Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
St. Aidan's
Clevedon Kidz

Save us from sinking

July 21, 2019
Martin Baker

Sunday 21 July                                Save us from sinking   Martin Baker

Psalm 69:1-16

1 Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.

2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.

3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

4 More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; many are those who would destroy me, my enemies who accuse me falsely. What I did not steal must I now restore?

5 O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.

6 Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonoured because of me, O God of Israel.

7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother's children.

9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

10 When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

11 When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O Lord. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help

14 rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

15 Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

16 Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Save me O God for the waters have come up to my neck

Very early on when I had my boat I took it out and had quite a successful day on the water. As you have probably gathered by now, success for me in terms of boats is quite a limited concept. It involved me not getting the old car stuck in the sand. Back the boat in the direction of the water . Launching the boat in sufficient water that it doesn’t simply end up high and dry on the beach. And then repeating the process on the way back. And at the same time not getting divorced or have my children leave me forever.

So imagine I had gone through this process and back at the house. Boat washed carefully, and after some struggle, backed into the place it belonged.

Sitting then feeling quite satisfied. All is well.  And the phone goes. And it’s Luke. A much more experienced boatie than I am. And he says I need to be rescued. I’m 3 km’s from shore out from Lion Rock. And of course I have no idea where Lion rock is. And I said couldn’t someone rescue you Luke?  Ring Kevin he’d be much better at it that I would, I am sure. And Luke says, well I can’t get hold of Kevin.

And I feel bit hurt because obviously he rang Kevin before he rang me.  Easy to get caught up in your own issues isn’t it? To forget the most important thing.   So I get up,  go over to my neighbour Hamish, and I say Luke needs rescuing and you probably know more about boats that I do.

So we go, hook the clean boat up , go back down to the beach, it’s twilight by now. The car gets stuck in the sand and a whole lot of people come and help and we get the boat launched. And we go looking for Luke.

I realise how hard it is to see a small boat in a big ocean. It is hard to see the people who need our help sometimes.  Such a big ocean. So I radio Barrier Radio and the wonderful woman Emmi, who spend her whole life running Barrier radio, as a volunteer provides some help in directing where I should be looking. And finally we find Luke and his family in their boat and tow them back. And it all ends happily.

But that experience always reminded me that when you are a few kilometres off the coast and things go a bit wrong you are helpless to rescue yourself. There is nothing you can do. And you are utterly dependent on someone else noticing, responding to your distress and providing rescue.

After that I joined the coastguard, (who rescued almost 4,000 people last year)  bought an auxiliary motor for the boat  and bought a couple of extra recue flares. Sandy has since bought me an emergency locator beacon just to emphasize the fact.

1 Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.

A simple lesson here. Something that is part of our very human experience. Perhaps even the source of our deepest fear and anxiety. There comes a point in our lives when we are powerless, helpless when we realise that we can’t save ourselves.

No matter how wealthy or successful or self-made we have been, there comes a point when  we are utterly dependent on the intervention of another for our survival.  A boat 3km out from lion rock that won’t start,  an illness, an addiction, a fear, a loss  a time when circumstances have rendered us helpless.  

2 I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.

Think of the blessings we take for granted. Though the system is not perfect, if we wave out,  pick up the phone, send up a flare, activate an emergency button, someone is there to help to resource, to save. The blessing of living in New Zealand. Someone is almost always there.  

Hear what is said in the Psalm. Is God there?

3 I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

Last week we heard  from Psalm 113. It was a Praise Psalm. A hallelujah psalm.   Praise the God, creator of the heavens and the earth, 7 raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people.

This week is a lamentation Psalm . The faithful crying out to God in this midst of their helplessness and distress. Our scripture, our psalms have places where  God is praised, but also places of lament, of complaint, of cries for help of distress time of utter failure and isolation.   Jesus on the cross cried our another Psalm 22, My God my God why have you forsaken me?

Our scriptures acknowledge this reality.  Not avoided.  Faced head on. Psalm like this lamentation Psalm  draws us to reflect on one of the most challenging and difficult topics -  the subject of suffering.  There is nothing else probably, that is more universal and more personal.

Does God allow the innocent to suffer? If so is God then indifferent, capricious or even sadistic?  If God is powerless to stop suffering, of all things, what then is the point of belief?  

We of course sing and hear a lot about Christ's suffering on behalf of the world, as an atonement of sin, as an innocent sacrifice, a lamb who takes away the sin of the world.  

As rich as some of these affirmations may be, they seem to be often reflecting a view that seems to float above the suffering  in the world.  The harrowing photo a few weeks ago of the father and child drowning as they try to cross the Rio Grande into the United States. The stories from Sudan from Syria.  

We find in the Psalms, and it is a difficult thing, is that suffering often doesn’t have an explanation.   We can explain the failure to remember to have enough petrol on the boat, we can explain the physics of motor accidents, the actions of cancer cells.   But none of those explanations is enough. These Laments in scripture come from a place where  there is no one who can explain away or make better the horrors that confront us.

15 Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

16 Answer me, O Lord, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

When we reflect on our own experiences, when we have those questions about loss and suffering, one of the most powerful claims we find in our scriptures starts at the very point of creation itself.

The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.

What is most undermining for our faith, for our relationship with God, for our understanding of God’s presence?   What is most undermining is not the things like evil or the causes of suffering which we can name,  but what is most undermining  is  the thing we can’t name, the threat of meaninglessness,  the fear,  the formless void, the angst, the unnameable thing, undifferentiated matter from which God has lifted us and holds us above.  God brings forth creation from the formless void.  The tohu wah bohu.

I think many of us have a sense of what primordial chaos can be like. Situations in which we have no words to speak. The betrayal by someone we love. The loss of someone we love, the news that we not well, the helplessness we feel when we have a child who is suffering.

We are going along in the ordered world we have created.  And something happens, and the veil separating creation from chaos is drawn back, and the waters below surge forth, sweeping away the dry land. And the chaos, the tohu wa bohu begins to take over and life is choked form every living thing.

But Paul reminds us that we face the challenges we face as resurrection people. Not resuscitated but resurrected. A new creation.

Aware that anyone can find themselves sinking and in that awareness not leaving it up to Kevin when the call comes, but being ready to work at  saving a person just as we have been saved. Just as we are going to need to be saved.

To challenge ourselves the causes of suffering. To challenge hate speech, to ask the hard questions about why there are homeless people living in their old cars beside the park, to bring health and hope and healing to others.  They are things we can all do.  And often the most powerful things come from a place of own injury and vulnerability.  From the place where we admit even to ourselves that we are powerless in the face of those overwhelming forces of fear and death.  

This is what it means to believe in the power of the cross, to live following Jesus our wounded crucified saviour.

in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.