Damn It, Jesus

A Reflection in Response to Proper 17, 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(focusing on Luke 14 and Proverbs 25)

Click here for biblical texts

Jesus is a gracious guest, not grabbing
the best seat, not worrying for himself
about status—at the same time using status
to suggest that blessing
is more important than being blessed,
even as we bless others we are blessed.
He is such a good rabbi, reminding the gathering
as in Proverbs 25, “it is better to be told,
‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in
the presence of a noble,” but Jesus also, again,
makes a challenging claim on us—
“when you give a banquet, invite the poor,
the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

beggar with hands out
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There is a man at the Metro stop where I live
who sits often, saying “pennies, pennies, pennies . . . .”
in a small, rasping, needy voice.
Most of us pass him by, part of the everyday landscape
not unlike the Native woman who carries a crude sign,
“Single mother, 4 child,” holding the hand of one of them,
a girl about seven or eight, seeking donations on the train.
How do we invite them to share in the banquet?
So far all I know is to give them some
change, a dollar bill or a protein bar.
Most people seem to look away.
Is it enough for me to give that small support
or do I at least need to see doing this as a joyous act,
not a duty but a gift given to me to reach out
and invite them to the banquet?

I mean whose banquet is it anyway?
And what kind of banquet is it,
where I, or we, invite the poor—I am afraid
to ask Penny Man home, would he leave
when the meal ends and how would I feel sending him
back on the street?
How could I forget him when I did that?
Damn it, Jesus, why do you leave us with these words
that challenged those long ago and can upend us
when—if –we allow ourselves to let them
get under our skin—when we usually resist
by hoping someone else will feed the poor
and the rest you mentioned, and more we know
need help? Can’t the government do something
or what about other churches or charities?

But you speak about more than helping; you want us
to become community with those we rarely see and never
consider part of our group, our social set, our tribe, our people.
That would mean digging deeper into understanding our neighbor;
who is my, who is our, neighbor really?
I know the immigrant is my neighbor,
and others who some despise, but what about Penny Man
and that desperate mother and the Black man and others
behind bars for being in the wrong place at the wrong time,
as well as those who really broke the law?
When was the last time I visited someone in prison?
At least they have a roof, three squares a day—
but not much dignity on the inside
and most often little help when they are allowed to rejoin
what we call society.

Thanks to you, Lord—yes, I mean that,
and my voice also carries an edge—I cannot get Penny Man
or the mother with her four kids,
out of my head, maybe even my heart.  
I’m on my knees, let this cup pass me by I say,
knowing how offensive that sounds compared
to your request in the garden long ago . . . so I keep
praying, trusting you will guide me to become both
my neighbor’s keeper and just a better neighbor.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Sitting in a comfortable church and no matter the power of the excellent, liberating preaching, it is not always easy to hear and feel the discomfort Jesus intends with his modest words, especially when they can seem to be about others long ago. I have walked by, and even given money and food to, more homeless people than I can possibly count. I am not quite sure why this man at my Metro stop, and this mother with the haunting eyes and her daughter whose face registers both fear and gratitude when I hand over a dollar, have gotten under my skin, but I know some of it, much of it, has to do with Jesus, and not just this reading from Luke. I am feeling ‘buked for my years of what appear to be hard heart (and thus a little, maybe more than that, ticked off) and simultaneously blessed for being given a gift I do not yet understand.  Is this what faithfulness looks like, feels like?
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published.

Standing Up in the Hard Places

Reflection in response to Proper 16, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (focus on Luke: 13:10-17)

Click here for biblical texts

The bent over woman stood up straight, praising God,
when Jesus touched her, erasing her long disfigurement,
and people in the synagogue rejoiced.
Scholars agree Jesus did not violate halakhah,
the compilation of Jewish law governing worship,
even as Luke records objection by the synagogue leader.
Rules often help communities to be strong, orderly,
but leaders, not just in synagogues to be sure,
can confuse order they want with order God wants—
not always the same.  When health, liberation, mercy, are at stake,
as then, like now, the rules enabling those outcomes control.
But do really follow those rules all the time?
If we did, would health care and prisons be run for profit,
would anyone be allowed to carry firearms in school,
would we then allow God’s creation to be spoiled by greed,
dictators to fire poison at their people,
officers to shoot Black men just because they can,
Palestinians to be denied their own true homeland?

