THE WORD!              Psalm 146!

Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

     10 The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

MESSAGE!      “Exclamation Point!”    Rev. James Renfrew!

As may know, my granddaughter is in a bilingual program at  the newly renamed Anna Murray Douglas School #12 in Rochester.  Her teacher uses English and Spanish interchangeably throughout the school day.  It also means that half of my granddaughter’s  homework must be done in Spanish.  Since I do a lot of the homework support each week my own abilities with Spanish have been improving.  Improved vocabulary, better verb forms, and, with her help, better pronunciation.

One difference between Spanish and English is the use of the exclamation point.  In English, the exclamation point is at the end of the sentence or phrase.  You can see that abundantly demonstrated in this morning’s bulletin.  I made liberal use of the exclamation point in every way that I could.  It appears almost one hundred times.

But when compared with the Spanish exclamation point, “punto de exclamacion”, English misses half the impact, because when you use an exclamation point in Spanish, the punto de exclamacion appears twice, once at the end of the sentence, but also at the beginning of the sentence.  So in English, your first clue that the phrase is an exclamation is when you get to the end of the phrase, but in Spanish you are tipped off right at the beginning.  “Look at the dog!”  “!Mira al pero!”

One other thing about “puntos de exclamacion” is that when they appear at the start of a sentence or phrase, they are upside down.  The dot  is at the top of it, instead of at the bottom.

So our bulletin has nearly 100 exclamation points. If it was printed in Spanish it would have nearly two hundred puntos de exclamacion.  If an exclamation point represents excitement, our bulletin in Spanish would demonstrate twice as much excitement, twice as much joy, twice as much praise.

So why am I talking about punctuation in a Sunday sermon?  It comes right from the text.  Psalm 146 begins with this exciting phrase:  “Praise the Lord!”, with an exclamation point.  Words like that are just begging to be shouted, sung, and amplified for all to hear.  Don’t be quiet about your praise, let everyone know about it.  It’s the heart of stewardship – don’t just enjoy the blessings of Jesus Christ, tell the world about them in who you are and how you live.

I thought we might be taking a big risk by approaching stewardship with our music.  We’re much more accustomed to looking at financial statements and making mathematical calculations at this time of year, so sharing music is a very different approach.  But it makes sense because music is all about generosity in sharing our voices and our instrumental talents, learning new songs, teaching new songs, composing new songs, and living new songs.  What matters in the end is not the church budget, but all of us living lives of praise for God in Jesus Christ, praise that we sing and praise that we demonstrate by our actions!  My last sentence, by the way, finished with an exclamation point, because I think how important it is to understand “Praise the Lord!” as words and as deeds.

The original Hebrew text of the Old Testament has no punctuation at all.  Last night I learned that the exclamation point entered the English language in the 15th century as a way to show emphasis, or even wonderment.  Here’s something I bet you didn’t know, the shape of the exclamation point is based on the Latin word “io” or “joy”, i-o, shortened with the “I” above the “O”.

At first look, Psalm 146 seems to be all about praise.  Praise is how the Psalm begins, and Praise is how it concludes.  But there’s much more to it than that.

When I was in college, there was a rumor that one of our professors would never read through your entire term paper after you turned it in,  that he only read the first and last page.  If the rumor was true, I suppose the professor had learned through the years that the introduction and conclusion was all that he needed to read to quickly determine the quality of the term paper.

Of course we all talked about submitting 20 page term papers with just a first and last page, and eighteen pages in the middle written in gibberish, but to my knowledge to one ever tried that!  Too risky, I guess.

I was reminded of this college memory at Monday’s Bible Study.  Our friend Bill is still at home recovering from hip surgery, but Jim had recorded Bill’s comments about Psalm 146 from over the telephone, and then played his words to us.

Some would say that this is a Praise Psalm, and you can see why, because the first and last verses urge us all to praise God, but Bill commented that these opening and  closing verses are like the envelope or the bookends that the main message is found within.

The beginning and the end of the Psalm urges you to praise God, but in this Psalm the how is not specified, it’s left up to you to offer your praise in whatever way feels best, in your singing, in your writing, in your poetry, in your dancing, in painting and drawing, in your contemplation, in your speaking, in your shouting, in your whispering, in how you give yourself for the sake of others, whatever it takes to let the whole world know that your heart is full of praise for God.

But I agree with Bill that it’s the middle of the Psalm that is the important part, because it doesn’t tell you how to praise, it explains why you should praise God.

Why praise God?  Because God listens to our hopes and acts upon them.  Because of God we have hope for justice and fairness in a world with too many self-serving despots, we have hope that the hungry will be fed, that the imprisoned will be freed, that the blind will see, that strangers will be welcomed, that God’s attention is not on the wealthy and powerful, but always upon the most vulnerable.

It’s obvious to all of us that these hopes are not close to being realized,  and in fact these hopes seem further away than ever.  But here’s the key:  the things we hope for may not yet be accomplished, but that the sounds of praise lead us forward, out of griping and complaining, or resignation to doing the things now that allow us to live into our hopes.  So our praise is not just wishing, it is engaging with the way things are to create the things that will be.  Our praise leads us forward into the challenges of faith and living.

This is the heart of stewardship, full engagement in the mission of Jesus Christ!  And, of course, I end this message with an exclamation point!