MY EYES! MY EYES!
*Yes, today's title has the solar eclipse in mind. It's the talk everywhere you go, with the biggest concern being our eyes. "Wear proper glasses!" we are told, "But make sure they are NASA approved." I even heard yesterday that some are suggesting that if you don't have glasses, no problem! Put a Ritz cracker over your eyes. I think I'll play it safe and not look at the whole thing at all. I'll just watch it on the news while eating my Ritz. How does this play into our study today? Easy. Today, we will ask the question; "Where is our focus?"
"By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors demanded songs of joy: They said, 'Sing us one of the songs of Zion!" How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill." (Psalm 137:1-5)
Long ago when I was in school (either Seminary or another of the many I attended) we had to preach a sermon. However, we did not get to choose the scripture passage. It was assigned for us. No matter what the scripture was we had to preach it as being good news. We had to find the good news within that passage. Imagine receiving Psalm 137, and reading: "O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us-he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." (Psalm 137:8-9) Yes, those words are found in the Psalms. The same Psalms that contain the 23rd Psalm!
We have discovered that the Psalms contain complaints and praises. This particular Psalm (137) is a prayer of the people. Wow, what a prayer! It calls upon God to destroy Israel's oppressors and enemies. From the very beginning we get an idea for the setting. As you remember the people were carried away into captivity into Babylon. "By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept." (verse one) Why did they weep? "When we remembered Zion." Zion, is of course, the City of God. What is the problem? The people have been carried away from their homeland and the city has been destroyed. What else was destroyed? Yes, the temple of God. The people can do nothing but weep. However, they still remember: "If I forget you. O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill." Here the people sit by the "rivers of Babylon" remembering Jerusalem. Ironically, Babylon means "city of chaos" while Jerusalem means "city of peace."
To make things even worse for the people they are being ridiculed by their captors. What do the captors want them to do? They want them to sing for them songs of joy and songs of Zion. No, these captors were not interested in the songs because they liked them. They were just insulting the people because they knew everything had been taken away from them. Everything is still fresh in the memories of these people. They can still hear the Edomites crying out: "Tear it down, tear it down to its foundations!" (Psalm 137:7) How can they sing? They hung their up harps. They no longer had a song to sing.
Sometimes life seems to take us to our own Babylon. We feel like hanging up our harps and moaning the blues. These people could do nothing about their situation. (we are not considering at this point what they were actually told to do by the prophet. we are just dealing with this Psalm as it is) But wait! They could do something. They could remember. They chose to never forget Jerusalem. Their focus was on, not just the city that was, but upon God who still is.
How important is the past? I know we are told to not dwell on the past, and I've preached sermons and heard sermons on letting go of the past, but should we let go of all of it. If the past is not important, then how really important is today? After all, by the time tomorrow rolls around today will be in the past. How much of yesterday helped shaped my today? You see these people never forgot what was. And by not forgetting what was they remembered who they were. I have to tell you that there are some reminders of yesterday that I need. I still cherish an old cassette tape that I have of my first ever sermon. No, I don't cherish it because I'm on it, but I cherish it because of who else is on it. At the beginning of this tape is singing. At the beginning of every service back then people from the congregation would gather at the front around the piano and sing hymns until they decided they needed to stop and give the preacher time. On this tape there is a beautiful old gospel hymn titled "Pray the Clouds Away." I listen to the voices singing it and picture each one. There is Floyd Graham singing bass. Floyd was a good bass singer. While the others were standing to sing, Floyd had him a chair. He would sing while sitting with his legs crossed. But, as he sang he would kick his leg up. Floyd is gone now, but I still hear him sing. There is Brother Bob Duckworth on this tape. We called the preachers back then "Brother." Brother Bob was not the pastor, but had been a preacher in our area for many years. Everyone knew and loved him regardless of whether they went to church or not. Brother Bob attended church that day just to hear me preach. Brother Bob is gone too, but I can still hear him sing, along with Linda Donley, gone way too soon, and many others. Sometimes when I want to hang my harp on the poplar I remember. Then I hear that song in my head and I hear their voices, and I feel God near me.
But what about these people longing for the "dashing of infants against the rocks?" Remember, this is from the people who had been held captive. The Psalms are sometimes gritty in nature. They reveal human emotion. They also allow us to be real. Admit it! There are days when you are so upset that you may wish things that...well, you can go to the Psalms and say; "I feel the same way!!!" Then, we remember...we remember who we are, and we remember who God is.
I hope you have a good day. Please join me tomorrow as we continue our journey together. -Pastor Rick