Wait. Are we talking about gratitude or about joy? Yes! We are staking a claim in this series that gratitude and joy are intertwined. In some ways, they are indistinguishable. Certainly, from the outside, joy looks like gratitude and gratitude looks like joy. We could get into a chicken and egg kind of conversation here if we wanted to. Does a life of gratitude lead to joy? Or does a joyful outlook make us more grateful? Again, we can only say … Yes! It would be hard to differentiate between the two. So, let’s not even try. Our hymn of grateful praise is a joyous song to sing.
So, we begin with a familiar song. Psalm 100 is an interesting psalm that straddles categories and defies being put into a simple box. It follows a series of enthronement psalms and has some similarities with them, though it is not usually considered one. It follows a familiar pattern of a praise psalm, but tosses in a verse that stands apart, in a way. The superscription seems straightforward, but it also presents a puzzle. This psalm is all over the place, which might be a perfect way to describe a life of joyful gratitude. It’s all over the place.
The superscription simply says, “a psalm of thanksgiving.” What could there be to argue there? Not argue, per se, but point out that the word here could mean being thankful in a general sense, or it could mean making a sacrifice on the altar in worship. We could suggest that both are useful for us in understanding the life of gratitude that we’re called to. On the one hand, there is the idea that thankfulness covers all of life; it is our way of approaching the world and the attitudes with which we choose to live. On the other hand, there is a clear indication that we are making a commitment to God in our choice to live a grateful life. A sacrifice means that there is some cost, some effort on our part. We surrender our inclinations to think the world revolves around us. We bow down in service, looking to the needs of others before our own needs.
We enter the gates with thanksgiving. But what does that mean? Do we come to church with grateful hearts? Well, of course, we do. But more than that, we pass through every door with gratitude in our minds and hearts. We enter our own homes, grateful for the family of which we are a part. We go out into the world grateful for the abundance we take for granted way too often. We encounter others and give thanks for the gift of life that they are, even the ones we sometimes struggle to get along with.
This lifestyle is our joyful noise. This isn’t about singing songs. Or maybe it is, but our songs may be spoken as well as sung. We are using our presence to bring joy into the world around us. And it only takes a quick look around to see how countercultural such an idea really is. We are called to worship the Lord with gladness. But the word translated as worship does not mean a worship service; it means a worship-centered life. Yes, what we do in the hour we gather with the body in the sanctuary of the church matters, and we ought to do it with as much gratitude and joy as we can muster. But to “worship the Lord with gladness” is what we do in our homes and places of work, in our neighborhoods, and on our playgrounds. We live out the worship of God by giving thanks anywhere and everywhere we can. As noisily as possible.
There are imperatives throughout this short psalm. Worship! Enter! Give thanks! Make a joyful noise! But there is one in the middle that looks different. Know. There are lots of things that we can do and need to do. But we are also commanded by the psalmist to know. There is something driving all that doing; there is something behind this joyful gratitude. We know that the Lord is God. Look at how the verse describes that knowing: “It is he that made us, and we are his.” The pronouns for God surround the pronouns for us and then are repeated: “We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” It is this boundedness of our lives in God that brings forth the gratitude we are invited to express with joy. We have been gathered up; we belong; we are a part of something that is infinitely bigger than we can see. Of course, gratitude is the only proper response. Especially when the psalm concludes with a description of this God who has gathered us. The Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations. Amen and amen.