David A. Davis
November 13, 2016
I lift mine eyes to the hills—from whence does my help come? I lift my eyes to the mountains, to the stunning blue sky, to the beautiful stars at night, to an orange fall sunset. From where will my help come. The help comes doesn’t come from the mountains or the blue sky or the stars at night or from the sunset. The help comes from the God who made all that. Lifting eyes. I lift my eyes to sing a song of praise and to pray and to listen to something beautiful and to remember good things. I lift my eyes in gratitude and in wonder. My help, my strength, my peace, it comes from the God who created me, who gave me life, who fills that God-shaped vacuum deep within that can’t be filled by anything else, anyone else. My help comes from the God who loves me.
I lift my eyes. I lift my eyes in praise and thanksgiving. I lift my eyes when I’m struggling, feeling so unsure, anxious, hoping for a better day. I lift my eyes then too. I lift my eyes when I’m really worried about someone I love, when I’m not sure my heart has room for one more burden, when I find myself listening to a hurting friend, when weariness gets the best of me. Sometimes I lift my eyes in exasperation, frustration, anger. Or when my feelings are hurt, or I know I’ve hurt someone else’s. When things in the world seem out of control, when another tragedy comes near or far, when it’s just another day’s news and I sort of feel like shouting or shaking a fist or heaving the heaviest of sighs. I lift my eyes. Lifting eyes. It’s not a directional cue. It’s a spiritual truth.
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! That’s the psalmist. Psalm 121. For the prophet Isaiah, it’s this: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; God has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12. Six crisp verses of adoration and affirmation. Amid the prophet Isaiah’s length, and breadth, and depth, a remarkably succinct song of faith. A salvation song. A song of deliverance. A song of thanksgiving. “I will give thanks to you, O Lord… your anger turned away and you comforted me… give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known God’s deeds among the nations… sing praise to the Lord… great in your midst is the Holy One.” Surely God is my salvation. Surely. Surely. Surely. God is my salvation.
Psalm 121. Isaiah 12. For those who weren’t here last week, the Psalm 121 part, the lifting eyes part, how I started this morning is exactly how I started last week. I lifted it straight from my sermon from last Sunday word for word. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. And today, surely God is my salvation. There may be no better way to biblically, theologically, and prayerfully frame this week. The shifting political landscape and the transition in political power in the United States is rocking the world. But one thing that hasn’t changed from last Sunday to this Sunday is the Eternal, the God of heaven and earth, the Holy One in our midst, the God we know in and through Jesus Christ, the Everlasting Lord whose presence comes in the breath of the Holy Spirit. As the preacher in the Book of Hebrews puts it, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The divine promise of last week is true and real this week. God is my salvation. Surely.
The transcendence of God and God’s plan of salvation for us. Such assurance carries with it the reminder of the provisional nature of our humanity. The not-so-gentle reminder that comes every time the people of God gather at the grave and the pastor says, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The witness of scripture attests to the “in it for the long haul” nature of God’s promise; in every age, above and beyond every nation, from generation to generation, God is faithful still. They call it “salvation history” for a reason.
When the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossians and says, “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (3:1-2), that’s not a call for some sort of pie-in-the sky monastic-like spirituality. It is an exhortation to know from where, from whom your salvation comes… and from where it doesn’t, for that matter. There’s something about a divisive, nasty presidential election that reaffirms the provisional nature of politics and candidates and their promises and even the institutions we hold dear. As we sing in the hymn that dates all the way back to John Calvin:
Our hope is in no other save in thee;
our faith is built upon thy promise free,
Lord, give us peace, and make us calm and sure
that in Thy strength we ever more endure.
Isaiah’s hymn here in chapter 12, it comes in two parts, two verses if you will. The two are separated in the prophet’s poetry by verse three, by this: “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” Drawing water from the wells of salvation. The wells of salvation. It’s a life-giving, life-sustaining image. The people of God, the community of the faithful, the followers of Jesus, the church, the people of the way, the Beloved Community, the great cloud of witnesses drawing up the water of life, bringing up the kind of nourishment that comes from God alone, dipping into the gospel truth, tapping into the ever-flowing stream of justice and righteousness. The wells of salvation. The deepest pools of the kingdom of God. The eternal fount of God’s grace.
