Saturday, November 27, 2010

psalm 107; God's love endures forever: Life's Epic Journey Following Jesus Through The Landscapes Of The Soul

Psalm 107


Psalms 107–150

1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;

his love endures forever.

2 Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story—

those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,

3 those he gathered from the lands,

from east and west, from north and south.[a]

4 Some wandered in desert wastelands,

finding no way to a city where they could settle.

5 They were hungry and thirsty,

and their lives ebbed away.

6 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,

and he delivered them from their distress.

7 He led them by a straight way

to a city where they could settle.

8 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love

and his wonderful deeds for mankind,

9 for he satisfies the thirsty

and fills the hungry with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,

prisoners suffering in iron chains,

11 because they rebelled against God’s commands

and despised the plans of the Most High.

12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;

they stumbled, and there was no one to help.

13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he saved them from their distress.

14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,

and broke away their chains.

15 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love

and his wonderful deeds for mankind,

16 for he breaks down gates of bronze

and cuts through bars of iron.

17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways

and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.

18 They loathed all food

and drew near the gates of death.

19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

and he saved them from their distress.

20 He sent out his word and healed them;

he rescued them from the grave.

21 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love

and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings

and tell of his works with songs of joy.

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;

they were merchants on the mighty waters.

24 They saw the works of the LORD,

his wonderful deeds in the deep.

25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest

that lifted high the waves.

26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;

in their peril their courage melted away.

27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;

they were at their wits’ end.

28 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,

and he brought them out of their distress.

29 He stilled the storm to a whisper;

the waves of the sea[b] were hushed.

30 They were glad when it grew calm,

and he guided them to their desired haven.

31 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love

and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people

and praise him in the council of the elders.

33 He turned rivers into a desert,

flowing springs into thirsty ground,

34 and fruitful land into a salt waste,

because of the wickedness of those who lived there.

35 He turned the desert into pools of water

and the parched ground into flowing springs;

36 there he brought the hungry to live,

and they founded a city where they could settle.

37 They sowed fields and planted vineyards

that yielded a fruitful harvest;

38 he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,

and he did not let their herds diminish.

39 Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled

by oppression, calamity and sorrow;

40 he who pours contempt on nobles

made them wander in a trackless waste.

41 But he lifted the needy out of their affliction

and increased their families like flocks.

42 The upright see and rejoice,

but all the wicked shut their mouths.

43 Let the one who is wise heed these things

and ponder the loving deeds of the LORD

Let me tell you about one day’s epic journey on a tour round the South Island with a group of friends many years ago. We camped by the track to a lake the night before. we got up at 5am and ran, I was younger then, down the bush lined track to see the majestic Southern Alpes reflected in the early morning stillness of mirror like Lake Matherson, then we watched the sun rise and the wind stirring the water.

After breakfast we hiked up to a glacier and clambered over the ice.

After lunch we went for a tramp, I was fitter then, through sub tropical beech forest to a look out and got a view of mountains, rugged west coast beach, strewn with drift wood, to the north and south of us like sapphires in a sea of green were two lagoons. Then we went down to a beach and through a rock tunnel to see a seal colony.

As it was summer and the light lasted well into the night, we drove over the Haast pass and down into the drought stained brown hills of central Otago, with its alien, at least middle earth like limestone rocks and pillars, and arrived late in the evening at a friend’s place in a town in the shadow of yet another majestic mountain range, an epic day’s journey, through some amazing divrse landscape. Made easy by modern cars and sealed roads, but in pioneer and pre European days the same journey would have taken weeks with more dangers than simply attracting sandflies when you stopped by the side of the road for a meal.

The core of Psalm 107 is an imperatival Psalm: a summons for people to give thanks to God that draws on the epic journeys of people back from exile, as the reason to give God praise. People’s personal journeys and trials are used as metaphors for the whole of the people of Israel. Therefore they should give God thanks. All the way through God’s steadfast love endures forever. For me as I read this Psalm I also can’t help but think of the landscapes and circumstances that we journey through, that God has lead us through to return to him and continues to lead us through, individually and as a church, both physical landscapes and landscapes of the soul.

 In 532 bc Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonian empire and people were either killed scattered as refugees all round the world or dragged off to captivity in Babylon.

