Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Faith in the face of trouble (Psalm 123)

Psalm 123 has been called a communal lament, the Jewish blues, it’s a cry to God in the midst of pain, suffering and distress.

It’s captured in the repeated cry of have mercy, have mercy in v 3.

It’s expressed in the repetition of the word endured in verses 3 and 4… we are going through the mill. We are laughed at, mocked and look down upon, written off and treated with contempt. There seems to be no end to our troubles.

It has also been described as a communal psalm of confidence, a statement of faith and trust in the face of adversity.

Where the psalmist’s eyes are not focused on the trouble before him but look to God. Look to God and sees that despite all the evidence to the contrary, God is still enthroned in heaven, that God is still sovereign.

That looks to The Lord our God till he shows his mercy. Not that God is simply way up there and in control but also that God sees and God cares and God is way down here with us as well and able to act on behalf of his people.  Trusting that it is in God that there is a way forwards, a way through, there is future hope and hope for the future.

It’s a wonderful psalm, because in these four short verses, in this lament and in this confidence, it kind of sums up, the life of faith. Looking too and trusting and being prepared to serve God, wrestling with and facing down all sorts of troubles that would threaten to shake that confidence.

It’s a Psalm that leads us into the Easter story.  In our New Testament reading this morning we see Jesus express and epitomise that faith of an attentive servant, the psalm talks of and which we find hard to connect with in our society. “I have come to do what I see the father do and say what I hear the father say” says Jesus. I look to God and I live out what I see God doing.

Then in the second half of this psalm we hear the mocking cries of Good Friday, at the cross, he could save others why not himself, Go on if you are God’s son call out and come on down. Contempt made manifest in cruel blows, crown of thorn, public humiliation.  A dark situation where there seems to be no way forwards. But Jesus eyes are fixed on God, being prepared to  endure the shame of the cross as Hebrews 12 puts it. Trusting that God would show his mercy. A confidence shown in the words “it is finished”, into your hands do I commend my spirit. A confidence and trust that God would show his mercy, in that God raised Jesus to life again. That there is the offer of forgiveness and new life for all. As that Old African amercian preacher says “ It’s Friday ( and life can feel like Friday) but Sunday is coming”.

It’s a psalm that invites the pilgrim to Jerusalem and us to have the same faith and the same hope.

It invites us to adjust our gaze, we can stare at the issues and the problems in our life and in our world… the ebb and flow of history that is playing out before us… and we can find ourselves caught up in that and daunted by its enormity and its immanence. But the psalms starts not with the problems but with an affirmation of trust and praise. It invites us to look to God, look to Christ the author and perfector of our faith, the beginning and the end.

In the Lord’s prayer which Jesus gave us as a template for our prayer lives it starts with the acknowledgement of God, and his glory and seeing his purposes and justice and reign first. It invites us to fix our eyes on God and then we trust him for provision of daily bread forgiveness and reconciliation and protection.

It’s a psalm that invites us to turn and to trust. Abraham Lincoln summed up this psalm in his own life when he said “ I have been driven to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day. ”

But it is also the hope and the refuge that Jesus offers us as well… To know God is sovereign and is with us and for us and can be trusted for a way forwards.

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