Summary: My life of discipleship must begin by changing my citizenship from this earth to the Kingdom of God
This week I read an article about the First Presbyterian Church of Newark, Ohio that caught my attention. In part it read:
While he served as pastor at Central College Presbyterian Church on Sunbury Road in Westerville, the Rev. Dr. Richard Ellsworth remembers seeing fishermen going by early on Sunday mornings, on their way to Hoover Dam. Ellsworth decided to go fishing for fishermen. He started a Sunday drive-in service to accommodate people in casual dress and with busy schedules.
"It gave me the idea that they could stop by before they went fishing," Ellsworth said. "It didn't really get a lot of fishermen, but it has become the most popular of three services at the church."
He is not necessarily fishing for fishermen, but for anyone who wants a casual service, has a busy schedule and who might want to bring their pets. He also is hoping to attract motorcycle riders. "I am hoping some motorcyclists will stop by before their Sunday ride," he said.
While I certainly applaud Pastor Ellsworth for his efforts to reach out to people who might not otherwise attend church, I’m deeply troubled by the impact our culture is having on the process of becoming mature disciples of Jesus. I guess it’s not all that surprising that in a culture that is characterized by 30 second commercials, microwave meals and drive-thrus for everything from fast food restaurants to your local pharmacy, we now have churches where you don’t even have to get out of your car or talk to another person.
In his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, Eugene Peterson accurately summarizes the issue that we face:
It is not difficult in such a world to get a person interested in the message of the gospel; it is terrifically difficult to sustain the interest…There is a great market for religious experience in our world; there is little enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of virtue, little inclination to sign up for a long apprenticeship in what earlier generations of Christians called holiness. [p.16]
This morning, as we continue our journey through the Psalms, we’ll begin a 15 week journey through a particularly important and relevant section of the Psalms known as the Psalms of Ascent.
As we discussed a few weeks ago, the Psalms have been collected into one large book that contains five smaller books within it. But even within those books we find some smaller collections of Psalms that have a common theme and which were used for a specific purpose. For instance, Psalms 146-150 are known as the “Hallelujah Psalms” because they begin with the word “hallelujah”, which is translated “Praise the Lord” in most of our English translations”. They were likely used in the Temple worship.
Another such grouping is the Psalms of Ascent – Psalms 120-134. The title of these Psalms likely comes from the fact that they were sung as the Hebrew pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem from the surrounding areas three times a year to celebrate the Passover Feast in the spring, the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) in early summer and the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall. Since topographically, Jerusalem is the highest city in Palestine the people were literally ascending as they journeyed there.
But as we’ll see as we study these fifteen Psalms, they also picture metaphorically our life of discipleship in which we continue to advance from one level to the next of spiritual maturity. So in that sense these Psalms were written for the edification of all of God’s people in every part of the world in all times. As a result, if we’ll allow them to be our teacher for these next 15 weeks, they can be an important tool in our life long process of becoming mature disciples of Jesus.
Let’s begin this morning by reading Psalm 120 out loud together:
In my distress I called to the LORD,
and he answered me.
Deliver me, O LORD,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given to you,
and what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue?
A warrior's sharp arrows,
with glowing coals of the broom tree!
Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech,"
that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!
Psalm 120:1-7 (ESV)
For the Hebrews, their journeys to worship God in Jerusalem had a lot in common with the vacations that we take. They left their homes for a period of time and travelled to another place – although their journeys were obviously a lot more difficult than ours since they primarily travelled by walking. But once they were done, the expectation is that they would return back to the home where they had started. As we see in Luke 2, this was the practice of Jesus and His family when he was a boy.