Do We  Hear?

A Meditation in Response to Proper 13, 11th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Click here for biblical texts

The speaker intones, A reading from the Gospel of Luke,
chapter twelve, beginning at verse thirteen.

In the pews, most waited to hear the word that could guide them
in the week ahead. They heard the reasonable question from an earnest
soul seeking what he calls the rightful share of his inheritance.
But Jesus will have none of it, refusing to arbitrate in this case,
then going way beyond that simple task
to declaim what must have sounded a strange idea then,
as now: keep yourself from covetousness,
abundant things are not the key to a good life.

Jesus money payitfwd wordpress com
payitfwd.wordpress.com

We may think Jesus’ response is wide of the mark,
all the good man seeks is what he is owed,
he has not earned a lecture about avarice or wealth.
But Jesus has a wider message not just for his interlocutor
then but also us today, a parable in which a successful man
has his priorities askew, spending his years
building an investment portfolio, not tending the wealth of his soul.

Someone might want to tell preachers extolling a prosperity gospel,
not to mention the local and national Chambers of Commerce
and politicians who think the first role of government
is to protect the wealth of the one percent and a few others,
that Jesus, the one so many claim to love, has a different message
“one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions”
(probably not one of his more popular lines).

If capitalism is the national creed of the United States—
many would claim it so—how can anyone call us a Christian nation—
not that we should be called that anyway, many of our people
are not of that faith, or any faith, and unlike Israel we were not
formed as a sanctuary for any one religion (Jews came pretty early)—
although some thought it then and persist in such un-Jesus thought today.

But if the One so many of us call Lord can mouth this economic heresy
how can we be sure of anything? Is Jesus less patriotic than we thought?
Does HUAC–House UnAmerican Activities Committee—
need to investigate church teaching to be sure
the freethinking does not go too far?
Do we need to remove the American flag from the sanctuary
(yes, long ago) so worshippers don’t confuse what they hear
on Sunday morning with the nation’s creed?

All this from one man’s simple question, and Jesus’ answer;
the challenge for us, like him, is do we really listen? And do we hear?

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . Jesus said far more about economics than about sex, and his teaching about money and justice and community are very challenging to our contemporary consumer culture.  He is well connected to the Hebrew prophets who regularly denounced the practices of their people and leaders in creating false gods and denying their obligation to the welfare of the community. His response to the man in Luke 12 was most likely baffling in that time, but perhaps even more among us today.

©Robin Gorsline2016 Faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published

 

 

Praying beside Jesus

A Reflection in Response to Proper 12, 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Click here for biblical texts

Please rise as you are able and join in singing
the prayer that Jesus taught us.
Have you ever wondered as I have what sort of voice Jesus had?
Deep, high-pitched, booming, thin, clear, orotund, reverberant?
Did he sing? Was he baritone(my choice), bass, or tenor?
And why do we sing this simple prayer? Because we love Jesus,
and we love his prayer, surely, and singing connects us all,
especially when we hold hands and even raise our arms
as the tune soars with the kingdom, and the power,
and the glory, forever and ever. Amen—
an ending not recorded in either Luke or Matthew,
sometimes seeming unlike the simple style
of Jesus throughout the New Testament.

Jesus teaching 2 obrerofiel com
obrerofiel.com

Can you imagine praying with Jesus, I mean really
praying right beside him, perhaps kneeling, even standing,
silently or aloud or both, feeling the power of his embodied presence,
his breathing, perhaps even warmth of his body,
the smell of sweat rolling down his face or chest in Judean heat,
and as you finish, you ask, as did the disciples, to teach you
how to pray? Can you feel your eagerness, desire to learn
all he has to teach, yearning to hear yet more, be more close
to him, indeed simply be more of the human God calls
you to be? Can you imagine being that close, in that intimacy
with our Lord, whom we call Savior, Brother, Liberator?

This prayer is about relationship with our Holy Parent,
and with Jesus, something we can see in Lucan
verses that follow the prayer, about friends who respond
to your persistence, your reaching out in need, love,
hope and peace, wanting always to give each other
the best we have, even when we are tired or angry or hurt.
Might we want sometimes to say or sing this prayer
not just in massed group but perhaps turning to your neighbor,
taking each other’s hands, offering the sacred prayer
to each other, not closing your eyes but looking deeply
into each other’s eyes so you can see Jesus
in that child of God facing you  as they see him
in the child of God facing them?

