A Meditation on Psalm 148
Psalm 148 is the centerpiece of a group of five psalms that begin and end with the word “Hallelujah!” and repeat the phrase “Praise the Lord” or “Praise God” frequently within them. These five psalms are grouped together at the end of the entire collection of psalms - a great doxology that underscores the purpose of psalms altogether - for psalms are at their heart ancient songs of praise and thanksgiving. Even those that begin as laments almost always make the turn to praise.
And as the centerpiece, this psalm makes the case that everything that is - not just everything that breathes but everything that IS - is invited into a song of praise to the God of all creation. That all the whole earth is God’s beautiful, lovely community, called together in love to offer praises to God.
Recalling God’s creative activity at the beginning of Genesis - the heavens and the water above the heavens, the sun and moon - the things that were created by God’s command - wild beasts and cattle and creeping things and winged birds - are all called into a life of praise. The heavens and the earth, the animate and the inanimate create a choir that together exalt the God of all creation. Old and young, kings and rulers and people, trees and hills and winds and even the fire and hail and sea monsters are named as God’s special community. All are the congregation called to praise God from the heights, from the hills, from the deep, in the wind - from everywhere and by everything, because all of it is God’s. All of it.
I actually am not a big fan of creeping things. Or sea monsters. Or hail and tempestuous wind. There are some parts of this lovely community of God’s that I don’t find all that lovely. And of course there’s other stuff in God’s lovely community, stuff that didn’t make the list in this short psalm, that I don’t find all that lovely, either. Electric eels (although perhaps they are a subset of sea monsters), that thick yellow pollen that coated everything last month and made everyone sneeze and wheeze, and those burrs that stick in your bare feet when you’re at the beach. Pond slime. Mean people. I’m sure you have your own list of unlovelies. We all do. And yet, these are all part of God’s community. God’s congregation. And thus part of our community. Our congregation.
Stuff we don’t like, we find icky or yucky or unloveable are all still part of our community because of our kinship with God, as people who are near God, near to God’s heart. God is no respecter of persons; God loves the unlovely even if we don’t. God’s love does not go just to those we think are deserving. God loves all that God created and called good and very good.
So we are called to love the unlovely, too. Because nothing in God’s world is outside God’s congregation. God proudly tells Job about making and loving the crocodile-like beast that can rip anything to shreds. God made the great Leviathan just for the sport of it. Obviously, there is no accounting for God’s taste!
We all have our tastes, of course. I personally think raw oysters are slimy and gross, and there’s no way I’m going to eat them, but I bet some of you are fans. And so if God so loved the world - all of it - then we are to love it too. Even the slimy parts, the ugly parts, the stuff we find scary or unattractive or undeserving or whatever; the stuff we think is not worth our notice; the stuff we might think is dispensable or disposable. Stuff we dismiss.
We are prejudiced beings. We are wary of people who are not like us, we are scared of them even. What are they saying in languages we don’t understand? What do they mean by their rituals or their behavior? Why do they do what they do and not what we do?
We are scared of things we believe can hurt us, things that have a power that we cannot control. Erupting volcanoes. Earthquakes. Snakes. And people whom we think might get out of control, too.
People who might have power over us, gain advantage over us, diminish us in some way.
But somehow we are all still a community together, a congregation of God’s beloved, called not to dismiss one another, not to diminish one another, but to love one another. And to praise our creator.
We are a motley crew of powerful, messy, weak, fragile, beautiful, slimy, scary, shimmering creation all spoken into being by God’s command for God’s reasons alone. God’s ways are not our ways.
Boy, is that clear to me. God makes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. And some parts of God’s creation end up destroying other parts. Volcanoes erupt, animals eat each other, oil smothers wetlands.
And our ways are not so wonderful, either. Humans make war, destroy the environment, oppress and kill one another, practice cruelty. That must grieve and puzzle God. Our ways are not God’s ways.
But that’s the thing about relationship. We are in relationship despite the fact that we are not alike. God and humans are not alike. We are made in God’s image but God’s ways are not our ways. Humans and animals have many differences, too. (Think of the platypus.) We are really different from rocks and trees and stars and running water
even if we are all made up of molecules. Humans come in a wide variety of colors, ethnicities, abilities, sensibilities, and temperaments, a dizzying array of preferences, proclivities, rituals, hobbies and hairstyles.
But we are all still called to care for one another, we are called into relationship. In fact, it is not similarity but difference that is at the heart of our relationship with God and with others. We like to hang out with folks like ourselves, but we are called to be in relationship first of all with God, whose ways are not our ways, and with neighbor, whose ways may not be our ways, either. Just like Jesus eating with tax collectors and touching women and lepers, ministering to outcasts of all stripes. Because at the heart of the matter, what we all truly have in common is a place in the great congregation, the lovely community called into being by God. And we are called to be in relationship with all of God’s creation - the birds and creeping things and the mountains and oceans, all that is, not only all that breathes, because all of this is created and loved by God. Our lives and the earth and the universe are all tied together, intertwined and interdependent.
And so let us praise God, with our voices, with our action, with our care for one another and all that is. Let us use our power for good, let us use our power to lift up the lowly and protect the vulnerable, both people and animals and this fragile earth, our island home.
Let us praise God not simply with our words but with our very lives.