Sermons

"Out of the Depths": Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

"Out of the Depths": Sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost, Year B

Jun 10, 2018

Passage:Psalm 130:1-7

Preacher: The Rev. Mildred Rugger

Series: Pentecost

Category: Love, Forgiveness, Sin

Keywords: forgiveness, love, sin, transformation, trust

Summary:

We can learn from the Psalmist, who cries out to God about sin. Trusting God's unconditional forgiveness for ourselves and others leads to transformation toward loving relationships.

Detail:

In the name of God, who is Love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;LORD, hear my voice.”

When we hear the cry of the Psalmist, we also hear ourselves crying to God out of the dark depths of our own lives. While we might fall into caverns of despair for many reasons, Psalm 130 focuses on sin as a reason.

One Confession of Sin that is a regular part of our worship reminds us of the nature of sin. Sin disrupts the relationships that we're intended to enjoy with our Creator and with all those created by God. The central part of this Confession is:

We have not loved [thee/you] with our whole heart;

we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

The Psalmist recognizes that every individual sins, goes “amiss.”

He also recognizes that his nation, Israel, lives in a state of sin.[i] The good news is that “there is forgiveness with” the LORD. God's forgiveness is offered freely and without condition. It's based solely on God's nature as loving, merciful, and forgiving. It's not earned by any action of our own.[ii]

Our role in regard to forgiveness is to “make it real by internalizing it.”[iii] When we realize that God has already forgiven us and God has already forgiven those around us, we become free from the drive to judge ourselves and others. Instead, “we can participate in God's passion for transformation—of ourselves and the world."[iv]

Redemption, or liberation from bondage to sin,[v] does not happen instantly. This transformation is a process that requires time and frequent reminders of our own sin and God's forgiveness of us and of others. Joining with this congregation in the confession of sin week after week and then hearing the proclamation of God's forgiveness for all of us week after week redeems us, moves us toward transformation, bit by bit.[vi]

Learning to wait for this slow process of God is a difficult spiritual discipline. I love how Psalm 130 hints at that discipline by making us wait . . . and wait . . . and wait . . . and wait to finally get to redemption.

Do we trust in God's unconditional mercy and forgiveness for ourselves? Do we wait for our own transformation, bit by bit? Do we trust in God's unconditional mercy and forgiveness for others? Do we wait for others to be transformed, bit by bit?

If we don't trust, it's easy to fall into a type of thinking that can sabotage relationships. I've observed this problematic thinking often in our nation and sometimes in our congregation and more than I like admitting in my own life. Perhaps you've observed it, too.

What I'm talking about is either-or thinking. In any disagreement or conflict, one side must be the right one. Sometimes “I'm completely wrong; you're completely right.” Honestly, though, it's usually, “I'm completely right; you're completely wrong.” This plays out at home, at work, in church, in our social circles. We may label as “wrong” people whose lives we see up close, people we only see from a distance, people we've never even seen. And this happens oh-so-often these days between groups, especially groups that disagree politically. But the either-or way of thinking is flawed.

If we take Psalm 130 and our Confession of Sin seriously, then we must acknowledge that every single one of us has gone “amiss.”

So it seems possible that we are at least partially wrong when we think we are right. If we take Psalm 130 and the Absolution seriously, then we must acknowledge that God offers forgiveness and redemption—transformation—to every single one of us. So it seems possible that others are at least partially right when we think they are wrong.

A better type of thinking is “both-and.” In any disagreement or conflict, both sides probably have some problematic aspects. We are all sinners who go amiss. And both sides probably have some worthwhile aspects. We all have been created in the image of God and are given opportunities to grow increasingly into that image, bit by bit. This applies on a personal level, and it applies to the divisiveness that plagues our nation.

Personally, I've been in dark depths because of either-or thinking.

And I've experienced God redeeming that situation. Now, there was some waiting involved—about 35 years of waiting! My wonderful friend from Iowa, Adrienne, has given me permission to tell this story.

Adrienne befriended me my first day of kindergarten. We were such an important, cherished part of each other's childhood and youth that we decided to room together as freshmen in college. But I dove head first into a religious group that strongly advocated either-or thinking. Either you conformed to a narrow list of beliefs and behaviors like we did, or you were siding with evil. Adrienne did not conform to that narrow list. I concluded she was siding with evil. For some strange reason, we didn't keep hanging around together.

I continued in that religious group for about 12 years. I met wonderful people and continue to enjoy gifts from that time period, but I finally couldn't stomach labeling so many people as siding with evil.

After I left that group, I soon started thinking about Adrienne, the friend I had lost. For many years, I felt a strong sense of shame whenever I thought of her. I was still in either-or thinking, but reversed:

I was wrong, and she was right. By this time, I lived far away, but sometimes visited in Iowa. On a few occasions, I had some contact with Adrienne, but I always felt a great emotional distance between us.

As Adrienne has since told me, she also was operating in either/or thinking; in her mind, she was right. In college, she labeled me a “religious nut” and wrote me off as a lost cause. When we met from time to time in later years, she wasn't ready to forgive me for being so wrong and hurtful.

After 30 years of this painful separation, Adrienne and I met again for a few hours; we were politely distant. But soon after that meeting, we each began a time of pretty intense transformation in our own lives. We each experienced strong lessons in how badly we sometimes treated others. We each began to learn why we acted in ways that later made us feel ashamed. We each learned that we could be forgiven. We each started to forgive ourselves. We each learned something about waiting for redemption.

Finally, about 35 years after our friendship was broken, I arranged to meet Adrienne again. I apologized for how I had acted toward her in college. But that's not all I said. I also explained why it was important for me at that time in my life to be part of such a structured world where right and wrong seemed so clearly defined.

Adrienne apologized to me for writing me off as a religious nut and not being open to forgiving me sooner. We both spoke of the pain we had experienced because of our lost friendship. And then we began rebuilding our friendship. Now we have a long phone conversation most weeks and visit each other as often as we can manage. And our friendship is better than it ever was. Redemption is beautiful.

I hope you can recall similar personal stories of sin and forgiveness and redemption after waiting for transformation. If you are in the middle of one of those personal stories, I encourage you to trust that redemption will come. I encourage us all to apply these lessons from our personal lives to larger societal issues. Let us truly listen to those who disagree with us and look for the good in their views. Let us be a force to end the divisiveness that plagues our nation.

In all these contexts, Psalm 130 can be adapted as a prayer of rejoicing, a prayer for perseverance, a prayer for transformation.

Out of the depths have I called to you, O LORD;

LORD, hear my voice.

If you, LORD, were to note what is done wrong,

O Lord, none of us could stand.

But there is forgiveness with you.

I wait for the LORD; my soul waits for God;

in God's loving word is my hope.

My soul waits for the LORD,

when it seems the light will never shine,

when it seems the light will never shine.

O Nation, wait for the LORD,

for with the LORD there is mercy;

With God there is transformation,

and God shall redeem us from all our sins. Amen.

 

[i] D. Cameron Murchison, “Psalm 130: Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, Volume 3. 2009, Westminster John Knox Press, p. 104.

[ii] Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—and How They Can Be Restored. 2011, Harper Collins, pp. 154-155.

[iii] Borg, Speaking Christian, p. 155

[iv] Borg, Speaking Christian, p. 156

[v] “Redeemer” in http://archive.episcopalchurch.org/109399_15183_ENG_HTM.htm

[vi] Anthony Baker, from the Iona Initiative, 2015, Year Three Theology and Ethics, Unit 3 “Creation, Anthropolgy, and Election” p. 7 and Unit 4 “Sin and Liberation” p. 4