Holy One, focus Your truth within us, the light and dark—
Help us use it for You, Your world and people and ourselves. Amen.

 
writing+poetryAbout this prayer . . .  Who does not love the Lord’s Prayer? But what do we do with it? Do we not at least sometimes make it into some sort of triumphant evocation of God rather than the tender, intimate relationship Jesus had with the One he called Abba? I love to sing it as much as the next person, but sometimes I yearn to say it, perhaps to say it really slowly, savoring each word, hearing the holy resonance with which Jesus offered it. And then there are times when I wonder about him, when I daydream about him, when I do wonder how he sounded. I know how he sounds to me, at the few times when I have been blessed to hear his voice, but I do not know if I am hearing correctly. So I know what he really wants is for me to hear him, see him, be with him, with and through you, with and through my neighbors.

 

The pictures representing Jesus are from the Lumo Project, an award-winning DVD presentation of the four gospels. You can check them out here

©RobinGorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when the poem is published in any form

Don’t Miss the Party!

A Reflection on Proper 11, 9th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Click here for biblical texts
A leaky roof is a fearsome thing for a church
causing not only water damage but spiritual damage too,
as people focus on the building, money and contracts,
possibly forgetting who and what is central;
or maybe the damaged roof signifies a leak elsewhere,
inability to keep all things in balance or a failure
of people to invest enough of themselves to support
the whole church. Of course, Christ is the one foundation,
and the roof a very second-tier thing even though it
is on top, because even if the roof falls in the church remains.

African church leaky roof picssr com
picssr.com

Maybe Jesus is showing Martha just that truth,
suggesting hierarchy of value—it is not that dinner
does not require preparation by us but it cannot replace
or subsume the feeding of our souls. The most important
hour at church is not the potluck nor is the building our center;
indeed, if it is, as it seems to be for some, Jesus, Holy Spirit,
Holy Parent will wonder where and who we are.
And if our focus neglects the poor, the immigrant, the widow,
too, if we feed only ourselves and our friends, then
as Amos says, our feasts, like our roof, may be turned
into mourning as for an only child, our songs into lamentations.

What we want, need, from the Holy One by whatever name
we call, is Presence, as appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre,
so we can greet and offer refreshment, hospitality, listening;
then we can hear what is intended for us, what we need;
but if we focus first or only on the sagging, leaking roof,
we can so easily miss the visit, like Jesus coming to our door
and we mistake him for a door-to-door salesman, saying
“Not today, thank you.” Abraham listened though he doubted
Sarah could bear a son, but the key was his open arms and ears.

It is always that way. Do we welcome unexpected visits,
do we listen even when we have work to do, or do we think
God must conform to our schedule, priority, need, fear?
I know I am so often Martha, and perhaps you, too;
that does not make us bad people, it just means we will miss
the best stuff, we will miss the icing and the cake, ice cream
and candles too, and even the singing, maybe the whole party
which is the gift of God for us all every day without end.
 

About this poem . . . . Jesus’ exchange with Martha always feels uncomfortable to me. I remember that someone has to make dinner, and do the dishes, etc. and it seems easy for Jesus, as a man in a society even more patriarchal than our own, to tell her to stop her chores—if she does not do these things, will the slaves do it,  or will there be no dinner? But then I remember how often I complain about all the work I have to do, and how it becomes an excuse to skip meditation and prayer, and how often the busy-ness of church (and so much else) overwhelms my need to slow down and listen for the still, small voice wanting to break through easy, ordinary resistance.

 

©RobinGorsline 2016 lectionarypoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when the poem is published in any form

Enough Is Enough

Enough is enough calls out the pastor again, again, again,
and the people respond in kind, round by round energy
rising, filling the sanctuary, layers of meaning
from shared history, older ones remembering Jim Crow,
younger ones feeling the endless string of indignities, living while Black,
all knowing that the latest brother gunned while down
could have been their son, their husband, their friend,
brother, neighbor, co-worker, and knowing it is not done,
that after seven years they are amazed the President
of the United States remains alive, while still victim of hate
that spreads across the web, doubting his religion,
even his birth, sure that a Black man cannot be trusted
to do more than loot or sit high in a hazy crack-filled
den or rape bodies of women the haters claim to own.

