Sunday, April 01, 2018

My Richest Praise

The opening lines of the hymn for Easter Sunday’s Morning Prayer in “A Shorter Morning and Evening Prayer” are:-

“Bring, all ye dear-bought nations, bring, alleluia
Your richest praise to your King, alleluia”

“Our richest praise”. I wonder what that really looks like. “Our richest anything” given to God – I wonder, too, what that looks like.

We make a big deal of the big celebrations of Easter and Christmas. We pull out all the strings. And yes, so we should. Those are the days that people who are strangers to churches and to worship make an appearance.

It is in the day to day ordinariness of life that we make our biggest impact. Our richest praise is not pulled out of the drawer and brushed off on special days – but every single day. The middle of the week Wednesdays as well and the end of the week Saturdays should see us demonstrating richest praise.

I felt very keenly some of the words from Malachi 1:-

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name. But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ By offering defiled food on my altar. But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’….

When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty. “Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty. “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

I get the impression that if Jesus had his own way as he watched the widow carefully put her two copper coins into the offering at the temple that day, he might have pulled out the heavy bags the rich had so carelessly tossed in and handed them back. He might have said to them, “I am not pleased with you and I will accept no offering from your hands.”

Sometimes I find it easier to give what’s not always the richest. Sometimes I convince myself that I can’t afford to give what is the richest, as if I will end up with too little myself. Like some of the rich people giving their offerings, I toss in something that I can afford to let go of. I don’t always count out what is precious and surrender it to God’s hand cheerfully. I know people that do and the joy that fills their faces is all too evident.

Over the weekend I have had my fill of the nod to Easter in TV programmes. I began watching a three part drama on the life of Jesus. I barely made it to the end of the first episode. The absence of God in the narrative annoyed me. There was no dream to tell Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to safety but just a feeling something was wrong. There was no dove fluttering down, no voice of God claiming His Son at the baptism of Jesus – just John and Jesus alone in a river. There were no spoken words rebuking a demon or a command given, just a hug and a holding close and a quiet recovery from something not clearly identified as demon possession.

God has been erased from the story and Jesus, in the first episode, was not dynamic or charismatic, God-soaked or vibrant.
“What’s so different about your life?” said God, “Do the words dynamic or charismatic, God-soaked or vibrant apply to you?”

Ouch!  I have my moments. Too few of them.

The programme might have been striving not to offend, not to come too clearly down on the God side of the fence. Jesus never lived His without causing offence and sometimes deliberately so. His words take a sleeping man by the shoulders and give him a good shake to remind him that he is only sleeping and not dead, and he needs to wake up. Offence wakes us up.

In George Hebert’s poem “Easter”, which I also read this morning, his chosen method of praise is the lute. His heart, the strings and the Spirit combine to bring about his richest praise. My chosen method is poetry – my heart, the words and the Spirit combine as I weave a poem.

My richest praise. My richest everything given to God. Today.

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