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Worship Message - Songs of Ascent #2

Songs of Ascent
Psalms 122-123

We are in the beginning stages of a series of messages on a group of Psalms known as the Songs of Ascent. Fifteen Psalms recited by Old Testament people as they prepared themselves for worship.

Some say the Psalms were recited as a worshiper climbed the 15 steps leading up to the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. They say the worshiper would stop on the first step and recite the first of the 15 Psalms, that he would stop on the second step and recite the second of the Psalms, that that would continue until he reached the top of the steps and was ready to enter the Temple.

Others say the Psalms were sung as worshipers traveled - as they climbed - as they ascended in elevation - to Jerusalem, which is where the Jewish Temple was. That the 15 Psalms were recited as they traveled. Reciting that would be repeated over and over again over the miles of the journey.
Either way, the goal was that, by the time of arrival in Jerusalem, or by the time the top step was achieved, or both - by the time the 15th of the Psalms was recited - the person intending to worship was ready to worship. The Psalms would have directed his attention to God.

As was said last week, which is when we started this series on the Songs of Ascent, I hope that each Sunday when we come to church, we are already ready to worship. However, it never hurts to make sure we remain ready to worship. Thus this series of messages, including the one for today, which will center our thoughts on Psalms 122 and 123.

This week, not every word of the Psalms to be discussed will be mentioned. Instead, a few themes will be highlighted. Themes that will remind us what to do to make sure we are ready to worship.

The first theme is expressed wonderfully in verse 1 of Psalm 122. “A Song of Ascents. A Psalm of David. I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”

I emphasized two words that I think are especially important. Words that bring out the first theme for today. A theme that has two parts. We are to be glad to worship. David was glad. And we are to worship together. The invitation was to let us go to the house of the Lord.

In a devotional I read on Psalm 122, the writer admitted she squirmed when she read verse 1 a while back. She did that because, she shared, she usually wantedto go to church. And she knew she was supposed to be in church. However, sometimes her Sunday mornings were quite chaotic. As she wrote, getting three children, her husband, and herself ready and out the door was often quite challenging, even for her. She described herself as a“Jesus-loving mama.” Because of the challenges, she did notalways go to church with glad rejoicing.

As mentioned in some other messages recently, David, who wrote this Psalm, had a lot of problems of his own - family problems, political problems, international problems, sin problems

Any of the things David faced could have taken away his gladness. But that did not happen. As he wrote, he was glad when the invitation to go to the house of the LORD was given.

And consider this. David was king. He had been chosen by God to be king. As king, he was important. People followed his decrees.

The point is that David could have considered himself above worship of anyone other than himself. But that was not David’s mood. He was glad when the suggestion to worship - and to pray to God, which went on in the Temple, too - was made to him.

Which brings us to the second part of this first theme. It can be easy for someone like David - for someone with importance and power - to stay aloof, doing what can be done to avoid rubbing shoulders with those less authoritative. But that was not David’s mood either. Hence the other word I emphasized. David words were, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”

David did not want to worship alone. And by the way, it is certainly possible to worship when we are by ourselves. In fact, since God is everywhere all the time, He can be worshiped when we are alone. In fact, we should worship God all the time, no matter where we are, as in with others or alone.

I am sure David worshiped alone sometimes. But he also wanted to be with others when he worshiped and prayed. Which, again, can be considered unusual since others of course included those of less importance than David. In his kingdom, everyone was less authoritative than him.

But that did not bother David, which was a display of his mood. It also is a reminder of a verse in the New Testament Book of Hebrews on this very topic. Verse 25 of Hebrews 10 teaches us to “not neglect to meet together.”

Why? That is answered in verse 24. It is when meeting together that we can “stir up one another to love and good works.”

Though David did not have a chance to read those verses in Hebrews 10, he had the same attitude. He was glad to receive the invitation to join others in the house of the LORD. It was there he worshiped, as he helped others to do the same. It was there he could be encouraged to love and do good works, as he encouraged others to do the same.

David wrote, “I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’”

Listen. The people walking to Jerusalem to worship God also had hectic mornings - and afternoons and evenings and nights - and other problems. I mean, they had packed up their traveling needs and whatever family members were going with them. Traveling to Jerusalem resulted in time away from home and probably jobs. There were dangers along the way. Between dangers there was at least the possibility of boredom as mile followed mile after mile.

