Summary: The faith-life is a pilgrimage
Psalm Steps>“Moving On” (Repentance), Psalm 120 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
Have you ever lived somewhere you hated? In my Army days, soldiers often said their favorite assignment was “the last one and the next one.” A lot of people grow discontented with where they are. I readily admit the place I liked the least was Fort Bliss (a true oxymoron) in El Paso, Texas. The Sergeants Major Academy bookstore at Bliss sold a T-shirt with a picture of El Paso in a car’s rear-view mirror, the sight we longed to see! Doing SonCreek Junction gave me Texas flashbacks! I wasn’t fully prepared for VBS because I never bought any western clothing. I was in rebellion (some soldiers really rebel—they go AWOL); I was from the northeast, and I didn’t want anyone in Texas to think I was a cowboy!
We’re supposed to be saints, but sometimes we look a lot like the world. We should be making a statement that this world isn’t our home. When people see us, where do they think we’re from? Do they know we’re citizens of heaven? Or do we fit into our secular culture all too nicely? Are we set apart, different from our environment? Overseas we were told not to look “too American” due to the threat of terrorism. And in church we’re told not to look “too worldly”. We will be set apart from our culture if we’re dissatisfied. C.S. Lewis remarked, “If this world does not satisfy me, perhaps it is because I was made for another world.” Some of us are way too comfortable in this fallen world.
Most of you know that Laura and I are buying a home in Saugus. We’ve lived like wanderers our entire 27 years of married life, and before that, I traveled all over the world with my parents as an “Army Brat”. We’ve never had a place we could call home. We have a plaque in the parsonage that reads: “Home is Where the Army Sends You.” When I was in Desert Storm someone asked me where “home” was. I answered, “Right now it’s Saudi Arabia” (a revolting thought). Counting my moves as a military dependent and a Chaplain, I’ve lived in 26 different places. Now that I’m retired from the service, I want to settle down, to put down roots. And as excited as we are to have a home of our own, we know that our permanent home isn’t here—it’s in heaven. In II Corinthians, Paul describes our bodies as tents, which are impermanent structures compared to what we’ll experience in heaven. We will exchange a temporal life for an eternal dwelling place.
In the meantime, we are pilgrims, traveling toward our heavenly destination. We’re on a different path than the world, than those who live for self. We pray for and try to change our society, to make a Christian impact, but we are realistic enough to know that until Christ returns, we can at best have a limited influence on our world. Science, politics, education, and financial prosperity will not produce peace in our world—only God can. We have to become sick of the lies and fed up with the values of our world before we walk the pilgrim pathway. I heard it said, “Once you’ve tasted the grace of God, you’re ruined for the things of the world.”
Psalm 120 is a song of Hezekiah, who is sick of the lies and hatred he’s had to endure. He’s been suffering in Meshech, a nation north of Israel, and Kedar, SE of Israel; these were hostile, pagan lands, and Hezekiah sings as a homeless wanderer. Psalm 120 is the first of a series of fifteen “Pilgrim Psalms” or “Songs of Ascents (or “degrees”)”, which were sung by those who journeyed to the Jewish Temple for the annual feasts (Passover, Pentecost, the Day of Atonement, etc). You could imagine the Pilgrims singing these psalms aboard the Mayflower. Have you ever sung songs on a long car trip? Each of these psalms is a “step” along the journey. Eugene Peterson calls this series of Psalms, “a long obedience in the same direction.” Some scholars say that these songs were sung walking up the fifteen steps of the Temple. Psalm 120 is not a happy song—it’s more like the Blues! Psalm 120 begins with distress, and ends with war. But it’s an honest and important song.
Some people think being a minister must be a pleasant life—surrounded always by kind, loving people…for this reason, clergy are criticized for being out of touch with the hostility of this world. Perhaps where you work it’s not at all like church: people are at each other’s throats, a “zero defects” mentality reigns, there’s constant pressure to compete and succeed, plus anxiety and insecurity take away any job satisfaction.