Three reflections on the woman with the alabaster jar (Matthew 26, Mark 14; Luke 7, John 12)

Mary anoints the feet of jesus by Frank Wesley

Mary Anoints the Feet of Jesus by Frank Wesley

Anointing by Steve Garnaas Holmes
Beloved,
may everything I do today
be my anointing of you;
every thought, word and deed
a pouring out of myself for you,
a gift of service, adoration and thanks.

May every act comfort you,
receive your sacred story,
join me to you in your suffering,
embrace your dying
and prepare for what will follow.
In your death may you be wrapped
in the balm of my own heart.

Give me courage to give my gifts
no matter how others may judge them.
May my life give off the aroma
of gratitude and love.
Accept the anointing of my tears,
my prayers, my being.
In your love
I carry the alabaster jar of my life
into this new day.

Why This Waste? by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
The oil is poured
The criticism comes
even while the scent is still thick in the air

Why this waste?

Why worship?
Why take the time?
Why spend the money?
The poor, remember the poor
There’s so much work to be done

Yes beloved, remember
Remember the poor and remember her
The way is And not Or
Worship and Work
Loving God and Loving Neighbor
Looking Up and Looking Out For
The cross-shaped life

The work doesn’t work without the worship
The worship’s unfinished without the work

Pour Forth by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
There… beyond the feasting circle
A woman
Who are you? What is your story?
No name, no voice
Yet coming close with your gifts

Some are easy to see
An alabaster jar full of exotic perfume
Boldly broken,
And you pour forth more gifts
Out pours your heart
Your adoration
Your gratitude
Your passion
Your sacrifice
The air is thick with your story
It oozes down your Beloved’s beard, pooling on his callused hands

The shattering brings the circle silent
The aroma, meant for all to enjoy
Instead draws an angry answer
They will not bear your story

Cutting remarks fly at you through the fragrant veil
Indignant daggers thrust into your offering
How dare you! Who do you think you are?
Too generous
Too extravagant
Too intimate
We have a better way
Such a waste… code for waste her
Shatter her spirit
Quick, to the stones
A broken body is the cure

Stop! Leave her alone declares the Anointed One!
Misspent? Misused?
No! You misunderstand!
You miss the mark!
She did what she could- all that she could
Balming my body for burial

You have loved Me
Censing my sacrifice
Grace made fragrant
An act beyond words
A silent song for the ages

Pour forth

It is blessing. It is beautiful.
You are blessing. You are beautiful.

Soak it in

You there, religious ones
You berate, rebuke and bombard
While she… she breaks open
She breaks through bearing the Good News

Your words will fall forgotten
Her story will stand… remembered

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The anointing of Jesus is mentioned in all four gospels and probably recounts two different events. Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; Luke 7:36-50; John 12:1-8

Matthew, Mark, and John mention the location of Bethany and the woman as Mary, the sister of Matha and Lazarus. Mary is criticized for the extravagance of anointing Jesus with the costly nard rather than selling it and the proceeds given to the poor.

In Luke, the location seems to be in the region of Galilee in the north. The woman is unnamed. Jesus himself is brought into question and criticized for allowing a sinner to touch him.

In Matthew and Mark, Jesus’ head is anointed. In Luke and John it is Jesus’ feet.

The details are interesting, but do not miss the main points- the extravance, the courage, the thanksgiving, the grace, the blessing, the welcome. This is why we remember.

You Can Read the Bible: Three Approaches

South Sudan Bible Reading by Steve Evans via Wikimedia Commons

South Sudan Bible Reading by Steve Evans via Wikimedia Commons

I. You Can Read the Bible by Steve Harper
One of the biggest mistakes we have made with the Bible is leaving the impression that only scholars can correctly interpret it. Everything is made so layered, nuanced, and complex that many folks instantly feel they lack the “training” and “horsepower” to make it through all the mazes.

So, they either stop trying or they become passive and wait for the “experts” to tell them what’s “right.” But the fact is, the Bible is intended to be understandable! The original languages do contain levels of insight, but their essential meanings are accessible to us all.

Here is a way to make it so in your personal reading and in your conversations with others. Take a passage, read it, and ask:
(1) What is the big idea?
(2) Why is it important?
(3) Where does it presently connect with my life–or–why is it not a part of me?
(4) Should it be part of me? If so, how can I continue (or begin) to put it into practice?

Most Bible passages will “bear fruit” when these questions are applied to them, either in private or in a group. And when you add to your own inductive study the additional resources of concordances, dictionaries, maps, and commentaries, you will find the messages of scripture influencing your life day after day.

