We don’t often preach the Psalms. Or, if we do, we preach it with another Gospel reading or story alongside. There’s not really a plot or characters that lead to a simple “moral of the story to tell.” The Psalms are also complicated because they’re full of honesty and they give us a deeply personal account of the human experience that can at times be hard to swallow.
The Psalms are some of the only first person accounts of ancient life that we have in the Bible. Unlike stories that tell us of our ancestors of the faith, these psalms are written by the ancestors of our faith. These prayers speak to us of a fully rounded faith—one filled with both highs and lows.
We meet our Psalmist for today in one of those low times—crying out to God “out of the depths.” She’s telling herself that God is a God who forgives, but she’s still not so sure that means her. Because she’s still not completely sure if she will make it out of the depths. When I’m listening closely enough, I hear my own voice in the Psalmist’s cries. I hear the voices of others—past and present—who cry out to God in a time of deepest need.
The psalm makes me think of a song from The Wailin’ Jennys called “One Voice.” The song starts out, “This is the sound of one voice. One spirit, one voice. The sound of one who makes a choice.” Then another voice is added: “this is the sound of voices two…helpin’ each other to make it through.” When everyone joins, they sing: “this is the song of all of us. Singin’ with love and the will to trust. Leave the rest behind, it will turn to dust.” As more voices join the song, the lyrics tell of a collective strength rising.
The song ends the same as it began, but with new perspective: “this is the sound of one voice. One people, one voice. A song for every one of us.”
This song helps me think of the possibilities when we cry out to God like the Psalmist does. At first, we’re just one voice crying out alone. Then maybe someone else listens. We share our hurt with another person—realizing they could have hurt just like us—and we help each other make it through those hard times. And maybe then we even gain the courage to share our hurt with our community. And this community helps engulf us with love and helps us find the will to trust—to trust in God—and move forward and leave the rest behind.
When we find this community, we realize that the voice crying out is “one voice. One people. One voice.” A collective of all our past and present voices as we have cried out to the God who hears us.
One of my duties and privileges this summer was to travel with the youth to Thailand. I don’t know how many of you have traveled overseas with 20 teenagers before (or just a group that large in general), but it can get interesting. Our trip started by traveling by bus the almost 5 hours to Dulles International Airport and then two separate plane rides totaling around 22 hours to get to Bangkok. If you’ve been on international flights before, you know how challenging it is to sleep and feel well rested when you land.
The key to making it through the trip is to land in the morning and keep going all day. So, that’s what we did. We did a riverboat ride to this awesome market on the canal, we toured a temple, visited a museum, ate the most delicious fried bananas, and walked a lot. These things were all so wonderful, but the high heat, humidity, and lack of sleep left us pretty grouchy. Tempers were a little quick, and we all went our separate ways and crashed at the end of the day.
In the morning, I led our daily meditation. Like almost every gathering I do with the youth, I asked them about the highs and lows of the previous couple of days.
Let me tell you…they did not hold back.
Honestly, most of the things we said were lows. Everyone started admitting how tired they had been the day before, how much their feet hurt, that they were a bit homesick. They voiced things we were all feeling. We realized in that moment of sharing that we were all pretty low the day before, and we needed to share it as a group. We needed a time of collective groaning—a collective “crying out.”
Without prompting from any adults in the room, a few youth started admitting how grumpy they had been and how it had come out badly. And they apologized. To the whole group. We all apologized to each other because almost every one of us needed to apologize for some reason or another.
We continued sharing our highs and lows throughout the week together, and every time we did, I saw community growing deeper and deeper.
When we share like this with one another, we become “one people; one voice.” We didn’t voice the same lows as one another every day, but we chose to hold all of those hard moments as a group—as a community.
When we choose to be in community, we have someone to turn to when we are “in the depths.”
And when we choose to be community for others, we open our ears to hearing their cries. If we practice being “one people; one voice,” we have compassion for those who are hurting. We apologize for the ways in which we have failed them, and we help them move to a place of healing.
The Psalmist prays a prayer for us all, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.”
Will we choose to join her voice?
Will we choose to listen for the voices of others?
Amen and Amen.
During one of the activities at worship in the arts camp this summer, a child was not doing what I’d asked. I won’t go into all the details, but using what I knew about this child, I crafted a brilliant, well researched, fool proof approach, that this seasoned 22 year old knew would work. First, I brought the child aside, one on one. Next, I squatted, eye level with this child. Then, in my kindest voice I said “I had to ask you to listen several times, but you never did. Could you do better next time?”
Gearing myself up for a positive response, I smiled and waited with open ears.
This child looked me right in the eyes and said, “no!”
