Psalm 103

Blessed
Julie Hinz

Read Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul
     
and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:1

It was a late-night rehearsal for Godspell. Eight college students tired and sweating as they danced and sang their way through the final rehearsal of “O Bless the Lord.” Eight kids and a pit orchestra working hard to perfect the joy of these words and rejoicing in God who had given them the gift and joy of the song. 

Psalm 103 begins and with a command — to the writer as well as the reader — “Bless the Lord! Forget not all his benefits!” In the Old Testament we hear about a people who had not just turned away from God but sometimes had forgotten God completely. And yet God provided for them: food, drink, protection, guidance, leadership, freedom. God also provided the promise of a heritage, forgiveness, a Savior, comfort, hope…all those intangibles we often take for granted.

English does not have one word that can encompass all of God’s love or all that God is and does for his people. This is no ordinary love; it runs deeper than any social or familial connection. This love never fluctuates, never changes. What is given by God can never be earned. It is limitless and eternal. Our God is intimately incomprehensible.

And yet — God continues to bless. Continues to give. Continues to provide. Continues to forgive. Continues to remind us that we are God’s beloved children. We are wayward and sinful, yes. But God is not. And it is not just our duty but our joy to bless the Lord!

Never changing God, you are the same yesterday, today, and forever. You raise us up and lead us through this life. May our tongues bless your name as long as we have breath. Amen.

Psalm 138

Fear Not
Marnie Rourke

Psalm 138

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
     
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Psalm 138:8

If you are like most people, something that made you anxious and afraid has happened more than once in your life. You were afraid you wouldn’t pass the test or get the job. Perhaps you were frightened the test the doctor just performed not only wouldn’t come back negative, but you were positive that when the results were made known you would learn that you had some dreadful disease. Maybe you lost your job, but, thank God, you found another one that you loved even more. Perhaps you fought the battle of a lifetime and won with stars. 

So why are you afraid? Because in this life there is so much to be anxious about that “fear not” is the most frequent phrase in the Bible. We are often invited to count our blessings and ignore our sorrows. What if we remembered and gave thanks for all of the things we have overcome in our lives and counted them as the blessings at the top of our list? We live in a world of sin and grace, but fear not, God’s love is here for us every second of every day. So let us thank Jesus for protecting us from our enemies, and always proving to us that our Lord’s love for us endures forever. 

God help me through today’s struggles, both large and small. Support me as I question myself and my world so I may live in faith, trusting that because of your death and resurrection I can always trust the future — because the future belongs to God who stretches out his right hand to deliver me and all of the world, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalm 130

My Soul Waits for the Lord
Scott Street

Read Psalm 130

My soul waits for the Lord. Psalm 130:5

Psalm 130 is the sixth of seven penitential psalms expressing guilt for sin and seeking God’s forgiveness. These types of psalms were a favorite of Martin Luther who said, “They teach us that forgiveness of sins is granted without the law and without works.”

We don’t deserve his mercy. We can’t earn his mercy. But he forgives us anyway.

When do we cry out to Lord for forgiveness? We often mistakenly think that we alone can overcome our sin, thought, word and deed, both done and undone, when in fact, we should recognize that God is in control of our lives and he alone can provide forgiveness. He hears all our prayers asking for forgiveness and he is always merciful.

The writer of this psalm also asks who of us could stand if God kept a punitive record of our sins. None of us could. Whether under the Law of the Old Testament, the promise of the New Testament, and continuing today, all humans are guilty of sin. We pray with the tax collector in Luke 18:13, “God have mercy on me, a sinner.”

In this time of Lent, we are more mindful of the cost of this forgiveness. Only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is God’s mercy possible. With the psalmist we cry out for his mercy. There is hope for all. He is a loving God who cares for us beyond measure, who provided the means for our salvation through the sacrifice of our Lord. 

Gracious God, when we are unable to resist the temptations of this world, please forgive us. We are so grateful for your mercy and grace, so freely given. Help us to be attentive to your word and vigilant in seeking your will and purpose in our lives. Amen. 

