There has been some request that I post the sermon I preached recently on Psalm 130. I am posting it below.
My goal is to be as honest with you as possible this morning, because if I can’t be open and honest and vulnerable in my church, then where can I be?
For those of you who don’t know, I lost someone very close to me 3 ½ weeks ago. Daniel Goodman was my professor and mentor, but more than that he was my friend. I spent hours in his office talking about school, politics, music and a host of other unproductive and nonacademic topics. We e-mailed back and forth almost constantly. We went to concerts together and in October we traveled to D.C., Savannah and Charleston studying Jewish-Christian relations in America. Danny had a way of drawing you in. Everyone wanted to be around him and many of us wanted to be him. I was always amazed at how he captivated a classroom and even more amazed when I found out that he had put off the more academic endeavors (writing scholarly articles, writings books, etc.) until this semester so that he could spend time with his family, specifically his two sons. He was such a great model and he did such great work.
I have experienced loss before in my life, but never such senseless loss. I ask, as we often do of situations like this, why? I know I will not get an answer that is suitable to me. For one, I am theologically opposed to many of the rehearsed answers that get thrown around after things like this happen, such as, “God must have needed another angel;” “We know that it was part of God’s plan;” and the other countless responses that are simply cover ups because we’re too scared to admit that we have absolutely no idea why someone so young and doing so much good in the world should die.
It doesn’t make us bad people or bad Christians to say that we don’t know. It makes us honest. And if what we truly desire with God is a relationship and truly believe that God desires relationship with us, then honest we must be. This is where I am. Darkness is all around me and I am crying out in confusion and disbelief and anger and agony. This is how I approach this psalm. I share all of this with you because I think it is important to how we understand this psalm. We are too quick to jump to “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits and in his word I hope” and we forget the rest of the psalm. In doing so, we see this in a completely positive light that I am convinced is at odds with the perspective from which it was written. The psalmist is not bursting with joy when these words are being written.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!
O Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!
This is heart-wrenching anguish. The psalmist is desperate, as I am desperate, for a word of hope. One of the beauty’s of the Bible is its ability to speak to us where we are. At different stages in life we glean different things from the Bible. Psalm 130 was recited in unison at Dr. Goodman’s funeral. Since then I have not been able to get this psalm out of my head. It meant something completely different now. No longer could I breeze through the words and say, “Oh yeah, this psalm is about hope. We’ve got to have hope.” No, no longer could I be that flippant. For, over the past 3 ½ weeks I have felt this psalm, I have lived this psalm.
So, let me tell you how I read this psalm today. I hear in the words of the psalm what I see reflected in my life. I believe (in my head) that hope is true and necessary and that it comes from the Lord, but I don’t feel it right now. It’s hard to hope when I see so much waste. It’s hard to hope when I feel so much pain, but I really, honestly believe in hope. So there is a disconnect in my life right now, but I think the psalmist experienced this same disconnect. The psalmist is desperate for a word from the Lord and he is waiting anxiously for it, he is hoping for it. The anticipation is building.
God I need You to hear me, I need You to listen. But I know my place in the grand scheme of things. I know that You are holier than I. Nevertheless I have cried out to You and I am waiting for You to respond. I am waiting for a word from You. O Lord, how badly I need a word of hope. I am waiting. It is dark and I need the light of day.
An experience that comes to mind every time I read verse 6 is when I was camping one time during college. I was helping lead the guys ministry for Campus Crusade and since I am an Eagle scout I was asked to plan and lead a guys camping trip. I was excited to take all of these guys, most of whom had never been camping, to a place that is near and dear to my heart, Uwharrie National Forest. Oh yeah, and I didn’t mind showing of my camping skills. I had been bragging, sort or, to these guys for a few weeks before we went about how I love to sleep in a hammock. They asked all sorts of things like didn’t I get cold, is it really comfortable, etc. I assured them it was the best sleeping they’d ever do. I still agree with that statement, but this particular weekend it was not the best sleeping ever. I took two of my tents and my hammock with me. I helped them set the tents up so they could sleep in them and then I tied up my hammock. When we were going to bed that night there was one more space in one of the tents and one of the guys asked if I was sure I didn’t want it. I assured him I was fine, I would be plenty warm and way more comfortable than him. So we went to sleep, but not for long. Well, at least for me anyway. I woke up absolutely freezing at about 3:30. I decided I would be fine if I could just go back to sleep, so I tried to and after a little while I was successful. But that didn’t last too long. I woke up again at 4:30 and this time could not go back to sleep. So I laid in my hammock awake from 4:30 to 6:15 waiting for the first break of dawn so I could start a fire. The sun has never taken so long to rise. This experience helps me understand this psalm and where I am in my life better. Waiting in the freezing cold waiting for daybreak was miserable. I regretted decisions I had made, I prayed, I laid there with utter anticipation. It felt like morning would never come, but I knew one thing. Morning will come. Morning always comes. I remembered this. The psalmist, too, in his despair remembered where hope came from. He may not have felt very hopeful at the time, but he knew that his hope came from the Lord. He remembered the love of the Lord and that the Lord had redeemed him. Dr. Goodman taught me that in Judaism memory is sacred. So, when I am in the depths and feel as if there is no hope, I know I can remember. That sacred memory, then leads me to hope. For, when I say I remember it certainly means that I remember the past, the good and the bad, but above all, when I say I remember, it means that I hope.
On our trip in October we visited the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. I have a few favorite quotes from the museum, but there is one that is quite apropos. It stands out from the rest of the quotes in the museum because it is unlike the rest. It is a quote out of Anne Frank’s diary. I assume that if we haven’t all read The Diary of Anne Frank that we are at least aware of it. The diary contains the inner thoughts of a young Jewish girl who lived in hiding from the Nazis for two years, from the ages of 13 to 15. At times when I am upset and ready to battle her words disarm me:
That’s the difficulty in these times: ideals, dreams, and cherished hopes rise within us, only to meet the horrible truth and be shattered. It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.
The hope in her words takes me back every time I read them. Her words are so at odds with how I think a Jew should be feeling in her situation. She should be angry at the Nazis and angry at God as Elie Wiesel and many other Jews were, but she wasn’t. She was hopeful. This is pure, honest, unadulterated hope. It’s a word that I need to hear. It’s a word we need to hear.
This morning I hope. It is not easy, as you know, but I hope and I am calling you to hope with me. Let us hope for the future to be better than the past and better than the present. I assert, along with the psalmist: “hope in the Lord, for the with Lord there is steadfast love and with the Lord there is plentiful redemption.” The psalmist did not keep hope to himself, but called all Israel to hope with him. I cannot hope by myself. We must hope together. We must cry out together and wait in anticipation together and hope together and experience the love and redemption of the Lord together.
I have been honest and vulnerable with you this morning in hopes that you will see that it’s okay. It’s okay to have questions without answers and to need hope. I do. The psalmist did. To be sure, I have experienced pain and suffering. I know how real evil is in this world. I know how much waste is in the world. It is in the midst of this pain and suffering and evil, in spite of these, and perhaps because of these, that I must assert as my final words two small, yet abundantly meaningful words: “I hope.”
As you can probably tell, I am a manuscript writer. I do not always, and did not this time, stick exactly to the manuscript, but this will at least give you a general idea of where my thoughts are/were on this passage.