The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope
Transcribed from the audio.
Many shall see and stand in awe and put their trust in the Lord. Amen.
In the words of today’s psalmist: I waited patiently upon the Lord; he stooped to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the desolate pit, out of the mire and clay; he set my feet upon a high cliff and made my footing sure. Many shall see and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
If you’re like me, there are moments in your life when the psalmist’s cry is your cry. You find yourself mired in the mud and pleading for God to hear you. And if you’re like me, I don’t necessarily wait so patiently on the Lord. I come a little bit closer to a more literal translation which is: urgently hoping. And there are many things— it seems to be the nature of life—that cause us to find ourselves in the pit: broken relationships, health issues, fractured finances, a problem at work, or the problem of no work. And when we are mired in the mud it’s really a challenge to access that promise and understanding that the Lord is indeed with us. So many times it’s only when we’re able to look in the rearview mirror that we can see how God was, in fact, with us. And so, this morning I’d like you to journey with me in a fast sprint with the arc of the biblical narrative and human history as we know it, to see how, in fact, God has been very present to some of the most effective leaders who’ve done extraordinary things on behalf of God and God’s people.
Starting with Joseph: many of us remember Joseph as the one who saved his family and his people and the nation of Egypt from starvation during a time of great famine. What we tend to skip over is the early part of Joseph’s life when he was living with very jealous brothers who decided to throw him into a pit and leave him there to die until they came up with a better plan which was to not just leave him to die, but to make some money off the whole deal and so they sold him into slavery. He then went on to Egypt only to find himself back in the pit when he rebuffed Potiphar’s wife’s advances. But it was from that pit that God started to work an incredible miracle that would ultimately save God’s people. Many shall see and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
Moving on to Jeremiah, the great prophet of the time of the exile: he, too, found himself in the pit, imprisoned; at one point in time thrown into a cistern to die. And the Scripture reads that there was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah stood in the mud. We know that Jeremiah emerged from that pit to continue to offer a word of hope and survival and not just survival, but salvation, to the people who were crying out to God in exile. Many shall see and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
Moving onto Paul: you’ll recall that Paul’s ministry was the most effective missionary work that helped cement and established the early church, the reason that we all still today can call ourselves Christians. You’ll also recall that Paul was in and out of prison during the entirety of his ministry and it was from prison, it was in the pit, that Paul wrote those pastoral letters to the early church to give them faith, to give them hope, to give them a way forward. And he did it from the pit of prison. Many shall see and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
Moving to more contemporary times, we were reminded in the last few months of the powerful witness of Nelson Mandela who spent twenty-seven years in the pit of prison only to emerge from that pit to lead a new South Africa. Who could’ve imagined that? Many shall see and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
And then, of course, this weekend we are reminded of the enduring prophecy and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, too, was in prison and wrote one of the most powerful letters that we all remember today. I re-read A Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and I commend it to you. One of the pieces of it that struck me has total resonance with that second verse of Psalm 40. Dr. King wrote, “Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.” Many shall see and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord.
You see, I think for all of us, it’s difficult to get that perspective when we seem to be stuck in the mud. It’s hard to remember when we’re thrashing about—crying out desperately to the Lord to lift us out—that, in fact, the Lord is with us, right there in the muck. And that if we can only open ourselves to this possibility, God may be prepared to use that pit preparation to do something extraordinary and enduring on behalf of God and God’s people. So when you find yourself in that pit, and you may be there today, take heart; the Lord is with you. And remember like all those who’ve gone before and those who will follow: many shall see and stand in awe, and put their trust in the Lord. Amen.