Psalm 20

Grace Abounds
Elsa Berg and Paulette Reddel
(Confirmand and Mentor)

Read Psalm 20

You have turned my mourning into dancing; 
     
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. Psalm 30:11

“Just snap out of it!” If only it were that easy! 

Life can send us reeling — a low test score, a difficult medical diagnosis, an unexpected loss of employment. Disappointment and insecurity leave us unsettled. Sadness just isn’t much fun. 

David, our psalmist, was no stranger to pain and suffering. He had witnessed the ravages of war, the scourge of famine and disease. 

During times of despair, David turned to a familiar ritual — donning sackcloth and covering himself with ashes. He acknowledged the grip sin had over him. He mourned the ways he had let God and others down.

In his pain, David cried out to God, “Help! Get me out of this!”

How about us? What becomes our sackcloth and ashes? Do we try to fill the emptiness with stuff — more money, more clothes, more house, more, more, more? Who hears our cries for help? Does God, we wonder? 

During Lent we are reminded that all is not hopeless, God does not abandon us. God hears our cries loud and clear! The sackcloth is boldly pulled off. From ashes new life springs forth. Grace abounds! 

Christ’s light shines brightly around us. We see a teacher’s helping hand, hear a doctor’s caring words, and accept a friend’s kind offer of help. God is present, no doubt about it!

Soon it will be time to open the closets and pull out our Easter finery — the colorful dresses, the crisp white shirts, the fancy jewelry. And don’t forget the dancing shoes — a chance to kick up our heels and dance for joy! Alleluia!

Dear God, thank-you for your presence in our lives. Your many blessings bring us hope and joy. Amen.

Psalm 126

What Yet Will Be
Ole Schenk

Read Psalm 126

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, 
     
like the watercourses in the Negeb. Psalm 126:4

A traveler in the desert finds channels where water once coursed. Under relentless heat, carved into parched terrain, those erosion marks help the traveler to think and to feel. 

For a sufferer in pain, or for a community in grief, this image sets out for them the way of prayer. Right now, they hurt. Right now, they’re desperate. Right now, we’re empty. We don’t have any words to begin. But etched in the hard rock of right now are traces of what has been before, and what yet will be. 

The name of God touches home to that rock. Other people who called out to that name have been here. Their hearts, too, were etched and dry and burning. Their hearts, too, yearned for relief. Words and actions they left for us we pick up again in our mouths, take into our body’s posture. Let these praying words reach out forward and back to show us the channels that will not remain empty forever.

There are other voices echoing in the empty terrain. Cries of despair, words of bitterness yearning only to destroy. Destroy, hide, die, or rise above all suffering in a fantasy of power. But our traveler in the desert, Jesus Christ, prevailed. Christ took up again the words of the Hebrew people and remembered their faithful God. With assurance, Christ guides our way and blocks out the tempter. It’s in the name of Christ who knew all temptation, death, and pain, that we enter into the psalms and make them our prayer.

Restoring God, through Christ we remember you, even though right now we hurt. You are a faithful God. Your life will flow in us and bring to others your healing grace. Amen.

Psalm 102

Where is God?
Dan Cattau

Read Psalm 102

Hear my prayer, O Lord;
     
let my cry come to you. Psalm 102:1

As I write this, more than one million Ukrainian families are fleeing their homeland and heading into Poland, Slovakia, and other western border countries. Not for the first time in history do the afflicted, destitute, and homeless ask: Where is God? Hope? Deliverance? 

If Psalm 102 were a CNN report, the viewer would quickly turn to the Simpsons for relief. Then the psalmist, after a depressing litany of maladies, finds courage (verses 25-27) and exalts God: “You are the same, and your years have no end.” 

These psalm verses are basically repeated in Hebrews 1:10-12. Nothing has changed, yet everything has changed. Jesus now has become exalted as God’s eternal son. This shows that our God isn’t “taking a nap” like the deity worshipped by the prophets of Baal, but rather is a living, present and eternal God — “immutable,” but not “immobile,” as Karl Barth says. 

