Psalm 32

Craig Mindrum

Read Psalm 32

I said, “I will confess
    my transgressions to the Lord.”
And you forgave
    the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5b

Forgiveness is one of the best things Christianity has going for it — the opportunity to have our slate wiped clean and to begin again, guilt-free. We can think of forgiveness in two ways. Consider a case where we have been wronged, but the other person will not acknowledge it. Here, it is best to eventually forgive, but what we really mean is, “Let it go.” “I offer this up to God.” It does us great harm to hold this anger and frustration inside. For the sake of our mental and spiritual health, we must give it up. 

A related concept: We might then offer that “letting go” to the other person  — “I will hold this against you no longer.” It’s a gift we freely give — hoping perhaps for a softening of the heart, but ultimately expecting nothing. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Here in Psalm 32, however, the prayer is about the whole grand and challenging cycle of formal repentance and forgiveness: I acknowledged my sin to you, says the psalmist, and confessed my transgressions to the Lord. “We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.” 

And then we atone, we pledge to make amends, we “intend to lead a new life.” We must go through this. We must plead for God’s mercy. Anything less is, as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it, “cheap grace.” 

But there is good news at the end, and it is an awesome thing: “I therefore declare to you the entire forgiveness of your sins.” And we can say with the psalmist, “Sing, all you who are upright in heart.”

Lord, teach us how to forgive — and how to be forgiven. Amen.

Psalm 114

Sue Allen

Read Psalm 114

The [Red Sea] saw it and fled: 
    The Jordan [River] was driven back. 
The mountains skipped like rams, 
    and the little hills like lambs. Psalm 114:3-4 (ASV)

As I read this psalm, I am reminded again how powerful God is. He parted the Red Sea and dried up the Jordan River for the Israelites as he led them from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. The reference to the mountains skipping and the hills like lambs may be a poetic way of suggesting there were earthquakes on the journey to Israel. In verse 9, we learn how God told Moses to strike a rock and water was provided for the Israelites to drink.

This psalm together with Psalm 113 is recited every year at the beginning of Passover. Psalm 113 is a psalm of praise to the Lord and Psalm 114 is a reminder of God’s deliverance of his people from slavery and all that God did to protect the people of Israel/Judah on their journey.  

Psalm 114 speaks to me right where I am. I am tired of the pandemic, and I have health issues. It is so easy to be stressed out. I need to rely on the Lord. He is all powerful. He brought Israel out of Egypt and even more importantly for me, a gentile, he sent his Son to die on the cross for me. I need to read His word and pray to him. He will protect and deliver me.

Dear Lord, as you provided for every need of the Israelites on their journey, please provide for my every need. Please help me to rely on you and not be afraid. You are all powerful and your Son saved me by dying on the cross for my sins. Amen

Psalm 43

Krista Schoenheider Kaplan

Read Psalm 43

Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise him, 
    my help and my God.”  Psalm 43:5

The stress of the pandemic has taken its toll on many of us. We have longed for normalcy — to travel freely, to gather without masks, to visit loved ones without fear of endangering them. We have often felt isolated and discouraged. When will it end? Will it end?

The psalmist (who also wrote the closely related Psalm 42) feels isolation and discouragement as well.  As a temple priest or musician, he longs to make his beloved pilgrimage to Jerusalem to lead worship, but he lives in exile, far away. He loves God deeply but feels abandoned by him. He suffers taunting and persecution by his enemies. He wavers between hope and despair.

Yet rather than surrender to depression, he gives himself a pep talk. He holds fast to the hope that God’s light and truth will someday lead him to Jerusalem and the temple, where he will worship and praise God, his “exceeding joy” (v. 4), once more. His hope allows him to lift his eyes out of the darkness toward light, from despair to hope. The uncertainty remains, but his deeply personal and empowering words show us a path forward from our own isolation and discouragement.  Hope in God will never fail us.

Dear God, you are our rock and our salvation. Instill in our hearts a faith that holds fast to our hope in you.  During times of darkness and uncertainty, send out your light and your truth to lead us. We praise you and rejoice in you always. Amen.

Psalm 42

Singin’ the Blues
Darlene Miskovic

Read Psalm 42

Why, my soul, are you downcast?  
Why so disturbed within me?  
Put your hope in God, 
for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.  Psalm 42:5 (NIV)

There have been many times that I’ve felt downcast and disturbed, especially with the challenges of these last few years. Maybe you’ve felt that way, too. The Message translates the beginning of verse 5 in terms that may be even easier to relate to: “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues?”

The world gives us plenty of reasons to be down in the dumps, to cry the blues. The world suggests its own coping mechanisms for temporary relief — food treats, retail therapy, a special indulgence. The mail today even brought an advertisement for a “wearable hug” bracelet that promises to help recovery from stress so the wearer can relax, focus, sleep better and feel better.

Psalm 42 acknowledges our feelings. It does not leave us to our own devices or the world’s suggestions, though. It gives us a God-focused course of action.  

