One with God, One with Each Other

I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking and praying on the theme of unity these past weeks. It began with the death of Trayvon Martin. Sanford Florida is a short drive from my home. I keep thinking about how we continue to fear one another and how this fear escalates into labeling and violence.

I’ve also been actively praying for The General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which begins the end of April in Tampa. This is the decision making body of our denomination and there are many important topics before them, topics which can be polarizing and divisive. (To join the prayer campaign, click here)

There are other situations, too. A couple in the midst of divorce, a disagreement between friends, a costly betrayal. Oh the things we do to one another. It breaks my heart and I am sure it breaks God’s heart. Lord have mercy.

The good news is that mercy does come. In the breaking and brokenness, God makes a way for us to be one- one with God and one with each other. Christ is broken that we might be freed from our fear, that we might find unity in our diversity, that we might be whole.

Merciful One, make us one with each other and one in you. Amen.

Worship Resource: Make us One
Make us One by Carol Cymbala
The Faith We Sing #2224
CCLI # 695737
The music continues underneath each Scripture reading.

Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

Make us One by Carol Cymbala
The Faith We Sing #2224, CCLI # 695737

ONE SPEAKING: John 15:4-5 (NRSV)
Jesus says, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Make us One by Carol Cymbala
The Faith We Sing #2224, CCLI # 695737

ONE SPEAKING: John 17:11b (NRSV)
Jesus prays, “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

Make us One by Carol Cymbala
The Faith We Sing #2224, CCLI # 695737

Continue with prayers for unity, individual or corporate, silent or aloud

compilation © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

For more information on the art, scripture translation and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Tracing Hands

"My Hand" Collage by Kathy Barbro

On Ash Wednesday, Corey Trinkl, Director of Children’s Ministry at Community United Methodist Church in DeBary, led our preschool classes in a prayer exercise. Class members traced one of their hands onto a poster board. (One board per class.) During Lent, the preschool classes will be praying for one another by placing their hand on the hand of a person in another class. The poster boards will rotate through the different classes, staying a week in each class.

Corey’s idea started me thinking about other situations where having the tracing of someone’s hand would help focus prayer. What situations come to mind for you?

  • Praying for a sister congregation
  • Praying for students away at college
  • Praying for those who are imprisoned
  • Praying for your local firefighters, police officers, or city officials
  • Praying for a mission team while they are away
  • Praying for those who are homebound or nursing homebound
  • Praying for those who are in the midst of long treatments or recovering from surgery

The beautiful thing about this process is its flexibility. You could collect hand tracings of persons who will be lifted up in prayer or give hand tracings of those who are doing the praying.

  • What would it mean for someone to receive a poster board full of traced hands as a reminder they are remembered, loved, and covered in prayer? How about a quilt covered in hands?
  • How would an altar table cloth covered in the hands of a mission team or other group help focus the prayers of the people?
  • How would filling the hands with names, situations or images further focus prayer? (Be sure to stop by Kathy Barbro’s terrific blog, Art Projects for Kids. To find out more about today’s featured art, including instructions for creating your own hand collage, click here.)

James 5:16 (NRSV)
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.

Ephesians 6:18 (NRSV)
Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

1 Timothy 2:1 (NRSV)
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,

Colossians 1:9-10 (NRSV)
For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.

For more information on the art, scripture translations and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Quotes: Dying to Self

Three day old sunflower seedlings. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Romans 6:4 (NRSV)
Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

True philosophers are always occupied in the practice of dying.

We are dead with Christ,
we are buried with Christ,
we are risen with Christ;
and there is no real spiritual life in this world except that which has come to us by the process of death, burial, and resurrection with Christ.
– Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Farm Sermons

John 12:25 (NRSV)
Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

The only way we can find ourselves is to deny ourselves. That’s Christ’s teaching. If you try to cling to yourself, you will lose yourself. And of course, the unwillingness to forgive is the ultimate act of not wanting to let yourself go. You want to defend yourself, assert yourself, protect yourself, and so on. – Thomas Hopko, quoted by Jim Forest in The Ladder of the Beatitudes