After 70 years and the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians, God bought a remnant back, they rebuilt Jerusalem and the temple and worshipped God there again. For the Jews the exile and return were seen as part of God’s covenant faithfulness and love. The exile was a justified punishment for generation after generation not keeping their side of the covenant with God. The return was God’s grace and favour shown to his people once again. Shown in the way he lead them through dark times, illness, deserts, wild seas and changing environments.

Maybe it’s hard for us to hear the triumphant tone of this psalm in a week where we are mourning the loss of 29 miners at Pike River. When I saw this picture of the first of the Chilean miners being saved I couldn’t help but think of verses 13 and 14.

This week that connection feels like ashes in my mouth. And when you look at the cameos the psalmist writes you realise that people die when they get lost in the desert, people perish in the midst of ocean storms, people waste away in chains and prison darkness and disease ends lives of loved one far too soon. A faith and religion that only gives well orchestrated testimonies of success and salvation does not connect with the harsh landscapes that we all travel through. In commenting on the psalm EM Blaiklock says.

‘The nation caught at the moment of this psalm has been through the fire, is comforted, her warfare accomplished. Who shall grudge this shout of jubilation?... We can also look to books such as Habakkuk and Job to see ourselves in days of harder trials.

In the Psalm we have four accounts of personal salvation that are used to illustrate Israel’s salvation as a nation.

We have the image of the caravan adrift in the desert. Desperately hoping that they will reach a water source or civilization before the unrelenting sun and dehydration leave them to die and be swallowed up by shifting sand. For Israel this journey had strong echos of their wilderness wanderings. It was in essence their story. In Isaiah 42 we see that the return from exile was shown as a straight path through the wilderness, where the hills would be made low and the valleys filled up. But from the other side of the exile looking back there is the realisation that it wasn’t all plain sailing and motorway driving, but even so God was able to make a way even in the seemingly trackless desert. He provided food for the hungry and water to quench the thirst. May be that has been your journey as well, in a dry land where you could not find sustenance and a quenching of spiritual thirst, until you meet Jesus who in John’s gospel calls himself the living water. Maybe for you it is a story of looking for relationship, significance purpose and meaning in a dry twenty fist century consumer society until you met Christ. But also maybe you are in a dry desert landscape at the moment, Mother Teresa’s dairies have been published recently and they tell the story of many years in her life when she felt the very absence of God, her spiritual disciplines were dry wells, she felt like God had left her at her call to the poor and she had journeyed on alone. Maybe you need the assurance that God in Christ is with us in the desert land and able to bring us through, even if it feels like our guide is far off over the heat hazed horizon.

Then in verse 10 there is a picture of imprisonment in utter darkness and despair. With God’s intervention the people find their chains broken and are released into freedom. The metaphor picks up Israel as a whole, carried into captivity and now released agian. For us looking back from beyond the cross we to can see this metaphor as one for being redeemed from the prison and chains of death and sin, Jesus death on the cross, where God’s own son is not saved from death but willing gives his life for us, has broken sins power over us. It is a metaphor that rings in such hymns as amazing grace and Charles Wesley’s ‘and can it be’ my chains fell off my heart was free I rose when forth and followed thee’. Many of us can testify today to dark places and prison like experiences in our lives. Maybe depression, addictions, habits, abusive relationships that feel like they are chains holding us in the dark, away from God light, that we have been saved from. Maybe today you find yourself in such dark places and you need to hear the hope that God is able to save you.

In verse 17 we move to a different landscape a different predicament, People who because of their lifestyle and sin have fallen ill. Again we need to realise that this is not the common understanding of illness and disease that it is a direct result of sin. This is a personal account extrapolated to the whole of Israel. Like the desert image that will come later and the idea of captivity it has echoes of God’s earlier salvation of God’s people out of Egypt and the events of the exodus and wilderness wanderings, when the people of Israel were stricken with a deadly disease as a result of their idolatry. Here again in this situation there is God’s salvation, he brings healing. Maybe in our modern medical understanding we could say that God enables and empowers the life style changes needed for this person to become healthy. As I diabetic that is my key prayer not that god would heal me but help me to change and keep healthy habits. Some of you may identify with this section as God has healed you or you have felt his strength peace and presence as you have gone through medical crisis. Others today may be encouraged to have hope Of Gods saving ability in the face of such issues. Even giving the strength to journey on through what feels like a bleak and barren landscape, even the valley of the shadow of death. He is able to replace our suffering with songs of Joy.

