Psalm 53

Stuck in a Spiral of Sin
Pastor Troy Medlin

Read Psalm 53

O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!
     When God restores the fortunes of his people,
     Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad. Psalm 53:6

God will not leave us in the mess we have made for ourselves. God is faithful. Being a promise keeper is at the core of Yahweh’s identity. The God whom the psalmist testifies to is one who acts on our behalf, does not reject us, and will not forsake God’s people. No matter how far we wander. 

Left on our own we seem to be stuck in a never-ending spiral of sin. Our foolish ways on full display. Like the character in Psalm 53 we “say in our heart, there is no God.” Often, we do this without even thinking about it. We trust in ourselves and in the wisdom of this world more times than we care to admit. We give in to the false-promises of a world where we are the master of our lives. We live for the moment and for ourselves. Yet ultimately this leaves us lost and alone with nothing to show for it. Things seem hollow and empty here. 

The psalmist, putting words to this spiral and its eventual destination, cries out for deliverance. The writer reminds us that God will restore the fortunes of God’s people. This is the hope our Lenten journey leads us towards. We are headed to the ultimate declaration of our promise-keeping God in the now fertile garden of resurrection where we are planted. There, God has gone all the way down into death and found us and delivered us. God has interrupted our spiral of sin with salvation and life. When we are faithless God is always faithful. In our lostness we are ever found. In our foolishness we are completely loved all the way home. God will never leave us alone. Our once empty hearts now filled to the brim with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. 

Holy God, apart from you nothing is true, nothing is holy. Do not look on our faithless ways, but on the faithfulness of your Son. Deliver us from doing evil, remove the shame of your people, and restore us to joy and gladness; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Psalm prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship 

Psalm 32

Confession
Rev. Frank Senn

Read Psalm 32

Versicle. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.
Response. And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. 
Psalm 32:5b

Older generations (pre-Lutheran Book of Worship) will remember Psalm 32:5b from the Order for Confession of Sins that preceded The Service in the Lutheran Common Service. 

This was a favorite psalm of both Augustine of Hippo and Martin Luther. It is listed among the seven penitential psalms. But it is really a psalm of thanksgiving that looks back on the confession of sins the psalmist has made to God and the sense of relief that confessing one’s sins has brought to the forgiven sinner. No wonder Christians like Augustine and Luther, whose consciences were afflicted by acute awareness of their sins, liked this psalm. It is realistic about the afflictions of a guilty conscious and the blessing that comes from acknowledging one’s transgressions to God. The psalmist no longer hides from God but hides in God, embraced by the grace of God’s forgiveness and God’s instruction in the way we should go. 

Our way is not sinlessness; that is not our human condition. Our way is honesty before God about our condition. As we hear in 1 John 1:8—9, cited in the Brief Order for Confession and Forgiveness in the LBW, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. But if we confess our sins, God who is faithful and just will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Lord God … we are your prodigal children, but we come back to you confessing our sins. Embrace us, that we may rejoice in your mercy, through your beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. 

(Prayer from the Psalm 32 Collect in the LBW Ministers Edition, p. 359)

Psalm 34

Protected by Angels
Jill Peláez Baumgaertner

Read Psalm 34

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,
     and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Life does not come without suffering. Faith in God does not come without suffering. We are human. We suffer. And how natural it is to wonder where God is in the suffering. The psalmist begins by praising the Lord, by magnifying God, by exalting the name of God, by expressing complete certainty that “those who seek the Lord lack no good thing,” and that God’s holy angels surround us in protection. 

Martin Luther writes about Psalm 34:7: “But you might say, ‘I don’t see or feel God’s angels around me. Actually, I feel like I am under the power of the devil and am being led to hell.’” But, Luther contends, if we had been handed over to the devil, we would not be alive. He says, “You are still alive because of the protection of the holy angels.” 

One of my favorite films by the German director Wim Winders helps me to visualize what is difficult to imagine. Wings of Desire opens in a library where the patrons are reading at tables, staring into space, thinking about their current concerns, some trifles, some calamitous. Over each one broods an angel, listening in, caring, putting a hand on a shoulder, grimacing at the dark thoughts of a tortured soul. They are invisible to the humans, but they are utterly present and fill the space with their care for the distressed—and so many of these humans are in despair and utterly lonely. The angels watch and wait and listen—agents of our God who watches and waits and listens. 

Dear Lord, we have heard that you are “near to the brokenhearted” and that you “save the crushed in spirit.” Fill us with hope and the assurance that you and your holy angels hear us and care for us. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen

Psalm 6

Asking for Help
Gary Howell

Read Psalm 6

O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger, 
     
or discipline me in your wrath. 
Be gracious to me, O Lord. Psalm 6:1-2

There is anguish here: shaking with terror, moaning, weeping, fearing death, oppressed by foes and enemies. The fears and sufferings are described, the foes and enemies called out. We can feel like this in the night hours, lying awake. Our oppressor may not be another person. It could be depression, finances, work, estrangement, or the fear of being different. Whatever the source, the anguish is real; it can overwhelm us, and cause us to want to give up and withdraw into ourselves.

