Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.
Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption.
He himself will redeem Israel
from all their sins.
Everyone has a weakness – even superheroes! Superman has an aversion to kryptonite, Samson was undone when his hair was cut. Will, who has been leading worship today, has a deep seated fear of tambourines. Even my wife, Lorraine, who is perfect in every other way, has a deep seated, irrational fear of spiders.
My fear, and weakness, is heights. I can just about manage to stand on a stool, but anything higher than that has me shaking in fear. I can’t climb high ladders, go on scaffolding or do high wire courses. I can’t even watch Mission Impossible! A number of years ago I experienced an extremely bizarre episode. At that point I was working on Skegoneill Avenue, and I went into the Grove Baths for a swim most lunchtimes. I splashed happily up and down the main pool, which doubled as a diving pool. At that time I had extremely poor eyesight, which is now corrected, and I couldn’t really see what was going on. I decided I would be able to navigate a lot better if I bought some prescription goggles, so I got these and was really looking forward to my first swim wearing them. I put them on and jumped into the pool and – bang- I was hanging on to the side completely paralysed. Because of the goggles I could see the bottom of the pool 15 feet below me – washed off elastoplasts and all. That triggered my fear of heights. Although I had gone through the same routine countless times I could now see the drop below me. I felt as though I would flounder and hit the bottom of the pool.
Obviously that didn’t happen. I am fairly buoyant, but my fear was real. I panicked and lost my trust in the water to support and carry me as it had so many times before.
Psalm 130, which Emma read for us, is fantastic. It is one of the Lectionary passages for this Sunday. God sometimes – often – puts the perfect piece of Scripture right where we need to read it. Here the Psalmist is calling from the depths. I had the irrational fear of hitting the bottom, but he was already there. He was in a dark and scary place. The Jewish people were not great seafarers. They were frightened of the sea – even the Sea of Galilee, which is less than half the size of Lough Neagh. They saw the sea as a place of fear, chaos and darkness. It was where the pagan gods, such as Baal, were said to live.
The psalmist was in the worst possible place. He could go no lower, and he pleads with God to hear him – v 2 – to hear his voice and to show him mercy in this darkest of places.
I have no doubt that many of you listening in today are feeling much like the Psalmist. These are dark days, people are scared of catching the Coronavirus. They are concerned about elderly parents, children, family members who are front line workers. They are scared about financial security, of job security. There is no denying that we are in a dark place, and people are scared.
I am writing this at 8.30 on Thursday evening. I hope many of you were part of the round of applause that took place half an hour ago across the country in support of NHS workers. I work in the NHS, and I have had a couple of the most pressurised weeks of my career. I know many others have too. My whole estate came out to applaud. I’m not embarrassed to tell you that I can hardly see because tears are running down my face. Many of my colleagues are messaging to say the same Human support has a great role to play. Thank you for the affirmation that the efforts made by the NHS are appreciated, it makes a massive difference. Perhaps after this service you could read 1st Corinthians 12. It’s key point is in v 27 – Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. Each of us has a role to play in supporting each other. Lift the ‘phone, send a text, talk to neighbours. Pray for each other, and share if you have prayer needs. We are one body, if any one part suffers we all do. Look after each other.
The second point is that we are not in this alone. When I was in the pool with poor eyesight I was able to trust the water to hold me up. Seeing what was below me made no real difference, I was still supported. I have no doubt that each of us have been in perilous situations before, and have been completely oblivious. God has carried us over obstacles and fears we were unaware of. Today the darkness, and the depths facing us are certainly more visible. That does not change the psalmist’s faith in God. He repeatedly says that he is waiting on God. The promise in the last verse is that God will redeem not just the psalmist, but all Israel. We are promised God’s unfailing love, full redemption and forgiveness of sins. God is on our side. Like the Psalmist we should call out to Him for help and mercy. United parish, and beyond, “put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption”.