St. Paul Lutheran Church – Sunday Service

Message:  The Depths Have A Bottom  Psalm 130

9th Sunday After Pentecost

August 10, 2003

   There’s a lake called Jenny Lake. Actually to look at it or stand at the edge of it, most people wouldn’t even call it a lake, but more a pond, a large pond, surrounded and sheltered by tall trees. But Jenny Lake is more than that. It’s deceiving and a little scary.

   I say that because the first time my wife & I rowed a little wooden boat around the edges of Jenny Lake to fish along its shore line, we decided to put the anchor down not more than 10 feet from shore - and 25 feet of anchor rope wasn’t long enough to touch the bottom.  Such deep water just off shore left us both feeling a little uncomfortable. The lake had to have a bottom to it, but exactly where the bottom was, that was the unsettling part . . unsettling like what some people feel when they stand too close to the edge of the open balcony of a tall building. If heights can be unsettling; what about depths.

   Then there’s just the opposite kind of story out in a hilly corn-field with sandy soil - where a center pivot circles the whole field. There’s a narrow path to the pivot & its well-motor that’s barely wide enough for a pick-up. That narrow path passes through a gully of tall corn where there’s a low spot, 6–8’ wide maybe 8–10’ long, full of greenish water, water about 8-10” deep.  Were that a true mud-hole, no pick-up could make it through that mess. But because it’s sandy soil & because over the years the farmer has packed some bricks & stones into that low-spot which are now pretty well hidden in the sand, a heavy duty 4WD pick-up, pulling a 1000 gallon tank full of fertilizer can drive through that soupy-looking water as if there was a concrete bottom to it. 

   What a difference; what a contrast! From an innocent looking pond where the bottom is a mystery, to driving smack-dab through the middle of a muddy-looking bog  knowing the bottom is right there.  What a metaphor for life.   

   Life is full of ups & downs, hills & gullies, highs & lows, but sometimes it’s the downs, the gullies, the depths that leave us wondering where the bottom is. Sometimes it’s not just that we have trouble, but we have big trouble. Sometimes we’re not just down, we’re really down.  Some days we work hard to make things right; other days it seems like we’re up against impossible odds. 

    A person may think it’s just a pain in their back or their arms they can live with, yet because we’re all human it’s never just pain but always pain plus; pain plus wondering what’s going on; pain plus worry & anxiety; pain plus why do bad things happen to good people; what next; who are we; where do we stand with God; what is our life really worth; where’s solid ground; where’s bottom?

   That’s where the author of Psalm 130 was. Wondering where the bot-tom was, yet knowing who and where God was. 

   Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of Psalm 130, imagines the Psalmist saying, Help, Lord – the bottom has fallen out of my life!  Lord, listen hard!  Lord, open Your ears!  Listen to my cries for mercy.  Lord, I’m not sure if things are ever going to get any better, but please, Lord God, Ruler of reality, have mercy, hear my prayer.  

   What makes Psalm 130 such a powerful psalm is that it’s not only personal, it’s realistic.  It doesn’t pull any punches; doesn’t romanticize trials & tribulations; doesn’t gloss them over; doesn’t try to explain them or understand them, but gets right to the “heart of the matter”.  Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. 

    Walter Brueggemann in his book, The Message of The Psalms, sees the psalmist facing the negative realities of life as hard – unpre-dictable - distressing realities yet without being afraid of such realities. The psalmist looks reality “straight in the eye”, but that’s because he’s looking up - not down. 

   “In one sweeping rhetorical move,” writes Brueggemann, “Psalm 130 proposes to make a link between the most extreme, most remote reali-ties of human need and The Ruler of reality enthroned above.” (p. 104)

   Maybe you’re someone who knows what Brueggemann is saying about the Psalmist. Maybe you have had things fall apart on you?  Maybe you have had people upset with you; lose their patience with you; had things slip away from you; have bad news unsettle you; and others not know what to say to you.  And what did you do?  Did you cry out to God from the depths of where you were at?     

   What Psalm 130 teaches us is that something amazing happens when we wonder where the bottom is; when we cry out to God from the depths.  It’s at the moment of our greatest need, our deepest struggles, our most unsettling questions that we learn a lot about who God is; where He is; what a gracious & merciful Lord He is. 

   If as Brueggemann writes, “Psalm 130 is the unsettled cry of a nobody from nowhere,” the good news is that God listens; the psalmist is sure that his plea for mercy & forgiveness is heard by God. If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be feared, revered, loved.

   No matter how deep the depths; no matter how bad the news; no matter how uncertain & scary & difficult the present or the future may look, Ps.130 says the depths have a bottom; the heights are boundless.  

   There’s a story that was made into a movie titled, “Shawshank Redemption”, not a movie I’ve seen, but I story I can identify with, and maybe you can too.  It’s the story of two men who were prisoners; an older man who knows the ropes, and a young man who was having a very rough time in prison, but still had a spark of something in him.

   Late in the story both men are sitting together.  They’ve been in prison for a long time.


   The young man says to the older man, When I get out of here I’m going to set up a small hotel on the Pacific Coast of Mexico.  They say the Pacific Coast is larger than you can imagine, and I’m gong to get an old boat and make it like new, and take people out into deep water charter fishing.

   The older prisoner listens and says: Those are foolish hopes. Mexico is there and you are here.  It’s dangerous to think that way.

   And then the younger man replies: Maybe so, but the way I see it, you either get busy living, or you get busy dying.

   To pray to God “out of the depths”; to pray Psalm 130 from the bottom of your heart as a baptized, redeemed, forgiven, child of God, is praying for life, praying to get busy living!

   When we cry out from the depths, we are on the way out of the depts  When we cry out from the depths, Lord hear my voice, Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications, we are on he way up; we have an anchor rope that’s long enough; we have a solid, narrow path to travel that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself traveled first for us.

   Oh, the height of Jesus’ love, Higher than the heav’ns above, Deeper than the depths of sea, Lasting as eternity is not just good poetry to sing; this is the staying power, the good news, the solid ground of the Gospel of Jesus Christ & His blood-bought gift of redemption for us to trust from the bottom of our hearts. 

   Oh, the height of Jesus’ love, Higher than the heav’ns above,   

   Deeper than the depths of sea,   

   Love that found me – wondrous thought – wondrous thought

   Found me when I sought him not.

   Yes, there are deep waters, mud-holes; pot-holes; discouragement; disappointment; bad days; unproductive days; days when we are short on goodness or given to doubt & unbelief. 

   Yet whatever depths of dark-ness or unworthiness we’re in, the good news is that when we cry out of the depths; God for Jesus’ sake listens.  Because Jesus laid down His life on the cross; shed His blood; suffered & died for our sins to reconcile us to God; God for Jesus’ sake comes to us in the depths and turns us, lifts us from the business of dying to business of living; from despairing to hoping.  God for Jesus’ sake strengthens us & supports us so that we too can say: I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.