Then in verse 23 we see the Psalmist turn to a metaphor of an epic sea journey. It shows the extent of the exile and dispersion of people. Israel are very much a land people and the sea for them was a picture of chaos and the horror of uncertainty. This is one of my favourite passages in scripture and as an old surfer the idea of waves and storms is an invitation to excitement, to indeed see his wondrous works in the deep. But for the Jews such travel on the stormy Mediterranean Sea was to be feared. It shows Jonah’s desperation of not wanting to give Nineveh a chance to repent and turn to God that he risks a sea voyage. In the new testament we have the story of one of Paul’s ship wrecks. While the disciples like St Andrew were fishermen the extent of their seafaring was on the equally uncertain waters of the Sea of Galilee. Here is the metaphor of God delivering his people through uncertain times; stormy times and bringing them back to safe haven. Maybe in your life you have had times when you felt all at sea or situations and circumstances seem to collide to form the perfect storm and you are in danger of being swamped and you have known God’s presence and salvation, or you are navigating such waters now, in dire straits and need to hear the hope of this testimony. The psalm invites us to give our testimonies as a way of praising God and encouraging others.

We live in a time which is a time of great change like a storm tossed sea and it is good for us God’s people to know God can bring us through. However some people as Leonard Sweet says simply want to hunker in the bunker and ride the storm out hoping that nothing will have to change and they can keep it safe and calm.

But this psalm says for the church to get where God is wanting us to go we need to unfurl our sails and head out into the deep water trusting in God and navigating by the north star, a biblical metaphor for Jesus. It’s risky but it is the way forward the way home.

Finally the Psalmist takes us to a different landscape a different thought. He talks of the change of land from green pasture to desert land. In our age of Environmental change and creeping desertification and fertile land on south sea atolls becoming unproductive with rising sea levels we can relate to this image. And we need to heed the call of this last section of the psalm to consider how we live in the land. But here you get the picture of the land of Babylon and Israel both being at various times both plush and fertile and others becoming marginal and arid. While we want the green pastures and quite waters by of Psalm 23 we often forget that that Psalm, is not the picture of God as a shepherd in a settled agrarian society, like the green field of New Zealand, but the semi-nomadic existence of a desert people. That God as shepherd leads his people from one source of sustenance to another. We often what to stay put in our comfort zones, in what we are used to and we resist the call of Christ to come follow me to new land and new places. Because that involves change and moving and even temporary discomfort and uncertainty. Here we see God changing the water sources and courses and the lands fruitfulness as a way of moving his people on. Inviting them to consider how they live and how they express their covenant relationship with God. It’s interesting to see in the book of Acts that there is an exile like move by the Holy spirit for the church in Jerusalem that was happy simply being where it was and not fulfilling the great commission to go to all nations with the good news of Jesus Christ. We see God using persecution to scatter them out of Judea to Samaria and beyond. We see as a result of that dispersion the church having a new centre in Antioch, where missionary endeavours flow. Old water sources often don’t meet the need for the present day and will not support the numbers they used to, God will often in our lives and our churches change the landscape to make us willing to follow the shepherd to new pastures.

I want to finish with two brief thoughts.

The first is that God is with us and for us and loves us and is able to save us in the midst of the various land and sea scapes of our lives. Dire straits, dire circumstances, dire water shortages, storm clouds and shifting sands. The steadfast love oif the lord endures forever. Whatever landscape you are going through at the moment, may you be encouraged and have hope. AS we remember at advent a saviour is born to us. God in Christ is able to save us and lead us safely through. Give thanks to him for his steadfast love, may it remind you of his goodness and his strength and his abiding presence. May it provide the courage you need for the journey: Life’s epic journey through the landscapes of the soul.

Secondly, In his article Dorothy on leadership,, Brian McLaren uses the epic journey of Dorothy in the film the Wizard of Oz as a metaphor for Christian leadership and for the church. Dorothy you will remember is lost and in a strange land and heads off on a journey a quest to seek the answer. She invites a rag tag group of equally lost and broken people to join her on this journey down the yellow brick road. They form a community and as they journey find wholeness and healing together. This is a great picture of what it is to be church. We haven’t arrived, we are not settled in the Promised Land yet, but are called together with our brokenness and our imperfections, questions and doubts, to quest together following Jesus, where he will lead. It is a epic journey, one fraught with danger and difficulty toils and snares as we sang in our opening hymn. But one we trust Jesus to lead us together through. It is an epic journey through the landscapes of the soul following Jesus.

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