A meditation on Psalm 145, preached November 10th, 2013 at KMPC.
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
The pastor at grandma’s funeral said that there was no reason to mourn because his grandma was in a better place now. David sat in the pew, and he tried to hear those words. He really did try, but they sounded empty to him.
There was no comfort in words like these. The pastor at grandma’s funeral said that she was no longer in pain because up in heaven there was no such thing as pain.
All David could think was, even though that would be great for grandma, if it was true, how does that help us here? Grandma may not be in pain any longer, David thought, but look at us. We’re in pain. I’m in pain. Where were the words I need to hear to comfort me in my loss? But this moment wasn’t for David; this moment was for Grandma.
The fact was that David did believe that Grandma Carney was fine. Maybe the pastor was right. David did believe in a God who comforts and he believed that Grandma Carney was with God—wherever that was–and that did comfort him a little. But here he was, sitting in a pew in a strange church with a stranger presiding over his grandma’s funeral.
David was surprised how much his grandmother’s passing was hurting him.
David had been to a few funerals before, but this was the first time he lost someone that he really loved. There were few words that were good enough to comfort—even words from the bible didn’t matter much to him right now.
David felt this way about the bible often. The bible is full of grand ideas, but sometimes all those grand ideas left him cold and left out. Sometimes it took too much faith for David to read most of the bible. But there were always the Psalms. There have been times in David’s life when the Psalms were all he could read from the Bible. And this was one of those times.
The Psalms were different. They weren’t preachy. The Psalms were human. The Psalms were about the rawness of life, and how it felt to lose and fail and fall and slowly get back up and try again.
The Psalms were written in the voice of our common humanity. Frail and misshapen and broken as life often is.
The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness. They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made. All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord, and all your faithful shall bless you.
David’s grandmother first taught him about the Psalms. There were times when she sat down to read them with him; but it was more like she lived them.
Grandma Carney was real and honest and alive and she taught David that the Psalms were too. If there was a human emotion, Grandma Carney said, you could find it in the Psalms. The ups and the downs, the celebrations and the despair. Grandma Carney had said that if there was something about life that didn’t make sense, there were about 5 psalms written about it.
Grandma Carney said that you can read the rest of the bible, but you lived the Psalms. David liked to say that the book of Psalms was the best collection of blues songs ever recorded.
David’s father bought him his first guitar when he was 12. An electric. David’s father had played in a rock n’ roll band during his college days. They did a couple shows in town. They even had 2 or 3 fans. But when his father handed David his first guitar, he thought the best way in was to introduce him to the blues.
That was years ago. David loved the blues. In a world full of radios playing pop hits about how great new boyfriends are and how to become popular fast, the blues…the blues were about something deeper. The blues were honest. The blues came from a place that nothing else came from. Deep within the pit of your stomach.
The blues was Buddy Guy singing his Black Night Blues:
I have no one to talk with
To tell my trouble to
My baby gone and left me
Someone tell me what more, what more can I do?
The blues was Adele singing:
But go on and take it. Take it all with you. Don’t look back at this crumbling fool. Go on and take it, take it all!
The blues make sense because everybody knows what it feels like to live through a dark night, and everyone knows what it feels like to crumble every once in a while.
They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power, to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The Lord is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.
The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
The Psalms were Grandma Carney’s favorite book of the Bible, and every time David went over to Grandma Carney’s house, she would tell him something else about a psalm. How different the book of Psalms was from the rest of the bible, how different each psalm was from one to the next.
Grandma said that the Book of Psalms was a collection of songs that people gathered together to sing. That people memorized and sung from and read from every day of their lives. Grandma Carney said that a lot of the psalms were written by King David, or at least they say they were.
David didn’t know all that much about King David. He knew enough to realize that King David wasn’t the cleanest spoon in the drawer. There were things that King David did that you can’t really talk about in church, even if they are in the bible. King David wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. And Grandma Carney used to say the Psalms were different because they were written by imperfect people just trying to understand how to live life in the way God wanted them to.
