Sermon: “For God Alone My Soul in Silence Waits” (January 25, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“For God Alone My Soul in Silence Waits” (Psalm 62:1 and 6)
January 25, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I recently came across an email that I found very helpful. It provides various answers to a question of earth-shattering importance: How many church members does it take to change a light bulb? The answers to this profound question hinge on one critical factor—the type of church to which the said church members who want to change a light bulb belong. Here are some of the answers:

Pentecostals need ten church members—one to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

Charismatics only need one member to change the light bulb, because their hands are already in the air.

Baptists need at least fifteen church members—one to change the light bulb and three committees to approve the changing of the light bulb and decide who will bring the potato salad.

Presbyterians do not need any church members to change the light bulb because the light will go on and off at predestined times anyway.

Mormons need five church members—a man to change the light bulb and his four wives to tell him how to do it.

And finally…Episcopalians need eight church members to change a light bulb—one to call the electrician and seven to say how much they liked the old light bulb better ☺.

Today I am preaching on a phrase that occurs twice in Psalm 62, once in the first verse and again in the sixth verse: “For God alone my soul in silence waits…For God alone my soul in silence waits” (The Book of Common Prayer 669).

Most of us do not enjoy waiting—whether it is waiting in line, waiting to talk to someone when you are on hold, waiting at the doctor’s office, waiting to board a plane, waiting for someone to finish getting ready to go somewhere, waiting for a house to sell, waiting for a child to be born, waiting for someone to text you back, or waiting for a preacher to get to the point ☺, we do not enjoy waiting.

Advertisements often exhort us to do the exact opposite of waiting with four simple monosyllabic words: don’t wait, act now!

In the hilarious television show How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris played Barney Stinson, who would often emphasize the importance of what he was saying with his famous catchphrase “wait for it…” But we would rather not “wait for it,” we would rather “do something about it.”

During his 2004 commencement speech at the University of Wisconsin award-winning actor Bradley Whitford spoke along these lines as he exhorted:

“Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from on high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen…yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.”

With all due respect to Bradley Whitford, who is a very gifted actor, Scripture has a rather different perspective when it comes to waiting. In her insightful book When the Heart Waits Sue Monk Kidd observes:

“If you want to be impressed, note how often God’s people seem to be waiting. Noah waits for the flood waters to recede; Daniel waits through the night in a den of lions; Sarah waits in her barrenness for a child; Jacob waits for Rachel’s hand. The Israelites wait in Egypt; then wait forty more years in the desert. Later they wait seventy years in Babylonian captivity. Jonah waits in a fish’s belly; Mary waits; Simeon waits to see the Messiah; the apostles wait for Pentecost; Paul waits in prison” (28-29).

Throughout the Book of Psalms we are exhorted to wait on God—“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:18); “My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130:5); “You are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Psalm 25:4).

This is also the case with the Old Testament prophets. Hosea exhorts us, “Wait continually for your God” (Hosea 12:6), and similarly Habakkuk writes, “If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3).

One of the better known Scripture passages about waiting is from yet another Old Testament prophet, Isaiah:

“Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:30-31).

I once heard a preacher claim that the Hebrew word for “wait” in this passage actually meant to serve, as in waiting tables, which may appeal to us because it gives us something to do—but the word “wait” in this passage actually means to, well, wait.

Recently Rolling Stone magazine published a special edition about Tom Petty, one of my all-time favorite classic rock artists. They ranked what they considered to be his fifty greatest songs and coming in at number seven is a song called “The Waiting” (it ranks higher on my personal list, but I digress…), and Petty sings:

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith
You take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
(From his 1981 album Hard Promises).

Why is waiting so hard?

Because waiting is often connected to situations over which we have no control, and we really like to be in control, or at least think we are in control—and waiting is often connected to being completely dependent on the actions of someone other than ourselves. When we have tried to do or say everything we can think of to change or resolve or rectify a given situation, only to come up short again and again, we are left with no other option but waiting.

And that is why these words from Psalm 62, “For God alone my soul in silence waits,” not only connect with our lives in these very situations but also bring us comfort and relief. If in these situations the wisest thing to do is to wait for God to act, that means the burden is no longer ours—as Scripture encourages us, “Cast all your anxiety upon (God) because he cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).

In his classic book Knowing God the brilliant Anglican scholar J. I. Packer writes:

“God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God” (238-239).

And yet sometimes when we wait, we may wonder if it is worth it. Sarah McLachlan sings, “Spend all your time waiting for that second chance, for a break that would make it okay” (from her song “Angel” on her 1997 album Surfacing)—and similarly Mary Chapin Carpenter sings, “I kept waiting on forgiveness to fix the broken places, but nothing like that ever came my way” (from her song “Outside Looking In” on her 1994 album, Stones in the Road).

In Williams Faulkner’s second novel, Mosquitoes (1927), one of the characters is a widow named Mrs. Maurier, who is on an excursion on her luxury yacht with several wealthy friends from New Orleans. On the surface she has everything she could ask for, but Faulkner describes what is actually going on beneath the surface:

“(Mrs. Maurier) lay in bed—her bed, especially built, was the most comfortable one on board—surrounded, lapped in security and easeful things, walled and secure within the bland hushed planes of the bulkheads. A faint happy sound came in to her: little tongues of water lapping ceaselessly alongside the yacht, against her yacht—that island of security that was always waiting to transport her comfortably beyond the rumors of the world and its sorrows; and beyond the yacht, space: water and sky and darkness and silence, a worn cold moon neither merry nor sad…Mrs. Maurier lay in her easy bed, within her comfortable room, weeping long shuddering sobs: a passive terrible hysteria without a sound” (Faulkner: Novels 1926-1929, 288).

You see, what was really going on beneath the surface in Mrs. Maurier was that she was waiting, waiting for something for which she truly longed, waiting for something for which she wanted more than anything else in the world…Mrs. Maurier was waiting for love.

And Mrs. Maurier is not alone.

The good news of the gospel is that in Jesus Christ grace actually did come down from on high—and it still does.

When Jesus Christ came to the world he brought with him the love, the forgiveness, the second chance for which we had all been waiting.

“For God alone my soul in silence waits”…that is exactly what Jesus did on our behalf. When Jesus was falsely accused he said nothing in his defense. When Jesus was mocked and beaten and jeered he said nothing in response.

And when Jesus finally did speak, after being nailed to a cross, he prayed to the One for whom his soul in silence waited, and he prayed for you, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

That prayer was answered—and forgiveness came your way.

This means that in spite of all the situations in your lives in which you are waiting, when it comes to the unconditional love and mercy and grace of God, you do not have to “wait for it”—you can take it on faith and take it to your heart.

Moreover, when it comes to the light bulbs in your life that have burned out, the light bulbs that you are unable to change, you do not have to say or do anything.

Instead, you can wait in silence for God to act, and eventually God will, and you can rest assured that it will all turn out better than you could have ever imagined.

Amen.