Sunday, March 12, 2017

Mountains and Their Meanings; Psalm 121

Rev. George Miller
March 12, 2017
Psalm 121

Once upon a time, long long ago, in a land far away, there were five children. Five children who were each unique and very much their own person.

There was Dustin, the dreamer. Everything was wonderful; every chance an opportunity; every place filled with the promise of God’s presence.

There was Patty, who was petite and polite. She was cautious, mindful of her own safety, aware that there were times and places in which she, as a young lady, was best at home.

There was Walter who was worried about everything and everyone. There wasn’t a cold he did not catch, a bit of bad luck that didn’t befall him, a woe-is-me opportunity that was not relished for all it was worth.

There was Dale. Not much to say about Dale. Dale just did, and was the kind of person people forgot was there.

Then there was tough and tenacious Tina, a warrior who said “Uh ah, I’m not going to let anybody scare me.”

Tina knew how to fight, how to stand her ground, and she knew a thing or two about how to use a machete to crack open a coconut or to crack open a head if need be.

One day it came time to head into the big city for a festival that was fixin’ to take place. A festival that their parents, and their parents parents, and their parents parents parents had attended.

It was the kind of festival in which you’d get to see folks you haven’t seen since the last one, coming together, remembering their roots, remembering how they came to be, and recalling all the things God had done for them.

The kind of festival in which there would be good food, good singing, and good times to be had for all.

But the festival was far, far away, and to get there one had to pass through huge mountains, mountains so magnificent they blocked out part of the sky, mountains that were perfect for goats to live, and critters to hide.

Well, this family of 5 was ready to leave for the festival. Friends and town folk gathered to wish them well.

Dustin the dreamer looks at the mountains lining the way, filled with optimistic joy. He is certain that the hills are alive with the sound of music.

He recalls how it was atop a mountain that Moses received the law, Elijah met the Still Speaking God, and Jesus sat with the people.

So Dustin is filled with hope, so sure that God is in every rock, every tree, every clump of dirt that make up the mountain that he says “I look to the hills- from there will come my help!”

Petite and polite Patty sees the mountains and all the places that robbers and bandits can be hiding, and she says “I look to the hills- where is my help going to come from?”

Worrying Walter, who is sure another cold is coming on, sees the mountains and says “I look to the hills, so big, so scary, I might trip and break a leg or be eaten by a lion, or sold into slavery- where oh where oh where is my help going to come from? Goodbye dear world, goodbye dear friends!”

Dale says “Eh, I look to the hills; will anyone even realize that I’m there?”

Tina takes up her machete, throws her duffel bag over her back, and says “I look to the hills! Where does my help come from? Me! Let’s go.”

So the five siblings go off to the festival, each saying the same words, but thinking different things:

-God is everywhere and will do everything!
-Danger can be present, who will protect me?
-This is it! We’re doomed!!!
-Does anyone care?
-I ain’t scared ‘cause I got my own back.

Joy, caution, histrionics, bleh, and warrior- all 5 voices can fit into today’s opening verses.

Psalm 121 is one of those biblical readings that is deeper than it appears.

Two reasons are because in its original language, Hebrew, sentence structure is different than ours, plus Hebrew does not use punctuation. So, translators have to make educated guesses.

Maybe the psalmist is saying a statement of fact “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where my help comes.”

If so, what does the help refer to? Help from God? Help from others gods who were said to dwell in the mountains? Help that comes when you’re toting your own weapon?

Or did the psalmist intend this to be a question? “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where will my help come?”

Or is the psalmist so sure that God is by their side, that they end their statement with a huge exclamation point!

No one can know for certain; therefore almost every version of the Bible has a different take on line 1.

It’s not until line 2 that we get somewhat of an answer- “My help comes from the Lord...”

But what do we mean by help?

Help as in the Lord does any and all things for you, so you don’t have to do nothing but trust that everything will be alright?

Help, as in God will guard you from anyone or anything that will try to hurt you?

Help, as in somehow, someway things will work out in the end, so take a chill pill?

Help, as in God is with you in spirit, but other than that you’re on your own?

Help, as in God will empower and inspire you to fight your own battles and sustain you to be strong?

