God Is Ringing the Bell

Message shared at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. on October 16, 2016

Lectionary Texts: Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 121, Luke 18:1-8

You can read the message below, and you can listen to it here

I remember wrestling once, perhaps twice or more, in middle school
gym class, not really knowing the rules, certainly
having little athletic skill of any sort—
but I remember how intimate it was, how my opponent,
my partner, and I touched each other a lot, really all over.
I think of this when I hear of Jacob wrestling,
wondering what it would feel like to be that close
to God, to feel God’s muscles, God’s head, hair and beard,
God’s feet and legs and hands and arms,
to smell God’s sweat, to  hear God’s grunts and groans,
even gastric retorts up close and personal.

Jacob is in such an intimate encounter—we must
remember he is on his way to what could be a life-giving
or death-dealing meeting with his estranged
brother Esau, the brother he wronged, the brother
whose forgiveness he seeks as his knees knock
and heart beats in fear–what if Esau attempts to kill him
in revenge—so it is an emotional time, Jacob
has left his herds and servants and family and he is now
alone, in the dark, and a man appears.
Is it Esau, also separated from herds, servants, family,
or is it a robber? We must remember that although
we know it is neither, Jacob did not. Have you
been in the dark, perhaps in wilderness, alone,
as I have, hearing strange noises, wondering if
someone unknown was there, or a wild beast? 
Would you be afraid? Yes? I was.

Jacob does not back away, they wrestle,
he and this unnamed man.
We do not know how long
they grasped and grunted and grimaced,
first one on top, then the other, rolling
on the hard ground, seeking the advantage,
losing it, gaining it. How many times
one was on top, then the other, we do not know,
all we know is that as rosy fingers of dawn
creep forward, he who started things
asks to be released. Did that mean Jacob had won,
or only that the other wanted to stop? Jacob had
endured that is true, yet his adversary, his partner,
struck him, at the hip socket, some translations say he “wrenched”
and others he “touched” him but whatever
the action, Jacob’s hip is dislocated and he walks on with a limp.

There is no trip to the ER or urgent care, no call
to security, only Jacob asking for a blessing from the contender
before he will release him. Jacob readily supplies his name—somehow we think
the man must have known without asking—and is told
his name is now changed, no longer Jacob (‘heel grabber” for
his long-ago animus toward Esau)
but “Israel,” “overcomer of God,
because you have wrestled with both God and mortals, and you
have prevailed.” Prevailed, meaning  Israel,
the one formerly known as Jacob, did not lose.

More, he realizes he has done as Moses did,
he has looked on the face of God
and survived, more than that he has been blessed.  
In this case, God has taken human form
to engage a flawed human named Jacob, a man God had already blessed
despite misbehaviors, a man God wants to continue
to show up and serve God, and to serve and lead God’s people.
Here’s some good news my friends:
God shows up, one way or another, because God
wants us to do the work of God.
You might think that God lost this match;
I think instead God chose to stop because once again God
had taken measure of this man Jacob, who did not let God down,
who stayed the course, who wrestled mano a mano,
and when his adversary said “Enough,”

Jacob was clear whose blessing he wanted.
God is big enough to lose, or seem to lose, and will do anything necessary
to help us stay our godly course.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled a few times
with God. Oh not hand to hand exactly, but surely mind to mind,
heart to heart; I have protested, I have tussled, I have argued,
and cursed, said “No” more times than I want to admit. And God
has let me survive, even prevail. God has asked to be released,
recognizing I think because God knew further contest
would not serve any purpose then, and has blessed me
even when I did not ask. And I know God has
blessed you even when you did not ask. Just like me.
God does it all the time.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