Those climbing steps to the Temple? Many of them had problems, too.

All those things could have interfered with the joy they were supposed to feel as they approached Jerusalem and the Temple. To overcome whatever discouragement they had, they recited Psalm 122, the first verse of which reminded them they were to be joyful. They were to be glad because they were going to have the opportunity to join others in their place of worship and prayer.

For us, do we ever allow hectic schedules, including hectic Sunday mornings, to interfere with our joy as we think of arriving at our place of worship? If so, may we remember verse 1 of Psalm 122. May we say that verse, maybe over and over again. What a wonderful reminder we will have to be glad that we can be together to worship and pray.

In fact, as we recite that verse, let’s do what we can to help others hear us so they, too, can repeat the verse. What a wonderful way for us to excite and stir up one another to worship.

What a wonderful way for us to be ready to worship. May that be true no matter who we are. May we be glad to worship and pray together.

And one more thought on the word “us.” One more thought on the joy of being together as we worship. A thought based on verse 3 of Psalm 122, which refers to Jerusalem having been built as “a city which is bound firmly together.”

In Jerusalem, buildings, including houses, were built close together. I read in studying for this message that one of the purposes for building that way was that each building gained strength and support from the buildings beside it.

That is also true as we worship together. And again, it is possible to worship alone. God will certainly accept such worship. But how good it is to worship and pray with others. Close to one another. The advantage is that we can strengthen and support one another, both in the Temple - at church - and on the way to worship. As we make the journey or climb the steps, we can encourage one another to keep going.

“I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD.’” Gladness and being together. That is the first theme of today’s parts of the Songs of Ascent.

The second theme comes from verses 6 through 8 of Psalm 122. It has to do with peace.

David challenged people to pray for peace. Specifically, he instructed prayers for peace in Jerusalem. Within the walls of that city and in its towers. But he added, “Let there be peace for the sake of my brethren and companions.”

What that tells me is that, in addition to worshiping and praying, we are to be working in our place of worship for peace. Which is not only the absence of war, but also having all that is good.

Why is peace good? It is good because it will foster a unity of purpose. It is good because with peace, attention can be given, not to attack or defense, but to the purpose at hand, which is worship and prayer.

The writer of the devotional on Psalm 122 - the one who admitted she did notalways go to church with gladness - made another point when she asked, “I wonder, what would our worship look like if we took time ahead of time to prepare our hearts inglad anticipationof joining with others in our own place of worship?”

Again, I hope we are each already doing that kind of preparation. The point being that we need to continue to do that. But let me add to that. I wonder, what would it be like to have peace in all our congregations?

I think we have peace. At least most of the time. Of course, there will probably always be some differences of opinion about any of a number of things. But the challenge is to have peace and keep it so there will be unity of purpose.

That is necessary so we can concentrate, not on conflict, but on what is supposed to be our purpose, which is to worship and pray. A purpose that can be achieved as we are glad to be together in the name of the LORD.

How can that purpose be accomplished? Let’s move on to the third theme, which is suggested in the first part of verse 1 of Psalm 123. “A Song of Ascents. To Thee [to God] I lift up my eyes.”

Lifting up our eyes was also presented at the start of Psalm 121. There it is, “I lift up my eyes to the hills.” Here it is, “To God I lift up my eyes.” Not, “I should lift up my eyes” or “I might lift them sometime in the future.” “I lift up my eyes.”

David lifted his eyes to God, God described as being “enthroned in the heavens.” “I lift up my eyes.” That means David was not downcast, despite his problems.

By reciting Psalm 123, the people on their way to Jerusalem or up the steps to the Temple, or both, were reminded to not be discouraged, despite the rigors they were experiencing.

Neither are we to be downcast. We are instead to look up. As David did, not with pride, but toward God, who is our help. The only one who can give us peace.

The wording that He is “enthroned in the heavens” is an indication of His power. Power to see our needs. Power to save us when needed.

As we prepare to worship and pray - as we prepare to gladly enter our own place of being together with the LORD - let’s lift our eyes. Doing that will keep our focus, not on the problems and the dangers around us, but on the one who can help us.

