Tuesday, 12 June 2012 00:00

"Unto the Hills?", June 10, 2012

“Unto the Hills?”
Psalm 121
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
June 10, 2012
University Baptist Church
Minneapolis, MN

The opening verse of today’s psalm holds a favorite image: "I look unto the hills from whence cometh my help".  I think about going off to the hills and reflecting on God’s wonderful handiwork.  I remember summer trips to the mountains and feeling uniquely at home. In the hills, the mountains where there is no cell phone service, no radio, no TV, all those things that distract us.  In the hills we can commune with God, we can find rest and solace.  We can get perspective.  We can make giant life decisions from the clarity of the hills.  And when life gets us down and we get bogged down in the traumas and business of life, we can remember back and look unto the hills from whence cometh my help.

We think of gurus sitting up on a mountain perch giving us pearls of wisdom.  I look unto the hills from whence cometh my help.

But what happens when we look to the hills and find not comfort there or insight.  What if the hills bring danger?

In the time of the Hebrews, the hills often brought danger.  If we looked unto the hills and saw an approaching army, then we might have a bit of a different perspective.


I visited the Holy Lands way back in 1992.  We went up to the disputed Golan Heights. The heights had bunkers on them.  They had gun turrets.  They were a strategic fortress area.  Controlling the Golan Heights meant you could control the region.  One could look to the hills in Biblical times and see the future.

Look to the hills, for that’s where danger comes from.  Look to the hills and watch out.  It’s not God on them thar hills.  It’s the army. It’s the empire.  It’s the mountain of debt.  It’s the distraction of media.  It’s all that is used to divide us.  We look to the hills. We see our lives crashing down around us. And then we ask a question, where does our help come from?

The Psalmist answers our question.  “My help comes from YHWH, the maker of heaven and earth.”

Where does your help come from?

Think of the hills that we gaze upon.  It’s so attractive on those hills:

The hills of the quick fix, the easy money.

We give tax breaks to those who live in the mansion on the hills, that’s where the power is.  Who knows some of the money might trickle down to us.  You know, if you give more food to the gluttons, they may make more table scraps.  Be happy with the scraps.  You don’t want to take away from the scrap creators, otherwise you’ll go hungry.  How’s that for logic?

We look to the hills and we wait.

We look to the hills and we convince ourselves that those on the hills will save us.

I think of the magician trick of misdirection.  If we can get them gazing up on the hills, we can pick their pockets or conjure up some other slight of hand.  I look to the hills.  From whence cometh my help?

Does our salvation come from the hills? Or does our help come from God who made the heavens and the earth?

Hear what God has to say:  “I will not let your foot be moved.  God who keeps you will not slumber nor sleep.  God is your keeper.  God is the shade at your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.  God will keep you from evil now and forever.”

So how do we make the distinction between the high hills and God?

On Thursday, I joined 120 clergy colleagues at the Clergy United for All Families kickoff.  We learned how to tell stories and remembered that Gods power comes when we join together to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

We heard the stories of love and faithfulness.  We also saw videos that the campaigns opposing same sex marriage have used in other states.  They are based upon fear, and elicit a primal instinct of protection for our children.  It’s hard to combat those kinds of messages.  Hard, but important.  The other side will say that those who support the freedom of all to marry are not true believers.  They have more money, they have won in 30 states.  They are living high on the hills.  And they will say our work on this issue is futile.  Look to the hills.  Know the ways of those on the hills, but don’t be defined by them.

It’s easy to get discouraged. But it’s important to remember that when we are threatened by those on the hill, we need to remember that our help comes from someplace else.  Our help comes from God who made the heavens and the earth; God who set the planets in motion; God who makes all things new; God who encourages us to see each other as sisters and brothers in need of life-giving transformation, and not simply as enemies; God who transforms lives.  This is the God who saves us.

Our help comes from God who infuses us with vision and power and dignity, who reminds us that the long arc of history bends toward justice.

My help comes from God who, like Amos, said, “Let justice flow down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

My help comes from God whose refrain is “Thus saith the Lord.  You shall not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain.  You shall not trample on the widows or orphans.  You shall have no other god before me,” says the words on the tablets coming down from the mountains.

We look to the hills and we wait not.  We look to the hills and we double down our work for mercy, compassion, justice, love and peace.

We enter into our annual meeting in just a little while today.  We celebrate all that has happened in this year and in the 162 years of this church’s existence.  We think about what is to come.  We think how we are being faithful to God’s desires for us.  We think and we commit to a new year of inspiration and peacemaking and justice-seeking.  We see how much we can do for good in this city, and we remember that our help comes from God who makes the heavens and the earth and has entrusted us with this ministry of beauty and light.
So as we enter this day, do we look to the hills?  Do we compare ourselves to the big church on the hill, with the great new building and the fine endowment?  Or do see what we have here, a smaller intimate church that continues to advocate for beauty and justice and transformation one person at a time; A church that trusts in God; A church that hears each other’s stories; that prays for each other in particular; that takes the sometimes unpopular stand because it’s the right thing to do.  That’s what we are. That’s what we seek to be.  Thanks be to God.

Let me close with a poem attributed to Mother Teresa:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.

[Reportedly inscribed on the wall of Mother Teresa's children's home in Calcutta, and attributed to her. However, an article in the New York Times has since reported (March 8, 2002) that the original version of this poem was written by Kent M. Keith.]