Pentecost 6 – Psalm 123 – "More Than Enough Contempt" – 7/5/15

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Would you take out your worship folder and turn to page 8 please. I’d like for us to recite our Psalm for today together once again.
To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
For we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease,
Of the contempt of the proud.

There’s a good chance that this Psalm was written in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah when Jews were returning to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon. Ezra was their priest and Nehemiah was their governor.

They were returning to Jerusalem, their old homes and neighborhoods, which were now populated by foreigners. Needless to say, there was no ‘homecoming parade’ in their honor. They were not welcome and their neighbors made that quite clear.

The task was to rebuild the wall around the city and the Temple. The book of Nehemiah records the history of the rebuilding of the wall and the book of Ezra is all about the rebuilding of the Temple. A nice distinction of the two kingdoms within the one kingdom of God. The civil realm working for the protection and safety of its citizens, the spiritual realm working to provide for the spiritual life of the people.

The common theme that runs through both books is the abuse and scorn that is heaped upon them by their neighbors. They are constantly having to stop work and go to the courts and establish their rights to do what they are doing.

They take a lot of verbal abuse, a lot of mocking and ridiculing from the locals. No one understands why they do what they do. Even the mayor of Jerusalem organizes multiple rallies to humiliate the Jews trying to make their life as miserable as possible.

And why? Why were they so scorned and ridiculed. They were industrious people willing to work, not dangerous or destructive. No, it was for their religious beliefs and practices that they were scorned. Because along with their religious beliefs came a certain morality that was clearly at odds with the morality of the culture of the day. Any of that sounds familiar to you?

It could very well have been either Ezra who wrote this Psalm. But whoever the author is, it sure sounds like he’s pretty ‘fed-up’ with it all.

“Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease,
Of the contempt of the proud.”

Maybe we can identify with the Psalmist. I’m afraid that for those who take God’s Word seriously and strive to live accordingly, it’s getting easier and easier to make these words our own.

• The student who raises her hand to challenge the assumptions of the teacher regarding evolution only to be ridiculed by the teacher for believing in myths more than science.
• In a conversation at the ‘water-cooler’ where everyone is expressing their pleasure with the recent supreme court ruling on same-sex marriage, one man expresses his disagreement, only to be called a bigot and unloving.
• The child who tells his coach that he can’t play in the game because it’s on Sunday and he’ll be at church, only to be told that God will understand if you miss church for this and all his teammates agree.

It’s all so unfair.

“Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease,
Of the contempt of the proud.”

It’s hard to say whether or not the contempt and the scorn will increase over time or not. God only knows. But if you’re looking for some perspective here, I think we can find it in this Psalm.

As we find it easier and easier to make these words our own, we realize that these have been the words of the people of God for centuries upon centuries. What we may be experiencing in the 21st century is nothing new for believers. And I’m confident the measure of contempt and scorn that we may be facing presently from the outside is not anywhere near the measure that those before us have faced. Just think about the scorn and contempt and persecution that our brothers and sisters in Christ in many parts of Africa and the Middle East are facing right now.

There is however another way to look at this, that does make us equal with all the faithful of every time and every place. If instead of considering the scorn and contempt that is heaped upon from the OUTSIDE because of our REGARD for the Word of God, what about the scorn and contempt that is heaped on us from the INSIDE because of our LACK OF REGARD for the Word of God?

Isn’t it the Scriptures themselves that mock and ridicule us? “You say that you believe the Word of God to be true huh? You say that the love of God compels you to live the way that you live and make the choices that you make and to say ‘yes’ to this and ‘no’ to that. But just look at what you actually do and the choices that you actually make and what you actually say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to.”

And so just listen to some of the names that the Bible calls us. “Hypocrite.” “Fool.” “Impudent and stubborn.” “Hard headed.” “Wicked.” “Rebellious.” “Adulterous.” “Sinful.” “Idolatrous.” These are not words that are reserved for the unbelievers. This is the scorn and contempt that the Word of God heaps on God’s own people for our unfaithfulness.

