Sermon, Lent 2A, Sunday March 12, 2017
St Petri (Pastor Adrian Kitson)
A song of ascents.1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.3 He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber;4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.5 The Lord watches over you – the Lord is your shade at your right hand;6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.7 The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life;8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore.http://stpetri.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/20170312_message.mp3
I don’t know how many times I have prayed, spoken, declared and hung on to this Psalm. In hospital rooms, prison cells, back patios, lounge rooms, park benches and church buildings – this song is a source of immeasurable com fort when the journey is rough and the future uncertain.
It is a psalm for our journey in Lent. Let me explain…
Kalbarri Gorge in WA restrains the Murchison River. The place is rough, at times harsh, even deadly, but beautiful; red ochre cliffs, patterned sandstone rocks, white sand, water holes and ghost gums. A popular place for hikers.
Anyone hiking the gorge knows that you need crucial things in order to stay safe in the journey. Water, footwear and food, and of course, protection from the cold moonlit night and scorching Aussie sun by day.
This psalm is for a journey. It is called “A song of Ascents”. This is a song for a person of faith in the God of creation to sing while hiking up to the temple mount in Jerusalem. It keeps them in relationships with him on the journey.
The walking traveler has to navigate rough country that has its natural and other dangers in that part of the world. The Judean wilderness is a treeless, up and down desert of steep hills and slippery rock gorges. Unstable sharp rocks, heat, snakes, wolves, even bears are known dangers. Of course, little water is THE danger. There are human enemies too, such as robbers with plenty of places to ambush you. Remember the Parable Jesus tells of the Good Samaritan?
And there is another danger. It is a spiritual life killer. On many of the high points of those hills would be statues and other things of stone of wood representing gods of various kinds claiming to be the gods who shape the universe and control your journey.
If you leave some figs or grapes or dates at a few chosen idols along the way, it may go better for you on this journey. You sacrifice precious resources to these idols in the hope that this will bring safety, security and peace on the journey.
Can you see why this song for the journey to God begins the way it does?
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from?
Good question for us, the pilgrim people of God, on the journey ascending to our final destination of life forever beyond the grave with our heavenly Father.
The ancient travelers saw the gods as they journeyed on. As we journey on in a life that has its pain, loss, health issues, relationship issues, anxiety about our world, our cynical and secularizing Western world, we search for and see the gods of our age.
What precious resources are you sacrificing to these idols in the hope that this will bring safety, security and peace on the journey?
You can tell you are dealing with idols when you hear this within yourself or others…
If only I could have that assurance that my life will count to someone
If only I could look like that
If only I could earn that kind of money and one day have that life
If only I could be like him.
If only I could find a trustworthy man for life
If only I could find someone to love for life
If only I could get rid of that debilitating weakness.
If only I could live like they all want me to live
These gods we make attempt to derail our ascent with Christ. They are used by the Evil One to get us to trust them more than Jesus’ word, for the things we need.
If I trust that by doing this activity and rub shoulders with those people, my life will count for something.
If I do this or that, then I will find satisfaction and meaning for which I crave.
If I tread on only a few people, ignore God’s call to live justly, ignore the needs, even blame them for their silly behaviour and lack of life skills, then I will create that financial security for myself and my family – and that is everything.
And so it goes.
So, we look to those hills and imagine how we can make the journey of our lives better, more comfortable, more successful, more fulfilling, more meaningful, all the while shading our eyes from the promises of Jesus that will do more than they could ever do.
We dice with the doubt and danger by leaving a few figs here, a few grapes there, a few dollars to that heart-felt aspiration in the hope that it will go better for us.
This is what has to happen, for the gods of the world demand sacrifice – and sacrifice in ever increasing amounts.
As we look to the hills instead of looking the God who created those hills, the relationship of trust between us is broken. Without hardly knowing at first, we put ourselves on a head long journey to emptiness and loneliness down in the dark shadows at the bottom of the gorge.
Why? For one reason: the gods of stone and wood and fame and fortune and self-focus and human glory cannot deliver what they promise. They are fake. They are imposters. They are a lie and in looking to them for life, we die that little bit more.
But, thanks God, the song goes on; and quickly!
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
In a flash, our “what if” longings are focused on the Creator Lord who created our life and holds it still.
Unlike the gods on the hills, the Lord God is a real person with a real history of love for us. The Lord sees, hears, acts and speaks. He is breath, spirit and truth.
It was a common belief among Israel’s neighbors that their gods “slept” (or died) during winter months and at night time, but revived in the day and the seasons of growth and harvest. But the song writer proclaims that Lord does not sleep – ever. Therefore our God is able to keep constant watch over his travelling people.
Friend, that is who he is and what he is about for you in your journey now – your “keeper”.
3 He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber;4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Psalmist probably could never have imagined the stumbling feet of the Son of God covered in dust and blood ascending to that cross at the hill of Golgotha when he sung this song, but who know this Jesus can. Jesus’ foot slipped. Jesus feet bled.
Under the scorching sun he falls. In the darkness that shrouded the world that day, he plunges to his human death with his back to the wood. And as he does we hear God speak, we see him act, we see our Great High Priest who is familiar with all our ways. We see him bleed, we hear him teach, we sing with him. We see him rise and ascend and rule and invite us into his rule of grace.
He prays for us, we pray to him for each other. He is our ‘keeper’, “protector’, and friend.
5 The Lord Jesus watches over you – the Lord Jesus is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.7 The Lord Jesus will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life;
Friends, with a Shade, Shelter and Saviour like Jesus, the “what ifs” of life become, “Who cares”!
It is true; full life, new life for everyday, true hope for a life that counts, a better marriage, more meaningful and satisfying work, better watching and leading of our kids, our congregation, our friends and the strangers the Lord puts on our journey all are found in him in total.
We live in the light and shade of Christ and him crucified – the power of God at work in us and his world for freedom, love and compassion.
Take your eyes off those “what if” gods on the hill and look to the only God who speaks and acts in love for you at great cost to himself in the Cross of Christ.
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore.
Read the Psalm slowly noting the images used, the challenge and the comfort in the psalm. Share these…
Share about a time you went on a hike. What were the dangers. What was scary and what was beautiful?
This is a psalm for a journey. What are the dangers of the journey mentioned throughout the psalm. List these.
If we picture our life in Christ as a journey, what dangers have we to face.?
How does your foot “foot slip” spiritually?
How do you “look to the mountains’ (and gods) more than look to Jesus? You could reflect on those “What if” longing I mentioned here and discuss them as they relate to you or those you know.
How do we find our way in the dark (when we just don’t know what to do or to whom we can go for leadership).
How do you stop from being burnt by the sun spiritually. Where do you look for shade when you are feeling a bit ‘burnt’?
Can you place Jesus in this Psalm? If you speak the psalm adding in the name of Jesus after “Lord”, that might help you find great encouragement for us who are modern day travellers.
I mentioned Jesus feet ‘slipping’ as he ascended that other hill named Golgotha. What comfort does trusting that Jesus is our keeper who knows how we can so easily slip and lose our way give you. Describe your trust in him and even share an experience where he did stop you from falling into a dark or dangerous place.
Thanks God for his ‘keeping’ of us and pray for his ‘keeping’ in whatever specific places/situations people find themselves in at the moment.