Sermon for 2 April 2017
Today is the last of our Psalm Sundays, when we are setting aside the other readings that we are given, so that we can concentrate on the Psalm for the day.
And today it’s Psalm 130, and I’m going to be asking, what does this Psalm have to tell us about living deep lives, which aren’t satisfied with the shallows.
So, let’s have a look at Psalm 130
It’s clear from the off that the psalmist is not in a good way - ‘out of the depths I cry’ - ‘please Lord hear me, I’m in a bad place’ he is saying.
It sounds like the shout for help of someone drowning - ‘Help, help I’m going under, please don’t ignore me’. This is a prayer for times of desperate need.
It’s clear he’s worried that he has messed up, that the depths he is speaking from are self inflicted. He’s grateful that God is more interested in forgiveness than in counting failures ‘Thank goodness you don’t sit up there watching out for all the bad things I do.’
And then verses 5 and 6 do a classic Psalm thing, and link words through repetition and connection. So we are told that the Psalmist is ‘waiting’. ‘I wait for the Lord, my soul waits’ and then that this waiting is to do with ‘hope’. ‘And in his word I hope.’ Waiting and hoping are connected, it seems - and more of that in a minute
The final verses, 7 and 8 wrap it up by reminding us of God’s character; faithful, forgiving and full of love.
Notice also how it moves from the very personal ‘I’ of the first part of the Psalm - ‘I wait for the Lord; I hope; out of the depths I cry’ to a corporate ‘we’. And I’ll come back to that too.
So take a moment before we move on to take in Psalm 130.
What stands out, and speaks to your life, your experience?
I want to talk about this one key phrase ‘the depths’. Out of the depths I cry to you Lord. The bible gives us lots of examples of people in ‘deep places’ - and often they are scary and threatening.
Think of Jonah. From the belly of the whale he cries out to God - ’You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me’. Jonah lays it out there before God. I have messed up and I’m in deep, deep mess, and I’m going under.
There are passages that say something similar in Ezekiel and Isaiah.
And this is Psalm 69 - ‘Save me O God, for the waters have come up to my neck’ or, in the Message translation ‘God, God, save me! I’m in over my head’ The depths are desperate, dangerous places that we know we need to be saved from.
You’ve probably had that experience in a swimming pool or the sea, where you dive to the bottom of the water and misjudge the distance or the amount of breath that you’ve got left as you come back to the top, and those last agonising moments as you’re trying desperately to hold on for the air at the surface. Deep water is dangerous.
You know what that’s like right?
You know what it’s like to be drowning in life. You know what it’s like when your anxiety levels are so high you can hardly breathe. And you know what it’s like to lie awake at night, with that situation which you are facing going round and round and round without any way out.
You know what it’s like when depression is like dark water pressing down on you, pushing you down, and the thought of school, or work or facing other people is just impossible.
You know what it’s like when you’ve done something stupid, something really stupid, and you can’t see a way out. You’re in too deep, and it feels like there is no escape.
We all know what those moments, what those depths are like. These are not good places. They are dangerous and overwhelming, the kind of places we can drown in.
But Psalm 130 - like so many of the psalms - reminds us that suffering and pain are not the end, and they are certainly not places where God leaves us on our own.
And there are three bits of advice - three life rings that are flung out to us by the psalmist for those times when we’re drowning in life.
First, like the psalmist we should cry out, with great honesty, to God - tell him how life is. Don’t hold back. Tell him how much you need him - and the further away he seems, the more boldly you need to tell him your need. Don’t be silent. Don’t let God pass you by. Cry out to him with your whole, wounded, broken heart.
Second, remember that in the bible, all waiting is linked to hope. The Psalmist makes that clear by linking those two words; ‘I wait for the Lord and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord.’ And hope is a wonderful gift. To hope is to say - things will not always be like this. Hope doesn’t deny the pain of the present situation, but nor does it allow the present to be the conclusion. To hope is to allow a better future to exist, and to know that it will come.
Waiting is not empty and barren - even in the midst of real suffering - it can also be a time to discover hope, and hope in God will not disappoint.
And third, the Psalmist reminds us that we are not meant to suffer alone. The ‘I’ of the first verses, becomes a ‘we’ later on. The God who is with me in my suffering is the same God who is the hope of the whole of Israel.
Suffering often isolates us - but it doesn’t have to. We celebrate together, and we suffer together. When we are finding life really difficult, we remember that we are part of a wonderful ‘we’ - a community which is committed to one another, through thick and thin and, the Psalmist reminds us, he is as interested in us as a ‘we’ as he is in us as an ‘I’.
Be honest with God; wait with hope and reach out to others. Not bad advice from 8 sentences written 2 and a half millennia ago about how to survive when it feels as if you’re drowning.
But deep places in the Bible aren’t always dangerous - there are also depths that are places of opportunity and possibility. Let’s look together at one of them; Chapter 5 of Luke’s gospel.
Jesus has been teaching on a beach, and there are so many people, that he has to stand in a boat just off the shore so he can speak to them all. And when he’s done, he tells his disciples that it’s time to go fishing out at sea. The disciples, and especially Simon, aren’t impressed at the suggestion. After all, they were out fishing all night without catching anything and now they’re exhausted. Now is a time to stay in the shallow water. To stay somewhere safe, somewhere calm and somewhere without the serious challenges that face a small boat out on a deep stormy sea.
But Jesus tells them to ’put out into the deep water’ and to let their nets down for a catch. And because they trust Him, they head out again, and when they do, their nets come back up with so many fish the boat nearly capsizes. Now the danger isn’t being overwhelmed by the water, but by the quantity of blessing that they have received.
Wisdom and truth, Jesus tells us, don’t live in the shallows. Justice and compassion don’t live in the shallows. If we really want to walk with God, sometimes we need to make a choice to step out of the shallows of our lives and into the depths, to take a risk as we push our boat out into deep waters, trusting that blessings await us there.
Society tells us that the pursuit of comfort, and happiness, without any bother, is the goal of life. That if we can just get rid of the hassl-ey stuff, everything will be ok. But that’s a lie.
It’s a recipe for a shallow life. And it’s a recipe for a shallow faith, a faith which won’t last when life gets tough.
Maybe you’re not in the depths of suffering, like the psalmist, but maybe, like the disciples, you’re in the shallows, seeking comfort there. Maybe you know deep down that there is a ‘more to life’ that God is offering you - if you were willing to step out, to take a risk, and go somewhere deeper, with His love behind you
Jesus said, I have come that they might have life in all it’s fulness. What depths are you avoiding, that could, if you let them, fill you up, like those nets full to bursting with morning fish?
Maybe you’re in the shallows, and the deep is calling to you, and maybe it’s time to respond.
None of this is easy, it really isn’t meant to be. But that’s the choice these two readings put before us.
When we’re drowning, will we continue to rely on ourselves, trying to keep a brave face and hold it all together or will we call out to God from the depths, and invite Him in to our despair?
And when we’re coasting through life, content with the shallows, will we sit tight, protecting ourselves from risk and the needs of the world, or will we listen for the call of the deep, and trust Jesus to show us where to cast out nets out into risky, but treasure filled waters?
Don’t be satisfied with the shallows. Go deep, and discover the treasure that God has for you.
Posted: 02-04-2017 at 16:00