Good morning. If I can, I would like to start with a confession. The only confession is that I am a sinner. Any other sinners in the room? I confess that sometimes I have a misguided understanding of how God deals with sinners, particularly how he deals with them when they die and when they go to heaven. I don’t know about you, but occasionally I have this idea that when I die and go to heaven and I am standing at the pearly gates, God is going to say just a minute. He is going to pull a file from a file cabinet with my name on it. He is going to list my sins one by one ever since the day I was born. Anybody afraid of that? I do get afraid of it occasionally, but then I realize this would be impossible because the line would be too long as God reads off all of the sins of all the people. Then I realize he has all of eternity to do it, so he could do it. The good news is that, as we look at Psalm 130 today, God not only keeps no record of sins, but he actually forgives all our sins and gives us full redemption in Jesus Christ. We are going through this series called The Psalms of Ascents, which are basically psalms that were believed to be sung by the Jews as they would ascend up to Jerusalem for the three annual pilgrimages of the year. Some believe these are also a metaphor for the spiritual life and how we ascend up to God. Consequently, as we try to become disciples, people who are learning to live everyday life like Jesus, these psalms and really all the psalms are a helpful guide for how we can move towards Christ-likeness.
Today, what I would like to do, since the psalm is only eight verses long, is read through it together. (Scripture read here.) If you were reading along and paying attention, you might have picked up that this is a psalm of despair. Somebody who is in deep, deep trouble. We know that by the opening verse that says “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; O Lord hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” The idea of depths is often used in the Old Testament to speak of how somebody is really in deep trouble. Up to their neck in trouble. We see in the story of Jonah we actually see Jonah making the statement “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” We also see in Psalm 69 where David says “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 like how Eugene Peterson says the opening line in The Message when he says “Help God – the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! Listen hard! Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.” I am sure there are people in this room, including myself, that have had times where you feel like you are in the depths. You are in a sinkhole. You are sinking. You can’t get out. You are in deep, deep trouble of some sort. Although we are not sure exactly where these things come from, a lot of them come from outside influences. A lot of the reasons that we get thrown into a pit could be that we all of a sudden find ourselves in a financial situation or a broken relationship, a broken marriage, or even the loss of a loved one. All of those things can throw us into a pit of despair. Although we don’t know exactly what caused this psalmist to go into the pits of despair and into the depths, some would suggest by his words and the way he expresses himself that really the reason he is in this deep, deep trouble is become of some sort of sin. Some sort of moral failure in life. So much so that he cries out again “Open your ears! Listen to my cries for mercy.” Although this is not one of the psalms that are more the happy psalms, the psalms we like to meditate on and think about, really it is a psalm that has some good lessons in it.
The first is that when we do find ourselves, for whatever reason, in that pit of despair, we are not alone. God is with us. God is attentive to our cries for help. This is good news. What often happens is, especially if we are caught up in some sort of a moral sin, a failure, what do we do? We tend to want to isolate ourselves. We tend to want to bury ourselves in our shame. We want to hide from people. We don’t want to face the questions of people. Questions like what happened to that person that you used to be with? I haven’t seen your wife in a while? I haven’t seen you at work for a while. What was going on? We just don’t want to answer those types of questions. Although we can hide from our neighbors and friends, we really can’t hide from God. Psalm 139 pretty much makes it clear that there is nowhere we can hide from God. David writes “Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” You are everywhere. Now when I read this verse about not being able to flee from God, I think like some of you, you probably find it discouraging or a little bit discomforting and at the same time kind of comforting. It is discomforting in the sense that you think about every sin that you commit in word, thought, deed, whether in the privacy of your own home or the privacy of your own mind that you really can’t hide from God. He sees all. That is kind of discomforting. It is comforting in the sense that the God who sees all is also the God who can forgive all. The God who sees all of your sins is also the same God who can forgive all your sins.
