Psalm 126 Sermon – Week 7 Psalms of Ascent

Most people who study these sorts of things – scholars and experts – they agree that Psalm 126 is one of the most beautiful of all the Psalms. And it is a perfect Psalm for me personally this week. I hope you will find that it is for you also. I preached two funerals this week. Funerals and memorial services are always one of the strangest times for those gathered because the past and the future unmistakably collide in the present. Psychologists talk about closure. Yet there is still a new and unknown future lying ahead.

Yet, even though I find it so much more noticeable at funerals and memorial services, the truth is, this is occurring every day…each day, the past and the future collide in the present… for today…. for each one of us.

I was talking with someone this past week one on one (I’ll call this person Sandy) and I told Sandy what a mutual friend (who I will call Bill) said about her – Bill said they respected Sandy and where Sandy was in her life so much because of all Sandy had been through. Her life is like the song, “I’m still standing”. And it’s a parable of Psalm 126 –

The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary puts it this way about Psalm 126 – In the Scripture today, the Psalmist fondly remembers what Israel has been through and rejoices at how God has delivered them. This Psalm is almost definitely written at the end of the Babylonian captivity. From their experience of being taken to and spending 70 years in Babylon they remember or they have the stories instilled in them of the sacking of their beloved Jerusalem, their humiliation of defeat as captives, the hardships of long journeys, the years of being homesick, families scattered and separated, their elderly dying in a strange land, young people growing up never having been to the city of David. And in those days hope would have wrestled with their despair. Yet here they stand at the crossroads of the past and the future. And verse 3 says, “The Lord has done great things for us… we are glad.” Once again they were permitted to walk the streets of their hometown, discovering lost friends and family members, and new family members who they are just first meeting.

The Pslam falls into two parts. And this is why I find it so relevent.

Verses 1-3 recall great experiences in the life of the people, an experience of grief and humiliation from which they have been saved by the goodness of God. The second, verses 4-6 is the hope and prayer that God will show up and show off once again and turn their fortunes once more, so they will be like those previously who sowed in tears yet ended up harvesters who who come home with ringing cheers and arms full of crops.

As difficult as their Babylonian captivity had been, life returning to Jerusalem had its challenges as well. There was the challenge of rebuilding the city, the walls, the temple… there was the challenge of keeping the people together against the allurements and hostilities of surrounding enemies. As time passed, there was an Eyore like sense of, “It” never work.” Even for the leaders, a day’s work would often end once again like it did in Babylon with hope wrestling with despair.

This Psalm sprang from that experience.

What God had done before, they know God can do again – so in verse 4 their plea is, “Restore our fortunes Lord” like the water courses in the Negeb – south of Jerusalem– In the summer the land was barren and the heat merciless. Men and amimals would suffer through until in the fall when the rains refreshed and filled the dry streambeds. You could count on it.

Do Lord what you have done. Show up and show off in the lives of your people. We will go forward sowing in tears… Yet we will go forward in faith. And we know we will reap with shouts of joy… not even unlike the joy we have now.

Today is always such a difficult thing to enjoy. Even when we can look back and see how God brought us through things, and we should be able to proclaim as the Psalmist did and as the pilgrims would sing, “The Lord has done great things for us, we are glad”…. we know that you know who tries to get us to focus not on God’s deliverance, but on the monsters we were delivered from.

And if he fails there, he will try to turn our focus to worrying about the future. But the Psalmist will have none of it.

The Psalm ends not with uncertainty, but with assurance. They do not sing, if…. they sing shall. They knew from experience that God would deliver. He always had and His promise was that he always would.

He that goeth forth and weepeth, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him – bringing the harvest home.

And how can they know this?

When we see commercials for gold, they always say something like “past performance is no indicator of future gains”. In other words, they will tell you what the price of gold has done in the past and they want you to believe that it will do it again, but they cannot claim that it will. They cannot know for sure.

Psalm 126 reminds us that God’s faithfulness in the past is an indicator of His future faithfulness.

Each act of God was an impossible miracle. There was no way it could have happened and yet it did happen.

One day there was nothing and the next day God said, “Let there be light”.

One day David was a shepherd boy and the next anointed the future King of Israel.

One day the Israelites were slaves in Egypt making bricks without straw and the next day they were singing songs of praise running up the far side of the Red Sea.

One day the disciples were fishing and the next day they had left their nets behind and were being trained by the Son of God.

One day a man was lame and the next day he was being interrogated by the religious authorities as to how he was walking.

One day a woman was coming to the well at noon and the next day she was witnessing about the Messiah.

One day Saul was a persecutor of Christians and the next day he was the Apostle Paul proclaiming Christ.

One day a woman was about to be killed with stones and the next day she was a forgiven child of the King.

Each act of God was an impossible miracle. There was no way it could have happened and yet it did happen.

One Sunday I was sitting in the pews of a church and the next Sunday they were calling me pastor.

There was no way it could have happened and yet it did happen.

One day Diane’s sister Kathy was going to die without Christ and the next day she is fit for heaven.

Peterson writes: Joy is nurtured by expectation. So that no matter what today holds, we have hope for tomorrow. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

Joy in the Christian life is not found in the escape or in eliminating our hurts, God knows how to wipe away tears. Joy comes in feeling good about God in knowing His ways are dependable and He can redeem any heartbreak. He is faithful.

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and this hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5

Crossroads you gotta choose, which way do we win or lose, every bone in my soul says I sing on through – Zac Brown –

Lately I have been finding myself discouraged about our situation – the situation with the virus, the UMC, the United States, and the world. I have been saying I see no way this ends well. I needed this Psalm today. I need it.

MercyMe – Flawless – Then Like a hero who takes the stage when
We’re on the edge of our seats saying it’s too late

The Psalmist is encouraging us to believe in the happy ending. Are there those who will mock us and tell us that it is wishful thinking? Sure.

But we can remember the times in the past – There was no way it could have happened and yet it did happen.

The New Testament is the most meaningless literature in all the world if it does not witness to the happy ending. The Apostle Paul said, if this is not true, I am to be pitied above all men.

There is a happy ending not just for Jesus, but because of Jesus – then for us – for we who call ourselves His.

Where you there when they crucified my Lord?

Where you there when they nailed him to the tree?

Where you there when they laid him in the tomb?

But it does not end in the tomb.

Where you there when He raised up from the dead.

Where you there when the hope beat out despair?

Where you there when He went up in the sky?

Where you there when the Spirit came back down?

Psalm 126 leads us out to great truths which support us in life and comfort us in death. Life with God ends in triumph…. not if or may…. but shall and does.

And this day, today… where the past and the future collide, I stand before you to remind you that the Lord has done great things for us… and He is not done.

1 Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see:
all I have needed thy hand hath provided–
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

2 Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon, and stars in their courses above
join with all nature in manifold witness
to thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love. [Refrain]

3 Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! [Refrain]