AE24TVMAKERS
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It is tempting to leave Jesus back there in synagogue,
upending the claim of power by the leader,
feeling all righteous, critical, about the leader then,
instead of hearing our Lord here and now, saying
about rules of today, Stop! Indeed laying holy hands
on victims of health care and prison profit rules
so they, and more importantly we, can stand straight
and throw off the tyranny keeping them bent down.
And he, then as now, weeping not only over Jerusalem—
but also the earth despoiled by our careless selfishness,
children at risk in school, brave citizens gassed by their own leaders,
our streets war zones where peace officers shoot first, ask later—
he touches us as he touched the crippled woman
so that finally we can take his power, his love, his peace
from the sanctuary where we too often embalm it
into the world that too is bent over, crippled,
crying out in pain, and need.

There is hope, yes, always hope, but its wealth
cannot be shared if we do not follow him in
breaking the rules of oppression and keeping rules that liberate.
Jesus asks us to go to the hard places, and stand up.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem…..The text does not say it, but the synagogue ruler was probably a Pharisee, and it is so easy to poke not only fun but also righteous judgment at them—forgetting our own Pharisaic ways, and our own resort to rules to keep order rather than freedom and liberation. This incident is not intended to be about people long ago so much as it is a caution to us. Can we overcome rules of today—stuff we breathe so much we cannot see its effect, like thinking “for profit” means better care, that authorities must know what they are doing, that guns save lives, that the survival of one people is more important than the survival of another?

 

©RobinGorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published

When Jesus Says Hard Things

Reflection in response to Proper 15, 13th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

Click here for biblical texts

When Jesus says hard things I want to turn away
but I know that is what others did to his face;
I see his eyes saddened by rejection
not just of him but of the one he called Abba.
Turning away from Jesus is like locking the church door
when he knocks, afraid to even look out to say,
“Not here, not today—no room for you now”
in this sanctuary where we worship and pray to you,
loving your gentle words and spirit, wanting you
the way we want you, not the way you are.

Jesus-angry-e1322078344383
knightsofdivinemercy com

Feel-good religion is pleasant, helpful, available,
but just as often Jesus or Isaiah or other prophets
not to mention Paul (who can get under our skin),
have a mission bigger than our tender feelings,
and certainly our pocketbooks, despite proclamations
by those who wish to defend their own greed.
Our Lord says he came to bring fire to earth,
and wishes the blaze were going right now.
He warns us he did not come to bring peace
but division, and we scratch our heads, wondering
what happened to the Prince of Peace.
And he calls us hypocrites because we can read
the weather—and maybe the stock market report—
but not find and trust God in the current riot of trouble, pain,
racism, Islamophobia, assets gap, terror, misogyny,
and other ugliness we are creating, or letting others
create, as we wring our hands and our brains,
bleating like sheep (how Jesus loves his sheep!)
so much we rarely hear a divine word.

The writer of Hebrews 11, verses one, two,
speaks of the famous cloud of witnesses
encouraging us to run the race before us,
and we must, but this hard-edged (or another term?) Jesus
wants to know what we see, what we witness,
and most of all what we witness to, what matters
most to us. Do we open our hymnals and sing sweetly,
pray earnestly, open our mouths for bread and wine,
all good things, but then do we march, do we speak up,
do we tell the truth about poverty as well as wealth,
about hatred as well as love, about drones as well as guns,
about Israel as well as Palestine, about white as well as Black?

