Hearing the Noise

March 2nd, 2013

The scene is a children’s Sunday school room. Ten or twelve children, three to seven years old, sit on the floor around the minister of music. She has handed out an array of instruments from maracas to tambourines to claves to bells. As she reads Psalm 150, she alters the words to include the instruments the children hold. When a child hears the name of his or her instrument, she (or he) plays it with silly exuberance. The reading reflects part of Psalm 150, but the sounds certainly connect with Psalm 100, “Make a joyful noise to the LORD” (v. 1).

But back to Psalm 150. While typical praise psalms call the hearers to voice their devotion and then go on to state why God deserves praise, the text of Psalm 150 is only a call to praise God. The psalm itself gives no reason why we should praise God, no concrete experience that has precipitated such a response. Praise is all you get if you maintain a myopic reading of the final psalm. If you want to know about reasons, you have to look deeper, read more, remember, and hear the noise.

You have to hear the noise of the Psalter itself. The story told by the Psalter as we have it today moves us, the readers, through the troubling history of the Israelites. Some biblical scholars believe the Psalter was written in five parts that they call “books.” While book one recalls the good times of King David, by the time we get to book three, the Davidic king is gone and the covenant in tatters. We read cries of desperation and defeat. We remember the Exile. Today, we remember the Holocaust as well. Then the Psalter begins to move us in the direction of Moses and a time when the Israelites put their trust in God. By the time we get to the end of book five and the end of the Psalter, a new declaration of trust in God is sung. The new song, however, comes only after a journey into national pain.

You also have to hear the unpleasant noise in individual lives. I do not know about you, but I am much more likely to listen to declarations of sweeping, unconditional praise from a person or a group of people I know to have experienced hardship. “Praise God!” from a twenty-something middle-class yuppie sounds different in my ears than “Praise God!” from a WWII veteran. Consider the following statement made by a member of my church family: “I am confident that God has a plan, and I have faith that God can use all things to God’s glory . . . He performed miracles then, and I know God will do so again.” If I did not know her story, I’d be tempted to wrinkle my nose and think to myself that she is using God to justify reality. The noise of her life, however, is that this thirty-something woman, after being in remission for ten years, has just had a third of her right lung removed due to metastasized cancer. When she sings, “Praise God!” I listen.

You have to hear the messy noise of Easter too. Last Sunday’s celebration of Easter resurrection did not occur in a vacuum. It came only after we as a community of faith passed through Lent, and particularly through Maundy Thursday. During Lent, as we considered our humanity, we realized again that we are who we are, we have what we have, only by the grace of God. Even so, faced with a Jesus who lived with and for us, we are still tempted, with Peter, to disown harsh realities. We come to the cross with our eyes closed and our minds already on the empty tomb. We come forgetting that real suffering took place that night, forgetting that our sin was implicated in that suffering, closing our ears to the One who cried, “Abba, Abba!” I suggest that “He’s alive!” is a miracle; but “He who begged, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ is raised from the dead!” is salvation.

I believe that individual declarations of “Praise God!” are still more descriptive than they are prescriptive. When pushed to reflect on our sentiments, few of us would simply say, “Praise God. No reason. Just praise God.” Most of us would remember times when despite the unpleasantness of our lives, we knew peace, comfort, clarity, and vision. Most of us would acknowledge that even a seemingly smooth life has had its crises. We would listen to the noise in our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters. In listening we would acknowledge the humanity and the grace around us. We would see the hungry, the lonely, the sick, and the tired. We would walk with one another and this world, and be moved. We would feed, befriend, heal, and grant rest. Lives would know resurrection, and before long, all that has breath would praise the Lord. This, my fellow listeners, is the gospel.

In a few weeks, those same children who played instruments to Psalm 150 during Sunday school will take their praise into worship. They will hand out instruments all over the congregation and invite others to join in playing as Psalm 150 is read in the sanctuary. While God in the mighty heavens hears praise, I will be hearing noise. I will hear the noise of the hurts, the triumphs, the worries, and the anticipations of all who play their instruments. In the midst of the noise, I will know that the God of grace is even now working miracles of resurrection. Praise the Lord.

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