Wineskins Archive

February 5, 2014

Psalm 51 Freely Adapted (Sep-Dec 2004)

Filed under: — @ 1:30 pm and

by Jeff Berryman
September – December, 2004

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.
Wash me … wash away my iniquity, my guilt—and cleanse me from my sin.

My sin is constantly in mind—I am so aware of my transgressions.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned
I have done what is evil in your sight.
Your sentence is justified — your judgment, faultless.
I’ve been sinful since before I was born,
Since the moment I was conceived. I’ve been steeped in it.
Turn your face from my sins and blot out my iniquity.
Don’t throw me out of your presence
Cleanse me, O Lord, and I will be clean indeed;
Wash me until I am whiter than snow.

I know what you want, what you delight in—truth,
truth in my inner life.
Teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
Make my spirit new—steadfast, unwavering, resolved.
Make my spirit willing, let it sustain me.
Don’t take your Holy Spirit away from me.

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
Let me hear the music of joy and gladness;
and the bones you have crushed will dance.
I will sing, I will sing of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
my mouth will speak out your praise.

Let me teach others your ways —
The ones still trapped in sin, that they will turn back to you, O Lord
and find their way home.

Save me from my guilt, O God,
I know what you want—
You don’t want performance;
sacrifice gives you no pleasure,
You want a broken spirit, a broken heart … these you will never turn away
I am so sorry …

Save me, O God. You alone are the God who saves me.


Signs that Psalm 51 might be appropriate to use as a dramatic reading in a worship assembly:


  • Conversations keep popping up about what honesty before God looks like.
  • Small cell groups report an increase in the amount of weeping during meetings.
  • A fight breaks out in the family life center, and the shouted words, “I’m tired of pretending things are fine,” bring the buffet line to a halt.
  • Someone says he’s shocked over the latest scandalous sin in the church, and another guy quietly replies that he’s never shocked about sin, just shocked about the non-repentance.
  • The pastor can’t get David and Bathsheba off his mind.
  • Teens keep pestering the youth minister about how in the world an adulterer and murderer gets to be known as the man after God’s own heart.
  • The elders no longer talk to each other.
  • The church staff brags about its budget more than about Jesus.
  • A strong actor shows up in church one day wondering how he can serve.
  • When one broken person needs to make the journey from despair to repentance, from repentance to forgiveness, from forgiveness to freedom, and from freedom to joy.

Our God is the God of the desperate. We cry in recognition that we are they.

Desperate, worshippers file in, the sanctuary lit in a mixture of fluorescence and sunlight. They’re smiling, but it’s work to do it. Look closer. Feet drag, shoulders slump, and in private moments—thank God no one’s watching—the weight of their lives rolls over their faces. It’s any given Sunday, and there’s a woman whose eyes give it away; she’s been weeping in the car, her promise of marriage broken—and she did the breaking.

Across the way, the guy in the funny tie is fuming, plotting against his best friend, the one who stole the deal from him, the deal worth enough money to buy the Audi he dreams of. And there, in the corner, another man sits, dressed down, no tie at all, not even a coat. He’s a petty thief and a liar, though he never wanted to be that, and he thinks he might give anything to return to honesty, to integrity, to God.

Desperate, worshippers file in, hoping to find in the dust and light some inkling of experience that might testify that they, too, can be forgiven, can be redeemed, can be loved.

Now in front of the church, someone stands. The lights dim, and after a period of quiet, every eye is riveted on the stage. The speaker doesn’t speak yet—he is unsure. His fear comes from his vulnerability, for this man is about to speak truth to the assembly—the people can feel it. But even now, before he speaks, the congregation realizes the man is not going to speak to them, but to God.

The words begin to flow, and it catches the people off guard. These words are real, the man’s voice trembling in the difficulty of them, yet strangely freed by their pouring forth. Recognition dawns on the woman who’s been weeping, then the thief, though perhaps the man who lost the business deal cannot yet see past his rage. “What are these words?” the people think.

The woman whispers to herself: “I know these words.”

Yes, we know these words of confession, this fifty-first psalm. These our our words. But in the mouth of this man, this actor—this truth-teller, this performer who is not lying to us with his public enactment of a man reeling from his sin, confessing to God, seeking the Lord’s forgiveness and favor—these words are new. They are ancient, yet relevant. They are the living word of God, and hearts open again to the change they speak of, to the love they reveal, to the God who receives them.

To act is a gift of communication; the drama is a prayer. Let us join the man, and speak the ancient words together.New Wineskins

Jeff BerrymanIn this freely adapted Psalm 51, accomplished playwright, novelist and actor Jeff Berryman reminds us that God is the God of the desperate. And we cry out in recognition that we are they …

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