Grandma Carney had told him stories about King David.
How his very best friend Jonathan was killed in battle, and how he suffered the loss of one of his children—it was a tragic loss that King David believed was of his doing—a payback from God for David’s past sin.
King David certainly knew loss and grief. 73 of the Psalms are said to be written by King David, and they’re full of lines like in Psalm 38:
O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you. My heart throbs, my strength fails me; as for the light of my eyes—it also has gone from me. My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction, and my neighbors stand far off.
King David knew how to sing the blues.
Grandma Carney always sang. When she was cooking, gardening, driving, whatever she was doing, she was always singing. David loved spending days over at her house just listening to his grandma sing from a couple rooms away.
David couldn’t imagine a world without his grandma’s voice in it. He remembered countless nights when she would tell him bedtime stories off the top of her head, and then she would sing him a song until he fell asleep. It was the familiarity of her voice that had always comforted him. There were other nights after Grandma Carney tucked him in bed when she would open up the bible—almost to the very center—and she would read David a psalm.
Grandma Carney read him lots of Psalms throughout the years, even after David was too old to be tucked into bed. She would recite some from memory too. Sometimes David thought Grandma recited some pieces of the Psalms without even realizing she was doing it. They would just appear there on her lips as she was cooking dinner or dusting the old furniture.
But by far, the psalm that David heard his grandmother recite most was Psalm 145. Grandma Carney once told him that it was her favorite—that its words got stuck inside of her one day and stayed there.
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
She would almost stop there at “abounding” and let that word just rest there in the air around her. Abounding.
Our God was abounding! Everywhere abounding! Abounding in love! Slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The repetition and the build-up of those words whenever they came from his grandma’s mouth were almost blues-like. Those words were both a celebration of God’s goodness and a plea for more hopeful and abounding days ahead. It was the prayer she prayed most often. Whenever Grandma Carney recited from Psalm 145, it was like Sam Cooke singing,
I was born by the river in a little tent, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since. It’s been a long, long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come, O yes it will.
It’s like The Avett Brothers singing,
There was a dream and one day I could see. Like a bird in a cage, I broke in and demanded that somebody free it. And there was a kid with a head full of doubt, So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out.
Or like the opening words of Psalm 40,
I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock.
Pain and hope and longing mixed together.
David never asked Grandma Carney what weighed her down—maybe it was losing Grandpa Carney 12 years ago. Maybe it was the arthritis in her back that left her bent over in the last years of her life. Yes, the words that Grandma Carney spoke from Psalm 145 were praise but they also seemed to be a desperate prayer to make things right again. Grandma had been through it all, but she always believed that God was good. Even a blues musician’s got to sing a happy song once in a while.
The Lord is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them. The Lord watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy. My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.
As the funeral sermon went on, David opened up his bible to the very center, and he remembered the last thing that Grandma Carney had said to him about the Psalms.
Psalm 145 is the very first of the last 6 psalms—all of which come together to begin an overture of praise unto God. At the end of the Book of Psalms, she said, all of the language of suffering and hardship, all of the anger and grieving gives way to praise and celebration, and that’s the way she intended to live out the last days of her life. Praising.
The last 5 psalms begin and end with the word Alleluia—praise the Lord. That’s why Psalm 145 was always her favorite. It was the beginning of praise. It affirmed that even when life is hard and complex, we should still take time to stop and thank God for God’s goodness.
The rhythm of the Psalms is like the rhythm of the blues and the rhythm of life itself. Yes, there are many things that weigh us down. There is loss and distress, and confusion and sorrow, but the sun comes up at the end of even the longest nights. Grandma Carney’s very life declared that even in the midst of it all, God’s goodness abounds.
The preacher had just ended his sermon, none of which David had heard. The preacher gave a nod which was David’s cue. David stood up and made his way up to the chancel area to follow through on one last promise he made to his grandmother.
After a lifetime of Grandma Carney reading and teaching Psalm 145 to him, it was David’s turn to read it to her.
So David spoke,
I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless you…
God’s goodness abounds.