I love the sea and living on the coast. Maybe it is having surfed or that my fondest childhood memories are trips to French bay for a swim after school. later in life I lived for five year at Westshore in Napier and when there wasn’t off key drunken karaoke from the pub across the road we would fall asleep to the sound of the surf hitting the shingle beach. I’d wake up and go for a ride at sunrise along the waterfront and as I looked at the Sea my prayer would be ‘Thank you Lord that your love surrounds us like the sea surrounds our Island home. It is a love like the sea vast and reaching out beyond the horizon of our ability to see it or comprehend it. It is eternal and its depths cannot be fathomed. When we moved to Auckland it was easy to lose sight of the fact that we still lived by the coast. Literally you could lose sight of it amidst the high rises and constantly moving cityscapes blocking the line of sight and you could also forget to look up and around under the pressure of work and family, stress and deadlines. But just occasionally I’d be surprised by the sea. As I went around a corner or went about my business as I went about life I’d be surprised by a flash of blue or that silvery grey and I’d become aware again of the sea. I’d stop and I’d Pray in the middle of all that was going on ‘Thank you Lord that your love surrounds us like the sea surrounds our island home.’ Then I’d go on aware again of God’s presence and his constant faithful love. We’ve moved recently and were we live now in Onehunga we have a view out our kitchen window of the Manukau and I find myself looking out at it first thing in the morning and last thing at night… a constant reminder of God’s consistent love.
Psalm 125 uses a similar but different image to speak of God’s faithful love for those who trust in him. It’s one that comes from the geography of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built on Mt Zion which is a medium sized hill surrounded by hills higher than it is that act like sentinels around it.
Just as Jerusalem is surrounded by these higher peaks so God surrounds his people with his love. Just as those mountains are solid and always there so is God’s presence unshakable and enduring.
Psalm 125 is a psalm of ascent, of coming to worship God. scholars say is a communal lament. It is a pouring out of the concerns of God’s people for the way things are. It was written in the post exilic times as the exiles had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem and had started to rebuild their society around worship and keeping the Law of Moses (in a good way) and they had found themselves as part of the Persian empire. Still under foreign rule, still not able to be independent. struggling to fulfill their vision of being God’s people. aware that some amongst them were drawn away from the faith by the dominant society. Aware that some of their own people opposed what they were doing, you can a feel for that in books like Nehemiah. That is what is behind the lines we find hard to relate to it this Psalm about wanting those who have turned to crooked way to be banished with the evildoers. It is the language of an occupied people wanting the occupying power and those who have collaborated with them to be sent packing.
As a nation, they are caught between wanting to be God’s people and being pushed to conform to the dominant culture. It is a challenge that successive generations of pilgrims could identify with, as there was a growing desire for Israel to be an independent nation. They could identify with it in their own lives living in the diaspora as well, if you remember the psalms of ascent start in Psalm 120 with a discontent about living among the tents of those who do not desire peace; people with different values and ambitions, People whose aspirations were based solely in economic prosperity and security by military power. God’s people can identify down through history with this tension between what is going on around them and their desire to worship and live for God. The dominant Ideologies and the call to live out the gospel.
Psalm 125 is also a communal affirmation of faith and trust. It starts with that wonderful image of God’s sovereignty and power, God’s presence and protection of his people, just like the mountains surround Jerusalem. This is what enables them to bring their concerns and worries to God. That tust results in prayer for God help and assistance. They acknowledge God’s sovereignty as the reason that the sceptre of the wicked will not remain. The sovereignty of God will outlast the rule of any empire or nation. Any dominant ideology that does not reflect the love and the justice of God. In their own experience, they now that meant even their own nation had to suffer defeat and exile to learn about living as God’s people. But God’s love outlasts them like the mountains.
It is a psalm that finishes with a benediction, an answer to their prayers by a priest. A statement of Peace on Israel. Peace in Jewish thinking is not just the end of conflict or war, let’s face it they had that because of the Persian Empire, but rather of right relationships. Peace is right Relationship with God, with each other, those in need, even those who would be our enemies, with created order, with man made things like their possessions and wealth. That is peace.
So it’s a psalm that points towards Jesus coming as the prince of peace, the one who would establish God’s kingdom and God’s rule, not as they may have hoped for by defeating occupying forces, in the time of Jesus that is the Romans. But by defeating sin and death and calling and enabling by the presence of the Holy Spirit for us to live as a community that reflects God’s peace, love and justice.
So how does this passage relate to us? Well Commentator Leslie Allen says it calls us to be candid about our fears, but secure in our trust’ to live in that tension between the reality of the world is with its pressures and difficulties and temptations and wrongdoings, and the reality of God’s sovereignty, God’s constant love and God abiding presence. To join the pilgrims in bringing our fears and concerns for the world to God in prayer.Our New testament reading gives us the hope of the benediction in Psalm 125 that hope with Jesus saying my peace I leave with you, a peace that the world cannot take away because it did not give it to you. It’s the same sermon where Jesus says ‘in your life there will be trouble, but do not worry I have overcome the world’. That peace that comes in the abiding presence of our God whose love is faith and endures for ever. Psalm 125 also gives us a very practical way of remembering that peace and presence in associating it with things around you the hills the sea, maybe even trees; psalm 1 says we are like trees planted by a water source that will not dry up, maybe even having someone having to help you walk or get around, the way the Holy Spirit guides us and how God will not let our foot slip in psalm 121. Of course we turn to Jesus reminder of his great sacrificial love his abiding presence and the hope of his return in the bread and the wine.