Do you feel like crying out to God in this moment of uncertainty? Do you feel like you are living in the depths of life? Spring may be breaking through the winter blues, but it’s difficult to enjoy the coming of spring when we’re supposed to stay home and stay safe. This morning we turn to Psalm 130, which begins with a word of lament and ends with a word of hope. The Psalmist begins: “Out of the depths, I cry to you, O Lord.” Then along with the Psalmist, we plead with God, “Lord, hear my voice!”
It’s at times like this that I appreciate the Psalms, which give voice to our laments. They remind us that it’s okay to grieve our losses, even if they’re momentary. As William Blaine-Wallace writes, “grief is prayerful attention, an awareness, acknowledgment, and embrace of life-the-way-it-really-is” [Blaine-Wallace, When Tears Sing, xxiv.].
This is the way life is right now. We’re watching as the Coronavirus marches across the globe. We watch as Southeast Michigan becomes one of the nation’s hot spots. I know we would love to get back to our normal routines, but that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon anytime soon.
So, in the midst of this new reality, we hear an invitation to wait on the Lord. We’re invited to join the Psalmist in confessing: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch in the morning.” Although the Psalm begins with a word of lament, it moves on to words of anticipation and expectation. That’s what waiting involves, but waiting requires a great deal of patience, which might be in short supply right now along with protective gear for our first responders. Nevertheless, the Psalmist holds out the promise of hope for the future.
I will confess that there are times when I struggle with this time of waiting. Like many of my pastoral colleagues, I’m finding this moment to be a bit stressful. So, when I preach a sermon about trusting in the Lord or waiting on the Lord, I’m really preaching to myself as much as for those who are listening to this message.
The Psalm begins with the Psalmist crying out to God from the depths, and when I read those words my first inclination is to think in terms of the dark places in life. Right now we’re probably feeling like we’re the dry bones Ezekiel envisions. These are the dry bones that the Spirit of God brought back to life (Ezk. 37). It looked impossible, but Ezekiel followed God’s lead and the bones came back to life.
While this is a legitimate way of reading the Psalm, there are other ways of reading it. My recent conversation with Brett about his philosophy of religion class reminded me that the twentieth-century theologian Paul Tillich might have something to say about our situation. I found two sermons in Tillich’s book The Shaking of the Foundations that draw from this Psalm. One of the sermons speaks to our tendency to live our lives at a surface level. Tillich suggested that if we wish to experience eternal joy then we have to break “through the surface, by penetrating the deep things of ourselves, of our world, and of God.” That’s because “in the depth is truth, and in the depth is hope; and in the depth is joy” [Shaking of the Foundations, p. 63].
Could this season of separation be an opportunity for us to break through the surface and dive deep into the depths of our existence? Could this be an opportunity to consider what is most important in life? Is it my bank account or my job? Or is it my health? The bank accounts, the stock market, and the jobs are all important, but right now isn’t life itself more important?
We might ask a different question: What do I miss the most right now? Is it Opening Day of the baseball season or maybe March Madness? Is it dining out at a favorite restaurant or going to the movie theater? Could it be shopping at your favorite store? I know that we’re missing a lot of the things that make life enjoyable, but are these the most important parts of our lives?
If you’re like me, what you miss the most is probably the intimacy of human contact. I’m glad we have the opportunities to call each other on the phone or connect with each other on-line. But these don’t replace our opportunities to gather together in one place. It might be the church, the senior center, a favorite pub, or at the park, but wherever that place might be, it’s being together in person that we miss. When it comes to being church, it’s the times of fellowship and singing together that we miss the most. So, maybe this is a time for us to dive deep below the surface to discover what is most important in life.
Tillich speaks to this idea of waiting on the Lord in another sermon. He writes that “We are stronger when we wait than when we possess.” When it comes to our relationship with God, “When we possess God, we reduce Him to that small thing we know and grasped of Him; and we make it an idol” [Shaking of the Foundations, p. 151]. If we wait on the Lord, we can let go of our need to possess God, so that God can be God, and we can experience God’s redemptive love.
So, as we wait for the Lord during this time of uncertainty and separation, may we find hope in the Lord, whose love is steadfast, and whose forgiveness leads to redemption and to eternal joy. Yes, and “Be still, my soul: for God is on your side.” (Katharina von Schlegel)