This sermon is part 1 of the series, The Pslams of Ascent as we work through Psalms 120-134 using Rev. Eugene Peterson’ book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction as our guide. As with all of the sermons here on my site, I post this and all of them for the glory of God with complete permission for you to use them as the Lord leads you. You may deliver any of them as they are, alter them, or pull parts from them. No citing of sources is necessary. Praying for blessings upon your calling.
Listen to this sentence: We are submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice and we can feel like we are drowning in it. Would you guess it was written in 1080 or 40 years later in 2020? It was written by Rev. Eugene Peterson in 1980 in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. We are submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice and we can feel like we are drowning in it.
Charles Spurgeon said: A lie can spread around the world while truth is putting its boots on. We can trust nothing we hear and depend on nobody we meet. And this dissatisfaction with the world is a preparation for traveling the way of Christianity. The dissatisfaction, along with a yearning for peace and truth can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness found only in God. Peterson adds: “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way. As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might take away the financial anxieties, we are not likely to seek God for our peace, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith.”
A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world to finally acquire an appetite for a world of grace. While society argues over masks and politics, dividing their loyalties between MSNBC/CNN and Fox News, those who begin the pilgrimage or those on the pilgrimage to God grow weary of it.
A blog I follow sent out a post this past week and this was an illustration:
The overwhelmed mother of a newborn reached for her cellphone and heard a loving voice say, “How are you, Darling? What kind of day are you having?” “Oh, Mom,” said the young mother while breaking into tears, “I’ve had such a bad day. The baby won’t eat. The garbage disposal is backed up and leaking. I need to go shopping, but don’t have the energy, and besides I’ve just sprained my ankle and have to hobble around. The house is a wreck, and I’m supposed to have two friends over for dinner tonight.”
The mother was shocked and full of sympathy. “Oh, darling,” she said, “sit down, relax, and close your eyes. I’ll be over in half an hour. I’ll do your shopping, clean up the house, and cook your dinner for you. I’ll feed the baby, and I’ll call a repairman I know who’ll be at your house to fix the garbage disposal and leak in a jiffy. Now stop crying. I’ll do everything. In fact, I’ll call George at the office and tell him to get over at your house and help, too.”
The young mother asked, “Who’s George?” Her mother replied, “Why, George! Your father… Is this 284-1373?” The young mother replied, “No, it’s 284-1376.” The older woman said in return, “Oh, I’m sorry. I guess I have the wrong number.” There was a short pause. Then the young woman asked, “Does this mean you’re not coming over?”
Psalm 120 is the song of such a person, overwhelmed by their circumstances.
Psalm 120 is from the perspective of one who is sick with the lies and crippled by the hate, a person doubled up in pain over what is going on in their world. But it is more than just crying out. It is a pain that penetrates and permeates through despair. It is a despair that is sick of a secular world always seeking a fight. We realize at times that we are made for something different and better. A person who finally comes to their wits end and says: I am for peace, but there is no peace to be found in this world. There is no affirmation from the world to those who are peaceful. Only counterfeit peace that does not fulfill nor satisfy. “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!”
The distress that begins and ends the psalm is the painful reality that we have been lied to. We have been sold a bill of goods. The world is not how it has been presented to us. We have been told a lie ever since we can remember: that human beings are basically nice and good. That things like Jobs, money, cars, houses, relationships, being stroked on social media, that these things will leave us fulfilled. And we accumulate resentment and anger that boils over. Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips and deceitful tongues. Rescue me from the lies of advertisers, from the media, from politicians, from false teachings in the church that affirm sin, from the lies of self help gurus. Rescue me from the person who tries to sell me my best life now and omits Jesus.
Somewhere along the ways of the world, on the road from the cradle to the grave, we must take an exit ramp. John Baillie wrote, “I am sure that the bit of the road that most requires to be illuminated is the point where it forks.”
Psalm 120 is the decision to take one way over another. It is the turning point marking rock bottom. It is the transition from
a life of wishing for the better life that the world promises yet never delivers on,
to a rugged pilgrimage of discipleship in faith –
from complaining how bad things are to pursuing God, who is good.
