Tuesday, May 30, 2017

future Hope for Present times In God's past and persistant faithfulness (Psalm 126, John 16:16-22)

maybe not the negev. But  Areminder that the tide does come in
and cover the manukau mud, that if you are not careful can drag you down.
“History does not pause” says EM Blaiklock, as an introduction to his commentary on Psalm 126, “Every ending is a new beginning.”  He’s talking of the larger stage of world history, as the psalm talks about the restoration of Jerusalem after the exile in Babylon. But it could as easily be on the personal level of the psalmists own story.

“Every ending is a new beginning’ can be a message of hope as we see a phase of life end and a new one bring new possibilities, new adventures. It can be a note of warning, as we face new challenges, problems and issues. You just need to look at the news each evening to see this played out on the grand scale, everyday a new miracle breakthrough to make life better, every day crisis after crisis. Maybe you’ve found yourself saying that well-worn lament, “if it’s not one thing it’s another”. Psalm 126 is a prayer for God’s help in the present, (in verse 4), amidst the concrete past ways God has come to the aid of his people… in "restoring Zion", and a future hope that he will do the same again..." those who sow in tears will reap in joy'.

Scholars are split to the timing of this psalm.

Some see it as a prayer for help in the exile itself. With hindsight the psalmist in their extended exile, looks back at all the times that God had saved his people: Looks back at God’s covenant faithfulness throughout a history of the people’s unfaithfulness. That God had always restored his people, turned their mourning into joy and shown his sovereignty and good works to the nations.  The book of judges and the books of kings, show both Israel’s unfaithfulness, generation after generation, time and time, proof that God was justified in allowing them to be taken into captivity, but also time and time again as they had repented, God had moved to save them. As they sit in exile and one generation passes onto the next they long and dream for God to do what he done in the past for them.

Others see it as coming from after the restoration of Zion, after the remnant of the exiles have come back. God’s amazing hand of grace and mercy at work, it is like it is a dream. But as they have come back, they have found that the reality is far from the expectation. As you read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah you see the challenges before them. A city in ruins an economy in ashes, the place of worship at the centre of who they are desolate and destroyed, and opposition, hostility and suspicion all around them. There were tears in the midst of their joy…

Either way, the psalm looks for help in the present situation, with faith and trust and hope for the future because of God’s faithfulness in the past. The Psalmist looks not only to history but also to the natural world as well. To the south of Jerusalem lies the Negev Desert for most of the year a dry and barren place, seeming lifeless and without hope of things changing, but then the rains come and the wadi’s fill with water and the desert blooms with the vibrant colours of life. If God can do such a wonder in that place, there is hope that as Israel sows in tears, laments over it sins and seeks God in the face of insurmountable problems, there will be a harvest of joy and plenty. The God of history and creation can be trusted.

Psalm 126 is a psalm of ascent, used by pilgrims as they came to worship at the great festivals in Jerusalem, used as they walked up the steps to the temple. It’s a psalm that not only covered Israel’s past but was general and open enough to invite the pilgrim to bring their cares and concerns before God, both as they viewed the world around them, and the distant places they had come from but also the things that were close to their heart’s and drenched in their private tears and deep sorrow. Bringing them with the same trust and the same hope to God. God who was faithful in the past can be trusted to bring new life and joy in the desert, to restore Zion, and to do more than we could possibly dream of today.

Psalm 126, invites you and I to have the same hope the same trust, in the same faithful God as we ask for God’s help in our present world. In the New Testament reading in John 16 we see Jesus tell his disciples that there will be a time when they will not see him and there will be grief but after that they will see him again and there will be joy, joy that the world cannot take away.  He is talking about his death and resurrection, but it can also be about the ongoing Christian walk as well. There are times when it seems we are facing difficulty and hardship, God may seem far away, but we can trust in God’s unfailing love. There is the empty Cross, Christ has paid the price for all we have done wrong and made it possible to come into a new relationship with him. There is the empty tomb and we have the assurance of new life that goes into eternity because Jesus is risen from the grave. This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost and we know the fulfillment of God’s abiding presence with us because he has kept his promise and poured out the Holy Spirit on all who believe. We have a comforter, an advocate, and enabler, one who comes alongside in the Spirit’s presence.

We can see that in the testimony of other pilgrims who have walked before us, the story of the church for the past two thousand years. In our own lives we have experienced the goodness and the forgiveness the with-us-ness and for-us-ness of God, that gives us hope for the future, as we face the present.

Two illustrations to finish .  On the large scale. In 1963 Martin Luther King Jr gave his I have a dream speech, it was very much like the dream at the beginning of this psalm of God’s preferred future of racial harmony and equality for his children’s generation, freedom from the continued shackles of slavery and oppression. A reality that was going to come through the facing of many present and persistent troubles; beatings, setbacks, prison and political posturing. His famous last speech, tired and weary, even then his hope was that he had been to the mountain top and had looked over to the other side and seen the glory of the lord. Future hope in present time because of God’s faithfulness.

On a personal level. Latifah Philips was the lead singer for the band Page CXVI, a group that has reinterpreted hymns for a new generation. On the day here father died of Cancer, looking for solace she sat down at her piano and began playing a song she remembered from her youth “joy”… “I’ve got the Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart”, I’ve got Joy, Joy, Joy down in my heart” and it comes across as a lament as all the pain and sorrow and grief comes out. But also of the reality of real joy and real hope in what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. If you google Joy it’s on youtube… It's a declaration of sowing in tears and reaping in joy, of hope because of God’s faithful unfailing love. In that present dark reality in her blog about this song she says

 “it was not until grief became a part of my story that I realized that joy
is not simply an expression, but an attitude and acknowledgment of the
deep peace of knowing a Savior.”

… Joy even when it seems and feels impossible”

May you find hope for the future in your present reality by knowing the faithful one Jesus Christ, and trusting that ‘ he has done great things for them, and he has done great things for us’.

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