Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights!
I met Rev. Alan Combs for the first time at Annual Conference when I was in college. I was a lay representative for my home church and was preparing to start applying to seminary so I spent time wandering around the display areas to learn more about the United Methodist affiliated seminaries. I was standing in front of the Duke Divinity School display when Alan walked over and introduced himself. He was wearing a black clergy shirt with a white collar, he had a ponytail and a goatee, and he had a Chrome messenger bag slung over his shoulder. To put it simply: he looked cool.
Years later I was sitting in a classroom while Alan was leading us through the art of Wesleyan preaching. The room was filled with novice pastors and Alan was trying to steer us in the right direction to avoid falling into common preaching ditches. I remember still thinking he looked cool, but his dedication to the vocation and to the church quickly overshadowed his physical appearance.
Alan guided us through some of Wesley’s sermon, he had us break into groups to talk about our own preaching styles, and he asked for us to share examples of how we plan and prepare sermons. But at the end of the class he offered some advice that has stayed with me ever since: Avoid “lettuce” sermons. There is a strong temptation to take text, pray over it, and then offer a sermon with a conclusion that starts with “let us…” For Alan, the desire to transform every bit of God’s Word into an applicable life lesson only perpetuates the worship focus on the people worshipping rather than on God. The people sitting in the pews have been conditioned to ask, “What is in this for me?” and if we use “lettuce” sermons, we will continue to spend time wrapped up in our own little worlds.
The entirety of Psalm 148 is a faithful reminder, like Alan’s advice, that it is good and right for us to take the focus off of ourselves. The psalm calls all who hear it to praise the Lord with actions that draw our focus toward all that the Lord has done instead of our little bubbles. It is a powerful proclamation that God is God and we are not. It cautions us against believing that the bible is about us, and forces us to confront the fact the bible is actually about God.
The powerful gift of scripture is the fact that it can speak into our lives. We can pick up our bibles to read, or be sitting in a pew during worship, and believe that those words were meant for us to hear. But our desire to make scripture into our own guidebook (in addition to the many ways we twist God’s Word around to fit our own agendas) is reason enough for us to remember to praise the Lord, and not ourselves.