It is hard to tell how to talk to God sometimes. During our Lenten lunch series, when we worship with churches from different denominations, I always love heading over to St. Stephens Episcopal church. In addition to the magnificent windows, I appreciate the chance to work with the kneelers, those low, padded boards than you can flip out from the bottom of the pew in front of you, so you can kneel when it is time for prayer. While the logistics can get complicated if you are, say, 6 feet 5 inches tall in those narrow pews, I really love that kind of posture. When it is time for prayer we approach the mystery of God with reverence and awe. Our whole body leans forward – I often lay my head on the pew in front of me – prayer flowing out of us. But we can also take that too far. At the church I served through seminary doing youth ministry, we had another intern who would get a bit too serious about making sure everyone was quiet for prayer. 80 youth are running around and, even when you gather in a big circle for a blessing, there is bound to be some activity. This kind colleague would get frustrated, which didn’t help matters, and found herself shouting at the youth before the blessing…bow your heads…BOW YOUR HEADS! Until someone kindly pointed out to her that perhaps enforced reverence isn’t really reverence at all.
You can feel the psalmist trying to work her relationship with God here at the beginning of today’s psalm. Through it all, regardless of tone, the psalmist’s cries are grounded in honesty. Ultimately, I think that is what God wants from us. Worship? Yes. A little reverence and honor at times? You’d better believe it. But not at the expense of honesty. Of vulnerability, of deep and true relationship, that is willing to get a little heated at times. "Out of the depths I cry to YOU, O Lord." Not from the dinner table or at work or stuck in traffic. Out of the depths. We are pointed to references to deep waters in earlier psalms – 69 starts: "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the deep mire…the floods sweep over me." (vv 1-2) From that place, where all of the stuff we have going on threatens to drag us under, it is there that we cry out of God with, Walter Bruggemann writes, in ordinate boldness.1 Hear my voice! Be attentive to me. Listen!
Yet in the next two verses the psalmist steps back, boldness quickly checked by humility. It seems as though he feels some guilt, feels the need to make clear to God he knows he isn’t entirely innocent either. We don’t get any more detail here, so we are left to look for clues. It feels like a confession. If you, O God, should really keep note of all of the things that we do wrong, who would be worthy to stand before you? The answer is left unsaid – NO ONE. The psalmist seems to see the cracks in the foundation of the worldview that appears even other places in the Psalter that says if you do good things you will prosper, if you do bad things you will be punished. Life is much more complicated than that. The author of this psalm is also espousing good Reformed Theology, straight from Paul’s words in Romans that we use in our Call to Confession….that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. It is terribly good news that salvation isn’t something to be earned, even by groups of overachievers like us, because none of us could do it. We give thanks that this grace comes as gift. This grace is who God is, the psalmist writes, at the core of God’s own being. There is forgiveness with you, she writes. THAT is the good news you MUST hear, whether you are a visitor or have been here for 40 years or are an officer being ordained and installed today. It all starts with who God is, and this God is one of forgiveness. No matter what you carry in here with you, small slights and terrible damage you may have done to yourself or to others, pain you have caused, deep insecurities and fears – this God invites you to set it down and be free. And serve not your past, not who the world wants you to be, but Jesus the Christ who is out there doing marvelous things.
This is the point where I would prefer the psalm to be over. We cry out, we remember that all of us fall short, then we end with a stirring reminder of God’s grace. Yippie! But the psalmist knows real life, and he knows that even when we know these things, we are still trapped by the waiting. We know it doesn’t all come at once, no matter what the advertisers say. With this grace doesn’t come a trouble-free existence. You know this. You don’t get ordained, those of you who will answer questions and get prayed over in a bit, and then all of the sudden life has meaning and all committee meetings are filled with flowers and joyous people who always pitch in and never disagree. Because you seek to trust this God with your life doesn’t mean you won’t have your share of waiting….for a pathology report, for a teenager to finally call, by the bedside, holding the hand of someone you love more than you love yourself. I wait for the Lord, the psalmist whispers, my soul waits, and in his word I hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning. He waits so long, and I find this so powerful, that he repeats the line again. More than those who watch for the morning. More than those who watch for the morning. Almost two years ago we were out of town with a bunch of extended family for a long weekend and our son Heath, who had not had the easiest life up to that point, got a horrendous stomach bug. Luckily, we had a bailout space, away from the 20-plus family members that were going to be at Carrie’s Nana’s for dinner, so I drove him, still sick, and sat with him on the couch, holding him as he got sick every 45 minutes or so for 12 hours, too young to do much more than scream in pain and whimper. It wasn’t the most scared I’ve been, but it was a long night of waiting. He finally fell asleep at 3am, exhausted, but woke up an hour and a half later, screaming this time with hunger and thirst, and I sat on the kitchen floor with him in the darkness, pleading to God for a patience, a little help, a glimpse of another day. Just a hint of the sunrise would somehow make things feel a little more manageable. My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning…
My ecclesiology, my understanding of Christian community, the church, isn’t particularly complicated. God gathers us so that we might wait, might live through the journey of our lives, together. We don’t wait standing still, passively, expecting everything to fall in place the way we want it to and for God to magically move things around us so we live lives of undisturbed contemplation. So that God might end poverty and suffering without some work from us. Besides being really boring, we never get the chance to do anything hard. Instead, we wait leaning forward, straining for the glimpse of God’s extraordinary kingdom, seeking a bit of that kin-dom breaking in, maybe even being a part of it ourselves as we sing with passion, as we meet folks different from us with compassion, and we live as a people who seek to be kind. As our leaders are called out from among us for a season to, beyond all of the committees they serve on and events they plan and fantastic work they will do, be leaders who stand with us, as we hold hands, reminding us that even in the deepest darkness, God will not let us go. That is who we are – a people who wait, together, holding fast to God’s promises – grace that will not let you go.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning. O people, hope in the Lord. For with the Lord there is steadfast love. With God there is great power to redeem, all creation.
All praise be to God. Amen.
1. Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms, (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), p 104.