A Long Obedience
Ours is a journey through this life and into the Kingdom of God.
As you read this, I am pedaling my bicycle down a county road on my way from Fort Dodge to Iowa Falls, Iowa in search of the day’s first piece of pie.
My daughter, Libby, is with me as are 15,000 other cyclists on The Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, known worldwide as RAGBRAI. Now in it’s 48th year, RAGBRAI is the oldest, longest, and largest organized ride in the country.
Each year, during the last week of July we will ride over 450 miles from LeMars near the Missouri River to Clinton and end with the traditional dipping of tires into the Mississippi. It is a long and beautiful ride, filled with small towns, kind people, and a single purpose: to make it all the way. Making it all the way requires a long obedience in the same direction.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction is also the title of the late Eugene Peterson’s classic pastoral reflections upon a series of Psalms referred to as the Psalms of Ascent.
Psalms 120-134 were sung by pilgrims from across the Ancient Middle East as they made their way from wherever they lived to the Temple in Jerusalem. It was common for families to pick one of these festivals each year to make the annual pilgrimage.
The Psalms focused the traveler on the steadfast love and faithfulness of the God who had called them out of slavery in Egypt and continued to care for them despite whatever their present circumstances.
Psalm 120 starts of the liturgy of travel,
In my distress I called to the Lord,
and he answered me.
Deliver me, O Lord,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.
What shall be given to you,
and what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue?
A warrior’s sharp arrows,
with glowing coals of the broom tree!
Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech,
that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
I am for peace,
but when I speak, they are for war!
This initial Psalm reminds the people of God of how their lives are distinct from those who do not follow God. They are different. They are other. The long to be at home in the presence of God.
The penultimate song, Psalm 133, opens with the lyrics,
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
Here the weary pilgrim, nearing his destination, lifts his voice with his other travellers and rejoices in the fact that all of them, despite their differences, are united by a single purpose: to worship God at the temple. All of their differences have faded into the background as this act of unifying obedience in worship knits them together.
This liturgical album ones with the tired travelers singing out,
Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the Lord!
May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who made heaven and earth!
Each one is calling out to the other to offer worship to the LORD, “Come and bless the Lord.” And, just one verse later, they sing to one another , “May the Lord Bless you.”
These ancient lyrics remind us that we are all on a journey. But unlike the pilgrims who originally sang these lyrics, we are not making a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. We have the fullness of what those travelers did not. Christ has replaced the Temple with himself. Those who have professed faith in Christ are now the Temple of the Living God by union with Christ.
Ours is a journey through this life and into the Kingdom of God. We are exiles living as resident aliens in a world in which we are “different others.” Throughout each day, we are pursuing a long obedience in the same direction as we journey to our final home in the eternal presence of God in the new heavens and new earth.
As we consider the truth that we are all pedaling towards the same goal, perhaps some of our differences will fall into the background as they are overwhelmed by our act of worship and receiving his blessing.
Rev. Michael Langer is the Associate Director for the D.C. ministry.