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First Sunday After Pentecost
Genesis 3:1-21; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 4:13-18
Delivered June 6, 2021
The Psalms are the central hymnbook of God’s people. This ancient Hebrew poetry expresses the range of human experience and emotion, in a variety of forms. The Psalms do not rhyme, but use parallelism, repetition, and a host of imagery to communicate the depths of the different authors deepest experiences, praises, and struggles. They are a rich, wholistic expression of faith, often seeking to communicate in words what is so deeply felt as to be inexpressible perfectly.
Psalm 130 is what is known as a penitential psalm, a psalm that recognizes that we are sinful, and joyously praises God for his grace. This specific psalm is a pilgrimage song, one that would be recited or sung as Israelites went up to Jerusalem for important sacred festivals. A song for pilgrimage, for travels; a song for people, like us, who are on the way to our home, but not there yet.
It is also a song that looks to our ultimate destination, a song to sing on our spiritual pilgrimage through this life, looking forward to our final redemption, our final salvation, when the creation is made new and our sin and suffering truly erased.
The psalm begins with a cry out to the Lord, calling to him “out of the deep.” Kids, Have you ever been plunged unexpectedly deep into water? I was on a canoe with some friends once who thought it would be funny to roll it over. I am not a good swimmer, and have had some unpleasant experiences in the water. When they rolled it, I wasn’t quite expecting it, and as I plunged into the water, I involuntarily panicked. Flailing, I swam over to the shore and was able to calm down, but in the moment, I felt that deep fear of drowning. This is what this writer is saying his sin is like. We want to do good, but we are sinful, meaning we do what we are not supposed to, and our sin is like water drowning us. But God is the one who reaches in when we cry for help, and saves us. He says, yes, you have sinned and done bad things, but I love you and will get rid of your sins for you.
The psalmists sin has driven him, as our sin should drive us, to feel this crushing, airless darkness, and to cry out for God’s help. And so the psalmist appeals to God to “consider well” his cries. Do not disregard them out of hand, but hear them, to read his heart, to know truly how badly God is needed.
True penitence, true recognition of one’s sins, requires honesty about one’s own sins. “If you were to mark what is done amiss, O Lord, who could abide it?” If the end of our story was that we are sinful, and God is holy, then destruction would be all that we could expect. It isn’t even that God would want to destroy us; but God’s utterly holy nature cannot tolerate sin, and like trying to survive a raging fire, were we to stand before God in our sin, we would be consumed, destroyed. Yet God loves us, and God is merciful, and so the psalmist says, “there is mercy with you.”
The psalmist waits for the Lord. We have a repetition here between vss. 5 and 6. What is translated here as “soul” is the word nephesh, which means “whole being,” or my “whole self.” With all that he is, then, he waits for the Lord. He waits with the anticipation of a watchman at night. In the ancient world, the watchman was vital. At night was when so many evil things would seek to steal and destroy. Thieves, raiders, wild beasts, all come out of the darkness when the city or camp sleeps. The watchmen must stay awake, alert, to keep all safe. The tension for the watchman must be terrible, as they know at any moment disaster could strike. But with the morning comes peace, other people, the normal routine of life. And so more than the deep longing of the watchman, the psalmist, and we, are to wait for the Lord’s coming.
And so the final appeal is to God’s people at the time, and to us, God’s people now: Trust the Lord, for in God is mercy and redemption.
We are pilgrims, on a journey. And our sin weighs us down along the way, tries to drown us. Genesis 3 tells us our ancestors became sinners, and we, their descendants, are cursed to do the same. But God is not one to leave us in the hell we create for ourselves. God is the one who reaches down, has mercy on us, and redeems us. Redemption covers the ideas of rescue, of paying a ransom, of purchasing out of slavery. We, enslaved to our sins, are raised out of them purely by the love of God.
I think this psalm moves us to at least 3 conclusions.
First, we must see that we are indeed sinners, and that on our own, we stand condemned and unable to approach God.
Second, that God is the merciful redeemer who out of his love draws us out of the depths and not only saves us, but gives the title of sons and daughters, of his own adopted children.
Third, because of this great love of God, with the psalmist we must trust in the Lord, even in the darkness of our lives. When we want to fear the world, we must fear only God; when we want to become discouraged, we must know the Lord is our rescuer; when we are tempted to give in to the depths and let ourselves go, we must remember that we cannot save ourselves, cannot heal ourselves, cannot be fully human on our own, but only in trusting God can we be whole.
Confess and repent, receive God’s grace, and give him thanks and praise for his loving grace. Amen.
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