Invitation to Wholeness

The first eighteen verses of John’s Gospel
tell us the story we know,
words of comfort
as we hear them once again.

Another holy man,
the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah
in chapter 31, verses 7-14,
shares a divine pronouncement,
glad tidings of great joy—
the caring God
who does not forget who or where we are,
calling yet again to us
to gather, in person or virtually,
(just think, God does so much virtually
even as God is right beside us)
to know that no matter how scattered
we may be—whether by geography, social station,
politics, race and gender, age—
we are called together
as the people of God
to claim our sense of belonging,
weeping or laughing or singing
or all three,
to go beyond rites and rituals of this season,
to know and share our regrets,
our laments, anger, sense of neglect,
our relief, our happiness, our love
not only with those in our immediate circle
but the whole world, the whole of creation,
more and more coming toward us,
crowds becoming almost scary in their size
and diversity and yet, and yet,
every one a divine offspring,
the cherished of God
responding to the ever-present
divine invitation to live whole lives
not only in our own selves
but in every other being as well.

The biblical texts for the Second Sunday of Christmas, Year B, may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=58

A Brave, Determined, Faithful Couple

Nothing stops Mary and Joseph,
not traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem,
then to Bethlehem to obey an official edict,
searching in Bethlehem for a place to stay
and giving birth to a son in a manger,
a feeding trough for the sheep and cattle already there,
and surrounded by strangers who arrive after the birth,
then returning to Jerusalem
to bring Jesus to the temple
to be circumcised on the eighth day,
to be named and blessed—
and not having many resources,
they can only offer a pair of turtle doves
to meet their holy obligation.

Joseph probably did not have funds
to rent a room even if one were available,
not only in Bethlehem—
the journeys slow, he walking,
guiding the donkey on which Mary sat
and later Jesus in her arms,
they would need to stop several times,
64 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem
six more to Bethlehem
six more back to Jerusalem
then home to Nazareth—
not to mention water and food
to sustain them both,
especially a pregnant and then nursing mother.

The blessings by Simeon and Anna,
truly a gift for all three of them and for us—
even as the parents may have felt both overwhelmed and nervous,
hearing about glory and trouble all at the same time,
not to mention the survival needs of a poor family.
Simeon knew they were poor
because they did not sacrifice a lamb
Would they have appreciated more tangible help?
How often do we bless people for their faith
and then ignore their needs for food, housing,
funds for the basics of life? 

Lectionary texts for the Feast of the Nativity may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=52

Blessed Births

A woman with no social standing or power
gives birth to the holy child
and shepherds, held in low esteem
if not victims of hostility,
are the ones the angel visits
to share the good news,
to empower them to share it widely.

Do we know, do we remember,
that women of low estate
give birth every day
in homeless shelters and under bridges,
on reservations, in rodent-infested dwellings?
Do we know, do we remember
that those babies are sacred,
and their mothers, too?

Do we know, do we remember,
that men and women of low station—
victims of White supremacy, rapacious capitalism,
drug dependency, and more,
have stories to tell, news we need,
perspectives to enlarge our own?
Do we know, do we remember,
that they are sacred,
and their stories, too?

Each Christmas I remember a special time in my life,
when a ewe gave birth to a precious lamb.
I was 14, raising sheep as a 4-H project,
when a ewe became pregnant very early—
about two months before we had scheduled it.
It was Christmas Eve and my father and I
attended her after returning from midnight worship.

Kneeling on the straw, stroking the mother,
speaking encouraging words,
I could not forget the birth
we celebrated at church.
Our barn was larger than the lean-to
often pictured in art and books
but it was filled with animal smells,
sheep baa-ing,
a brisk wind whistling outside,
while the light from the bulb in the ceiling and our lantern
was not as bright as from the star.

As the adorable little one emerged
standing on wobbly legs,
mother licking her
to remove the birthing membrane,
I knew I wanted to name her
Mary Christmas!

And so she was.

Still, the time came
some years later
when I had to send her to market
where she joined
all the other sacred beings—
those hung from trees, from crosses,
those shot in the streets and casualties of war,
those taken that others might eat their fill,
those who die for lack of water, food, and health care—
all those whose memory others cherish
as I remember her.