In short, as our Lord asks, do we know how to interpret the present time,
or have we put not our watches but our souls away for another day,
hoping somehow we can avoid the holy hard work
of being alive in faith here and now, walking rutty roads with Jesus
and lots of other folks, ready to tend that fire, feed the widow,
welcome the immigrant, even take a bullet for the Black man
as we stand to demand no more, and spread the love,
tell the truth, the whole truth, so help us God?

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . Gospel writers sometimes really hit it hard, recounting a time, or maybe it is a compilation of times and statements over time, when Jesus was not being so gentle, meek and mild. And it may be difficult for us not having been there to figure out exactly what set him off. However, if we look around, rather than looking back, we may garner some understanding.  And we may know more about what he calls us to do here and now.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published

 

 

 

Beloveds of God

A Meditation in Response to Proper 14, 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (especially Luke 12:32-40)

Click here for biblical texts

Jesus tells us, several  times at least, that we have what we need,
but most of us worry, doubt even, that we are not good enough
to earn, deserve, what we have already received.
And then Jesus tells us more proof that the gifts will arrive,
perhaps when we least expect it, and it can sound like we
had better be sitting up all night with our ears attuned to every
sound—which one will be him or God or Spirit breaking in our lives?

What he is really saying is that it is always happening,
In fact we need to learn how to be open to all the gifts, so many
gifts, that God has for us each day, all day.

I hope someday you grasp how loved you are
ursulinesmsj.org

Did you see the glint in the person’s eye as you passed by
them at the mall, they were having a God moment,
you could have received it too if you had been paying attention.
Or what about the touch of your friend as you parted after lunch,
did you feel the embrace of the Holy Spirit,
did you feel electric current between you and
your friend as it traveled up your arm into your shoulder,
taking direct aim at your soul? I mean, did you really
feel deep holy warmth at your core?

And the simple Shasta daisies outside your neighbor’s door,
did you see heaven as you rushed by them
this morning on your way, late for work, not too late
for God’s presence if you could simply pause
long enough to breathe? The question is not only
where are you putting your treasure, your money, but also
your time, your energy, focus. Where is your heart?
Your mind, is your mind on God or your to-do list?
Indeed, is God on your to-do list? Does God have a time
on your calendar? Every day? More than once a day?

Jesus wandered around Palestine talking with people,
all sorts of people—including the local people of color
known as Samaritans, as well as hated tax agents,
listening to their troubles, worries, ailments, offering
healing  and hope and clarity about how God,
the holy, is not locked up in Temple or even a book, but
is on the loose, moving freely among us, like Jesus,
open to hearing us, sitting with us, even praying
with us—how about we stop praying to God, start
praying with God?—everywhere we are, all of us,
not limited to folks in a particular pew in a particular house
of worship, God in some ways less like a bridegroom,
more like a street person, a beggar, just hoping
we will notice and stop and pass the time of day,
perhaps sharing not only a quarter or a dollar
but also a word or two of connection, human connection,
divine connection, trusting that as we open ourselves
to the wonders of the universe we shall remember
from whence we come and whose we are.  And then
we shall be ready for the next moment we catch a glimpse
of the holy among us, in us, with us, and we shall
celebrate with God and know we have once again
been invited to sit at the holy table and feed until
we are full of our inheritance, ready and eager
to share the blessing with those who do not yet know
what a glory it is to be blessed, to be beloveds of God.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . It is so easy to get wound up in the literal text that we miss the larger message. In Luke 12:32-40, I don’t experience Jesus telling us to be in a literal vigil, not doing anything but sitting in readiness, day and night after day and night, but rather to be alert in all that we do and say and see and hear, in all moments, to the presence of God. We are given so much each day, each moment, and we, at least I, miss so much of it, busy fending off the vagaries and troubles of life that I forget to see the beauty and joy and holy power in each molecule, each atom, each moment.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever and wherever this poem is published