Reader's Theater: Psalm 37

Lighthouse photograph by Jean Guichard

Reader’s Theater Script for Psalm 37:1-16 (NLT)
With verse 39 as a congregational response
For three voices and congregation

VOICE ONE:
Don’t worry about the wicked. Don’t envy those who do wrong.
For like grass, they soon fade away. Like springtime flowers, they soon wither.

VOICE TWO:
Trust in the LORD and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper.
Take delight in the LORD, and He will give you your heart’s desires.

VOICE THREE:
Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust Him, and He will help you.
He will make your innocence as clear as the dawn,
and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.

ALL:
The LORD saves the godly; He is their fortress in times of trouble.

VOICE ONE:
Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for Him to act.
Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.

VOICE TWO:
Stop your anger! Turn from your rage! Do not envy others — it only leads to harm.
For the wicked will be destroyed, but those who trust in the LORD will possess the land.

VOICE THREE:
In a little while, the wicked will disappear. Though you look for them, they will be gone.
Those who are gentle and lowly will possess the land;
They will live in prosperous security.

ALL:
The LORD saves the godly; He is their fortress in times of trouble.

VOICE ONE:
The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance.
But the Lord just laughs, for He sees their day of judgment coming.

VOICE TWO:
The wicked draw their swords and string their bows to kill the poor and the oppressed, to slaughter those who do right.
But they will be stabbed through the heart with their own swords,
and their bows will be broken.

VOICE THREE:
It is better to be godly and have little than to be evil and possess much.
For the strength of the wicked will be shattered, but the LORD takes care of the godly.

ALL:
The LORD saves the godly; He is their fortress in times of trouble.

Consider following this reading with one or more verses of A Mighty Fortress is Our God, United Methodist Hymnal # 110.

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For a devotion and original prayer based on Psalm 37, click here

Psalm 37 (NLT) from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

arrangement © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

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

The Healing Along the Way

woman issue of blood

Angela Johnson’s depiction of the woman with an issue of blood. Photo by Seth Adam Smith. 

The healing along the way:

Jairus’ daughter and the unnamed woman with the issue of blood

Matthew 9:18-26
Mark 5:22-43
Luke 8:41-56

Give your weakness to one who helps.
Crying out loud and weeping are great resources.
A nursing mother, all she does is wait to hear her child.
Just a little beginning-whimper, and she’s there.
God created the child, that is, your wanting,
so that it might cry out, so that milk might come.
Cry out!
Don’t be stolid and silent with your pain.
Lament! And let the milk of loving flow into you.
Rumi, excerpt from Cry Out in Your Weakness as found in The Essential Rumi

The Flow of Blood by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
The sacred blood that flowed twelve perfect years
was never stanched— the healing was not such.
Drawn by the Heart most wounded, salved in tears,
still flowing and too sacred to be touched
she surged through calloused throngs; and stained his cloak
and heart with dark, unclotted faith, her true
blood sacrifice, her tithe of pain, that spoke
of life within her flowing, flowing through.
Heart pierced, he blessed his new blood-sister’s flow;
they both the holy mystery revealed
of wounds blood-sanctified, in which we know
that life is uncontained, and we are healed.
The cross thus washed in double flow of blood,
the curse thus hemorrhaged, life renewed its tide,
a welling up, a sea released, a flood
of life her tear-stained face could never hide.

Come, Savior Come
ONE:
Compassionate Christ,
you draw near
to those the world labels unclean, lost causes, and beyond hope.
There is always hope with you.
Come again to all who are desperate and despairing.

ALL:
Come with answers and healing.
Come with salvation and strength.
Come, Savior come.

ONE:
Come again to all who are exploited and abused.

ALL:
Come with freedom and sanctuary.
Come with power and new life.
Come, Savior come.

ONE:
Come again to all who are unseen and unloved.

ALL:
Come with companionship and strength.
Come with empowerment and faith.
Come, Savior come.