But here is another truth. God would like to wrestle more
with me, with you. In fact, God’s mat is all set up
and the bell ready to be rung,
waiting for me, for you, for us, to care enough,
to love enough, to doubt enough, be scared enough,
to be angry enough, be bold enough,
to go mano a mano, faced to face,  with God.
I continue to learn that God taps me
on the shoulder all the time, pokes at me,
tries to get my attention, even tackles me;
but I am expert at ignoring these
divine provocations. God does not cause
bad things to happen to us, any of us, but
I will tell you this: God enters the fray
as soon as something does, hoping we will engage.
Indeed, I know that when I get angry
and say something nasty to God,
God gets this big ole smile and just says, bring it on!
Come on, Robin, come at me! Talk to me, baby,
curse me if you want, lay a hand on me, let’s get it on,
let’s wrestle until I know you know, my beautiful, blessed child,
that I care, I love, you so much I will spend my whole night,
even days if I must, rolling around on hard, unforgiving, ground
just to get your attention, just to leave you my blessing.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

Jesus knew about this, I suspect Jesus had plenty
of matches with God, in fact, I think Jesus wrestled his
way into what our ancient teachers called the Trinity.
I know he and I have had a few encounters,
along with the Holy Spirit. We have all rolled around
more than once, and often it happens when I feel certain
I know where I am going, or gotten into a rut
where I refuse to see any alternatives,
and then one of them shows up—or sometimes
I think all three of them come by, knowing I am that far
off course—and they wrestle me to the ground
and we go at it. I remember Jesus’ parable  
about the woman endlessly pressing the judge
to pay attention, to grant her enough dignity to not only hear
her plea but also grant her justice. Would that some
of his political descendants now could learn
that the righteous don’t give up, not if we
are paying attention to the divine power
at work in ourselves and that same power
that is always right at our side, on our shoulder,
whispering in our ear, grabbing our hand,
even sometimes giving us a punch in the gut.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

Oh, let me be clear about something very important:
This is God who is on the move
not the God who is locked up in a book
where so many want to keep Her, or Him,
whatever name you wish to say for God,
or the God whom preachers tell you is unchanging,
stuck up in the sky in some never, never land,
that if we are really, really good, I mean extra good,
we may meet in some distant time of which only they know  the date– 
indeed the God who met Jacob, now Israel, is the same God
who later told King David he did not need a palace,
was perfectly happy to stay in the tent so he could
move around with all the beloveds, on the ground,
in the ‘hood, with folks, right beside and among them,  
enjoying the intimacy of dear friends and neighbors.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

See, I lift my eyes to the hills—and into the valleys,
and I lower them to my feet, all the places God is,
from where my help comes, help that comes
from God, the One who made and makes
heaven and earth and all in between, God
who will not let our footsteps slip, will not
wipe us out in a wrestling match, the One
who never sleeps and thus can be found on the shore
of the Yabbok River and the Potomac and the Nile
and the Yangtze and the James and the Seine,
wherever and whenever we are, Guardian
of Israel who reminds us that each of us
has a special name in God’s family roster,
God whose scrapbooks are overflowing with Polaroids
and selfies and even videos that God shows proudly
to all who will let the divine pride be expressed—
have you ever heard God say, “Look at this picture
of Robin, isn’t that just the most precious thing
you ever saw?”—God who blesses us again and again
with purpose and mission, God who shades us
when the glare of evil, indignity, inequality, greed, and hate
threaten to drown us in shame and despair,
God by our side so the ugliness does not overpower us
whether by day or night, God who guards us from harm,
who guards our lives and the lives of all, guards our leaving and our
coming back, now and forever……

Provided, my friends, we let God do it.

See, that is our power, we have the power to say no,
and if you are like me, you do it all the time,
maybe not in so many words,
but by failing to engage. God wants us. Oh God wants us,
not just to sit with God, not even to listen to God—
although listening is a very good thing and we need to do more—
but God wants us to take God seriously enough
to engage, to wrestle, to push back, to argue.
God does not so much want obedience—God is
not, never has been, a tyrant, God does not want
to trump our souls or make us grovel, God wants us
to stand up, knowing from whence our help comes,
and trusting in that help to be bold and daring
and loving and audacious, to let ourselves, our very names,
our souls, our hearts and minds, be changed,
to be changed over and over, because like Jacob we are not perfect;
when we  trust enough to face our flaws  we become willing,
despite our fears, and all the fearmongering around us,
to go on tour with God and the whole wrestling team
of angels and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, facing forward,
to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Because, in case you have forgotten, our help, our help, comes from God!

