This post is adapted from a sermon I preached on Sunday July 28th at St Peter’s Church, Mowbray, Cape Town. This focuses on the eighth of the Psalms of Ascents, Psalm 127. 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.
“It wasn’t me, it was the Lord”.
It’s like a sanctified version of the blame-shifting games of Eden, and if you’ve been hanging around churches for any length of time, you’ll have heard it.
“Thanks for building the house/preaching the sermon/sending that note/whatever it is”.
“That’s OK. It wasn’t me, it was the Lord”.
It’s well-meaning – it’s an attempt to give glory to God for something that’s happened. At it’s root it comes from a sense that we’re all a bit useless really, and if anything meaningful is going to happen then God needs to get involved.
It’s the sort of language that springs from this Psalm, the 127th, with all its talk of ‘unless the Lord builds …‘ .
The Psalm really seems to be at pains to point out the uselessness of human endeavour. God must do the building, the watching over the city; getting up early is worthless; children come from Him. It must have been a great comfort to tired and aching pilgrims half-way to or from Jerusalem, exposed to the elements and the dangers of the road. Your efforts are useless. Thanks.
Useless? Not at all. This isn’t about abandoning human endeavour. This is about co-operation between people and God, about something small being transfigured into something eternal.
The key lies in the bit about children. In the days to be married and childlessness was a stigma, a sign that God had abandoned you and His favour did not rest on you. Hence Abram and Sarah’s laughter, the prophet’s language of barren women celebrating, of a virgin birth.
No-one’s about to pretend that in the normal course of things God just makes children appear out of nowhere. Mysterious as it all is, everyone knew that a man and woman are both essential to this process. Here’s the miracle, though. When it’s all working well, a man and a woman give themselves to one another physically in vulnerability, tenderness and love. It’s self-giving, it’s a glue that helps bind a relationship, it’s a reassurance, it’s fun. Eventually a child may come as a result. Sometimes, often a couple may be intentionally seeking a child – but it’s no coincidence that the child comes from an act of pleasure, of relationship, of love. Those come first – the child is the glorious by-product of the love … who in turn is born into love and is an expression of that love and benefits from it. Man and woman can’t make a child; but they can create the conditions for a child to be made. Or think of a plant. You can plant the seed in good soil and helpful wind and sun exposure. You can water it; but you can’t grow it. No – that happens as a result of the process put in place by the Creator. That’s the blessing – we do our bit, and God transfigures it through a divinely ordered process into love, provision, life.
When we move house or spring-clean we throw out the things of no use to us. We down-size, streamline so that we can be more effective. God doesn’t – He loves to be inefficient. Does He need to us to create children? Of course not. Does He need us to build a house? No. Does He need us to spread a message? No. Does He need us to worship Him? No. It would make perfect sense for God to wash His hands and let us go, toss us on the scrap-heap and get on with it all Himself. He needs nothing, least of all us.
But He wants us, chooses us, invites us. Out of sheer love, with no sense of lack in Himself, He says ‘I don’t need you, but I do want you. Come. Build with me. Make children with me. Guard a city with me. Serve the poor with me. Spread the Good News with me. I choose you to get involved. I don’t need you. I want you.’
Jump in. The water’s lovely.
This post is adapted from the notes of a sermon I preached at St Peter’s, Mowbray, Cape Town on Sunday 28th July 2013. It’s not an exact text of the sermon as I don’t preach from a full script.
Also in this series: