The Message, March 26, 2023: "Out of the Depths," Psalm 130

The Message, March 26, 2023: "Out of the Depths," Psalm 130

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
March 28, 2023


“Out of the Depths …”
A Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Psalm 130

            In preparation for this message this morning, I decided to take a journey to a territory that I ordinarily prefer not to visit. In order to understand the meaning of the psalm I decided to sojourn in the valley of despair. I wanted to get an idea of what it must be like to NEED to sing that psalm.

            The beginning was safe and easy. I just walked the edges of that valley. I thought of last Sunday evening when I was picking up our take-out order at a local restaurant, and about how I clipped a frozen snow pile and damaged my car. That led to other episodes involving my car … a couple of fender benders and the time that my car got stolen.

            I soon realized that those episodes were really not anything that caused my despair. Anger … yes. Despair … not really.

            So, I journeyed a little bit deeper. I thought of that time that I got food poisoning … and I felt just awful for two weeks.
            I thought of the two back injuries that I sustained that both led to me being hospitalized.
            I thought of the time that I flunked out of college. (Yes. It is true.)

            As difficult as those were, I realized that I still did not experience despair. Frustrating and humiliating indeed, but not despair. Did I dare travel any deeper?

            I considered the loss of my father …
            The loss of precious pets …

            I wept tears of sadness and loss. But even still, was I really in the valley of despair? As I reflected on this journey, I realized that even though I have suffered pain and sadness and sorrow, I have not really experienced anything as deep and desperate as despair. I realize that I have been truly blessed throughout my life.

            And I also recognized that my visit or journey to the valley of despair was optional, and I was able to step out after a couple of hours. But there are those for whom this is not an option, this is not a “visit.” They live there. They are there right now. They are our friends, our neighbors down the street, around the corner, perhaps people in this room right now, or watching online … are in that valley right now.

            A few weeks ago, we explored one of the other ‘songs of ascent’ when we focused upon Psalm 121. “I look to the hills, from where will my help come. My help comes from God who made heaven and earth.”

            Psalm 130 is another song of ascent, but it has a very different tone. Whereas Psalm 121 contemplates where their help will come from, this psalm cries out for that help. This is a song of desperation.

            “The depths” is a place where one is overwhelmed by suffering and oppression physically, emotionally, spiritually. ‘The depths’ is a metaphor, and abbreviation of the expression, “the depths of the sea.” It represents drowning in distress, being overwhelmed and sucked down by the bottomless waters of troubles. (cf. Psalm 69:2, 15; John 2:2-3, 5-6)

            “The depths” is where death prevails instead of life. Where the authentic word or expression of one’s existence there is “I am lost.” We hear these words in the Book of Lamentations:

            “… the waters closed over my head, and I thought I was about to perish.
            I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit.” (vv. 54-55)

            You can hear the despair and desperation. Perhaps you can even feel it. But these are the words that come next:

            “You heard my plea: ‘Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.’
            You came near when I called you, and you said, ‘Do not fear.’” (vv.56-57)

            That is the essence and the promise of this psalm. “Out of the depths I call you, O God. And when I called, you came near and said, ‘Do not fear.”

            Do not fear.

            There may be any number of reasons why one finds themselves in the depths of despair. Their presence there may be the result of something that they have done … a poor decision, an overt action. Or they may there because of some unforeseen circumstances.

            Some may blame themselves for their circumstances. Some may feel great shame and embarrassment.

            Others may experience anger because they did nothing at all to deserve what is happening to them.

            They may still feel shame or embarrassment imaging what other people think of them. They know how judgmental the world can be.

            And within the tempest of all of those feelings is fear. Fear about their future. Fear about their very survival. Fear that they will never get out of that dreaded valley.

            In my visit to the valley of despair, I recognized that I have never been truly desperate. I have never worried about where I was going to sleep. I never worried about where my next meal would come from. I never worried about my whether I was going to live or die. I never had to call out from the depths … because I have never been in the depths. I have never had to call out to God … “Save me!”

            But so many others have. So many others are there now. We can hear them calling out in desperation.

            They wait. They wait for God.

            “To wait” in this case is not what we understand when we think of waiting. It is not waiting for our child to finally get ready for school. It is not waiting for our spouse to finally finish shopping.

            “To wait” is similar to “hope” except that hoping is a feeling. Waiting is an action, it has an object. Waiting is an expectation. In the ancient Hebrew scriptures waiting was urgency and impatience. And that expectation is even more urgent … more intense … when one calls from the depths.

            We wait with anticipation of God’s help. We wait like a watchman awaits the dawn. The watchman sits at the city walls, or the city gates, and watches for danger. The watchman strains to see threats in the total darkness of the night. The watchman waits for that first light to break on the horizon.

            From the depths we wait for God.
            From the depths we wait to see the light pierce the darkness.
            From the depths we wait for the ability to see hope and promise once more.

            And the promise of the song is that God is there. Whether or not the circumstances and mere happenstance are of our own making, God is there. God is not standing next to a giant tote board chalking up all of our failings. God is not there marking up all of our mistakes. God is not tallying up all of our iniquities so that they can be held against us.

            God is there. God is here. God is offering us love and grace. All of our failings are not held against us. Instead, they are opportunities for grace and forgiveness.

            This was in contrast to some of the pagan gods and goddesses. The ancients believed that those gods and goddesses were watching them, waiting to pounce upon them, to punish them and terrorize them. Those people lived in constant fear of doing wrong.

            But the God of this psalm, Yahweh, is not a god with a little ‘g’. Our God, Yahweh, will go into the depths with us. God will seek us out and lift us up. God does not say, “Well … you made that mess. Live in it. Good luck climbing out of that hole.”

            I told this story a couple of years ago, so if you already heard it, please bear with me. When I was ten years old, my family was up here in Ocean Park. My mother was on the faculty of the Youth Conference at Oceanwood. I decided to go to the beach for a swim. I got to the beach and much to my surprise, it was mostly empty. That never happens in Ocean Park in August. It happened that day because a storm was moving in.

            I walked right past the warning signs about rip tides and under-tow and went into the water. And as one might expect, within minutes I was in trouble. I was being dragged out by the under-tow. The waves kept pushing me under. I was gasping for breath. And there was no one there to save me … or so I thought. I could see the two people standing on the beach watching me … but doing nothing. That was the closest that I can recall to feeling desperation.

            Suddenly, a young woman grabbed onto me. She held my head above the waves and brought me safely to the beach. She did not say, “Hey, tough luck kid. This is a mess of your own making. Did you not see the signs?” No, she simply saved me.

            God does not tally up our iniquities. If that was the case, there would not be hope for anyone. No one could ever measure up. God offers grace, not punishment. God offers us faith rather than fear. God offers us hope rather than despair.

            God’s love offers us freedom.

            God loves us even when we are the cause of our own struggles. God is there … God is here … offering steadfast love and amazing grace. There is nowhere that we can go in all of creation where God is not there. Even in the valleys of our own creation, God is there.

            God says, “Do not fear.” God is with us. God is for us. God is ever ready to hear our cry. God will save us from the depths of despair.

            Out of the depths we call out to God. God says, “Do not fear. I am here. I am with you.”

            No matter what you may be going through. Do not fear. God is here. Amen.


Congregational Church