1 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? 2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. 3 He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. 4 Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand. 6 The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. 8 The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121 ESV)
Are you on a journey? Where are you headed? Who walks with you?
Such questions could be literal – spoken by people who meet in the bush – or metaphorical – and summarise life and living.
The metaphor of the journey and particularly of walking is very much at the heart of Christianity. Even in the beginning in the garden God comes walking in the cool of the evening to find people in hiding.
God wasn’t static in contrast to many of the deities who have specific locations – and still do today. The Old Testament is replete with people discovering God is with them – sometimes literally on their journey. Think particularly of the Israelites out of Egypt and in the wilderness.
The imagery of the God shepherd – we might say good shepherd – is built on being together, walking together. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me … (Psalm 23:2b-4a ESV)
The call to walk in the way of the Lord – the call of many prophets and the psalms – is a call to obedience – hearing and doing what God says. To walk in other ways is rebellion and disobedience. We are not unfamiliar with God saying, “Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways”! (Psalm 81:13 ESV). And similarly all Christians have said in their own words something like the psalmist, “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 142:3 ESV).
The New Testament proclaims the message that God is with us – the holy God among sinners in a way that doesn’t destroy them – although it will destroy Jesus as he carries the sin of the world. The story of Jesus draws people – as it did in the pages of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and as it still does today which is why that is what people should read – maybe for years – to get to meet, relate to, and grow in a relationship with Jesus. Why?
Well, Kosuke Koyama, the Japanese Protestant theologian, coined the phrase – the title of one of his books – ‘Three Mile an Hour God’ – the average walking speed and said (p.7), ‘Love has its speed. It is an inner speed. It is a spiritual speed. It is a different kind of speed from the technological speed to which we are accustomed. It is ‘slow’ yet it is lord over all other speeds since it is the speed of love. It goes on in the depth of our life, whether we notice or not, at three miles an hour. It is the speed we walk and therefore the speed the love of God walks.’ And surely that draws us to Easter afternoon and the walk to Emmaus among many of Jesus’ travels. How fascinating to contemplate that the disciples of Jesus called themselves ‘followers of The Way’ (Acts 9:1,2) before the term ‘Christian’ was used (Acts 11:26). Jesus once said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life (John 8:12 ESV).
And Christians are reminded again and again to walk … in the footsteps of the faith of our father Abraham (Romans 4:12 ESV)
in newness of life (in our baptism) (Romans 6:4 ESV)
properly as in the daytime, not in orgies or drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy (Romans 13:13)
by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16 ESV)
because we are [God’s] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)
in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Ephesians 4:1 ESV)
in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (Ephesians 5:2 ESV)
in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Colossians 1:10 ESV)
in wisdom towards outsiders, making the best use of time (Colossians 4:5 ESV)
And even love is described with walking – ‘And this is love, that we walk according to God’s commandments’ (2 John 6a ESV).
Walking is an activity. It is not passive or a virtual reality thing though we can imagine waking and avatars on our screens represent us in so many games. But to walk is to move – even if it is a circuitous route – things change when we walk – even if it is only the time. That is why much of the aspects of our life can have walking language – growing up, education marriage, recovery from something, parenthood, work, retirement, dying.
Today’s psalm, Psalm 121, has a specific context, either journeying to Jerusalem to worship or ascending to the temple to worship. It is a powerful message of presence on the move. It is a psalm of dialogue – question and answer – liturgical even – antiphonal maybe – travellers encouraging each other – or between people and leader in some way (a rabbi perhaps or maybe even a priest). The psalm promises God’s presence and help as you walk – as you look to the hills (to the presence of God) – in your sense of absence (you’d look at God if he was visibly present but just as people seem to look up to speak to God today so the psalmist is looking to the point where God has come down – to a contact point) and this is possible because, as Paul reminded the Corinthians, ‘we walk by faith and not by sight’ (2 Corinthians 5:7 ESV).
This means that the world will laugh at us. To them we are like John Cleese and the Ministry of Silly Walks or the Black Night in the Monty Python’s ‘The Holy Grail’ who only has flesh wounds because we walk
through the storms, we slip and trip, and we are knocked over but we keep getting up and trusting the God who helps us. In fact we will die with this God helping us! We will stop walking in this world but go forward walking in the light of life. Jesus is our contact point!
Of course we want God to help us now – and by that we mean – help us now in the way we want. But that is not exactly what the relationship with this God is about. Remember when Jesus turns up he says ‘Follow me’ rather than ‘Go your own way and I’ll follow you’. This means that this psalm – indeed all of Jesus’ words are true to us – even when they seem not to be. This is the we live by faith and not by sight part – and the part where the world says, ‘Nuts – delusional – so foolish’. Following Jesus – but walking in our shoes – in our relationships – means orienting ourselves to Jesus – to go where he leads.
He has called us to him in the Divine Service to help us on our journey. And he calls us to follow him into the terrain of relationships rather than GPS or geography. And he does indeed help us on these journeys – no matter how hard the going gets. And that needs repeating – Jesus does help us on our journey.
His words remind us that we are his people and they give us guidance. His water daily refreshes us and the grim of the world and the sin perspiration of ourselves do not have to stay with us – we can walk afresh each day. His food nourishes our faith and heals our bodies so that we have strength – and joy – the landscape of God loving this world is one we get to see – to keep walking.
And that’s what we do – keep walking – with Jesus who is always helping us.
The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. (Psalm 121:8 ESV)
- Psalm 121