Texts for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=52 , https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=53 , and https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=54 

God the Unboxed

God tells a victorious David,
through his counselor Nathan,
I don’t need to live in the house
you want to build me.
My tent works for me,
I can live among my people, move about with them,
besides I don’t require
monuments supposedly for Me
but more likely to glorify the builder.
I am the Master Builder
having already created a world
for you and everybody,
every single body, human and non-human
(those are your categories—all are equally dear to Me).

God tells Mary,
a young woman unknown to the world,
speaking through the divine angel
that she will deliver a child,
a child who will grow up to be known
and celebrated and worshipped around the world—
but God knows his will not be an easy road.
Still God trusts Mary and she does not fail
delivering the baby
not in a grand room
nor hospital,
but surrounded by shepherds
cows, sheep, and hay
and yes, several others
of more exalted station.

He grows up to tell us
to value the meek and peaceful
not those who strut the world
building up themselves and those they favor;
to heal the sick,
not ignore their needs:
to free the prisoners,
not add to their number;
to comfort those who mourn
not create more disaster and distress.

He reaches out and heals
those the world ignores, maims and kills,
knowing that God wants
not only life and liberty
but also the pursuit
of just happiness for all.
He is not governed
by morality the dominant powers create
for their own interest,
but by how God values all,
the poor not just those
successful on the world’s terms
and those who break narrow, puritanical rules
in the name of love;
those whose skin color,
gender, and personal and social identities
are less favored, even abused by,
worldly rules, rulers and life;
those born on both sides
of the tracks,
living in tumble-down shacks
as well as suburbs;
and those who agitate for justice
as well as those who fail
to see and do it.

Lectionary Texts for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B, can be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=51

 

 

The Spirit of God Is Upon Me

John, moved by the spirit of God to testify, cries
make straight and smooth the way of the one who is to come–
this the one we recognize in the words of Isaiah:
The Spirit of God is upon me, for the Holy One has anointed me.
God has sent me to bring good news to those who are poor,
not more tax breaks for the rich nor crushing burdens for the rest;
to heal broken hearts, not turn them away nor deny them help;
to proclaim release to those held captive and liberation to those in prison,
not build more prisons nor make necessary more refugee camps
nor ignore those suffering through multiple viruses;
to announce a year of favor from God and the day of God’s vindication,
not mere greatness for our nation nor our political party
nor power over those of other faiths and no faith;
to comfort all who mourn,
not deny them their personhood and pain
nor trample on the memory of loved ones;
to provide for those who grieve in Zion, humans and all living beings,
not deny the truths of their lives;
to give the abused and molested and raped a wreath of flowers instead of ashes,
immigrants and dreamers the oil of gladness instead of tears,
all who resist evil and oppression a spirit of praise in place of a spirit of sadness.

God says I love justice so those who hear and respond to God’s call
will be known as oaks of righteousness, trees of integrity,
planted by God to show divine glory, to show God’s way forward.
They will renew ancient struggles for dignity, raising again the cries of the oppressed,
rebuild cities and communities neglected, injured, and left for devastation,
they will welcome the stranger, those in need of asylum, with grateful hearts,
they will overturn the rules that keep people down,
they will cultivate flourishing for all Creation.
Now is the time, this is the place,
is the Spirit of God upon me, you?
Is it upon us?

Texts for biblical readings for Advent 3, Year B, may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=48

Advent Messages

Comfort, O comfort my people, says God, according to Isaiah.
Do we hear the melodic lift from Handel’s Messiah
and immediately feel better
or do we feel how much we need comforting,
knowing how much trauma is in the world—
not just in distant war-torn lands
but in our own where war rages too,
maybe not a shooting war,
although Black women and men
may have a different view, but war nonetheless,
ugly words, untrue claims, threats of violence
not just one virus but many,
do we wonder if comfort will ever come?

Mark begins by announcing the good news
of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,
then repeats Isaiah
to assure his listeners that John the Messenger
will prepare the way for the people in the wilderness—
struggling under the heavy fist of Rome, desperate for a new life—
to be ready for a new reality
made possible through repentance and confession.

But does that sound like good news?
Does it sound comforting?
Repenting and confessing are not easy,
requiring honest examination of ourselves,
telling the truth even when it is not pleasant
facing things we want to forget.

In his own way, John reminds us of the need
to go back, to engage in a searching and honest look back—
being clothed in camel hair with a leather belt
was several centuries out of fashion,
and locusts and wild honey
hardly reflect success and power to lead.
Still, many responded to the gift, yearning for change,
for God who resides in human hearts.