We don’t fully know, so the interpretation is up to you, to wrestle with, to wonder, to ask.

There is also the second part of the scripture. Verses 3-8 are the response of those who are there to wish the travelers well, to affirm, inspire, and to assure them that God does not sleep, declarations that God does not divert his or her eyes.

Statements that God is a guardian; that God is like the shade.

It is this image of God as shade that originally attracted me to this reading.

We all know what it is like to sit in the shade of a tree. We know what it is like to work outside during a hot day and be thankful when a cloud covers the sky, cooling down the atmosphere.

This notion of God as shade attracted me because it made me think of last year’s Vacation Bible School.

Last year’s Vacation Bible School was based around being “Grounded In God”, focusing on the ecological poetry of Psalm 104.

We talked about how water provides drink to thirsty animals, and how animals create homes and seek shelter.

We talked of trees, how evergreens can grow 130 feet tall and create the wood to make timber, temples and ships.

As part of the week, the children had a chance to go outside with Cindy to plant a holly tree.

They took part in digging up the adamah to plant the tree; they took part of watering the dirt to make sure the soil was moist enough to support life.

They planted the tree, and in an unexpected move, the children took it upon themselves to name the tree- Hollywood.

They loved them some Hollywood, spending the rest of the week making sure she was watered, cared for, standing upright.

I will be curious to see how many of those children from last year will return to Vacation Bible School this year and remember Hollywood and want to check her out, to see how she is.

I also wonder, what will the make-up of this year’s Vacation Bible School be?

How many of those kids will be like Dustin- filled with joy and happy about everything?

How many will be like Patty- cautious, perhaps because they’ve been hurt by someone who should not have ever hurt them.

How many of this year’s kids will be like Walter- worrying over every little thing, unfortunately learning that the best way to get attention is to have everything go wrong?

How many will be like Dale- a child who is easily forgotten about and falls through the cracks, because they are neither over the top nor in need of rescuing or ready to rescue.

How many will be like Tina- self sufficient who are not afraid and know how to care for themselves?

I share this, because Tuesday night our Christian Ed team is meeting and I’m sure this year’s Vacation Bible School will be a topic.

Do we have it? If so, when? Who will be present? What is it we would like to teach them this year?

Today’s scripture is about someone who is about to go on a journey, a journey that will take them through hills and valleys, through moments of hot sun and times of darkness, a trip in which feet can slip and there is the need to be watched over and kept safe.

Kind of describes childhood.

Kind of describes adolescence. Kind of describes adulthood. King of describes the middles ages. Kind of describes the golden years.

Kind of describes life.

As we see in today’s reading, there are many ways the journey of life can be approached. There are statements that are made; questions that are asked.

There are also other voices than our own; voices of those who offer testimony, those who love us, those who care about our well being; those who have been there as well.

With those voices comes assurance; assurance that no matter what happens, no matter what we face, we are not alone.

That God is with us; God sees whatever we are going through.

Which not only includes the evil, but it also includes the harm and the hurt that can come our way- things that are too real for too many.

Though it is barely Spring, we get to look ahead to Summer, realizing we get to be the voices of strength, joy, and safety to our children.

This summer, as we gather the Dustins and the Patties, the Walters, the Tinas, and the Dales, we get to be that chorus of voices that speaks to them.

We get to be the supportive people in their lives that get to say “God sees you and God knows who you are.”

We get to be part of their life journey and to say “We don’t know what is going on in your life, but here your feet will not slip, here you will not be burnt by the sun or troubled by the moon.”

Here, in this Holy Congregation we get to be a chorus of supportive voices that tell the Dustins, Patties, Walters, Tinas and Dales- “Here you are safe from evil, here you are kept from harm, here you don’t have to worry about danger.”

The world is so full of wondrous things AND it is so full of worry; the world is so full of warmth AND it is so full of woe.

We never do fully know what the mountains mean for those who enter our doors; we never fully know anyone else’s story.

But at least we can say that while here one can experience God providing, God keeping, and God loving us so.

Because here in God’s house we know where our help comes from; and it comes from the Lord.
Amen and amen.

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