Toorak Uniting Church

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"Help" – some reflections

Genesis 12: 1 – 4     Psalm 121     Romans 4: 4 – 5, 13 – 17
Rev. Ian Brown
20 February 2005

That feeling of being just a little too late is an awful one!
Whether I arrive just in time to see the last car park filled or the house full sign go up or remembering that the appointment was yesterday and not today – it is so deflating to realise that one is too late to be helped.
I have a cartoon of two intrepid campers getting ready at daybreak outside their tent. The first looks smug, all dressed and standing in his hiking boots as his friend struggles with his boots, only then to upend one and they both see a great pile of creepy crawlies fall out. Smugness turns to horror with realisation! Too late for help.

I’m not sure that Abram had hiking boots, perhaps that was wise, but he had some help in setting off on his journey.

God blesses Abram on his way. With the promise of a great nation to flow from his family and this promise of blessing, to him and through him to all families, Abram sets off on the epic life journey that traces the roots of Hebrew and Christian faith. Today’s psalm was written many generations later, but I think if he had known it, this would have been a psalm Abram would have used often.

I lift my eyes to the hills to look for help.
I wonder, where do you look for help?

I’d been feeling a little stressed, there were too many things to do, too many interruptions – all for good causes of course, too many directions to be pulled in at the same time, I lift my eyes and stare out the window, I lift my eyes and look to the café for help; a good coffee is what I need!

It’s just all been more than we can cope with – problems, ours and others. Bosses too demanding, family all wanting this and that, and not having seen aunt Bea for ages and still the weekend is full of commitments – it’s the end of the week and we lift our eyes to – a bottle for relief – very common!
Where will help come from – a substance to make us feel it all a little less.

Everyone seems grumpy today – is it the weather or time of year? The people we meet seem to have an axe to grind and it’s our nerves that are doing the grinding. We lift our eyes looking for a friend, or for a smile, for the hug of a loved one. We lift our eyes to look for support, to look for recognition and someone who cares.
Sometimes we come across a problem with our emotions or how we deal with a relationship or a conflict or any number of personal issues and we lift our eyes to look for help;
Every bookstore has row upon row of good advice, published by experts and if you are there looking for help you won’t be the only one, this is one of the best seller sections in books. Why are these books so popular?

Isn’t it exactly because there are so many of us looking for help, so many, just like the psalmist raising our eyes and wondering where our help will come from.

In popular culture it was summed up so well by the young English philosopher Paul McCartney and friends in the line "help me if you can, I’m feeling down."

This is part of what it is to be human. It happens to us at ordinary times in the middle of the everyday routines and it happens to us when faced by personal tragedy or calamity. We look for help.
This 121st psalm is one that is often chosen as the text for funerals, as we look for the help of comfort and reassurance.
But I must say that it isn’t just about death. It is much more a psalm about trusting God in the journey that is life.
Very much, these are words of reassurance: "the Lord will keep you, the Lord will watch over your going out and your coming in."
And before you conclude that this is a very glib general promise, we ought to look at it’s context for a moment.
This psalm is the second of a group of 15, titled the Psalms of Ascent. And one title given this 121st psalm is that of "Song of the pilgrim." "Looking to the hills" – probably the hills of Zion as the pilgrims make their way to the Temple, "not letting your foot slip", as the pilgrim walks the road, all evoke the image of a journey. And, being a pilgrimage this is also a religious journey – there is action inferred; of the long walk, the devotional and worshipful activity when the point to which eyes have been raised is reached.
So when we hear that the "Lord will watch your going out and your coming in", the whole context is one of moving toward God, of devotion to God, of worship and religious expression; it is spoken in the context of the action of the faithful towards God.

Perhaps for us then this psalm might be one for use before coming to church; … "I lift my eyes on a Sunday morning, where will my help come from, my help comes from the Lord" – or perhaps a psalm before prayer:… "I lower my eyes, from where will my help come, my help comes as I set time aside to be with God."
Whenever we find it helpful to use, this psalm assures us that God is the one who keeps us; "the Lord is your keeper", keeps you, keeps Israel, keep you from evil, keep your life – six times it is reinforced! We are kept in the love and care of the creator of heaven and earth.

No! this is a poem of faith and hope.
And perhaps it is best thought of in ultimate terms, whether we think about the context of death or not; because the psalm, "I lift my eyes to the hills" really expresses a hope that is only begun, only hinted at, only evoked now. A hope whose fulfilment we look forward to in faith.

When St Paul writes about Abraham’s faith in the promise of God, as being faith in the one who "gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist," "hoping against hope" is Paul’s description of such faith.
This is the same faith and hope in ultimate terms, a belief in what could not be seen, belief despite no children for Abraham, faith and hope despite calamity and troubles in our lives. Faith in the care and ultimate protection of the living God, creator of heaven and earth.
And when we need some reassurance that it is not too late for us, look only to the story of a barren old couple from Genesis chapter 12 and remember the blessing that, through their faithfulness has come to so many of the families of earth.

"I lift my eyes to the hills" is a psalm for those on their way with God – a psalm for Abraham, for Hebrews, Christians, Romans and us too. Our help is in God!

So then,

may God keep your going out of here,
And your coming in again,
May God keep you in your seeking and your working
In your resting and your leisure
From this time on and forevermore.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2005

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