More than watchmen for the morning

Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 6, 2021
Psalm 130

The pounding rain on the roof woke me up. It was in those strange hours between night and early morning. It was Sunday, August 27, 2017. Hurricane Harvey. We all knew it was going to be bad, we had decided to not hold church services that day. But I didn’t know how bad it would be. In the darkness of that night, with the rain keeping me awake, I turned on my phone and started reading. I was horrified. You all were reaching out. The waters were rising. There was nowhere to go. And there was very little we could do. For even if we had wanted to help, to go get you, we were all stranded ourselves. We could hear the cries of desperation but there was nothing we could do. Speaking personally, what came to my mind and to my lips were these words from holy scripture we said this morning. “My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning” (Psalm 130:5).

In the middle of that night and in the hopelessness of that early morning, all I wanted was to see the sun come up. The darkness of that night amplified the sinister nature of those flood waters. We couldn’t see and so we didn’t know. How close was the water to our house? Can you drive on the street? Was that a boat engine I just heard? Suddenly I realized what the psalmist was talking about with the watchmen waiting for the morning. It’s not that the watchmen were tired and ready to finish their night shift. Oh no. It’s that the darkness, the night, is a threat. The way I read it now is that the watchmen were keyed up, they were anxious, they perceived an enemy out there, in the darkness. And the only solution is to wait for the sun to rise. “My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” 

Psalm 130 is curious in that way. Notice that we don’t pray for God to come and do anything. We’re not praying that God destroys our enemies; we’re not praying that God give us food in the desert; we’re not thanking God for blessings. We are simply begging God to show up.

Like the watchmen waiting for the sun to rise, God’s mere presence is the answer to our deepest anxieties, worries, and fears. When the flood waters are rising – both the real and the figurative flood waters – God’s presence is our hope. 

This says more about God than it does about us. All too often we talk about the things that God does. God created us, God redeems us, God sanctifies. God loves us, God forgives us. All that is true. But there has to be more than that. Because when we think that way, we’re really thinking about ourselves first. About what God does for us. It’s time to ask a better question, “who is God?” 

This is part of the question that C.S. Lewis is wrestling with in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. That’s what our whole parish is reading this June, and I think you will pick up this theme, too. The fictional land of Narnia is frozen by the White Witch’s evil magic. But all the good creatures of Narnia are hoping that Aslan will soon arrive. Now, no one is quite sure what Aslan will do once he arrives. But that’s beside the point. The point is that Aslan will show up. His presence is exactly what they need though no one is quite sure what he will do. His presence is enough.

Because God’s presence is exactly what we need. And therein lies one of the greatest spiritual lessons we need to master in the journey of discipleship. Don’t tell God what to do. Because you know what, we don’t even know what’s best for us. You know that humans are terrible are making decisions – so what makes us think that we can make decisions for God? So rather than telling God what to do, our primary prayer is simply asking God to show up. Because God’s mere presence is the best thing for us. Don’t put yourself at the center of your prayers. Don’t put the world at the center of your prayers. Put God at the center of your prayers. Wait for the Lord. More than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

And though it may not be as traumatic or as condensed as Hurricane Harvey, I do feel as if the flood waters of anxiety, of fear, of worry are continuing to rise. I feel them, too. We want the world to get back to normal, but will it? And will that be safe? We want there to be peace, we all want an end to the senseless violence that has gripped our society. But we see no end in sight. The environment is degrading, political conversation is coarsening. We are in a deep freeze like Narnia. Our hearts are cold. We do not trust each other. Sin abounds. And while it might be tempting to tell God your laundry list of things to do, that cannot be our task. Instead, we pray for God to show up.

“My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is mercy” (Psalm 130:6-7). We wait and hope that God shows up.

But don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that we are to be passive. Ask any server in any restaurant – waiting tables is hard work. Go back to the setting of Psalm 130. Imagine what the psalmist is thinking about. He’s using the image of a soldier on guard duty at night. That means making the rounds, tracking the hours, keeping one eye to the horizon, checking in with your officers. It means staying alert, even in the dead of the night. It means keeping your ears open for cries of help. Waiting is work. The duty of a Christian waiting on the Lord is work. This is active duty. We spend our days looking for God, opening our hearts to the will of God. We open our eyes to see the Spirit at work in the world. We serve our neighbors, we keep an eye out for those who need assistance. We pray. We pray, waiting on the Lord’s arrival. More than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. 

So I have two concluding thoughts, one about God, one about us. We’ll turn to the lesser substance first. Through Psalm 130 we are called to prayer in our worst moments of anxiety. But all the psalms – some of them depressing, some of them angry, some of them joyful – give language for all our prayers. I’ve said this often in my pastoral work, I encourage people to use the psalms to articulate what they are going through. Whatever you are feeling right now, wherever you are in life, there is a psalm for you to offer to God. I remember repeating Psalm 95 over and over again as I drove to the hospital the night our daughter was born. In the hardest moments of the pandemic, I’ve been drawn back to Psalm 88 when the psalmist says, “and darkness is my own companion.” And with the flood waters rising on that horrible night four years ago, it was these words. “More than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” The psalms are given to you by God for prayer to God. They are a gift. Use them.

But most of all, this psalm is about God. The psalmist here is at the end of their rope. They have nowhere to turn. They are in the depths. And yet they still turn to God. Dwell on that. God is not disappointed that you don’t have your life together. God is not upset with you when things aren’t working out. God is not angry that your life isn’t going according to plan. God is not punishing you by sending you the flood waters. Instead, God is on the way. God chooses, God wishes to be known to you. God is not hiding from you in these moments, God is coming closer. And God’s presence is the solution. The Lord shows up and there is plenteous redemption. 

All we can do is wait for the Lord God Almighty to show up. As God showed up in Jesus Christ. As God showed up in the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The Lord God is near, so keep your eyes and hearts open. With every fiber of your being, wait on God’s presence, more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

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