Drawing water from the wells of salvation with joy. Isaiah knew, the other prophets knew, the psalmist knew, the Apostle Paul knew, the preacher of Hebrews knew, and Jesus knows, that well is sure and true. But some days the well is deep. When a well is deep, it can be a bit of work to get to the water (pumping, drawing, winding). Some days it feels like the well is deep. Deep as in you have to reach way down, and dig real deep and work really hard to draw it up, and to drink it fresh, and to remember it, and to share it, and to proclaim it, and to live it. Reaching deeper in order to be faithful and to be a disciple and to be a servant of the kingdom, a builder of the kingdom, a living witness to the kingdom God intends for this world. There are times in salvation history when the people of God have to draw from a deeper place in the wells of salvation.
Most folks knew the aftermath of the election would be difficult. The lead up to the election made it very clear how divided our country is in so many ways. The election results put a stamp on that reality with an almost indescribable force. What seems evident amid the raw wounds now so exposed around us, is that it is time to reach deeper. A time to draw from the very essence of the gospel, from the deepest core of how we have been created in the image of God. A time to tap into the very being of God, the DNA of the person and work of Jesus Christ. Drawing deeper. Working harder. That doesn’t mean that it is more complicated, more challenging, tougher to figure out.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind… and love your neighbor as yourself.” Yes. “Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God” Yes. “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” Yes. “Let us love one another, because love is from God… Those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” Yes. Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Welcome the stranger. Clothe the naked. Care for the sick. Visit the prisoners. Yes. Drawing water from the wells of salvation. Actually, this part hasn’t changed either. This part hasn’t changed from last week to this week. Jesus’ call for you to be a servant of all.
It is striking to me that the politicians on all sides and at every level who worked so long and so effectively to tear at the fabric of any unity in the nation, would suddenly think in a peaceful transition of democratic power that a simple call for unity would be enough. That there’s a unity switch to flip. That kind of lip service unity isn’t enough for the followers of Jesus Christ who are reaching deep. I, for one, can’t look into the faces of gay and lesbian friends I love who fear that their legal marriage will be taken away and think that kind of unity is enough. I can’t talk to the Guatemalan immigrants I work with every day and think that kind of unity is enough. I can’t go over and visit Osama and Ghada and their four children, a Syrian Muslim family, and think that kind of unity is enough. And I can’t try to empathize with a Midwestern factory worker who’s trying to learn a new skill and find a job and provide for the family and think that kind of unity is enough. I can’t try to wrap my head and heart around what is being called the “evangelical vote” in the election numbers, what one writer called “the rage of white Christian America,” and think that kind of unity is enough. I’m going need a deeper draw from God’s well.
The Isaiah 12 song is a salvation in response to the prophet’s vision that comes just before in chapter 11. That vision of the peaceable kingdom. You remember: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them… They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain. That peaceable kingdom. God’s kingdom in all of is fullness and splendor. I guess it may sound strange, but when it comes to the Church of Jesus Christ, and our call to carry out God’s mission in the world, unity really isn’t enough. Unity. Peace. Justice. Reconciliation. Mercy. Righteousness. Faithfulness. Servanthood. Welcome. Abundance. Selflessness. Sharing. Helping. Caring.
The Belhar Confession of 1986 came out of the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa. It was voted into the Book of Confessions by the Presbyterian Church (USA) this last summer. This quote is from Belhar.
God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ.
The church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world,
The church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker,
the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells.
God’s life-giving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death
And, therefore, also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity,
God’s life-giving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in
a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world.
Opening new possibilities of life for society, for the world, for the nation. The church opening new possibilities for the nation. That’s more than unity.
Reaching deep. Real deep. Reaching with joy to draw water from the wells of salvation.
Because surely, surely, surely, God is my salvation.
© 2016 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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