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For With the Lord is Unfailing Love

Date:4/4/21

Series: I Wait - Lent 2021 - Psalm 130

Passage: Psalms 130:7

Speaker: Rev. Dr. Michael L. Gregg

Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.  Psalm 130:7

Were any of you able to watch everything on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime while quarantined at home during the pandemic? Our daughters definitely watched a lot more television than I would’ve liked. During one stretch when Ford was in the NICU, Amanda was at the hospital for hours and hours every day and I was simply trying to keep everything at home and at work afloat. That’s when the girls made it through most of the shows and movies on Netflix’s children’s section. But, as pandemic parenting has helped me realize, there is grace upon grace for all of the adjustments we’ve had to make during these difficult and uncertain times.

Well, one chilly winter afternoon, Annaleigh and Bea were watching one of the final episodes of a show called “Anne with an E,” the Canadian version of Anne of Green Gables. This show is sweet and endearing and pulls at your heartstrings. In this particular episode called “What Can Stop the Determined Heart,” Mary, a young black woman, who had spent most of her life in a poor area of Prince Edward Island called The Bog, found herself married, with a new baby, and residing in the mostly white and wealthy town of Avonlea. Although carrying the weight of and working through prejudice and misunderstandings, many in the town had grown to love Mary and her young family.

In a previous episode, Mary had been injured by cutting herself with a knife. Infection set in and she was diagnosed with sepsis. Because of the early stages of medicine in the late 1800s, there was no cure and Mary was given only one to two weeks to live. I had been popping in and out of the series for a while, only giving half my attention to how the show was progressing, but this episode about Mary’s death had my full attention. Watching Mary say her goodbyes to her husband and their new baby was a gut punch.

Towards the end of Mary’s illness, as she neared death, we see the impact Mary had on the town of Avonlea. Mary had created close friendships during her time there, bringing together people from various walks of life. And because of this, Avonlea came together as a community on Easter Sunday to celebrate Mary’s life and comfort her as she approached death. They did this with the help of Mary’s husband, who brought her and their newborn daughter to the garden of one of the townspersons. The garden was filled with colorful paper decorations hanging from the trees and Mary’s favorites foods were set on lavishly decorated tables. And it was in this garden, showing and sharing love and admiration for a friend, that we saw black, white, indigenous, rich, and poor assembled in a circle to read a prayer with Mary, voices joining with voices, spirits gathered as one.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

Although we don’t see Mary die, the episode ends with a kite, frolicking in the sunlight, symbolizing the lifting of Mary’s soul to God. And the wind that elevated that kite was the connectedness of community, a garden celebration, the story of Easter, and even the reality of death, reminding everyone present of the power of their own love for each other and God’s unfailing love for them.

With tears streaming down my face, I pondered how we might be instruments for the peace of Christ and the unfailing love of God as we come together on this Easter Sunday in the garden, at the empty tomb? What does community look like for us? What happens when weeping is equal parts joy and heartbreak? How might Jesus be bringing us together, today, as a church, as a city, as a nation, and as a world that we might truly become instruments of peace and love? And most of us are not gathered in the same room today. We might not have picturesque table settings and beautiful decorations as we usually do. But we have the story of resurrection adorning our hearts and the unfailing love of God setting a banquet table and throwing a party just for us.

That’s why, on this Easter Sunday, we conclude our exploration of Psalm 130, the long journey that we’ve taken through this rollercoaster of a psalm. And the final part of Psalm 130 says, “Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with [God] is full redemption.” What a way to end this psalm. What a season finale! In Psalm 130, we’ve acknowledged the depths of our pain and sorrow, our loneliness and fear. We’ve been bold in crying out to the Lord for help. We learned of God’s mercy and the assurance that God hears our every plea. And we understood that God didn’t keep any record of our sins, our mistakes, the not so great places in our story. Because God sees us all with love and acceptance, we are indeed forgiven so that we might learn how to serve God by serving others. And after all that, we learned how to wait, how waiting is actually an active word not a passive one. We waited with expectation that God was doing something in us, in our church, and in the world.

