Scripture This Week: Psalm 121

How about this? Every now and then I'll share a reflection on one of the week's assigned Bible readings. 

If your congregation follows the Revised Common Lectionary for its Sunday readings, you can get a preview of the Bible passages ahead of time by visiting Text Week (and many other helpful online resources). 

This week's Psalm is 121. 
I lift up my eyes to the hills— from where will my help come? 
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. 
He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 
He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 
The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. 
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.
One of my favorite Psalms. It was also Lucyle's favorite.

That first line rings so true - it's a universal in life. Seeking help."I lift up my eyes to the hills - from where will my help come?"

I live in a fairly flat geographic area. I don't spend a lot of time in any literally valleys, looking up toward the hills.

But there are plenty of metaphorical valleys. Everywhere. All the time. I don't lift up my eyes to the hills, but I do lift them other places. How about you? The computer screen? Tabloids in the grocery store? Candy section at Kwik Trip? Your Facebook news feed? Me, too.

I lift up my eyes many places seeking guidance and help. Comfort. Relief.

I forget the second verse of the Psalm.

"My help comes from the Lord."

I have a love/not-so-sure relationship with this Psalm because I wrestle with it. The Psalm says: "He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life."

It's sounds like the most beautiful of poetry. What comforting words and promises!

But actually, there are plenty of times in life when our "foot" is moved (i.e. terrible things happen) and the sun does strike by day and the moon does strike by night (i.e. accidents/death/sickness/heartbreak), and we come face-to-face with evil (i.e. murder, abuse, greed, injustice, hunger).

So the Psalmist must be talking about something greater. Something broader.

God isn't promising to put us in a bubble. Tough things will happen. But God isn't going to fall asleep on the job. That wherever we are - God is there, too. 

The last verse of the Psalm is: "The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore."

It's a little like the final benediction of a worship service. A blessing. A promise.

The Hebrew form of "to keep" is שָׁמַר 

(Side note: BONUS! You are a now a Hebrew scholar).

The word is pronounced shamar. Say it with me. Sha-mar. It means: to keep, to guard, to preserve, to watch.

"The Lord will KEEP your going out and your coming in..."

The same word is also used in Genesis 2:15 when God puts Adam in the Garden of Eden and invites him to take care of it (to "shamar" it). So how does a person take care of a garden? It takes A LOT OF WORK.

The weeks after I planted my first garden (starting in April of 2010) were some of the happiest of my whole life. I loved keeping that garden..."shamaring" it, if you will.

I checked on it constantly. Every morning. Every lunch break. Every night. I put a white fence around it. There were plenty of conversations between me and the plants. I took hundreds of photos and then compared one's week's pics to the next. Obsessed? Yes. I was. IT WAS A MIRACLE. Tiny seeds turned into plants.

Watching the growth was an endless source of amazement. There's a hanging in my office at home which says: "Life begins the day you start a garden." Agreed.

Yet as much as I loved it and cared for it and attempted to shamar it, some tough things still happened. I planted it way too early because I was so eager to start growing things, but then there was a harsh freeze. At first, it seemed like the kohlrabi wasn't going to make it, but it did. There were critters who got in there, too. They ate up the leaves. Especially my beloved spinach.

Shamaring the garden was an amazing experience. But there were difficulties. Things I couldn't prevent or fix. I just tried to keep taking care of it. I wanted to help it thrive, in spite of the challenges.

I was just a clueless human being trying to take care of some plants. But it still felt real and true. To shamar something is a beautiful thing.

Many of you are likely parents of children or pets - or maybe you are aunts or uncles - or grandparents. Or maybe you have to take care of your aging parents. Or you're responsible for nurturing your students, co-workers, or friends. No doubt, you do a lot of "shamaring."

Keeping. Caring. Watching. Protecting. It's intense work. We do our best, but there is always more to be done, and we never see the full picture.

In Psalm 121, we hear a promise that God will "shamar" us all our days. Keep us. Care for us. Nurture us. Love us. Watch us as we grow and thrive and develop. Guide us. Lead us.

There will be bugs who get into the spinach. There will be freezes and droughts.

But that deep care and concern will never go away. God will be there every morning. And every afternoon. And every night. Every single nano second of every single day, the Holy Gardener is with us. Keeping us.

God will keep us from now until forevermore. That is a promise. And even when I find that promise too huge to comprehend, I will still hold it tightly.


1 comment:

  1. This posting is truly a mini sermon. Beautiful way to begin the day. Have I mentioned how much I miss your sermons? Thank you for sharing these beautiful words today. May the Lord shamar you today and always.