Questions and Reflections

Category: Psalms

Confessing Our Sins at Home

Confessing our sins is a spiritual practice we do when we gather together for worship. But how can we confess our sins when we are not in church? During our daily ritual of prayer and time with God, what words can we use to confess and ask for forgiveness? You might have the confession we use on Sunday mornings memorized. Those words might be the ones you need to name the sins you know but the sins you do not realize participated in. But I also know that memorizing long lines of text is not a gift all of us have. I struggle with memorizing anything longer than one sentence. But I know all of us can memorize at least one phrase to use in our daily life. I invite you to find a phrase in scripture to help you confess your sins. And if you don't have one, take the first half of the first verse from Psalm 51: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love.

That half verse is powerful. The first four words asks God for mercy. That request isn't only a general statement. When we ask God for mercy, we are invited to wonder why we need that mercy in the first place. We are invited to reflect on our lives and the ways we stumble as followers of Jesus. We are asked to name the ways we have failed to love God and our neighbors. We look back into our past and ask deep, meaningful, and difficult questions. And then we turn to God and ask for mercy and love. 

Our God is a God who loves and forgives. Through the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, we are reconciled with the creator and sustainer of the cosmos. By confessing our sins and naming the ways we fail to follow Jesus, we reorient ourselves towards God. This reorientation helps us see where Jesus is in our live and in our world. Our daily spiritual life needs prayer and confession. And it's through these kinds of spiritual practices that we see God's love for us and the world more clearly. 


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The Path of Life: Re-reading Psalm 16

In light of the Resurrection, what do we do now? This question is central to our reading from Acts today (Acts 2:14,22-36). Peter and the other disciples are in Jerusalem for Shavuot (Pentecost), a Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the law (Torah) at Mt. Sinai. The disciples are not the only ones in the city. Jerusalem is filled with many different pilgrims and tourists speaking many different languages. During the festival, a mighty wind blew through the disciples and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. The disciples made Jesus' story known to crowds who heard that story in their own languages. 

In the church calendar, we celebrate Pentecost 7 weeks after Easter. We will hear that story on June 4. But our interpretation of today's reading depends on remembering the Pentecost event. Peter is explaining to a confused crowd what just happened. And he does this in a specific way. He dug into the Hebrew Scriptures (what we sometimes call the Old Testament) to understand what God is doing now. By engaging scripture, Peter suddenly read Psalm 16 in a new way. 

Peter's sermon does something new. He took seriously where he was (Jerusalem under Roman control), who he was speaking to (Jews from everywhere), and what scripture teaches (quoting Psalm 16:8-11) in light of an ongoing conversation with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Ellen T. Charry writes, "Christianity is born by wrestling with ancient texts in light of startling events that require textual grounding..." (Brazos Theological Commentary - Psalms 1-50, page 76). Peter knew Jesus because he spent time with him. He was there when Jesus heal the sick and shared God's love through word and deed. He mourned Jesus' death and celebrated his resurrection. Peter's faith is molded by Jesus' life, death, and resurrection. Psalm 16 was, most likely, a psalm designed to show people what a "morally flourishing and satisfying life with God" can bring. But after the Resurrection, the text changed. The Psalm is now an invitation to cling to Christ. Even though the reading of the text changed, the hope within the text did not. Hope begins and ends with God so let's set the Lord always before us. 


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A reflection on Psalm 121

Our First Reading is Psalm 121.

I'm a big fan of questions. I like asking questions, love answering questions, and I enjoy starting my sermons out with questions. Questions help frame a conversation. They guide me, letting me explore all the possibilities such a question comes up with. A question enhances my creativity. And that's what Psalm 121 does today when it begins with a question. The author asks, "Where will my help come from?" The author is posing a question and, in the next 7 verses, will explore possible answers.

The author of this psalm first looks to the hills for help. Hills might be a strange place to look for help but, when we're in need, looking upwards is a normal response. We might feel we are trapped in a valley, surrounded on all sides by what is afflicting or bothering us. We look for a way out, so we look up, towards the hills that around us. Cities, castles, and fortifications were usually built on hills, providing some protection and defense during a military attack. A hill is a safer space than a valley so that's where the author first looks.

But hills, the places where people live, build cities, and towers, is not where the author finds final strength. A hill cannot overpower or protect from the God that created it. The author turns to the ultimate creator, God, for protection. The psalm assures us that we are seen, noticed, and protected by the God who created all hills and all seas. In verses 3-8, the word "keep" is used six times. It's used in this case to mean "watch over," like a guard protecting a city a night. God isn't just protecting us, God is watching us, guiding us, through trouble and strife. And this guidance does not happen only once. God continues this process, over and over again, through this life and into the next. 


