I will start today with a promise from Psalm 125:
So those who trust in God do not waver.
Hm, what does wobble actually mean?
According to Wikipedia, "roll" is the technical term for the rotational movement of a land vehicle around the longitudinal axis of the vehicle's fixed coordinate system.
In water and air vehicles, this movement is called "rolling".
Colloquially, the term is also used, for example, in the sense of "to move swayingly".
I like the first definition best. You can experience this well when you drive a car at high speed through a tight curve, because then the car tilts outwards around its longitudinal axis.
Drivers obviously don't like that kind of roll, because manufacturers install electronically controlled stabilisers, especially in more expensive cars, so that, for example, the car stays as level as possible in such cornering situations.
Swaying also means a certain loss of control, it's unpleasant. However, when I drove a duck as a student, it also had a certain charm. The suspension was legendary and the duck leaned quite a lot in the bends, that's what it was known for, but it was also generally known that it was almost impossible to tip a duck over by taking tight bends. You swayed, but you didn't fall over.
Young people can google Citroën 2CV to find out what a duck is, or perhaps they can find a historical programme in the Arte media library.
Nevertheless, as far as the car is concerned, you don't want to go back to the technical world of the duck, but you want to drive without wavering.
Can we do the same for our lives? A life without wavering?
The Bible verse sounds like this: Those who trust in the Lord are like a mountain that does not waver.
Let us first read the whole of Psalm 125; NGÜ
A pilgrimage song, personally on the way
The beginning is something that one tends to overlook in a psalm like this: A pilgrimage song.
Other translations speak here of a pilgrimage.
We know from the Old Testament that the Jews in Israel of that time were supposed to go to the Temple in Jerusalem three times a year (e.g. Ex 34:24).
We also know from the New Testament that, for example, Mary and Joseph went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover with the twelve-year-old Jesus and certainly visited the temple there because they found Jesus there.
Nowadays I have a bit of trouble with such pilgrimages because they often go to some strange relic, e.g. there is supposed to be a piece of the skirt Jesus wore in Trier. Other places like Altötting, Fátima or Lourdes are said to have had Marian apparitions and many people make pilgrimages there again and again. In Lourdes, the spring that rises there is even said to bring healing, so that many desperate people make pilgrimages there to experience healing or at least relief.
I don't think much of such pilgrimages of relics and miracles, but what was the point of such pilgrimages back then?
Those who trust in the Lord do not waver, that is what is sung here, because the psalm was originally a song. I think our lives sometimes resemble a ride in a duck rather than in an electronically stabilised luxury car, if I may take up this image again. We do wobble sometimes, but that is due to our wavering trust and not to God.
A good example of this is Peter on the water, in Matthew 14:28-31; NGÜ, where Jesus met the disciples in a boat on the Sea of Galilee on the water:
Peter's wavering was not because of Jesus but because of Peter's doubts. But what do you do about small faith and doubt?
The people at the time of the Psalm did not yet have the Holy Spirit and had to be reminded of God and his promises through external signs and rites. That is why there was the central temple and the central actions.
When we belong to Jesus, we pray and God is there. We confess and God hears and forgives and helps us to change our actions.
Nevertheless, we too sway often enough or, like Peter, venture onto the water and then only look at the storm. But just as Jesus holds on to Peter and does not let him sink, he also prevents our duck from falling over.
It is true what the Psalm says at the beginning, but I see it more as a life process. The more we trust in God, the less we will falter. And when we trust and something threatens to shake our lives, we can get through it with God's help.
So we don't really need a pilgrimage, because God is right there. But sometimes, perhaps, habits help us to become aware of certain facts again. Some people find the church year, the festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, helpful to remind themselves again and again of the incarnation of God, the resurrection of Jesus and the reception of the Holy Spirit. In principle, it's a kind of pilgrimage, except that you don't go to another place.
There are also regularities in the Bible, such as worship and the Lord's Supper, with which one should always be clear about what it is all about.
And if these events, meetings and encounters help one to understand that trusting God helps one to stand and not to waver, then they make sense.
Let's go a little further in Psalm 125.
Protective mountains around a city protect the city from enemy soldiers, at least in those days when there was no artillery or aircraft.
