Friday April 8: Psalm 118:22-23 and Matthew 21:33-46

Friday April 8: Psalm 118:22-23 and Matthew 21:33-46

Written by Brian Johnson, Pastor of Haymarket Church in Haymarket, VA

The stone that the builders rejected
    has become the chief cornerstone.
This is the Lord’s doing;
    it is marvelous in our eyes. – Psalm 118:22-23

When I was 23, I listened to the whole Bible as an audiobook.  I worked for a moving company, and I spent 4-5 hours in the car every day – driving around the DC area, visiting people’s homes and helping them get ready to move.  And, so, at some point, I decided to start listening to the Bible as I drove.

I remember sitting in the parking lot of a grocery store one afternoon, eating lunch out of a cooler, listening to the Bible, when these words struck me.  I remember thinking that I’d heard these words before – and, I had.  This quotation from Psalm 118 is repeated 5 times in the New Testament – in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, along with the books of Acts and 1 Peter.  I remember thinking that these words must have meant a lot to the early Christians – to the people who wrote the New Testament – otherwise, why would they repeat them so frequently? I remember being struck by the power of the imagery – God has taken something rejected, something deemed unworthy, and made it essential.  The cast-off has become the foundation.  The outcast has become the heart of the community.  Human wisdom tells us that it’s worthless – but God’s wisdom makes us look foolish, and shows us that it is of infinite value.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Psalm 118:22-23 is quoted as part of a parable – a short story Jesus tells to illustrate a deep truth about God.  This parable (Matthew 21:33-46) is often called “The Parable of the Wicked Tenants.”  In the story, a landowner plants a vineyard and leases it to some tenant farmers.  When the landowner sends servants to collect his share of the harvest, the tenant farmers refuse to pay what they owe – instead, they reject, beat, and even kill the messengers who are sent to them.  So, the landowner decides to send his son – assuming that the tenants would never hurt the landowner’s beloved son.

But, of course, the tenants are wicked, and so they kill the son, figuring that, with the son out of the way, the land is theirs for the taking.  So, Jesus says, the landowner will now surely take the vineyard away from the wicked tenants and give it to new tenants who will fulfill their obligations.  In other words, Jesus says, “the stone that the builders have rejected shall become the chief cornerstone.”

There are two essential ways of reading this parable that I want to highlight.  The first is as a challenge to the religiously powerful – and to everyone who thinks they have a monopoly on God’s love.  When we exclude folks because they seem unworthy, unfit, or outside God’s grace, we put ourselves on the wrong side of this parable. If we think we are holier than someone else, we should be wary.  If we think that someone else doesn’t deserve to be part of God’s people, then we should think again – because God has a habit of choosing the outsider and welcoming the outcast. God, it seems, is the kind of builder who rejects the proper building materials and instead prefers to work with the stones that we have rejected.  Jesus is warning religious insiders (people like us) not to look down on others – because God is ready to welcome the people who we think least deserving of it.  

The second essential way of reading this parable is as a reminder that Jesus is the “stone that the builders have rejected.”  God is the one who owns the vineyard, and Jesus is the beloved son who was sent to us.  We rejected him – we killed him.  And, yet, the one who we rejected is, in fact, the foundation of the universe.  God’s upside-down grace means that the Creator of the universe was crucified as a criminal, the King of kings took the form of a slave, the Lord of Life was handed over to death.

And, what’s crazy is how God responds.  By the world’s way of doing things, God should respond to the violence of the wicked tenants with even more violence.  The kings of this world would get revenge.  But that’s not the kind of god that our God is.  Instead of responding to our sin and violence with destruction and revenge, God responds with mercy.  Through the death of God’s beloved Son, we, the wicked tenants, are saved – ushered into new life.  We cheat and we steal, we run away from God, we are selfish and self-centered – and God forgives us anyway, sends God’s Son to save us anyway.  The stone that we rejected should be used to crush us – but, instead, it is the foundation of our new beginning.

Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, gives himself up for us, in all our sin and failure.  We rejected him, and yet God glorified him, raising him up into eternal life on the third day.  Jesus Christ was rejected for us, and because of that, he is the foundation, the chief cornerstone – not just of our faith, but of all that ever was, is, or shall be.

The stone that we rejected has become the chief cornerstone.  This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.  Amen.

Wednesday, April 6: Psalm 109

Wednesday, April 6: Psalm 109

Written by Joe Lenow, Rector of St. James’ Parish, Lothian, MD.