II. SOAP
The SOAP Method for keeping a spiritual journal is practiced by thousands of Christians. I first learned of it from Wayne Cordeiro, pastor New Hope Christian Fellowship in Hawaii. For more information on this simple and powerful way of engaging the Word of God, click here for the video on their website.

Here’s a brief summary of the process.
S = Scripture
Read the Bible passage for the day. Copy the verse which catches your attention word for word in your journal.

O = Observation
Write a brief description of what is going on in the passage you read.

A = Application
Write about how your life will be different today because of what you have read.
• Lessons to be learned
• Examples to be followed or avoided
• Promises to be claimed and enjoyed
• A character trait of God revealed

P = Prayer
Write out a prayer for yourself and others based on what you read today.

III. Lectio Divina explained by Whitney R. Simpson in his book Holy Listening with Breath, Body, and the Spirit
The words Lectio Divina are Latin for “holy reading.”

This ancient prayer practice includes the following steps:
lectio (“to read”)
meditatio (“to reflect”)
oratio (“to respond”)
and contemplatio (“to rest”).

Lectio Divina allows you to listen for God’s activity using scripture and to connect to God through the ancient Word while delving into a particular passage.

The practice of Lectio Divina focuses on formational reading of scripture, as opposed to informational reading. Formational reading invites the text to shape you, while informational reading invites you to understand the text. Though both types of reading can be useful on a spiritual journey, the art of Lectio Divina allows you to interact with God’s Word through meditating on a passage and listening for God’s leading.

My personal journey has been shaped by spending time in the Word using Lectio Divina. Through this practice, I have realized how scripture can speak to my life regardless of what I am facing. Lectio Divina has allowed me to see and hear God in new ways.

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So, let’s get reading. Here are three simple reading plans to get you started. Each will take you through the New Testament in one year. It’s especially helpful to start with the New Testament if you are new to Bible reading.

1. New Testament Reading Plan- Bible order
This plan will take you through the New Testament in the order in which it is printed in the Bible. Easy. Just read straight through.

2. New Testament Reading Plan- event order
This plan will take you through the New Testament in the order in which the events most likely happened. You’ll jump from chapter to chapter in different books in this plan. Is it scholarly perfect, no, but it is helpful for those of us who want a chronological approach to Jesus’ life and the lives of the first believers. (We aren’t getting caught in the perfectionism trap. If this sounds interesting, go for it.)

3. New Testament Reading Plan- mixed
This plan spreads the Gospel readings throughout the year with the other books mixed in between. Even though you skip around the New Testament in this plan, you will read a book at a time.

Click Here for more information on today’s featured image, South Sudan Bible Reading by Steve Evans

Prayer and Reflections for Holy Saturday

holy saturday 2

Hymn text from the Holy Saturday Divine Office

Selection from Holy Week Message by Bishop Sue Harper Johnson, North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (3/28/2018)
I have found that each year I tend to focus on one aspect of Holy Week, usually one reflecting the current circumstances in my life. This year I have been fixated on Holy Saturday. Let’s face it, Holy Saturday doesn’t get much airtime in the Protestant church. No Easter vigils, baptisms, bonfires, etc. We tend to move quickly from the drama of Good Friday to the joy of Easter morning, and often use Saturday for Easter Egg hunts and children’s events.

I don’t think we are giving Holy Saturday its due. It is a day of silence and waiting, a day when the disciples must have contemplated the horror of the crucifixion, agonized over their fear and betrayal, and succumbed to the depths of despair. All must have seemed lost.

But while the disciples wandered around in a fog of despair, God was doing God’s finest work. Within the dark and silence of the tomb, God’s resurrection power was bringing life out of death. The tomb became a womb of new life and possibility. And Jesus, firstborn from the dead, laid aside his grave clothes and neatly folded up the cloth from his head. He then headed to hell to proclaim that death had been conquered. And that’s that. The mystery of the ages, the miracle of all miracles, completed in a Saturday.

Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience,
for to wait is often harder than to work. – Peter Marshall

Selection from Worship in the Light of the Cross by John Indermar
Holy Saturday awkwardly interrupts the church’s calendar. We read in Luke of the women who rest on this day in sabbath observance. But we find it hard to replicate their rest in our day.

The prior week’s preparations for palm processions, Passion Week cantatas, and/or seven last word recollections leave little time for decorating sanctuaries and making ready for Easter breakfasts and final practices of brass quartets for Sunday’s allelulias – not to mention eggs to dye and family banquets to prepare. So much to do on Saturday and so little time.

