Eyes to the Hills: A Bible Study for Asbury's Worship
(August 29 & 30)
by Rev. Lee Johnson
AUGUST 29, 2020
In his book The Sin of Certainty, Peter Enns calls Psalm 121 problematic. “From where will my help come?” the Psalmist asks. The answer is certain, from God who keeps you from all evil. “Not so fast,” says Enns. “What about those out of control moments that counter the claim of God’s safe keeping?” Enns has a word for Psalm 121, an “uh-oh” Psalm, meaning life doesn’t unfold in a manner the Psalm leads you to believe. The God who keeps your ways, who neither slumbers nor sleeps, can often appear to be napping. That’s “uh-oh.” Take a moment and read Psalm 121. Now, think about the past six months. How do you understand God’s presence in those events? Is God outside of the action, napping? Or, is God inside and involved? The world and our nation have suffered in ways we never considered as 2020 began. Peter Enns says suffering chips away at our certainty about God. What do you think?
Psalm 121 has a historical context, written at a specific time to reflect upon a specific life moment. Before we dismiss it as “uh-oh,” it is prudent to recall the Psalms’ history, and avoid using scripture out of context. The Psalm is found at the beginning of a series of Psalms (120-134) called Songs of Ascent. Biblical Law - the Torah, specifically, Exodus 23.14-17, called for three yearly festivals, each to honor God. The festivals resulted in pilgrimages to the Temple in Jerusalem. Whether traveling by foot or animal, all roads to the Temple traversed the Judean Hills. It wasn’t an easy trip, often accompanied by danger. Songs of Ascent were sung as a sign of trust that God accompanied the pilgrims, especially in moments of danger. So, imagine singing: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come?” Maybe “uh-oh” just became “ah-ha” when it comes to Psalm 121. Who hasn’t questioned the certainty of God’s presence within a suffering that chips away at faith? The Bible is full of people who question God’s whereabouts. Before leaving Egypt, Moses raises a series of such questions with God (Exodus 5.22-23), all connected to suffering. Recall a time in your suffering that chipped away at your faith? Now, reconsider what it means to “lift up your eyes to the hills.”
The movement from “uh-oh” to “ah-ha” is a journey from certainty to trust. It can ask us to unlearn things we were taught as certain, less we turn God into a magical shield protecting us from all suffering. That kind of god will always disappoint. Often, the “ah-ha” of trust arrives in unexpected ways. I’ve spent much of the past six months reaching out to church members and friends, offering support and encouragement, as though to say, “remember to look up to the hills.” Recently, though, a church member unexpectedly reached out to me: “So many people really need our prayers,” he wrote. “Between the fires and the hurricanes, the virus and the violence, the lost jobs and disrupted lives – it is pretty overwhelming to know just where to start praying. God bless all who are suffering, all who are struggling, all who have suffered loss, all who have been harmed or feel rejected, and may God show us the path (and we heed it) to healing and reconciliation, as individuals and as a society.” To all that I say “amen,” and “keep looking to the hills.” If you’ve experienced the “ah-ha” of trust in your suffering, what was the journey like? Maybe you’ll want to share it with a friend this week.
The Songs of Ascent, Psalms 120-134. As you read, imagine being a Judean pilgrim journeying the dangerous road to Jerusalem for one of the year’s three festivals.
Asbury's Weekend Worship: https://www.visitasbury.org/worship/
Beginning Saturday, August 29 at 5:00 pm
“This week I will lift up my eyes to the hills.”