Text: Psalm 121
Theme: God is our help: at all times, in all things, always.
During their retirement, my Grampa + Gramma Jasperse spent a few months in Florida.
From Wisconsin it was a long drive- over 1,200 miles to get there.
So before they left, they would open their Bibles and read Psalm 121.
They claimed the promise that the Lord would watch over their coming and going.
That’s appropriate because Psalm 121 is a traveling psalm.
In biblical times God’s people regularly made pilgrimages to Jerusalem.
Psalm 121 is one of fifteen psalms called songs of ascent.
They were recited or sung while hiking up to Jerusalem- set high in the hills of Judah.
Imagine pilgrims of all ages + health making the trek along an often rocky, winding trail.
Perhaps there were dangerous stretches where a pilgrim might fall and get hurt. Perhaps the sun got so hot and harsh that some grew faint.
Perhaps they feared roving bands who might attack and plunder vulnerable pilgrims.
All this raised the question of security:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains- where does my help come from?
Even posing that question is important.
So many of us never even stop to think about our ultimate security.
We just motor along in life. We may think we can handle whatever comes our way.
But we should raise the question of our security. Life has its dangers.
Jobs are lost. Cars crash. Cancer invades. Terrorists strike. We will all need help.
Like the pilgrims we should ask: where does my help come from?
I suppose the travelers might have given a variety of answers.
Perhaps some relied their own strength and resourcefulness.
Perhaps some trusted in sentinels posted around their camp at night.
Perhaps others prayed to gods worshiped at altars built among the hills.
But the psalm gives another answer- plain as can be:
My help comes from the Lord. What a confidence!
My help comes from the Lord- the Maker of heaven and earth.
Every car comes with an owner’s manual. An owner’s manual can be a big help.
After all, who would know better about a car than the company that made it?
So too, doesn’t it make perfect sense: the Maker of life is our supreme helper in life?
Really the rest of Psalm 121elaborates on this conviction.
Notice this psalm mentions nothing we have to do; it’s all about God + what he will do.
For weary pilgrims that was music to their ears.
Vs 3:He will not let your foot slip. Think hiking in the mountains- perhaps the Smokies. Some trails cross steep terrain. To slip could be disastrous.
In similar spots the pilgrims took comfort in God’s care: He will not let your foot slip.
Believe it or not, I never had my own car until Ruth and I got married and shared her car. She likes to tease me: that’s why I married her.
After my junior year at Calvin College a friend loaned me his VW Bug for the summer.
He’d decided to fly home to California rather than drive across country.
I was glad to have a car for the summer. Except it had two problems.
First, when I stopped at a light the engine idled so low it sometimes conked out.
And something was wrong with the starter, so the engine didn’t always start again.
As you can imagine: that was not a good combination.
After final exams I drove it home to Wisconsin. That took me right through Chicago.
In Chicago I hit afternoon rush hour traffic on the Dan Ryan Expressway. Stop and go.
Knowing that the engine might conk out if I stopped, I kept plenty of space ahead of me.
But then, in a dangerous part of town, my lane came to a screeching stop. I hit the brakes.
The engine idled down and I saw the red light start to go on- indicating a stalled engine.
I pressed down the clutch with my left foot; with my right I hit the gas pedal to gun it.
The engine sputtered and barely kicked back into action. Oh, my heart was pumping.
To this day I wonder what would have happened if I had gotten stalled in the fast lane.
He will not let your foot slip. I believe that was God’s hand of protection.
Vs 3-4: He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.
One summer during my seminary studies I headed up to Mackinac Island.
It’s a jewel of an island perched in Lake Huron above lower Michigan.
When I finally got to Mackinac City it was past midnight. No more ferries till morning.
Being young and poor I wasn’t going to pay for a hotel for just a few hours sleep.
So I found a city park and slept awhile under a tree. Then I woke up stiff and chilly.
I started walking around the city- quiet and pitch black. It was a lonely feeling.
With every step I felt more and more lonely. But then I spotted lights near the highway.
I headed that way. Could it be? Yes! There was a 24-hour Big Boy Restaurant.
What a relief! I marched in; ordered breakfast; got warmed up; and found a newspaper.
Our God is a 24-hour God. He never tires; never lies down; never falls asleep.
The LORD’s help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
He’s always there for you. What a comfort! He who watches over you will not slumber.
Vs 5: The Lord watches over you- the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
In 2008 the CRC sponsored a Sea to Sea bicycle tour across the country.
The goal: to raise funds to combat poverty. I rode the final leg- to the Statue of Liberty.
Out west riders had faced tremendous heat- over 95 degrees on some days.
The sun bore down relentlessly. Dehydration was always a concern.
Some areas were so barren, there were no trees or bushes anywhere nearby.
A rider once told me about stopping for lunch: the only shade was under a road sign! How they longed to be shaded, protected from the burning sun.
The Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun will not harm you by day.
What a picture of the Lord’s protection.
Nor the moon by night. We might wonder: why do we need protection from the moon?
Well, in ancient cultures lunar cycles were associated with distress and mental illness.
From this we get the word lunacy.
Ruth worked for many years at a psychiatric hospital.
It was common knowledge that during a full moon they got far more crisis calls.
The sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night. God protects us day + night.
Now Psalm 121 moves from a specific picture to a general principle.
Vs 7: The Lord will keep you from all harm.
At this point you might think: Hold on; does God really keep us from all harm?
God’s people still have accidents! God’s people lose their jobs. God’s people face cancer.
God’s people are not immune from harm and misery in a sin-broken world.
Certainly the pilgrims recognized that.
Their confidence wasn’t that God spared them from every instance of danger.
Rather, they believed God had the power to help them in every type of danger.
In this psalm they claimed that no type of danger is beyond God’s power + protection.
The Lord will keep you from all harm; he will watch over your life.
The full sense of God’s care isn’t limited to physical things- like slipping or sunstroke.
The good news is that his care extends even to matters of the soul.
You see, ultimately our greatest danger comes not from criminals or accidents or cancer.
Our greatest danger comes from sin and Satan. No security system can keep sin out. Sin causes all kinds of misery and harm.
The Lord will keep you from all harm- of body and soul.
We believe this Old Testament confidence has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
God sent Jesus to die on the cross to save us from our sins- to protect us from judgment.
Jesus came to give us ultimate security: eternal life. That’s the gospel: the good news!
Is there anyone here who’s never accepted Jesus’ help? If so, I invite you to do so today!
Finally vs 8:The Lord will watch over your coming + going, both now + forevermore. God is a round-trip God. God watches over us the whole way in life.
I think of Josephine, a senior in one of my churches who lived past 100 years old.
She was born before the automobile, before planes, before WWI and WWII,
before atomic bombs, before freeways, before moon landings, before computers.
Now think: God watched over Josephine through all those eras and stages of history:
as a baby, as a child, as a teen, as a wife, as a mother, as a wage-earner, when retired.
God was faithful the whole way- in every season of life. Both now and forevermore!
Like the pilgrims, we live in an uncertain world. We don’t know what dangers we’ll face.
We don’t know exactly what the next chapter of Faith’s life and ministry will look like.
But we do know our ultimate source of security- for body and soul, in life and in death. I lift up my eyes to the mountains- Where does my help come from?
Faith Church Nashville, TN