Sermon for 2 Pentecost Yr B

Sermon for 2 Pentecost Yr B, 6/06/2021

Ps 130

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Waiting for God”

Psalm 130 was apparently Martin Luther’s favourite psalm. This is what he had to say about it: “a proper master and doctor of Scripture.” In other words, a GOOD NEWS Psalm, which communicates what really matters—God’s forgiveness and saving grace. Maybe because this was Luther’s favourite psalm, he wrote a penitential hymn based on it, with the title of the opening verse: “Out of the Depths I Cry to You.” This hymn, is #600 in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, under the Confession and Forgiveness section. Dating back to at least the 5th century, the church has regarded Psalm 130 as a penitential psalm, along with Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 69, 102, and 143. 

The NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives it two titles “A Song of Ascents,” and “Waiting for Divine Redemption.” The CEV Bible has one title in brackets, (A Song for Worship), and a second title: “Trusting the LORD in Times of Trouble.” Psalms 120-134 all have the title “Songs of Ascent.” Many scholars believe that these psalms were sung by faithful pilgrims as they travelled up to Jerusalem for the yearly festivals. Some scholars also think that the word “ascents” refers to the faithful ascending the stairs of the temple for worship.

In addition to Psalm 130 being identified as a penitential psalm and a song of ascents or pilgrimage psalm; the Lutheran Study Bible (p. 849) also identifies it as a prayer for help or lament. To understand this psalm as a penitential, pilgrimage and lament psalm, I think it is helpful to consider the insights of biblical scholar, the Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann. In two of his books, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary, and Spirituality of the Psalms; Dr. Brueggemann suggests that patterns of thought and speech in the psalms are similar to the patterns of human life. For example, there are satisfied seasons of well-being, there are anguished seasons of hurt, alienation, suffering and death, and those seasons can become turns of surprise when we are overwhelmed with the new gifts of God. He also puts it another way, summarizing it in three words, stages, or seasons. There are times of orientation when all seems well with the world. There are times of disorientation when the world is turned upside-down and trouble and suffering are the order of the day. Then there are times of reorientation when life is restored, sometimes even better than in a time of orientation. Reorientation can come sometimes in unpredictable, creative and surprising ways. 

Turning to the first three verses of our psalm, we learn that the psalmist is in trouble, it was, as Brueggemann might say, a time of disorientation. A time of suffering and trouble or crisis perhaps in the extreme, since the psalmist says: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.” Or as Eugene Peterson renders it in The Message: “Help, God—I’ve hit rock bottom!” Or as the CEV puts it: “From the sea of troubles I call out to you, Lord.” When we “hit rock bottom,” we often refer to some crisis or disaster, something that overwhelms us. When we have a “sea of troubles,” we may very well feel that our life is in danger, since the troubles are so great that we cannot overcome them. 

In verse two of The Message, one has the sense of the psalmist’s boldness and desperation, as he prays: “Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy!” The CEV captures something of this desperation as well, the psalmist prays: “Won’t you please listen as I beg for mercy?” In other words, the psalmist cannot help himself, and others cannot help him. Only God can help him in his tragic, life-threatening situation. 

Verse three is a confession of sin, although the psalmist does not recite specific sins. He realizes that he and everyone for that matter are helpless to defend their sins if God kept a record of them. As the CEV puts it: “If you kept a record of our sins, no one could last long.” If God kept a record of our sins, all of us would have to plead guilty for every one of them. We would stand condemned before God. 

However, verse four moves us from disorientation to reorientation; from despair to hope. As The Message renders it: “As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, and that’s why you’re worshipped.” 

Yet, in verses five and six, the psalmist returns back to a time of disorientation, a time of waiting. Waiting is mentioned three times in these two verses: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” The sense of waiting here is not peaceful, it is tense and stressful. The image the psalmist employs here is that of a soldier or security guard watching through the night for enemies or burglars. It can be difficult to stay awake through the night until morning. When the morning arrives, then the soldier or security guard is less tense and relieved of stress. 

There are many times in your life and my life when waiting is difficult and stressful, yet necessary. For example, I think back many years ago to the time when I graduated from seminary. I was waiting for a call to begin serving as a pastor, and had not yet received a call. Dr. Hordern, our seminary president, consoled me with the following words of wisdom: “All things come to those who wait.” I ended up having to wait for a year before I received my first call and was ordained. That year of waiting was not easy, it was stressful, and I was most grateful when my waiting was over. 

Life is filled with waiting, and a lot of waiting can be difficult and stressful. Parents waiting for their children to be born and as they live out the various stages of their lives; which may involve a lot of difficult, stressful, unwelcome twists and turns and sufferings. The unemployed wondering how they are going to pay all of their bills and debts, and waiting to be employed again. The person who is seriously ill or suffering from a life-threatening disease, waiting for surgery or treatments. The brother or sister who is alienated from his or her sibling, and waiting for forgiveness and reconciliation. Those in the midst of war, waiting for it to end. Victims of injustice because of the colour of their skin, waiting for justice in order that they might have equal access to work, education, and health-care. The senior citizen who believes that they have lived a full and meaningful life, waiting for death. All of us waiting for COVID-19 to be over so that our lives might have some sense of normality again. The list could go almost endlessly on. 

As people of faith, we have much to learn from our psalmist. We do not wait without hope. The psalmist tells us: “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.” God’s word is a word of hope, a word of promise. That’s why the psalmist can shift from the tense, anxiety-ridden, and stressful waiting in his state of disorientation into the hopeful state of reorientation. The psalmist concludes with words of wise counsel and confidence addressed to Israel in verses seven and eight: “O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” Or as The Message puts it: “O Israel, wait and watch for God—with God’s arrival comes love, with God’s arrival comes generous redemptionNo doubt about it—he’ll redeem Israel, buy back Israel from captivity to sin.” 

So, we are able to watch and wait, because we have the hope that whatever state of disorientation we might find ourselves in; it will not last forever. We wait and watch and hope for God’s steadfast love which is always dependable. His steadfast love has the power to redeem us, to buy us back out of slavery to sin—thanks to the saving work of Jesus. We are set free in Christ, and that is the GOOD NEWS today! Thanks be to God! Amen. 

Sermon 2 Pentecost Yr B

Read my sermon for June 7, 2015 here: 2 Pentecost Yr B