I don’t know about you, but my card is full, actually
two cards are full, my dance card, God’s one hot dancer—
but that’s another sermon—and my wrestling card.
I hope you are blessed that way, too.
Actually I know you are. So what are we waiting for?
God is ringing the bell. Let’s get it on!

Idols of Our Day

A Meditation in Response to Proper 25, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Jeremiah 14:19-22; Luke 18:9-14)

Click here for biblical texts

 
Idols are not always objects.
Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story,
we can bow down before our own attitudes and habits,
seeing only our self-publicity, our own estimation,
or as in his case, and maybe ours,
his righteousness, looking down his patrician nose,
thinking so well of himself that no one else counts
in his endless internal census of who is good and who not.

being-humble-mindbody-core-values
MINDBODY Core Values

We too can assess others based on what they do
for work, what kind of car they drive or home they own
(or don’t), who they are, whom they love, their race,
or where they or their ancestors came from, of course gender,
or gender identity, ability, weight—aah weight!
a whole culture overrun with judging bodies
as fat, old, wrinkled, bad hair, with wrong breast or penis size,
so much judgment!!!!

And yet I know few people who think so highly
of themselves—certainly some in the public eye
come to mind, with egos large enough to fill Yankee Stadium,
and you want to think they are healthy but sometimes
it looks like insecurity more than sanity—most of us
carrying around some sense of inadequacy
induced by Madison Avenue or bullied into us
on playgrounds, in locker rooms or summer camps long ago.

All humans err but few of us want to be reminded
of our sins or these days to so openly declare them
like Jesus’ friend the tax collector; sin such an old-fashioned word
in a world obsessed with tweets, instagrams, selfies, sexting,
and well-rehearsed reality television where confession
is intended to boost ratings and perhaps land
a contract, at least a headline, for the one who tells all.
Now it is Judge Judy absolving or assigning penitential rites.

Still Jesus comes again, reminding us
that simple humility is not only wise
but also divine—even if Caesar and his saplings
of the day jeered as do those now who seek to trump  
common sense and dignity in a sea of denial
masquerading as self-importance and power
believing they now make the rules. If it were only human rules
they might be right, but instead it is a more basic truth:
what is pumped up must sooner or later come down.

About this poem . . . The prophet Jeremiah reminds us again that God’s people are usually in some sort of struggle with God, due to our inability to live fully the lives God has for us. And Jesus, knowing his Jeremiah (and other texts) well, as a good Jew, shares with us a lesson about what it means to be humanly aware of our shortcomings as well as trusting in God’s love. None of us is without shortcomings and none of us is without God’s love.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

The Holy Fray of Living

 

A Meditation in Response to Proper 24, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8)

Click here for biblical texts

 

Banging on pots and pans, chanting, parading
with signs, demanding and working for change;
justice surely requires persistence
as those who seek equality, or even elemental
fairness, have to learn endlessly.
Who does not know this woman, perhaps you
have been one, are one, who pesters over and over
until she gets her answer—not that
there are not men like that, many must do the same—
and do we not at least know of an official who,
corrupted by power, listens to the little people
only when he—and this is most assuredly a he—
has to?

jacob_wrestles_with_god_small

Is Jesus comparing God to politicians
who avoid concerns of lesser beings?
Or is this parable, like others, about us,
about needing persistence in our prayers,
to desire God’s presence in our lives without ceasing,
knowing that God is always present and so
it is we who must show up, like Jacob,
and be prepared to wrestle the entire night
without knowing the outcome at daybreak
or even if for sure there will be a new day?