The psalmist, like the Ukrainian refugees, is faint, hungry, alone and fearful; enemies surround them both. Yet God “will regard the prayers of the destitute.” The Black theologian Howard Thurman (Jesus and the Disinherited) tells of wanting to see the spectacular 1910 version of Halley’s Comet as a boy in Florida. Thurman’s mother resisted at first, but finally took him to the backyard on a clear night to see the comet. Her hand rested on his shoulder as the comet’s “fan of light” streaked across the heavens. What will happen if the comet falls out of the sky? he asked.

“Nothing will happen,” his mother said. “God will take care of us.”

Merciful and eternal God, hear the prayers of those who are homeless, destitute, afflicted, and imprisoned both in body and spirit. We know that only your light and love have the power to overcome the darkness of these days. Amen 

Psalm 5

The Search
Julie Hinz

Read Psalm 5

Listen, God! Please, pay attention!
Can you make sense of these ramblings,
     my groans and cries?
King-God, I need your help. Psalm 5:1 (translation from The Message)

I could go on and on about how Psalm 5 is another song of lament; about how the psalm writer asks God’s providence over them, asking for God’s assistance in overcoming their enemies, etc. It’s all true. But instead, I am going to suggest that you read Eugene Peterson’s version of this Psalm in his translation of scripture called The Message. You can look it up online at BibleGateway.com.

It’s earthy, it’s human, it’s joyful, it’s demanding … and it resonates deeply with our life today.

Does God hear our ramblings? Our fretting? Our weeping? Every day we lay our lives before him and wait on his will. Is he hearing us? Seeing us? The ageless answer is “YES!” God has invited us, opened the doors, sent the invitation, shouted our names. We are welcomed with open arms into shelter God has prepared. Given prime seats at the party God has planned for us. 

I appreciate Peterson’s naming of evils; the Hot-Air-Boasters, the Truth-Benders, etc. They are “land mines” and “mudslides” and in the end, we are reminded, they reap what they sow. We know those people. We experience them in our lives. We see them on TV. They are everywhere. And yet they are nowhere near our destination. God is the bouncer who stands guard over our forever festival of the faithful.

God welcomes “faith-seekers.” Notice the use of “seeker.” Not God finders or acquirers. The life of faith is not static or accomplished while we live. Each day we continue the search, looking for and to God. It is not until we move to our final residence at God’s side that we fully “find” God, where we are finally safe, secure, and decked out in robes of righteousness.

God, thank you for hearing us. For keeping us safe in your arms and inviting us into life with you. Amen.

Psalm 30

Joy
Gwen Gotsch

Read Psalm 30

Weeping may linger for the night,
     but joy comes with the morning. Psalm 30:5

The psalmist writes about reversals in Psalm 30, reversals not just of outlook, but of fortune. The writer felt secure and prosperous until, as he says to God, “you hid your face.” Eventually his cries for help are answered with healing. God’s momentary anger changes to a lifetime of favor, weeping turns to joy, mourning is transformed into dancing. And God is praised. 

It’s a traditional plot line for myths and movies. Heroes endure misfortune and then triumph over it. Travelers lose their way and find it again. Plans, relationships, lives falter but are put back together. Yes, there’s work that has to be done, churn to be endured, lessons to learn. But eventually, in the morning, or maybe many mornings later, things get better. 

But is this true ­— always? Life shows us that many stories do not end happily. And often we wake up in no better shape than when we fell asleep — or tried to sleep. The diagnosis is still what it was, the bank statement looks worse than it did yesterday, the loved one is still dead. 

But we do not have to feel that God has turned away from us. Weeping and mourning are times when God comes very close. We recognize this as we observe Holy Week and hear the story of Jesus’ Passion. One thing after another goes wrong, until even Jesus cries out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” But God is still present. There is an earthquake. The curtain in the temple is torn in two. The centurion says of the one who suffered and died, “Surely this was the Son of God.” 

