Navel-gazing is the habit of excessive contemplation on a single issue at the expense of being able to see the wider view of the bigger picture. The image that comes to mind with this phrase is a person with their head bent low, not looking up and not engaging in the world around them. Focusing on their own navel, they never see what God is doing in the midst of their crisis.

Today’s beautiful psalm begins with an antidote to navel-gazing. The psalmist reminds us to look up. It is an instruction to lift up our eyes and look heavenward. This is what he did, and he saw God’s presence.

Psalm 121 (New International Version)

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Whatever you are dealing with right now, ask yourself this: where does your help come from? Too often we look the wrong direction for direction. We look to social media to confirm our bias. We look to alcohol and drugs to numb our distress. We look to gossip and over-sharing to assuage our anxiety. We look to movies and television to help us ignore reality. We look in all the wrong places because they are easy to obtain. But our only real help comes from the Lord. Lift up your eyes!

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

This is a powerful reminder of what happens when we look to God to help us and completely yield our situation to him. He won’t let your foot slip. In all of those moments when you awaken at 4:00 in the morning and can’t get back to sleep because your problems keep running through your mind, God is already on watch.

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.

Psalm 121 is a pilgrimage song that was sung as the people journeyed to Jerusalem. They had to walk over hills and through valleys that were surrounded by mountains. There was danger on the road. Robbers would hide in the hills and attack them. The sun beat down on them by day and the moon exposed their position by night. But God provided a protection of shade for them, as he will for you.

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.

Knowing that God watches over us is a blessing of comfort and assurance. The promise that God will keep you from harm is something you can count on now, and forevermore. When we entirely yield our lives to his safe keeping, we walk in his peace. When that happens, the only kind of navel-gazing you will need is to bow your head in a prayer of submission and thanksgiving and let it all go to him.

The Lord is your keeper! Thanks be to God.

I Lift Up My Eyes by David Bevel Jones

More than Enough

We are moving back into our sanctuary for the first time since March. The pandemic forced us to take our worship services online, out to a ball field parking lot, over to our front yard, onto the beach, and even to a graveyard. We are beginning to feel like the early Hebrew nation that followed the pillar of fire and cloud all over the desert, setting up a temporary tabernacle each time they stopped.

Standing in one corner of the chancel area is our Lenten Cross, which is usually up from the beginning of Lent until Easter Sunday. On Easter it is covered with a white scarf and a white dove and then is removed when the service is over. Seeing the Lenten cross still up as we are preparing for this upcoming Sunday is bittersweet. This certainly has been the Lentiest Lent of all Lents….the never-ending Lent, the Lent that won’t relent, the Groundhog Day movie-remake in 3D-Lent Vision. We’ve had more than enough Lent for one year!

Whether you are in the camp of people who feel that we didn’t do enough to flatten the curve when we had the chance, or the camp that thinks it just needs to run its course, COVID-19 has been a daily struggle for individuals and institutions. The national anger that is bubbling just beneath the surface of society is bursting out in riots, property destruction, marches, and an abundance of hate speech. We are left with a feeling of gloom as we try to muddle through it.

Until yesterday.

The hope and promise of a vaccine became part of our conversation yesterday with the announcement of an experimental vaccine that has shown up to 90% efficacy. Over the last several months, real strides have been made in labs, on white boards, in research facilities, and with the brave volunteers who have been participating in early trials. Science is talking back to the virus in a meaningful and hopeful way.

Through all of this, we have always known where to look. We know to look to the one who rules heaven, and fix our eyes there until God has mercy on us.

Psalm 123 (Common English Bible)

I raise my eyes to you—
    you who rule heaven.
Just as the eyes of servants attend to their masters’ hand,
    just as the eyes of a female servant attend to her mistress’ hand—
    that’s how our eyes attend to the Lord our God
    until he has mercy on us.

It will be important to remember to continue to look to the Lord. It will be important to continue to be vigilant in our self-care practices. As a community and as a country, we will need to double down on our hand washing/sanitizer using/mask wearing/social distancing behavior.

Because we’ve had more than enough of this pandemic. We’ve had more than enough of misinformation. We’ve had more than enough death. We’ve had more than enough shame.

Have mercy on us, Lord! Have mercy
    because we’ve had more than enough shame.
We’ve had more than enough mockery from the self-confident,
    more than enough shame from the proud.

So keep looking UP. Don’t look to any one person, group, party, or institution to save us. We’ve been doing that since Lent and it hasn’t worked. It’s time to take the Lent cross DOWN.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time on and forevermore
. (Psalm 121 New Revised Standard Version)

Keep Looking Up by Michelle Robertson

Look Up

I am blessed to be mentoring a Chinese student from my alma mater who stays in touch with me, even though she has graduated and has returned to Beijing. We are working hard right now to get her into grad school. She is diligently filling out applications and submitting transcripts: I am writing letters of reference and praying hard. She has been pretty isolated in her apartment for weeks now since the outbreak of the coronavirus, and it is something we talk about as we check in with each other from halfway across the world.

I have mentioned before that I have a kind of ambivalence toward the Lectionary. In over twenty years of ministry, I have never been in a church that used it every single Sunday. But I do love how it takes you to scriptures you might overlook if you are “picking and choosing” rather than allowing scripture to choose you instead.

Just as I finished a conversation with my mentee this morning, this scripture assignment popped up. This Psalm definitely chose us today!

So take a look at today’s lectionary selection, and read it with the news of the coronavirus (or anything else that is troubling you) in mind:

Psalm 121 (New King James Version)

 I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to be moved;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul.
The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in
From this time forth, and even forevermore.

The Psalmist is traveling across dangerous roads on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The way is full of rocks, extreme desert temperatures, bandits, and wildlife. But he remembers where his help comes from, and so he lifts his eyes to the hills. The sun won’t hurt him as he travels by day. The moon won’t reveal his position as he rests at night. His foot won’t be moved by the rocky terrain and steep slopes. His help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

Do you feel like you are traveling a dangerous road? Is your path littered with all kinds of things that might cause you to stumble and fall? Remember, this is the same Lord speaking today, who hears YOUR cry for help.

I know you’re scared. I know you’re taking appropriate precautions. I know you are praying. As you do these things, remember that the Lord is your keeper. He preserves your going out and your coming in, for now, and forevermore.

Lift up your eyes to the hills. Your help comes! So keep calm, and carry on….and wash your hands like you just cut up jalapeños and you have to take your contacts out!

The Road to Jerusalem by Michelle Baker