Saturday, 8 August 2015

Summer psalms - A sermon on 121

Psalm 121
My Help Comes from the Lord
A Song of Ascents.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

This psalm has a personal significance for me as it was these very words which were spoken over my dear friend, mentor and minister Rev Paul Breeze when he was in hospital. These words gave comfort to his loved ones as they sat by his bed side and they strengthened them and others who also loved him at his thanksgiving service after his death. It's an amazing piece of scripture.  It is amazing because of its power, the power and the authority found  in each and every one of these words, a power and authority so strong that they have been used to bring comfort and strength to so many people during the darkest times of their lives. 

For me They are almost like a strong thick rope to hold on to, to use to pull us out of the deepest and darkest of pits. These words are filled with promises and encouragement, comfort and strength, these words are a life line, these words are life. They offer a bridge across a ravine of pain and fear, they are  words which describe a loving and protecting parent who stands arms open longing to guide us home to safety and His warm embrace, a father who takes the greatest of care over His children, who watches over them while they sleep and won't even allow their feet to stumble. A father who will watch over us all of our lives, even as we sleep.

I wonder how many of us here remember tip toeing  into our children's bedroom at night and watching them sleep? Every night when my daughter was little my husband would go into her and gently hold his hand close to her mouth, when I asked what he was doing  he said he was checking she was still breathing, he was watching over her while she slept. I must admit during our recent holiday when we had to walk through her bedroom to get to ours and I couldn't resist watching her while she slept. As parents we watch over our children all of their lives.  So not only does this psalm illustrate the perfect parent it brings out the parent in us,  showing us how we are cared for as children by reminding us how we too care for those we love. It is a psalm of love, of comfort and protection, it is a life line and it is a battle cry and it is a good one to have in our armoury when we find ourselves looking to the mountains in our life. 

To put this psalm into context, it was  sung by the Israelites during their yearly pilgrimage to worship in the temple in Jerusalem. For many, this was a long and dangerous trip. These  travelers were very vulnerable and they had good reason to be fearful of the mountains which were ahead of them as in these mountains lay bandits and thieves who wouldn't think twice about killing them and taking all their worldly goods.  When the Israelites looked to the mountains their minds were doing overtime as they fearfully considered all the terrible things which may be waiting for them, as they imagined what could happen.  When they speak of lifting their eyes to the mountains they are literarily  looking at their greatest fears, murderers and bandits hidden in the cracks and caves, waiting at every turn in the mountains to take their lives. With each step they take towards the mountains they lived with heart pounding fear, with every step they longed to feel safe, they longed to complete the journey.  With every step their minds did overtime of what could happen of what lay in wait.

Does this sound familiar? Do you spend all your time looking at the mountain, allowing the enemy to send your mind into 'what ifs?'  Do you waste time thinking about what's around the corner about what's hiding in the caves rather than enjoying the here and now.  Do you spend your time  lifting up your eyes to the mountains and all the fear they contain.  Do you waste your time wondering where your help will come from rather than knowing it, believing it, living it in faith and assurance?

Because I certainly do, I am the worlds greatest worrier, in fact I worry about everything, and unless I am strict with myself I can allow my mind to take over and master me.  My friend is always reminding me to take every though captive.  Because she knows that this is my Achilles heel, this is something I need to work on and master; she knows that the mind can either master us or we can master it and I am blessed that when I have these seasons of worry she loves me enough to remind me to snap out of it and take control of the lies before they take control of me.

Early in my faith journey she taught me a trick, and it's the same trick that these men, making the journey to the temple learnt - it's the trick of mastering your minds, and it's no secret, we can steal their trick and make it ours.  It's hard work, it requires persistence and dedication but it works.  

As they walked on this fearful dangerous journey the one thing they wanted was to be safe - they wanted  the same safety and protection that we long for in our lives today. They were no different to us, although their journey looked different they felt the same fear that we feel, they were also unsure of what lay ahead, and perhaps at this point in their journey their minds were starting to master them. Their minds were doing overtime with what ifs, with every rock that fell with every unfamiliar sound that they heard on their journey they became more and more afraid of what could happen, of what was lying in wait for them in the mountains. 

But they had a trick, a method of mastering their minds and a way to drive away their fearful thoughts, to drive away the what ifs and to send home the crippling anxiety that worrying brings us.  What did they do? How did they drive away the fear?  It's simple. They  sang.  They sang this song which was written to remind God’s people of Gods love for them and Gods care for them - they sang about  how He protects us in times in danger and this drove away their fear. 