The psalmist does not just recite his woes and accept them. Woven through the cries of anguish are two kinds of prayer, first, to not be rebuked or disciplined by God, and second, to be freed from his anguish.

In the face of setbacks or loss, we may wonder whether we may be getting what we deserve — as sinners, shouldn’t we feel God’s wrath and anger? But the New Testament teaches that this is not our fate. We can confess our sins, and ask for forgiveness from God, who is merciful — not angry and wrathful.

When we pray for something, our prayers may not be answered according to our expectations. Those expectations are grounded in and limited by our human knowledge and understanding, and we cannot anticipate the nature of God’s response. C.S. Lewis wrote: “Only God himself can let the bucket down to the depths in us. And, on the other side, he must constantly work as the iconoclast. Every idea of him we form, he must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed.’” 

When we ask God for something, we enter a dialogue that we cannot control. We should not fear it. As our part of that dialogue, we must be open and alert for God’s answer.

Merciful God, when I pray, let me come to you honestly and as myself, and when I have asked for help, let me understand your answer and be thankful for it. Amen.

Psalm 121

Who’s in Control?
Irmgard Swanson

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I lift up my eyes to the hills—
     
from where will my help come? Psalm 121:1

“Head for the hills!” — a phrase which expresses the feeling of fleeing danger or troubles; a desire to seek safety or refuge. 

This is how I have been feeling many times, especially the last couple of years. I want to get away from the problems of the world; I want to be above it all, on a higher plane, looking down at the chaos instead of being in it. The continuing presence of the COVID-19 virus along with its mutations, the worry for the health and safety of family and friends, the scary indicators of climate change, the political divisions here and around the world, the outbreak of wars, and the damage we are doing to our environment are just some of the problems from which I want to flee. I can’t control those situations or make them go away. The problems remain.

BUT that really is the problem, isn’t it? The problem is me. It is not I who can control the situations that worry me. The second verse of Psalm 121 says it plainly: “My help comes from the Lord.” Herein lies one of my sins that I know too well — my lack of trust in God who is in charge. 

Time and again, the writer of Psalm 121 names many ways in which God cares for and takes care of us. It is not we who can solve the problems in the world. Neither will staying in the hills. Like Peter, John, and James on the Mount of Transfiguration, we must follow Jesus down from the mountaintop and into the world, doing what we can to live in Christ-like love and care for others. God will take care of the rest.

Merciful God, forgive me when I fail to trust you. Help me always remember that you are our refuge and strength. Amen.

Psalm 145

The Wonder of Forgiveness
Mark Bouman

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The Lord is gracious and full of compassion, 
     slow to anger and of great kindness. Psalm 145:8

Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Putin the Great. Charlemagne. Otto the Great, Frederick the Great. Alfred the Great. Michael or LeBron, Brady or Rodgers: the greatest(s) of all time. People are saying this is the greatest list you have ever seen in your life. Bigly.

I am wary of “greatness” these sick and warring days. I would rather exalt grit, patience, humility. 

So on first read, the opening of Psalm 145 seems more “Hallelujah Chorus” than I’m ready for: “I will exalt you, O God my king, and bless your name….” For how long? “Forever and ever.” For how many verses? At least seven. It seems the psalmist has found the dial that goes all the way to eleven. I want to know why.

And there it is, in verses 8 and 9. Looks like somewhere the psalmist’s people did something like … fudge a number, spread a rumor, abide injustice, poison a creek, ignore a stranger, not think it through, unleash a war. Full stop. All have sinned and have fallen short of the full greatness and glory of God. Even the “great” and especially me. But God is surpassingly rich in love.

The love is freely given “to all who call upon him faithfully.” The praise sandwich — two thick slices of exaltation surrounding a compassionate core — starts to taste pretty good. Why wouldn’t I lift my voice and sing? “My mouth” is joined with “all.”

The greatness of the Lord — the grandeur of the psalm — is brought to earth. We exalt not only the greatness of creation but the wonder of forgiveness. The songs that are lifted to “let all the world in every corner sing” start with “this little Babe.”

Gracious God, lift up those who are bowed down, give them their food in due season, and let them sing your praises. Amen.

Psalm 105:1-5[6-41]42

God’s Unending Faithfulness
Julie Hinz

Read Psalm 105

Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
    make known among the nations what he has done. Psalm 105:1 (NIV)

Psalm 105 is more a historical review than anything else, but one with a very specific point. In the first 5 verses we are given the direction to “do” some very specific things. The faithful of God are called upon to give thanks, call on God, make known his deeds sing, rejoice, seek God, remember all God has done. This is all good, right, and salutary. But without verses 6-41, it’s just another directive.

These middle verses give us the “why” as they trace God’s loving faithfulness and his everlasting covenant with his people. We are reminded of Moses, Aaron, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. We are taken to Canaan, and into exile, we wander the desert, face famine, slavery, plagues. All those familiar stories and more are referenced in these verses as we remember the God who kept the promises made to the beloved lost Israel. 

Throughout history God remembered. God rescued. God saved. 

God’s people rebelled. They sinned. They denied. They fought against the law set down for them.

Today that rebellion continues. 

