"The Jesus Way"                     Psalm 130                  June 28, 2009
 
Scientists have discovered that every snowflake has a tiny piece of dust at its core. (I realize you don’t get much snow down here, but use your imagination.) The beautiful and unique crystals that develop around the core create the stunning architecture of the flakes that people marvel at.
 
Every snowflake has a “dirty heart,” in the same way that every man and woman has sins that stain the heart. When we commit to following Jesus, we begin to add crystals to our core selves in partnership with God. When people see a Christian they see not the “dirty heart” but the snowflake.
 
The Spiritual Formation Conference I attended last week was named The Jesus Way, based on Eugene Peterson’s book by the same name. Peterson asserts that  “It's not enough to say "What would Jesus Do?" Our need is to say "How would Jesus do it?"”
 
Unless we do the right thing in the right spirit, it is not done in Christ. It may be a morally correct act, but not a godly-inspired act. What's the difference? Jesus said it was not enough NOT to commit murder, but one should NOT hate in one's heart. We become more like Jesus when we walk with, and like Jesus: in dependence on the Spirit's guidance.
 
In Psalm 130, the writer clearly sees himself estranged from God's presence. Perhaps he's in a hole of his own making. Perhaps he keeps shoveling deeper and deeper. But now, for whatever reason, he realizes there’s no way out of this abyss into which he’s fallen.
 
Psalm 130, often called De Profundis, is a penitential lament in which the writer begs for God to give him a hearing, and to exercise mercy.

 
We know what the psalm-writer is feeling, because we ourselves have come close to drowning in the depths of our sinfulness, overwhelmed by the destruction and discord that comes from our carelessness.

It can be a serious problem. If we don’t take care of it now, its corroding presence in our lives will continue to affect our spiritual and emotional environment for years to come.

 
We understand the feeling of going under, or being “in the hole.” In these tough economic times, how can we not understand this? The writer here, however, is talking about a breach in his relationship with God. He’s not talking about the mortgage he can’t pay, or the relationship that’s broken, or an illness that’s afflicting him. His great need is for forgiveness. Without a sense of God’s presence, compassion and mercy, the psalmist is almost beside himself.
 
1/ Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.
          2/ Lord, hear my voice!
    Let your ears be attentive
           to the voice of my supplications!
 
On a surface reading, we may think that “depths” is simply a way of indicating the intense sincerity of the psalmist’s plea, as in “from deep in my soul.” But that’s not what the psalmist is saying; “depths” is literally Sheol, the place of death. The psalmist is using it metaphorically to refer to chaotic forces that trouble human life. So, the force of the opening line is, “Out of the pit of darkness I cry” or “From the lowest point of despair I cry to you.”
 
Many troubles are of our own making. Verse 3 implies that this is the case for at least some of the psalmist’s troubles: “If you would mark our iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” As the NIV words it:
“If you, O Lord, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?” God is our redeemer not only from outside troubles but also from those within us.
 
The writer begins by asking God to simply listen. That’s all. Will you please just listen to me? Then, assuming God’s listening, he says, “Okay, I know I have it coming. If you’re going to deal with me in terms of what I deserve, I know I’m in for it — big time. But here’s the deal, God: You are a forgiving God, and it’s why you’re honored and revered.”

What the bible calls 'sin,' can be any number of things: We become overcome by ambition,  lost in lust, misdirected by material things and drowned by destructive desires. Sometimes, what we neglect to do may become sin.
 
And sometimes our sin has not been selfish at all, but instead it has been self-less. We have lost direction in life by giving too much of ourselves to others, and failing to become the complete person God wants us to be. In all of these cases, we feel as though we are sinking over our heads in a landfill of personal rubbish, and so we cry out for help, “Lord, hear my voice!”

St. Anselm, who lived during the 11th century, put it this way: “O Lord our God, grant us grace to desire thee with our whole heart, that so desiring, we may seek and find thee, and so finding thee we may love thee, and loving thee we may hate those sins from which thou has redeemed us, for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Psalm 130 and Anselm’s prayer are both examples of a cry for a personal transformative experience of God.
 
If you have ever hurt a loved one — deeply hurt a loved one — you know that you cannot repair the damage by single-handed individual effort. Forgiveness is never DIY, a do-it-yourself project. Sure, you have a part to play as you confess your fault, admit your error, amend your ways, and grieve the hurt you have caused.
 