It's not a secret, the bible tells us so many times to put on the amour of God, to cover ourselves in scripture, not just read it, but to say it, taste it, allow it to soak into our very being. To  learn to whisper those powerful words, then  to say them out loud, in order to finally  shout those words in victory from the mountain tops which presented so much fear in our lives.  We must learn how to allow the words of scripture to drive away our worry and destroy the fear of the mountains so that when we arrive at the top of the mountains these words have not only carried us there, but can be heard by others in need of encouragement on their journey. When we have walked through the terrifying valley and when we have climbed the exhausting mountain and when our foot hasn't slipped and we have slept without the nightmares and we have arrived safely and we have been protected we must shout out loud with glad hearts. We must shout the scriptures which have protected us once more, but this time in triumph, in praise and in thankfulness for all that God has done for us, for the way he has protected us, for his faithfulness and his love.

 This is his charge... He will carry us through the difficult paths of our journey he will watch over us while we slumber he will hold us on our difficult journeys but at the end of every journey there is always a story that we have to share.  It is the  story of those times when he stopped us from slipping, when he drove away the fear in our hearts and when we felt safe, when he drove the danger away, and we were protected.  There is a story in every footstep and it is our duty and our joy to share those stories.  It is our joy to  honour those stories and to honour the journey, to give our Father the praise for what he has done in our lives.  Because out of our story  telling we can encourage others who are looking to the mountains, who are frightened of what lies around every corner who do not yet know that protection is always there and the watchman never sleeps.  We need to sing our songs to to remind ourselves of Gods protection and we need to sing our songs to  encourage others to do the same.

I've recently been reading an amazing book by Barbara Brown Taylor called 'the preaching life'.  I decided to spend the summer in prayer and study to prepare myself for September and for my new job here at Trinity which I start on Tuesday.  This book really encouraged me and it has reminded me that this journey is not all about me, it's not about looking to the mountains and being full of fear about this huge step which I am about to take and this journey of faith which I am about to walk.  This book has been a huge blessing because it has grounded me, it's reminded me to sing my song, to remember that I have been called to make this journey and as frightened as I am God is with me. I have been reminded that I am  human and  I will stumble, there will also be times when I will most probably fall, but God will be there to steady my arm,  to lift me up and walk by my side, holding me and protecting me, watching me and guiding me.  This psalm has spoken into my present what ifs, my daily  fears, it has spoken into my mountain tops, and it has encouraged me and reminded me that my help will come from Him, and I will need help on this journey, because I am not making this journey alone.  As a church we all need help on our journeys and the help will come from The Lord and it will come from one another. This is an amazing passage, it's words are filled with power and strength, if nothing else this morning I encourage you to take these words with you and read them. You may not have a mountain ahead of you at the moment, I hope that you don't,  but this is life we are talking about and life has it's own unexpected twists and turns. Life is filled with the unknown and the unexpected-  we cannot control it, it makes it's own way, it creates it's own journeys - BUT,  and this is the important bit we need to underline and remember - but we can ask for help on those journeys, we can look to the mountains but we can look at them without fear and we can have courage to climb those mountains because we have this promise. We have a promise that will never be broken and what better way of remind ourselves of this promise than speaking this promise over our mountains, over and over again, they may not feel real at first, they may be empty - but if you say them enough times they will become your protection, they will give you courage and they will help you to climb your mountains.  Keep saying them until they become real, the devil knows this trick,  he whispers lies into our ears so often we believe them,  but it works the other way too, if we recite scripture often enough then it becomes our mantra, our sword and our staff to fight the enemy and help us climb those mountains to victory.  

So I invite you to join me - right here and right now to say this psalm, because I believe there is power in these words and I want you as brothers and sisters in faith to seize this power for the climbs ahead of us, to remind ourselves of Gods faithfulness and to encourage each other by reminding ourselves that God watches over us and he will protect us, he will honour us and he will walk  with us to face with courage and faith whatever lies behind those corners and within those caves. We cannot control life, but we can control our attitudes towards it and we have a whole library of books and stories to encourage us and armour us against these mountains.  When we look to the mountains our help comes from The Lord so let's remind ourselves of these promises and say these words, but in the first person so that we will remember that our help comes for The Lord.

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 MY foot slip—
    he who watches over ME will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over ME—
    the Lord is MY shade at MY right hand;
6 the sun will not harm ME by day,
    nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep Me from all harm—
    he will watch over My life;
8 the Lord will watch over MY coming and going
    both now and forevermore.


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It is my prayer that my words may be of some comfort or may bless you in some way...I love to hear from you and your journeys...every blessing H