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June 16, 2019

Sermon Psalm 130 . . .“Bible songs:  Out of the depths”

“Bible songs:  Out of the depths”

Psalm 130

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Rock bottom.  It’s as low as you can go.  They say that when you hit it, you feel as though you’re all alone, that there is no hope, and that your life will never be right again.

Five years ago, a young woman named Beth Leipholtz hit rock bottom.  She graduated in May of 2015 from the College of St. Benedict with a degree in communication, and now works as a newspaper reporter in Alexandria, Minnesota.  And she says she’s thrilled to get to tell stories for a living, maybe because she has some stories of her own.

In her blog, “Life to be continued,” she said that, growing up, she seemed happy, confident, and responsible.  But that was on the outside.  On the inside, she was suffering from anxiety and depression.  And though she never drank in high school, she started drinking her freshman year in college, and couldn’t stop.  Before long, she couldn’t read her class notes or remember much of anything that happened anymore.

And as she spiraled downward, she began to hurt herself and others, physically and verbally, and lost all her friends.  Finally, with a blood alcohol level of .34, (that’s nearly five times the legal limit!), she ended up in a hospital, with her parents huddled in a corner, holding out an ultimatum--either get help or move out.  She chose to get help.

To make a long story short, she grew to accept the fact that she was a twenty-year-old alcoholic, got the help she needed, and has since been sober for five years and counting.

What did she learn when she hit rock bottom?  She said five things.  Number one--there is always light at the end of the tunnel.  Number two--even in your loneliest moments, you are not alone.  Number three--the people who matter will remain by your side.  Number four--people won’t judge you as harshly as you think they will.  And number five--rock bottom is an opportunity to start all over again.

Our Bible song for today is a psalm about hitting rock bottom, and the hope and the help we can find in God.

Please turn in your Bible to page 658, as I read the words of our text.  Psalm 130.  “A Song of Ascents.  Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!  If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.”

“A Song of Ascents,” it says.  It’s a name given to fifteen of the psalms, from Psalm 120 to Psalm 134.  And they’re called that because people sang them as they “went up” to Jerusalem.

And in this group of fifteen psalms, there are five groups of three--always first a psalm of trouble, followed by a psalm of trust, followed by a psalm of triumph.  Solomon wrote one of them, (that’s Psalm 127), and David wrote four.

And because these psalms focus on faith and forgiveness, Luther called them “Pauline psalms,” and even considered them his favorite psalms.  He said:  “They teach us that the forgiveness of sins is granted without the law and without works.”  It’s in these psalms that we find hope amid darkness, comfort for guilty consciences, and relief for burdened souls.

As another author wrote, “While the rest of the Bible speaks to us, the Psalms speak for us.”

Also, Psalm 130 has inspired quite a number of other songs.  For example, back in the early 1700s, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a cantata, (one of his very first cantatas!), based on this psalm, a song that’s been called, “one of the highlights of art ever produced by man.”  And more than fifty others have also written songs based on this very psalm, including Mozart, Handel, and Mendelssohn.

And one more thing--if you were to visit the site of the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany, you’d see the famous iron sign, “Work makes you free,” the barracks, the bunks, the gas chamber, and the crematorium.  And there you’d also find a memorial chapel, that bears the words of Psalm 130:  “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord; O Lord, hear my voice.”

Now we don’t know exactly who wrote this psalm or all the reasons why, but we can guess.  It’s likely not someone who was young and fresh out of school.  Instead, it was written by someone who had lived a hard life, and had learned just how cold and cruel it could be.

Verse 1:  “Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord!  O Lord, hear my voice!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy.”

“Out of the depths,” he said.  In Latin, it’s “De Profundis.”  It’s how we get the word “profound.”  It’s a water image, a picture of ocean depths, like in the words of Psalm 124:  “The flood would have engulfed us...the raging waters would have swept us away,” and the words of Psalm 69:  “Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.  I sink in the miry depths, where there is no foothold.  I have come into the deep waters; the floods engulf me.  I am worn out calling for help; my throat is parched.  My eyes fail, looking for my God.”

And notice just how frantic the psalmist seems to be--”Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord (exclamation point)!  O Lord, hear my voice (exclamation point)!  Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy!”

This isn’t a quiet, introspective cry for help and peace.  He’s pounding on heaven’s doors for mercy!

“Out of the depths” is a time and a place that many of us know only too well, like when you’re wondering if you’re kids will be okay, or if you’ll have enough money for college, or why your family wants nothing to do with you, or what those lab tests are going to say.  Whether our problems are physical, financial, relational, or spiritual, “Out of the depths” is a place of deep and personal pain.

When do you cry to the Lord “out of the depths”?  When you understand that you have no one else to turn to and nowhere else to go, when you realize that your very life rests in the hands of God.  It’s when you learn that no matter how deep your pit may be, God’s love is deeper still.