My well polished behavioral management strategy quickly devolved into begging and pleading, and finally the child relented. “I’ll do what you ask, but onlysometimes, I’m still gonna run around and stuff.”
I accepted this as a temporary compromise and resolved to have more success next time.
I didn’t have any more success.
But, even though I saw no evidence of a behavior change, I kept trying, knowing that through consistent presence and loving support, children will grow and change.
The psalmist in our scripture passage for today could not see the evidence for how the Lord would change his harsh circumstances. But, the psalmist knew that the Lord would. We can all learn something from the psalmist. We should all have that kind of faith in God, knowing that the Lord is present in our lives even when it may be hard to tell.
But additionally, not only does the psalmist believe that the Lord will save Israel, he recognizes that it is precisely the Lord who will save. He puts his hope in the Lord, he waits for the Lord even more than the watchmen wait for morning. His soul longs for the Lord more than anything else.
I believe this longing for the Lord is a universal human experience. But so often we don’t realize that the Lord is what our souls await. So frequently, we forget that what our souls need is far greater than things like money, popularity, or power. But here, the psalmist knows that exactly what he needs is what God alone can provide.
I relate calling to this sense of the Lord filling our souls. When I first felt called to music ministry, I remember moments when the presence of God was undeniable. It was so obvious that God was right there, and had always been there. Yet as those moments get more distant, I forget what my soul awaits.
In a Sunday morning worship service earlier this summer, I was directing the choir, and it had been a while since something sparked nostalgia of my initial calling to music ministry.
When directing, I have a tendency to get lost in my head. I get distracted. I disengage. But that Sunday, when I looked at the faces in the choir, I was brought back. There was a moment of connection, mutual trust between director and singer, engagement together in the process of creation. Breathing together. Moving together. And in that moment when the connection was made, I knew I was known; I knew I was valued; I knew I was loved. And in that moment, I realized what I’d been waiting for.
I can’t say that I started that service in the depths like the speaker of this psalm. Maybe I was at the shore, or farther inland. But hear this, our souls always long for the Lord, no matter where we are. So often when our physical circumstances are fulfilled, the needs of our souls fall off our radars. We forget that what we need is not just food, not just drink, or not just safety. We forget that man cannot live by bread alone. We forget that our souls don’t belong to an earthly power: not to work, not to a nation, but our souls belong to God.
So, wherever you are today, in the depths or on the shore, may you know that even when we forget, and even when it’s hard to see, we are beloved children of the Lord for whom our souls await.
The Mariana Trench is home to the deepest known point in Earth’s oceans. The Challenger Deep is roughly 36,070 feet below sea level. Very few creatures can survive at this depth and few if any flourish. When a human descends too deep into the ocean a great pressure is put upon them. They must look to another, be it instructor or friend to lift them from the water.
Likewise when ones faith and spirit are broken and pushed to new depths it is to the Christian community and to God we turn to pull us out of the depths. We turn with hope toward the steadfast love of God and to the fellowship of the church to rescue us from our inequities. It is not in the nature of Christians to be solitary in our worship. We are a religion built on the foundations of community and compassion. It is these connections and these relationships that have been forged in hope and love that can pull us up from our own dark times.
This summer here at First Baptist I have had the honor of getting to work with your children. Over the course of the summer, I have gotten to see the beginnings of these bonds form between the younger members of this church. Whether it be within the church at Vacation Bible School and Worship in the Arts or on a larger scale, at Passport Kids these loving children have proven to me over and over again that a bond of true friendship is truly a work of God.
On the first day of Worship in the Arts camp, one of the younger girls began to cry after her mom left. She was scared because she didn’t know anyone at the camp. All of the other children were really sweet and she wasn’t alone once for the rest of the day. She left happy and excited for the next day and by the end of the week she had lots of new friends.
All too often these early bonds are overlooked, considered minor to those formed later in life if only because a person can change so much on the path to adulthood. But it is to these early community ties that we look to when forming the bonds of adulthood. We remember these connections as we grow older, even if just for a fleeting moment because it was one of the first glimpses of God’s love we were given. The unconditional love and acceptance of another child.
This year at Passport Kids, I assisted with one of the bible study groups. It was such an amazing thing to see the friendships these children had created after just four days together. These are the beginnings of bonds formed with other churches, that help to strengthen and nurture the Christian community of today, and the community of tomorrow. It is these encounters that give me and so many others hope in the Lord.
It is with this hope and understanding, this passion and steadfast love that we teach our children that will beget a new generation of Christians. A generation that will be open and kind; who will turn to God with a new hope in their hearts; a generation that will add nothing but tolerance and love to this flourishing faith community.
In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote from Mother Teresa. “I alone cannot change the world. But I can cast a stone across the water to create many ripples.”