One of my favourite things is when someone comes to me after a service and offers a brilliant addition to the sermon I have just preached.
It happened yesterday. I was approached at the end of the service by a parishioner who suggested I might have concluded my sermon by quoting Exodus 14:13,14.
The Hebrew people have just been miraculously liberated from their long bondage in Egypt. They are fleeing through the wilderness and have “camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.” (Exodus 14:9) The Egyptians who, at first allowed the Hebrew people to leave, have had a change of heart and are in hot pursuit of the slaves they have let escape.
Ahead of the Hebrew people lies an impenetrable barrier of water, behind them and fast approaching are the mighty marauding Egyptian warriors. The Hebrew people are trapped. There is no way forward, no hope of retreat; a fight is unthinkable. They are terrified. In this hopeless trap, Moses stands before the people he had led to freedom, and the writer of Exodus says,
Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.’ (Exodus 14:13, 14)
Yesterday’s sermon was based on Psalm 130 which opens with the Psalmist saying,
Out of the depths (mah·am·äk’en)
I cry to you, O Lord. (Psalm 130:1)
In Psalm 69, the Psalmist describes this “depths” (mah·am·äk’en) place saying,
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, (mah·am·äk’en)
and the flood sweeps over me. (Ps 69:2)
from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
and from the deep waters. (mah·am·äk’en)
Mah·am·äk’en is the place where we feel we are sinking “in deep mire”. It is the place where we find it hard to get a “foothold.” Everything seems to be shifting; nothing feels secure or safe. We are in deep waters that risk overwhelming us. We feel as if we are surrounded by “enemies.”
Mah·am·äk’en is where the Hebrew people found themselves on the shores of “the sea, by Pi-hahiroth”. And the advice of the Psalmist in Psalm 130 is the same as the advice God gave to the Hebrew people when they found themselves trapped by the Egyptian army.
The Psalmist said,
I wait for the Lord,
my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord. (Psalm 130:5,6)
Moses said simply,
stand firm…keep still.
So often waiting is restless and agitated. I want to move on. I want things to change. I do not want to be in this uncomfortable mah·am·äk’en place. I want to make it all better, solve the problem, develop a plan, get a strategy for mending the painful broken bits of life.
But there is no fixing mah·am·äk’en. I cannot make it all better. Sometimes life just travels through difficult troubling territory. The only hope is to “stand firm… keep still.” Take a deep breath and wait. I need to feel my feet on the ground, relax my shoulders and allow my heart to open.
The Psalmist found that when he waited and allowed his heart to open he discovered at the core of his being, not restlessness, fear and uncertainty, but that
with the Lord there is steadfast love. (Pslam 130:7)
In the midst of mah·am·äk’en the Psalmist found kheh’·sed (“steadfast love”). In spite of the turmoil, uncertainty and challenge of his life, when the Psalmist stopped and stood still, he found the steady abiding faithful presence of love. He discovered that the core of existence is not uncertainty, doubt, confusion, and anxiety, but steadiness, peace, strength, and faithfulness. We can share the experience of Moses and the Psalmist, if we just wait, stand still, and allow that deep part of our true being to find its footing in the strength and mercy of God.