As we continue on, we are reminded that we do worship a God of forgiveness. He goes on to write “If you, O Lord, kept a record of my sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.” Going back to thinking about the idea that when we get to heaven we have this fear there will be a big file drawer with our names in it. Nowadays, we think of a spreadsheet or sorts. This massive spreadsheet that has all our names and our sins are color coded according to category. Green for the sin of greed. Red for the sin of lust. Or blue for the sin of lying or something like that. I don’t think I would want to see a spreadsheet like that on my own. The good news is that spreadsheet doesn’t exist. Because if it did exist, what the psalmist says, who then could stand? In other words, who could stand in confidence before God? No one. Even the best of saints. We think of Mother Theresa who was actually just made a saint. I think she would be the first to admit that in her heart she had committed sins. When it comes to this record-keeping idea, it just doesn’t exist. The only reason you would keep records is to present evidence against you. Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is no need for evidence. One of the basic, basic, basic tenets of Christianity that we see in Christianity 101 is that God forgives us through the blood of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul said to the early first church “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” That should get an amen from somebody. It doesn’t mean that we are going to be free from any sort of earthly consequences of our sins. There will be earthly consequences. There often is. Some people are still paying consequences from sins long, long ago. When we get to heaven, our sins are covered. We see in Psalm 32 where it says “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” We also see in Psalm 103 where it says “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” Again, east is pretty far from the west to make the point that he has forgiven our sins. If you need a New Testament passage, a good one comes out of 1 John. It says “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” The optimal word here is confess. We need to confess our sins. If we want to move from the heaviness and darkness of despair to the blessings of forgiveness, we have to go by way of confession and go by way of the confessional. I was thinking about this. Any Catholics or former Catholics here? So you have been to the confessional. I was raised Catholic, but I have problems with some of the traditions of the Catholic Church. The one tradition I think is actually pretty good is the tradition of going to a confessional. Bearing your sins to the priest. It is a benefit at least to be able to get it off your chest to someone who seems to care. Some of you are probably thinking that is the reason I left the Catholic Church. I don’t have to confess my sins to anybody but to God. I would say maybe, maybe not. I would ask you, which is easier, confess your sins to God or confess your sins to another person? Personally speaking, I find it a lot more difficult confessing my sins to another brother in the Lord than I do to God. I would suggest that that is something you may consider. In fact, I would say it was kind of a commandment for Protestants to continue that tradition of confession. The book of James says it pretty clearly. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” This is probably one of those passages we just put aside. We like the book of James but this one is a nice thought, but I really don’t want to do it. We forget that this idea of confession is what is referred to as a spiritual practice, a spiritual discipline that has been happening at church since the beginning of time. I would suggest that if you are not doing this on an occasional basis, you are not only being disobedient, but you may be missing out on the healing of the soul that comes by way of confessing your sins to a caring brother or caring sister and having that person pray over you and say your sins are forgiven in the name of Jesus Christ. Now go away and sin no more. There is something very powerful about that because many of you need to hear that your sins are forgiven.
Going back to the Psalm, we are reminded that God is in the middle of our sinkhole. He is in the middle of our depths. We are reminded that all who put their faith in God, in Christ, the forgiveness is there. It doesn’t stop there. As I have said before, we are not simply about trying to get that ticket into heaven so we can take the shortcut from the long line and go right through the gate. We are healed for a reason. We are forgiven for a reason that we might be able to be restored and be useful for God. We are created to do good works. I believe it is in Ephesians 2:10. We were all created to do good works. To be a partner with God as he continues on his mission. I know there are people that just kind of stay in the fringes of church. They have been going to church for years. Maybe they got caught up in a sin and haven’t gotten back engaged for some reason. Maybe they are feeling too ashamed. Chuck, you just don’t understand. When I sinned, I really sinned. I really blew it big time. So big time that God could never, ever use me again because of that sin. I say I don’t think so. There is a guy named Moses who killed an Egyptian in a fit of rage in his 20s, and he did all right. Then you have the King David who had an affair with Bathsheba and then covered up the affair by sending her husband Nathan to the front lines so that he would be killed. I would suggest that is blowing it. Then you have Paul. Before he was an apostle, he was first discovered holding the coats of the Roman soldiers so that they could stone the deacon, Stephen. I think he probably blew it. God can use anybody, even if they blew it. After saying that, I would suggest that there is often a time gap between when you blew it and when God is going to fully use you again. If there is a time gap that means that there is a period where you have to wait. You can’t just run out of that darkness. You might have to wait for a while.