ONE:
You are invited to name persons, institutions, and situations in need of Christ’s healing and hope.

The leader allows time for the naming.

ONE:
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

ALL:
Amen.

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For more information on today’s featured artist, Angela Johnson, click here
For more information Seth Adam Smith, click here

For another devotion entitled Reaching for Healing, based on this story, click here

Come, Savior Come © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

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

Love One Another = Laying Down Your Life

Prostrate by Richard Seah

John 15:12-13 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Only a few hours earlier, Jesus had told his disciples that there was no greater love than the willingness to lay down one’s life for a friend. And then, he himself did it!
– Steve Harper, Good Friday Love

And so, where there is love, what can be wanting? and where it is not, what is there that can possibly be profitable? The devil believes, but does not love: no one loveth who doth not believe. – Augustine of Hippo

Wherever people love each other
and are true to each other
and take risks for each other,
God is with them and for them
and they are doing God’s will.
– Frederick Buechner, Secrets in the Dark

What does love look like?
It has the hands to help others.
It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.
It has eyes to see misery and want.
It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.
That is what love looks like.
-Augustine of Hippo

I believe God wants us to love others so much that we go to extremes to help them.
– Francis Chan, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God

And like our Savior, who poured out His life and blood so we have reason to rejoice, we were made to lay down our lives and give until it hurts. We are most alive when we are loving and actively giving of ourselves because we were made to do these things. It is when we live like this that the Spirit of God moves and acts in and through us in ways that on our own we are not capable of. This is our purpose for living. This is our hope. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:5).
– Francis Chan, Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit

Jesus does not ask me to die for Him, but to lay down my life for Him. Peter said to the Lord, “I will lay down my life for Your sake,” and he meant it (John 13:37). He had a magnificent sense of the heroic. For us to be incapable of making this same statement Peter made would be a bad thing— our sense of duty is only fully realized through our sense of heroism. Has the Lord ever asked you, “Will you lay down your life for My sake?” (John 13:38). It is much easier to die than to lay down your life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling of God.
– Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
Compassion on this world
Christ has no body now on earth but yours
-attributed to Teresa of Avila

Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.
-Mother Teresa

1 John 3:11, 14-16 (NRSV)
For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another…. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

Once you find your delight
in your neighbor’s well-being,
you are never far from the road to joy.
The opportunities for parties are endless!
Any moment, you can bless someone
undeserving, and there you are—
celebrating again!

Lay down your mortal life,
your little scrap of cloth,
and you are left with nothing at all
but the infinite delight of God.

When the little cage of your life
is battered and smashed,
out flies the bird
that never stops singing.
– Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light

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Click here for more excellent work by today’s featured artist, Richard Seah

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

Life and Death

Life and Death in Black and White by David Boyd, Jr

James 4:13-14 (NRSV)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.” Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Why, in a world full of mayhem, disasters, and death in every city (spent much time in hospitals lately?) are people so shocked by death? I can think of a reason — because God has placed in our hearts the expectation that life will go on, despite all the contrary evidence. God has placed eternity in our hearts. – Ben Witherington, from his blog The Bible and Culture

Funerals are as much collective meditations as tearful goodbyes to one person. We use the departed life as a lens to assess our own. – Catherine Porter, Shelagh was Here

Preparing for death is one of the most empowering things you can do.
Thinking about death clarifies your life.
Candy Chang, Before I die, I want to…

Death helps us to see what is worth trusting and loving and what is a waste of time.
– J. Neville Ward

Jesus calls us to gratitude. He calls us to recognize that gladness and sadness are never separate, that joy and sorrow really belong together, and that mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. That is why Jesus calls us to be grateful for every moment that we have lived and to claim our unique journey as God’s way to mold our hearts to greater conformity with God’s own. The cross is the main symbol of our faith, and it invites us to find hope where we see pain and to reaffirm the resurrection where we see death. – Henri J. M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Living

