Are you satisfied with what you have? - Psalm 73 Sermon February Prayer Service
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday February 7th 2018: Epiphany / Psalm 73 "Are you satisfied with what you have?"
Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pangs until death;
their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
and their tongue struts through the earth.
Therefore His people turn back to them,
and find no fault in them.
And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
Truly You set them in slippery places;
You make them fall to ruin.
How they are destroyed in a moment,
swept away utterly by terrors!
Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when You rouse Yourself,
You despise them as phantoms.
When my soul was embittered,
when I was pricked in heart,
I was brutish and ignorant;
I was like a beast toward You.
Nevertheless, I am continually with You;
You hold my right hand.
You guide me with Your counsel,
and afterward You will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but You?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
For behold, those who are far from You shall perish;
You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.
But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all Your works.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. In the next stretch of Psalms we only have one attributed to King David and this isn’t it. Psalm 73 is written by Asaph a Temple musician. It isn’t a Psalm about a dramatic event but rather about an internal struggle and a moment of revelation, an Epiphany.
Asaph is struggling with the World and the people in it. He struggles with his own view of the World, and whether they knew it or not, Asaph struggles with the rich and powerful people who neglect God and His Word, who likely skipped worship and Temple observances, the feasts and festivals, and yet continue to prosper. The sorts of folk who live lives of ease and yet continue to grow more and more rich without the hard work that other less fortunate folk, and presumably Asaph, exert in their daily life just to keep their head above water.
Asaph has made an accurate assessment of the situation, these fat-cats who skate through life with ease, who scoff at God from their gilded peanut gallery of gold, are in fact wicked. Pointing this out the way he did is no sin, however where Asaph catches himself falling and slipping into sin is in his personal envy of these wealthy jerks. In his envy Asaph had taken his eyes off of the grace and mercy of God, and God’s good gifts for him, and instead set his eyes upon what his neighbours have: Asaph was losing his contentment. Which commandment was Asaph breaking? He wasn’t bearing false witness about them … no Asaph was coveting. He was breaking the Commandments at the end of the 10 Commandments:
You shall not covet your neighbour’s house. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not scheme to get our neighbour’s inheritance or house, or get it in a way which only appears right, but help and be of service to him in keeping it.
You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbour. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not entice or force away our neighbour’s wife, workers, or animals, or turn them against him, but urge them to stay and do their duty.
Asaph had stopped short of scheming, of enticing, of forcing but he was coveting and envying. He may not have specifically desired their wives or workers but he was beginning to want their lifestyle in general. His envy was driving him to despair; he had begun to even regret his efforts to keep a pure heart, to live a life for God and for the good of the children of Israel. He was what we’d call today a church worker and he looked out into the community and when he did he desired what the wicked had. This brings up a question.
Are you satisfied with what you have? It’s ok to strive towards a better life for yourself and your children … but if you do it in such a way that you are always looking to have what others have then trouble begins to crop up. Maybe it’s not that, maybe you like Asaph have struggled with dark feelings of regret … a sort of wondering if coming to church, if having faith helps. You see others who are not here and they’re doing well, being here hasn’t kept your family perfectly healthy or happy, hasn’t provided you and your family with more martial wealth. Doubts and troubles of the soul can emerge as you navel gaze, as you look only to the moment and start to take a tally of what I have, what they have, what you have. And this was Asaph’s trouble … it may be yours. He was short sighted. He’d lost track of the promises of God, the big picture of things. Sure the wicked seem to be ahead in the moment, they seem to be well of in their schemes … but will that last forever? Is there lasting rewards in all their big talk and fat living? Or will it come crashing down in an instance?
Jesus would later tell a couple parables that illustrate the actual truth of the situation that was recalled to memory for Asaph when Asaph walked into the sanctuary of the Temple, the sanctuary of God, and he discerned the end of the wicked, when it all came back to him. One day as Jesus was teaching, “Someone in the crowd said to Him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But [Jesus] said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And [Jesus continued on saying] to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And [Jesus] told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
Another time Jesus told a different parable that gets at the atheism of the wicked, when Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And [the rich man] said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send [Lazarus] to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that [Lazarus] may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And [the rich man who had neglected all these things himself] said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ [And Abraham then] said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
What Asaph had remembered, what he remembered when he walked into the Sanctuary of the Temple is what he coveys to his hearers in Psalm 73 and it’s just what Jesus would later teach, what we just heard in the two parables, that there is no need to covet or envy anyone in this present life, no matter what they might have that you do not have. Health, wealth, time, home, family, influence … all of these things will not outlive them and in the end they will not have any of it. What matters more than anything else is what Asaph writes with his contrite and repentant heart as he says to God near the close of the Psalm, “You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will receive me to glory.” Asaph asks, “Whom have I in heaven but You?” It’s a good question, well worth asking, he then says of God, “And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You.” These are the words of one who has returned to the Lord his God, who has returned to trust that God is in fact “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” If you have failed to trust in God, if you have begun to fail in trusting His Word … in which we hear how His very Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, did come back from the dead, fear not, ask for forgiveness, and you will be forgiven. Make the confession of Asaph your own personal confession of faith when he says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Remember your Lord Jesus knew well what it is like to have less than others, of Himself He said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” In His poverty He resisted the temptation to covet what others had; Jesus resisted the temptation to envy the wicked. All the way to the cross He resisted this temptation never once breaking the 9th and 10th Commandments. He died naked without a nickel to His name, buried in a borrowed tomb, wrapped in linens He did not purchase, anointed with burial ointments He’d not paid for with money. The poorest of the poor was He living on the mercy and charity of others. And yet He also lived His life as an heir of an eternal Kingdom, the Kingdom of heaven, the Son of God the Father, and you who are baptized into Him are likewise now living your life as an heir of that same Kingdom. He lived His life walking ever to the Cross with perfect faith in His Heavenly Father; we do not live in this way, we stumble, we slip, we fall, and for this reason we therefore need to remain close to Him. What does Asaph say Psalm 73? “For behold, those who are far from You [those who are far from God, far from His son Jesus] shall perish; [God will] put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to [Him].” So as Asaph says, “it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all [His] works.” This is who Asaph puts it. It is this very God who in Christ Jesus, holds your right hand in time of need and in times of abundance: Listen to His voice, follow Him, and let not your soul become embittered and ignorant, trust in His mercy and judgment. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 David’s Psalm in Book III of the Book of Psalms (Psalm 73-89) is Psalm 86.
 Luke 12:13–21
 Luke 16:19–31
 Psalm 145:8
 Luke 9:58