Advent is upon us!

Blessed Thanksgiving to all!

How does what God has done for us lead us to live in the this world?

That question is at the heart of these devotions. In Advent, we await the coming of Christmas as we await the return of Christ. In Advent, we hear comforting words of hope and hard words of judgment. In Advent, we see God doing a new thing. This new thing, the coming of Christ, changes everything. In him, we are saved. By him, we are called. Those who have been justified are called to enact justice. These pages are a testament to the many ways that the people of God at Grace Lutheran Church take seriously both the message and the mission.

I pray that these devotions will be a blessing in your prayer life this season. Each was composed by a layperson who is part of the Grace community. We often hear from the pastors (especially me!). This season, we lift up the voices of the laity.

Thanks are due to Mike Berg, who designed the imagery for these devotions; Brendha Klaus, for her valuable assistant with proofreading; and Julie Hinz, for shepherding this project from beginning to end. Thank you.

Come, Lord Jesus!

In hope,

Dave Lyle
Senior Pastor

Your daily devotions will be delivered to your email inbox from Sunday, November 27 through Sunday, December 25 (Christmas Day).

Easter Sunday: Psalm 18:1-12, 14-24

God Delights in You
Rev. David R. Lyle

Read Psalm 18

He brought me out into a broad place; 
     he delivered me, because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:19

Psalm 18 is a royal psalm of David. In fact, this is not the only record of this psalm in the Bible. King David, having been delivered from his enemies by the Lord, sings this song in 2 Samuel 22. The only significant difference is that Psalm 18 adds an opening statement: “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” The psalm functions as a sort of love song between God and David, God’s anointed servant. David sings of his love for God and how God delights in him.

But it’s not just about God and David. The king represented the entire people. We, through David’s descendent Jesus, have become part of God’s people. God delights in us, and we respond by loving God. This is true even and especially when things are not going as we would hope.

Psalm 18 can be sung, as one commentator notes, to “keep hope alive in hard-pressed communities.” David was overwhelmed, almost dead. Do we not experience such times in our lives? It is tempting to view ongoing racial injustice in our country as a sign of God’s absence. It would be easy to see the war in Ukraine as evidence that God has forsaken them. That simply is not the case, however. God will deliver God’s people, and the broad place of heaven is promised to us.

Amid war and injustice, sickness and sorrow, and in the face of death itself, we rejoice in the victory won for us by Jesus Christ. Today, know that God delights in you. God enjoys being in your presence. May your heart be filled with love for the God who first loved us and who loves us still.

Loving Lord, let my joy be in you as your delight is in me. Amen.

Holy Saturday: Psalm 31:1-4, 15-16

Un-Shamed
Rev. Bruce Modahl

Read Psalm 31

In you, O Lord, I seek refuge;
     do not let me ever be put to shame;
     in your righteousness deliver me. Psalm 31:1

After Andrew Gillum lost the Florida governor’s race in 2018, his life fell apart. During rehab he wrote in an Instagram post, “Shame is like kudzu.” 

If you have lived or driven in the south, you will have seen vast expanses of trees and undergrowth covered in layers of kudzu vines. Kudzu suffocates everything underneath its tendrils. Shame is like that. It smothers us. 

The psalmist, in verses 11-13, describes the source of his shame. His friends have deserted him. People go the other way when they see him. Friends and strangers alike mock him with a humiliating nickname. Unnamed foes plot to kill him. 

Shame turns inward to oppress us. It turns outward in resentment, even hatred for those who shamed us. Shame’s tendrils bite deep into us. Jesus assumed it on our behalf. Jesus came to un-shame the shamed. His family questioned his sanity. He was betrayed by one friend and deserted by the others. The Roman authorities entertained the crowds by beating him. He endured the shame of the cross. 

He willingly bore our shame and left it behind in the grave when God raised him from the tomb. He is the righteous one who delivers us. He covers us with his righteousness. We make good use of Christ’s benefits when we hand our shame and resentment to him.

Unburdened from our shame and resentments, the Holy Spirit calls us to be Christ’s agents in the world, directing the shamed and those who do the shaming to the cross of Jesus. 

Heavenly Father, we give our shame and resentment to your Son. We give you thanks for the new life you give us in his resurrection. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Good Friday: Psalm 22

You Have Rescued Me
Karl Reko

Read Psalm 22

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1

Aside from their thoughtful content and beauty, the reason the psalms are so vital to Christians is that they cover the gamut of human experience. Psalm 22 shows one end of the experience. In the face of all the strong and aggressive animals spoken of (bulls, dogs, wild oxen) the author picks the worm (“I am a worm, and not human,” v.6). On the other end of the spectrum, there are psalms like Psalm 8 which picture us as created a little less than God.

Why the worm? Rather than being inherently worm-like, the author says it’s the situation which robs his vitality and leaves him in a wretched state. This message is for you and me in all conditions brought on either by other people or experiences. 