  • Remember everything we know of God (v. 6).
  • Hold close the promise of God’s love all day and his care through the night (v. 8).
  • Pray.  Talk to God honestly about our feelings (v. 9).

We’re promised that leaning into our relationship with God will help restore us and give us a peace that the world cannot give.  “He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God” (v11).  

Dearest Lord:  Thank You that amidst the world’s chaos you always are with us. When we are downcast and our souls are disturbed, help us to put our hope in you. Help us remember all you have done for us in the past, with the assurance that you will continue to care for us now and in the future.  Amen.

Psalm 17

A Sheltering God
Bruce Modahl

Read Psalm 17

Guard me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 17:8

Gospel Verse by Robert Hobby

If you have attended a funeral at Grace, chances are you heard the choir sing a setting of Revelation 7:15 for the gospel verse, “They are before the throne of God, worshiping day and night within the temple, and the one who sits upon the throne will shelter them.” (You can hear it at the link above.) The composer, Robert Hobby, brackets the verse with a threefold alleluia, meaning praise the Lord. The music is plaintive; the words are replete with certain hope. 

Many of the psalms, especially the ones we sing during Lent, give voice to that combination of plea and confidence. Psalm 17 is an example. The psalmist pleads to God, “Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, for deadly enemies surround me.” 

The psalm ends with confidence in God. The psalmist speaks as though God has already answered his plea. 

Paul tells us the last enemy is death. Death’s power is evident as we watch casket, urn or the cross on Good Friday carried up the center aisle. There is reason for the plaintive melody of the gospel verse and melancholy in our hearts.

Even so, we know Jesus overthrew death for us. He rose from the tomb, pushed the gravestone away to free us from those cramped quarters. We are told Jesus’ name means God saves. But the first meaning of the Hebrew word is God makes room. By Jesus resurrection, God makes room for us, shelters us, makes a safe place for us in his kingdom. 

We may sing our alleluias in a minor key. Nevertheless, we sing, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, praise the Lord. God guards us as the apple of his eye and hides us in the shadow of his wings.

We thank you O God, for keeping watch over us and for giving us everlasting refuge in your kingdom, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Psalm 92:1-2, 9-16

The Rock
Sandy Lentz

Read Psalm 92

He is my rock. Psalm 92:15

This psalm, noted in my RSV Bible as “a Song for the Sabbath,” begins with song, with praise to God for his faithfulness and steadfast love. Singing praise, in God’s gift of music, is a glad, joyful way to begin and end each day, Sabbath or not.

How the tone of the psalm changes, however, when we get to verse 9.  We hear what will happen to the “evildoers,” “enemies,” “evil assailants” of God.  Not only is he faithful and full of steadfast love, but God also knows wrath. His enemies will “perish,” evildoers be “scattered.”

Then the Psalmist renews his song, describing in images known to every gardener how the righteous are planted in the house of the Lord, flourishing and continuing to bear fruit. God nourishes us. He has our back. He is our rock.

In these days of deep upset and confusion in our lives, one minute can be filled with some of life’s joys: the smiling eyes (over our masks) of friends we can now hug; sunshine-sparkled snow; hope in tiny green shoots emerging from tiny, dry, brown started seeds; music – from Michael’s organ, our choirs, other groups tentatively inviting us back to gather, to listen, to share.

Other minutes see evildoers. In our land, often in our close world. There is so much hate, so many lies, so much denial of truth. How do we face these?  Not with fear, lashing out, despair. God is our rock. He has our back. We are assured of Jesus’ saving steadfast love. Our times are not easy, but we can show that love, day by day, in how we care for each other, for our planet, refraining from anger, finding and sharing hope. We can even rejoice in the caring acts of so many others that we see all around us.

Holy God, as we go out to do your work in our troubled world, may we always know that you are our rock, singing your praise and caring for your people and the beautiful world you gave us to live in. Amen

Psalm 62

Behind the Scenes
Al Swanson

Read Psalm 62

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him. 
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; 
    I shall not be shaken. Psalm 62:5-6. 

The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines rock as “a mass of stony material”; also as “foundation support, refuge.” 

First thoughts of rock may go to the Rock of Gibraltar or to El Capitan at Yosemite National Park in California, or possibly to some other well-known scene. 

We may not think too often, if at all, about the foundation that supports our homes. The foundation is just there; the concrete or blocks keeping the building that is our home steady and firm, erect and solid. There every day, all day, all night, always. 

Not as visible as these examples is God. But like these visible, tangible examples, God is always there. Strong, solid, supportive, silently working behind the scenes with and for us. 

Like the baseball pitcher who doesn’t see the line drive smashed back up the middle until he catches it — the thumb of his glove brushing against his ear. Or my experience as a caddy waiting a hundred yards down from the tee. The golfer pulls his shot, leaving me and fellow caddies to watch the slow-motion sight of the approaching golf ball, gradually growing larger as we flatten ourselves to the ground until the ball whistles just a few feet over our heads. The day when nothing seems to go right ­— frustration overwhelming, the down feeling that seems to cloud everything — and the spouse or friend who just listens. Gradually, the gloom lifts and then the day brightens. Suddenly it’s a much better day. 

