When you have small children going for a walk will inevitably turn into going for a carry. With toddlers there comes a time when all their energy has gone and you just have to pick them up and carry them the rest of the way.
When my kids were babies we’d have them in a back pack, and for the start of the journey they would wriggle and giggle, pulling hair and kicking there, then after a while they would be still and drift off to sleep. When they were toddlers I’d carry them on my hip or my shoulders. They would be happy to snuggle in and sometimes you’d be aware of a head coming to rest on your chest or your head as the exhaustion of a long walk and the rocking sensation of your own gate lulled them to sleep. Safe and secure in their parents embrace.
Psalm 131 is a psalm of ascent and the pilgrims journey from distant homes to the temple that the psalm was part of the soundtrack for, was a family affair. Little children being carried by their parents would have been a common sight. Children went with their parents. From Luke’s gospel, we know that was Jesus childhood experience, as like all Jews his family made an annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for one of the festivals.
Psalm 131 has been described as one of the most beautiful of the Psalms not just because of its brevity but because it takes such an endearing and treasured picture of a child being carried by its parent to articulate succinctly a humble trust in God. An image that Jesus himself used in Matthew 18, when he put a little child in the middle of his disciples, arguing over who was the greatest, and told them “if they did not change and become like little children they would not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Psalmist comes to a place of humility, realising that they are totally dependent on God. “my heart is not proud, my eyes are not haughty, I do not concern myself with great matters, things too wonderful for me.” Critics of the Christian faith often take a childlike faith to mean simplistic and unthought out, and not standing up to the rigors of adult reflection and consideration and the realities of life. But the Psalm has the feel of not being an unthought out blind faith as a staring point, but a journey, the destination of a well thought out process.
Taken in isolation, this humility is not the unhealthy or smarmy “I am nothing” used by some to engender pity or excuse wrong behaviour. Rather it is a coming to know ones limitations, the having a right understanding of one’s self that Paul talks of in Romans 12, that allows one to show the costly love of serving others. That allows one to take on the mind of Christ and view others needs as above ones own that Paul talks of in Philippians. That allows the psalmist to acknowledge their ‘spiritual poverty and need that Jesus in the beatitudes says is blessed by the kingdom of God.
AS part of the psalms of ascent, we see something of the process of coming to this place. The Psalms of ascent start in psalm 120 with a holy dissatisfaction with the way thing are; no longer willing to dwell amongst the tents of those who do not seek peace. Seeing God’s provision and protection on both the journey to Jerusalem and that journey as a metaphor for life. Knowing God’s rescue and help amidst the traps and snares of life, recognising that every blessing comes from God’s hand, family and land, provision and prosperity. God’s guidance and leading in the history of his people. As we saw last month in Psalm 130 through sorrow, pain and doubt and the deep dark pits of life ebbs and flow knowing God forgiveness and God’s unfailing love.
It’s a process that the psalmist says is like a child being weaned, it has been a process of wrestling and tears and upheaval. When we lived in Rotorua, we lived up sunset road and the city ended at the foot of the hills at the end of that road. On one side of the road was houses and on the other farm land. When the calves were being weaned we would be kept awake at night by the cries of both calves and their mothers in different paddocks pinning for each other. But after a few nights it was calm again as both became settled. It is not a simplistic faith but a simple faith and trust in the love and care of God, proven trustworthy amidst history and life.
The Psalm finishes by turning from an individual psalm to a communal one. The Psalmist turns from articulating his present place of contentment, forged in past experience, to encouraging the community of God to look forward and have hope in the LORD. Because of the psalmist hope and trust he calls us all to have hope and trust, for now and for a preferred future off into eternity. That hope is based on the LORD on God’s character and God’s action, here we see the psalm point forward to the coming of Christ, his death his resurrection his ascension into heaven and his ultimate return to make all things right. This is the hope that we have in the lord.
Bryan James Smith says “ The Solid facts about the future hope of Christians are a powerful motivation for constant faith and costly love in the present.” In his book the good and beautiful community he calls us a community built round a four part story of hope.
Firstly, death… which may not sound the most hopeful place to start, but our hope filled story is Christ’s story. In Christ’s death the past is dealt with, we are no longer prisoners of all we have done in the past, tied to the social structures of this world. We are no longer tied to all the false narrative of this world of where we find joy and fulfilment, but in Christ’s death they are defeated and we are forgiven. AS it says in Colossians 3:3 “you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God”. We have a new identity a new address.
We are people of the resurrection. God raised Christ to life again and we share that new life. Just as we died with Christ we have been raised to life again, we are a new creation, we are part of a new family, we have been filled with God’s abiding presence when the Spirit of God was poured out on all who believe. The power that raised Jesus to life again is at work in us.
Christ ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. Often people think of Jesus ascension as his heading off and leaving us back here to simply get on with it. The reality is that he is seat on the throne and his Kingdom his reign has begun. God’s Kingdom does not come seeping into this world into our realm like a military force with shock and awe, but rather as we live it out and sharing the hope we have in Christ, as Walter Brueggemann puts it
“ It is hidden in the weakness of neighbor love, in the foolishness of mercy, in the vulnerability of compassion, in the staggering alternatives of forgiveness and generosity which permit new life to emerge in situations of despair and brutality.”
Finally, in Christ’s return. The hope that Christ will right all wrongs and bring ultimate healing and justice. When the church has it’s eschatology right and its focused on Christ as the ultimate one, not on a calendar of possible events and weird theories of what will happen when, then it it as its most vibrant.
Not asleep but content in our fathers loving arms, waiting expectantly hope filled and living out the new and coming reality in the here and now, with childlike humble trust in our good and gracious Lord.