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Longing for Dawn: Psalm 130

Good morning, church. Please go with me to Psalm 130. The book of Psalms, psalm 130. If you want to use one of our Bibles, just raise your hand and someone will bring one to you.

We’re in an extended series through the psalms, and my hope is the psalms will teach us to pray. The psalms were written over hundreds of years. There are some from the time when the people of God were slaves in Egypt, crying out for deliverance and justice. You go from that to songs of victory, the king returning to Jerusalem wreathed in glory. Songs praising nature, love songs, worship songs, songs to sing at festivals. Mourning and sorrow. We’re meant to carry these words with us into our lives, wherever they go.

When I say I’m hoping the psalms can teach us to pray, I don’t mean to nitpick the way you’re praying, but I’m hoping the psalms can draw us into prayer, that we could learn to live our lives in a posture of prayer to where prayer is more natural for us. It’s a matter of dependence. Whatever you use most often to facilitate your life you learn to depend upon. Phones, electricity, air conditioners. I want us to be a people who depend upon the Lord.

The psalm for today is a song of confession, and in that confession a song of longing. Let’s read it. If you will, please stand while I read. [Psalm 130]. This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God.

God, the dawn. One of my favorite authors, G.K. Chesterton, writes this: ““Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. The central image of our psalm this morning is the sun rising. Perhaps it’s not by necessity the sun rises each morning, but it’s God saying “do it again” in joy. This is not me taking a shot at science—I love science. I used to teach science! But I see a deeper intention than material determinism behind the movement of the spheres. I believe there are reasons why the world is the way it is. Chesterton again writes, “I had always believed that the world involved magic: now I thought that perhaps it involved a magician. And this pointed to a profound emotion always present and sub-conscious; that this world of ours has some purpose; and if there is a purpose, there is a person. I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller.”

The Lord made the sun to rise, to stretch it’s rosy fingers over the horizon, a crisp morning with pastel colors filling the sky and light replacing the long night. I like to think he did it once, watched in rapture and thought, let’s do this every single day until the end of days. I love that thought. Maybe it’s not dull necessity making the sun rise.

The psalmist isn’t looking at the sun and saying God is like sun after a long night. It’s deeper. The psalmist is saying, the sun rising every morning since we were old enough to know morning from night has been a metaphor teaching us of a deeper reality. God is not like the sun’s rising, the sun’s rising is like God’s life. He set the earth in motion with the intention of speaking to us a daily promise. Just as surely as night turns to day, with as much regularity, with as much beauty, God will dawn on us, forgive us, and redeem us.

Our souls long for the dawn. Most of the men singing this psalm each year in the city would have spent long nights watching on the walls of Jerusalem. Or as young women, waiting anxiously for fathers, husbands, brothers to come home from the wall or from battle, which is itself a kind of watch. In peacetime, watching on the wall would have been a dull formality, but in war! Watching on the walls through the night meant arrows and skirmishes, straining your eyes to see troop movements, jeering and songs through the night from enemies just out of reach.

Can you imagine what it must be like to watch on the wall of a city surrounded by enemies, and to have the sun go down? I remember when my son’s imagination would populate the darkness of his bedroom each night with monsters waiting for him to fall asleep. Can you imagine what it must be like to stand on the walls of a city and have the world descend into darkness knowing, for a fact, there are actual monsters just out of sight in the darkness waiting for you to fall asleep, lose focus? That would be a waking nightmare. In the movies, they always picture guards pacing the walls with torches, but having lights on the wall would be suicide, enemies able to see you for miles. I imagine they kept watch in complete darkness.

I’ve never kept watch over a city, but I’ve kept watch over a sick child. When my son was little, over and over again, he would get these terrible respiratory infections, every time he got sick, even with a slight cold. I’ve spent nights listening to his breathing, weighing in my mind as it worsened through the night if it was time for the hospital, or to wake him up to give him meds, or to let him sleep. When the morning finally came, I knew I could wake him, sit him up to cough and clear his sinuses. In that kind of anxiety, the night stretches endless, and the light just before sunrise isn’t just light. It’s hope, itself, and life and survival. Our souls long for the dawn.

I don’t know if you’ve lived nights a night like that yet, but you will. This life is filled with dark nights of the soul, even if you live well and wisely, and even if you live in peacetime. That’s another message the sun should teach us if we are willing to learn its lessons: night always comes in this world. Eventually, one way or another, you’ll be a watcher on the wall. In our psalm, the darkness he’s wading through is his own. When he cries out from the depths, it’s the depths of his own depravity. His own sin and self.

I cry out to you, O Lord, the psalmist writes, and why? For mercy. And I wait. My soul waits, for forgiveness. There has to be forgiveness in the world, because if every person were to atone for every thing we did wrong—if we even knew! If we even knew every mistake, ill thought and intention of the people around us, every sadness in this world, we wouldn’t be able to bear it. “We would die from the roar on the other side of silence.” So instead we wait. We wait for forgiveness.

Our souls long for forgiveness. Forgiveness is a uniquely Judeo-Christian concept. It’s common in our culture, so most people have lost track of where it came from. In every other faith and ethical structure, you find the idea of atonement sitting where forgiveness sits in Christianity. If you make a mistake, if you cry out from depths of some dark night to most gods, they expect some sacrifice from you. It’s only the God of the Bible who desires mercy instead of sacrifice. Sacrifice is something we can give. Mercy, forgiveness, is something God gives.

