“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” Psalm 107:6
Popular tolerance tells us that all roads eventually lead to heaven (or Nirvana, or a better stage in the next life, etc.). As a follower of Jesus I whole heatedly disagree. However, I do believe that God is able to lift us up no matter what path we are on and redeem us. The beauty of this week’s psalm is that it describes the “somes” of this life – some wandering in the desert, some sitting in darkness and gloom, some sick through their sinful ways, and some going down to the sea. In the end, all of these life pilgrims call out in their trouble and are rescued.
“Some wondered in the desert wastes …” (4) Israel was no stranger to wandering in the desert. Much of their story, and much of our story for that matter, involves time spent in the desert. Israel knew hunger and thirst. Israel knew what it was like to wander without a home; without a land they could call their own. In fact, this week’s Hebrew Scripture lection tells the story of a wandering Israel who complains against the Lord because of their hunger and their thirst. (Numbers 21:1-11) No food, no water, and no home “their souls were fainting within them.” (Ps 107:5)
Because they were faithless the Lord sent poisonous snakes among them. They repented and a bronze serpent was lifted up before their eyes and they were saved. “They cried out to the Lord [not against the Lord this time] in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” (6) As the psalm goes on to say,
… he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love … for he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.
So the Lord led these wanderers into a new land, fed them, and gave them water. For the some who face hunger, thirst and homelessness the good news is that the love of the Lord is steadfast and their is redemption for those who will call on the name of the Lord.
“Some sat in darkness and in gloom …” (10) There are some who do not wander looking for a home, but for an identity. It’s no wonder one cannot see who he or she is when life is lived the darkness. A man named Nicodemus came to Jesus one evening (John is sure to tell us that he came in the “dark”) with questions of identity. He began by asking Jesus who he really was and Jesus, as he often does, spun the conversation to address the heart of the issue – how does one come out of the dark and into the light?
Jesus offers Nicodemus the following advice: If you want to live, really live, then you need to be raised up with me in death and then also in life. Life in the darkness is no life at all. You see, you were created to live in the light. For God so loved the world that he sent me to die so that anyone who faithfully follows me will not destroy their own life but receive eternal life.
One cannot miss the play between light and dark in this conversation (John 3:1-21). Those who are trapped in darkness can, like the psalmist, cry out to the Lord in their trouble and he will save them from their distress.
“Some were fools in their rebellion …” Some of us know ourselves all too well. The prophet Jonah, for example, knew he was a prophet and he knew what was required of a prophet, but instead of running toward God he ran away. His story is told in the book Jonah but it is important to point out that Jonah’s disobedience put him in danger (thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish) and placed the crew of the ship in danger as well.
Jonah cried out in his trouble and the Lord rescued him from his distress (Jonah 2). His release from the fish and eventual obedience resulted in the saving of Nineveh. Jonah was able to help lead the somesof Nineveh sitting in the darkness and enduring affliction because of their sin out of their distress and impending destruction.
“Some went down to the sea in ships …” (23) There are those who cannot be bothered with the thought of homelessness, foolishness, or identity. They are far too concerned with what the world has to offer and so they must travel upon its seas. Eventually, though, they will come head to head with the power of the sea and discover their lives threatened by the very thing they thought would be life giving. I don’t have a biblical illustration to share with you perhaps because this is the most familiar of the stories. In one way or another we have all abandoned what we know to be true to pursue what the world has to offer.
We could share our stories of how the waves began crashing in and how our ships began sinking. Troubled marriages, addictions, difficult lab results, financial struggles, doubt, fear, uncertainty, calls to ministry, life changes, etc. all contribute to the storms of life. One way or another most of us called out to the Lord in our trouble and he delivered us from our distress.
Some of us though are still lost at sea. Some of us are still rebelling against God’s love. Some of us are confused and wandering in darkness. Some of us are wandering in the desert looking for a place to rest our heads. There is good news for the somes – when you call out to the Lord he is able to rescue you!
Jesus was indeed raised up on a pole and put to death so that we might have life. Jesus was raised up again in quite another way, which we call resurrection. Conquering death and making life possible he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father interceding on our behalf.
For he has raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of your own doing but is a gift of God – not the result of works so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:6-10)
And there it is. No matter where you come from, the east, west, north of south (Psalm 107:3), no matter your situation, wandering, lost, rebellion, self-seeking (Psalm 107:4, 10, 17, 23) you are invited to be raised up. For those who find themselves in trouble, cry out to the Lord and be lifted up! For those who have been and are being lifted up, give thanks to the Lord for his steadfast love! For those who have been raised up with Christ Jesus live out your purpose in Christ by doing the good works God prepared for us. Amen.