Pentecost 18 – Sunday, October 8, 2017

October 8, 2017  

Psalm 121

I’m stepping out of the assigned readings this morning. I want to preach on what has been and is in my heart, rather than on what has been given me.

Pastors have a habit of thinking we have to make everything ok.

I used to think this was what other people expected of pastors, that we make things ok for them. I’ve changed my thinking.

Maybe not all pastors think this, maybe only some of us do. Maybe only I think I have to make everything ok. I know, for certain, I have thought this was my job. My Call To make everything ok for everyone. And I know, as I progressed through my cancer surgery and treatments, that I fell back into this place of thinking that I had to reassure everyone else that things were going to be ok. It has always been my expectation of myself; I have to make everything alright.

I had never read psalm 121 before I became a pastor. I first encountered psalm 121 my first week of my first call in my first parish. I had three funerals that week. The pastor’s occasional services book included as a suggested reading for funerals psalm 121. I read the psalm and I remember being captivated by its relevance to all of us living in the coulee region. All we have to do is look out our windows to know the experience of the psalm… to look to the hills. So I read psalm 121 during each of those funerals. I continue to read it at most funerals I conduct.

Psalm 121 was not written as a funeral psalm it was written as a traveler’s psalm.

Folks sang psalm 121 as they traveled toward Jerusalem, traveling through rough, rugged hills. They were afraid. If they traveled at night they were afraid of wild animals and the darkness. If they traveled by day they were afraid of thieves. The journey toward Jerusalem was rarely without risk. And so they sang.

I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

The travelers wanted to believe they would be safe. They trusted they were not alone.

Later in the psalm the singers sing

The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in,

from this time forth and forevermore.

It makes sense travelers would sing this. They go out, off on their journeys. Then they return. They go out. They come in.

In the context of death, the meaning changes because people go… but there is no return. That’s why death hurts us so.

After years of reading and preaching on psalm 121, for funeral after funeral, I discovered the psalm was once used in the Norwegian Order for Holy Baptism.

Any of you that were baptized using a Norwegian Service, with the pastor and or the people speaking Norwegian—psalm 121 was probably read.

It makes so much sense, for this psalm to be a baptism psalm.

The Lord shall watch over your going out and your coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.

Our Lutheran tradition teaches us that, through baptism, we are brought into the family of faith. In the moment of baptism God acts, cleansing us, empowering us, sending us forth to live as God’s children. We  go out into the world, baptized children of God, to grow into a promise: God is with us. God is helping us. God is watching over us.

As children, God is with us as we learn, as we play, as we experience the joys and the pains of childhood.

As young adults God is with us as we make important decisions about life, about our own lives, about others, about what we know and what we still want to learn, what we want to do, who we want to be or to be with.

As we age, God is with us, in our joys and our pains. God is with us as our bodies grow out instead of up. God is with us when we ask “What?” instead of “why?” God is with us when relationships end, when families re-define themselves, when children we love begin the struggles we have, ourselves, lived through.

God is with us when friends and those we love die. God is with us when all of those new beginnings become new endings.

God is with us when we begin to know in our hearts what it means to have someone go and not come in again.

God is with us on this journey we call life.

As we travel through time God is with us.

It brings so much comfort, knowing we are not alone.

We are not alone. We are never alone. God is with us.

God’s presence does not mean everything will be ok. God’s presence means we are not along to face everything.

When we walk out the doors to this church we are not alone. God is with us.

God watches over us.

God watches over our going out and our coming in, from this time forth and forevermore.

We’ve all been watching the news these past weeks, watching stories of suffering coming from Puerto Rico, from Florida, from Texas, from Las Vegas…  many of us know people who knew people who were there, in one of those places. Or we know them ourselves.

When we stand up or speak out or take a knee or place our hand over our heart… trying to figure out conflicts between people that may or may not make sense to us…

We can’t, in this moment, just kiss the wounds and make it all ok. What we can do is to trust that God is with us on this journey. And then we go with God, we go where our hearts lead us, we go where God takes us… preaching and teaching and speaking and living words of love. We go, wrapped in the loving embrace of God. We lift our eyes to the hills, confident help comes from the maker, from the creator of all things. Amen.