But there can be no reconciliation until you are given the gift of forgiveness. Your junk has to be hauled away by others, as they liberate you from your personal sin. This is what Christ does for all. God’s forgiveness is a fact: you can bank on it.
 
“But there is forgiveness with You, so that You may be revered.” (v.4) The writer's conversation with God ends with this verse. He then muses to himself: “There’s nothing to do now but wait for the verdict. So I will wait to see what happens.”

 In English, “wait” often has the connotation of a passive or annoying endurance of time. The Hebrew qawa used frequently in the NT to refer to our confident hope/trust in God’s promises to us in Jesus Christ. It has this sense: “If God says it, we will count on it.”

The psalmist is confident in the Lord’s “steadfast love” The Hebrew word used is hesed , ( verse 7; Psalm 33:18) which may also be translated “covenant love,” “loyalty,” “lovingkindness” and “mercy.”

has the sense of eagerly awaiting, expecting, looking for, longing for, hoping for. (Isaiah 40:31.) In Jeremiah 29:11, God offers “a future with hope” (using the noun-form of the Hebrew root). In verse 6, our soul is (waiting for) the Lord to act favorably “more than those who watch for the morning” (note the doubling). The imagery may be that of sentinels who are desperately eager for morning to come, to bring relief from the terrors of the night. (Psalm 30:5.)

(“Hope” (vv. 5 and 7) is the Hebrew word yahal, with a hard h.) Unlike “hope” in modern English, the Hebrew connotes a confident anticipation/trust that God will act. In the Lord’s Word, the psalmist hopes (see Psalm 119:74); thus, God will do what he promises about forgiveness. The verb yahal is
Evidently between verses 6 and 7 the answer has come, and it is all that the psalmist hoped for. No wonder, then, that he can shout to all of Israel, that Israel, too, should “hope in the LORD!” God is a God of “steadfast love,” and “great power to redeem.”

The key term to remember here is “redeem.” God has great power to redeem, and God is the one who will redeem us from all our sin. This word goes back to the ancient world, when armies would routinely conquer neighboring countries and take people as prisoners. The family members left behind would recover from the invasion, and then pull together money to use as a ransom to buy the freedom of their loved ones.
 
The redeemer, in these cases, would be the particular person who travels abroad to buy back what was confiscated, to rescue the people who had been taken into captivity.There was nothing necessarily religious about this redeemer. He was simply doing a job. But from this work we get an image for God — the one who is, for us, the ultimate redeemer.
 
The writer found himself in a pit, pleaded for God’s listening ear, and expectantly waited to hear from God.   He then assured himself and fellow believers that God does indeed hear and forgive. The message of this psalm is that: God listens, and God extends mercy.

And where do our sins go? What is the final destination of our gossip and insults, half-truths and lies, lusts and longings, selfish manipulations and self-less wanderings?

All this goes straight to the cross. And that’s where it stays, forever. (Example: nailing of "our sins" onto the cross on Maundy Thursday)—still there after months of rain, etc.)

In Psalm 103, the writer puts it another way: “as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us” (v. 12).

 
Charles Spurgeon says of Psalm 103:12: “O glorious verse, no word even upon the inspired page can excel it! Sin is removed from us by a miracle of love! What a load to move, and yet is it removed so far that the distance is incalculable. Fly as far as the wing of imagination can bear you, and if you journey through space eastward, you are further from the west at every beat of your wing. If sin be removed so far, then we may be sure that the scent, the trace, the very memory of it must be entirely gone. If this be the distance of its removal, there is no shade of fear of its ever being brought back again; even Satan himself could not achieve such a task. Our sins are gone, Jesus has borne them away.”
 
The message of this psalm is that: God listens, and God extends mercy.There in lies our Christian freedom, this is the Jesus Way . . . We are free to live with the assurance of forgiveness, reconciliation with our God, and joy in the journey of life for we are convinced of God's goodness and mercy.
 
We are among those who cry to God out of the depths coming from our iniquities. Yet we find ourselves eagerly awaiting the Lord’s forgiveness and confidently anticipating that God will affirmatively, lovingly and mercifully answer us by abundantly delivering us from all our iniquity, guilt and punishment.     
 
Dag Hammarskjoeld wrote in his diary:
 
Give me a pure heart—that I may see Thee
            A humble heart—that I may hear Thee
A heart of love—that I may serve Thee
            A heart of faith—that I may abide in Thee.
 
God listens, and God extends mercy. Go in peace. Amen.
 
 
 
 
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 

 
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