Thursday, 23 June 2011

An Ironic Meeting: Psalm 122 & John 17

Peter Lockhart

There is a sense of irony for me in the marrying of Psalm 122 with Jesus prayer of John 17 in the readings selected for the anniversary of the Uniting Church this week.

In John 17 Jesus is praying with his disciples in the upper room. They had travelled to Jerusalem for the Passover festival. That very night he had washed the disciple’s feet, he had declared his knowledge of his betrayal and in the reading that we heard he prays for the disciples and also incidentally for us. These are the last scenes before Jesus is taken to Jerusalem where he will be put on trial, tortured and ultimately killed.

Psalm 122 is one of the Psalms of ascent. It was sung by pilgrims travelling to Jerusalem for the religious festivals. “I was glad when the said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord!’” The pilgrims had a sense of anticipation in singing this particular song, a song which looks forward to going to meet with God. For if you remember you will know that the Jewish people believed that God dwelt within the holy of holies in the temple.

Maybe you can pick up that same sense of irony. Jesus was on a journey towards Jerusalem, at the time of a one of the great festivals, yet his journey was more of a collision course with the powers of the Jewish Council and the Roman authorities. He knew he had been betrayed and most likely knew that he was going to his death. How difficult it would have been for him to sing the Psalm on his pilgrimage: “I was glad when the said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord!’”

Yet despite the trepidation that he may have been feeling Jesus prayer in John 17 charts a future course and hope for his disciples in their unity within God and with one another.

“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

In these words Jesus prays that our very own lives will be united in his life and the life of the one whom he calls Father. The disciples are drawn into God’s inner life on the eve of the crucifixion of God in Jesus. It is in this connection of the disciples lives, and so too ours in Jesus’ life, that we are baptised and so share in Jesus life, death and then his resurrection.

This is the promise and hope of God for humanity and the whole creation that Jesus carries our lives through death and in to new life.

The resurrection of Jesus proclaims the hope of a new creation, of new possibilities, of new life beyond death and decay.

Yet at the point in time when Jesus is praying this road still lies ahead.

How is it then that we might associate the Psalm of the pilgrim which looks forward with hope to meeting God with Jesus’ prayer mere hours before everything unravels?

Maybe the words which open Psalms 120 and 121 give us an insight to how we might answer this question.

Psalm 120 begins with the words “In my distress I cry to the Lord, that he might answer me, ‘Deliver me O Lord, from lying lips and a deceitful tongue?”

And then in Psalm 121 “I life my eyes to hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.”

If we understand that context of looking forward to going to the house of Lord is not simply about having a feel good and warm and fuzzy spiritual experience but encountering God in the midst of the distress and the lies and the deceit then maybe we can begin to understand. It is only from Lord who made heaven and earth that our help comes!

Jesus entry into Jerusalem contains the trust and faith of one who relies on God, his faith is human faith in God par excellence. In his prayer of John 17 he joins us to his own faith so that we might journey with him.

This is the story of our salvation as in and through Jesus God draws us home, into God’s own life. It is a journey which entails the almost unspeakable horror of Jesus last hours and death, a horrific death which as human beings we can only admit with shame has been shared by the millions of people tortured and brutally killed through the millennia. Jesus identifies with the worst of possible ends for us.

Yet hope springs forth on the day of resurrection as Jesus rises from the grave and so God says to the world there is more to your existence than the banality and brutality with which your practice your living.

This is a difficult story for us to hear but on the day of Stella’s baptism it is a vital story for us to hear. For baptism is about once again proclaiming that God’s will for Stella and for all people is to be joined in to Jesus life, death and yes also his resurrection. That God’s promise is that the stories of our lives whilst important are subsumed into a story of new life and of the promise of a future yet unseen.

As we baptise we remember that we are citizens of a coming kingdom, that we have an allegiance to a crucified and risen Lord, and that our hope is in him.

The question for all of us concerning Stella and our own lives is what is the story that dominates how we live? For each one of us our lives are shaped by lessons and myths that we have picked up along the way, some knowingly and others unconsciously.

The lessons the myths that we learn determine how we live and how we teach others to live, and this includes our children.

In Jesus own life his actions caused him to come into conflict with the social, political, economic and religious powers of his time. No less do I believe that if Jesus was here today would the same occur.

Would not Jesus challenge the rampant consumerism that rules our lives in the West?
Would not Jesus question the insipid expression of our faith which reduces relationship with God to a personal lifestyle choice?
Would not Jesus confront the moralising which excludes?
Would not Jesus demand that our allegiance be to God and not any particular political party?

As people drawn in to Jesus life through baptism we are called to be his people and following where he lead proclaim the good news and hope of God over against the powers and principalities that delude us in this world.

In this baptism for me shares in the trepidation of the upper room – lives drawn into unity with God’s life and each other’s life set on a course which will travel through life into death. But just as the disciples discovered in their lives can and will brings us into conflict with the world around us.

Baptism is not a naming ceremony, it should never be done because we want our kids to get into the right school, it does not give kids any opportunity for advancement in this world, it certainly should not be done to get the grandparents off our back. Baptism is a declaration of God’s love and draws a child and a family closer into the heart of God and the community of faith to face the difficult road of life that lies ahead with the hope of resurrection held firmly in our hearts.

There are many stories that can shape the pilgrimage of our lives yet the radical and subversive conviction that we share is that their one story that over arches all others. It is the story of Jesus Christ to whom our lives and the future of all things are joined.

There may be troubles ahead, the world is facing big problems, but just as Jesus continued to pray with hope in the upper room so too we can look forward with hope and maybe even share the words of the Psalmist:

“I was glad when the said to me, ‘let us go to the house of the Lord!’”

Because our “help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth”.

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