Travel has taken on a whole new meaning this summer. I love travelling- I think travel is the best way to expose one’s self to alternate world views, experience different cultures, and witness both the triumphs and tragedies of humankind. But this year, travel has remained close to home. Thankfully I have yet to tire of the various campgrounds, hiking trails, rivers, lakes and beaches on this island and we have also taken this opportunity to explore some of the more remote spots. I will admit that whether travelling near or far I pray a prayer for safe passage. Certainly as our van bumped along the potholed road to Morton Lake or up the shale-rocked logging road to Scout Beach I prayed that prayer more than once. There are a lot of roads that our 2WD van has encountered this summer and some of them made we want to turn back but I can not help but compare all of these travels, whether along the paved road to Gold River or the nearly abandoned trail to Long Point Recreation site on Lower Campbell Lake, to the diversity of travel found along life’s journey. And you have no idea the sense of relief I feel or the hallelujah I shout when we pull into those sites with nothing but a dirty van.
Psalm 121 is called “A Psalm for Sojourners” because it is attributed to the idea of a journey, or pilgrimage. In fact, there is a whole section, from Psalm 120-134 all bearing the words, shir-hamma’alot or shir-lammal’alot which is translated as “the songs of ascent” because these psalms were likely sung while pilgrims travelled up to Jerusalem. However, the road to Jerusalem not only had natural dangers but human ones as well, from harsh weather to bandits, from predators to a lack of water. Life is full of dangers- fears and threats- which we touched on that last week as we looked at some of the lament psalms. So, the psalmist of psalm 121 asks, “from where will my help come?” and the immediate response is that one’s help comes from the Lord. There is a key message in this response. The psalmist does not look to the hills and seek help in them, rather the psalmist acknowledges that his help comes from the one who made those hills. Their very existence speaks to or bears witness to the creator. Notice also how psalm 121 starts off as a personal psalm but switches gears to include the whole nation of Israel.
Along with that transition from the individual to the nation comes a transition from questions to blessings. God promises to protect and watch over, God promises to keep us as we move about this life. These promises do not deny the existence of struggle along this journey but rather encourage an awareness of God’s presence throughout life. This psalm is not solely about a pilgrimage to Jerusalem but our travels through life. In fact, it is common for Jewish families to post psalm 121 in the delivery room or in a nursery or child’s room to represent the promises God makes at the very beginning of our lives.
This transitions us nicely into our understanding of the final psalm, psalm 150. These are joy filled words that bring out the child in each one of us. This psalm demonstrates how the Hebrew people rejoiced in God at the very core of their being. The word psalm actually means “praise” in Hebrew, and that is indeed the ultimate goal. Even though the psalter contains more prayers of lament than it does hymns of hallelujahs the designation of “praise” is an accurate one. The whole Psalter moves toward praise in two ways. First, almost all the prayers of lament end with an expression or vow to praise. Second, the last two sections of the book are predominately songs of praise. The last five psalms all begin and end with the word Hallelujah which is the Hebrew term for “Praise God”or “Praise Yahweh”. The book is indeed a journey through emotions and one’s relationship with God but the ultimate end is praise and psalm 150 says it all. The final crescendo of praise!
In it every creature in heaven and on earth is invited to praise God, and every instrument is to be used. In some ways this psalm is unique because it is an extended, unbroken invitation to praise. Walter Bruggermann, states that “this psalm is determined, enthusiastic, uninterrupted, relentless, unrelieved summons which will not be content until all creatures, all of life are “ready and willing” to participate in an unending song of praise that is sung without reserve or qualification. The psalm expresses a lyrical self-abandonment, an utter yielding of self, without vested interest, calculation, desire or hidden agenda.” This psalm is all about jumping for joy!
We as a congregation have journeyed with the Hebrew people for the last four weeks, using the psalms. We heard the choices of psalm 1 and decided to seek and follow the wisdom of God. We travelled with them through history as the covenant relationship with David was celebrated. We cried out with them in lamenting life’s challenges, especially during this particular time. We joined them on their pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And now we fall into praise, with strong shouts of Hallelujah!
Praise is the offering of one’s whole self to God and Psalm 150 is an enthusiastic expression of yielding the self to God. Praise involves both life and liturgy. The praise of God in worship reinforces, renews and reshapes the commitment of the whole life to God. And here is another interesting fact about these psalms of praise. They are universal. They invite all nations and all the earth to praise. Now, I get it, we don’t always feel like praising, last week’s laments taught us that more than anything. But this is a pilgrimage we are all on together. Psalm 150 closes with “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord”. At the creation of the world God breathed life into all things, therefore whether we look to the heavens or the hills we see evidence of God’s creative power, and the proper goal of every creature is praise by living. Whether we are seeking God’s wisdom, recalling our history, giving thanks, crying out in lament, or journeying along a bumpy road, and things are bumpy still, ultimately everything is called to praise! Amen