Psalm 109 (Book of Common Prayer)

1  Hold not your tongue, O God of my praise; *

    for the mouth of the wicked,

    the mouth of the deceitful, is opened against me.

2          They speak to me with a lying tongue; *

    they encompass me with hateful words

    and fight against me without a cause.

3          Despite my love, they accuse me; *

    but as for me, I pray for them.

4          They repay evil for good, *

    and hatred for my love.

5          Set a wicked man against him, *

    and let an accuser stand at his right hand.

6          When he is judged, let him be found guilty, *

    and let his appeal be in vain.

7          Let his days be few, *

    and let another take his office.

8          Let his children be fatherless, *

    and his wife become a widow.

9          Let his children be waifs and beggars; *

    let them be driven from the ruins of their homes.

10        Let the creditor seize everything he has; *

    let strangers plunder his gains.

11        Let there be no one to show him kindness, *

    and none to pity his fatherless children.

12        Let his descendants be destroyed, *

    and his name be blotted out in the next generation.

13        Let the wickedness of his fathers be remembered before the LORD, *

    and his mother’s sin not be blotted out;

14        Let their sin be always before the LORD; *

    but let him root out their names from the earth;

15        Because he did not remember to show mercy, *

    but persecuted the poor and needy

    and sought to kill the brokenhearted.

16        He loved cursing,

let it come upon him; *

    he took no delight in blessing,

    let it depart from him.

17        He put on cursing like a garment, *

    let it soak into his body like water

    and into his bones like oil;

18        Let it be to him like the cloak which he wraps around himself, *

    and like the belt that he wears continually.

19        Let this be the recompense from the LORD to my accusers, *

    and to those who speak evil against me.

20        But you, O Lord my God,

oh, deal with me according to your Name; *

    for your tender mercy’s sake, deliver me.

21        For I am poor and needy, *

    and my heart is wounded within me.

22        I have faded away like a shadow when it lengthens; *

    I am shaken off like a locust.

23        My knees are weak through fasting, *

    and my flesh is wasted and gaunt.

24        I have become a reproach to them; *

    they see and shake their heads.

25        Help me, O LORD my God; *

    save me for your mercy’s sake.

26        Let them know that this is your hand, *

    that you, O LORD, have done it.

27        They may curse, but you will bless; *

    let those who rise up against me be put to shame,

    and your servant will rejoice.

28        Let my accusers be clothed with disgrace *

    and wrap themselves in their shame as in a cloak.

29        I will give great thanks to the LORD with my mouth; *

    in the midst of the multitude will I praise him;

30        Because he stands at the right hand of the needy, *

    to save his life from those who would condemn him.


It’s the children that get me, every time. This psalm—this prayer that God and the brilliant hymnists of ancient Israel have given us to put on our lips, to offer up as praise—asks God that children might be orphaned, that they might be reduced to beggary, that they might be driven from the ruins of their homes. I dread this psalm coming up in the rotation for Morning Prayer; I know intimately the sour feeling that settles into the pit of my stomach as my sleep- and coffee-deprived mind wakes up to the realization of which psalm we’ve just begun praying (“Set a wicked man against him…” is usually when it happens). This is the psalm that threatens, every time, to break my understanding of what the Psalms are: the prayers God has given us to teach us how to pray, forming us into the faithful covenant-partners of the Lord; the prayers of Jesus himself, a window into the way the Father is loved by the incarnate Son. But how can this be the prayer of our Lord? How can we imagine these words as the words of Jesus?

Any answer to that question—any answer that doesn’t evade the difficulty of this prayer, at least—has to start from an appreciation of the psychological depth this psalm shows. This is a psalm that gives lie to any easy descriptions of the Bible as “a manual for life,” or some trite sentiment of the sort. If we take this psalm as a depiction of the sort of person God wants us to be, we’ll very quickly become monsters (and reading the Bible wrongly has made a great many people monsters). This is a psalm that’s trying to do something to us—it’s trying to draw us into its trap. Become, it’s asking us, the sort of narrator the psalmist imagines: one who has been truly, devastatingly wronged by very particular people; one who has been made like a shadow at sundown, twisting into an encroaching darkness. Be that person, if just for a moment; you may, someday, find yourself inhabiting that position more convincingly. Imagine the anger, know yourself to be passed over and ill-used—drink the cup of your resentment to the dregs. And then open your mouth. 

