Fr. Bill Carroll – The Second Sunday After Pentecost, June 6, 2021
“Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice.”
By the time we reach adulthood, sometimes earlier, most of us have experienced death and grief. And, as I’ve shared with some of you before, my first such experience came when I was five years old, and my best friend and his sister died in a fire. That event has affected all my subsequent relationships. It’s given me many, many fears: death, loss, abandonment. Sudden changes of any kind make me nervous. And I wish I could say it was the last time I’ve lost someone.
All of human life involves some suffering. In addition to the big losses we experience, sometimes the smaller ones add up. They may be routine, but their cumulative effect can be staggering. Covid-19 has been that way for many of us. Some of us have lost loved ones or faced economic hardships, but far more of us have experienced isolation and stressful, unwanted changes—along with chronic stress and anxiety. Even in ordinary times, that’s how life often is. And, as we pull out of the pandemic and enter the last phase of regathering for mission, it’s important for us to pause and take stock—and to grieve the many, many losses of this season. But, even if we’re not focused there, we all have things to grieve.
We understand the Psalmist’s cry to God from our own experience. Often, we struggle in the deep places, with water up over our heads. In times like these, we need to turn to God for help. Now actually, the crisis that the Psalmist is facing when he calls on God seems to be one of guilt, rather than grief. He is overwhelmed by sin and its consequences. And so, in the very next verse, he says: “If you, LORD, were to note what is done amiss, O LORD who could stand?”
And yet, the words of 130th Psalm address a far broader situation. Our Psalm speaks to the whole human condition. We always need help from God. The Psalmist speaks to our weaknesses, our losses, and our fears. He names our anxieties about the future, the ambiguities in our relationships, and all our frustrations with life. He points out the gap between our limitless aspirations and cold, hard reality.
But, in the midst of the storm, the Psalmist urges us to wait—“to be still and know” that the LORD is God. In our culture, we have a problem with waiting. We live in an age of instant messaging—and instant gratification. We easily forget that it’s normal to be bored and frustrated—and to have to wait. We envy the photoshopped lives of our friends and various celebrities. as they parade past us on our screens, large and small. We lack the patience for the ordinary things of life.
We need to be taught how to wait. We need to learn how to wait for each other. We need to be taught to wait for the LORD and his perfect timing. For, in his promise, lies our hope. With God, there is “mercy,” and there is “plenteous redemption.”
God is teaching us how to wait through various trials and tribulations, and the soul’s dark night. If we can wait through it all—if we can cling to God in love in the darkness, while the chaos swirls around us—then we discover God’s consoling presence that never fails us, arriving like the dawn. Whether we ask for it or not, even if we don’t deserve it, God comes to us in love. He is the one Person who never, ever, ever lets us down.
I wouldn’t wish suffering on anyone. In this world, there’s more than enough to go around. But suffering can be sometimes the gateway to holiness. That’s not because it’s a good thing. Far from it! And positive experiences, like falling in love, or the birth of a child, can also lead us back to God. But suffering has a unique way of getting our attention.
Often, it’s in the deep places that we cry out to God for help. It is there that we’re willing to wait sometimes for his answer. Let’s remember one thing, though: The Psalmist only finds his prayers answered as part of a community. It’s always this way with the things that matter most. By the end of Psalm 130, the Psalmist is exhorting not just his soul, but all Israel to wait for the LORD. He is speaking as a witness to the whole community. He is testifying to the faithfulness of God. The promises of God belong to his entire People. We need to wait (actively to wait) for God to save us as part of something bigger than ourselves.
That’s true for Israel. It’s also true for us. As Paul says to the Galatians, we learn to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Calling each other “brother” or “sister” has to mean something. It can’t be just an empty gesture. It needs to be something real. And it becomes especially real for us here in the Eucharist, where Jesus unites us to himself, and to each other. We become one when we share in the gift of his life poured out for others. In this way, Paul tells us, “we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” We stake our whole lives on Jesus and his love.
In our bodies, in this life, we are so very vulnerable (to betrayal; to injury and loss and illness; to our very own deaths). We can be wounded in our flesh. We are all vulnerable. And yet, still we press on forward and strive to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. We strive to show other people his love, and the difference it makes in our lives. As Paul puts it in today’s Epistle, “Even so, we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day in the Holy Spirit of God. For this slight, momentary affliction,” he says, “is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory.”
Brothers and sisters, the deep places are where God touches our lives. They are where we need our faith most. They are where we need each other most. They teach us to rely fully on God—and fully on each other. Listen once more to the words of our Psalm:
I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope…
O Israel, wait for the LORD, *
for with the LORD there is mercy;
With him, there is plenteous redemption.