Jesus used words from Psalm 22:1 near the end. (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34) Thank goodness, because by doing that he gave us the last word for the interpretation of Psalm 22. He is not saying that his or our suffering is a sign of the Father’s displeasure. Instead they point us to the loving Father who has been there all along, as he proclaimed in the Prodigal Son story. That’s why words from Psalm 22 were Jesus’ second-last words. The last were “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

The Psalmist gets pulled out of the doldrums by remembering that God is the Creator who birthed him. When the Creator is near, as God always is, new life is always available — and it will never end because “future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to people yet unborn” (v.30-31).

As we walk together through Lent, whether you or I are in either the “wormy” or a “little less than God” condition, the message is, get back to reality. Reality is that we are created by a God who is near us, not to judge, oppress or drive us, but to keep the life coming to us, God’s creatures, created in God’s image. The essence of Lent is to meditatively ask, personally and as a congregation, are we acting like it?

Good and loving God, every breath we have ever and are taking, everything we have, comes from your gracious hand. In our Lenten journey, let us never forget, who you are, who we are, and that we are living in an atmosphere of your loving care. Amen.

Maundy Thursday: Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19

Responding to God’s Grace
Keith Bullock

Read Psalm 116

I love the Lord, because he has heard 
   my voice and my supplications. Psalm 116:1

Being heard, being understood is a fundamental human need. When someone really listens to us and assists us in our struggles, it can be transformative. Here the psalmist thanks and praises God for doing just that. When I needed God I called out to him and he listened to me. He heard my prayer! He saved me! 

It’s not surprising that this salvation journey also includes hardship or uncertainty, something we all experience. In the middle of the psalm, the writer talks about being distressed, anguished, and even facing death. The heading in the NRSV translation identifies this psalm as a “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Illness.” 

I know for myself when God extends mercy and healing, I am thankful. However, I quickly take it for granted and allow the transformation to fade until the same need or a new challenge arises and I need God’s help once again. 

But what should our response be? The psalmist says that because of the grace extended to me by God, I will call on him as long as I live, I will praise him and keep my vows. When God hears our prayers and saves us from whatever mess we’re in, he hopes our response will be to pray in abundance, share the good news, remain faithful, and be thankful.  

In the early 2000s the rock band U2 was on a two-year global tour. Each night the lead singer Bono would recite Psalm 116 from the stage before launching into U2’s own spiritual anthem “Where the Streets Have No Name.” What if we stood on stage every night and belted out a psalm of thanksgiving? How would we and our relationship with God be transformed?  

Lord God, thank you for listening to us when we pray and for saving us. May we never tire of thanking you. Amen.

Psalm 70

Language for Lament
Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

Read Psalm 70

O Lord, make haste to help me! Psalm 70:1

Psalm 70 is a song of lament, an expression of grief or sorrow. The Psalmist also decries the humiliation that the enemy wants to inflict on him. What he craves is deliverance from his enemies and, above all, what he wants to see is justice. But his enemies instead cry, “Aha, Aha!” celebrating their victory over the powerless and the oppressed. He recognizes that those who seek God should rejoice and be glad and say “God is great,” but he wonders why God is taking so long. Does this sound familiar? It is, unfortunately, a description of the human condition and has been played out in familiar scenarios throughout history.

Lament is strong in the songs of the Black Church, in the spirituals which personalize the suffering that enslaved people experienced and which carries over into the lives of their descendants. “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long ways from home,” one of these songs laments. “Let my people go,” they sing, connecting the slaveowners, the powerful, the tyrants with Pharoah from the book of Exodus and the enslaved people with the enslaved Israelites. And the songs still have chilling resonance.

Another example: Elie Wiesel, in his play The Trial of God, describes a scene he observed when he was a fifteen-year-old in Auschwitz Concentration Camp. For several nights three Jewish scholars conducted a trial in which God was accused of crimes against humanity. After hearing many witnesses, the judges reached a verdict, declaring God guilty. And then, Wiesel writes, they, counterintuitively, recited evening prayer. The enemies were crying, “Aha, Aha!” but the Jews were asking God for deliverance as they lamented: “You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!” The oppressed and suffering, the enslaved, those in concentration camps and prisons and in any contemporary situation where fear is rampant among the persecuted echo this cry daily.

The psalms express our own experiences of suffering, grief, and loss and give us the language to express our deepest fears, our desire for justice, and for God’s fast intervention.

God, we ask for deliverance from those who persecute the powerless and the suffering. We pray in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Psalm 71:1-14

Through All of Life
Bill Pullin

Read Psalm 71

Upon you I have leaned from my birth. Psalm 71:6

Like many of the psalms, Psalm 71 gives us a list of enemies and opponents. There are those who are wicked, unjust, and cruel. There are accusers and those who seek to hurt the psalmist. There are enemies who see the psalmist weakening over time and wait for just the right moment of weakness to pounce and overcome. However, again as in many of the psalms, it is God who gives the psalmist the strength and guidance to prevail against them. God is “a rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me.” 