In the capitalist West, the very word “surrender” is not to our liking. We are all about winning, climbing, achieving, performing, and being the best. – Richard Rohr

What we are all searching for is Someone to surrender to, something we can prefer to life itself. Well here is the wonderful surprise: God is the only one we can surrender to without losing ourselves! The irony is that we actually find ourselves, but now in a whole new and much larger field of meaning. – Richard Rohr

Click Here for further discussion of dying to self (the False Self) by Richard Rohr

We must die if we are to live. There is no spiritual life for you, for me, for any man, except by dying into it. Have you a fine-spun righteousness of your own? It must die. Have you any faith in yourself? It must die. The sentence of death must be in yourself, and then you shall enter into life. The withering power of the Spirit of God must be experienced before his quickening influence can be known: “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it.” You must be slain by the sword of the Spirit before you can be made alive by the breath of the Spirit.
– Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Farm Sermons

John 12:20 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

The grain of wheat must die in order to bear much fruit:
fruits of unity and universal peace.
Jesus is speaking of his own death,
and he is also speaking for each one of us.
We, too, are called to die to selfishness
in order to bear fruit and be messengers of peace:
we are called to die to some things that may be good in themselves
but that hinder us on our path towards unity, peace
and greater openness in the Spirit of Jesus.
-Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John

We see the proof of this in families where parents give up a whole lot of themselves so that their children might flourish, where children watch out for and occasionally participate in important decisions for parents as age catches up with them, where spouses set aside their own wants or needs to help the other become who they are meant to be. And yes, we see it in congregations where we give up our place in the pew for a newcomer, where we welcome children even when they fuss, when we reach beyond our shyness or our fear to speak to a stranger. In a thousand places and ways we know this to be true. It’s not usually big deaths, of course, but small ones along the way which live out the truth of Jesus’ words over and over again and our ‘dying’ somehow multiplies and results in life. – Janet. H. Hunt, Dancing with the Word

Creativity and newness of life have a cost, and the cost is what appears to look like  death. But really it is not. It is just letting go of one thing to make room for another thing. Loss is always perceived as an enemy or affliction, and looks like what we don’t want. Somehow to embrace loss, spiritually speaking, is to achieve something more and something bigger. Some form of positive dying invariably allows us to be united with what is Larger Reality, but of course we never know that ahead of time. – Richard Rohr

The death of Christ is as it were a sowing, which seems to be a dying of the corn, but indeed is the cause of a much greater harvest: and such as is the condition of the head, so will be the condition of the members. – Geneva Bible Notes

If you want to follow Jesus, understand that you must be, like him, a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies in order to bear much fruit. You cannot hoard your life (psyche in Greek, nephesh in Hebrew), making your survival your goal. You must have a higher allegiance, one born out of belief in and following the Son of Man who is glorified and who glorifies God in his crucifixion and resurrection.
– Alyce M. McKenzie, Edgy Exegesis

Now we begin to see why repentance is a uniquely Christian path of liberation from self. All great religious traditions recognize that the deepest desire of the human heart is for freedom from inner oppression. We feel “conditioned”: bound by the chains of our habits and compulsions, our likes and dislikes, our fears and guilt, our inability to love. Our great tragedy is that we so often mistake these habits and compulsions for our true self. … Our false self must die, so that we can find our true self, the self which God meant us to be and which he created in his image and likeness.
-Irma Zaleski, The Way of Repentance

Praying is a slow dying. In prayer you give up something of yourself and appropriate something of the sphere of the Divine in a continuous cycle of dying and resurrection. In prayer the growing soul leans toward the Light as a seedling leans toward the sun’s path. Plant a bean in soil, and soon it puts forth roots and a stem and the seed itself is lifted up upon the stem, broken, transforming into the nourishing cotyledon. This skeletal shell gives itself to the new green leaves which then begin the process of photosynthesis. The cotyledon, the old bean in withered form, falls off, spent, like the human body in death, having birthed and nurtured something new.
Suzanne Guthrie, The Edge of the Enclosure

