Monday, September 1, 2008

August 17, 2008 Proper 15 Psalm 123

A song of ascents. To You, I lift up my eyes; enthroned in the heavens. Look, as eyes of servants to the hand of their lord; as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress. So our eyes to Yahweh our God; until He has mercy on us. Have mercy on us, Yahweh, have mercy on us; for greatly are we filled with contempt. Greatly filled in our souls, with the ridicule of those who are not troubled; with the contempt of the haughty.

Have you ever noticed how the old, traditional kyrie used in the liturgy on Sunday morning cries out for God's mercy not just once, but 3 times? Lord have mercy...Christ have mercy...Lord have mercy. Of course, this 3-ness reminds us of the Trinity, but also of something more. It reminds us of the persistance of faith, which keeps on praying to God for the same things. Thrice today the psalmist speaks of God's mercy. 3 times also, the Canaanite woman of Lebanon asks for mercy from Jesus.

Sometimes our first reaction is thinking that it is bad to repeat our requests to God. If we keep praying for the same things over & over, won't that sound like pestering to God? But we do well to remember that our praying is not for God, but for us! We need to keep praying for the same things, as we do in the Lord's Prayer, as a faith-reminder that we are still trusting in God to provide. Faith keeps on asking, keeps on hoping, and continues to trust in God to finally answer in His Own timing.

We may react with a bit of contempt toward such praying. "Who does that woman think she is, begging God for a hand out?" We might with regard to those who pray to win the lottery, or for other worldly things. But we ought never feel this way with respect to those who pray for God's mercy, including ourselves. All Christians need regular helpings of God's good grace, the more the better. We should never become complacent, thinking that since we are baptized, we have enough mercy.

Yet another wrong reaction to requesting God's mercy is to think that you don't have to. If you begin to consider that you are pretty self-sufficient, able to do without God's mercy, think again. There may be many things you can do for yourself in this world, but you simply cannot pull yourself up by your own bootstraps to save yourself. Christianity is not a do-it-yourself endeavor. It is all about relying on the love of Jesus Christ, shown to us in His willingness to die our death, Himself, on the cross.

Both the psalmist and the Canaanite woman show us the proper response to God's mercy–asking for it in humble, persistent faith. The psalmist is willing to see himself as a humbled servant before his master, deserving of nothing. He must rely fully upon the kindness of His Lord. So too, the pagan woman who is perfectly willing to consider herself but a *dog* before Jesus. Yet she trusts that even a small crumbs of Jesus' mercy will be sufficient to help her demon-possessed daughter.

Such humility isn't easy. It is not an Olympic sport you can train for. For if it was, you would work so hard to be humble that you would begin to brag & boast that you are the humblest of all, winner of the gold medal for humity. No, humility is not achieved, it is given, by God. His Law condemns us as prideful & haughty whenever we think we don't need Him. God's commandments cut us to the quick, knocking us off our pedestals, and even killing our sinful human nature–that prideful Old Adam.

Once we come to accept that we can't do it ourselves, and have not earned or merited anything good from God, that's when His merciful gospel love does its thing. You see baptism as God's merciful washing away of your sins. You recognize the proclamation of Jesus' gospel as His personal message of love to you from the cross. Your eyes look to your God, Christ Jesus, and by faith they discern His very body & blood, in the bread & wine, for your forgiveness in the Lord's Supper.

So you cry out repeatedly to God as in the kyrie: Lord have mercy upon us...have mercy upon us...have mercy upon us. Just as the psalmist repeats this kyrie in Psalm 123. Just as the Canaanite woman cries out to Jesus for mercy once, and seems to be ignored; so she cries out again to His disciples who wish to send her away; and then again she pleads with Jesus a third time for help. Then she willingly allows herself to be a humbled dog in His presence, praying only for crumbs.

You have it far better. You are blessed to be baptized children of God and part of His heavenly household. You are in the presence of your Lord Jesus as He proclaims His gospel love to you again and again. You are invited to the feast to eat more than crumbs. You are blessed to eat of Jesus Own body & blood for your forgiveness, eternal life, and everlasting salvation. Amen.

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