Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Promise Sure

Lent 5, April 10, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Psalm 130 is a Psalm of ascent. It was used procession up to the Temple. It may sound a little strange for that use, exclaiming as it does one's dereliction before the Lord, but though the psalm starts in the depths, the end of where it is going is reflected in the first word: Out. It is out of the depths that the psalmist has come. It makes it especially appropriate this 5th Sunday of Lent. Next week begins Holy Week. It is the celebration of Jesus' descent to the depths, and His victorious rise to the very heights of heaven.

The Psalm again has two great themes. The first one draws its power from the experience of the Exodus. In the exodus when the Hebrews stood with the Red Sea blocking their escape from Egypt, and Pharaoh’s army bearing down behind them, they were in the depths of despair. They were too weak to stand up to Pharaoh,

So the only way forward was into the waters, the waters that to them symbolized death, destruction and chaos. It seemed surely a lose-lose situation. It was out of that place that God brought them into a new day.

As expressed by this psalm, then, it describes by extension the experience of the guilty soul. Our guilt puts us in the depths, for if the Lord were to note what we have done, what hope would there be? It is only because we know the Lord heard the cries of the Hebrews in the depths and delivered them that we can conceive of crying out to Him in our distress.

The second one is in the last verse. It is a hope claimed even though it is not yet fully realized. It is in that sense what theologians call an eschatological hope, for it hopes for a new day, a new dawn, the fullness of redemption.

The Lenten hinge-point in this psalm is in vs. 4. Waiting is what one does when one is in one place and needs to be in another, be it between Pharaoh and the other side of the Red Sea, or between one's guilt and one's forgiveness, or between the limitedness of this world and the limitlessness of the next.

It is in one sense the place of the Christian. Jesus said we are in the world but not of it. The Gospel Lesson gives us multiple images of it. We are like the on-looking Jews, blind to the reality of God's resurrection power, yet about to be confronted by it. We are like Mary and Martha, mourning the death of their brother and protector, yet soon to be restored to joy. We are like Lazarus, dead to this world, but soon to be alive in Christ. We are, in short, in the depths, yet we have hope not to remain there, we wait with yearning, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

The hidden treasure for us here is in the tense of the verb in vs. 7. The psalmist does not say, "With him there will be plenteous redemption,” but "With him there is plenteous redemption." It is as if the promise of redemption is not entirely in the future, though it is not entirely realized yet either. As in so many other places in the Psalms the author claims the reality of the promise as a present reality even in the midst of the darkness.

This is the beauty and power of an eschatological hope. It transcends time and space, because the hope is ultimately located in God, who transcends time and space. So as the writer of the Hebrews tells us, “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the willingness to live now as if the promise is as good as delivered, a little bit of heaven lived while yet on earth, an in-breaking of celestial life and health into the brokenness of our world. Our waiting is not just for something that is entirely yet to come, it is a waiting for the full revelation of what we already have received.

So now as we approach the whole drama of Holy Week, how, then, shall we live? We know from Palm Sunday what the secret ending will be. We can freely mourn on Good Friday because we know Easter Sunday cannot be prevented. We can do so with renewed hope. It is tempting to think that the assurance of forgiveness cheapens our confession, but that is to miss the point entirely. The person who knows he can swim need not fear the deep water. The sinner who knows he is forgiven need not fear the depths of the whole raw truth of his guilt. Precisely because we are assured of forgiveness can we be fully honest with our sinfulness.

So I challenge you to be fearless. In your marriage, in your friendships, in your work and in your play, fear not the depths. Be honest and present, be clear and engaged, be thoughtful, intentional even at the risk of being wrong, for you know from the beginning that you have a friendship with God.

In your politics and in your economics, fear not the depths. Read the opposition with an open mind. Talk openly with someone with whom you disagree. Consider the ethics of your dollars and your votes, for you know from the beginning what is the end of all earthly kingdoms.

In this last week of Lent, fear not the depths. Confess your sins bravely and completely, plunge to the depths of the ways you are breaking your world rather than fixing it, dive to the bottom of the murk of your noisy, addicted patterns, wade through the muck and the mire, for you know from the beginning what is the end.

We cry out from the depths because we know we are already heard.

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