Isaiah 43:18-19a (NRSV)
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

Christ was in the tomb; the whole world was sown with the seed of Christ’s life; that which happened thirty years ago in the womb of the Virgin Mother was happening now, but now it was happening yet more secretly, yet more mysteriously, in the womb of the whole world. Christ had already told those who flocked to hear Him preach that the seed must fall into the earth, or else remain by itself alone. Now the seed of His life was hidden in darkness in order that His life should quicken in countless hearts, over and over again for all time. His burial, which seemed to be the end, was the beginning.
– Caryll Houselander

Had Jesus not descended to the grave, how would he have been the life-giving, the soul-quickening root of all his church and people? But now, by this one precious corn of wheat falling into the ground, and dying, how hath the garner of God been filled, and is now continually filling, with his seed!
Robert Hawker, The Poor Man’s Morning and Evening Portions

I am always dying, with each breath that enters and leaves my body, with each second and the hundreds of thousands of cells that are dying off to make room for more, with each toss of the football to my vigorous and growing son. And may I keep dying so life may abound. Thanks be to God!
– Todd Weir, Blooming Cactus

Thread the needle.
Let go of everything,
now, in this moment.
In the perfect poverty of prayer
walk away from it all to God,
poor and naked, alone and without recourse.
Utterly needy and dependent,
fall helplessly into God’s waiting arms,
where you will receive,
you will receive.
– Steve Garnaas-Holmes, The One Thing

For more information on the art, scripture translations and the use of this post in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Reader's Theater Script for Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday by William Hemmerling

Christians celebrate Palm Sunday the Sunday before Easter, remembering Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This event is mentioned in all four Gospels. (Mark 11:1–11, Matthew 21:1–11, Luke 19:28–44, and John 12:12–19).

Palm Sunday is also the first day of Holy Week, a time when many Christians reflect on the last week of Jesus’ life in preparation for Easter.

Click for a Palm Sunday Reader’s Theater Script based on Matthew 21:1-17 (NIV). You are welcome and encouraged to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.

Please consider patronizing the beautiful work of William Hemmerling, today’s featured artist.

For more information on the scripture translation, art and the use of this resource in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.

Up a Pole: the Serpent and the Savior

The Brazen Serpent Monument atop Mount Nebo in Jordan, is a serpentine cross sculpture created by Italian artist Giovanni Fantoni. It incorporates the bronze serpent created by Moses, the pillar of fire which led the people of God through the darkness of the wilderness, and the crucifixion of Christ. Photo by David Bjorgen via wikimedia commons.

John 3:14-18 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, (Numbers 21:4-9) so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

What was to be done with the brazen serpent? The text says, “Moses lifted it up;” and we read he was to lift it up upon a pole. Ah, dear friends, and Christ Jesus must be lifted up. He has been lifted up; wicked men lifted him up, when, with nails on an accursed tree, they crucified him! God the Father hath lifted him up; for he hath highly exalted him, far above principalities and powers.
– Charles Hadden Spurgeon, The Mysteries of the Brazen Serpent

“Look to Christ.” For remember the brazen serpent was lifted up, that every one in the camp who was bitten might live; and now Christ is lifted up to you, that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” Sinner, the devil says you are shut out; tell him that “whosoever” shuts out none. Oh that precious word, “whosoever.” Poor soul, I see thee clutch at it and say, “Then, Sir, if I believe, he will not cast me away.” I see the harlot in all her guilt bemoaning her iniquity; she says it is impossible that Christ should save. But she hears it said, “Whosoever,” and she looks and lives! Remember, it mattered not how old they were, nor how much bitten they were, nor whereabouts in the camp they lived; they did but look and live. And now ye that have grown grey in iniquity, whose hairs might rather be black than white, if they showed forth your character, for it has been blackened by years of vice. Remember there is the same Christ for big sinners as for little sinners; the same Christ for grey heads as for babes; the same Christ for poor as for rich; the same Christ for chimney sweeps as for monarchs; the same Christ for prostitutes as for saints: “Whosoever.”
– Charles Hadden Spurgeon, The Mysteries of the Brazen Serpent

Just as they who looked on that serpent perished not by the serpent’s bites,
so they who look in faith on Christ’s death are healed from the bites of sins.
– Augustine of Hippo