What scorn. What contempt heaped on us by God’s Word and our own conscience when we let God’s Word guide it.

If we will examine ourselves, we will see that WE are those who are AT EASE because we insist on being the master and mistress. We are the PROUD who refuse to be the humble servant and maidservant of the Lord.

The Law of God always scorns and accuses us. And the thing is, IT IS ALWAYS SO FAIR.

“Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us,
for we have had more than enough of contempt.
Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease,
Of the contempt of the proud.”

Thanks be to God there is another Word, that speaks a reply to all of the scorn and contempt that is heaped on us from the outside as well as from the inside. And that other word is the Gospel of God.

To the scorn and contempt that comes on us from the outside, the Gospel says, “I will protect you and I will deliver you.” To the scorn and contempt that comes on us from the inside, the Gospel says, “I forgive you and I will glorify you.”

God has had mercy upon us. What a beautiful Collect given us to we prayed together asking God’s blessing on the Scripture readings for today. “O God, Your almighty power is made known chiefly in showing mercy…”

So, what does the child of God do when he has had ‘more than enough contempt and scorn,’ either from the OUTSIDE or the INSIDE?

“To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are in the heavens!
Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,
As the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress,
So our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.”

To whom do you ‘lift up your eyes’ when you are “fed up with it all”? Fed up with others for their unfairness. Fed up with yourself for your unfaithfulness?

We can do no better than to make the words of this Psalm our own. We ‘lift up our eyes to the Lord our God,’ because it from Him that we expect our help and our deliverance to come.

Our Lord shows us the way in this. St. John reports that when they rolled the stone from in front of Lazarus’ tomb and Lazarus came out, “Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father I thank you that you have heard me.’ (John 11:41).

Sometime later, as Jesus is kneeling in prayer in the Garden of Gethsamane, John again reports, “Jesus lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you…” (John 17:1).

The servant looks to the hand of his master and the maidservant looks to the hand of her mistress, both for the good that comes from that hand as well as for the direction that it gives. “So our eyes look to the Lord our God.”

In another place, the Psalmist says, “The eyes of all look to you O Lord. You hold out your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15).

The Lord extends His hand to us. It’s a human hand with flesh and bones just like ours. But unlike our hands, His have been badly scared. These are hands that have suffered great scorn and contempt.

He was mocked and scorned in His own hometown among his friends and relatives. “Is this not the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James, and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him.”

He was delivered into the hands of those at EASE and the PROUD who were gathered together in the High Priest’s chambers, “You have heard His blasphemy… And some began to spit on him and to cover his face and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy.” (Mat. 14:64-65). Such scorn and mocking He faced from the SPRITUAL REALM.

Then, in the hands of the Governor, “they clothed Him in a purple cloak and twisting together a crown of thorns they put it on him. And they began to salute Him, ‘hail, king of the Jews.’ And when they MOCKED HIM, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.” (Mat. 15:16-20). Such scorn and mocking He faced from the CIVIL REALM.

And those who passed by could not resist the opportunity. “They mocked him to one another saying, ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe. And those who were crucified with Him also reviled Him.” (Mark 15:31-32).

Suddenly now we are beginning to think that maybe it is Jesus who wrote this Psalm and the words are His own:

“Have mercy, O Lord, have mercy,
for I have had more than enough of contempt.
My soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease,
Of the contempt of the proud.”

But He endures all of this for you. All the scorn and contempt that is heaped on you has been heaped on Him. He bears it all WITH US and FOR US. For awhile, it appeared as if the world had won the victory over God. And maybe it feels like that to us at times as well. But on the 3rd day, THE LORD raised THE LORD from the dead and He lives and reigns and he’s got the whole world in His hands – His nail scared Hands.

From these hands, the servant and the maidservant of the Lord receive forgiveness for all of our sins and deliverance from all of our tormenters. From those hands, the servant and the maidservant of the Lord receive the perfect mercy of God.

His friends and neighbors said, “how are such mighty works done by his hands?” The answer is, He is God “whose almighty power is made known chiefly in showing mercy.”

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