What do we say, that God has chosen this one and not that one? Or that God is not paying attention, that God is too busy spinning galaxies to notice our little lives and we’re on our own, good luck? No, the mystery is that the Holy One who holds the universe in strong and gentle hands also holds us, and cares for us, and accompanies us. The Beloved is with us. In death or life, joy or sorrow, the Compassionate One walks with us, breathes in us, suffers with us, and gives us the life we have. And that life, that amazing gift, is holy, precious and worthy of our wonder, no matter how long or pretty it is. Our range of vision is so often limited to our desires— how fully we manage to cling to what we want and avoid what we fear— that we can’t see our lives from the perspective of the heavens: the sacred Oneness that our lives rise out of, the holy miracle of life in each moment, the magnificent mystery of which each of us is a spark, a blossom, a note. The promise is not that your life will be long or easy, but that it will be holy. – Steve Garnaas-Holmes, That Thou Art Mindful

The grain of wheat when it is put into the ground dies; do we mean that it ceases to be? Not at all. What is death? It is the resolution of anything possessing life into its primary elements. With us it is the body parting from the soul; with a grain of wheat it is the dissolving of the elements which made up the corn. Our divine Lord when put into the earth did not see corruption, but his soul was parted from his body for a while, and thus he died; and unless he had literally and actually died he could not have given life to any of us. – Charles Hadden Spurgeon, Farm Sermons

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

2 Corinthians 4:10-11 (NRSV)
We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body.

Within a few years (five, 10, 20, or 30) I will no longer be on this earth. The thought of this does not frighten me but fills me with a quiet peace. I am a small part of life, a human being in the midst of thousands of other human beings. It is good to be young, to grow old and to die. It is good to live with others and to die with others. God became flesh to share with us in this simple living and dying and thus made it good. I can feel today that it is good to be and especially to be one of many. What counts are not the special and unique accomplishments in life that make me different from others, but the basic experiences of sadness and joy, pain and healing, which make me part of humanity. The time is indeed growing short for me, but that knowledge sets me free to prevent mourning from depressing me and joy from exciting me. Mourning and joy can now both deepen my quiet desire for the day when I realize that the many kisses and embraces I received today were simple incarnation of the eternal embrace of the Lord himself.
– Henri Nouwen reflecting on his 50th birthday in Gracias! A Latin American Journal

Having passed another birthday last week, I am aware of the linear nature of life: it proceeds in one direction, and will never come this way again. But the solstice reminds us that it is also cyclical. Maybe we move in a spiral. Maybe time is neither strictly circular nor linear, but cumulative, like rings of a tree. We don’t leave the past behind; we add to it. Life is past and future mingled in the present: life and death, attaining and losing, suffering and deliverance, summer and winter, each present, each passing. Therefore even death is not final. There is always more life. Always. Even in the summer of your life, winter is working. Even as life is growing in you, so is death. Be mindful of both life and death. Honor them both, for they are both blessed.
– Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Solstice

Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you,
Everything is fleeting, God alone is unchanging.
Patience will obtain everything.
The one who possesses God, wants for nothing.
God alone suffices.
– Teresa of Avila

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Click here for a tremendous message on the culture of death and the gospel of life by Bishop Ken Carter entitled Ashes: An Outward and Visible Sign. 

For further reflection, consider T.S. Eliot’s poem East Coker from The Four Quartets

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: Psalm 7

Psalm 7 by Moshe Tzvi HaLevi Berger from The Museum of Psalms, Jerusalem

Reader’s Theater Script for Psalm 7 (NLT)
For two voices and congregation or soloist

For a PDF of this script, click here
For a devotion based on Psalm 7, click here

CONGREGATION OR SOLOIST:
Traditional setting: Saranam, Saranam, refrain only or refrain and verse 1
Contemporary setting: Please be my Strength, verse 1 and chorus
Instrumental music continues under the Scripture reading.

VOICE ONE
I come to you for protection, O LORD my God.
Save me from my persecutors — rescue me!
If you don’t, they will maul me like a lion,
tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me.