Paul Aurandt tells the story of one of the fastest rising young singers back in the early 50’s.  He was called “The Romantic Voice of America.”  Teenage girls would give anything to see him, but strangely he never appeared anywhere, not even in photographs.  He was strictly a radio voice.

And it didn’t take long before radio station KFRC in San Francisco was flooded with teenage fan mail, begging for signed photographs.  But none were ever sent.  The golden voice was heard, but the person behind it was never seen.

Until one day, a young girl snuck into the studio, hoping to catch a glimpse of her idol.  And when she saw him, she was overwhelmed--not with awe, but with laughter.  You see, the Romantic Voice of America was not at all what she expected him to be.  He was 5 ft. 10, and weighed 260 pounds.  

And he was so embarrassed by her laughter, that he went on a grueling diet, lost eighty pounds in four months, then eventually went on to perform on TV.

You know his name?  Merv Griffin.

Or think of the apostle Paul.  Anyone could have told you he was as low as anyone could go.  He wrote in the book of Galatians:  “You have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”  The Bible says he ravaged the church, broke into homes, and dragged men and women to prison.

And if that wasn’t enough, the Lord pierced him with a thorn in the flesh.  And it hurt so deep, that he prayed three times for relief.  But each time, the Lord said:  “My power perfects your weakness.  My grace is all you need.”

In the words of Francis Scott Key, composer of our national anthem:  “Nothing but Christianity will give you the victory.  Until a man believes in his heart that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Master...his course through life will be neither safe nor pleasant.  My only regret is that I was so long blinded by my pleasures, my vices and pursuits, and the examples of others, that I was kept from seeing, admiring, and adoring the marvelous light of the gospel.”

Now look at verse 3:  “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But with You there is forgiveness, that You may be feared.”

What do you think is the most beautiful word in the Bible?  There are many.  Faith is a beautiful word, and so are hope and love.  Peace, grace, and salvation are beautiful words too.

But by far the greatest word in all of the Bible is the word “forgiveness.”  As it says in verse 4:  “But with You, there is forgiveness.”

And what makes it the most beautiful word?  Because “forgiveness” cancels out the saddest word in the Bible, the word “sin.”  And it’s the most beautiful word, because it’s the costliest word, for our forgiveness cost the life of God’s only Son.

As someone put it:  “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.  If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent a scientist.  If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent an economist.  If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer.  But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”

No wonder the psalmist wrote in verse 5:  “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His Word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.”

One more thing--if you know anything about the game of chess, you know that the King is the most important piece.  And while Rooks can move forward and backward and side to side, Bishops can move diagonally, and Queens can move most anywhere they please, Kings can only move one space at a time.  And the main goal of chess is to trap your opponent’s King.  And when the King is checked, he has to get out of check immediately.  If he can’t, it’s called a “checkmate.”  You lose and the game is over.

Back in the 1800s, an artist by the name of Friedrich Retzsch painted a work he called, “The Chess Players.”  Seated on the left side of the table, with a feather in his cap, is Satan himself, his long finger resting on his curly beard.  On the other side is a young man, probably in his late teens.  And behind them stands an angel, watching in sad wonder.  And they’re playing a game of chess.

Look at Satan’s face, and you’ll see his leering, triumphant expression because he knows he just won.  And the boy’s head is bowed, tears trickling down his cheeks.  He’s given up, because his king is trapped.  He’s lost the game of life.

But one day, or so the story goes, as the painting was on exhibit in the Louvre, a chess master took a good look at that painting.  He felt sorry for the boy, and hated the Devil’s looks.

And as he studied the board and where all the pieces were placed, all of a sudden he shouted, “The boy can win!  The King has another move!”

Sometimes it seems we too have lost the game of life, and Satan has won after all.  But the King has another move.

In fact, the King always has another move.  A little boy had just two fish and a few loaves of bread, never enough to feed thousands.  But the King had another move.

Daniel was thrown in a den full of hungry lions.  Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a fiery furnace.  And a woman caught in the act was about to be stoned by a group of angry men.  But the King had another move.

And on Good Friday, when men mocked Him, beat Him, spit on Him, and nailed Him to a tree, they were sure they had won.  But the King had another move.

No matter who we are, no matter how deep our despair, the King has another move.  And that’s why the psalmist couldn’t help but write:  “O Israel, hope in the Lord!  For with the Lord is steadfast love, and with Him is plentiful redemption.  And He will redeem Israel from all his sin.”

 

How blessed we are, dear Lord, to know You as our Master and King.  Hear our voice as we cry out to You and listen to our pleas for mercy, that we may find our help and hope in You.  This we ask for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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