It was crucial that we did the difficult work of waiting because there are three things that exist in the nature of God that we needed more than anything on this Easter Sunday – abounding forgiveness, unfailing love, and redeeming power. One commentator says it like this: “Three times the psalmist asserts that there is something crucial that resides ‘with’ YHWH. These are ‘forgiveness’ (v. 4a), ‘steadfast love’ (v. 7a), and ‘great power to redeem’ (v. 7b). The three ‘with him/YHWH’ clauses are thus mighty predictions about God and God’s nature. They are also indications that the psalmist’s (and Israel’s) waiting, watching, and hoping are well placed. With this kind of God, the psalmist can be sure that his voice and his supplication will be heard—even from the depths.”

We have been in the depths during Lent, during this pandemic season, and in the many crises we’ve encountered as a nation and a world. We’ve felt, nearly nonstop, as if we’ve been in the tombs of our despair and deep in the struggles and strains of death. But today, we are in the garden with Jesus. Today, we believe that Jesus experienced the depths so that we would have a savior who could walk with us in the pain. Jesus, through his willingness to give himself over to the powers of hatred and hostility, revealed a God who is full of forgiveness, abundant in unfailing love, and has the power to redeem all of us, each one of us, all of the church, even the whole world, so that we might bring all people into the garden of love and light. We have learned in the active waiting that we have become instruments for God’s peace, formed and fashioned to bring resurrected, renewed, revived, revitalized love and justice to all of God’s people.

Did you hear the end of Psalm 130? “Israel, put your hope in the Lord.” Followers of Jesus, put your hope in the Lord. Resurrection people, put your hope in the Lord. Royal Lane Baptist Church, put your hope in the Lord. Friends, each and every one of us is reminded on this Easter day to put our hope in the Lord, no matter where we are in life or what is holding us back or weighing us down. Whatever we are feeling today or have felt through the pandemic or have felt through Lent, Jesus experienced it, the pain, the loneliness, the heartache, even death. And this Easter day we are reminded that Jesus got through it. Not only did Jesus get through it, death was destroyed. Resurrection and life and salvation took center stage and redeemed and renewed and released all of us, not with just a partial redemption, or partial renewal, or partial release. No, we have been brought through our hardships into new life and in Jesus we have found FULL redemption. Full and complete restoration. Full and complete hope. Full and complete love.

That’s the love we saw in Jesus in Lent. And that’s the unfailing love of God in Psalm 130. It’s the Hebrew word “hesed,” which means steadfast love or loving kindness. It is the main word to describe who God is in the Bible. It is the unfailing love that gets us through the waiting. It’s the unfailing love that gets us through the seasons of winter. It is the unfailing love that pulls us up out of the depths. It’s the unfailing love that gets us up out of bed each morning. It’s the unfailing love that will not let us go. It’s the unfailing love, the faithfulness, the loyalty, the gentleness, the resolve, that lets us know that wherever we are and whatever has happened to us, that even in our waiting and hoping, God is with us, redeeming us, bringing us back time and time again. Jesus loves us with an unfailing love!

And with that love, we have followed the mission and ministry of the Messiah all the way to the cross, buried in the grave, and then after three days, risen again to new life and new purpose and new winds of the spirit in the world. And as we follow our Christ and put our hope in the God of creation, we find unfailing love and full redemption. God is gathering us in the garden, with all races, and ethnicities, and expressions, and stations of life. God is gathering us in the garden, today, to bear witness to the one who has made us instruments of peace and vessels of unfailing love.

And so, we put our hope in the Lord this day. Because even though we’ve been in the depths for three days or many years, we are loved with an unfailing love. Even though we feel like the tombs of our lives are sealed shut, we are loved with an unfailing love. Even though the pain and brokenness of carrying our sins has suffocated our spirits, we are loved with an unfailing love. Even though we’ve been dead, or doubting, our hurting, or crushed, Jesus, in his unfailing love, has risen from all of it, and we will too! Because the Christ of unfailing love is resurrected in our hearts and in the world, this day and every day! Thanks be to God!

Amen.