VOICE TWO
O LORD my God, if I have done wrong or am guilty of injustice,
If I have betrayed a friend or plundered my enemy without cause,
Then let my enemies capture me.
Let them trample me into the ground.
Let my honor be left in the dust.

CONGREGATION OR SOLOIST:
Traditional setting: Saranam, Saranam, refrain only or refrain and verse 2
Contemporary setting: Please be my Strength, verse 2 and chorus
Instrumental music continues under the Scripture reading.

VOICE ONE:
Arise, O LORD, in anger!
Stand up against the fury of my enemies!
Wake up, my God, and bring justice!
Gather the nations before you.
Sit on your throne high above them.
The LORD passes judgment on the nations.

VOICE TWO:
Declare me righteous, O LORD,
For I am innocent, O Most High!
End the wickedness of the ungodly, but help all those who obey you.
For you look deep within the mind and heart, O righteous God.
God is my shield, saving those whose hearts are true and right.
God is a judge who is perfectly fair.

CONGREGATION OR SOLOIST:
Traditional setting: Saranam, Saranam, refrain only or refrain and verse 3
Contemporary setting: Please be my Strength, verse 3 and chorus
Instrumental music continues under the Scripture reading.

VOICE ONE
God is angry with the wicked every day.
If a person does not repent, God will sharpen his sword;
He will bend and string his bow.
He will prepare his deadly weapons and ignite his flaming arrows.
The wicked conceive evil;
They are pregnant with trouble and give birth to lies.
They dig a pit to trap others and then fall into it themselves.
They make trouble, but it backfires on them.
They plan violence for others, but it falls on their own heads.

VOICE TWO
I will thank the LORD because he is just;
I will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.

CONGREGATION OR SOLOIST:
Traditional setting: Saranam, Saranam, refrain only or refrain and verse 4
Contemporary setting: Please be my Strength, chorus twice

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For a devotion based on Psalm 7, click here

Psalm 7 (NLT) from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Saranam, Saranam (Refuge). United Methodist Hymnal #523. Words: Traditional Pakistani. Music: Traditional Punjabi melody. Translation and arrangement by permission of the Christian Conference of Asia

Please be my Strength by Gungor from their album Beautiful Things

Compilation © 2012 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution. Contact Lisa for posting and publication considerations.

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

Welcoming Branches

Wing Song, a fabric by Michael Miller

Mark 4:30-34 (NRSV)
Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

Ezekiel 17:22-24 (NRSV)
Thus says the Lord God: I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of a cedar; I will set it out. I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs; I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it, in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble cedar. Under it every kind of bird will live; in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind. All the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord. I bring low the high tree, I make high the low tree; I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. I the Lord have spoken; I will accomplish it.

In Ezekiel 17:22-24, God plants a tiny cedar twig on a high mountain of Israel and that twig becomes a large and fruitful tree under whose branches every kind of bird will find shelter. The birds there symbolize the nations that flock to Israel’s God on the glorious day of the Lord. This word-picture in both Ezekiel and Mark envisions the day when God’s sovereign and life-giving power will embrace the whole world—good news indeed! – Commentary on Gospel by Sharon H. Ringe

The kingdom of God is described not in grandiose terms but in terms of ordinary, quiet beauty- as an inviting place to call home. – Commentary on Gospel by Meda Stamper

Sowing the seed, my hand is one with the earth.
Wanting the seed to grow, my mind is one with the light.
Hoeing the crop, my hands are one with the rain.
Having cared for the plants, my mind is one with the air.
Hungry and trusting, my mind is one with the earth.
Eating the fruit, my body is one with the earth.
-Wendell Berry

Prayer to the Welcoming One
by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

Welcoming One,
Your mercy knows no limit
Your grace knows no margin

You reach out

Like a tree full of branches
Satisfied with the song of unnumbered birds

Like a hen collecting her newborns
Sheltering them beneath healing wings

Like a surprised fisherman
Taking up a bursting, exotic catch

Like a good shepherd
Extending the flock in every direction

Open us, as you continue to open yourself
So all may come within the reach
Of your saving embrace

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Prayer to the Welcoming One © 2012 by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use these works in a worship setting with proper attribution. Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish these works in any form.

