Loved Are We

Reflection on the 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

 

Text Focus: Micah 6:1-8, Matthew 5:1-12
Click here for biblical texts

 

Men strut across worldly stages
believing what counts is how big they are,
or how big others say they are,
but other measures come closer to God
whom they cannot surpass and who wants them,
us, to walk humbly, do justice, and love kindness
every moment of life we are given. Micah knew God
is not interested in show but in deeds
and intention, the heart always showing
through at least as much by what we do,
what we put first, as by what we say or by what we do not
do or say. Knowing this wisdom beyond understanding
into action, Jesus tells us what God seeks from us.

Loved are we when we are sad, angry, despairing,
when bad things happen to us and others,
when a Black brother or sister Is shot in our town:
heaven surrounds us to receive, share, healing we and others need.
Loved are we when we miss loved ones, when medicine
fails or age ends: God’s arms embrace and caress us.
Loved are we when we do not push others aside,
when we take our place beside, not over, others:
all creation welcomes us, siblings in the family of God.
Loved are we when we yearn so much for justice
we put our bodies on the line: the moral arc,
our moral arc, bends when we do our part.
Loved are we when we are tender not hard,
when we welcome immigrants, when we feed
and sit with the homeless: we receive more blessing
than we can possibly imagine or give.
Loved are we when we wrap our arms around divinity
in all, including ourselves and all of whom
we are taught to disapprove:
God becomes clear in our lives.
Loved are we when we do more than say no to violence,
when we lower our own walls and commune with those we oppose
and who oppose us: we know who we all are, children of God.
Loved are we when we do not flinch from speaking God’s truth
as we know it, no matter the cost: heaven glows in us.
Loved are we when we love everyone, everything, so much others say
we have lost our minds: we know we have found
and speak, live, from the heart of God.
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .  Preachers often find it difficult to preach on the beautitudes, in part because Jesus expresses such counter-intuitive wisdom (but perhaps that is the hallmark of wisdom?) it almost feels beyond our mind’s power to really comprehend. Yet, like so much he says, it is less about rules and more about daily living, about making choices in the midst of worldly stuff, choices that land us on a different plane right where we are.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Jesus Keeps Walking, God Keeps Moving

Reflection on the Third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

Focus: Isaiah 9:1-4; Psalm 27:1, 4-9; 1 Corinthians 1:10-18; Matthew 4:12-23
Click here for biblical texts
 

Jesus kept walking no matter what was happening around him
whether John was arrested or Lazarus needed him;
he walked to the wedding in Cana though he may not have
known what he would be asked to do. He set his face and feet
towards Jerusalem even when he knew that was the way
to trouble with a capital T. Paul kept moving too,
knowing that his mission was to proclaim the gospel,
so when Corinthians began to mess things up
he wrote to them while on the road.
Isaiah knows God sends joy to those once bereft of hope.

God is always on the move, and not just walking, but touching
and blessing and inspiring and jostling status quos with new life.
Pharaohs. presidents, generals, moguls, dictators, pass through
on their way to self-described greatness,
but they are not really moving so much as walking
on the treadmill called success and power and wealth,
while God and faithful ones God touches
really move, living where things count less than soul,
where hearts are eager and minds open to receive and share,
not grab,  the gifts freely available to all.  
These are ones Jesus calls, the ones who answer,
putting down nets in which they have loaded all they own,
to be captured, raised up and sent forth
by a power greater than themselves, greater than
all of us, all the world.

It seems easiest to move with the world,
not trusting in God or prophets or others
who ask us to move in holy, other ways,
not out of the world but deeper in it
because we move knowing the truth
of the psalmist and Jesus and Paul,
and Mohammed and Moses, too,
God is my guide and my salvation,
whom shall I fear? God is the stronghold
of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?