This decision is said and sung on every continent in every language. The offer is proclaimed from pulpits around the world every Lord’s day. The people who make this decision, take the exit ramp, and take delight in it are called Christians.
The first step toward God is a step away from the lies of the world. It is a renunciation of the false promises and the lies about ourselves, our neighbors, and our universe. And it is not that we are totally innocent. Before Jesus, we are complicit. We cannot just blame it on the world. We bear a responsibility for our part.
Woe is me, that I sojourn in Meshech and I dwell among the tents of Kedar. Two places and people groups far from one another… the author likely here just meaning he is living among barbarians and heathens. Paraphrased by Peterson as, “I live in the midst of hoodlums and wild savages; this world is not my home and I want out.” For too long I have been content to be a participant. Eugene Peterson says it is nearly as hard for a sinner to recognize the world’s temptations as it is for a fish to discover impurities in the water. There is a sense, a feeling that something is not right, but just what it is is not clear.
Another Peterson – Andrew Peterson says in his song, “Come, Lord Jesus” – I’ve carried my cross into dens of the wicked, And you know I blended in just fine.
But then a miracle happens: The Holy Spirit gives us a nudge – perhaps a nudge that is not unlike the nudge like when you have a foot in the water of a pool and someone comes and bumps you just enough to knock you in the pool….. The Holy Spirit might bump us enough to move us from despair to the miry clay. And that is not a cause for sadness, but rather a cause for gladness. This despair stimulates a new beginning – the first step in a journey to God that becomes a life of peace. The Bible word that we use is repentance. Repentance is when we desire to turn from our own ways – the ways and lies of the world and say yes to the truth of God.
Psalm 120 is the prod that gets us going. It is not a beautiful song. It is harsh. But it does get us started. In my distress I cried to the Lord…and He heard me.
AW Tozer in his book, Rut, Rot, Revival wrote, “…every once in a while there appears an awakened soul. Some way or another this person got awake. Somehow God Almighty awakened him or her…(and) he or she ceases to be mediocre… and becomes a blazing shining light.”
Scripture says that when we confess to God, He hears us and forgives us. And we cry out. Charles Spurgeon says: Deliver us from evil… from gossips, talebearers, writers of anonymous letters, and all sorts of lie mongers….
We confess to God the part we played and He forgives us and we do not have to participate in the arguments any longer. God lifts us out of the miry clay and sets our feet on solid ground. Instead of focusing on those peddling division, instead of arguing on social media, instead of focusing on liars and war… or wars of words, We focus on the Lord. In my distress I cry out to the Lord and He heard me… And He says, “My Child, My child, walk in my ways.”
They fight with weapons that we as children of God cannot stoop to.
And we do not have to. The Scripture tells us the battle belongs to the Lord.
He says: When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God.
Charles Spurgeon – When we are slandered, it is a joy that the Lord knows us… He will not hear the lie against us, but He will hear our prayer against the lie.
Cyprian – Born into a rich pagan family in the year 200, converted to Christianity in his late 40’s, and becomes a bishop: “It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and good people who have learned the great secret of life. They have found a joy and wisdom which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are Christians. . . and I am one of them.” ~ He was martyred for the faith in the year 258.
A life of Christ is not a life of ease and it never has been. They spoke lies agains Stephen in Acts 6 and they killed him. They spoke lies against the Apostle Paul and imprisoned him. They spoke lies against Jesus and you know how that one turned out. If the world is a friend to Christianity, something is not right. And because we go against the winds of society, we sometimes wonder….
Sometimes, even within our journey of Christian faith, there may be days that we want to ask, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 120 reminds us that He has not. In my distress I cried to the Lord, and He heard me.
It is a blessing to know He hears you….
When you have strayed
when you have done things you regret
when you have been disobedient
when you have squandered grace
when you have fit in too well with the world
When you have had all you can take
He has an open door policy. Cry out to the Lord and He welcomes you, welcomes you back or welcomes you in from the storms.
Eugene Peterson says it well when he talks of our turning to or back to God:
He again sets us on the way to traveling in the light. It is a rejection that is also an acceptance, a leaving that develops into an arriving, a no to the world that is a yes to God.