Feel—really feel—what it’s like to put a curse on your lips. It’s going to feel wrong at first; you’re a good person, you’re not the sort who would genuinely wish another ill. But don’t let yourself off that easily, the psalmist is telling you. Set an accuser at his right hand—let him get his comeuppance, let the world finally see this person for who he is. That’s the gateway drug; that’s the moment in which the psalmist is drawing us into the shadows more deeply. Who hasn’t wished that a bad person who’s wronged us would finally be publicly exposed, and fall in the estimation of his (and our) peers? He’s guilty; let him be judged to be so. Is that too much to ask? Let him be stripped of all the honors, all the prestige; let him be replaced. (By me?)

It’s cathartic to think this way, especially when you’ve been hurt. It’s seductive, too: you get used to cursing, especially when you know you’re on the side of the good. But the psalmist knows where this road leads: if we fail to show mercy, if we fail to learn how to love our enemies by first listening to the cries of the poor and brokenhearted, we will fall in love with cursing. You can see it happening in this psalm: what starts as a prayer for a just judgment curdles soon into a desire that one’s enemy’s children will be starving in the streets. Let there be none to pity his fatherless children—who is it supposed to be, again, that has forgotten to show mercy, that has persecuted the poor and needy, that has sought to kill the brokenhearted?

The psalm asks us to put on cursing like a garment; it invites us to feel it soaking into our bodies like water, and into our bones like oil. It forces us to remember that even as we may curse, God will bless—we who have been wronged, and even the enemies who have wronged us. By asking us to make this prayer our own, it effects a substitution: we, who take ourselves to be innocent, quickly surrender ourselves to the curse.

Christ redeemed us by becoming a curse for us, Paul tells us in Galatians. Christ redeems us by putting on our curse as a garment, letting it soak into him like water, letting it sink into his bones like oil—and yet, because he is the LORD, he still blesses. He is mocked; “those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads” (Matthew 27.39). He makes our sin his own, carries in his body the full horror of a world that would pray for children to be orphaned, hungry, and subjected to the violence attendant to homelessness. He delivers us through the same substitution we find in this psalm: the wronged person who comes to occupy the place of the one cursed with cursing; the innocent who is judged and found guilty in our place. Despite his love, we accuse him—and nevertheless, he prays for us: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Friday April 1: Psalm 41.4-10 & John 13.1, 12-20

Friday April 1: Psalm 41.4-10 & John 13.1, 12-20

Written by Taylor Mertins, Pastor of Raleigh Court UMC in Roanoke, VA

The synoptics (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) treat us to the scene of Jesus’ final evening with his friends as they sit around a table sharing bread and wine.
John, however, takes the scene a little bit further.
While eating at the table, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer robe, and ties a towel around himself. He begins washing all of the disciples’ feet and wipes them off with the towel around his waist.
Peter, of course, objects to the humble (read: humiliating) act of his Lord, but Jesus hits him hard with, “You do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Only after every disciple’s feet are washed does Jesus arise, and begins to teach:
“Listen, you call me Teacher and Lord which is good and fine because that is who I am. But check this out: If I, your Lord and Teacher, am willing to get down on the floor to wash your feet, you also out to wash one another’s feet. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about – the first being last and the last being first. Things are getting flipped upside down right here and right now. And I do and say all of this knowing that one of you will betray me, it is to fulfill the scripture, ‘The one who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.’”
Shortly thereafter, Judas leaves and sets in motion the world turned upside down. In mere hours the guards will arrive in the garden, Jesus will be arrested, put on trial, sentenced, beaten, and left to die on the cross.
The foot washing has always been a little strange and a little weird to the people called church. For one, as mentioned, the other Gospels don’t include it, and for another, it reveals the heart of God in a way that feels uncomfortable.
Not only does Jesus, God in the flesh, get down on his knees to wash the dirty feet of the disciples, one of whom will shortly betray him, another will deny him, and the rest will leave him hanging to die on a cross, but then Jesus has the gall to command us to do the same for one another.
And yet, in a way, more than being told what we are supposed to do, the whole message of this final moment is, again, about what Jesus does for us.
In the foot washing, Jesus repeats in himself the great lengths to which God was willing to go for a people undeserving – how far God was willing to go to wash us clean from our transgressions.
This moment, one that might make us cringe or, at the very least, furrow our brows, it reveals to the disciples and to us that the Lord, the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, is about to suffer and die just to rid us of the stench and dirt of sin and death that latches onto us.
And, notably, this is the final act of Jesus toward his disciples before Easter and, as John so wonderfully notes, Jesus loved his disciples to the end.
Including Judas.