Alton Sterling
Alton Sterling youtube.com

Anger rises as tears flow, arms reach to heaven
a blend of righteous indignation and sacred supplication,
the preacher only pausing to catch her breath and renew
the claim on anger that can be turned not inward but out
in constructive action to change the world, undo old ways,
stand together even with white folk who love, care, and weep
in recognition of too long silence helping to create what is now
the crucible of death upon death, blood, more blood flowing,
urban rivers of mothers’ tears exposing like Jesus
on the cross the ugliness of humanity mocking God’s creation,
denying Her love that flows nonetheless with their tears.
Today is the day cries the pastor, today is the day
the people reply, we can do something to change this tortured world,
we have in us the power, God’s power since conception in our mothers’
wombs, and it is time to use it to stop the violence, to get the guns
off the streets, train the cops or remove them if they resist
the simple lesson that dark skin is not the enemy but friend,
neighbor, brother, sister, fellow child of the one and only God.

This has been going on a long time—whether we mean hate
or resistance to hate—and the tide keeps turning for love,
then falls back for hate, rolling to and fro, four hundred plus
years of enslavement first of African folk and now the
many descendants of slavers still chained to ugliness oozing
from every pore, spittle splattering what God intends to be hope,
while others use that hope to change direction, marching together
across the lines for justice, mercy, love.  We have had too much hate
and not enough love, so the pastor calls out, Love Is Love,
and the people respond in kind, in love for love, knowing,
believing in their depths, that it is the only power
to defeat hate. But this love must be more than sweet,
this love must overturn tables too, sometimes interrupting regular worship,
driving merchants of hate from sacred precincts, and back alleys and bayous,
by tidal wave upon tidal wave of love rising, cleansing sin
and the stain of sin from twisted white souls
yearning to be free, and bringing precious divine power
to the disinherited also yearning to be free.  
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom washing over me.  

Enough is enough. Love is love.
Love is enough.
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom washing over all.
Today. Now. Here.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . .Following a week of agony and anger about the killing of two unarmed black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, as well as the killing of police officers in Dallas, and participation at a global church conference at which candidates for church office who are people of color did not generally fare well (with one exception), Rev. Cathy Alexander of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C., chose to call congregants together Sunday morning to vent their frustration and anger and pain in order to begin a healing process leading to action. This is my take (and solely mine) on the powerful moments.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

We All Know the Story. Right?

NOTE: I posted this poem, although I consider it incomplete–due to time and commitment pressures at the General Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Reflection in response to Proper 10, 8th Sunday after Pentecost

(click here for biblical texts)

We all know the story.
Jesus continues on his journey to Jerusalem;
even as his face is set toward danger
he is asked the question we may well ask
if we are brave enough to trust we can bear the answer:
What must I do, how must I live, to inherit eternal life?
It’s so simple, Jesus seems to say in response:
You shall love God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength,
and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
He does not have to come up with a new teaching,
he merely cites Deuteronomy and Leviticus
like a good judge calling on precedent already set
to decide the case. But his interlocutor, lawyer or scribe,
has a further question: then who is my neighbor?
Is it a trick question or is it a sincere seeking after wisdom?
Or do we care?

And do we really know the story?
It all seems so neat, so tidy. We are to show mercy,
as the lawyer concludes, be kind to others,
help the stranger stranded by the side of the road.
But, but, always the but, with Jesus,
we should know by now that our Lord teaches
at many levels, with meanings within meanings.
Maybe here it is good to ask, for example,
who is it from whom we cannot imagine mercy,
from whom we would not want mercy, whose kindness
would set our teeth on edge?
Who is it whom we cannot imagine as neighbor?
Is the man from ISIS my neighbor? Is the gunman
mowing down dancers in Orlando my neighbor?
Is the presidential candidate who says everything
I abhor my neighbor? Is David Duke my neighbor?
Is the policeman who kills a black man on the ground my neighbor?
Are any of them your neighbors? Why or why not?
Can we say their names in the same sentence
as neighbor, or do we, like the lawyer who refuses
to say “the Samaritan,” choose to look and speak the other way?