Advent can be a nostalgic journey, even one of cheer,
remembering Christmas pageants of our younger years
now featuring children and grandchildren,
obscuring the unmistakable longing
for what is just out of sight,
the gift of wholeness we are promised
in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Is this not a season of comfort, gratitude, joy
and longing? 

Biblical texts for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, Year B, can be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=49

I would appreciate knowing if you choose to part or all of this poetic reflection.
Please write me at fp@robinhawleygorsline.com 

Who Is Knocking?

The beginning of Advent
a time of witness and expectation of the blessed birth,
already focused on the stable and star in Bethlehem
—but is this only about 2000 years ago
or also when and where Jesus is coming now? 

Jesus counsels us to stay awake
to be ready for the one who is coming—
we do not know when or where
so be ready to answer the knock at the door,
to welcome the Holy One.

There is so much pressure to stay awake already
the latest Pandemic numbers
remembering to wear a mask,
the latest Tweet—
what incredible claim is it this time—
the latest Black person killed,
if we can still breathe will we march?

And we’re called to stay awake
for Jesus, for God, too?
In this time of troubles
we can be caught between believing God is near
and wondering where God is.
Does God really hear us?
Or do we not hear God? 

Isaiah laments the distance
between God and God’s people—
the people have wandered from God
and think God has left them,
a feeling of exile
no matter who is responsible. 

Today can feel exilic.
Don’t we want to be anesthetized,
to numb ourselves by drowning in the drugs of denial,
of seeing others as our only problem,
buying into the myth of our nation
being free, just, kind, merciful—
not understanding that we,
like ancient Israel,
are separated from the dream
that was once our guide? 

How do we let ourselves be molded by God,
the Divine Potter
creating vessels for life in each of us, all of us?
Is that not worth staying awake 
to receive gifts of God in our life?
Can we learn to be the clay,
the gift from which all was created,
and trust God, Jesus, already knocking?

©Robin Hawley Gorsline 2020

Biblical texts for the 1st Sunday in Advent, Year B, in the Revised Common Lectionary, can be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=48 

Listen

Reflections on Proper 7, Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: Jeremiah 20:7-13, Matthew 10:24-39
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

He was raking in 10 million
in leanest years, celebrated
for Midas ways with stocks,
his counsel sought by all
who wanted more and more
even as he felt less and less,
waking at night with scenes
of gaunt-faced children watching him
as he ate at Sardi’s and the White House.
He cried, he prayed, went to church every day,
gave away millions to hungry kids everywhere ,
still the money piled up
mocking his nightmares, misery and guilt.

Hurrying from one meeting to the next,
he heard a street evangelist quoting Jesus,
“Those who find their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
He was stopped, unable to move,
I want to lose this life—the voice sounded like his—
no more capital gains
no house in the Hamptons
no private jet.
He cried, right on Wall Street.
People stared, others averting their gaze,
most kept their distance as he tore
at his Armani uniform
thrusting his coat, then his tie, shirt, shoes, pants
at gaping tourists and brokers,
“I don’t need these, please take them, in the name of God,”
he said, and hearing himself thought,
where did that come from? Who said that?

He looked around, as if seeing the street
for the first time,
now knowing what he had to do.
He remembered hearing a preacher say
following a divine call is rarely easy,
Jeremiah and Jesus surely knew,
friends and family, authorities too
turn away, turn against,
the loneliness can overwhelm
even in the embrace of God.

But he felt raised up, resurrection-like,
his mind racing, his heart at peace,
beat of new life beckoning him
to become a disciple, a student
of the Lord, gentle Jesus whom he knew also said
some hard either/or words
about not bringing peace
setting children against parents
foes arising in the household
hierarchies of teachers above disciples
seeming normal
but masters over slaves grate against modern ears
can we love Jesus more than mother and father,
what about God?

He thought, I love God most of all,
and I want to serve with Jesus and the Holy Spirit;
this is my ‘I can’t not do it moment’
I heard my pastor describe, when he knew
he was called to share the Good News:
God’s total, unending, unconditional love.

Naked as Francis long ago,
he saw the church and went inside
to pray and to listen
for further instruction.

