Sermon: "Hope"


Fifth in the "Nomads and Pilgrims" Series,
Delivered March 13, 2005 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7

Theme: The way we wait will be directly tied to our idea of God. If we believe that God is deeply, lovingly interested in us, we don't have to deny problems, or explain away our suffering. We wait for God to act in hope.

See the study guides that go along with this sermon series.

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Sermon Text: Psalm 130

Let's pray: Lord we thank you for this word that we have heard from Psalm 130 and pray now as we think about it together, that we will hear whatever it is we need to hear and that we will be able to respond to it with faith and end with a walk of obedience that follows. For we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

To be human is to be in trouble, let's face it. It's a fact. To be human is to be in trouble. When we look at literature as far back as we can go in human experience, we find that people have faced deep troubles and have suffered. It might be the trouble that comes with illness, death or it might be natural disasters, relational problems; it has been there with us from the start and that selfishness, that self-centeredness, that godliness, that desire to be at the center of all things, that the Christian church calls sin, this sin has always made it worse. It has brought more suffering on to us and brought suffering on to other people. That is what news is full of. News is full of trouble. It is full of murders, scandals, illnesses, accidents, broken families, national disasters, big problems and little problems. It doesn't matter. One way or another in our life at just about any time we've got trouble. When we are in trouble we suffer.

Now for the purposes of what we are thinking about today, what I mean about suffering is that it is more than just the pain. When we get in an auto accident and get a serious injury, once the medication wears off what we feel then well that's pain. But in addition to that, part of being human is that we suffer, because in addition to the pain come the questions. Why me God? What will this do to my future? What will this do to my family? I am sorry God for my fault in this. Forgive me. Can they forgive me? Even if we haven't been part of the problems when something assails us and something falls apart in our lives we can even feel false guilt about it. That's part of suffering too. All kinds of questions come in to our lives and it's this question part that is part of our suffering. And a big part of that is that grief we feel that life will never be the same again.

The Psalm begins with the Psalmist saying, "Out of the depths I cry out to you O Lord."

"Out of the depths I cry out to you O Lord, O Lord hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy."

The depths that the Psalmist is talking about is this sort of suffering. The pain and all the questions and all the disorientation that comes with it. Now we have been talking for weeks about being nomads or pilgrims and we have talked about how our culture is a nomadic culture. It is constantly moving from experience to experience, job to job, place to place, relationship to relationship, looking for a place where you really feel like it is home, where you feel accepted, where you feel that meshing of who you are to the fulfillment that you expect from that and when it doesn't come around and when you can't hold to the joy in that situation you move on, and so we live inside of a culture that people are constantly accumulating things and trying to live for today even if it means mortgaging some of the future.

In the midst of this we are called to be pilgrims, that God has set out a destination for us, a destination that is beyond death; a destination that is outside of life as we know it, but then gives direction to life right now. And so we walk through life with a place in mind, a direction in mind, but also we walk through with God as our companion. And so as pilgrims we know that we experience good things from God and this experience of God's goodness along with the expectation that God will be good in the future is part of what brings us joy. And so even though hard times come, there is joy in life, and it's a joy that can be deep because it begins to change us from the inside out.

A part of this journey is suffering too, and here again nomads and pilgrims are different. We live in a nomadic culture and to be honest it is quite difficult to find someone in our culture who will respect us as we suffer. When you suffer in our culture, it is considered not normal. The norm is that we are expected to be healthy and happy. In fact, it's in our Declaration of Independence. Here it is.

"We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Now whatever they meant about it then, the way we interpret it now is that to be happy is our right. Get out of the way if you are part of the problem, but what happens if we don't stay happy? If something happens and we begin to suffer and we are not happy, what happens around us when we are like that? When we are not happy, we become a problem to be solved. People rush in to try to cure us. So in our culture there are all kinds of researchers out there that are looking for clues about why we are not happy. Is it genes? Is it our environment? Is there something we can do with brain chemistry that's going to help people be happy more of the time?

Now I am glad that there is this research going on. There are good answers that will come out there, but there is this necessity to find those answers that isn't healthy.

