Out of the Depths (Lenten Midweek VI)

Video of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 5:30 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I would guess that it’s when everything appears hopeless that many people give up. As long as there’s a flicker of hope that circumstances might change or the situation might resolve itself in one way or another, most people can keep going, holding on until the tunnel ends and you come out into the light. Sometimes people might invent something in which to hope. Prisoners of war who are held in horrible conditions with sadistic captors have to hold out hope that their release might come eventually, or they die. People aren’t made to endure inhumane conditions forever. That’s why we are fascinated by people like Louis Zamperini, who survived 47 days in a raft on the ocean, and then two years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.

But what we call hope is often itself adrift, unconnected to any certainty. I hope this sickness ends soon. I hope I can get out of the house and talk to people in person again. I hope my kids go back to school sometime this year. But those are the sorts of “hopes” that aren’t grounded in any certainty. No one knows when those things will happen, although we “hope” they will. Even so, unless some expert tells us that the sickness will just keep going forever and so you have to stay inside forever, and so do your kids because the school year is canceled—unless those things happen, we still hope, and we still wait. As we were reminded back in Advent, hope means the ability to wait.

Here in Psalm 130, there are two different words for “waiting,” but they are also both sometimes translated as “hoping.” In the Scriptures, the words for hope are not disconnected, drifting words. They don’t float in the air trying to find something to latch on to. When the Word of God holds out hope to you, it is tied firmly and forever to a Person. Psalm 39 says it: And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in You (39:7). Our hope is not tied to one out of ten, or one out of a hundred, different possible outcomes. It is tied to the One who holds the past, the future, and the present. He is the rock that cannot be moved or shaken, so that the one who trusts Him is secure. He is the end to which our hope is bound, the One who has already taken flesh, lived, died, and risen from the dead.

Hope can sometimes seem like a thread that disappears into an unknown future, since we don’t know what will happen to us tomorrow, or next week, or next year. But if you know the One who holds the other end of that thread, the One who has crossed from death to life and stands on the other side of death, then you can wait throughout anything that happens, until you reach the conclusion of your hope with Him.

Two words for waiting, and both hold out the hope of a certain conclusion—as certain as the morning. And yet there are times for those who are awake in the night when it seems like morning will never come. In the daytime, there is the movement of the sun across the sky and the light shifts and changes. Between dusk and dawn, there is nothing in the darkness itself to indicate how far from sunrise it is. Even so, as long as this creation endures, the morning will come.

We wait for Yahweh more than watchmen for the morning—watchmen for the morning! It could happen, perhaps, that even the sun might fail. Our waiting is even more assured, because we hope in the one who made the sun, the moon, the stars, along with the times and seasons they mark out. And even more than the Creator of all things, we hope in the Redeemer of all things. If God marked out all iniquities, kept track of them, guarded them in order to punish them, there is no one who could stand, no one who could endure, no one who could hope for forgiveness. But this is the God who doesn’t mark iniquities, but redeems His Israel from those iniquities.

The psalmist hopes and waits within Israel, and calls all Israel to hope and wait with him. Why hope in the Lord, regardless of the circumstances? Because with Yahweh is eternal, enduring love and plentiful redemption, enough for everyone. Is Yahweh the sort of God who marks, adds up, and keeps close track of all your sins so that later He can hold them against you? That would be one kind of God to be feared. But I suspect it’s the sort of fear that would drift into resigned despair. These iniquities, this guilt, those sins are a hole you can’t dig yourself out of, no matter how much time you have, why bother trying?

But with You, Yahweh, there is forgiveness, that You may be feared. The fear of God goes with Him being the only true God. You don’t fear what is false or what can neither harm nor help you. It is right, as Jesus says, to fear the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. But fear not; you are of more value than the sparrows that have fallen to the ground, all of whom are known to God. We fear God as the one who forgives; we do not fear the sin that condemns. We fear God as the one who holds us in His hand; we do not fear the things that threaten to tear us from His hand. We fear God as the one who is our future; we do not fear because of our pasts. With You there is forgiveness, therefore You are feared.

This is the answer to the one who cries to God out of the depths, the deep waters that cover this creation: the flood of our own sins, the sins of others; the effects of sin in the world, and the symptoms of death, reaching back and pushing us under. Here, like Peter, we often go down, sinking and overwhelmed. Our eyes drift and disconnect from the Lord who made the waters and so walks across them. Out of the depths I cry to You, O Yahweh! O Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! Peter cannot save himself, but Jesus holds on to him, even in the midst of his fear and unbelief. Lord, save me! And He does.

I am waiting for Yahweh in certain hope. He has spoken; I hope in His Word, which is the only word that has never failed me. My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning, more than the watchmen for the morning. O people of God, wait in hope for Yahweh! With Him is Christ, His crucified and resurrected Love for you; His plentiful and abundant redemption. Together we wait, however long it is until we come to the end of our hope, and find Him there. Thus far He has brought us in hope; He will bring us to our hope’s conclusion.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/1/20

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