Can we not be brave like the smallest seed
that pushes up from the soil into a world
it does not know, trusting in the rain, sunshine,
and nurture God provides and encourages us to offer, too?
Can we not become, like Simon and Andrew, and James and John,
mighty oaks of faith, the winds of God blowing in and through us,
gracing all around us , our roots going every deeper into earthy soul,
shedding leaves of faith, joy, hope, and love
wherever we stand, the never-ending melodies of God,
the ceaseless plea to care for the widow, orphan, immigrant,
divine prayer for us to love as God loves,
crossing our lips not just on Sunday mornings
but in every moment of every day?
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . God so often gets locked up somewhere—a book, a temple, an idea—for safe keeping. But the prophets and even the psalmists, in their better moments, knew better, and surely Jesus did, and he helped Paul figure it out, too. One of the problems with churches may be that we are locked up in one place, too, and forget that God is on the move, everywhere, all the time. Of course, God comes to us all the time, but we can easily miss the visit because we do not expect it right where are.
 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

I See the Promised Land

Sermon preached at
Open Door Metropolitan Community Church, Boyds, MD
January 15, 2017
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
Martin Luther King Sunday

Audio version available from the church; click here

The story is that the Hebrews wandered forty years
in the wilderness before they crossed into land
promised to them by God.
The prophet Isaiah claims he was called before he was born,
the divine inheritance present at the moment of his conception
and thereafter at his core without loss or interruption
even as he, like us, fell short in his servanthood. Like Isaiah,
we have been shaped and polished to be God’s help as God
has been our help in ages past and our present and future hope
without end, world without end.

Wandering likely seemed endless to these Hebrews,
and we know they grumbled
and acted out against Moses and God.
To me that seems a lot like what is going on in our nation today—
people tired of feeling left behind by those seeming to have
everything they want, denied by fate
of being born in the wrong place or by the wrong parents
from the wrong country or color or loving the wrong person
or living as the usually subordinated gender
or choosing your correct gender while being denied by others
who think you don’t know your own soul and body,
or maybe people who feel left behind
because the job they thought to have forever
is now gone and they can’t find a new one that pays
nearly enough, or things they were taught to believe
about who is good and who is bad
or what behavior is acceptable and what is not,
no longer seem to be the law of the land
let alone the ironclad rules of civilization.

Still the space for these Hebrews was not all that big
and sometimes it seems hard to believe they wandered so long.
But don’t we all do that, at least time to time,
wander around and around in the same space of our minds, sometimes
even of our jobs or social life, maybe even our nation, thinking that somehow, sometime,
things will change? But they never seem to change the way we want and need
and pretty soon we despair—that can
feel like 40 years when it lasts a day or a week or a year or even longer,
and some of us have wandered for 40 or more years
only to wake up and see the promised land in twilight years,
at least then it is not too late.
I did not know I was wandering for more than 40,
call it 50 to keep it simple, but now I see the promised land,
 indeed I am in it.

But some people never get there,
despair going bone deep, and more,
and then someone speaks up, naming our grievance, or maybe
saying something ugly one time too many and someone else goes off,
yelling and making threats, maybe shaking fists
or shooting at someone or arguing with an angry cop,
pretty soon the cops are shooting,  
there are headlines and accusations and bodies, too often dead ones,
people march, protesting the killing, while others
defend the cops; the arguments go on and on,
where it will end nobody knows.

That’s the scariest part, nobody knows…..
or maybe more scary is that many seem to know
but we don’t agree on where we are, let alone where are going
and certainly not where we need to go.
So as a people we wander
even if our own lives feel good,
because the larger picture produces fear and even anger
and tweets and headlines and angry social media exchanges,
and family dinners which are very tense if they still happen at all.
We are no longer in Egypt, or have we returned to it . . .
or maybe we still are, having never really left?
Even so, many of us claim our land is the one promised
by God to our ancestors long ago
but of course others know it as land taken from their ancestors
by ours, and still others as land to which their ancestors were dragged
against their will—and yet, and yet,
we all love it one way or another,
even as we seem to wander, even despair.