He goes on to say “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.” He uses the word wait in there five times. It is kind of the idea of waiting with some sort of an expectation. It is not just waiting for a short period like you are in the line at Kuhn’s and it is too long and you get impatient and move to another line. Or when you are at home and you are waiting for the cable guy to show up, and he doesn’t show up so you put a note on your door and say I will see you later. That is not the kind of waiting he is talking about. He is talking about persevering waiting. He is talking about keeping the faith in the midst of the darkness. I see it all the time. What happens is somebody gets caught up in some sort of a horrendous sin or what they think to be a horrendous sin or a terrible thing. They leave the church. They isolate themselves. Or eventually they often leave God. They go away because they haven’t kept the faith in the midst of that trial. I like how the author here compares the waiting to the way the watchmen waits for the morning. We don’t know exactly what kind of watchmen he is talking about here, but he could be talking about somebody who is in charge of watching the village. I can’t relate to that type of watching. I can’t relate to being a building-type watchman, but I can relate to being a watchman in the Navy. In the Navy, you all get assigned a watch. When you are on the ship, especially the new guys, get assigned the watch of sitting in the stern and keeping watch for about four hours. The worse shift you can get is from about 4 in the morning to 8 in the morning. You are very tired. There is not a whole lot going on. What are you watching for? You are really not watching for a whole lot. You are watching that somebody may fall overboard or a piece of equipment may fall overboard or the light in the stern would go dark suddenly and then you would have to report. In fact, to make sure you were awake, they would call back and every hour you would have to say something like ‘Stern light is bright’ and that is telling the bridge that everything is okay in the back. But it is really telling the bridge that you are awake. Really what you are waiting for is the coming of the dawn. You know when that dawn comes you are off the night shift. You get to go to sleep. I think what is happening here with this psalm is that like a watchmen waits for the dawn of the day to come out of the darkness, somebody who has lived a season in the darkness needs to wait to step into that light. Although we can predict when the sun is going to rise down to the minute, you can’t predict it when you are coming out of a season of sin. What happens is you might be there a day, a week, a month, or even years. It really depends on how willing you are to learn the lessons that God is teaching you in the middle of that darkness. Thinking about the Old Testament characters, it was Jacob who wrestled all night with an angel of God in the dark. When he awoke, he basically was given a new name, Israel. You also have the story of Moses, who after killing the Egyptian, spent 40 years in the wilderness before God felt that he was qualified to lead something new. He had to learn something in that time of wait.
So there is a waiting period, but the good news is that we wait, but even though we have to wait, we can expect redemption. In fact, we can expect full redemption. He goes on to say “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.” Redemption is a weird churchy sounding word. We don’t use it a lot. It basically means exchanging or purchasing something back. I am probably dating myself here, but is anybody old enough to remember when they used to give out S&H green stamps at the grocery store? Your mom would give them to you and make you sit down and put them in the book until your tongue went dry. You filled up these books and you took the books and redeemed them at the redemption center for a toaster or a lamp or something like that. I asked Debbie why they don’t have S&H green stamps anymore at Giant Eagle and she said because they have fuel perks. From a Christian standpoint that is what is happening here. There is a redemption procedure that happens. Basically, God has redeemed the sinners back from the dominion of darkness. He pulled them back from the dominion of Satan into the kingdom of his son that he loved. He didn’t do it with green stamps. He didn’t do it with fuel perks. He did it with the blood of Jesus Christ. That is how he redeemed us. He didn’t redeem us just so we can have forgiveness of sins, as good as that is. He redeemed us because he has work for us to do so that we can again be able to be restored to the person that he created us to be so that we can partner with him as he goes out into the world and continues to expand his kingdom. In the process, slowly taking on the very image of God that was given to us before we were even born.
