Bless our God, O peoples; let the sound of his praise be heard,who has kept our soul among the living and has not let our feet slip. (Psalm 66:8-9 ESV)
Yesterday afternoon (4:00 PM), at the Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church, Washington, DC, my pastor, Rev. Gregory Sims, preached a message entitled, “We Serve a Great and Mighty God,” from Psalm 66:8-9. Here is a summary of some of the significant items in the sermon:
1. People crave attention, which is especially notable among sports figures and entertainment personalities. The latter group reveals this in their concert call-and-response, “What’s my name?” Such glory seeking, unfortunately, has infiltrated houses of worship. However, God is the one person who always should be the center of everyone’s attention—who is always worthy of praise.
2. Complaining about our troubles could provide opportunities to limit one’s praise. The amount of trouble we perceive ourselves to have is a matter of perspective. Pastor illustrated this by speaking of a time when he had a terrible pain in his foot while walking through a mall, but as he was leaving the mall he passed by a U.S. veteran who was an amputee and also had obvious discomforts in his remaining leg. At this point, Pastor said that his perspective on his pain changed and he felt very little pain. (He gave a second illustration too long for me to summarize.)
3. “If Israel could call on the [people] to praise the Lord, certainly, having been grafted into [the plan of God], the saints should have no problem praising the mighty God we serve.”
4. Point #1: My praise [of the great and mighty God] should be personal (v. 8a). “Praise occurs when we are saturated with humility. We should consider the majesty of God all [around] us [like the moon above].” Also, “If the nations are but a drop in the bucket, where does that leave you and I?”
5. Point #2: My praise ought to be public (v. 8b). “Some people never [intend to] come to church, so we need to publish our praise [in the world].”
6. Point #3: My praise ought to have purpose (v. 9). He delineated two purposes: My praise ought to exalt the Lord’s preservation, and my praise ought to exalt the Lord’s protection. “Some times we have caused our own pain. How refreshing it is for the Lord to [yet] restore our souls.”
Within the message, Pastor Sims inserted lines from several musical pieces that exalt the greatness of the Lord. He introduced the message with the first stanza and the refrain from, “How Great Thou Art.” He began the first main point of the exposition with the first stanza and refrain of, “Blessed Assurance,” emphasizing the personal nature of the assurance expressed in the hymn: “This is my story.” Before finishing the couplet of v. 8a, he inserted the first stanza and the refrain from, “Oh, How I Love Jesus.” While exalting the Lord for preserving us, he drew from William Cowper’s, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774), and James Cleveland’s, “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” (1991).
Also, Pastor Sims drew from verses from several additional psalms. As fast as I could remember and write, I caught verses from Psalms 8, 103, 121, 124. However, I think I missed verses from at least three other psalms.
Because I teach homiletics, I try to be aware of the means by which preachers get their audiences to listen to their messages. Over the last several years, I have become more appreciative of how African American preaching, in the traditional cultural sense, in terms of style, follows closely Aristotle’s dictates on rhetoric as a whole. Aristotle’s teaching amounts to manipulation, not simply good audience analysis and anthropological observations. However, as Bryan Chapell notes in Christ-Centered Preaching, Biblical preaching must consider logos (content), pathos (passion) and ethos (character) (p. 34). So the God-fearing preacher must exercise caution in his use of words to manipulate the minds and hearts of his hearers, only stirring our affections toward God (as John Piper is fond of saying).
From Pastor Sims every Sunday I get this God-exalting manipulation of heart and mind toward the glory of Christ, his work in the plan of God for us, and the implications for our daily living in the world. I saw it on full display last evening as Pastor reminded us – in a string of things the Lord has done for us in redemption that was far too long and moving for me to write (!) – that God does everything good for us that we experience. Thus, He is great and mighty, and worthy of all our praise.
It has been many years since I have enjoyed the singing of a mass choir. Yesterday, hearing New Canaan Baptist Church’s mass choir exalt Christ in song also brought great joy to my soul.