And God still remains steadfast. 

And so, while the center of this psalm and sometimes the center of our lives often feel like chaos, anxiety, fear, etc., the beginning and the end, what bookends our lives is God’s unending faithfulness. Thus, we make a necessary response. To praise, to remember, to tell, and to live joyfully and freely under the law and providence of our gracious God.

Steadfast God, you are our Alpha and our Omega, our beginning and our end. Give us hearts to recognize your love and faithfulness played out in our own history. Give us lips to sing your praise, mouths to speak your promises, and feet that hurry to do your will. May we continue to choose to live in your law and in the joy it brings. Amen.

Psalm 39

Do What Matters
Pastor David Lyle

Read Psalm 39

You have made my days a few handbreadths, 
    and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight. 
Surely everyone stands as a mere breath. Psalm 39:5

Some of the first, and best, wisdom we received as new parents was to remember that the days are long, but the years are short. Yes, making it through a day with young children can be a long, arduous task. If you’re don’t pay attention, however, the years will fly by before you know it. Take time, therefore, to appreciate each day for what it is.

Of course, this isn’t only good advice for parents; it’s a reminder to each of us of the fleeting nature of this earthly life. Yes, the days pass one after the other such that it seems we will never run out. But our days will run out. The psalmist reminds us that, compared to the eternity of God, our lifetimes are nothing. Not more than a few handbreadths. A breath, exhaled and gone.

Our lives, however, are not so much compared to God’s eternity as they are held within God’s eternity. Yes, we will one day breathe our last, but so did God’s Son. Jesus joins us in our last exhalation that we might join in his final exultation. Freed from the need to hoard our earthly days, we can focus on the things that matter: sharing love, extending grace, practicing forgiveness, creating community.

We cannot put off death forever. What better way to spend our days than by living in the ways of God’s reign that awaits us? With the psalmist, we do not despair when we ponder our future or fate. The psalmist declares that our hope is in God. Let all our days, however many or few, begin and end in that hope.

God of grace, teach us to receive each day as a gift in which we can fully live, even as we await the fullness of life with you. Amen.

Psalm 63:1-8

Give Glory
Carole Walther

Read Psalm 63

I will praise you as long as I live, 
    and in your name I will lift up my hands … 
    with singing lips my mouth will praise you. Psalm 63:4-5 (NIV)

Music and the ability to sing make up my earliest memories. God gave me my joy in music as one of his most meaningful gifts to me. I am drawn to David’s many psalms (songs) of praise. They empower me to visualize the ways and places where God is with us throughout our days. 

Psalm 63 leads us on a journey from our emotional neediness as “thirsty souls in a dry land.” While passing through God’s sanctuary (all the earth) we can find strength in experiencing his power and glory in our world. Along the way we are urged to glorify God with our words, gestures, and songs and to spend our nights thinking of God and the care he offers us. It is reassuring to know God is with us. We cling to God at all times, and he holds us up.

Although this psalm is focused on our individual relationships with God, I like to think that we all share in the experience of spiritual neediness and the reassurance we can find throughout our lives as God’s children. 

Lord, grant us courage to follow you throughout our days and nights and to take joy in your presence in our lives.  Amen.

Psalm 84

Springs in the Desert
Gwen Gotsch

Read Psalm 84

Happy are those whose strength is in you,
    in whose heart are the highways to Zion.
As they go through the valley of Baca
    they make it a place of springs;
The early rain also covers it with pools. Psalm 84:5-6

The verses above are not the most frequently quoted verses from Psalm 84. Portions of the psalm have been set to music by composers from Bach to Brahms and many others that came before and after those German masters. The melodies play in my mind’s ear as I read the psalm — until I get to verses 5 and 6 and Baca, a non-musical name for a place I’d never heard of. A search on Google Maps turned up a variety store in Poland and various acronyms for Bay Area businesses in San Francisco. There were no pins dropped in Palestine along roads leading to the temple in Jerusalem. 

Context suggests that the valley of Baca was an arid place, where the ground was hard and there was little or no relief from the glare of the sun. We do not travel these kinds of landscapes on foot in the 21st century, but we know them metaphorically in our hearts and even physically in our bodies – stretches of life where all you can do is keep going, despite discomfort, exposure, or numbing monotony. 

Yet, says the psalmist, those “in whose heart are the highways to Zion” and who trust in God for strength make Baca “a place of springs.” They revel in the early rain and splash through pools of water. The travelers’ joyful, trusting hearts, looking forward to an encounter with God in the temple, transform the world around them. In Baca there is drinkable water from good wells and soil nourished by rain to grow food.

The music that I can’t help but hear behind Psalm 84 — the soaring melodies of Brahms’ German Requiem, the trumpets and drums of Bach’s “God the Lord Is a Sun and Shield” cantata — is transformative for me. Singing it releases tension from a tired body and refreshes my stressed-out soul. The music is a path into the “courts of the Lord” where the dry valley of Baca becomes a place of springs, for me and, I pray, for those I live to love and serve. 

Lord, fill me with the loveliness of your dwelling place and the sunshine of your presence. Shield me from threats and dangers and help me bring your light and life to others. Amen.