our King is always God and our King is unchangingly good, showing love and faithfulness to every generation of his people. That should make our celebration of Christ the King an occasion filled with comfort and joy.
Perhaps I hear Psalm 100 as a counter-cultural protest song because I just finished watching Ken Burn’s magnificent (and horrific) documentary on the Vietnam War. I lived through those terrible times, but I had forgotten the ferocity of that war and of the protests against it. Seeing those pictures of Americans protesting the war made me think of the way Christians should be protesting the war against the reign of King Jesus (cf. Psalm 2). But our protest does not have to be violent and bloody, contrary to what some Christian militants might think. Psalm 100 calls us to live with joy and gladness, thanksgiving and praise. That kind of living in this kind of world is eloquent testimony to the truth we celebrate on Christ the King Sunday.
Whenever the President of the United States enters a great gathering, a band plays “Hail to the Chief.” Psalm 100 invites us to enter the presence of the King of the Universe. “Come before him with joyful songs. Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise….”
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