By Derek Weber
Week 2 – Psalm 121 (NRSV)
March 8, 2020
I lift up my eyes to the hills-- from where will my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
Week 2: Going Out and Coming In
It’s only week two in Lent; there’s a long road ahead of us. Yet, if we’re not careful, we can begin to stop paying attention. We can begin to fall into the routine of the Lenten season. Let’s not forget that Lent is about upsetting the routine and turning us inward and outward at the same time. God is here, even in the most routine moments of our lives. As we journey through this season, when we pay attention and when we forget to, when we go out and when we come in, we are not alone. In the morning when we rise, give me Jesus.
Suggested Spiritual: “Give Me Jesus”
As you sit down to work on your sermon for this week, spend a few moments reflecting on all the miles you traveled. From visits to meetings to counseling sessions to events, how many steps has your pedometer clocked? Probably not enough, you’re thinking, you’ve got to be more active. Maybe it hasn’t been foot traffic. Maybe you’ve been in your car, which is beginning to feel more like home than the comfy chair you sit in there. Perhaps you were driving to a district event that was clear on the other end this time, or driving to the hospital in the next town because the member of your church has something the doctors in your local hospital can’t handle, or driving to the soup kitchen with a team of youth who would rather be almost anywhere else. Or maybe you aren’t traveling a physical distance at all, but an emotional going and coming, as you navigate a conversation between a couple on the brink of abandoning their twenty-plus year marriage. Or maybe it’s the emotional miles you’ve negotiated between the many sides of current church debates.
You’ve covered a lot of ground, and sometimes you wonder if there is anything to show for it. And if you’re honest with yourself, there are times when you wonder if you are making all those journeys alone and carrying all those burdens alone. If you don’t ever think that, be assured that there are some who will sit in front of you when you preach who do think that. There are people who have felt alone in the miles that they travel and who have felt alone in their coming and in their going. That is why we need Psalm 121.
“A Song of Ascents” is another name for Psalm 121. Eugene Peterson (The Message) names it “A Pilgrim Song.” It is a psalm sung by the people of God as they made their way to the temple. You may remember that Jerusalem is built on a plateau, so that no matter from which direction you are traveling toward Jerusalem, you are going up. “We went up to Jerusalem,” the pilgrims would say to their neighbors and family when they returned home, whether they went north or south. And the temple was located on the highest part of the city of Jerusalem. So, the whole journey was a journey up. The journey upward was true in terms of altitude, but also in terms of theology.
Although this psalm was used most often for the journey to worship, to ascend to the holy hill, and to abide in the presence of God, the psalms were not just about the worship life of the people of God. The psalms were about the whole life and every aspect, all the goings and comings. The psalms are reminders that our whole life is about how we worship God and how we abide in God’s presence. Worship is not just about an hour on Sunday or whenever you gather with the community to worship God corporately. Psalm 121 is about all of life and about the promise of presence.
Notice how many times the psalm uses a form of the word “keep.” Shamar in Hebrew appears six times in these eight verses. It would be wise to wrestle with the idea of God keeping God’s people. It is too easy to fall into the idea that sticking with God will mean that nothing bad will ever happen to you. “(God) will not let your foot be moved” sounds like that may be the case. Yet our experience tells us otherwise. We know that “bad things happen to good people” all the time. So, what does this keeping mean for us today?
Verse five says “the Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.” Your shade: That’s the same word that elsewhere is translated as shadow, as in “the shadow of God’s wings.” It is a comforting presence, an affirming assurance, a protective certainty that you are on the right path, when you stick to this shadow. It’s true that shadows are often depicted as evil; but in a desert culture, the shadow of the tent or the temporary shade from a passing cloud is a blessed relief from the burning sun. We embrace the shadow; we can relax in that grace.
In the morning when I rise / In the morning when I rise / In the morning when I rise / give me Jesus. The spiritual sings of a presence that is available in our going out and coming in. This is not a magical protection from the bumps and bruises of a complicated world, but a constant companion on the journey of our lives. And the more we claim that presence, the more we follow that guidance, the more we will be able to avoid the slipping of the foot and the burning of the sun.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in. Give me Jesus / give me Jesus / you can have all this world / give me Jesus.