The struggle for justice: an endless endeavor
requiring great patience married with tenacious
impatience and commitment to create change,
undermining injustice at every turn,
calling out those who sustain the status quo
whether by active connivance and intention
or through ignorance and resignation—
a struggle in which God is at the center
despite those who claim their reign of
oppression finds support in Holy teaching.

God unceasingly breaks the bonds
where mortals seek to imprison Her,
showing us that liberty for the captives,
freedom for us and all the others held hostage
to the greed and hubris of individuals
and systems intent on their own aggrandizement
without regard to us and others—this justice
is our work as much as God’s. Perhaps more.

We cannot do it without divine help
but God seeks us, as He did with Jacob,
to prepare us, inspire us, challenge us
to enter the holy fray of living knowing  
whose banner we carry, whose trumpet we follow,
and by whose scales we are measured.

Who in our day is the widow and who the judge?

 
About this poem . . . . The parable of the persistent widow is a homely tale and can seem to suggest that God is slow to respond to our prayers—that we need to bombard God with requests for aid. Yet, Jesus cautions us to be aware of God’s constant and timely care, and warns us to be ready when we are called upon to account for our faithfulness. What have we done with our time on earth? How have we responded to God’s call for justice?  Perhaps God is the widow and we are the judge?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Made Well by Faith

Meditation in response to Proper 23, 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Luke 17:11-19)

 

Click here for biblical texts

 

I know people like Samaritan Leper Number 10,
despite being among the innumerable despised,
putting thank you at the top of their vocabulary,
for the sun rising, moon glowing, worms crawling, bugs biting,
children hugging, also begging, adults arguing, politicians pointing,
dancers leaping, actors declaiming, movie stars posing,
thieves conniving, cops getting it right, even wrong
when we need to get angry about racism,
and lots of other ills we have yet to fix—still
all these are signs of life in God’s universe,
opportunities to celebrate creation
or to pray, confess, take responsibility for what
has gone wrong.
So far.

black-hands
vi.sualize.us

Gangs of today’s lepers wander our streets;
some claim them untouchables out of fear
they will rob or hurt them or because they look different.  
Others know these modern Samaritans hurt too,
projecting toughness to disguise their pain,
so mothers and lovers will not give away truth
of their vulnerability to The Man who patrols
mean hard streets looking for trouble.
And then the sound of gunfire, was it police,
or was it another untouchable?
What if Jesus appeared, would they keep their distance
but call out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
We don’t want to die, we don’t want to kill,
have mercy on us. Would Jesus send them
to local priest or pastor, would Jesus send them
to church to be judged, given a food bag,
sent on their way?  Or would they be welcomed,
given a bath, new clothes, hope, an invitation
to come back next week for more of the same
and even more, a ride to a job interview,
chance to earn a GED, then community college,
visit to medical clinic, maybe even a hug?

And then, improbable as all this sounds,
would one come back to say thank you,
praise God—could they even believe
God is involved given the press God gets
these days—prostrate in gratitude,
ready to create a new life for themselves and others?
A miracle you say?
Well yes. Maybe it could happen,
maybe it would happen, for real,
if we centered ourselves
in faith that results in, and rests on, gratitude.
Then Jesus would say to us, get up, go your way,
your faith has made you well.
About this poem . . . Leprosy remains a significant health problem in some parts of the world, and in the United States several hundred contract the disease each year. It is now curable by a multi-year regimen of powerful antibiotics. Scholars are not certain that the biblical references to leprosy involve what we know as leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, today. It may have been in ancient times also a reference to a number of skin conditions which were thought to convey impurity and contaminate the entire community, requiring the contaminated to stay a distance away from everyone else. There is another skin condition that too many among us fear yet today, one that is not curable by antibiotics—praise God—but the fear that infects can be undone by mercy, confession and full-throated justice.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net