Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Psalm 132 (we read 1-12, I mentioned the rest in the sermon):
Lord, remember in David’s favour
all the hardships he endured;
how he swore to the Lord
and vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob,
‘I will not enter my house
or get into my bed;
I will not give sleep to my eyes
or slumber to my eyelids,
until I find a place for the Lord,
a dwelling-place for the Mighty One of Jacob.’
We heard of it in Ephrathah;
we found it in the fields of Jaar.
‘Let us go to his dwelling-place;
let us worship at his footstool.’
Rise up, O Lord, and go to your resting-place,
you and the ark of your might.
Let your priests be clothed with righteousness,
and let your faithful shout for joy.
For your servant David’s sake
do not turn away the face of your anointed one.
The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
‘One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my decrees that I shall teach them,
their sons also, for evermore,
shall sit on your throne.’
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
he has desired it for his habitation:
‘This is my resting-place for ever;
here I will reside, for I have desired it.
I will abundantly bless its provisions;
I will satisfy its poor with bread.
Its priests I will clothe with salvation,
and its faithful will shout for joy.
There I will cause a horn to sprout up for David;
I have prepared a lamp for my anointed one.
His enemies I will clothe with disgrace,
but on him, his crown will gleam.’
Psalm 132:1-12- Gleaming Crowns and Glowing Lamps
I have only one clear memory of the drive my family took when we moved back to Tennessee from Texas. I was four and a half and it was a long drive... I get why I’d only remember one thing. At some point in the drive, one of my parents, probably mom, must have talked about seeing the mountains and how that’s when we’d know we were almost home. And, even at four and a half, I knew that a proper response to something so exciting was to sing. So, I sang. I’m not sure when I started singing, because you can see mountains in a lot of Tennessee and pretty far from where we would be living. I definitely sang when I saw them , maybe about every mountain we saw. And, do you want to know what I sang: “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain when She Comes.”
I think I sang that song about a thousand times. I have no idea where I learned it. If my parents taught it to me, I am sure that they regretted it. But it was the only song about mountains that I knew, so I sang it... a lot... to usher us home. I don’t remember my parents trying to stop me either. Maybe they hoped I’d tire myself out or were just happy that I wasn’t waking up my infant sister. Either way, I sang and sang and sang as we traveled up and into the Tennessee Valley. Sometimes the only way to finish a big, life-changing trip is with a song.
Today’s Psalm is a song that you sing at the close of a trip, in this case a pilgrimage into Jerusalem. It is one of the Songs of Ascents, a group of psalms sung by pilgrims as they entered Jerusalem. It is a song about how Jerusalem came to be the center point for their worship. In a commentary on this text, Joan Stott notes that the people of Israel had often built spaces for worship in places where they wanted to be reminded of God’s involvement in the world. For Abram, it was the simple altar in Canaan. Moses, who led a people following God via pillars of fire and cloud, built a mobile tent in which the people could carry the Ark of the Covenant, a visible sign that God was not only leading them, but accompanying them on the journey. Stott reminds us that it is David who felt called to build the temple in Jerusalem. Though it was his son who finished the building, Solomon was working from his father’s inspiration. This Psalm is a reminder of David’s vow to find a dwelling place for God beyond the one that existed in his heart.
As much as this Psalm is a reminder of David’s promise, it is also a reminder of God’s promise. Within our reading is a reaffirmation of David’s promise, by David’s people. The people demonstrate that they are a part of this promise as well. “Rise up, O Lord, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. Let your priests be clothed with righteousness, and let your faithful shout for joy. For your servant David’s sake do not turn away from the face of your anointed one.” They are shouting for joy and advocating on behalf of their king. But, in the portion just after our reading, God is responding to this song of praise and supplication.
Verse 13 says that God had chosen Zion, Jerusalem, for God’s resting place. And, the promise that God makes to the people of that place is that they will be provided for in abundance: “I will abundantly bless it’s provisions; I will satisfy its poor with bread. It’s priests I will clothe with salvation, and it’s faithful will shout for joy.” It is good to be reminded that God working in the world look like fully bellies, enough food to share, ethical leaders, and joyful shouting. If the situation we find ourselves in falls short of that, we might need some more divine intervention and human action to get us that vision of a city filled with God.
In her commentary on this text, Jennifer Lord suggests we understand it as both a “warning and a promise.” Many leaders, not just religious ones, will claim to be inspired and appointed by God. When someone chooses to identify themselves with this kind of anointing, they must be willing to be judged by the set of intentions God has laid before humanity. God is both the source of the call and the root of our actions. As we have talked about several times lately, if the fruit of our actions, or our leaders’ actions, doesn’t not measure to the standard set by God for Jerusalem, we have to re-evaluate what we and our leaders are doing. Even David, himself, built too much with manipulation and exploitation, and most of us aren’t David. Dr. Lord argues that “God’s steadfastness is the origin and source of any good that comes from earthly rule.” Part of the work of faith, then, is a persistent attention to, and revision of, how we are living and what we are building to see if it conforms to what Dr. Lord calls “God’s purposes of love and justice.” The temple described in this Psalm may have eventually been completed long ago, but the beloved community that we are living in right now is always adapting and changing to more fully live into God’s vision at that particular time and at that particular place.
Today, in the calendar of the church year, marks Reign of Christ Sunday. The pope who decreed this day to be a particular holy day 100 years wanted to have a day to intentionally consider what it means to understand Jesus as our ultimate leader and also ground of our action. I am acquainted with an Episcopal priest who says that her belief in the Kingship of Christ helps keep her from ever seeking out leaders who think they are God. I’ve been thinking about that a lot these days. Christians have traditionally understood Jesus to be the messiah promised in this scripture, the leader who brings the world closer to the vision of abundance and joy that God promised Zion. And, Jesus’ messiahship did not come through him acting like a new David, though some hoped he would be. No, Jesus said that a leader is first servant of all. That’s how he understood himself and his disciples to be moving closer to God’s reign of abundance and joy. Reign of Christ Sunday is also the lead in to our Advent season, where we spend weeks together considering Emmanuel, God with us, who shared human frailties and lived in divine love. Maybe one way to reconsider the upcoming season is to imagine it a pilgrimage, a journey that can change you and lead you right up to God’s footstool, the manger. What will be the song you sing as you arrive in God’s presence and how will you allow God’s presence to change, for the better, the way you live?
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Jennifer L. Lord, "Proper 29 (Reign of Christ)," Preaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B Featuring 22 New Holy Days for Justice, Ronald J. Allen, Dale P. Andrews, and Dawn Ottoni- Wilhelm, eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011).
Joan Stott: http://www.thetimelesspsalms.net/w_resources/rnchristkingb_2015.htm
Pulpit fiction: https://www.pulpitfiction.com/notes/proper29b
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.