Do you see what this means? Even the worst stinker in the world, even the one who betrays his Lord to death, is someone for whom Christ died.
While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Jesus, bewilderingly, loves us to the end, loves us so much that he was willing to take our sin upon himself, mount the hard wood of the cross, and leave them there forever. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, March 30: Psalm 8 and Matthew 21:16

Wednesday, March 30: Psalm 8 and Matthew 21:16

Written by Hung Su Lim, Pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church in Richmond, VA

A few years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon. It was an exceptional experience to sense the vastness of the creation. It was natural to feel overwhelmed by the splendor and majesty of the Creator’s touches in the creation. I stood in awe of God’s creation and joined in singing with nature with a hymn, “How Great is Our God.” The psalmist in Psalm 8 praises the glory and majesty of God and cannot stop singing God’s magnificent works.

“O Lord, our Sovereign,

   how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory above the heavens.”

The purpose of this psalm is to offer testimony and a witness to God’s glory and majesty. The name of the Lord reaches out to the heavens, and the heavens are filled with God’s glory. There is no place where God’s glory has not been revealed. In verse two, the psalmist makes a remarkable statement that the mouths and the lips of babes and infants prompt God to work,

“Out of the mouths of babes and infants

you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,

 to silence the enemy and the avenger.”

Through the praise of babes and infants who are considered as some of the most vulnerable, God silences foes and avengers and fulfills God’s justice and righteousness. God raises the weak to shame the powerful and the arrogant. So, the psalmist praises who God is and how God displays God’s special interests in the weak and the vulnerable. Then, the psalm moves its perspectives from the most vulnerable to the most vast in the creation:

“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,

   the moon and the stars that you have established;

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,

   mortals that you care for them?”

When the psalmist turns to the universe and sees God’s works in the creation, the psalmist realizes who human beings are. Human dignity is defined and restored by the creator. By recognizing who God is and what God has done, human beings find their real identity. Even though God creates something immense and vast and stretches out God’s fingertips throughout the universe, God shows unique concerns on something considered small and unworthy. Even though we acknowledge the smallness of human beings in the vastness of the creation, God calls us to be part of God’s creative works and to cultivate a way of love and grace (vv. 5-6). The psalmist notices that through singing the phrase again in the end.

“O Lord, our Sovereign,

   how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Psalm 8 praises the majesty of God, which is unfathomable and incomprehensible, and God’s caring works that are extended to the most vulnerable in the creation. It sings for God’s characters, attributes, and interests. God’s heart is always toward the least, the marginalized, the afflicted, the poor, the sick, and the hungry.

Thus, God’s loving and caring touches are visualized in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who quotes the verse of Psalm 8 (Matt. 21:16) to criticize the dead religious ways that do not reflect God’s own hearts any longer. Jesus comes to listen to the small voices of the vulnerable and responds to their needs with love and care and strengthens them to join in God’s redemptive works. The voices of children singing may look insignificant but become powerful when God acknowledges them. God’s majesty becomes powerful and influential because God’s glory does not stay on the magnificence of the creation but remains in the lowly places where love is shone.

We, human beings, have experienced the brokenness in the creation, and humanity has been challenged by hatred, racism, violence, lack of equality, poverty, global warming, etc. There is an endless list of issues that we face. How do we restore our brokenness? How do we live as stewards of God’s creation? Humanity can only be found in God as we acknowledge God as our creator and turn our responses to God with praise, thanksgiving, and love. The brokenness in humanity can be restored and healed in a right relationship with the creator. As we deeply experience the closeness with the creator and are immersed within God’s love, we can serve as God’s stewards, and our religious practices can reflect God’s love. Psalm 8 invites us to live the life of wholeness in praise and love.

Thus, as we experience the time of self-denial and repentance in Lent, let us turn to God, who not only comes and listens to us but also invites us to join in God’s continued and redemptive works. God empowers those willing to follow the way of love to bless others with hope and peace.

So it is a joyful song that we lift up our voices to praise the creator. It is a hope that we share God’s love with every person we encounter everywhere. It is a prayer that we may experience God’s presence profoundly and newly in places that we may abandon and forsake. It is a lenten prayer that we constantly join in singing and proclaiming that God cares for all and invites all to do the same.

