Read Psalm 122
A call to worship
Psalm 122 begins with the author rejoicing over a call, a summons, to come and worship. The invitation “to go to the house of the LORD” (vs. 1) is an invitation to go to the temple in the city of Jerusalem. The Psalmist like all the tribes of Israel was invited to go and “to give thanks to the name of the LORD” (vs. 4) and he was glad at the opportunity. Psalm 122, as one of the Psalms of Ascent, was used as pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem for the great annual feasts. But the journey is not simply to go see a city; it is to go and worship.
We are called to worship. In more liturgical churches this literally happens every Sunday at the beginning of the service. It is in that sense a summons as much as an invitation. God alone deserves to be praised; we as creatures were created to bring him glory. Worship is therefore God’s due and our duty. But it is not as if God needs worship because there is anything in him that is lacking. It is not an issue of God having low self-esteem. Instead, God’s glory and holiness are commanding. When I travel east on a clear day towards Olympia from Aberdeen, Mt. Rainier’s presence becomes imposing. It commands attention. You can’t help but notice it. God’s presence, his very existence, demands worship. And while God is not bound or limited by space or walls, he chose to dwell in a unique way with the people of Israel in the temple in Jerusalem. The journey to Jerusalem is a journey to the presence of the Lord.
But, for a multitude of reasons in a multitude of ways, every single day, other things command our attention. Comfort, reputation, pleasure, our plans, success all call us to worship and vie for our allegiance. We take up these Psalms of Ascent as a way of refocusing our attention.
A city with a purpose
When the Psalmist-Pilgrim arrives in the city limits he is mesmerized. He is impressed with its lay-out (vs. 3); its purpose as the place where the tribes were called to come and worship (vs. 4) and its history – the place where the throne of the house of David was established (vs. 5).
The references to the house of the Lord (vs. 1), the temple, and the house of David (vs. 2), the monarchy, bring a rich backdrop that the original readers would have readily picked up on. King David established Jerusalem as the capital city. He intends to build God a house there, the temple. After telling the prophet Nathan of his intentions, God responds in 2 Samuel 7 with a different plan. David is told that instead of David building God a house, God is going to make him one. And in so doing he gives the promise of a continuous line of kings and that through one of David’s descendants God will establish the “throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam. 7:12).
God’s calling of Abraham, his rescue of Israel from Egypt, the establishment of the kingdom and a land and cities was all grace. Deuteronomy 7:7 declares “it was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath he swore to your fathers.” In other words, “the Lord loves you because he loves you” and not because they were lovable. David and his family would end up being a complete mess. They were not chosen for their righteousness but simply because of God’s love and steadfast commitment to keep his covenant.
Worship then is our duty but it is also our delight. The only natural response to grace is gratitude. We journey to Jerusalem during lent, we take 40 days to focus our attention on the sacrifice of the son of David, to remember how God’s kingdom comes. And in so doing to reorient our lives again to gratitude – worship – in the face of unmerited, indelible, grace.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!
Worship inevitably leads to action. “For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good” (vs. 9). Worship is not confined to a building and certainly not simply to singing.
Mark Labberton notes,
“worship turns out to be the dangerous act of waking up to God and to the purposes of God in the world, and then living lives that actually show it.”
Worship is our duty and delight as individuals but it is also a community affair. “For my brothers and companions’ sake I will say, “Peace be within you” (vs. 8). In fact, God’s prophets are at their angriest when worship gets disconnected from concern for the things God is concerned about.
Amos, with fire in belly declares the word of the Lord against self-centered worship: “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me burnt offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not loon upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24, see also Micah 6:6-8 and Isaiah 1). Feasts, offerings, music – all were acts of worship. All were commanded by the Lord. But when worship ceases to be connected to the realities of life it ceases to be worship. And so the Psalmist comes to the city to worship at the temple and he ends up praying and working for the peace of the city – also worship.
The city was beautiful, as was the temple. But the gates and walls and towers would not last and ultimately would not provide security or peace. The temple would be torn down, rebuilt and torn down again. But, as followers of Jesus we also know that the temple was pointing to something much bigger and better – “destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (Jesus speaking of himself in John 2:19). This is our peace. This has won our security.
And so let us worship in duty (is anything more commanding than grace?) and delight (is anything more joy-filling than grace) and action (is anything more motivating than grace?).