Monday, September 04, 2006

Blast from the past 3 * Psalm 121 sermon from July 2003

A while back, I posted a couple of my earlier sermons. Tonight I was clearing out some stuff and came across a paper copy of an old sermon, so thought I would type it up and post it. This was originally preached at the Summer Praise service in Dromore Cathedral on 13th July 2003, as the theme that summer was favourite Psalms.

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Picture the scene. A huge crowd, of several thousand people, all with a common purpose – to worship God. Having come from all over the country, and perhaps even the world, they join together, to sing and praise God in loud sons and shouts. There is a carnival, party atmosphere, with the crowd spurring each other on to further, and closer worship.

It could be a description of Summer Madness, where three thousand people joined together last week at the Kings Hall in Belfast. In fact, it is the context for the Psalm we are looking at tonight. Psalm 120 to 134 are called the ‘songs of ascents.’ These psalms were sing as the pilgrims travelled towards Jerusalem for one of the major festivals.

You can just imagine the crowd getting louder, as they come nearer to Jerusalem, and the temple, sitting high on the hill ahead of them. Their goal is getting closer. They are nearly at their journey’s end. And the hills around Jerusalem inspire them.

I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?

The Psalmist is looking up, to see the strength of the hills, and asks where his help comes from. And that challenges us. Where does your help, or my help come from? Where do we look for assistance? Is it nature, or horoscopes, other people, or created things? Yet the Psalmist gives us the answer.

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Our help – our support, guidance, sustenance, succour – can only come from the LORD. He made all things. He controls all things. He watches all things.

God’s help and care is total. It extends to all of our life. He won’t let our foot slip, physically or spiritually, along the rocky path of life.

The Psalm began with the Psalmist looking up, and continues by focusing on God’s watching over us. God sees everything that we do, and think, and say. And while this may be slightly disconcerting – that God knows all that we do, even the secret things and thoughts – it is also reassuring, that God cares about us so much. David says in Psalm 139 ‘you are familiar with all my ways… How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!’

Why does He watch over us? Its not that He is a ‘cosmic killjoy.’ Wanting to catch us out when we sin, or to clamp down on us having fun; but because He is so crazy about us, He loves us so much. He must love us – because when He created Adam and Eve, ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31).

Earlier today, I was up at Knockagh War Memorial, above Carrickfergus, and the view from there is excellent. I could look down on the people below, around Greenisland, so in a sense, I was watching over people. But there was no intimacy, or relationship between me and the people I was watching. I didn’t know who the people were. Yet God doesn’t only watch us, like strangers on the TV programme Big Brother, but he watches us because he knows us, loves us, and cares about us so much.

God doesn’t sleep. He doesn’t become weary or tired, the way we do. This reminds me of when Elijah confronted the 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mount Carmel, to see who was the real God. Baal’s prophets cried to him, to answer with fire; and after several hours, Elijah started getting sarcastic. ‘Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened’ (1 Kings 18:27). But God, the only true God, does not sleep. Whatever time of the day or night we pray or cry out to Him, He hears, and answers. So if you’re having sleep problems, God is always there, to listen to you, and is watching over you.

The final verse, the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore’ tells us that God isn’t just in this for the short term. He isn’t like some people, interested in us for about five minutes, then uninterested. His care, and protection, and watching is forever. He can be depended on for all time, and forever.

To sum up, the whole Psalm is affirmative. It is full of promises to hold, and trust, and believe in. It doesn’t say ‘God might’, or ‘God should’, but ‘God will’. God:

- will not let your foot slip
- will watch over you
- will not slumber
- is your shade at your right hand
- will keep you from all harm
- will watch over your coming and going forever

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