But Holy Saturday offers this advice to activist-bent individuals and congregations and denominations like my own: Don’t just do something, stand there. Sometimes, our busyness cocoons and insulates us from deep consideration of why we think our lives require constant motion. Busyness has often been a prescription for overcoming grief. Do this, do that, work your way out of it. But once the activity dies down, when exhaustion inevitably sets in, the questions and the pain remain, perhaps aggravated by delay in their contemplation.

The women in Luke [23:55-56] actively engage in the immediate aftermath of crucifixion. They follow to see where the body has been taken. They prepare spices and ointments for anointing the corpse. But instead of pressing ahead in a rush to get things done ASAP, they stop. They keep sabbath. In Luke’s terms, they rest. Luke’s word Heschazo carries dual meanings of “to keep quiet” and “to cease from labor.” The women keep Saturday’s vigil in stillness and quietness.

Reflection on Waiting by Henri J. M. Nouwen
To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control.

Prayer for Holy Saturday by Lisa Degrenia
Lord of the Sabbath, Lord of Hosts,
There are so many things we do not understand

Help us to trust you
even when the situation is desperate and out of control

Help us to follow you
even when the way unclear

Help us to wait and rest
even when every bit of us screams to act

Build in us a faith that perseveres
Even when we can’t see you
Or feel you near
Or understand

Your power and goodness are never diminished
Morning is coming

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Click Here for a video of an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, author unknown

Prayer for Holy Saturday © 2018 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
(by Lisa Degrenia, revlisad.com) Please leave a comment for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

Take a Stand, inspired by Jeremiah 1.17-19

stand up speak out

Extended quote from Ragamuffin Reflections by Brennan Manning
The prophet Jeremiah is a striking example of the Biblical paradox that surrender means victory, that in losing our life we find it. (Jesus Christ identifies with Jeremiah more than any other prophet and quotes him most frequently.) In the year 625 BC, the Lord summoned Jeremiah to a prophetic career. Jeremiah’s immediate response was reluctance. “Alas, Sovereign LORD,” he said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young” (Jeremiah 1:6). He was nineteen at the time. Jeremiah was not the confident, self-assured type like Amos or Isaiah. Sensitive, accustomed to the quiet of small-town life, he was temperamentally unsuited for public life and the harsh treatment that is the customary “reward of the prophets.”

Timid and afraid, Jeremiah had no ambition for such a mission. In no way did he want to preach God’s Word to his fellow Israelites. Nothing pleased him more than to be Mr. Nobody, ignored by the ruling clique of royal counselors and priests. How content he would have been to live in the tiny world of his own heart. And so he remonstrated with God, “Ah, Lord God. I am only a boy.” Each of us can sympathize, because Jeremiah is Everyman and Everywoman.

Take a Stand, a devotion inspired by Jeremiah 1:17-19 (NIV)
The words from scripture are found in regular type.

Get yourself ready!
There are things God leaves up to you
Your part of the preparation
Prayer and study and silence
Clearing out the crap so there’s space for what is coming

Stand up and say to them whatever I command you.
Rise now from the green pasture
From the still waters of comfort and slumber
Preparation leads to action
Sanctuary to Taking a Stand

Do not be terrified by them, or I will terrify you before them.
God alone is God
They do not deserve your reverence
Your awe
They are human
Dust and ashes, just like you

Today I have made you a fortified city,
an iron pillar and a bronze wall to stand against the whole land –
against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests and the people of the land.
The call is beyond you
So God makes you more than you
Steadfast
Enduring
Rock and Refuge
Living Stone
Rejected in the Redeeming
Like your Christ
Your Jesus

They will fight
But the battle is the Lord’s

They will fight against you but will not overcome you,
for I am with you and will rescue you,’ declares the Lord.

*******
On this same theme, consider also reading The Stream of Justice, a stirring encouragement to continue our efforts for peace, freedom, and justice. Written by Steve Garnaas Holmes for Martin Luther King remembrances and similar occasions.

Take a Stand © 2014 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.

Stand Up Speak Out graphic by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

Jesus, the Coming Messiah- Suffering Servant and Lamb of God (Isaiah 52, Isaiah 53; Matthew 27)

Jesus, The Coming Messiah
Jesus, The Coming Messiah: Advent Readings from Old Testament to New
December 16: The Messiah as Suffering Servant and Lamb of God
Readings: Isaiah 52-13-53:12; Matthew 27-26-31

Isaiah 53:4-5, The Voice
It was our suffering he carried, our pain and distress, our sick-to-the-soul-ness.
We just figured that God had rejected him, that God was the reason he hurt so badly.
But he was hurt because of us; he suffered so.
Our wrongdoing wounded and crushed him.
He endured the breaking that made us whole.
The injuries he suffered became our healing.

