Where to Look When You’ve Had More than Enough
Rev. Kurt Lantz Proper 9 C Psalm 123
July 04, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Dear servants of the LORD,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
“Have mercy on us, O LORD, for we have had more than enough of contempt” (Psalm 123:3). Once again today, the psalms give us an expression that just seems to flow out of our own personal experience. We can all identify with having had more than enough, to the point where we cannot take it anymore. It can give rise to protests when groups of people have had more than enough. It can give way to silence and even suicide when individual people have had more than enough. Today’s psalm teaches us that it should give rise to prayer, when we have had more than enough.
In the Old Testament reading, the LORD called Ezekiel to be His prophet to Israel and warned him that he would have more than enough contempt from his own people. “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against Me. They and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (Ezekiel 2:3-5).
That is where the appointed reading ends, but the next verse goes on to describe what it will feel like for Ezekiel to be held in contempt by the people he is sent to serve. “And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house” (v. 6). It will feel like you have had more than enough, like walking through thorn-bushes and sitting on scorpions. Perhaps you have suffered those thorny stares when you have spoken the Word of the Lord GOD, to warn family members of their sinful habits. Perhaps you have felt like sitting on scorpions when you have tried to share that God has sent a Saviour, while the culture disdains you for suggesting that they need to be saved at all.
And after the prophets God sent were so ill-treated by His people He sent His own Son, but they treated Him with contempt also. They looked at Him and said, “’Is not this 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” (Mark 6:3). It stings like scorpions when you try to speak the Word of God and people cannot get past the fact that you are no different than they are. They know you. They know your family. They know your past. Why should they listen to you?
In fact, unlike Jesus the sinless Son of God, it is our sins that most cause this contempt and scorn. It is true that we are nobody special in their eyes. It is true that we have sins just as bad as theirs. It is true that we don’t have our lives all straightened out. It is true that we have looked upon them with scorn and contempt, in exactly the way that they are looking at us. There is perhaps no greater barrier to speaking God’s Word than being a sinner who has been condemned by that very Word.
So, should we not say anything? That is often what they tell us. Does that solve the problem? You have the Word of God to share, to show salvation in Jesus Christ to family and friends and neighbours. Without it they are ensnared in their sins. They are trapped and cannot get out. They are being dragged down to hell and don’t even realize it. They are hurting themselves and others and they don’t seem to care. And the Lord God has placed a sinner like you in their life to speak His Word of warning and to show them the way of salvation. And it is going to hurt like thorns. It is going to sting like scorpions. They are a rebellious house, just like you.
As your neighbours and your friends and your family members shut their ears and turn away, as they snicker and laugh at you in scorn, as they look at you with contempt in the pride of their sin, what are you going to do? When your soul has “had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud”, what will you do? Will you lose your temper and stomp your feet while you scream in their face? Will you back down and silently crawl into a hole somewhere? I’ve tried both of those approaches and they didn’t do me or the other people much good.
Today’s psalm shows us what to do. It shows us how to pray when we have had more than enough. There is one who dwells in the heavens to whom we can look when we have had more than enough. He knows what it is like to have had more than enough of people He cares about not listening, not paying any heed, not hearing the warning, or the offer of love and salvation. He knows what it is like to repeatedly try to call rebellious sinners to repentance and have them respond with scorn and contempt. He knows what it is like to bring His gifts of restoration and salvation to His hometown and be rejected and despised.
He Himself came down from heaven and became one of us in order that His Word might reach us right where we are in this wicked world, harassed by the devil and all manner of temptations and strife. He took our nature upon Himself in order to reach out to us, and we have responded to Him with contempt, like He’s just some ordinary Joe who has no right to tell me how to live my life. We act like Jesus is a carpenter and not the Creator; like he made cabinets, rather than caused trees to sprout out of the ground. We acknowledge Him as a brother who doesn’t know when to shut up, not as the only-begotten Son of God, the Word made flesh, who is our only Saviour and hope.
Yet, because God has reached out to us in Jesus Christ, His Word made flesh, we can look to Him when we have had enough and find compassion and mercy. “As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master... so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till He has mercy upon us” (v. 2). We look to the hands of our Master because our eyes see that His hands have nail marks in them. This Creator carpenter’s hands were pierced to torture Him to death for our sins. His hands show us that this Master will give what is needed for us to get the job done, to live in the forgiveness that He has secured for us, and to share that good news of salvation with our family, friends, neighbours, and nation.
As servants we don’t deserve any mercy. We deserve to be thrown out for not getting the job done. We deserve to be sacked for our many sins. But knowing what this Master has done for us, we know that He will continue to do what is necessary for us. That might mean allowing us to suffer contempt so that we learn humility and do not boast in our own accomplishments, but rather in our weaknesses. The great St. Paul needed that lesson continuously so he would learn not to talk about what he had done, but what he suffered and how the Lord Jesus had saved him. It is in our weaknesses that the strength of God can be seen (2 Corinthians 12:10).
In the contempt and scorn that we suffer we learn to look to Jesus. By the contempt and scorn that He suffered on the cross we have our salvation. And there, too, is salvation for those who hold us in scorn and contempt, when they learn from us to look to Jesus. That is what needs to happen when your family looks at you with contempt, when your nation looks at your church with scorn, when your friends and neighbours give you thorny stares, and when the establishment has you sitting on scorpions for what you believe and confess.
When we have had more than enough, let us look to Him who endured the shame of the cross for us. He knows when we need to be humbled and when we need to be lifted up. He may lift us up immediately and vindicate us in the eyes of all who scorn us. Or He may allow us to suffer the thorns in our flesh to keep us from being too elated with ourselves, and remind us that our strength is only in His forgiving mercy and grace. Whatever is in store for us personally or as the Christian Church in Canada, we can be sure of at least two things: 1) Before it is over we will have had more than enough; and 2) We can always look to the Lord who will have more than enough mercy for us.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.