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

A few thoughts on demons

St Michael’s Victory over the Devil, a sculpture by Sir Jacob Epstein located on the wall of Coventry Cathedral, England. This photo is especially powerful since the angle of the light creates a cross from Michael’s spear.

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Our society is possessed, Christians as much as anyone. We are possessed by violence, possessed by sex, possessed by money, possessed by drugs. We need to recover forms of collective exorcism as effective as was the early Christian baptism’s renunciation of “the devil and all his works.” -Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers

The enemy’s behavior is like that of a military leader who wishes to conquer and plunder the object of his desires. Just as the commander of an army pitches his camp, studies the strength and defenses of a fortress, and then attacks it on its weakest side, in like manner the enemy of our human nature studies from all sides our theological, cardinal and moral virtues. Wherever he finds us weakest and most in need regarding our eternal salvation he attacks and tries to take us by storm.
Ignatius Loyola

James 4:7-8 (NRSV)
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

I didn’t know what to call it. I don’t believe in devils, but demons I do because everyone at one time or another has some kind of a demon, even if you call it by another name, that drives them. – Gene Wilder

One of the skills of the pastor is to create the space, the ‘synagogue’, where our madness can come face to face with the holiness of Jesus. That also means coming to terms with our own madness. –William Loader

For some reason God allows us to live in a world where alternatives to God’s voice exist (for instance, the serpent, Genesis 2:25-3:13) and those alternatives to God’s voice are where shame originates and there is another term for alternatives to God’s voice and it is that which we call the demonic. Shame, when it keeps us hiding and blaming and fearful is demonic. And Jesus, as we hear in our Gospel text for today has no patience for this. Jesus just absolutely insists on destroying the false voices that shame. (Mark 3:20-35) – Nadia Bolz Weber, Sermon: A re-telling of Adam and Eve and that Damned Snake

Evil is the shadow of angel. Just as there are angels of light, support, guidance, healing and defense, so we have experiences of shadow angels. And we have names for them: racism, sexism, homophobia are all demons…. –Matthew Fox

Luke 9:1-2 (NRSV)
Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.

Another of the elders said: When the eyes of an ox or mule are covered, then he goes round and round turning the mill wheel: but if his eyes are uncovered he will not go around in the circle of the mill wheel. So too the devil if he manages to cover the eyes of a man, he can humiliate him in every sin. But if that man’s eyes are not closed, he can easily escape from the devil. – Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert

In Venice in the Middle Ages there was once a profession for a man called a codega— a fellow you hired to walk in front of you at night with a lit lantern, showing you the way, scaring off thieves and demons, bringing you confidence and protection through the dark streets. ― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love

Where there is prayer, the fallen spirits have no power.
Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica

Your worst nightmare,
your most frightening demon,
the most evil power that threatens you,
stalking your darkness and oppressing your days,
even Satan himself,
is in bigger trouble than he thinks.
Take joy in this most gracious of crimes:
the Humble One
has gone in through his terrible back door
disguised in sorrow, scorn and weakness,
and tied up the strong man,
stripped him naked,
exposing the sham of his glory,
robbed him of all his treasures,
emptied his powers,
and plundered his house of shame.
There’s nothing left of him but your fears.
– Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Tying up the strong man based on Mark 3:22-27

Click here for a raw and challenging sermon on this scripture entitled Demon Possession and Why I Named My Depression “Francis” by Nadia Bolz-Weber.

O Mighty One, Loving One,
O Capable Hand, O Willing Heart,
cast out my demons,
my fear and inadequacy,
and fill me with your Spirit instead,
the power to resist evil,
to set free from the grip of the demonic
what is human, what is fragile and beautiful,
what is yours
– Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Cast Out My Demons based on Mark 1:23-27

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