I think it is important to understand this idea of just forgiveness versus full redemption. I was thinking about an illustration that would make this a little bit clearer. It has to do with the idea of this recent epidemic in heroin overdoses both locally and globally. What does that have to do with it? I was doing some reading and in the reading I realized that there are a lot of overdoses: 28,000 in 2014. If you add painkillers to it, 47,000 people died from overdose. We are worried about guns. I think overdoses are more than combined guns and car accidents. It is an epidemic. The disheartening thing about it that I learned is pretty much the police and first responders’ hands are tied. They can’t do anything about it. It is because they want people to feel free to call 9-1-1. If you have somebody in your house that has overdosed and has stopped breathing, they want you to call. If you don’t call, the person is going to die. If you call, state law basically says the person who made the call or the person who is overdosing will not be arrested. I didn’t understand that until I saw it firsthand the other night. I was asked to ride along with Bellevue EMS to somebody who was overdosing. I got there. The person wasn’t dead thankfully. She woke up. The police were there. The EMS. They put her in an ambulance and then everybody else went on their way because there is nothing they can do about it. There is no arrest. The good news is that person’s life was saved. They had been forgiven. The bad news is that without any rehab, they are going to go back to doing the same thing. That is the case. One of the EMS said we have lost the battle on drugs in this country. We can’t keep up with it. We have lost it. So again thinking about the idea of forgiveness and redemption, there are sinners who went through some horrendous sin and they cry out to God, God save me. I will never do it again. Show me mercy. We get the sense that we are forgiven and all is well, but then we don’t do anything. We don’t go through rehab. We don’t go through restoration. So what happens is, boom, we are back down in that hole. We are back down in the depths. Like people who continue to do the heroin, sometimes you don’t get out. You stay in that pit. You die. It was a reminder to me that it is not just about forgiveness of sins. It is about allowing God to restore you wholly into the image of God. To restore you to the place where you can be useful in the kingdom. Where you can take your God-given gifts that he has given you and allow him to equip you to prepare you for a ministry that you may not even have ever had had you not gone through that sin. He is opening up opportunities all over the place if you are willing to take the time to learn the lesson that he wants to teach you during that dark night of the soul.
I would also suggest, in closing, that redemption isn’t full until it comes full circle. Redemption is not full until you have taken your experience of sin and coming out of that sin from the darkness into the light and you come alongside another brother or sister to help them along and to help get them through the dark and to get them through the night. One of my favorite passages comes out of the gospel of Luke, chapter 22. It is the story of the Last Supper, Luke’s version. Jesus is sitting there. He knows he is going to the cross soon. He is looking around the table. He knows who is going to betray him. Judas is going to betray him. But he also knows Peter is going to betray him. He is going to deny him not once, not twice, but three times before that rooster crows. So he looks to Peter, also known as Simon, and he says “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked permission to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” This is a great passage that has to do with what I am talking about here. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked (some passages say ‘permission’) to sift you as wheat.” It is like Satan is saying let me have my hands on Peter awhile. I want to see what I can do. God says go ahead. See what you can do. Sifting is the idea of separating the good and the bad parts of him. Then Jesus goes on to say “But I have prayed for you, Simon.” He didn’t pray that he would not sin. He did a very interesting prayer. He said “I pray that your faith may not fail.” In other words, when you are in the season of sin, which many of us get at some time in our life, I pray that you just not lose heart. Don’t give up on God. Don’t give up on the church. Don’t give up on other people. It is just a season. It is a season that you will come out of so I pray that your faith will not fail. Then the kicker is “And when you have turned back.” In other words, when you have come back to your senses, because what I have said before, sin is kind of like insanity. It is doing something or being someone who you are not. As a child of God, you do not sin or you try not to sin. When you come back to this place of sanity, when you turn back here is what I want you to do. “Strengthen your brothers.” Strengthen your sisters. Come alongside of them and show them the direction out of the darkness into the light. If you do that, then you can say that you have experienced full redemption. Some of you are familiar with the author Beth Moore. I think she summarizes this whole passage and even the sermon up best when she says “God not only diffuses our past of all power to haunt and harm us, but he infuses us with power to help others. Redemption is incomplete if our negative past is only diffused. Satan won’t be completely sorry and God won’t get all the glory until the bad is used for good.” Let us pray.