"His people" today is of course an image for the church. So the Lord surrounds us, now and for all time.
I think you can see this picture for the church worldwide and also for our church here locally.
For the church worldwide, we are sure that God surrounds and protects his people.
But what about here on the ground? What enemies does God protect us from?
This image of Jerusalem surrounded by mountains was quite memorable to the people at that time. Certainly, quite a few of those who sang the psalm on the pilgrimage had already been to war and seen live how the mountains made the enemies' work more difficult.
But what are our enemies today? That would certainly be interesting if we were to discuss it in a kind of youth lesson for older people.
What endangers our community? What do we need protection from?
Are they possibly nasty neighbours who don't like our community? In fact, I don't know of any. Or is it the distraction that abounds in the world around us?
I really got stuck at this point in the preparation. I think it would be worth a sermon topic of its own.
But perhaps this simply means that the problems of the congregation mostly do not come from the outside, but are made by ourselves from the inside. In the case of problems from outside, God protects us.
I'll leave it here for now and move on to Psalm 125, because the next verse relates to what we have just read:
Apparently, the psalmist is convinced of God's protection, but somehow this protection is not really visible yet, because the oppressors are currently wielding their sceptre.
But the psalmist believes that God's protection will prevail, will become visible. He has hope and he counts on God's working. That is certainly a model for us.
Because God will protect us in the future, we do not need to concern ourselves with adverse circumstances and enemies, but can concentrate on what God wants from us, His mission.
And then the Psalmist makes an interesting point here: let it not come to pass that those who do God's will stretch out their hands for injustice.
Even as a Christian, there is a danger of going down wrong paths if you think you fall short too often. Trust in God can perhaps suffer under such circumstances.
Here it becomes clear what a psalm actually is. A psalm is not a doctrinal text or a legal text, but a personal prayer that someone has set to music.
And the author of this psalm has apparently already experienced that in adverse circumstances believing people put aside their fear of God in order to supposedly get a piece of the pie for once.
He prays here for better circumstances, that his fellow believers will not fail.
We might pray for more steadfastness and faith, but the psalmist prays for the external circumstances.
By the way, this is no less pious, Paul also suggests this to us in 1 Timothy 2:1.2; NGÜ:
Unfavourable social conditions such as disadvantage or even persecution can make being a Christian a bit sour for us.
I know that Jesus promised special help for particularly hard situations (e.g. Luke 21:15), but nevertheless it is good to pray for our government so that we can live our faith here in peace.
The good guys and the bad guys
That leaves two verses, 4 and 5, which are about the good and the bad.
I think the psalmist suffers a little here from the fact that in our world it is not the good people who are rich, beautiful and healthy and the bad people who are ugly, poor and sick.
Here again the personal feeling of the psalmist comes through, but I think it is good that he prays for experienced goodness for sincere people.
When was the last time we prayed something like this for someone? Lord grant that he may experience Your goodness.
In verse 5, I believe, and I hope I am not presumptuous, that I am already a little further along than the psalmist. It is not important to me that the wicked fall into ruin, but I would rather that the wicked repent, experience forgiveness and change.
Of course, this is theoretically quite easy to think this way, but it becomes difficult when one is directly affected by the evil, when the tormentor is virtually at the door.
Therefore, I find it very impressive when Christians can personally forgive their tormentors.
And the final word of the Psalm is "Peace be upon Israel".
And that is what I wish for our congregation too. Not a simple peaceful coexistence, but that we are at peace with each other, pull together and experience peace with God together.
- When we trust in God, we don't stagger and stand still, but our trust still has to grow and that's why our lives do sometimes stagger like a ride in a duck. But just as Jesus saved Peter from sinking, our life duck will not tip over either.
- Anything that helps to strengthen this trust in God, whether it be celebrations or habits, is useful.
- God protects the church from enemies so that we can focus on our mission.
- Let us pray for the social circumstances that we can live our lives here in peace.
- Let us pray for each other, that we may experience God's goodness. Let us also pray for, I'll just say simplistically, the wicked, that they may come to know Jesus and experience forgiveness and new life.
- And let us pursue peace in our community.