The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
August 8, 2021
Many are discouraged, and some even depressed. We had thought the pandemic was almost past.
Were it not for our faith in God’s steadfast and redeeming love, we might lose heart, turn angry or just quit following Jesus in the way of self-sacrificial service.
A decade ago, Rush Medical Center in Chicago conducted a study on whether belief in a concerned personal God helps the ill get well. Researchers found that folks with such faith improve from medical treatment at higher rates than others. Those who score in the top third of a scale measuring trust in divine caregiving are, for example, 75% more likely to get better from depression. Their faith that their welfare matters to God makes a difference.
The difference such faith makes did not diminish during the past year and a half of pandemic and social unrest. The American Bible Society, working with Harvard University’s Human Flourishing Program, discovered a strong correlation between Scripture reading and staying hopeful and encouraged.
Frequent Bible readers averaged 33 points higher on the happiness index than infrequent Bible readers. People who read the Bible no more than four times a year scored 42; those who read it about once a month, 59; once a week, 66; and many times a week, 75. Bible reading – just like other church practices such as worship and small group participation – enhances the capacity to survive and thrive. Tyler VanderWeele, director of the Harvard program, noted, “Churches have a profound role in contributing to people’s well-being…especially during [times of trial and trouble].”
Each of the 15 consecutive psalms running from #120 through #134 bears the same title: “a song of ascents”. They were recited or sung by folks as they ascended Mt. Zion to worship at the Jerusalem temple.
In Psalm 130 an anonymous individual, out of the depths of his fear and guilt, cries out to God for mercy and grace. With no sense of having any right to make a claim upon God, he pleads with God to hear his prayers. For he realizes, “If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” Yet, he still hopes for gratuitous, unmerited kindness. He still believes that “there is forgiveness with [God].”
Thus he can only ask, and then “wait for the Lord” to give him what the Lord alone can. He gambles on God’s fulfilling His “word” and doing for him what he himself never could: Pull him up out of his “depths”. So he places his bet on being brought out of his pit, not by the goodness within him or by the strength of his willpower, but by the benevolence of a God of “steadfast love” and “great power to redeem”.
When we come to the end of ourselves, we become humble enough to come to God and hang on Him all our hope. Of course, we’re not all bad; but we’re not nearly good enough to make happen what most needs to happen. We’ve fallen into a pit out of which we can’t climb. We are own worst problem, and thus we cannot be the solution to our problem.
As Christian musician John Fischer put it, the Christian’s struggle with sin is like the alcoholic’s struggle with drink. It’s never over, for being a sinner or an alcoholic is something you never get entirely past – like a page you turn to reach the next chapter in the book of your earthly days. Both sinners and alcoholics manage something of which they have not been fully cured. Both retain their weakness before their self-destructive behavior, but gain power from beyond themselves by turning themselves over to the Higher Power, day after day. Both remain as helpless in themselves as they ever were, but gain power for improvement by becoming the “recovering” helpless.
One alcoholic said, “Though I struggle to believe Jesus turned water into wine, I know He turned this wino into a sober and more-functioning person, and keeps lifting me out above my past.”
At Monday’s memorial service for Polly Johnson, we remembered how she used to describe herself as a “recovering racist”; and how, by the miracle-working grace of God, she served and blessed many a person of color.
We all have weaknesses and defects to be in recovery from. God is more than a match for any of them, and can pull us out of any “depths”. Let us then hang high hope on His grace, and wait in faithful obedience on His redeeming us from our pit by His “steadfast love” and “great power”.