Friday, September 21, 2018

Uneasy Pilgrim (Psalm 121) by Rev. Steve Locke

I think it fair to say that the Psalms are addressed to Israel and about Israel’s spiritual vision. The subject of the Psalms almost always turns to God and God’s power, right and protection of Israel. These nationalistic prayers need be deconstructed for those of us who have a faith that is centered in Jesus. It is up to us to deconstruct these Psalms from their nationalistic direction for the spiritual empowerment of individuals that stand outside Israel’s tradition. It is especially important to do this when we consider the “Pilgrim Psalms” that begin with Psalms 120. We must dig deeper to find the treasure in these Psalms that will provide spiritual direction. Psalms 121 directs our attention to God’s protective and providential nature. But it is not just for Israel. As we have come to believe through Jesus and Paul these prayers are for all of us, from different traditions. They are to be used by us with full confidence that they are useful tools to unearth the way of God in the world.

For these Pilgrim Psalms we need to ask the basic question, “What do we need from God to start our pilgrimage?” The answer to this question is the reason Psalm 121 is so popular.  It says that what we need for any pilgrimage is to know God is walking with us protecting us from harm, that God will keep us from evil and will help us from going astray. In other words, first we need to have faith that God cares for us and will enter into our life as we ask for traveling mercies. Second, we are counting on God to protect us from the evil things of this world, which come from individuals and forces beyond our control.  Third, we pray to God to help us stay on the path. We need help in keeping the goal in front of us instead of getting sidetracked into things that detour our purpose.

Imagine that all of us were taking a pilgrimage to Louisville, which happens to be the headquarters of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Each year Presbyterians from around the country would prepare to go to three days of seminars and lectures designed to strengthen our spiritual life. Those that were going from this church would get together and plan our itinerary. We might stop over in Las Vegas for a night, or we might decide to visit New Orleans along the way. Some of us might decide to go to the Bourbon Country or to some other entertainment place.  And because it was such a big event there would be signs along the way advertising cheap lunches, cheap motels and everything else people might want. All these distractions are hazardous to the journey. 

It was the same for Israel.: roads were filled with advertisements, with temptations and with those ready to take your money. Psalms 121 was written with these hazards in mind. It laid before the people of Israel, as it does us, the profound need to pray and keep praying as we look forward to the day. All the strategies and plans we make are useful but the most useful thing we can do in each day of our pilgrimage is to pray for the protection and care of God. There are dangers in each day that are unforeseen, known and ignored. Prayer helps us stay centered throughout the day so that we not only reach our destination but also grow in our faith through this experience.

Our help comes from God, not from all of those promising protection along the way of our journey (The Hills).  God will help us from the pressures of the day and the craziness at night when we have time to think about the temptations all around us (sunstroke and moon-stroke). God is concerned about your life and where it is going along this road to spiritual discovery (keep you from evil). If we keep this in mind we will be living out the prayers of Psalms 121.

But this Psalm is not only for pilgrimages or journeys, it is for each day. Each day is filled with enough possible danger and evil to handle. Each day has enough distractions in it that can set us adrift from our goals. But also in each day is the chance to engage our faith to meet these temptations and challenges. As long as we bring God with us on our journey throughout the day we will succeed in completing God’s purpose.

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