It also happens with our friends. When we have a problem people come in with their two step solutions to our problem. Maybe one-step if it is really clear to them. And they are always trite. What are some of the trite answers that you have heard when you have been in difficulty, what have been some of the trite things that you have said or somebody else has said to you? And this is a real question. If you want to answer go ahead and do it, but do it loud. "Just go for a walk." Okay, go for a walk. What else? "Let it go" "It will pass." "Everything happens for a reason." "Sleep on it, tomorrow is another day." Okay, all kinds of answers out there. We could probably have a whole service celebrating that stuff. So when we have a problem people first respond to us with sympathy and they come and gather around and say, "oh man this is so terrible." And then they give us their advice. Here's the solution.

And when the solution doesn't work the third step is abandonment. If we don't come around and get happy, people don't know what to do with us. And so, if we are going to continue to suffer we are going to suffer alone.

Take a look at Psalm 130. It's in the Pew Bible in front of you and we will show some verses here and there during the sermon. There are no good answers here in this Psalm. There is no hasty Band-Aid to cover it up so as others don't have to see it. There is no quick cure that is talked about. "Oh just take a walk or take a vacation". "Here's this new medication". There are no quick answers like that. There is no guilt trip. This deals squarely with sin. It recognizes that we are at fault in this world, but even though it recognizes the depth of our fault and our failing, right with that recognition is a pointer that God is the one who knows how to forgive this and find a way out. So it doesn't even point and say, "oh you are in this problem because you screwed up. Why are you feeling bad? This is obvious." It's not like that.

What is here is a relationship. Suffering is experienced. Suffering is admitted and suffering is prayed all in a relationship to a God who cares. There are two great realities in this Psalm. The first is that suffering is real. And the second is that God is real. And so, we can accept and experience suffering and yet in the midst of it we believe in God.

Now what we expect of God is going to have a critical effect on what happens to us when we suffer. It will affect us. It will shape our suffering and so when we look in to this Psalm we see certain expectations that they had.

Verses 1 and 2. Expect God to be actively listening to a personal concern. Now that's not an obvious thing. There are people all over the world that don't think that way. There are temples in other parts of the world where you have to ring a bell to get the attention of the deity. In Baal worship that was going on at the times these Psalms were written they would cut themselves and make a great commotion again to get the attention of a God that in their own doctrine they said was sometimes drunk and asleep. Even in our own country, in my own family sometimes people think that way, that God is not concerned about our personal needs.

I can remember talking to my grandmother. She would always be praying to the saints and one day, this is before I was a Christian, but one day I asked her why don't you pray to God? And she said "Oh God is busy running the world." We think that way. So the first thing is that they expect that God is concerned about our personal needs.

Verses 3 and 4 expect God to be forgiving. It takes our guilt seriously. It takes our offenses seriously, but brings those to God with the expectation that God will provide a way to forgive and for us to stand.

Verses 5 and 6 expect God to act; expect God to act in character, in the same character that God has revealed about himself throughout Scripture. So this is what you have said about yourself God. Okay, I believe that and I expect that. Verses 7 and 8 expect God to act with unfailing love, that the deep motivation of God that is behind his forgiveness, behind his action towards us is that he is steadfast, unfailing in his love for us. And so God is always ready to bring good from a situation and to love us despite our own fault.

These expectations shape our understanding. It shapes our experience of suffering. It shapes what we expect as we pray. I was in a prayer meeting this Wednesday in the morning and the first five minutes or so the people just praised God, and again and again the words they used came straight out of Scripture and so this picture of God was based on what God has revealed about himself, instead of the buildup in our minds. Before we ever got to the point, we said "God here is our concern." And so we need to have that sort of conception of God that is shaped around what God has already revealed. And so what we see here is what the Psalmist believed about God and what those who sang these Psalms believed about God. They expected God to listen. They expected God to forgive. The expected God to care. They expected a way out. They expected redemption.

But Verses 5 and 6 are critical to our understanding of just what they were looking for from God. In Verses 5 and 6, in two verses the word wait comes up five times. "I will wait for the Lord." "My soul waits." "My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning." It comes up again and again. And this word wait has to do with more than just standing still while time passes. It has to do with an expectancy. Waiting for something that you are confident is going to come. So one way of translating it and indeed it's translated this way in other languages is to wait in hope. So we are to wait in hope.

