This post is the last in our series on the Psalms of Ascents The original sermon was preached on Sunday October 297h at St Peter’s Church, Mowbray, Cape Town. It is not an exact record of the sermon as I don’t preach from a full text. It focuses on the fifteenth of the Psalms of Ascents, Psalm 134 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.
Journey’s end. The ascent is completed, the destination arrived at. It ends, as everything does, with worship.
How dull and disappointing. How run of the mill for those of us who regularly spend or have spent time in church services or the like. Really? That’s the end result? I was expecting more of a pay-off than that.
If the destination of everything is an everlasting church service then we really do have a problem. It won’t feel much like the rest we feel like we’ve been promised. I barely feel like worshipping at 8 a.m. on a sunny Sunday morning, let alone doing so for ever as the summation of everything we’ve been working, journeying towards.
Still, though, in terms of what we do now as followers of Jesus, it all exists because somewhere, somehow worship doesn’t. Mission and evangelism, calling those who don’t follow Jesus to do so? Working on those rough-edged parts of ourselves which don’t reflect God as well as they could? Prayer? Engaging in social justice issues? All of that and more exist now because worship – life as it should be lived, fully oriented around God – is not being expressed fully in us or the people and communities around us.
Which is why we keep returning to worship. It’s the one thing we’re called to which we’ll keep on doing; one day we’ll do that, somehow, with total fulfilment and conviction. For now we keep doing it – even if we don’t want to.
This short but explosive little Psalm, number 134, concludes the journey with this invitation, command, reminder to worship. In the immediate context it was a rejoinder first to the temple priests who had, you might say, drawn the short straw. They were meant to be in temple, worshipping and praying, all day and all night. The latter was the tough part. I used to work night shifts, and they were a bind and a problem. You might start off with a burst of enthusiasm and energy, but by 4 a.m. even the most eager are flagging. Lethargy takes over and expended energy starts extracting a toll; you no longer feel like working. It was the same for these temple worshippers. You’re running out of energy? You don’t feel like doing it? Get on with it. Do it anyway. Do the actions of worship (in this instance, the hand-raising of verse 2) and the desire, the feelings will follow. Or they may not. They may follow in a few moments, days, weeks, months – or it may actually be eternity until we feel like worshipping. But despite the toll of the journey, the cost and the energy extracted, He’s still worth worshipping. Feelings be damned; I’m going to worship Him anyway.
We are on dangerous territory here. We’ve all been in meetings or services where we’ve been told we must be joyful when we can’t be; that we must raise our hands or kneel or clap or sing when we can’t. We must pay attention to our emotions and give ourselves space to have them, to process them and work through them. We must do that, though, in the context, the remembrance that where we are is not the final truth. That my grief, depression, tiredness, worries are not the whole picture. That there’s still a God to be honoured and a bigger reality to turn our eyes towards.
What happens when the priests of the night-watch did this, when they raised their hands at a time they could barely raise their eyelids? God moves (v3) – from the place He lives, He acts. He blesses – He does well by the people. What does that look like? Infuriatingly, tantalizingly, we don’t know. We don’t know what He does, or indeed when He does it. But He does it.
We don’t have priests who worship for us now; we are all priests in that sense. My worship invites you to yours. Your worship invites me to mine. Even when we don’t feel like singing, kneeling, hand-raising, praying. Sometimes, just by taking that extra step we can’t take gives other the courage to do so. Our worship carries others until we can worship from our own energy.
All of which implies that I stay on the road even if it means standing still for a while. Working the night shift I may long for the safety of the office sofa – if I do that, however much I think I need to, I will doze, for seconds or minutes or hours. Then I am vulnerable; to things not done, to attack, to missing out on conversation and encouragement. If I am in a spiritual night shift it may be tempting to check out, to go it alone, to allow doubts to sweep me of down another road. If I stay in the context of worship around me, stay with the others on the night shift who have more energy than me at present, then there’s always the chance that their worship will carry me until mine can be as reflective of me as theirs is of them.
So I lie. I say to God that He is good even when I struggle to see Him as so. I say that there is joy even if there seems to be none. I say there is healing even when I’m sick. Because for some that’s true now. And for all in Him, it will be. One day. Then we really will worship.
Also in this series: