Songs of Ascent – Fall 2020 – Reflection 2 of 6

By Pastor Matt Bisel

Read each psalm and discuss the questions below. Each Small Group is different, some tend to be more talkative, other not as much. Do your best to manage time; its okay if you don’t make it through all the questions.

Psalm 122 – Worship

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let’s go to the Lord’s house!”
Now our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem!
Jerusalem is built like a city
    joined together in unity.
That is where the tribes go up—
    the Lord’s tribes!
It is the law for Israel
    to give thanks there to the Lord’s name,
    because the thrones of justice are there — the thrones of the house of David!
Pray that Jerusalem has peace:
    “Let those who love you have rest.
Let there be peace on your walls;
    let there be rest on your fortifications.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
    I say, “Peace be with you, Jerusalem.”
For the sake of the Lord our God’s house
    I will pray for your good.
Common English Bible

1-2 When they said, “Let’s go to the house of God,”
    my heart leaped for joy.
And now we’re here, O Jerusalem,
    inside Jerusalem’s walls!
3-5 Jerusalem, well-built city,
    built as a place for worship!
The city to which the tribes ascend,
    all God’s tribes go up to worship,
To give thanks to the name of God —
    this is what it means to be Israel.
Thrones for righteous judgment
    are set there, famous David-thrones.
6-9 Pray for Jerusalem’s peace!
    Prosperity to all you Jerusalem-lovers!
Friendly insiders, get along!
    Hostile outsiders, keep your distance!
For the sake of my family and friends,
    I say it again: live in peace!
For the sake of the house of our God, God,
    I’ll do my very best for you.
The Message

Let’s be honest…worship has been a bit weird lately. Though at the beginning the change of pace was kind of nice. It was an excuse to stay at home on Sunday morning – no need to get out of those PJs, easing into the morning, coffee in hand, the worship band playing in the background as you neatly folded over that gourmet three cheese omelet on the stove. But if you’re like me, by now the novelty of it has worn off and I miss going to church – you know, in a church building with other people! The Psalmist starts with an exclamation, their heart leaping for joy, when responding to those who said “Let’s go the house of God.” What has been your experience in worship during this time of COVID? What makes worshiping online so different than going to the “house of God?”

For the Psalmist, worship was prescribed by the law; it was at the core of what it meant to be Israel.  The Common English translation says, “It is the law for Israel to give thanks there (Jerusalem) to the Lord’s name.” The Message puts it like this, “All God’s tribes go up to (Jerusalem) to worship…this is what it means to be Israel.” There is no law and no one forces you to go to worship (well, when I was a teen my mom forced me to go) so, what compels you to worship? What does worship mean for you as a Christian?

The Psalm ends by saying, “Let Jerusalem have peace.” It’s as if the psalmist expects worship to make a real difference in the lives of those who worship. What kind of difference does worship make in your life?

Psalm 123 – Service

I raise my eyes to you—
    you who rule heaven.
Just as the eyes of servants attend to their masters’ hand,
    just as the eyes of a female servant attend to her mistress’ hand—
    that’s how our eyes attend to the Lord our God until he has mercy on us.
Have mercy on us, Lord! Have mercy
    because we’ve had more than enough shame.
We’ve had more than enough mockery from the self-confident,
    more than enough shame from the proud.
Common English Bible

I look to you, heaven-dwelling God,
    look up to you for help.
Like servants, alert to their master’s commands,
    like a maiden attending her lady,
We’re watching and waiting, holding our breath,
    awaiting your word of mercy.
Mercy, God, mercy!
    We’ve been kicked around long enough,
Kicked in the teeth by complacent rich men,
    kicked when we’re down by arrogant brutes.
The Message

The servant sings, “I raise my eyes to you,” oh, “heaven-dwelling God…(I) look up to you for help…awaiting your word of mercy.” As Christians we raise our eyes toward Christ. What does it mean to raise your eyes toward Christ on the cross? What does it mean to raise your eyes toward Christ in resurrection?

During these continued times of uncertainty, how are you experiencing God’s mercy in your life?

Psalm 124 – Help

If the Lord hadn’t been for us—
    let Israel now repeat!—
if the Lord hadn’t been for us,
        when those people attacked us
then they would have swallowed us up whole
  with their rage burning against us!
Then the waters would have drowned us;
    the torrent would have come over our necks;
then the raging waters would have come over our necks!
Bless the Lord
    because he didn’t hand us over
    like food for our enemies’ teeth!
We escaped like a bird from the hunters’ trap;
    the trap was broken so we escaped!
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
    the maker of heaven and earth.
Common English Bible

If God hadn’t been for us
    —all together now, Israel, sing out!—
If God hadn’t been for us
    when everyone went against us,
We would have been swallowed alive
    by their violent anger,
Swept away by the flood of rage,
    drowned in the torrent;
We would have lost our lives
    in the wild, raging water.
Oh, blessed be God!
    He didn’t go off and leave us.
He didn’t abandon us defenseless,
    helpless as a rabbit in a pack of snarling dogs.
We’ve flown free from their fangs,
    free of their traps, free as a bird.
Their grip is broken;
    we’re free as a bird in flight.
God’s strong name is our help,
    the same God who made heaven and earth.
The Message

It wasn’t uncommon that on Sunday nights, growing up in the churches my dad served as pastor, there would be time during the worship service for congregants to stand up and give a testimony. For those willing to share, this was a time to give witness, to share how God was working in their lives. As an impressionable young boy there was one witness that still stands out among the rest. She was a retired minister affectionately known as Sister Winnie Neil. If my memory serves me correctly, she always sat in one of the front pews on the piano side. What I do remember clearly, is the way her voice would rise in intensity, in the diction of sermons past, her low-heeled black shoes beating against the old wooden floor. With her whole body she would recount the raging waters that had swept through her life, telling how “God’s strong name” had been there, sustaining her, through all.

Psalm 124 is a testimony and like Sister Winnie Neil, the psalmist sings out of personal experience. As a Christian there is no promise of an easy ride and at times it can be difficult to see how God is working in your life. When the waves come crashing in, it’s tempting to bail ship, abandoning faith all together. There is no argument I can make that will convince you to stay on the boat. But when we take in the words of the psalmist’s song, or stand in awe of the power in Sister Winnie Neil’s testimony, we no longer ask, “Why do bad things happen to me?” Instead we begin to wonder how it happens that there are people who sing with such confidence, “God’s strong name is our help.”[1] Do you have a testimony? Are you willing to stand up and share? 

[1] Eugene H. Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2000).

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