December 14, 2021
Norman D. Holcomb, Jr., PhD
CAPT, CHC, USN (Ret)
Smoky Mountain District
Psalm 100 (RSV)
All Lands Summoned to Praise God
100 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands![a]
A Psalm for the thank offering.
2 Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
3 Know that the Lord is God!
It is he that made us, and we are his;[b]
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him, bless his name!
5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
Because of its brevity (only five verses), this Psalm could be mistakenly viewed as having less importance in the life of the cultic worshiping community than those Psalms consisting of many more verses. Recognizing this possibility, Saint Augustine said, “The verses are few, but big with great subjects” (Augustine, “Expositions on the Book of Psalms,” in Nicene and Anti-Nicene Fathers, vol. 8, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.,1995, p. 487). Psalm 100 does not ask us to quietly contemplate the beauty or wisdom of its poetry. Each of the first four verses calls the worshiper to actively participate in the event. All the verbs are dynamic action verbs with the force of the imperative mood (command or entreaty); make, serve, come, know, enter, give, and bless.
The call to worship is not limited by the boundaries of the temple walls. In fact, it has no boundaries and is extended to the earth’s total population. The Psalmist’s vision is that of an integration of all the nations of the world rejoicing before the God of Israel. While the worship of Yahweh originated within the cult of the Israelites, all the nations of the earth were destined to have an equal share of God’s blessings (Genesis 12:3; 22:15-18; 26:3-4). This destiny is particularly evident in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Christians are not just “borrowers” of Israelite religion, and we need not, (must not?), see ourselves as marginal servants and second-class children of the God of Israel. In fact, Christians represent the fulfillment of God’s creative activity in the life and history of the Israelite cult. Karl Barth recognized this fulfillment and completion in Psalm 100 and called it the “Alpha and Omega of the call of Jesus Christ Himself” (Karl Barth, “The Doctrine of Reconciliation,” in Church Dogmatics, trans. G. W. Bromiley, vol. 4, part 3, second half, Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark, 1962, p. 793).
If Barth is correct in that “the call of Christ” commands us from within the Psalm, the action verbs challenge us to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22). By extension, worship involves more than sitting within the boundaries of the temple/church. It reaches beyond the comfort of the pews and the festivity of the fellowship halls. For my own spiritual orientation, I do not diminish the validity of our corporate gatherings to express our worship of God. However, since I spend most of my time outside of some stated place and time of worship, I find it necessary for me to consider how I worship during those extended times when I am not engaged in some form of corporate worship. How do the action verbs of Psalm 100 motivate me to demonstrate my confession that “the Lord is God, and it is he that has made me, and I am his” (vs. 3)?
I am reminded of a certain rainy and dreary day during my seminary years. A student arrived several minutes before a class began. He greeted the professor with a pleasant “Good morning, sir!” The professor, who was known to be a sour, curmudgeon sort of person, said, “What’s so good about it? I’ve had enough of this rain and lousy weather.” The student said, “This is the day the Lord has made, we should rejoice and be glad in it.” The mood and countenance of the professor changed immediately, and he said, “Amen! You are right. Praise the Lord!” Word of his response quickly spread throughout the seminary. Later in the day he was asked why he was so upbeat and happy. He said, “One of my students blessed me today and reminded me that the Lord is God.” One student made a joyful noise to the Lord in a non-liturgical setting, and it spread throughout an entire community of people.
When we enter the sanctuary on Sunday, we take it for granted that we have come to worship the Lord; and that is okay. But I challenge us to think about how the action verbs of Psalm 100 have challenged us to make a joyful noise, to serve, to know the Lord, and to enter His presence when we are not in a scheduled worship service. Do we really understand what it means when we say, “the Lord is good”? When we say that something is good, we mean that it conforms to social, legal, and cultural standards that our society has legislated to be good. However, the Psalmist spoke of the goodness of the Lord in a way that transcends conformity to any of our standards.
The Lord is good because He honors His covenant promises to us. In a world that is always changing due to the conduct and behavior of created humans, the faithfulness of the Lord is the only constant absolute upon which we can depend. When we gather in the sanctuary, we bring memories that are fresh and raw with the trauma of local, national, and international tragedies. Mass shootings, terrorist acts, world catastrophes, viral pandemics, transportation disasters, and violence in our cities have become common events. We may often wonder if we are living in a world that has gone mad. But as a gathered community, we incline our ears to hear the Word of our God. We lift our voices and are reminded that “This is my Father’s world, and though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. The Lord is King, let the heavens ring! God reigns, let the earth be glad!” (This Is My Father’s World, Maltbie D. Babcock, 1858-1901). Whether gathered as a congregation or simply going about our personal everyday business and activities, we serve a dependable God who empowers us with action verbs for the living of these days!