Sermons and Talks

“Lord Have Mercy”: How Psalm 123 Speaks to Canada Today – A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost – July 4, 2021

Preached at All Saints, King City, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, Sunday, July 4, 2021, the Sixth Sunday After Pentecost.

Lections for this Sunday, Proper 14, Yr B:  2 Sam 5.1-5, 9-10; Ps 123; 2 Cor 12.2-10; Mk 6.1-13.

Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.  Psalm 123.3

This Sunday being so close to Canada Day, I wanted to offer some comments on our readings that also reflect what seems to be our national mood on a holiday that hasn’t quite felt like a holiday.   There was the usual fusillade of fireworks on Thursday night, but elsewhere, and you could really see this on social media, many people were ambivalent about Canada Day.  

Something has changed since the discovery of the first unmarked children’s graves in Kamloops, with more being discovered almost daily.   People feel thoughtful, mournful, penitent.  Others are angry enough to burn churches and topple statues.  Perhaps reconciliation needed to bring us to this place, a place from which we can’t go back to the old Canada that we were taught about in our childhoods.  Something new needs to come, some new and better sense of ourselves.

Psalm 123 feels like a blessing and an encouragement spoken to us at this strange and sad juncture.  It begins by connecting us to God, our eyes turned up like those searching for help and rescue.   God is depicted as our biblical ancestors understood God, powerful and lofty, and yet God hears and responds lovingly and kindly: “our eyes look to the Lord our God, until he has mercy upon us” (v. 2).

 The merciful character of God needs to be understood clearly here, lest we be distracted by the imagery of master and servant.   A certain deconstructive way of reading this psalm would discard the entire thing because of the power differential baked into it, and yet two things need to be said about this imagery.

 First, casting us into the role of servants of God is totally in accord with the Jewish and Christian tradition.   God is mighty, God is creator, God is redeemer.  We are none of those things, and we are needful of them.   Second, the servants look to God’s hand, not in fear of punishment, but in hope of help.  God’s hand in the psalm is a helping hand.

 The heart of the psalm, which speaks to us most clearly now, comes in the third verse: “Have mercy upon us, O Lord, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.”  With thousands of children in unmarked graves waiting to be discovered, and with generations ravaged because we tried to “kill the Indian in the child”, what can we as a country say to God but “Lord have mercy”?  What better prayer can we say for our beloved country of Canada than “Lord have mercy”?

 The psalmist says, “we have had enough of contempt”.  Indeed we have.   The psalms often call for the punishment of those who hold the God of Israel in contempt, but here the punishment should be ours.   The residential schools were built on contempt, scorn, and pride.  My generation inherited a legacy of contempt for indigenous Canadians.  Indian jokes were common in my school years.   “Lord have mercy”.

 A final point about the relevance of this psalm.   Psalm 123 is one of the “Psalms of Ascents”, so called because they are thought to be songs of the exiles who returned from Babylon to rebuild a ruined Jerusalem.  As such the psalms are aspirational, a hope that God would help a lost people build something better and lasting.  

Let’s pray and act for a better Canada, with our hands reaching out to God’s hand and to the hands of our indigenous brothers and sisters, “for we have had more than enough of contempt”.