Sunday Note: I Wait for the Lord

Text: Psalm 130

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in God's word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with God is full redemption.
The Lord Godself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
 


Note


When I worked at a summer camp, I had a supervisor-- the Director of Adventure (best. title. ever.)-- who sang a surprisingly upbeat and moving version of this Psalm turned Christian hymn. A moodier version can be found HERE.

From the depths of woe I raise to Thee
The voice of lamentation; 
Lord, turn a gracious ear to me
And hear my supplication; 
If Thou iniquities dost mark, 
Our secret sins and misdeeds dark,
Oh who could stand before Thee?


I am at my core an optimist. I often have a difficult time fully embracing angst, woe, lament, and grief. Yet, a song (and a psalm) beginning with crying out from the depths resonates with something deep in my soul. Whether for a moment, in a particular circumstance or in a more persistent state, we all experience the depths of woe. We experience depths of woe of our own creation, dug with our own hand; depths of woe dug out by the sins or apathy of others; depths of woe that we fall into in the course of our human journey. We fall. Again and again we fall.

The depths that we dig on our own are perhaps the most difficult to emerge out of. Because, though we may be strong enough to power through the digging, once we are in the depths we are too weak, too weary to pull ourselves out.

Julian of Norwich envisioned the Fall-- the origin of humanity's capacity for sin and harm-- as this kind of a fall. A falling into a pit. A fall that injures and weakens us. She does not seem to be as concerned with where the ditch came from-- whether dug by us, dug by others, there by the forces of nature-- because her attention is on the One who rescues the fallen. Jesus, the Savior, who comes into the ditch and pulls us out.

This is a beautiful image and True on a grand scale, the macro story of God's love, grace, and redemption for the children of humanity God created. And it is in this hope that the Psalmist points to-- not yet knowing Jesus, yet trusting in the Lord's grace to redeem God's people, and through them the entire world. But that is not the bulk of this poem, this hymn. 

What do we do in the depths, in the woe, in the shame, in the lament, in the grief?

As the Psalmist cries out, he is undergirded by the faithfulness of the Lord. God hears. God is attentive. God is merciful. God forgives. God empowers to service. God is unfailing in love. God redeems.

The Psalmist, in crying out for God, in the very act of demanding God to listen, to show mercy, to forgive, to love, practices trust in the very God who is all of those things. The depths of woe, the lament becomes a song of hope and praise in the crying out and the waiting. The depths become a place of grace, a crucible of trust and hope. 

In another Psalm, it is written, "Even if I make my bed in Sheol (the place of the dead, what in the New Testament is transformed in some places to hell), there You are." Even in the depths of our own making God's presence is there. Even in the hells we chose to be in are places of God's grace.

This is a hard word, as it is much easier to assume the depths to be a place of godlessness, a place to be avoided at all costs, a place to pull people out of as quickly as possible.

Yet, from the depths of woe, we must wait. We do not only learn to "live alone by mercy," as the song goes, but we actually live alone by mercy. We are not afforded the distance to learn grace, learn trust, consider lament. We can only trust, hope, and cry out.

In the depths, I wait for the Lord. And this, too, is grace.

Sunday Note: April 22, 2018

Text for Today

Psalm 23 & John 10:11-18

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
God makes me lie down in green pastures,
God leads me beside quiet waters,
God refreshes my soul.
The Lord guides me along the right paths
    for God's name's sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
    forever.

--

“The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. 

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”


 


Valleys, Wolves, & Poetry

Jesus speaks of being the "good shepherd" to his disciples in our Gospel reading today. Jesus uses this metaphor to help his disciples understand his relationship to them and their relationship to others-- specifically the religious leaders and false messiahs of their time. Jesus uses this metaphor of being a good shepherd--whose voice the sheep recognize, who guards the sheep from those who would do them harm, who challenges the wolf, rather than running away, who would even risk his life for the sheep-- past it's breaking point.

What shepherd-flock pairing does these things:

"I have come that they may have life and have it to the full..."
"I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen..."
"I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own accord."

We are clearly not talking about sheep and shepherds and pens and gates anymore. 

And yet, we all know what it is-- from experience or close proximity-- to be found in the darkest valley, as the Psalmist writes. Or to be confronted by a wolf or a thief or abandoned by a hired hand. We know what it is to be lost and betrayed and disillusioned and afraid.

And it is in those moments that we most need poetry, metaphor, a God who is bigger than our language and understanding can contain.

The most turbulent times give birth to the most creative, poignant, and beautiful art. The most painful experiences lead people of faith back to ancient poetry and liturgy. 

During this Easter season, we are spending several weeks at our House Gatherings talking about Joy. John 10:10 is about this joy: That we may have life, and have it to the full. That is what Christ came to bring and guard and ultimately lay down his own life for. This joy that fully humanizes us-- causes us to be fully who we are as human beings created in God's image.

Even as Christ promises this fullness of life, he speaks of thieves and wolves. In the Psalm, even as the psalmist experiences the joy of abundance, of beauty, of refreshment, of direction, so too there is the darkest valley, there is evil, there are enemies.

Joy anchors us to our beloved identity as children of God. Joy anchors us to full life. And poetry, art, metaphor, story anchor us to joy.

This week may we dwell, not only on the content of Scripture, but also the form. May we follow the way of Jesus and the Psalmist by creating and seeking art that can hold our full experience-- joy, pain, hope, abundance, fear, betrayal-- and point us to the joy of a God who is found more readily in a poem than a doctrine.