Sunday, 23 March 2014

Sermon 16th March 2014 Psalm 121 – A Psalm for Life’s Journey Anne

Sermon 16th March 2014 Psalm 121 – A Psalm for Life’s Journey Anne Mountains can be places where literally being on ‘top of the world’ can be liberating and awe inspiring; do you remember from the Sound of Music, those opening aerial shots where Julie Andrews as Sister Maria runs and twirls freely on the Austrian hilltop? Maria’s joy and happiness seemed to radiate from the mountain top and the views of the Austrian lake district were beautiful and idyllic. Maybe the Psalmist, the person who wrote and spoke the words of Psalm 121, was looking expectantly at the mountains surrounding Jerusalem in Judaea. Maybe he was lifting his eyes hopefully towards the hills and pondering wistfully on the goal of his pilgrimage journey; maybe they reminded him of his destination - the Temple in Jerusalem standing on top of Mount Zion. But mountains can also be places of danger. Back in August 2006, we walked the Coast-to-Coast long distance path from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay on the East Coast. It was a journey with plenty of hills! It rains in the Lake District and as we set out on the last Lake District section, the weather changed for the worst. As we climbed higher and higher up the mountain, the temperature fell dramatically. And then suddenly and without warning, swirling dark grey clouds rolled in and shrouded us in a freezing cold hailstorm. With no shelter, all we could do was crouch down beside the remains of a dry stone wall to avoid the stinging hailstones lashing our faces. With no visibility, no view and no landmarks to pinpoint our location and proximity to the edge, being on top of a mountain is a precarious place to be; all we could do was wait until the mist cleared. Those lovely, inviting hills had become a place of danger and threat; a place where we were exposed and vulnerable. Maybe the Psalmist looked up at those Judean Hills with fear and trepidation, knowing that the journey would not be easy. Bandits and wild animals hide in hills, heatstroke and exhaustion can overtake you. Hills can be places of refuge and beauty, but also places of menace. Either way, help comes from only one source - “Where does my help come from?” the Psalmist asks, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” he responds. The Psalmist’s pilgrim journey towards Jerusalem included physical ups and downs as he traversed the hills and the valleys, but maybe he would have also experienced emotional and spiritual ups and downs too. One moment ‘on top of the world’ and the next exposed, doubtful and vulnerable. As we journey through Lent, as we pilgrim towards Easter Sunday, we can reflect on our ups and downs, joys and sadness, hope and despair. Some of us may feel closest to God when we are faced with hard times. We call out in desperation to Him when all else fails and when we are at our most needy. When we realise our limits, we seek Him more than ever. But then when things start to resolve themselves, we don’t seem to call on Him as much and often we forget He’s even there. In contrast, some of us may feel closest to God in the midst of the good times. When everything’s going well, we can confidently answer the question “Where does my help come from?” with a speedy response “My help comes from the Lord.” But when we are faced with life’s challenges and despair, such as economic hardship, physical illness and loss of a loved one, we’re knocked back and discouraged and wonder why God has let something so awful happen. And we pray, and it seems like God is not answering … maybe he’s not listening … and our response to the question “Where does my help come from?” is followed by a long pause, and a reticent reply ….”my help … comes from … the Lord”. How can we be confident of God’s presence in times of doubt or challenge? The Psalmist reminds us of how great our God is. Help comes from the Creator God, the Maker of heaven and earth, nothing is beyond His reach and control. Not even the hills or the mountains. And in the words of what seems like a blessing, a voice in the Psalm reminds us of who God is and what he does. He is the majestic helper, the faithful keeper. When the way is uncertain and precarious He protects us. He will not let our feet slip, He will not let your feet slip. He is always vigilant, always watching over us. His watchful eye is constant, never ceasing, never sleeping. And even though we may forget He’s there, He’s never distracted, never day dreaming, never inattentive towards us. He watches over us, not from a distant place, but in close proximity at our right hand. He protects us from all the perils of the day and night. He does not abandon us even when times are good or when times are dark. He watches over our lives. This does not mean though that we will always be ‘on top of the world’ or that we will not suffer. We only have to listen to stories about Christians being persecuted in Syria or North Korea to know that’s not the case. And we, like everyone else, face redundancies, economic hardship, injustices, sickness and bereavement. But God is not only the Creator and Maker of heaven and earth, he is our redeemer and Saviour. His loving care for us goes far beyond what we or the Psalmist might be able to imagine. He withholds nothing from us, not even His Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). And there we have it – eternal life – what ever this world holds we are promised life with him – a life beyond our present anxieties and sufferings, beyond this life’s ups and downs. A life that’s not limited by time; His care is eternal; he is committed to being with us … always. And so, you can raise your eyes to the mountains and whatever they might hold for you, confident that your help comes from the Lord because He: “will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore” (verse 8). Amen Additional Information Psalms 120-134 are labelled as “A Song of Ascents”. Although we cannot be sure, some scholars think these were the songs sung by the Israelites as they made pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the 3 major feasts each year. As they sung the Psalms travelling on the roads leading up to Jerusalem, they would also be preparing themselves to bring their sacrifices before God in the Temple.

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