This post is adapted from a sermon I preached on Sunday July 7th at St Peter’s Church, Mowbray, Cape Town. This focuses on the fifth of the Psalms of Ascents, Psalm 124. It’s best to read that first, and have it open next to you as you read the rest of the post.
For links to the previous posts in this series, scroll to the end of this post.
A mosquito has 47 teeth, apparently. I’m not sure I believe this. I have no special knowledge of them apart from receiving the occasional bite. I know they bite. 47 teeth in such a small being, though, seems more than is strictly feasible. An internet search can tell you all sorts of things with no proof other than the simple ability to come first when run through a hidden algorithm.
However unlikely this is, whatever the truth, it suggests what we all deep-down know to be still more true: that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of most things then we care to know. Look behind the most standard of procedures – the simple act of tapping a keyboard for instance – and your body is performing a series of coordinated actions of frankly boggling complexity. There’s always more than meets the eye.
Which is how God is. He is always at work, there’s always something afoot, there’s always a new possibility. Ironically in a contemporary culture which assumes those who profess religion to be stuck in a rigid past, pull back the curtain of the everyday and you discover the comforting, alarming truth that God is always up to something. Psalm 124 is the song of someone who knows this to be true.
The song starts (v1-2) with the call and response of worship. The worship leader cries out, the people respond. This is not the song of one person – it’s the story of a community, a gathering, a nation. Call and response is how the worship of God’s people works – one person starts, awaking faith, worship, life in the gathered. The story of the one calls out the story of the many.
It’s easy to read worship songs and hymns and think all this ‘I’ talk is rather individualistic. Sometimes that can be true – it’s an easy trap to fall into. But in reality, if I allow the worship to do its work on me, the ‘I’ of the songs I’m singing becomes a kind of plural, corporate ‘I’. This is different to ‘we’. God’s people may be individuals uniquely shaped in God’s image, but we’re part of mysterious, mystical, bigger ‘I’ called the bride of Christ. The worship of one calls out the worship of many. Which is why we should be very wary of opting out of church, for all its temptations and trials.
What’s called out here is the story of the people. The Old Testament story, as we have it in this immediate context; a story of God’s people attacked, anger kindled, the flood waters rising. Floods were real in this Middle East; a carefully planned life could be uprooted and re-arranged around you in the minutes of a torrential rain leading to flash floods. Enemies, aggression, the random rearrangement of life around you – familiar always to God’s people. As it is to all people. God’s people experience no more nor no less suffering than everyone else. Everyone has enemies. All countries go to war at some point. Everyone gets sick. Everyone’s at the mercy of the economy.
The difference for those making this song their own is that they can look back and see God was there. He was with them. In Christ, on our side. The picture is one of odds stacked, helpless pray in merciless teeth (v6), narrowly escaping a hunter’s trap (v7). By all standard rules of engagement, the escape shouldn’t happen. Prey in the teeth is dead meat.
The God on the side of the prey specialises is raising the dead. Lost causes coming through have His signature all over them. All it takes is the acknowledgement, to Him, that the cause is lost. Lost by me, you. No-one else’s fault. We’re helpless prey in the teeth of a trap for which we alone bear the blame for finding.
Him. In Him is help. Him. The maker of heaven and earth (v8).
Sound familiar? It should do. We’ve already been there, those very words, in Psalm 121. We look to the hills of other gods, other helpers … but our help comes from the one who puts hills in place, who breathes life into dust-born humanity, speaks light into being.
This our God. The God of new things. The God of creation and recreation. Of life and new. Of resurrection.
The God at work behind the scenes, not wasting anything; not desiring or causing or sustaining that which reduces; but transfiguring a simple hillside into a place of mercy and meeting.
This our God.
Tell me, then.
What can separate you from Him, in Christ?
Flood, traps, snares?
Famine, darkness, sword?
Boredom, drudgery, the everyday?
Birth, life, death?
No. In all these things, He and in Him, we, are more.
This post is adapted from the notes of a sermon I preached at St Peter’s, Mowbray, Cape Town on Sunday 7th July 2013. It’s not an exact text of the sermon as I don’t preach from a full text.
Also in this series: