Sunday, April 6, 2014

Out of the Depths; Psalm 130, Romans 8:20-39

Today marks the fifth Sunday of Lent. Passion week begins next Sunday with Palm Sunday, and though we are nearing the end of Lent, the end is not here yet. Easter is still two weeks away. Maybe at this point in our journey toward the cross, the Lenten discipline is getting particularly hard. Maybe you have even fallen by the wayside. Maybe you can’t believe Easter is almost here and despite all your good intentions, you never started any sort of Lenten discipline. Maybe outside circumstances beyond your control keep getting in your way. Or perhaps you have been faithful, making more room for Jesus, and expecting an encounter with God that has not come. Today’s psalm is a prayer for those in the depths. It is another psalm that is fairly easy to memorize and very singable. A 16-year-old girl in the church I served when I lived in Massachusetts wrote a wonderful tune to this psalm. She is now a mother of 3 and still using her musical gifts to praise the Lord. Hearing this psalm sung had a great impact on John Wesley. According to R. F. Prothereo, on the night that John Wesley felt his “heart strangely warmed”, and sensed the assurance of his salvation by faith, he had heard Psalm 130 sung as an anthem that morning in a worship service, and it had stuck with him throughout the day. We are not the only ones who experience times in the depths. It is part of life for all people. Like the challenges with our Lenten disciplines times in the deep have many causes. They come from our own sins, enemies, and even God. The deep or depths symbolize the abyss, watery chaos, confusion, darkness, and death. The depths are things that make us say, “Life isn’t right.” We are at a loss of what to do about it, and as Larry Jennings Jr. says, “we get to a point where we feel that we can go no lower.” Many people in the Bible experienced this. Daniel cried out to God from the Lion’s den. Jeremiah cried out from the bottom of a well. Paul cried out with a “thorn in the flesh.” Hannah and other women cried out in their inability to have children. Jonah cried out from the belly of a fish. Elijah cried out in the wilderness by the brook of Kidron. We all experience times in the depths. Maybe now is one of those times for you. When we are in the depths, we feel separated from the community as well as feeling separated by God. These are the times you feel utterly alone. We await deliverance from the depths more than the watchman waits for the morning—waiting for the dangers of the night to be over and waiting for his shift to end. We await deliverance, but like the morning, deliverance too will come. We wait for the fulfillment of God’s word—that God will act in accordance with what God has already said. This past Wednesday’s Bible study reminded “sometimes it is necessary to pray all night long.” The context of the Bible study was the incident when Jesus prayed all night long before choosing the 12 apostles from among His disciples. Jesus also prayed all night long on the night He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane. Certainly Jesus’ garden prayer was a prayer out of the depths. Despite our sense of utter isolation, God is with us even in the depths. In Psalm 139 David says, “Even if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there.” Our Romans passage ends reminding us that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. It doesn’t matter how dark things are. It doesn’t matter if we were the cause of our own misery. It doesn’t matter the extent of our sin; if we are in Christ, nothing can separate us from God. The problem is that we lose our awareness of God. Crying out to God from the depths reminds us that God hears us. Sometimes God waits for our cry so that God can reveal Godself, thus bringing God more glory in the response. God also uses our prayers as a prompt for God to act to remind us, as Craig Broyles says, that our relationship with God “is personal, not robotic.” Even though we experience the depths, our hope of God’s presence and deliverance is a sure hope. Both of today’s passages remind us that our hope is a sure hope, not wishful thinking. Though we feel separated from God in the midst of our despair, God is still there. To cry out to God out of the depths affirms God’s faithfulness. We fight despair with the sure hope in the mercy of God. And when we cannot cry out for ourselves, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. As J. Clinton McCann Jr. says in his Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms, though life may not be right, we can be in the right “not by accomplishing our own wills, but by finding refuge in God.” This is precisely what Jesus did on the cross. Though He experienced utter forsakenness, He was still, as we said last week, fully committed to the will of the Father. The cross was the deepest of depths, and yet it is there that God’s love and God’s power are most manifested. At the Lord’s Table this morning, we remember the shed blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. Sometimes we truly are in the depths because of our own sin. Out of the depths we cry to the Lord for forgiveness. We ask forgiveness because we know God will forgive. We know God does not hold our iniquities against us; otherwise, we’d all be toast. God’s forgiveness is offered through God’s grace. With the Lord is unfailing love and full redemption. We aren’t just partially redeemed, we are fully redeemed. This is what Romans 8 tells us too. In Romans 8 we see all three persons of the Trinity, Spirit, Father, and Son, at work, securing our salvation from beginning to end. We are saved from the penalty of sin and the power of sin. We have the ability to live in holiness and obedience through the Holy Spirit. Christ, who could condemn us does not. And the Father initiated it all. Forgiveness results not only just in gratitude to the Lord, but also fear of the Lord because we ought to remember that God is not obligated to forgive us, even though we can trust that God will forgive. God could always act by justice, but God is also merciful, and chooses to deal with us by mercy. God doesn’t owe us anything, but we owe God everything. On Ash Wednesday, we sang the old spiritual, “Kum by Ya”, “Come by here, Lord”. It is a prayer that we can use when we are in the depths, all the while remembering Jesus’s promise to be with us. Wednesday’s spiritual was “I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray.” Don’t let that be the case for you. When you feel like you can’t pray, let someone else pray for you, and know that the Holy Spirit prays for you with groans too deep for words, and Jesus intercedes for you before the Father’s throne, and above all, God loves you. The psalm ends as many other psalms, moving from the personal to the community—“O Israel trust in the Lord; for with the Lord there is mercy, and with Him is plenteous redemption…” God may use your journey out of the depths to teach someone else about the trustworthiness of God. When we are in the depths, let us learn the lesson that God taught the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made manifest in weakness.” Let God reveal God’s strength and power to you and through you in your weakness. How might you witness to others about God and God’s character from your experiences in the depths? What have you learned about God?

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