Luck? Happenstance? God at work? My peace comes from God. When has God been your supporting rock? 

Lord, give me the wisdom and faith to recognize the myriad ways you are my supporting rock every day, in things large and small. Amen.

Psalm 57

A Better Way to Be
Katharine Roller

Read Psalm 57

They dug a pit in my path,
   but they have fallen into it themselves. Selah
My heart is steadfast, O God … 
I will sing and make melody.

I can admit it: I am an inveterate holder of grudges. People who have sharpened their teeth and their tongues on me, people who have set snares for me, set me up to fall — I’m sorry to say I often remember them for far longer than I remember those who’ve done me a kindness. Sometimes the hardest thing is that there’s no closure, no justice, no reason to believe that they’ll ever understand that what they did was wrong.

Psalm 57 reminds me that there’s a better way to be: without overlooking or underplaying the consequences of those who seek to harm, we can fix our eyes on the Lord, seeking his mercy and love rather than vengeance and resentment. Not just for ourselves, either — the speaker pauses to note that those who “have dug a pit in my path” are now the ones lying fallen at the bottom. They are in need of God’s mercy, too. In fact, they need it more — lying there in the dark, humiliated by failure, and in pain, while their intended victims rest sheltered in the shadow of the Lord’s wings.

And as for closure? Well, I don’t know if “living well is the best revenge” is a very Christian philosophy, but Psalm 57 turns our focus away from those who’ve wronged us and toward the one who has saved us, reminding us how very good we have it. We have been hurt, all of us, in ways big and small, and the psalm acknowledges that, but before and during and after that hurt, because of that hurt and in spite of that hurt, we set our hearts, steadfast, on the majesty and beauty of God’s glory, offering up praise and thanksgiving for the One who has done all things for us.

Give us steadfast hearts, O Lord, to praise you in the midst of adversity. As you have shown us mercy, may we show mercy to those who have wronged us, learning from the example of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Psalm 90

Now What?
Susie Calhoun

Read Psalm 90

Teach us all to number our days aright, 
   that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12

I have always thought of Lent as a time or reflection, thinking about the stories of Jesus as he journeys to Jerusalem knowing what awaits him, and then thinking of difficult times in my life and how God was with me during those times.

It says in my Bible that this psalm is a “Prayer of Moses.”  I am not sure how this is determined, but if Moses did write it, I think it may be a reflection of his life as leader of the children of Israel.  Although there were definite highs and lows in his career, his descriptions of the power and wrath of God may be a reflection on the 40 years he spent leading ungrateful, complaining people who never seemed to “get it” through the wilderness. That was a pretty long career plateau!

His plea in verse 12 is asking that God help him and the Israelites to think back to the times they forgot and looked elsewhere for guidance, then felt the wrath of God which brought them back to him again.  God sent them prophets, judges, and kings to remind them who was in charge, but they never seemed to learn.  

Are we much different?  Have we become wise to put our troubles in his powerful, loving hands or do we spend time worrying and agonizing first until we fail and then look to him?

To reflect on the awful and awesome power of God helps us to remember how he never leaves us, never gives up on us, and always saves us.

The final verse asks God to bless what we do now that we realize his love and faithfulness.  Now, what will we do?

Dear Lord:  Help us to be still, remember the hard times and the ways you rescued us.  Make us wise in your ways and then bless our lives so we are a blessing to others.  In Christ’s name, Amen.

Ash Wednesday: Psalm 51

Let the Truth Set You Free
Pastor Troy Medlin

Read Psalm 51

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me. Psalm 51:3

Ash Wednesday is all about truth telling. That may be why it is often popular among otherwise unchurched folks. It feels like an invitation into a kind of freedom, a freedom that is fleeting out in the world. Jesus was on to something when he talked about how the truth does that to people. There is no pretense on Ash Wednesday or in Lent for that matter. No more hiding or pretending. No more living in captivity to the carefully cultivated ideal. It is time to tell the truth about our real human condition as David does in Psalm 51, the very psalm we find on our lips each Ash Wednesday.

In our lives we are encouraged to constantly curate an image that presents the best version of ourselves,  and online this is accelerated. On social media we present our “best lives.” There is something both faithful and liberating about confessing sin and being honest about who we are. 

It is an act of defiance for us to say with David “in sin was I conceived” and “my sin is ever before me.” Sin is real. It is liberating to name it. We acknowledge our limitations amid voices telling us we are limitless. We do not shy away from this. It is the truth.

Contemplating this David prays for a new heart and new spirit, prayers that are answered for us in our baptisms. There we receive both just as we are, in this body, both given to us as gift. Full forgiveness for sinners, by sheer grace. Letting this promise wash over us like water is another act of defiance in a world so bent on earning and deserving.

As simultaneously sinner and saint we move through the world completely free and completely loved. Period. That is the truth, even in Lent. 

God whose mercy flows forever, we are fragile and finite, sinner and saint. May we see ourselves truly and live in the freedom that is ours through Jesus Christ. Amen.