Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Ezekiel 2:1-7; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-6

A Sermon on Psalm 123

“Unto you I lift up my eyes, you who are enthroned in the heavens.” We all have a tendency to forget things about childhood. When we were kids, our lives looked very different, and it is easy in the fullness of adult life to forget. Now not all childhoods were good, but the disposition of children is almost always the same: they look to their parents. Kids, you know this. When you have a question about the world, or struggle to understand something, you ask your parents; when you are hurt, and need comfort, you seek it from mom or dad; when you are scared, you ask us to help you. I remember once, when I was a kid, I was really scared because I didn’t know what happened when we fell asleep. I know it sounds silly, but it made me very anxious, knowing that when I fell asleep, I wouldn’t be able to remember any of it, I was “gone.” It was scary to me. You know what? I asked my mom. Because I didn’t know what to do, I looked to her, and she sat with me and let me talk about it until I fell asleep. When we need help, we are supposed to turn to God, to pray and ask him for help. That’s what this Psalm is about: God will save those who patiently wait for him in hope. 

Psalm 123 is a short psalm, but a potent one. It gives us one, clear, concise message: The upward gaze of a patient and hopeful faith. The psalmist looks “up,” looks to where God is, awaiting help from there. The metaphor used is of a servant; one who must stand and wait for their master to give to them. We stand ready for the Lord, waiting for him to “show us your favor.” 

It is worth noting that the psalmist, in appealing to God to work quickly, is by implication recognizing that God does not in fact always work so. The Lord works slowly, sometimes allowing us to struggle and yes, suffer. Yet, our eyes are to remain trained forward, awaiting the Lord, for he will come, he will show us his favor. So we seek the world by crying the kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy, because the rich and the proud have shown us contempt long enough. Now I have to take the posture of the prophet who might be unwelcome in his hometown, and let this Psalm be a prophetic word to us.

This is an interesting text to have today of all days, on July 4th. Why? Because this psalm defies a dangerous tendency in our society: Placing our faith in the greatness of America. Now I hesitated to mention July 4th today. I’m very cautious about making the pulpit political. At the same time, we live in this country and celebrate its civic festivals. Scripture commands us to care for the land we live in, to be good citizens, as much as we can without compromising our faith. It is important that I address our lives as we experience them, that God’s word can be seen to reach into all places. And I fear that too many Christians tie their fortunes, bind their fates, and place their faith in what they perceive as the “greatness of America.” It is important to appreciate the land God has placed us in, and dare I say even to be patriotic. But to place our hope in the state of our country is to limit God’s grace to a human invention.

America is a country of great accomplishments, based on law and angled towards justice. However, it is still, at the end of the day, another human attempt at government. In 1776, it was laid out with great ideals; it achieved some, and failed dismally in others along the way. It declared the pursuit of life and liberty, but then destroyed multitudes of Native nations and cultures, and enslaved millions of our black brothers and sisters. In 1852, Frederick Douglas delivered an address we now know as “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” In it, he first recognizes the greatness of the American founders, but then point out that to the slave, America’s promises are rank hypocrisy. Celebrate the 4th today, but never, ever place your faith or your hope in this or any other country. No country on earth deserves it, because all countries, like us, have higher ideals than they can ever meet.

I urge you today, hear this Psalm, and recognize and embrace: God will save those who patiently wait for him in hope.

Perhaps you are suffering today. Perhaps you have experienced scorn and contempt. Oppression still happens. I think of the poor, who are perhaps the most despised in our deeply classist society. This last week, on the hottest day Spokane has ever seen, an encampment just down the road here was busted up by the police in the middle of the day and the denizens forced to move. I checked with someone I know who works for local news, and was informed that they were directed to cooling centers which, by that time of day, were already full. The encampment probably should be broken up, yes, but that day? That time? My friends, who was the victim of contempt that day? Whose soul was scorned by those at ease? Who can sing this psalm today? I hope it is us. I hope those who suffered that day looked up to the one enthroned. I hope I do when I am scorned and in contempt. 

If you have experienced scorn and contempt, look to God. That scorn and contempt may be from the wealthy, when you use your EBT card. It might be from employers, who take advantage of you. It may be because you don’t fit into someone else’s idea of what you are supposed to be. It may be because you say that you identify with the weak, the hurting, and the oppressed, and your prophetic word makes you unwelcome in your hometown, or with your own family. Maybe the scorn and contempt comes from within, from depression, self-criticism, feelings of unworthiness. But know this: you are an image bearer of God, more valuable than any other creation; and you are a citizen of heaven, a kingdom that will never end. Because these two things are true of you, never forget and never cease to give thanks for this, that when you call upon the Lord and ask for his mercy, God will save those who patiently wait for him in hope.

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