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A reflection on Psalm 98

The First Reading is Psalm 98.

What's your favorite new song? One of my personal joys is going to library book sales and digging through their old cd collections. I try to find songs and albums filled with the music I heard on the radio while I was growing up. In the process, I discover songs I never heard before by bands that fill the soundtrack of my youth. These songs are old but they are new to me. 

Psalm 98 is a hymn of praise separated into 3 stanzas. It begins with the command that all of us should sing a new song to God. But what would be a new song to God? For the author of this psalm, something amazing has happened. God delivered the people of Israel from some kind of national crisis. We don't know what happened (an enemy army could have invaded) but the people survived. The people are called to sing a song of thankfulness and praise. God saved the people and, sometimes, the most proper response is to sing.

But the psalm isn't saying that only the people of Israel are called to sing. Everyone, everywhere, is invited to tell what God has done. This isn't a song for only one kind of people in one kind of place. God's deliverance of Israel is a sign to everyone that God is present and active in the world. Saving Israel from a national calamity isn't only good news for Israel; it's good news for the world. God is a God who cares for God's people and God's world. And a world that's commanded to sing a new song is a world called to sing God's love song to the ends of the earth.


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A reflection on Psalm 63

Our first reading is Psalm 63.

By the end of the day today, according to our Year with the Bible reading schedule, we'll have read 89 of the 150 psalms. Many times we've encountered a place called Sheol. Sheol is a vision of what happens after death. Our vision of heaven and hell are not contained in a vision of Sheol. Sheol isn't a half-way part or a way point until people end up with God or not. Sheol, instead, is a wasteland where all end up. It's dark, lonely, and silent. When Sheol is described in scripture, it is without possibilities. Everyone there feels like they're waiting for something to happen. But since the people are dead, nothing will happen. Those who live in Sheol wait, and wait, and wait, for something that never comes. 

For the author of Psalm 63, that silence is the epitome of life in Sheol. Silence is a firm description of what death is all about. This psalm is a trust psalm where the author longs for God's presence. The author trusts that God is present and loves the author. The author has experienced God, felt God in their lives, and cannot stop talking about God. For this author, to be with God is to speak about God. To speak about God is to experience life and opportunity. A life with God is a life of words, sounds, and music. A life without God is a life that will only end in permanent silence. 

The author of Psalm 63 is not saying that silence is bad but they are encouraging us to share. To trust God is to trust that we matter to God and God is active in our lives. When we experience God or see God active in someone (or something) else, we're called to share that with others. We're called to share our experiences of faith. These experiences are gifts from God that can do more than just nourish our relationship with God. By sharing these experiences, we can bring God and God's love to someone who needs it. 


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A Reflection on the Psalms

The first reading today is from Psalm 10:1-4,9-18.

When you see and experience God, what are the words that come to mind? I'll admit that even a professional religious person, my experiences of God cannot be fully described. There are times I experience such grace, love, or heart break where words are just not enough. But God-moments are not limited to only experiences that take our breath away. There are times when our spirit cries out in words of joy and lament. In those moments, we don't usually know what to say. We can sometimes worry about what we can actually say to God. We're usually comfortable having God speak to us but what words can we use to speak to God? 

Faith is more than just a belief; faith is also a language. The book of Psalms helps us to speak faith-language. These 150 short (and not-so-short) poems and songs all serve different purposes. Some are prayers asking for God's help while other's celebrate God's creation. Some were used when the King of Israel was crowned and others were the hymns and songs sung in worship. The psalms are meant to be spoken, sung, and heard. They are faith-filled words that cover the full range of human experience and emotion. Fear and joy, sadness and love are all covered in the book of Psalms. There is nothing we can bring to God that God hasn't already heard and the book of Psalms helps us bring our pain and joy to God in whatever words are comfortable to us.

Today's reading is Psalm 10. This is a Psalm centered on human suffering. In the face of evil, the psalmist wonders where God is. After last Sunday's recent terror attack in Orlando where men and women were targeted for being LGBT, that is a question we can ask too. The psalmist knows that God sees what happens and they plead for God to break the power of the wicked and evil. Their prayer is our prayer. We seek justice, love, and peace so that "mere mortals may strike terror no more." 


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