The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: July 1, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Leigh Mackintosh, Associate Rector of St. Michael’s Church
In dark times like these, I find myself at a loss for what to do or say — sometimes even how to pray. Whenever I find myself journeying through these times of trial, I turn to the Psalms – a wonderful collection of ancient Hebrew prayers that give voice to our human fears, gratitude, joys, and longings for God. These prayers are the poetry of humanity evoking elation and weariness, joy and despair, faith and doubt – all that this earthly life has to offer. These prayers written over the course of 700 years of Jewish history continue to express awe at the beauty of Creation, offer hope for justice and bring solace in the face of suffering. (paraphrase Mark Bussell – White Light Festival)
Not only do the words and images of the Psalms bring us comfort and courage, but they connect us with fellow spiritual companions on the way. Praying the Psalms means walking with a people who know what it means to live and pray and wait for God from the depths.
And today’s Psalm is no different. Listen again to the Psalmist who journeys through the depths of worldly chaos and the darkness of human sin to find hope in God’s steadfast love. A love that redeems, reconciles, renews.
From the depths I called you,
Lord, hear my voice,
May your ears listen close to the voice of my plea.
Were you O God to watch for wrongs,
Who could endure?
For forgiveness is yours that you may be held in awe.
I hoped for the Lord, my being hoped,
And for his word I waited,
My being hoped for God, more than the dawn-watchers watch for the dawn.
Wait, O Israel for the Lord,
For with God is steadfast love,
And great power to redeem.
And He will redeem Israel from all its wrongs.
(trans. Robert alter)
Out of the depths I cry to you…Psalm 130 is part of the Songs of Ascent, a series of short prayers that Jewish pilgrims would memorize and sing along their journey up to Jerusalem to celebrate the high holy days. In particular, Psalm 130 was sung by a people who had lost their homes, their country, their spiritual community due to Israel’s struggles with internal strife, divisions, and wars with foreign nations. (sound vaguely familiar?!)
These pilgrims were exiles journeying out of the Diaspora – a dispersed people living in desert lands who knew what it meant to live in the depths. The Diaspora – those desert places of life where one waits for God longing for redemption and deliverance. It is the journey through these places that teaches us something of the steadfast love of God.
Living in the Diaspora means being in the desert places of life where one waits and longs for God’s redemption and deliverance. Journeying through these places teaches us something of the steadfast love of God.
The Jews living in the Diaspora would have been living in Babylon or Egypt or the Middle East — desert places with hostile, extreme weather conditions. Places where water is scarce and where life struggles to survive. And yet, it is in these hostile, harsh desert lands that we find the most gracious cultures of hospitality and welcome on the planet.
The Diaspora – the land of the exile, the refugee, the immigrant. The land that shaped these beautiful prayers. The the land that shaped the love of Jesus, a love born into a poor refugee family that grew up to heal the sick, raise the dead, and journey through the long dark night of suffering and death on the cross so that we could move out of the depths of chaos and sin into the dawn of a new life a new creation.
This is the hope we hold onto as we journey through the Diaspora of living in America today. This is the steadfast love that we continue to follow through the long dark night of our own struggles.
We have all had times when we have journeyed through the Diaspora. Some of us are like those in our gospel reading today who live to see and experience the dawn of God’s miraculous healing and deliverance.
But others of us are like the Psalmist – still struggling through the long dark night of suffering – still watching and waiting and hoping that God’s steadfast love will win out.
Anne Frank was a pilgrim living in the diaspora. A young Jewish girl who spent most of her youth moving or hiding from the Nazis. At age 15, she and her family were captured and sent on the last train to Auschwitz. She was later transferred to Bergen-Belsen where she died a few weeks before the camp was liberated.
Anne never saw the end of the long dark night of the Holocaust. She never lived to see the dawn of a new day where the evils of the Nazi regime were finally overthrown and defeated. But she found a way to wait for the Lord in hope — through her writing she offers a light of courage and compassion for the world. She writes:
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
We do not know how long the night will last, but we know we do not walk this path alone.
This week I invite you be a pilgrim in Diaspora — to pray Psalm 130 once a day. Perhaps memorize or carry it around with you so you can pray it when you need it. Let the hope and faith and love and strength of those pilgrims who journeyed out of the depths enlighten your path and bring you peace.