Praise the Lord, all you who fear the Lord.
All the children of Jacob; all the people of Israel.
Praise the Lord all the nations; to the ends of the earth!
All you who prosper, Praise the Lord.
All you who have died and generations yet to come,
Praise the Lord!
This is not an “Atta-boy” for God. Not a “Good job; well done!” and then go about our business. God doesn’t need our congratulations.
In praising God, we praise God’s priorities, God’s mission. We align ourselves with God, giving our hearts, our minds, our wills, and our actions.
And what are God’s priorities? This is the psalm that begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is the cry of one person in extreme suffering and isolation, in the depths of despair, crying out to God for help, for salvation; to pull them out of the chaos and into harmony with God.
Then the psalm turns to praise: “Save me… I will praise you in the congregation;” and the chorus of praise then expands not only beyond the people of Israel to all nations, to the ends of the earth, but across time, across generations to those who have come before and to generations not yet born.
Why? They praise because God does not turn away from the afflicted – from the poor and those who cry out for help – God hears their cries. The psalmist proclaims, “I will perform my vows before all who fear God. The poor shall eat and be satisfied.” This call to Praise is a call to align ourselves with God. We can see some signs of this in other lessons this morning, as well.
In the reading from Genesis, God and Abram are talking, for the fourth time! about God’s promise of progeny and property; children and land. About the Covenant. But this time, it’s not about Abram. This is about Sarai.
Abram already has a son, Ishmael, with Hagar, Sarai’s serving-woman. Here, God makes clear that the Covenant is with Sarai as well. There is no Covenant without her.
Abram is getting an alignment check here, aligning with God’s priorities and purpose. Their descendants will be God’s doing, not their own.
And perhaps to make the point, God changes their names: from Abram, exalted father, to Abraham, father of multitudes; and from Sarai, my princess, to Sarah, Princess.
God calls them (and us) back into alignment with God’s purpose.
And finally, let’s look at the gospel reading. Now, I realize the lectionary has us jump back and forth a lot in Mark’s gospel, so, first let’s get a little oriented. Last week, we heard about the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – his baptism, temptation in the desert, and beginning to proclaim the Good News.
Today, we’ve jumped ahead and we’re well into Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. This is just before he begins his final journey to Jerusalem and his Passion.
The disciples have been with him seeing him cast out demons, heal the sick, and feed the multitudes, and hearing him teach to ever-growing crowds. He has calmed the storm and walked on water, crossed societal boundaries and norms and challenged the religious authorities. He even sent them out to do some of those things themselves.
So, when Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” in the verse right before the beginning of today’s passage, Peter blurts out, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus responds, telling them to tell no one, and in today’s reading, he begins to teach them just what that will mean. It means that continuing to do what he’s been doing, what he came to do, tending to God’s priorities: people who are poor, sick, outcast, will provoke those with power to strike back. He will suffer and die because of it. But he will not back off or back down, even to save his own life.
Of course, that’s not the kind of Messiah Peter and the others were hoping for or expecting. Peter can’t bear the thought of his beloved friend, mentor, leader suffering like that and so he protests. And yet, that’s the Good News, that Jesus does not back down from God’s priorities even though it means humiliating torture and death.
The hard news is what Jesus then says to the crowd, “If anyone wants to be my follower, let them renounce themselves,” their own priorities, “take up their cross and follow me.” They must align with God’s purpose, even though they will experience backlash.
This is what it means to be Messiah: not glory, but a mission that can end only in backlash and death. This is what it means to follow Jesus: work for the sake of the gospel, even when it gets push-back from those in power.
All this is about a form of repentance. In the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about self-examination and repentance as turning away from evil or sin or distractions. We’ve talked about repentance as turning toward God. Now we’re looking at repentance as aligning with God’s purpose for our lives and for the world. It’s about a change of heart and mind. But repentance bears fruit, as John the Baptizer proclaimed. Repentance manifests in changing behavior and actions.
We have to start with self-examination. What and who else do we praise? With what and whose priorities do we align? For example, “Success” Do we praise, admire, and emulate those who are seen as successful, even when they exploit or destroy for personal gain?
Perhaps repentance begins and ends with Praise. In praising God, and continuing to praise, we align or realign our hearts, our minds, and our lives with God.