 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . So many of the really cool people in the Bible show us that following God is not a necessarily smooth way, that the challenges can be huge, daunting .  Upending a life is best done with divine direction and that can come in all sorts of ways to all sorts of people. Jeremiah and Jesus, two prophets who had hard things to say because they listened so carefully to God, surely must have felt, from time to time at least, why me? Of course, God’s answer to them, as to us, is, who else?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2015 FaithfulPoetics.net

The Lord’s Day

Reflection on Proper 6, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

 

Textual foci: Matthew 9:35-10:23; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8
Click here for biblical texts
Sunday morning at the Metro Station
pleasant people staff stations for sharing
the truth they claim, they know, will set us free
pamphlets, magazines, personal testimony
and smiles, handshakes, even hugs too
to show the love of God
in case we don’t know it
already and to be sure our belief
is correct so when Jesus comes,
when Jesus comes,
we are counted worthy.

They smile and say “Good Morning” as I pass
clerical color and dangly earrings
marking me a man different from others
as I smile too—the politeness of our exchange
linking us strangely with the One
who was often impolite, or at least impolitic,
healing the wrong people on the wrong day
breaking bread with the disreputable
loving sinners as much as the pious—
or maybe more—the One
with big plans for his twelve
just as he has for us,
compassion to share with the lost,
curing disease, healing the sick
in body and heart, guiding sheep
who lose our way.

Yes we are the sheep called also
to be shepherds—there always is
someone who needs leading
to water or food or medical care
or encouraging words
like those some give
my friend Tyrone the Pennyman
at this same station but not on Sunday.
He does not sit in his usual spot to call out
“Pennies, pennies, pennies,”
to busy travelers
on the Lord’s Day,
we being fewer in number
(why is church attendance declining now?)
and perhaps more intent on filling the collection plate
than the stomach of one
with few teeth, many rags
and unkempt hair—
 yet in his cheerful countenance
reminds me of St. Paul who says
suffering produces endurance
and endurance produces character
and character produces hope.

I just pray Tyrone’s hope
does not disappoint him
and others who struggle in like manner,
that somehow divine love
moves enough sheep, and shepherds too,
you and me among them,
to help the lowly rise
that all may make a joyful noise
and worship God with joy.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . . Jesus sent out the 12 and sends us out, too. The question, at least for me, is what is the mission to which I have been called? What is most needed in the world, and what is my part in meeting that need? And am I sure I am hearing the call correctly? Is it really Jesus or is it just my idea or the idea of others I like?  
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Names

Reflection on Trinity Sunday, Year A

 

 

Text focus: Matthew 28:16-20
Click here for link to texts

 

I baptize you—yes you,
who wants or whom others want
to be a disciple of Christ
or at least a member
of this church or other Christian body
or to be called a baptized Christian
when appropriate—
In the Name of the Creator
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

There’s that Trinity thing
again, pastor says it
at the weekly benediction
as well as at the end
of heavy-duty prayers;
it must be important,
it even has its own Sunday,
but does any mortal
really grasp what early fathers
of holy church
had in mind when they made belief
in Trinitarianism
a test of faith?

Or was it meant only to be a mark
of faith, an enigma
bound in mystery so securely
that we can only repeat over and over:
Creator—okay some still say Father—
Son and Holy Spirit (does anyone
still say Ghost?)—so we know
and we hope God knows too
we are speaking of the Holy Parent
Jesus knew, lived, and taught,
he part of the Trio
dancing across eternity
cajoling us on to the dance floor too
wanting us to hear the heavenly beat,
do more than tap our toes and hum along,
get up, join the romp of living
up and down and around
with history’s most famous gospel rock group
God Son Spirit
except they are not playing in history;
their greatest hits, new releases,
available now wherever we are
whomever we are, whomever we love,
whatever our ancestry—indeed as Meister Eckhart
of blessed memory said long ago,
Creator/Parent laughed,
and the Son was born,
then the two of them laughed
and the Spirit was born.
When all three laughed,
the human one was born.

Whether we understand or not
—its all in the family, each one of us
making a fourth
not for bridge but for life.
 

About this poem . . . Most preachers dread Trinity Sunday. How to engage people in a discussion of a declaration that God is in three persons and yet only one–that is the challenge. I have long enjoyed the idea of these three, the Trio, dancing and getting us to dance. Maybe if we could all get on the dance floor together we would not have to understand the theory, just enjoy the dance.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.