One distinctive element of Psalm 71 is the theme that not just now, but for all of life the psalmist has been in God’s care, and praises God for that. “It was you who took me from my mother’s womb,” we read, and in verse 9 we read that the psalmist’s strength is now spent. Verse 18 speaks of being in “old age” with “grey hairs.

We have all gone through different phases of life, including phases of our Christian lives. As a typical member of my generation, I remember attending Sunday School, going to Summer Church Camp, earning my God and Country award when in Boy Scouts, writing essays on scripture for my courses in the Philosophy and Religion department at college, etc.

We go through changes, to be sure. Our interests change. Our health changes. The world around us changes. Our friends and relatives come and go. But what does not change is God’s love for us and his inspiration for our faithful lives.

Dear Lord, throughout my life you have been my hope and my joy. I will sing your praises in this life no matter what happens to me. Amen.

Psalm 36:5-11

God’s Grace in Times of Adversity
Jessica Bullock

Read Psalm 36

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
     your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

     your judgments are like the great deep;

     you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. Psalm 36: 5-6

We don’t know exactly when this psalm was penned — there is speculation about whether it was when David was attacked by Absalom or Saul. Regardless, it was obviously at a moment in time when he recognized that he was unable to fight his adversaries on his own. David, in his erratic journey from shepherd to king, was a bit of a poster child for the need to trust in God versus his own resources.

In this section of the psalm, David shifts his focus from the first few verses, where he describes the transgressions of the wicked, to the comfort and the grace that we receive from God. He acknowledges our imperfection and encourages us to rest in the grace that we receive through him. The imagery that David uses to describe God’s love and protection — the heavens, clouds, mighty mountains, “the great deep” and the “river of your delights”— is truly awe-inspiring. It is easy to imagine David sitting by a river looking into the clouds and mountains and imagining God’s grace in his time of adversity.

As we progress through the season of Lent, let us consider the great gifts that God has given us. Jesus sacrificed so much by coming to earth and dying for us. While we may experience moments of darkness or pain, God is always with us. He’s much greater than us and has our ultimate interests at heart. 

As David writes. 

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,
and your salvation to the upright of heart!

Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,

or the hand of the wicked drive me away. Amen

Psalm 31:9-16

Trust in God
Stan Reddel

Read Psalm 31

But I trust in you, O Lord; 
     I say, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:14

Stress is one of the pervasive themes of modern life. Who doesn’t suffer from stress? If you’d ask anybody at any age if they had any stress in their life they’d probably greet you with a bemused grin and a sardonic laugh.

Individually, I think our narcissistic, egocentric and sinful selves tend to inflate the degree of our own personal stress. “Boy! Would people feel sorry for me if they only knew what I was going through!”

However, try this for a stressful situation: a group of enemies have conspired to kill you. They have instigated a widespread campaign of slanders and lies. As a result, your name has become disgraced among your neighbors and former friends. When they see you coming, they turn and run the other way. Nobody wants to be identified with you. They figure that your time is short. No one wants to be implicated by association

This is the lament of David in Psalm 31. He is definitely “up against it.”

Moreover, what makes it even more miserable for David is that his son Absalom is probably the instigator of this chaotic mess. Your own “flesh and blood” has turned against you.

But David is not a spiritual novice. He wrestles to process his emotions (probably reflecting back on his dalliance with Bathsheba) and can still acknowledge his ultimate source of strength.

      But I trust in you, O Lord: I say, “You are my God.” (v. 14)

      Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love. (v.16)

David understood that even though he was suffering, the God of all grace was his refuge and strength.

Dear God, thank you for your eternal presence and for being our fortress in times of trouble. Amen

Psalm 1

Take Me to the Water
Mark Lucht

Read Psalm 1

His delight is in the law of the Lord….
He is like a tree planted by the stream of water 
     which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers. Psalm 1:2-3

The river.
It flows in peace, and as it passes it becomes an expression of time.
It cleanses. It feeds. It swells, and it ebbs.

It takes away the old and renews with fresh water.
And gives another chance.

At the dawn of a Sunday there is peace upon the water.
Some ducks discuss their day.
Two fishermen in a bass boat.

In a storm the river reflects the wrath of the skies,
and answers with its own angry floodwaters.

As the workday commences the river echoes the sounds of a lake freighter, towed downstream by struggling tugs straining and smoking and followed by a congregation of gulls looking for lunch in the prop wash which has churned up a multitude of surprised fishes who, until now, were having a pretty good day.
This is life as we know it.

When the freighter has passed the peace returns to the stream.
Geese gather among themselves and prepare for the day ahead.
Swallows show off their aerobatics as dragonflies drift past, flying united.
Two guys in a bass boat.

The spirit of the Lord is just everywhere you look.

Distant church bells from the neighborhood announce that it is time for worship.

No one ever steps in the same river twice,
 for it is not the same water
and he is not the same man. (Heraclitus)

Lord God, we praise you for the flow of life which feeds us,
and strengthens us, and renews us.
And sends us out to seek our own ministry to your world. Amen.