Deep Calls to Deep – Lectionary 06/23/2019

Psalm 42 and 43

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me. By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?” As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; from those who are deceitful and unjust deliver me! For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you cast me off? Why must I walk about mournfully because of the oppression of the enemy? O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and I will praise you with the harp, O God, my God.

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.

Sermon Text

Suffering is never easy, and it never gets easier. There is never a time when the losses of this life do not have some sort of sting attached to them. We do not mourn as those without hope, but we do mourn. There is something which is lost when someone passes away, or we lose something which we had become attached to in life. The promise of faith is not that we do not suffer, or that suffering is somehow made into a good thing because we have faith, but that our suffering is not meaningless. There is something that can come out of the barrenness of the darkest night, not because God orchestrated them to educate us – but because God is in the business of redemption and mending.

Today’s scripture begins with a familiar prayer, “As the deer panteth for water, so panteth my soul for God.” We know the hymn, and we love the image of God satisfying our needs. What we miss in many of our readings, especially if we are only thinking of the hymn – is that the psalmist is not writing from a place of comfort. No, like many of the Psalms the author is writing from the depths of despair – crying out to God and demanding water to spring up in the desert – not sitting beside a quiet stream.

The Psalmist is seen here as having suffered, they cannot find any relief, they look everywhere for relief from God – they ask only to see God’s face! They do not though, they see themselves as already in the pit, already in the grave. Even though they live, they might as well be dead. They do not see hope, they do not see joy, they are living in the lowest points of their life, and they cannot fathom ever escaping from it. There is great darkness, there is no reasonable chance of deliverance. All people would look at them and say, “Here is someone who has lost everything, where is there God?”

The question comes naturally. Whenever we suffer something extreme, we cannot just write it off as part of God’s plan. We cannot say it is not a big deal. We feel it deep within ourselves, and if we are honest we are more likely to say it is counter to our understanding of God – not in line with it. The cry of our broken heart is the same as what Christ yelled out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” Such concerns come naturally, even to God. When we suffer so terribly, we know it is wrong, that it doesn’t fit into the way things should be. Even God knows that.

What stands out is the way in which the Psalmist, even in the depths of despair and completely unsure of what is going on, calls to God. It is an accusative cry, one that is willing to say that something is wrong with what is going on, but it is a cry that is fundamentally seeking to be answered. The answer does not even have to be an explanation, it only needs to be a confirmation that someone is there. The Psalmist does not need to know why they are suffering, they need to “see the Face of God.”

The Psalmist believes that God will show up again. They offer up a promise to worship God if they are allowed to make it through this trouble. They are not holding this in front of God, trying to bribe or extort, but are expressing the state of things. “God, I cannot worship you in this state, I am too heartbroken to sing songs to you. I’m not you’re even there. Answer me, I do not even need to be where I used to be – I just need to know there is a future!” The future promise of praise is not a bribe, but another cry to God. An expression of the desire the Psalmist feels to return to a proper relationship with God.

What stands out above anything else in these Psalms comes in one of the closing remarks of Psalm. “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.” If that does not chill you the bone, I do not know what could.

The word here in Hebrew is the same as what is used in Genesis to describe the formless waters before creation. Deep here refers not only to the depth of feeling which the Psalmist feels, or the depths of God’s love – but the unknown expanses which the two parties are entering into. God knows the pain of the Psalmist, but until that pain is given a voice the Psalmist cannot feel they are being heard. Likewise, while the Psalmist is trapped in the depths of their despair they are lost in the darkness which has covered them.

The description of this mystery and the way that the deep things of God are related to creation are further intensified when we consider the mysteries of creation. By tying the relationship between the suffering Psalmist and God to Genesis, the scripture puts suffering into a universal context. This does not make it so that our suffering is small in comparison to the vastness of the universe, but instead deepens how we see our suffering and how God interacts with it.

Our universe was set into motion around fourteen billion years ago. Hot forges of proto-matter burned in the gravity of a million million stars. Explosions, black holes, and a variety of other cosmic events led to the eventual formation of galaxies. These galaxies, with their millions of stars, produced some that had planets, and on one single planet sprouted up life. This life, like the rest of the universe around it was made up of atoms, smaller than can ever be seen. These atoms banded together to form molecules, and molecules banded together to make DNA, tissues, organic structures that all life contains.

The complexity of creation does not prove God. If we depend on things we do not understand to “prove” God, we open the door for later people who do understand them to “disprove” God. A naturalist could explain creation arising naturally out of Chaos, we are not special because we draw a different conclusion out of the complexity of the universe.

What is instead evident is that, as we are people who have faith not as a rational decision from evidence but from spiritual realities that have been revealed to us, is that such a complex universe deepens the depths in which God resides. That so infinite and complex a God as could make the smallest atom and greatest of the galactic networks which web their way through the universe, cares for us – that is the wonder which our prayer reveals to us. Deep calls to deep, the universes which construct in our imagination and the pain which we suffer in them – these interface with the universe around us, with the universe which was made by the God whose face we seek.

Surveying the works of God’s hands, we see how wonderful creation truly is. However, a beautiful sunset is not always the cure for our pain. Suffering is not made beautiful because of the beauty of something unrelated to us. However, that such beauty came out of the formless void, out of the deeps which existed before all else – this gives us reason to hope. Hope, that is the essence of how we survive pain. Not necessarily hope that the pain ever ends, but that the pain isn’t meaningless at the end of it all.

The Psalmist does not depend on deliverance as their primary means to escape their pain. They look around them and see that they may in fact die, that there may in fact be an end to them in their present state. Nonetheless, they hold onto the goodness of God. They are overwhelmed by the goodness, the creative potential of God. Carried away in the waters which flow from the void of ignorance, and into the light of understanding and life.

The Psalmist calls out and asks that God would do what God in the beginning. Cry out, “let there be light!” and in so doing, “send out your light and your truth.” God hears the prayer of God’s people and those who trust in God receive this light. It is not always a physical deliverance that follows, but it is entering into a new God-oriented perspective.

For those of us in the Church today our light which burst into the darkness was in the person of Christ. The Way, the Truth, and the Light of all creation did not tear through the dark but entered into it. Christ stepped down and entered into our limited human bodies. Taking on the form of a human being, of a slave, God shone light into the world like it had never seen before. It was a light like no other when it was crushed and snuffed out it lit again brighter than ever. The death of Christ, the descent of God into the pit which we were trapped in, was completed with that pit’s destruction and the illumination of all the world.

God does not always give us answers, and sometimes we are not restored to the place we were or the place we want to be. What is true is that God is always somewhere nearby, always extending the truth of the divine light to us. Sometimes that light will be completely obstructed by the darkness of life, the chaos of the deep seems insurmountable. We cannot deal with the mysteries within us or within God. What remains even in that darkness – that is hope.

Hope is not something which is used to silence the pained voices of the world. It is something which stands beside those in pain. Christ did not come into the world to silence those that sufferer. Christ came into the world to become a suffering person, to be in solidarity with all those who ever suffered. Hope is the promise of a light which will burst out one day and erase all doubt. It is not the promise that suffering will make sense, or every question will be answered, but that somehow at the end of it all – we will understand the love of God fully.

Today, let us not strive for any particular action. Today, let us commit ourselves to hope – and let us think that is enough for now. – Amen.

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