“Hope in the Lord” – Third Sunday of COVID 19
Psalm 130, John 11 (selected verses)
Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 29, 2020
Friends, this is the fifth Sunday in Lent and the third Sunday of COVID 19.
This is the third Sunday that we have not been able to gather together as we normally would
in the beautiful sanctuary with family and friends.
I miss you guys. I miss sitting in front of the choir and hearing them sing on Sunday mornings.
I miss sitting with you at round tables at Wednesday night dinners.
I miss checking in with our volunteers every day at the reception desk.
I miss the constant activity of the church office, with people of all ages coming and going all the time.
It is strange for the church building to be dark and quiet in the middle of a Thursday afternoon.
But, as we all know, the Church is not the building.
The Church is you and me, and we will carry on. We will “keep calm and carry on.”
The phrase “Keep calm and carry on” originated in the summer of 1939,
in preparation for the expected bombing of London during World War II.
The Queen Mum, as she was called, the wife of King George,
was much beloved for her fearless visits with people on the streets.
Upon witnessing their anxieties and fears, the Queen Mum concluded,
in her very British manner, that what was needed was “some jolly signs to boost the spirits”.
One of the outcomes of that sentiment was the iconic poster that displayed a royal Tudor crown
along with the now famous words, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Though only a few of the posters were ever displayed during the war,
the poster was rediscovered in the year 2000 in a bookshop and millions have been printed since.
And a fair number of knockoffs have been created, including the t-shirts
at the Raging Burrito restaurant across the street from our church.
The staff t-shirts there include the Tudor crown and the words: “Keep calm and eat a burrito”.
And yes, if you’re wondering, Raging Burrito does serve especially delicious fat burritos,
and they provided the Speed family with a wonderful take out meal last Saturday.
“Keep calm and eat a burrito.” “Keep calm and carry on.”
The sentiment may be easy to say, but the advice can be difficult to follow.
Before we “carry on” and turn to hear God’s Word in Holy Scripture, let us turn to God in prayer.
For today’s Prayer for Illumination, I invite you to repeat after me:
Holy God…through the power of your Holy Spirit…illuminate…
this reading of Holy Scripture… that it may accomplish…what you intend…Amen.
Our Old Testament reading for this fifth Sunday of Lent is the Lectionary psalm,
the psalm proscribed for the day, Psalm 130.
Psalm 130 is a psalm of disorientation; it is a cry for help from the depths of despair.
As you may have heard me say before, the psalms of Holy Scripture break down into three categories:
– the psalms of orientation, which include phrases like:
“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised,” and,
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in harmony!”
Then, there are the psalms of disorientation,
when life is not experienced as “roses and mountaintops”,
but more like the valley of the shadow of death.
A full one-third of the 150 psalms speak to the troubled times of life.
“How long, O Lord, wilt thou hide thyself forever?”
“Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint; preserve my life from the dread enemy.”
When relationships are confused, when plans are frustrated,
when we don’t know where we are going and when we will get there,
the psalms of disorientation deal with the raw reality of humanity life –
the brokenness, the anger, the uncertainty and the grief.
As Walter Brueggemann wrote, the psalms of disorientation cry out to God from the risky places –
the places where we find ourselves afraid and no longer in control. (Brueggemann, p. 53)
There is a third category of psalms called the psalms of new orientation.
These psalms are for those who have been through the deep valley,
who have prayed the prayers of disorientation and have received their deliverance.
New orientation psalms are for later this year, perhaps this summer,
when we will stand on the other side of this crisis,
hopefully with a sense of gratitude and praise.
Perhaps by sometime this summer, we will have discovered new life and new hope.
Our psalm for today, Psalm 130, was one of the favorites of Martin Luther.
Luther claimed that this psalm teaches the basic truth of the gospel –
which is, our human predicament and our dependence upon the grace of God.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, was moved by Psalm 130.
Wesley heard this psalm sung on the very afternoon of his life-transforming experience
on Aldersgate Street. It was there that Wesley’s heart was strangely warmed within him,
and the religious world took a bit of a turn that evening. (Mays, p.405)
Friends, if your life feels oriented today, with nothing amiss,
this psalm may not speak to you.
