12th Sunday after Pentecost

September 1, 2019

Summary

1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvellous for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
(Psalm 131 ESV)

The Amazon is burning. The world is still in the grip of the climate change disputes. We all want the fires out but the views about the big picture shape how we see this event and what should be done.

In the thing that is Brexit, the latest story or event is the debate over who is the rogue in prorogue? There is no agreed version of the history here. When TV came onto the scene and could present news faster than the print media, newspapers ‘fought back’ by becoming ‘viewspapers’ with the rise of the columnist. Today with social media, we all can become columnists and with our views, our take on history, our take up of facts – which today can be checked by fact checkers – nevertheless there is a big dispute about what is going on.

Shrink it down to a home when there are disagreements, fights, addiction, destructive behaviour and you can be in the same situation – there is no clear way forward until people agree on what is happening.

Now this might be the 21st century but I believe it is also true in the 1st century or the 10th century BC, that people have always lived in conditions over which they have some, little or no control – politically, socially, economically, personally.

And for those with a religion then there is also a god or gods with which to interact, to worship, to beseech, and from whom to get something – help which we might dress up with the word ‘blessing’. People, by nature, assess their gods by how helpful they are. And if such gods are not helpful or don’t make sense or are capricious then the relationship is strained at best.
Today we meet one of the briefest psalms – one of the Songs of Ascents – which might refer to words said by pilgrims coming to the temple in Jerusalem or coming to worship. Or it might refer to a choir which worshippers heard high up in the temple precincts. The words are to fill the heart and mind of a child of God who has come to worship; who brings himself or herself as we all do to God with our lives as they are – and often not as we want them to be. And while this is an individual thing, worship is also a communal event because we are in the presence of others and we can be affected by others just as others can be affected by us.

We can understand verse 1!
1 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvellous for me.

Verse 1 can be us – trying to live in the chaos whether that world is the planet, our country, our home, our relationships, or our body.

How ironic that it is written by David – who had a sovereignty and control that simply doesn’t exist for most of the rest of us? Nevertheless we might relate to him if we do have authority, responsibility, or resources and people are looking to us to use them and we wonder what exactly to do. What is right? What will be best? Sometimes people have the inertia that comes from options when it is their responsibility to act.

But at some point you have to do something. And I wonder whether David is an old man here, drawing on experience or still younger and powerful, wondering what to do – what policy, what treaty, and so on especially when for him decisions could literally be life and death for others? We don’t know but he says …
2 But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

The Hebrew used here are intensives which is like adding ‘very’ to verbs, meaning that these are actions that are not unconscious but consciously taken. The ‘calm’ is about being still, motionless – even the standing still in a law court when the legal ruling is given or in worship when a religious
pronouncement is given. There is a stillness because one is listening, wanting to listen.

The ‘quiet’ has a background maybe in still waters, no longer turbulent; when things are made level or
are satisfying and it produces something that soothes – not discordant music but smooth,
melodious perhaps.

And then David gives us the maternal, close image of being weaned. Not breastfeeding but having been
weaned we are still close to the one who has cared for us. The Hebrew here has the idea of treating
kindly, helping, sparing or saving so that someone is complete – and you have the idea of growth and
maturity. When the verb is used in the feminine that’s when you get the feeding and weaning but
otherwise the idea is much more about completing an action, paying for an outcome – for good or for
ill, contributing to someone’s growth. And David in his poetry takes us from verse 1 and ‘God, help us in our situation, our mess’ to verse 2 and a God who is maternal, who is faithful like a mother who has
weaned her baby so that he or she will be complete – and built into this image is that everything the
mother does is kind, helpful – and those are things David is saying he concentrates on – in fact he stills himself in the busy word with this truth; he sooths himself with a truth that God will make level the turbulence of life for God is as close as a mother who has weaned her child.

Maybe I should have just read verse 2 a few times and let the imagery do its thing without that
explanation. That is the power of poetry and song. And then we have verse 3 and David remembers
others but also himself …
3 O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.

The verse assumes a lot here – that everyone knows David’s God. And it is the same for us, as
Christians, that the God who can help when life is crazy, the God who is as personal as a mother
weaning her child is a God who has acted for us. This is a God of action and not just talk, rules and
laws.

David has learnt that whether life goes his way or not his way – and remember he was king so he had
more power overall than most of us – when he brings himself to God, what he calmed himself with,
what soothed him, what completed him and helped him grow – was something outside of himself and
his life. He looked to the God of the Exodus; to the God who helped him defeat Philistines; to the God
who didn’t treat him as he deserved – as he would have punished a subject who had committed
adultery and murdered. David’s thoughts and ears go to God’s words, his promises, and his grace. And
that would sooth, help, stabilise and hopefully guide him for another week in his world.

It is exactly the same for us, as Christians, only that we focus on, listen to, the one David hoped for – the Messiah in David’s world – and for us this descendant is the Lord – Jesus. This is what we
bring to worship and to each day – a message from outside of us – the ‘I love you’ of God’s first
message and we resist looking at our life for proof – sometimes we might say we see it and other times
we can’t see it at all – but when the focus of the ‘I love you’ is a cross and empty tomb then we are
stilled, stabilised, and helped to face whatever our week is about.

Focusing on the crucified God also stops us from turning God into our image of what God should be –
some sort of genie or cosmic butler who exists to help us and if we’re not helped as we want then out
he goes. This is the mother’s milk almost of the Christian Faith that God’s grace and love are best
seen, most clearly seen in Jesus on the cross. That is where God declares that he is for you not against
you. And that message doesn’t change throughout your life. We grow into it. As we are still, quieten
ourselves to listen, and grow in maturity by focussing on Jesus – remembering water, receiving
words, and eating and drinking bread and wine.

This is the best way to live – because Jesus shapes us and our behaviour each and every day – and we
grow in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Bible References

  • Psalm 131:1 - 3

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