A sermon on Psalm 121 by Rev. Dr. Kristin Johnston Largen
Church of the Abiding Presence
Feb. 22nd, 2013
I lift up my eyes to the hills
From where will my help come,
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
The Lord will not let your foot be moved,
The one who keeps you will not slumber.
The one who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your shelter,
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil,
The Lord will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in,
From this time on, and forever more.
This Psalm is my favorite piece of scripture—and that is saying something. As a theologian, there are many verses in scripture that are dear to my heart: the Prologue to the Gospel of John, the Magnificat, the verses in Isaiah 43 that call us to witness to “the new thing” God continually is doing in our midst. However, this Psalm trumps them all: it is the piece that is first on my lips when I think of Scripture; and, if I am granted a coherent end—rather than left babbling advertising jingles and the theme song of “Gilligan’s Island”—this is the piece that I will ask my pastor to read to me, as I prepare to pass from this life to the next.
There is a simple reason for my affection for this Psalm: from my earliest memory, all through my years in Colorado, I woke up “lifting up my eyes to the hills”—to the Rocky Mountains, that is. My bedroom window in the home where my mother still lives faces west; and thus, year in and year out, my days began and ended with a view of those mountains, the mountains that represent for me most deeply not only home, but divine love, divine beauty, and divine grandeur.
As this Psalm has accompanied me over time, connecting me to various mountain ranges all over the world—Mt. Koya, Mt. Hermon, the Zillertahl Alps—I continue to marvel at the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who guided the hands and minds of the biblical authors in ways I can only imagine surpassed their every expectation. Certainly, it is only through the gift of the Holy Spirit that they were able to describe with such creativity and prescience the God beyond all praising, the God beyond all knowing, using a wealth and breadth of images that continue to captivate believers thousands and thousands of years, and thousands and thousands miles removed from that one little corner of the earth, that one little sliver in the history of humankind.
In fact, we can hardly count the ways God is imagined and described in Scripture. In the Psalms alone, God is an enthroned king, a shield, a light, a judge, an archer, a rock, a shepherd, and a creator—among many other things.
And when we cast our gaze wider across Scripture, we see that God is a mother bear and a mother eagle, a lion, a woman in labor, and a soldier—among many other things. God speaks out of the whirlwind, protects those overwhelmed by both water and fire, is glorified by jackals and ostriches, feeds the raven, walks in the depths of the sea, stands in the arctic storehouses of snow and hail, and cavorts among the stars.
You can live in Anchorage, Cape Town, Mumbai or Fiji, you can be young or old, strong or weak, you can be either gender or transgender, and the Bible witnesses to a God who comes to you and meets you where you are, wherever you are, in whatever circumstances you find yourself. And the wonder of all this is, is that even though the Bible was—as far as we know today—written by a relatively small group of men who experienced God in concrete, specific ways, somehow they were able to translate that particular experience into universal language and images, such that they would not only speak to someone in the shadow of Mount Sinai in the 6th century BCE, but also Mount Athos in the 10th century, and Mount Evans in the 20th century. Now that’s divine inspiration.
And for Christians, of course, this amazingly universal nature of God’s self-revelation reaches its zenith in the amazingly particular act of the incarnation, where God overshadowed Mary through the Holy Spirit, uniting the Divine with the human in the unique person of Jesus Christ—a first-century man, a Jew from Nazareth, a carpenter. And because of who this one person was: his life of liberation, his suffering death of solidarity, and his victorious, transformative resurrection, Jesus grants all of us a liberated, transformed life—not only in the future but right now. And in that new life, we continue to see the face of this first century Jew in the face of a young girl, the face of a hospice patient, the face of a prisoner, and in the face in the mirror. And this is true whether you live in Guyana, Germany or Gettysburg. Over and over again, in ever-new ways, in ever-new places, God reveals Godself to us in love and grace, and abides with us in light and darkness, in height and depth, in seas and mountains. Whoever we are, wherever we are, God seeks us out—and God always finds us, granting us shelter, keeping our lives, watching over our going out and our coming in, now and forever. AMEN.