But if you have found yourself, at any point during the past days or weeks,
experiencing a dip in your emotional or spiritual well-being, this psalm just may be for you.
The psalm acknowledges our human situation and seeks to bring hope in the midst of anxiety.
Hear the Word of God. Psalm 130
Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The psalmist cries out: I wait for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.
The psalmist refers to the ones who keep watch at night, in the early predawn hours,
the ones stay awake and keep watch from 3am to 6am in order to keep their kindred safe.
There can be much anxiety in keeping watch, in waiting,
especially when one is feeling the burden of the well-being of others.
Those who watch for the morning are tired, afraid, impatient for a new day to begin.
They are desperate for relief from their responsibility,
and so they endure the present moment with anxious anticipation of a day they cannot yet see.
There will be much anxious waiting and anticipating in the coming weeks,
waiting for the curve to flatten, anticipating the news to change,
waiting for a return to normal schedules, anticipating the availability of an immunization.
There will be a great need for patience, patience with all the implications of this virus
and, certainly, patience with one another.
There will be a strong need to persevere, to keep calm and carry on,
to carry on with keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe and well.
We all wish we knew when this was going to end.
I wish I could tell you that we’ll be out and about soon,
that we will be worshiping and breaking bread together soon,
but we just do not yet know. The news changes every 24 hours.
To wait and hope in the Lord in the midst of uncertainty is to “have confidence
that things as they are are not as they will be. Life will be transformed.” (Brueggemann, p. 106)
O Israel, hope in the Lord, for with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with the Lord is great power to redeem.
Hope is powerful. Hope does not disappoint.
In Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (5:1-5)
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand;
and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
and hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
Hope is powerful. Hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts,
and when we know God’s love in our hearts,
we have experienced that “with the Lord there is great power to redeem.”
The Lord will redeem us from all our iniquities, the Scripture claims.
Sometimes, those iniquities are the bad things that we have done or said to one another.
And other times, those iniquities refer to the things we have neglected to do for one another
or say to one another.
Sometimes, iniquities refer to, as some biblical scholars say, “missing the mark”,
not living as faithfully or as righteously as we could be living in our relationship with God or others.
Perhaps, in these different and strange days, we may all learn some ways to live more faithfully
with God and with others, for God and for others.
The psalmist reminds us that there are possibilities with God that we cannot yet imagine.
Through God’s love, with God’s power to redeem, new life can spring up when we least expect it.
New possibilities can emerge, even from the depths, so that once again,
our hopes will not be disappointed.
The companion to Psalm 130 is Psalm 131.
In contrast to the anxious despair from the depths,
the very next psalm portrays a weaned child at peace in her mother’s arms.
Hear Psalm 131:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul within me is like a weaned child.
A weaned child in the arms of her mother is calm, patient, not grasping for food or help,
not anxious about world problems that are not within her sphere to control.
For those who cry out from the depths, this very next psalm reminds us that God
is like a loving mother who reaches down to the depths and picks up her crying child,
who holds her child in her strong arms and grants the child strength and peace
beyond the child’s own capacities.
The other side of our redemption is not confidence is our own abilities to overcome,
but a calm and sure trust in a God who loves us, who has seen our situation,
and who has delivered us once again.
Whatever depths you may experience this week or in the weeks to come, hope in the Lord.
Hope in the Lord of creation, who spoke order out of chaos at the beginning of time.
Hope in the Lord of freedom, who brought deliverance and exodus for the slaves of Egypt.
Hope in the Lord of new beginnings, who wrought the return from exile for the captives of Babylon.
Hope in the Lord of resurrection, who empowered new life even from death on Golgotha.
Friends, the challenges and fears of this season will not last forever; this too shall pass.
And so we do our part; as we “keep calm and carry on”,
let our ultimate hope be in the Lord Jesus Christ who, even from the cross cried out:
“In your hands (O God), I commend my spirit.”
“Hope in the Lord from this time on and forevermore…
for it is the Lord who will redeem us from all our iniquity.”
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church