Sunday March 29th 2020
Pastor Galen Zook
Psalm 130; John 11:32-45
Out of the Depths
Psalm 130 begins with the words “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” (Psalm 130:1 NRSV) Or, as the Message paraphrase of the Bible says, “Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life!” (Psalm 130:1 MSG)
The bottom has fallen out of my life. What an apt description of what we have experienced these past few weeks, as our lives have been upended by the coronavirus pandemic.
Until a few weeks ago, most of us had probably never heard the phrases “flatten the curve” or “social distancing,” and now those phrases are part of our everyday vocabularies, as throughout the world people have in various ways been asked to isolate ourselves from one another in order to slow down the spread of this deadly disease.
As of last evening, there have been 2,000 coronavirus-related deaths here in the U.S. 650,000 people have been infected worldwide, with a total 30,000 deaths globally. Our hearts go out to those who have been most affected by the coronavirus, especially those who have lost loved ones.
For those of us who haven’t been infected (or at least not that we’re aware), we’ve all been affected. We’ve been asked to stay in our homes. Schools and non-essential businesses have closed, as have restaurants and recreational centers, and even playgrounds. People have been stockpiling food and supplies, and many people have been laid off of work or are worried that they might need to find new means of employment.
Others are adjusting to working from home, and being alone, or being around the other members of our households 24/7.
Fear, worry and concern are rampant, as are feelings of isolation, and loneliness.
And so we can identify with the psalmist. Even if we don’t know the particulars of what he was going through, we know what it’s like to feel like we’re in the depths, in over our heads and overwhelmed, to feel like the bottom has dropped out of our lives.
Who Could Stand?
Whatever the situation was that he was going through, the psalm-writer cries out to God, “Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications! If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.” (Psalm 130:2-4).
Now we might wonder, why does the psalmist shift from talking about being overwhelmed and feeling like the bottom has dropped out of his life, to talking about “iniquity,” and sin and forgiveness? After all, we know that the overwhelming situations we find ourselves in aren’t always due to our own wrongdoing. This current situation with the coronavirus is not anyone’s fault.
But I think the psalmist was experiencing what we often experience during times of tragedy or loss. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, or like things have fallen apart, we often begin to ask questions. Why is this happening? And who is to blame? Is it my fault that I’m experiencing this? And where is God in the midst of this?
Whether or not the psalmist was responsible for the situation that he found himself in, his conversation with God eventually leads him to consider what would happen if God were to punish him every time he messed up, or every time he willfully did something wrong God held him accountable.
This leads to consider that each and every day of his life has been a gift. That God has continually shown him grace and mercy and forgiveness his whole life. Whatever it was that he was going through, was nothing in comparison to the punishment that he deserved for all the wrongdoings that he had done, and even if what he was going through wasn’t his own fault, it leads him to a place of reflecting on God’s compassion in his life.
For the psalmist, being reminded of God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness seems to bring him up out of the depths of despair. “With you [God] there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you” (Psalm 130:4 NIV).
Tragedy and crisis often cause us to consider our own mortality and humanity and even how far we’ve fallen short. And although we may wonder why this is happening, when we bring our worries and concerns to Jesus, and when we cry out to God for mercy, or healing or protection, we’re often reminded of God’s grace and compassion to us.
For the psalmist, this leads him to a place of reverence and awe, and ultimately to the place where he declares to himself and to all of Israel (and us today!) to put our hope and trust in God.
The psalmist declares,
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. 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 (Psalm 130:5-8).
Taking his worries and concerns to the Lord leads the psalmist to reflect and rejoice in God’s mercy and forgiveness in his life, ultimately leading him to a place of deeper faith and trust in God.
Mary and Martha felt like they were in the depths as well, that the bottom had fallen out of their lives. Their brother Lazarus had been sick, and when they called on Jesus to come and heal him, Jesus waited two full days before going to them. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had passed away, and had been buried in the tomb for four days.
For Mary and Martha, it seemed like the end had come, that there was not hope for their brother. Everything had fallen apart. They cried out to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, [our] brother would not have died” (see John 11:21 and 32).
For Mary and Martha, feelings of worry and concern for their brother had rolled over into feelings of pain and grief and isolation. Why did their brother have to die? Why hadn’t Jesus come when they called him?
But Jesus had something amazing in store for them, something that they could have never dreamt or imagined. Jesus wanted to demonstrate to them and to us that there is always hope, even beyond the grave. That what seems like the end is not really the end. That even when it seems like God is distant or far off, that really God is right there with us. And even when it seems like the bottom has dropped out of our lives and everything has fallen apart, that God is still able to work for our good. God is able to redeem and restore, and even bring life where there is death.
And so Jesus called Lazarus forth from the grave, demonstrating his love and compassion and his power, proclaiming that He truly is the resurrection and the life, and, as Jesus said, “Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live” (John 11:25).
Now Lazarus’s resurrection was a sort of “temporary resurrection.” He eventually died again. But the resurrection that Lazarus experienced illustrates to us that death is not really the end. And Lazarus’s resurrection points forward to the resurrection that all of us who place our hope and trust in the Lord for the forgiveness of our sins will one day experience.
When Jesus returns to make all things new, we will be raised to eternal life, where we will no longer experience sickness, or pain or death. As it says in the book of Revelation, “[God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). What a hope, what a promise, what a future that we have to look forward to!
This sermon series that we’ve been in, looking at the Psalms during the season of Lent, has been entitled “Selah: Life in a Minor Key.” Selah is a musical term found throughout the psalms that most likely indicates a rest, a break, a pause. We’ve been talking about the season of Lent as an invitation to do just that — to pull back, to reflect on our brokenness and the brokenness in our world, and to be reminded of our need for God.
Of course, the coronavirus has caused all of society to pull back, to pause, and to reflect, whether we wanted to or not. As one Christian author tweeted, “I didn’t intend to give up quite this much for lent!”
But even if this was not a situation that we ever wanted to find ourselves in, I want to encourage us during this season when our lives have been upended, when we’re experiencing social distancing, and fear and insecurity and economic uncertainty, to take some time to reflect on our need for God, and to take our worries and concerns to the Lord.
Just like the psalmist, like Mary and Martha, if you’re feeling overwhelmed or like the bottom has fallen out of your life, take those feelings to God. Cry out to God, even if it’s in anger or frustration. Bring your needs and requests before the Lord. It’s ok to feel sad, it’s ok to grieve, it’s ok even to be angry when we pray. God can handle it!
And then, when you’re ready, I want to invite you to reflect on God’s mercy and compassion in your life. Reflect on where God has brought you from, or what God has kept you from. This may not lead you to a place of joy or celebration, but at the very least it should bring us to a place of deeper faith, and trust and hope.
I would also invite us, in this upcoming weeks as we head towards Good Friday and Easter, to spend some time meditating on Jesus’s death on the cross. When we look at Jesus hanging on the cross, we see that God knows what it’s like to experience pain and suffering, and even death. Through Christ hanging on the cross, we see that God even knows what it’s like to experience loneliness and isolation.
And so let’s cry out to the Lord, with whatever it is that we’re experiencing, knowing that even what seems like the end, is not really the end. Knowing that Jesus can bring life even out of death. And knowing that we can forward in hope and in trust to that day, when God will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more” (Rev. 21:4a).