Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Pilgrims' Destination and Church Life: Alec Motyer on Psalm 122

I'm currently reading through the Psalms of Ascent (120-134) with the help of two books - The Journey by Eugene Peterson and Journey by Alec Motyer. Hmm, I wonder if Tony Blair's A Journey is also about the Psalms of Ascent.

Motyer suggests that the Psalms of Ascent go in groups of three, the first describing a situation of stress and distress, the second focussing on the Lord's power to save, deliver, build and strengthen and the third bringing us home - arriving in the safety of Jerusalem. (Motyer says this works for the first four groups of three, with the fifth being all Zion-centred; I haven't got beyond Psalm 122 yet, but it certainly works for the first triad)

They are Psalms for pilgrims, and thus Psalms for Christians on our journey to the Jerusalem from above, to the New Creation.

Here is some of Motyer on Psalm 122, in which he explains how the vision of our pilgrim destination shapes our church life now. Or, as he puts it, how "our pilgrim goal is also our daily task."

How easily, then we can identify with this psalm. In the dim, distant past, we used to sing a hymn with the chorus lines: We're marching to Zion, beautiful Zion! We're marching to Zion, the beautiful city of God!
 Antiquated? Certainly... True? Oh yes! That is our goal, and the more we set out minds on it, the more enthusiastically we will march on; the more we long for it, the more zealously we will love as if already there (which, in the truest sense, we are); the more we dwell on its glories and on the beauty of the King, the more our hearts will be set on holiness; the more we bring the coming New Heaven and Earth and the ascended Christ into our thinking the more we will live as New Earth people in this old world. People around us may talk about being so heavenly minded that we are no earthly use. Bible in hand, we turn their mockery on its head, for it is only those who have pilgrimage in their hearts who know how to live this earthly life (Psalm 84:5-6); the goal of the Jerusalem to come, the New Heaven and the New Earth, the City of the Lord God and of the Lamb, casts its radiance before it for those who live in its light; the values of the city that is yet to be arm us for living in the city that is now.
 Or, to put it another way, our pilgrim goal is also our daily task. We are on our way to Zion, but we have already come to Zion - and, importantly, to its present location in the local church to which we belong.
When we see even the slightest sliver of a crescent moon, we don't say, 'Oh look, there's part of the moon'; we say, 'Oh look, there's the moon.' In exactly the same way, our aim should be that whoever looks at the tiniest, most insignificant, struggling church should be not only able but compelled to say, 'Oh look, there's the New Jerusalem.'
Yes, the Church is a foretaste of the New Creation. Of course, often it doesn't match up, and tragically so. But let us not the failures rob of us of the ideal, and the goal of shaping our church to life to be those outposts of heaven. In this line, Motyer then goes on to describe the church as a place "where problems are solved."
...In the world, there is adversity (120.1), enmity (120.2), verbal sniping (120.3), deep unsettlement (120.5), antagonism to the ways of peace (120,6-7). In the church there is delightful fellowship, family feeling (122.1,8), a sense of security (122.2), delight in peace and in speaking peace (122.6,8). The church is a place where the problems of the world are solved - and this is not just an essential of our testimony to the watching world, it is for our own enjoyment and healing. It is, of course, what the world needs to see - for why shold anyone want to join a church not worth joining, a company beset by the very problems a person wants to be rid of? But, at the deepest level, it is what believers themselves need: a secure, restful, curative fellowship, a 'time out' from the world, not, negatively, an escapist withdrawal, but, positively, a 'recharging of batteries'.

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