“Lifted up,” honored, looked up to.
We keep our yes on Jesus, and it gives us life.
“Lifted up” like the bronze serpent: on a pole.
Lifted up on a cross, not in honor but disgrace.
Jesus exposes our violence by suffering it
without cause, without recrimination,
exposes our fear
and our poor, snake-bitten need for healing.
Just suffers and forgives.
And that grace brings us to life.
– Steve Garnaas Holmes, Lifted Up

He must be lifted up, that hereby he may purchase salvation for all believers: all those who look to him by faith recover spiritual health, even as all that looked at that serpent recovered bodily health. – John Wesley

If the solution in Numbers was a snake raised up on a pole — because the problem was poisonous serpents on the ground; so in John if the solution is a human (the Word made flesh) on a pole, the problem must be the humans on the ground.
– Brian P. Stoffregen, Exegetical Notes at Crossmarks

Maybe the problem isn’t the humans on the ground; it’s that humans are of the ground. We are the children of Eden. We are dust and to dust we shall return. We are common, soiled, short-lived, and snake bit. On our own, our condition keeps us more with the serpent than the Savior. Yet, God’s creative love reaches out to us in Christ, supplying what our earthiness needs. The kiss of eternal life is blown our way. Will we reach out and catch it? – Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia <><

The event of the cross isn’t just an advertisement, or a show. It actually does something. The cross is effectual. Just like when the Israelites looked at the brazen serpent they were able to be healed, the cross has the power to heal and give life too. But, according to John, gazing upon it isn’t enough. You need to have faith. You need to be moved to believe. – Rick Morley, Lifted High- a relfection on John 3:14-21

The Cross bridges the gap, heals the breach, and ignites the reconciliation.
In every way, we are “saved.” – Steve Harper

Jesus was hung on— and held together —the cosmic collision of opposites (revealed in the very geometric sign of the cross). He let it destroy him, as his two nailed hands held all the great opposites safely together as one: the good and the bad thief, heaven and earth, matter and spirit, both sinners and saints gathered at his feet, a traditional Jew revealing a very revolutionary message to his and all religion, a naked male body revealing an utterly feminine soul. On the cross, Jesus becomes the Cosmic Christ.
Richard Rohr

Lord Jesus,
You are my righteousness, I am your sin.
You took on you what was mine; yet set on me what was yours.
You became what you were not, that I might become what I was not.
– Martin Luther

The Devil speaks:
Now then, Hades, mourn
And I join in unison with you in wailing.
Let us lament as we see
The tree which we planted
Changed into a holy trunk.
Robbers, murderers, tax gatherers, harlots,
Rest beneath it, and make nests
In its branches
In order that they might gather
The fruit of sweetness
From the supposedly sterile wood.
For they cling to the cross as the tree of life.
-Romanos, as translated by Marjorie Carpenter.

Tell me, Dear Tree
A Lenten hymn of sacrifice
by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Meter- 86.86 double (CMD)
Suggested tune: KINGSFOLD (UMH #179)

Tell me dear tree on which my Lord,
my blessed Lord did hang,
How could you hold the spotless Lamb,
be party with the gang?
That cheerless day, that shadowy hour,
my blessed Savior died,
to free my soul for heavenly things,
O tree, you must have cried.

Yes all your fibers must have screamed
for you one time did live a green and growing tree, alive,
but your whole self did give
to be the instrument of death,
to be the very tree
to be the place for Christ to die
upon dark Calvary

But do I hear a shout of joy
from somewhere deep within?
Your duty done; the battle won
so all the world might win.
How beautiful your love for Him
He sewed it long ago
You bore the weight. You took the stain,
and now the world must know

The tree of death felt every wound,
felt all the pain and loss.
She loved her maker through it all,
was glad to be His cross.
Teach me dear tree on which my Lord
My precious Lord did die
To treasure grueling duties done
so Christ is lifted high

© 1992, revised 2009 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form. Lisa is especially interested in collaborating with someone to set this text to original music.

For more information on the scripture translation, photo and the use of this resource in other settings, please refer to the copyright information page.