Life is filled with dark nights of the soul, sometimes because of your own sin, error, sometimes because of sins against you. The result are the same—pain, suffering, anxiety—and the need is the same: the dawn, we need the sun to rise. We need to be on the other side of struggle, we need to move past it, move forward. Forgiveness is that way forward.

Our psalm is courageous enough to admit something most of us struggle to admit, or we admit it quietly, in v.3. If God were to mark or remember all of our mistakes, no one would be able to stand in front of him, meaning stand tall, look him in the eyes. If God really has seen everything I’ve done, I’m not worthy of being called a preacher, even being associated with the name of the Lord and his work in the world. I know that fully. I want acclaim, respect, applause, but what I really need is forgiveness.

If we as a people, as a church community, were to hold each and every mistake against each other, nitpick each other, we would have no relationship. We wouldn’t be able to stand, to look each other in the eye. Or our relationships would just be glaze, shiny, happy, not real. When I was younger I thought relationship was built on performance. That my parents loved me because I was a good son, and my friends loved me because I was cool, or a good friend. The older I get, the more I realize relationship, real love and not just tolerance, is built on forgiveness.

Because if you know me for long enough, I’m going to hurt you somehow. I have beauty in me, but I also have thorns. I’m going to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing. I’ve been married now for just over fourteen years. My wife has seen me fail, personally and professionally. We’ve had fights, we’ve suffered loss and fear together. What we need from each other isn’t sacrifice. There have been many times we’ve both given everything we can to each other and to our family. At a certain point in life, you can’t be a better son, wife, daughter. We need mercy, not sacrifice, to bear with the mistakes, what we’ve done and what we’ve left undone. Our souls long for forgiveness, because forgiveness is necessary to truly love someone.

This is scary to admit, I know, that we need forgiveness instead of applause. We, each of us, has a reputation, but the real me, the real you doesn’t live up to it. My hope this morning for you this morning is, to quote a song, that God would “give you the grace to let go.” Let go of your need for approval. Let go of your striving. Let go of shame at not being good enough. You are good enough for God to love you, not because you made it up to the level of being a good person, but because of his mercy for sinners and sufferers. Our souls long for forgiveness.

And through forgiveness we find the real thing every one of us has been longing for our whole lives. We find redemption. Our souls long for redemption. Redemption is a word the Bible uses to talk about bringing people into family. There are three ways truly to become part of a family: marriage, adoption, and birth, and the Bible uses all three of those images to describe what God wants to do in each of our lives. God is doing everything to draw us into family, true family, perfect family—his family.

From the first moments of sin and fall in the Bible, God is drawing us into redemption. God’s first response to human sin is to clothe Adam and Eve, which was a symbolic act, like the father of the prodigal son; giving clothing is an act of welcome into family, an act of redemption. From that moment until the final moment of scripture, where the people of God are pictured as a resplendent bride marrying into the royal family of the city of New Jerusalem, God’s desire for his people is redemption. He longs to adopt each and every one of us as sons and daughters.

Healthy families care for one another. As my son gets older and more capable, I feel myself, even at my age becoming less so. I see already ways he’ll need to care for me, partially because I see my parents, as they move here to be closer to us, I see them needing us to care for them. Those are difficult, but tender moments admitting need to each other. I used to think they were all-powerful, because they could do everything I could do and more. Now it’s a relief to think they will be 45 minutes away, in case they need me. Families care for one another as each has a need, and as capability changes over the course of time.

This church has been good to our family. It’s hard to admit need and fault when you’re the pastor, like when you’re a parent admitting need to a child, but over time and through circumstance capability changes. We should be able to admit real needs here, and we should care for one another. Healthy family also knows each other deeply and celebrates the unique gifts each person bring into the life of the family at any given time. Even our baby, who is an ocean of need, adds so much joy to our family, lights up the room. As a church, each of us has something to give. I hope we can learn to celebrate and support each other as we serve one another.

Healthy families love one another. They show up in each other’s lives in key moments. The birthday call. The wedding day. The day it all falls apart. All the days you spend rebuilding. Love is presence in many ways. Like AJ playing baseball this summer. I knew my role. It’s not to help him play better—that’s the coach. My role was to show up and encourage him on. Our lives are lived in such moments, one after the other. Love is presence and love is change. The people you love change you. You don’t love someone and walk away the same. They leave a mark, for good or for ill. In human relationships it’s both and we need forgiveness. But loving someone well somehow makes you more of who you are, like how my kids make me a father, and somehow, even though I didn’t see it before, I’m growing into more of who I am in these relationships.

Redemption is what our God wants for each and every one of us. He longs to wrap you up in family; to care for you; to know you deeply and celebrate those things which are uniquely you which you bring into the family. He wants to be with you, to love you, to make you more of who you are, somehow. Sin separates us from ourselves and from the people around us. God’s redemption allows us to become more human, more ourselves, more a part of family, more forgiven than we’d ever known. His presence in our lives is like the dawn after a long night.

Dear friends, believe and have hope. Just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, we know one day the Lord will dawn on this world and end our watch. And his light will not just be light, it will be hope, itself, and life. His light in the world will be the end of fear and sleepless nights, gates thrown open and a way made for all the nations to be welcomed into the city as friends. A feast laid atop mount Zion, Isaiah writes, because instead of a temple God will live amongst his people, and the sign, the assurance of all of this happening, the reason we can have hope even in the midst of darkness and dark times is this: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and she shall call his name Immanuel.” God with us—our God, the dawn.

“I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.”

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