First Mennonite Church
March 21, 2015
“What Insurance Do You Carry?”
Text: Psalm 121
I get a kick out of an insurance company’s TV commercial. You may have already seen it too. This is the one in which two cars get in a fender bender situation. One of the drivers has his insurance agent aiding him instantly. The other driver desperately waits, while his grandmother tries to get word from her insurance. As she waits on the phone, she yells, “There are six callers ahead of us, Jimmy!” There are all kinds of insurance services and coverage. There are for cars, home equipment, in-flight luggage, animals, farming, life and the list can go on and on. These many types of insurance coverage are demonstrative of the great sense of insecurity there is in about in everything and every situation in life. Insurance companies make good profit out of our fear, well founded or not. And what can I say? I, too, share a certain sense of ease knowing that if something ever happens to my car while on the highway, I can call for roadside assistance. Whether it works or not, I do not know. I only wish I never have to use it, but when I bought the insurance policy, I asked for this feature to be included in my premium. Traveling long journeys can be scary. I remember when Lilian, Emmanuel, Jasmine and I traveled for 8 days on the road, from Indiana all the way to Belize. We did not have any problem with our car although we got lost in Mexico, once.
Psalm 121 is one of the songs the Israelite travelers sang while on their pilgrimage journey to Jerusalem. As the pilgrims from all corners of Israel left home and embarked on their journey toward Jerusalem, their voices rang both as a prayer for and confession of God’s protection. They traveled for days depending on how far away they lived from Jerusalem. In Isaiah 49, verse 10 gives us hints regarding the dangers of the elements these travelers had to bear. This verse mentions the scorching wind and the burning sun as common conditions of being out in the open. Every family embarking on the pilgrimage journey was aware of the danger of exhaustion, of the possibility of heatstroke during the day and of lurking dangers at night. But not only the elements posed dangers to those travelers; there was also the danger of family members getting lost in the hordes of travelers. I am sure, Mary and Joseph were not the only parents who lost one of their children while making such a journey. There may have been more similar cases and even more serious losses.
In the face of all possible dangers, the pilgrim asks, where does my help come from? This question reflects a perennial concern humans have in life. Deep in each of us is a need to know what to hold on to when the ground under our feet shakes, both literally and metaphorically. The answer to this question has been and continues to be addressed in so many ways. Humans have come up with many attempts at providing a sense of security to the issue of uncertainty. When illness comes, we want to have a good diagnosis. We want to know whether the prescribed treatment will work. When the bank account runs out, we want to have access to a credit card, even if temporarily. When our children leave home for a day, or for college, or in marriage, we want to make sure they are prepared and have all their bases covered. We stock water and food for an emergency. We contribute to a retirement fund for the time we cannot work. Therefore, the question, where does my help come from, is a valid one. And whether or not we want to admit it, in our quest to answer this question we do what we do in life.
As the Israelites traveled together in caravans, they sang antiphonally, that is, in a responsive manner. One group posed in song the question, “where does my help come from?” The other group answered back, “My help comes from the lord, the maker of heaven and earth!” And Yahweh’s care becomes the central theme throughout the entire psalm. The elements, whether at night or day, such as the moon, the sun, the wind, the rain or cold were nothing but elements under the care and control of their maker. And so was the natural environment along their journey: the valleys, mountains, rivers, forest or desert were also created by the lord, whose watchful eyes followed his people. God’s assurance to his people is also for us today. Yahweh will not let your foot slip regardless of the hazardous terrain. Under the open sky He who watches over you will not slumber. The Protector of his people will neither slumber nor sleep. For it is the lord who watches over you. Under the shadow of God’s wings he will keep you. Etc. The sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. He will guard your coming and going back.
Psalm 121 portrays Yahweh as the Guide, Companion and Usher of his people from the moment they stepped out of their door and all the way as they entered into his courts. What a tender God we can find in Psalm 121! What a great sense of assurance we find in the One who never sleeps, slumbers, or becomes distracted! What comfort it is to know that our God watches over us 24/7/365 days in the year! He is never away on vacation nor is He in need of taking a break, so as to cause a lapse in the care He provides us. We know so well that God’s protection is not only for travelers. It is not only for those who in ancient times journeyed day and night.
Dorothy tells the story of what happened to John’s farm when they were farmers. Their field was about to be harvested and then the severe frost destroyed it all. It all began with a strong wind and then the frost set in. “The Lord was our strength and sustained us. Psalm 121 was our comfort and strength,” says Dorothy.
Let me close by saying that although this psalm witnesses to God’s faithful care to us, it also is an invitation for each of us to search our heart.
The psalmist says, I lift my eyes to the mountain, where does my help comes from? The resounding confession is: “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”
On what are your eyes and thoughts fixed? Is your sense of security or protection based on the promises of the Lord? Or are they on earthly agents of security?
Think for a second, what goes through your head when God does not answer your prayer immediately? Do you think he is dozing off? Let us hear it once again:
The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Amen!