The prophet Amos and his plumb line perhaps
can help us here, or make it even harder:
do you, do I, do we, hold ourselves to the same
standard we insist for others? Of course, not!
We are human! Is the status quo
too often our refuge as it was for Amaziah
the priest–not a bad man we might say, just
a little protective of the king? Do we have
the national flag in our sanctuary reminding us
that Jeroboam or his successor today is king?
Where do we pledge allegiance, really?
Do we accept immigration
quotas so we don’t have too many of them, the others,
invading our space? Our space, our country,
our land, our, our, my, my, my, my,
but whose is it anyway?

That ditch was on the open road, a dangerous road
we are told, between Jerusalem and Jericho, maybe
like a highway going too close to inner city “danger
zones,” nonetheless part of God’s creation, God’s earth,
where people may, if they choose, freely go. But would we
even be on that road, and would be we be walking so we
could see a person in the ditch? Or would we be whizzing
by in our SUV unable to see someone in distress,
and if we did see them, would we stop? Would we call
911, or would we think, hope, someone else would do it?
Or would it not even occur to us to call?
Would we wonder why these danger zones exist and
would our answer be to blame those who live there,
avoiding any culpability for ourselves or those who
profit from these places.

We all know the story. Right?

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net

 

 

Time to Sign Up

Reflection in Response to Proper 9, 7th Sunday after Pentecost

(Click here for biblical texts)

We are descended from the seventy
appointed by Jesus to go to all the towns
where he intended to go. So we too must go,
offering like Elisha our version of God’s power
and wisdom to heal those who are sick or broken—
such as Naaman, the mighty warrior, commanding
troops but unable to command God’s man
who heals not on human order but on divine
grace—and so many today seeking help,
thinking they can gain blessed, fruitful life,
not from holy agents but from acquiring
more things, controlling more people, building
walls and attacking those they fear, not trusting God
or really anyone, even their sacred selves.

Sending-the-70-out-to-heal
diggingdeepernow.org

There seems so little faith today, even among
ones who proclaim how strong is their belief,
confusing belief with faith, the latter
being, as sainted Bill Coffin said long ago,
not believing without proof but trusting
without reservation.  Can we trust God,
will we trust Her to not only send us
out to the places we are needed but also
to give us the tools we need to do what
is right before us, the first tool being
sight clear enough to see the work,
brave enough not to look the other way,
smart enough to escape the snares
put in our way.

Can we be as wise as Naaman’s servants who counseled
him not to be dazzled by showy demonstrations of prophetic power
or in thinking it is he who knows the way of healing
because he is a man of earthly power—can we in short
go about God’s work, our work, with a quiet determination,
listening to deep parts of ourselves, seeing God
in the faces and lives of others, trusting our call—yes, you, me,
everyone, has a call, maybe more than one but often
we miss it, paying attention to life’s fluff and stuff,
thinking we can be made whole, and others as well,
through the market and social media, watching
videos, unreality television, celebrity sightings,
forgetting God comes so often in stillness, soft voices
gentle glances of care, loving touches of our sacred bodies.

It is easy to admire the 70 who went out for the Lord
and then to look askance at how they enjoyed their moments of fame,
as if we are so pure and unwilling to be drawn in by worldly lures—
indeed we best start by signing up to receive our assignments,
admitting we feel ill-prepared and need to lean on everlasting arms
that will carry us from place to place, errand to errand,
in humble service,  whose reward is not “volunteer of the year”
but rejoicing, as Jesus said, for our names written in heaven.  

 
About this poem . . . The story of Naaman’s healing by Elisha is a suitable backdrop for the account of Jesus sending the 70 into the field, neither the General nor the disciples aware of how dependent they are on God’s grace and power. And it causes me to recognize in myself certain tendencies of self-aggrandizement and congratulation, cutting me off from sacred union with the divine within.  

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form