A sermon on Psalm 130 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 11 July 2021
There are plenty of Psalms that speak from the depths of human experience. Those times when we feel like we are in water over our head, or at the bottom of a pit we can’t climb out of. Those periods of distress when we feel overwhelmed and not sure what to do. Times of physical or financial or relationship stress, when our options are limited. From the bottom of his pit, the psalm writer cries out to God,
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
What is different about Psalm 130 is that the writer is at the bottom of a hole he has dug for himself. He has sinned. He has done wrong. He has made a terrible mistake. And he feels shame, that bad feeling we have, when we have let ourselves down and have not lived according to our own values. He feels guilt, that bad feeling, when we have not lived up to community values or to an external code. His wrongdoing has cut him off personally from his neighbour and from his creator. Life is dark and he feels trapped, but it is a pit he has dug for himself and he cries out for help,
O Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
He doesn’t ask for healing. He doesn’t ask for success. He doesn’t ask for loads of money. He cries for mercy.
Now people are usually very generous. We are suckers for a hard luck story. It tugs our heart strings to hear of people who have caught a terrible disease or whose house burned down because of an electrical fault or who are the victims of a car crash, when some drunk turned in front of them. But we are not so generous when we learn that the person was injured, jumping from a bridge or was smoking in bed when the house caught fire or was drunk when they turned in front of someone else. When we see someone at the bottom of a hole of their own making, we can’t help but think that they getting what they deserve. Until, of course, we are the person at the bottom of that hole. Looking at the same situation from a completely different angle, and we see it in a new light.
The common mistake that people make in that situation is that they try to dig their way out of the pit. They either beat themselves up with shame and remorse, or they try to justify or to explain away the wrong they’ve done. The trouble with digging your way out, is that you only go deeper into trouble. But Psalm 130 teaches us that when we are in that pit of our own making, we can turn to the Lord and ask for his mercy. Because, although our love often fails, the Lord’s love never does.
If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
People like to hold a grudge. We love that powerful feeling that our problems are someone else’s fault. But we don’t like it so much when people hold a grudge against us. It doesn’t matter what we do, or what we say to try to restore a friendship, or at the very least to maintain a civil relationship. But some people have just got a list of all the ways they’ve been wronged, and our name is on it.
The Lord doesn’t have a list. If we come clean with him with what we’ve done, if we admit our fault, the Lord washes it clean away. I mean, imagine if he did, if he had a list like Santa Claus of all the naughty children, if he kept a record of wrongs. The Psalm writer’s question would be valid: “Who could stand?” Which one of us could stand before our maker faultless, guiltless, as innocent as a new born babe? Not me. It doesn’t matter how good we think we are. It doesn’t matter how well we keep up appearances in front of others. None of us could stand. We would all fall and have to cry for mercy.
And we would find as the writer of Psalm 130 says, that
with you there is forgiveness, therefore you are feared.
Not loved. That’s surprising, isn’t it? Not loved. But feared. Because this is what it means to fear the Lord. It doesn’t mean to be afraid of him. It doesn’t mean to run away from him. It means to fall before him in awe and in wonder and with reverence, because of the simple fact that it is only by his forgiveness, only by his grace, only by his mercy, that we can stand at all.
It’s like your best friend who donates you his kidney because he is the only match. It’s like the doctor you find after years of searching and of trying to describe your mystery illness, and he or she says those magic words, “I know what’s wrong with you and I can help you.” It is like the man who risks his life and goes into your burning house to rescue your child. And you know that except for that person, your life would have taken a horrible turn. And multiply that a thousand times. And maybe you come close to realising what it means that God knows the darkness of your heart, that God sees you in the bottom of that pit that you dug yourself, and he is able and willing to pull you out, so that you can stand before him as his forgiven child.
When you think of the cross of Jesus Christ, and you see there the price that he paid to purchase your unworthy life from death and hell and that by it you are his beloved son and daughter and heir to his kingdom of grace, that’s when you start to fear God. Without God’s mercy all our good deeds are but worthless trinkets and beads. But by his mercy and in the cross of his Son he shows our true value to him and he begins to fill our empty lives. This is the fear of the Lord that is the beginning of wisdom.
The psalm writer says,
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for the Lord and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.
I love that repeated line about the watchmen. It is so full of longing and tenacity. Because when we are in the dark, it is hard to believe that the situation will ever change, that the dawn will ever break, that light will come again. And then morning comes, just as it does every day, and by the light the sun we see everything in a different way. This is how the psalm writer feels at the bottom of his pit. Like he will never be rescued and the Lord’s mercy will never come. But he refuses to give in to despair. Because in his heart he believes that the Lord’s forgiveness is as sure as the dawn. And his love is as certain as the sunlight that drives away the darkness. His forgiveness and his love are as sure and as certain as God’s own word. His promise on which the psalm writer puts his confidence.
And yet we have something that the psalm writer had only heard a rumour. We have God’s Word made flesh. Jesus Christ. The one who reveals God, not as our destroyer and tormentor, but as our heavenly Father. The one in whose cross we see our sin and judgment and yet also our forgiveness. And in Jesus Christ the dawn has come and in his face the light shines bright. The watchmen can put away their fear and anxiety, because the morning has come and in the light of Christ they are safe.
I know your hole is deep. I know it is dark and you can’t climb out. But you must stop trying to dig yourself out. Come clean with God and you will be clean. Hold out your hand and cry for his mercy, and his loving hand will take yours and draw you out. If you try to stand before him on your own two feet, you will fall. If you fall before him in genuine repentance, he will lift you up and set you on your feet again. As the psalm writer says,
Put your hope in the Lord for with the Lord is unfailing love –
not sometimes failing, not rarely failing, but completely unfailing –
and with him is full redemption.
Not hardly full, not half full, but completely full to bursting redemption.
He himself will redeem his people from all their sins.
Do you see? There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. He may hate your actions, and you may have to face their consequences. But God loves the real you. The you you are when no one’s looking. Your love for him may fail. But his love for you will never fail. And however deep a pit you’ve dug for yourself, he can pull you out.