Extended quote from Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer by Richard Rohr 
The significance of Jesus’ wounded body is his deliberate and conscious holding of the pain of the world and refusing to send it elsewhere. The wounds were not necessary to convince God that we were lovable; the wounds are to convince us of the path and the price of transformation. They are what will happen to you if you face and hold sin in compassion instead of projecting it in hatred.

Jesus’ wounded body is an icon for what we are all doing to one another and to the world. Jesus’ resurrected body is an icon of God’s response to our crucifixions. The two images contain the whole message of the Gospel.

A naked, bleeding, wounded, crucified man is the most unlikely image for God, a most illogical image for Omnipotence (which is most peoples’ natural image of God). Apparently, we have got God all wrong! Jesus is revealing a very central problem for religion, by coming into the world in this most unexpected and even unwanted way. The cross of Jesus was a mirror held up to history, so we could utterly change our normal image of God.

Prayer
Hallelujah to Jesus!
Who accepted wounding and crushing
for the forgiveness of sin

Hallelujah to Jesus!
Who accepted beating and mocking
so we would have peace

Hallelujah to Jesus!
Who accepted whipping and torture and death
so we are healed
so we may live forever with him

Silence

The Taste of Death by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
I am held. I need to be held. I will be held.
I am held captive by downfall and falsehood
or I am held by Christ
whose outstretched arms free me from fear and captivity

Who holds me? Death or Christ?

Great Love bends low to us
Suffers with us and for us
Tastes death so we might be free

What does death taste like?
Amniotic fluid and stable hay
Breast milk and sawdust
Bread broken before sour wine
Salty tears, bitter fear
Ashes to ashes, mud pie
Blood and water served on a centurion’s spear
Linen, spices or stone?

Taste and see that the Lord is good

I am held. I need to be held. I will be held.
Hold me, Jesus

**********

Thank you for setting aside times this Holy Season to seek the One we celebrate.

Jesus, The Coming Messiah is an Advent Bible Reading Plan highlighting the Old Testament prophesies and passages which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus.

As you read each passage, consider how this description of Jesus the Messiah reveals his character, motivation, and purpose. How does this description inspire you to trust Jesus and his promises? How will you apply and share what you have discovered? I look forward to your comments.

If you’re in Sarasota, please drop by Trinity United Methodist Church for one of our seasonal events or services or just to say, “Hi.” You’re always welcome and wanted.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas! – Lisa <><

The Messiah as Suffering Servant and Lamb of God © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in devotional settings with proper attribution.
Please leave a comment for information/permission to publish this work in any form.

Jesus, the Coming Messiah- Teacher and Comforter (Isaiah 50, Matthew 4)

Jesus, The Coming Messiah
Jesus, The Coming Messiah: Advent Readings from Old Testament to New
December 15: The Messiah as Teacher and Comforter
Readings: Isaiah 50:4-11; Matthew 4:23-24

Isaiah 11:1-10, The Voice
The Lord, the Eternal, equipped me for this job— with skilled speech, a smooth tongue for instruction. I can find the words that comfort and soothe the downtrodden, tired, and despairing. And I know when to use them.

Matthew 4:23-24, The Voice
And so Jesus went throughout Galilee. He taught in the synagogues. He preached the good news of the Kingdom, and He healed people, ridding their bodies of sickness and disease. Word spread all over Syria, as more and more sick people came to Him. The innumerable ill who came before Him had all sorts of diseases, they were in crippling pain; they were possessed by demons; they had seizures; they were paralyzed. But Jesus healed them all.

Prayer
Hallelujah to Jesus!
The Word spoken in creation
So we would know light and new life

Hallelujah to Jesus!
The Word made flesh
So we would know grace and truth

Hallelujah to Jesus!
The Word of Divine Comfort
Who hears our cries and draws near

You hear and you bear
You bear our disgrace and shame
You bear our burdens and disease

No one, no thing, no situation
Can stand against you
You, Eternal One, Eternal Word
You persevere while they come to an end

You
Our Savior
Our Sustainer
Our Shelter
Our confidence is in you

The next devotion will focus on Jesus’ suffering, which is also a major theme in Isaiah 50:4-11.

**********

Thank you for setting aside times this Holy Season to seek the One we celebrate.

Jesus, The Coming Messiah is an Advent Bible Reading Plan highlighting the Old Testament prophesies and passages which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus.

As you read each passage, consider how this description of Jesus the Messiah reveals his character, motivation, and purpose. How does this description inspire you to trust Jesus and his promises? How will you apply and share what you have discovered? I look forward to your comments.