One of the things that I have learned about the experience of grief is that the tears never entirely go away. I have also learned that weeping is not antithetical to joy. Deep and radiant joy respects tears and treasures them, whether they are tears of sorrow or even tears of anger and despair. 

The assurance that we are bound up in God’s eternal life would not be true without the story of Jesus giving himself up to death. The faces of the women who went to Jesus’ grave on Easter morning were surely damp with tears, tears that became part of deep and energizing joy as they took in the miracle of the resurrection. 

Joy in the morning is more than the relief that comes from a reversal of fortune. It is faith and hope planted deep in our being, where God meets us night and day in both sorrow and rejoicing. 

Suffering God, you meet us in the night where our tears linger and in the morning sunshine. Help us to respond with faith and hope and joyful praise. Amen. 

Psalm 90

God’s Time
Scott Schwar

Read Psalm 90

Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Psalm 90:1

The first section of this psalm proclaims God as man’s eternal dwelling place despite our few years as individuals on this earth. I immediately recalled the Ecclesiastes quote at the start of Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever.” The novel’s protagonists live their indulgent dreams and passions dramatically, but soon their lives (and ours) are swept away. 

Attributed to Moses, this psalm would have been written during the Exodus as the tribes wandered forty years in the wilderness due to their sin and God’s anger. Even without holy judgment bearing down, Moses laments that our short years are but toil and trouble, soon gone before we fly away. I often told our sons with their children to enjoy these special years; they go fast. Now as I age and my time seems to pass even more quickly, I feel increasingly in tune with Moses as he calls out to God to have pity, to satisfy us with his steadfast love and to favor us with wisdom and meaningful efforts on his behalf, living each day fully to God’s glory.

God is everlasting; we are short term sinful players on this earth, important enough for our Creator to be mindful of and also angry with us. But our God is a loving liberator as demonstrated in coming to earth as Jesus, our guide and Savior who commanded us to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. Bonded to Christ by faith and living in his forgiving light, I pray to not be a bit player in a sad story but a child of God, repentant, reconciled and with hope eternal. 

Dear Lord, the years pass too quickly, and now I am weakening with age with a growing poignancy of my return to dust. Thank you. Lord, for your compassion, for your grace in forgiving my sins and restoring me with your heavenly inspiration and love. Let me respond by living my short time on this earth in wisdom, good deeds to others and praise to your eternal presence. Amen.

Psalm 25

Trusting God to Know Best
Ellie Schnack

Read Psalm 25

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; 
     teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me, 
     for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
 Psalm 25:4-5

The meaning of the word psalms is “the twanging of harp strings.” David, the author of Psalm 25, most likely sang these poetic song verses as he twanged his harp strings for his sheep – and reflected on his life: his desires, his needs, and his regrets. 

My study Bible* titles Psalm 25 as a “Prayer for Guidance and Deliverance.”.With this introduction we can see that David’s yearnings are not unlike our own desires: to know God and to know how to live a life of discipleship of trust. To learn how to accomplish this life lesson, we need only to reflect on Psalm 25, verse 2: “O my God, in you I trust.” It sounds easy, but trust takes unwavering faith! Faith shows us a God who is unwavering in that love for us. God’s promise is to never forget us. All we have to remember is “in God we trust!” In order for one to accept guidance from another, one must trust the One who is imparting that guidance. 

We become teachable to God’s love and to God’s expectations for our lives when we put our trust in God. We can pray for God to teach us all we need to know to live godly lives (verses 5, 9, 12). 

Perhaps the most difficult element in all of this — keeping our trust in God always at all times; opening our minds and hearts to God’s guidance in all phases of our lives — is to be patient with ourselves and with God. Our time may not be God’s time when we want something to happen. Yet it’s God’s time that is the right time — on this we must put our impatience aside and trust and wait for God (verses 3, 5b, 21).

O God, keep our eyes always focused on you. Keep our hearts and minds open to your guiding truth. Sustain our faith, build our trust, and give us patience to know that YOU know what is best for us. Amen 

The New Student Bible, NRSV. Augsburg Fortress, 1990.