“O Lord, our Sovereign,

   how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Monday, March 28: Psalm 98 and Luke 1:54

Monday, March 28: Psalm 98 and Luke 1:54

Written by Grace Han, Pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Alexandria, VA.

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things! 

Psalm 98 isn’t a very “Lenten” Psalm. After all, Lent is supposed to be serious and somber. We put away our Hallelujahs and exchange them for ashes. We give up sweets and meat to enter into a season of fasting. We sing in minor keys and quietly and politely whisper our confessions.  

But Psalm 98 seems to ignore all our rules about Lent. There is little that is quiet or minor about this Psalm. There is no holding back or restraint present here. Instead, the Psalmist boldly proclaims that we sing to the Lord a new song! And the reader is to be joined with a cacophony of voices–the seas and the hills, the trumpets and the horns, the entire earth is to break forth into joyous song!

It’s as if the Psalmist couldn’t help themselves. Once God revealed the good news, the Psalmist could not wait any longer, the good news could no longer stay contained– victory has come! All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God! The Psalmist burst into song, unable to contain their joy, overwhelmed with this truth.

God’s revelation has that effect on us. 

Thousands of years later, when an angel appeared before Mary to reveal that she would conceive a child called the Son of God, Mary had a Psalm 98 moment. Overwhelmed with joy, full of grace, Mary could not contain this revelation and she burst into song– My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! (Luke 1:46-47).  In fact, she even goes on to quote directly from Psalm 98: He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy

Psalm 98 seems to know something that those of us stuck in Lent often forget. That Christ has already won. We have already received his victory! 

For us, in the season of Lent, we are still awaiting the victory that comes at Easter. But today we get a glimpse of what has already come. And it’s enough to make us want to burst into song. 

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!

He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.

Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy.

Friday, March 25: Psalm 110

Friday, March 25: Psalm 110

Written by Michael Petrin, Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Marywood University, Scranton, PA

The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet.”

– Psalm 110:1

Christians often forget that Jesus was Jewish. Because we tend to think of “Judaism” and “Christianity” as two completely separate things, it’s easy to forget that Jesus was raised by Jewish parents, observed the commandments of the Jewish Law, and gathered around himself a predominantly Jewish group of disciples.
Maybe we forget this because we don’t spend enough time reading the Gospels. After all, if we did, we might remember how Jesus, time after time, entered into dialogue with other Jewish leaders and debated with them about the correct interpretation of the Jewish Scriptures.

There’s a great example of this in Matthew 22:41-46, where Jesus asks the Pharisees a seemingly straightforward question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?”
The answer to this question is, from the Pharisees’ perspective, an easy one: “The son of David,” they say with certainty.
The Pharisees don’t explain their reasoning here, but they’re expressing a common Jewish belief: the belief that the Messiah (God’s “Anointed One”) will be a king from the line of David, “a shoot…from the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:2).
This belief is one that Christians share, though we of course also believe that this prophesied “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) has already come. We believe that this Messiah is none other than Jesus himself, who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey amid shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matthew 21:9).
Jesus, however, complicates this understanding of the Messiah. For he asks the Pharisees:

“How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?”

What exactly is Jesus saying here?
First of all, he is quoting from the book of Psalms, which has traditionally been attributed to King David. In particular, he is quoting from Psalm 110, which proclaims God’s promise of victory for an unnamed person who is both a king and a priest.
Jesus interprets this unnamed figure as the Messiah, and he points out that the Psalm therefore raises a problem. After all, if the Messiah is supposed to be the son of David, why does David call him “Lord” instead of “son”?
The point that Jesus is making here is that the Messiah is superior to David himself, that he is not only David’s son but also David’s Lord.
This is precisely what Christians believe about Jesus.
On the one hand, we believe that he is truly human. We believe that he was really born to a Jewish mother named Mary and that he really suffered and died for us on the cross.
But we also believe that he is truly divine. We believe that he is the eternal Son of God, who was “in the beginning with God” and through whom “all things came into being” (John 1:2-3); and we believe that it was this very same Son who became flesh for our salvation and suffered death on Good Friday – before rising again in glory on Easter Sunday.
So every time we call Jesus the “Christ” (which actually means “Messiah” or “Anointed One”) we should try to remember the faith that we profess. We should try to remember that this one person – this one Son – is both truly human and truly divine, that he is both David’s son and David’s Lord, and that only he can be our Savior, only he can be our peace.