And so the image then is of a watchman and whether we are talking about a watchman thousands of years ago on a city wall or a watchman in a building today, one of the facts is that a watchman does not do a whole lot. They watch for something unusual that might happen. They watch for danger. They check the doors and check the gate, talk to the people who are up late at night, but basically do not have any major task at solving anything, but they look forward to the resolution that comes with the morning. The morning brings the hope. The morning brings the resolution. The morning brings completion and safety. And so here is this image that I am waiting like a watchman waits just as they expect the morning to come, I am expecting your answer to come. And so we have this picture of not only a desire that an answer will come, but an expectation that an answer will come and then even in that image is the duty to wait for the answer to come as a faithful watchman. So he waits.

Now, waiting is not doing nothing. It's not resignation. It's not collapse. It's also not scurrying around with worry trying to manipulate everything we could possibly manipulate in order to bring the answer we are desiring. Waiting has to do with doing what we can do right now. We are going about our assigned tasks even as we know that the real solution, the real resolution is one that God will bring in the future.

In January 1995, Debbie and I were in the middle of one of the worst earthquakes of the 20th century. We were in Kobe at the time. During that period of time 6,000 people died, 80,000 buildings were destroyed and 300,000 people were homeless. It was a hopeless time. These pictures were taken around our neighborhood, not far from our house. This church was one where I worked with the pastor of that church. The church was not like this destroyed and the pastor of that church within a year or so after this picture was taken had died from heart complications from all the stress of all the rebuilding and everything else that was happening in the city. Houses were in the middle of the streets. This is areas where we would walk through and houses had been moved out. Whole streets were closed. 80,000 buildings had been destroyed. As the time went, some of the houses were cleared away and by this time a few months after the earthquake a lot of the houses had been cleared off. The debris was gone. There were open lots where there used to be houses. It was a depressing sight. And weeds and trash and all were accumulating where there used to be dwellings for people that we knew. But there was one house that we would pass where there was a garden that used to be inside of a wall, but the house was gone now and the wall was gone now, but that garden week after week, month after month didn't get weedy. All the plants were well cared for. It was watered. And we saw why it was like that because one day Debbie went by and saw the couple that owned the property. They were sitting there. They had brought a lunch and had brought their gardening tools and they were working in their garden, what used to be their home. Now it would be months, maybe years before all the insurance stuff came through. When all the paperwork was done, when they could get a loan and find a contractor. All of that was out there somewhere, far in the future and right now they had to wait because there were thousands upon thousands of people trying to get their homes built. But while they waited they tended their garden. They made it beautiful in hope that one day that house was going to be back, that wall would be back and inside of that new home, that new future, there would be this beautiful garden that they had planted in the past.

That's what it means to wait in hope. To do what you can right now, while you wait for the thing that you can't do, the one thing that has to come in the future, the thing that is rooted in the character and promise of God and not in our power to work it all out. Right now, it's not going well for some of you here and you are in that position where you've got to wait, and what we need to hear at a time like that is our conception of God is going to affect our experience as we wait. So if we expect God to be like a waiter at a restaurant at our beck and call, then what's going to happen is you are going to ask God for an answer and when it doesn't come the way you want, when you want, as fast as you want, you are going to get upset. If you don't expect God to be interested at all you are going to despair. But if you believe that God is like we see it here in Scripture, that God is deeply interested in us, lovingly involved in our lives, then we don't have to deny the problem. We can admit that these problems, these sufferings are real. We don't have to explain it all away, but then we have to wait. We have to learn how to wait in hope, that God because of who God is, is going to be concerned, is going to bring some good, some direction, some conclusion, some strength, whatever it is we need, that God is going to be there to provide that.

That's what this Psalmist learned, this pilgrim, on their journey. And that's what the Psalmist calls for us to do as well. And for all of these people who have sung this Psalm over the years, they call us as well. If you notice in this Psalm the first six verses deal with the personal experience of the Psalmist, of the loss, of the confusion, of the guilt, but the last two are a call to us. And so over the years we hear them in faith calling out to us and telling us what it means to hope and it says this, "O Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption. He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins." Let's learn how to wait in hope.

Let's pray. God we thank you for this Word and we pray now that you will help us. Help us to have a conception of you that's built on the way you have revealed yourself to be. That we will trust your love and we will trust your power and so we bring ourselves to you with all the brokenness, with all the struggles, we bring ourselves to you in Jesus' name. Amen.

© 2005, Rev. John Schmidt.
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org