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When I served as Post Chaplain of Fort Story, Virginia, I conducted a memorable summer wedding at the First Landing Chapel. The air conditioning was working, and I was feeling comfortable, even though I had my robe over my uniform. But half-way through the wedding I noticed something wrong with the bride & groom. The groom was sweating profusely; he almost looked like a cartoon, with his hair soaking wet and dripping. Then I glanced at the bride. She had on a low-cut gown, and I could see she had broken out in purple blotches. Both were looking rather grim. When they knelt on the wedding kneeler, people started to laugh—someone had written on the back of the grooms shoes in white paint the words: “HELP ME”. At that point I decided to hurry the ceremony along before they both passed out! Getting married can be a stressful event. Solomon offers some wise words of comfort to prospective brides and grooms.
Psalm 128 is called the “Marriage Prayer” because it is sung at Jewish weddings. It sounds like the toast the Best Man gives at the wedding reception. Families made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem together, so this is an appropriate song for the journey. Whether we’re single or married, this selection from the Psalms of Ascent shows us how to discover true happiness and prosperity. Martin Luther seemed to regard it differently, however; he called this a psalm of comfort for those who’ve experienced the “crosses” of married life. I’m not sure specifically what he had in mind; maybe that couple from Fort Story! Today’s psalm parallels and is a companion piece to Psalm 127.
We all know people who are killing themselves to get ahead in life, to find happiness. Many never find it. How do we equate happiness? Psalm 128 starts out with the word “blessed”. To be blessed is to be truly happy, regardless of circumstances. It includes well-being, fullness, prosperity. The Jewish Talmud states, “We see life, not as it is, but as we are.” It’s a matter of perception, which means that some people will never be happy, no matter what. We see clearly when we see life from God’s perspective. When we look with spiritual eyes, we learn what’s really important in life. True happiness is not something external or fleeting; it is within, and for good. Happiness isn’t a matter of luck; there are no tricks involved. We simply become Christians and begin the life of faith. We learn to be content with what we have when we base our joy on a higher standard.
We discover blessing by fearing the Lord, verse 1. Reverence would be a more accurate word than fear. Sometimes we try to bring God down to our understanding, to the size of our small minds, confining Him within boundaries we construct. To guard against this limited thinking, the Bible encourages us to hold God in awe, to bring our attention to His overwhelming majesty and grandeur. When we hold God in wonder, we begin to walk the path of blessedness.
The fear of God is the one fear that removes all others. We are not “afraid” of God, but we show Him due respect. We take God seriously. We recognize that He is holy. Therefore, He must be at the center of everything we are, think, and aspire to do. He must be our starting point for every endeavor.
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