Sermon by Rev. Deborah Sunoo
“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.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
As a mountain lover, I quickly felt at home here in Seattle when I came out as a transplant from the east coast. For wherever I lifted my eyes, there were mountains! Not always the mountain, since Rainier, like my beloved Catskills back in upstate NY, likes to play hide and seek and only show itself on clear days. But I just love the fact that we are surrounded by hills and mountains here, even on our morning commutes to work. I felt so fortunate to visit the San Juan Islands a few weeks ago too. A ferry ride up there on a clear day – it has to be a foretaste of heaven, doesn’t it? “I lift up my eyes to the hills…”
I get much the same feeling in a wide-open field on a dark night, staring up at the stars, or walking along a long quiet stretch of beach, looking out at the water. Each experience in its own way reminds me of the scale of God’s creation, and by extension, the scope of God’s creative power. I’m grateful to the psalmist for reminding us how it can lift our heartsto lift our eyes to the hills.
Another great gift of Psalm 121 is that it’s equal opportunity. It’s inclusive. And by that I simply mean that whether our hearts are full of joy or full of pain, we can join right in and sing along. I imagine that’s why it’s been a favorite psalm for so many generations.
When all is going relatively smoothly, for instance, how important it is to remember that it is God who makes it all possible. How vital that we look up in praise and thanksgiving, rather than simply looking in the mirror, and mistakenly thinking we have only ourselves to thank for the successes and blessings we might enjoy. “The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade at your right hand… The Lord [keeps] your going out and your coming in.” (Psalm 121:5, 8)
And when we’re a little down, and it would be easy to get discouraged, we can hear the words “I lift up my eyes to the hills” and remember we are not alone. The God who watches over us “neither slumbers nor sleeps.” (Psalm 121:4) He will carry us through.
And if we should ever find ourselves so seriously beaten down, or pushed down, or in such grief or depression that we feel we can’t get any lower, again, there are important reminders for us here in Psalm 121. In those kinds of moments we may not be able to see our way out of the pit. But even there God can meet us, and lift us. And so we are invited simply to lift our eyes. To look up. And to watch for that divine hand that will reach down to us in mercy and compassion.
Some of you know my theatre major daughter Alina has been educating me in all things Broadway over the last few years. There’s a song from the musical “Dear Evan Hansen” that speaks to this same dynamic. Though I imagine it was intended to invoke human friendship, I find the lyrics speak powerfully in conversation with Psalm 121. The song’s called “You Will Be Found” and a portion of it goes like this:
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you're broken on the ground
You will be found.
So let the sun come streaming in
'Cause you'll reach up and you'll rise again
Lift your head and look around
You will be found…
To be found in a tough moment, rather than having to go out and do the help-finding ourselves? What a gift. “Lift your head and look around, you will be found.” That’s what God promises us, isn’t it? Lifting our heads and expanding our view, every now and then, can remind of what we already know: that God is with us always, never more than a breath away. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
Other times, of course, it will be someone else’s pain that draws our attention rather than our own. God may even be standing ready to reach out through our hands to pull them up. So again, we lift our heads and we look around. Here’s what’s going on in the world, Lord, here’s where your children who are suffering in our own nation and others need you. We lift our eyes to the hills to beg for your help. Or here’s what’s going on in the life of a family member or dear friend, merciful God. We know their help, too, can come from you, the maker of heaven and earth.
Sometimes when my prayer list is particularly long, whether because I seem to know too many people who are hurting, or because the news feels unendingly awful, as it has again this weekend, it’s hard to know where to begin when I pray. Psalm 121 reminds me the first step can simply be to lift my eyes. After all, God knows far more than I do about the needs of those for whom I pray. I sometimes try to think about a change in physical posture, too, from metaphorically carrying the weight of the world on my own shoulders, to handing it over – the weight of the world that is, to the one who made the world. This in turn allows me to stand a bit straighter and to direct my gaze back to those beautiful hills. Lifting my eyes to the maker of the mountains, I try my best to let God take it from there, even as I also listen for any role God would have me play in the finding, reaching, or lifting up of others.
When it’s hard to look up in prayer, whether because of the weightiness of our concerns, or just because we can struggle sometimes to feelconnected to God when we pray, I imagine we’d do well to borrow a page from the psalmist and pay attention to the majesty of creation.
Lift your eyes to the hills or stretch your gaze across the water. Study the beauty of a flower or a leaf, enjoy the smile of your favorite furry friend, or get away from the city lights long enough to take a good long look at the nighttime stars. Look for visible reminders that God is busily at work in the world.
Let’s remember to lift our eyes from the news apps on our phones now and then, while we’re at it, and look around for beautiful human interactions too. We’ll find them. Humanity is deeply, deeply flawed, to be sure. People seem to be hurting one another everywhere we look. But the Maker of every other magnificent aspect of creation also made human hearts capable of tremendous kindness and compassion. This means God’s Spirit, God’s power, God’s love is breaking out around us through other people. It’s just that we’ll miss it if we stay glued to the news, or to social media, or stay locked in a sort of duck-and-cover position, trying to keep the general nastiness at bay. We want to stay aware of what’s happening in the world, certainly. It’s our responsibility as citizens of this planet to do so. But it’s also ok – it’s important even – regularly to step away from your phone, away from the paper, away from cable news. To lift your eyes to the hills. To look around…
Whether you most need a word of comfort or a word of challenge today, whether you most need to be found yourself, or to hear an invitation to notice others and extend God’s compassion, I pray you’ll hear in Psalm 121 God’s word to you.
Lift your gaze and find your heart lifted too.
Lift your eyes to the hills – from where will your help come?
Wherever you are, wherever any of God’s children are, God’s there too. Our help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
So lift your head and look around. You will be found. Amen.