If you’re in Sarasota, please drop by Trinity United Methodist Church for one of our seasonal events or services or just to say, “Hi.” You’re always welcome and wanted.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas! – Lisa <><

The Messiah as Teacher and Comforter © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in devotional settings with proper attribution.
Please leave a comment for information/permission to publish this work in any form.

Jesus, the Coming Messiah- Light for the Nations (Isaiah 42; Isaiah 49; Luke 2)

Jesus, The Coming MessiahJesus, The Coming Messiah: Advent Readings from Old Testament to New
December 14: The Messiah as Light for the Nations
Readings: Isaiah 42:1-10; Isaiah 49:1-7; Luke 2:22-38

Isaiah 42:6-7, The Voice
I am the Eternal One. By righteousness I have called you.
I will take you by the hand and keep you safe.
You are given as a covenant between Me and the people:
A light for the nations, a shining beacon to the world.
You will open blind eyes so they will see again.
You will lead prisoners, blinking, out from caverns of captivity,
from cells pitch black with despair.

Luke 2:28-32, The Voice
Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God.
Simeon: Now, Lord and King, You can let me, Your humble servant, die in peace. You promised me that I would see with my own eyes what I’m seeing now: Your freedom, raised up in the presence of all peoples. He is the light who reveals Your message to the other nations,and He is the shining glory of Your covenant people, Israel.

Quote by Dr. Arthur Glasser, former dean of the Fuller School of World Mission (now Fuller School of Intercultural Studies)
It comes to mind when one reflects on Isaiah 49 and its portrayal of the Messiah (the embodiment of Israel), the Servant of Yahweh. The prophet projects himself into the situation facing Jewish exiles in Babylon toward the end of their 70-year captivity. Through him God tells the Servant that to confine His activities to returning the exiles to the land is too small a thing” (verse 6a). There is a larger task: “I will also make You a light to the nations, so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (verse 6b).

Often the phrase “Israel, a light to the nations” is removed from this context and made the rubric under which one lists significant and positive contributions Jewish people have made to world civilization. Indeed, we ought to be profoundly grateful for their positive contributions to the performing and visual arts, to the physical and behavioral sciences, to philosophy, government and literature. The world’s indebtedness to the Jewish people is incalculable. But the mandate of Isaiah 49 does not refer to cultural and social contributions. In this passage, being a light to the nations involves taking the good news of God and His salvation to the Gentile world.

Jesus called into being a band of Jewish disciples who submitted to His lordship and instruction. He gave them the task of proclaiming the “good news of the Kingdom of God” to every tribe, tongue and nation. He commissioned them by bestowing a foretaste of His new covenant with Israel predicted in Jeremiah 31:31- 34. He gave them the Holy Spirit to transform their lives and wrote His Law on their hearts. He particularly empowered them for worldwide witness (Acts 1:8). And they obeyed Him to such a degree that the world has never been the same since!

Those first thousands of Jewish believers in Jesus became Messiah’s “light to the Gentiles.” They spearheaded a movement of mission into the Middle East and India, North Africa, the Mediterranean world and Europe, and its outgoing momentum remains to this day.

Prayer
Hallelujah to Jesus!
Light for the Nations
Radiant with grace and blessing

Hallelujah to Jesus!
Brilliant with deliverance
Overcoming all darkness and death

Hallelujah to Jesus!
A shining beacon of salvation and hope
Whoever follows you will have the light of life

This is the glory of your saving love
That you don’t just bless us,
Heal us,
Guard and guide us

That you don’t just forgive us,
Redeem us,
Save and sanctify us

For you that is too light a thing

You make a place for us in your saving work

You call us
Empower us
Each of us
You make a place for us in your family
and a place for us in your plan
that we might have purpose and meaning
that we might experience the fullness of your grace
that we might experience your power and the wielding of that power
Your hope and your hope made real in the world
Your love and your love in action

Glory to you, Most Blessed Savior!
Glory to you, Lord of Mercy and Light!
Glory to you and to the fulfillment of Your Kingdom
in us and in all!
Amen

**********

Thank you for setting aside times this Holy Season to seek the One we celebrate.

Jesus, The Coming Messiah is an Advent Bible Reading Plan highlighting the Old Testament prophesies and passages which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus.

As you read each passage, consider how this description of Jesus the Messiah reveals his character, motivation, and purpose. How does this description inspire you to trust Jesus and his promises? How will you apply and share what you have discovered? I look forward to your comments.

If you’re in Sarasota, please drop by Trinity United Methodist Church for one of our seasonal events or services or just to say, “Hi.” You’re always welcome and wanted.

Happy Advent and Merry Christmas! – Lisa <

The Messiah as Light for the Nations © 2017 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in devotional settings with proper attribution.
Please leave a comment for information/permission to publish this work in any form.