Summary: The Christian journey begins with repentance.
Songs for the Road
Have you ever gone on a long road trip? We all know that when we’re getting ready for such a trip there’s a number of things we have to do, especially with our cars. We make sure we check the oil. We check the tires. We check the window washer fluid. We fill the gas tank. We get a map and snack food and bottles of cold water. But there’s always one other thing that I make sure we have when we travel: music. While it has nothing to do with making the car run, I always make sure that we also have enough decent CDs for the entire trip (Of course, Alisha often complains that I usually choose music I like rather than music we like!).
How many of you still use these (hold up a blank cassette tape)? Well, I used to use these quite a lot, but not so much anymore. I would make mixed tapes of favourite songs. Have you ever done that? I think mixed tapes are perfect for road trips. You have all of your favourites with you along the way. And I don’t know if this is the case for you, but music often follows me through life. Certain CDs and albums and songs can bring back memories of past experiences. Songs can be friends. You might be the kind of person who listens to sad songs when you’re down. Or maybe you like to play fast music full blast with the car windows rolled down on a warm summer’s day. Whatever your musical preferences, songs can express those things we lack the words and imaginations to say at different stages along the journey.
And the Christian life is like a journey too. And it’s true, isn’t it, that living a life of faith is like the ultimate road trip? You have your ups, downs, detours, sidetracks, bumps, sharp corners, curvy, bendy roads and smooth open highways. Even though you know your destination, you don’t always know how you’re going to get there or what will happen along the way. It’s just like Bruce Cockburn sings in his song “Pacing the Cage”: “Sometimes the best map will not guide you, and you can’t see around the bend.”
In the Bible there is as collection of travelling songs. Psalms 120 – 134 are called the “Psalms of Ascent.” They were likely used by pilgrims journeying to Jerusalem to celebrate the three yearly festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. They are called “Psalms of Ascent” because geographically Jerusalem was the highest city in Palestine and those who travelled there spent much of their time ascending.
There is a metaphorical truth to the title “Psalms of Ascent” as well, for “the trip to Jerusalem acted out a life lived upward toward God,” what Paul calls in Phil. 3: 14 “the upward [heavenly] call of God in Jesus Christ.” These psalms cover topics important for the journey to mature discipleship. The metaphor of journey works well spiritually because discipleship is a lifelong process (just like erosion!) and, like any road, has its share of detours, sidetracks, bumps, and turns. We can never say in this life that we have arrived – but we know we’re on our way! For the people of Israel, these were “songs for the road,” prayers and hymns that they would sing while on the highway of faith. They can be that for us too. These Psalms can be our “songs for the road,” our mixed tape of tunes to help us along the way.
So that’s what we’ll be looking at over much of the summer: these “Psalms of Ascent” or as I like to call them, “Songs for the Road.” This will be an occasional series. I don’t intend to preach for 15 weeks (there are 15 of these psalms). I will spend much of the summer on them and over time we’ll get to them all. The inspiration for this series, I should mention too, is a book by Eugene Peterson called A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.
The World’s Lies
Now our first song for the road doesn’t begin in a very happy or upbeat way. It begins with the author in “distress” and ends with “war.” The psalm includes lying lips, sharp arrows, glowing coals; and the author even cries out in verse 5, “Woe is me!” What a way to begin! Is this a trip you want to go on?
But at the same time, I think this is a good, even important, way to begin. Starting on the road of discipleship doesn’t have to wait until we feel good, until life is going well, until circumstances are fine, and until all is right with the world. In fact, it usually doesn’t. The journey of faith often begins with times of distress that lead us to cry out to the Lord: “Deliver me, O Lord!” This is especially true since the Christian walk is about realizing that we can’t deliver ourselves; only God can deliver us.