With that focus in mind, let’s consider verse 2, which starts this way, which is the fourth theme for today. “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress…”

Here is something I read. A great man - for example, a king, which means David would have been familiar with this - has many servants, to whom he gives instructions each day. He gives the instructions so he does not need to interrupt himself during business that comes later that is very important.

For instance, perhaps he is entertaining important guests. He does not want to interrupt his conversation in order to give instructions to the servants. So his servants, knowing the instructions given to them earlier, must learn to wait and watch.

The king may put two fingers together, as if he were holding a cup. His movement may be very slight and last for just a moment. No one other than the appropriate servant might even realize an order is being given. But the servant is to watch. His eyes are to be on the king, ready to respond to the signal. In that case, to bring water or coffee or whatever had been arranged earlier.

Maybe later, when it is time for the meal, the king might hold a hand out flat, which might look like a gesture, but is supposed to look like a plate to a servant. The hand may be a signal it is time for food to be brought to the meeting. the servant is to rush to the kitchen because the master now wants him to serve the food.

The point is that servants are to keep their eyes on the king. A maid is to keep her eyes on her mistress. Both are to watch the hands of those they are serving, waiting for whatever orders are given, then answering them immediately, without delay.

There is this that also needs to be mentioned. Servants and a maid are never expected to serve on their own. What is needed to serve is supplied by the one in charge. The king in the example, or the mistress. And there is to be some reward. Either wages or the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But the point is for us, too. As we lift our eyes to God, we are not to look away from Him, our Master. We have been given basic instructions - the instructions to love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength, and to love others as we love ourselves. With those basic instructions and with our focus on God, we are to wait for gestures - for nudges - for Him to pop ideas into our minds - about how to carry out what He has told us.

As we do that, we get to the fifth theme for today, which is based on the word “mercy” in verses 2 and 3. “As the eyes of servants and maids look at the hands of their masters and mistresses, so our eyes look to the LORD our God until He has mercy upon us. “Have mercy upon us, O LORD. Have mercy upon us. [Please do that] for we have had more than enough of contempt [of being scorned and of being made to feel worthless]. Have mercy upon us.”

* * * * *

LORD, have mercy. May that be our plea. May we wait for it.

May we be worthy of the LORD’s mercy, part of which is being ready to serve Him without delay.

Which we are more likely to be as we lift our eyes to Him.

Which we will find easier to do when there is peace.

So let’s pray for that so it will be achieved as together, we inspire each other to be glad to come together to the house of the LORD.

Today’s closing song is a hymn is Once Again We Come. We will sing verses 1 and 3.

Once again we come to the house of God,
To unite in songs of praise;
To extol with joy our Redeemer’s name
And to tell His words and ways.
To Thy house, o Lord,
With rejoicing we come,
For we know that we are Thine;
We will worship Thee in the Bible way,
We will seek Thy will divine.

May our hearts, o Lord, e’er united be
In true fellowship and love;
May Thy will be done by us here on earth,
As by angel hosts above.
To Thy house, o Lord,
With rejoicing we come,
For we know that we are Thine;
We will worship Thee in the Bible way,
We will seek Thy will divine.

David, as great as he was, was glad when invited to join together with others in the house of the LORD. As he added in Psalms 122 and 123, he did all he could, doing all he could with others, to be worthy of God’s mercy.

So, too, were those on their way to Jerusalem and those climbing the steps to the Temple excited. They gladly anticipated the opportunities they would have to worship and pray together.

Do we match the enthusiasm of David and of the ancient travelers? Are our hearts and minds prepared that way for worship?

I hope that is the case. I hope it will continue to be. For our own benefit, certainly, but also so others can be attracted to what we do here.

Toward that end, let’s close today’s service with a responsive reading that highlights much of what today’s two Psalms teach us. I will say my part, which is the first line of each section. Please respond with your part, which is the second line of each section.

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Peace be within your walls.
Peace be within you.

To Thee I lift up my eyes,
O Thou who art enthroned in the heavens.

As the eyes of servants and a maid look to the hands of their masters and mistress,
So our eyes look to the LORD.

Have mercy upon us, o LORD.
Have mercy upon us.

May those words, as they are recited - as they are repeated over and over again - prepare our hearts and our minds to worship God, today and always. Amen.

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