In less than one week there will be a new leader
of this wandering band in which we have membership—some
may see a Moses, others a Pharaoh, few are without opinions;
unlikely anyone sees this leader as much likethe one
whose name and memory and sainthood we honor today.

But perhaps that one, that king of hope and truth and love,
has guidance for us? He knows about difficult days,
he knows what it means to have your spouse and children
threatened in your own home, what it is to
comfort the parents of little girls killed in a church
bombing, what it feels like to watch friends and allies
beaten and hosed by thugs playing cop;  he knows about serving
jail time.
He also knows glory,
honored with a Nobel prize, confidant and prodder of Presidents,
praised abroad as well as home, people hanging on his every word.
God called him up the mountain, allowing him to look over.
He saw the promised land.
He knew he might not get there with us,
and yes an assassin’s bullet stopped his journey.

But that ugly shot did not stop ours.
He told us so, he told us that we will get there,
we will get to the promised land.
We know, as he may have intuited but not known for sure,
that he told us that glorious truth the night before that bullet
struck him down, not unlike Jesus who fed his companions
the night before his death upon the cross.
Both knew, as we must know, too, that death is not the end,
that no mere human act or construction, no matter how dire,
no matter how much it threatens to undo our liberty
or strike against human dignity or knock down one group
to raise another or abuse the bodies of those less powerful
or deny basic care to those in need, none of it
ever spells the end, nor should it create such despair in us
that we cannot go forward, that we feel paralyzed in fear
any more than others who celebrate what we fear
can believe that claims by any person to know more
than all others about important matters make it so.

I see the promised land.
You can see it too. We are reunited there
with each other every time we gather at this table
to share in the holy meal or at a potluck,
and with others every time
we pray for and visit the sick
or spare some change or a dollar
with a street person or speak up against ugly talk
aimed at others or write a letter to the editor
or even call or tweet our leaders to stand
not for themselves but for justice and wholeness,
indeed every time we stand not just for ourselves
but all those in need, every time we not only pray
to end world hunger but also actually feed a
malnourished child down the street or in Africa or Gaza
or put our arms around a wounded friend
or even stranger or take the hand of someone
afraid to march for justice so both of us can join
a happy, determined throng.
Oh, this promised land is right here, right now,
my friends! Don’t we know? Have we not been told?
Did the prophets not tell us? Did not Jesus make it clear?
Did not the evangelist tell us what the Baptizer proclaimed,
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
Have we not been baptized, like John baptized Jesus
in the Jordan?

Do we have to go on living in the sin already taken away?
No!
Will we?
Yes, of course, we are human and fallible.
But do we need to stay stuck there every time we fall into it?
No!!!
The healing of God never dies, the love of Jesus never ends,
the hope of the Holy Spirit lives forever, right here, right now,
and we can dwell in the House of God forever,
world without end.

But we are going to have to let go of the fear that others
will ruin it, that any election, that any stock market up or down,
any war, any law or proclamation of official ugliness,
any pronouncement by legitimate or illegitimate authority
will end it all—all of that has power yes, but it is not ever
the biggest power, unless we let it be so.

I see the promised land right here, right now, with you,
in this lovely building on this beautiful land,
and later today I will see it in the old converted garage
that is MCC Baltimore in the midst of a storied city
struggling to keep body and soul together,
and later tonight back in my cozy little
Depression-era co-op home in Greenbelt,
because everywhere is the promised land
when we learn to see it and treat it that way,
trusting God to always be on the move
and the lookout for us, always desiring
our highest and best as God knows and defines it,
telling us again and again that we are God’s beloved,
that everyone is God’s beloved without exception,
the ones we fear as well as the ones we love,
the ones who hurt us and the ones who help us,
all children of divinity and grace
even when they or we or all of us together screw things up.

It’s not too late. We are not done, and more, God is not done,
God is not done with us. It is never too late with God–that is what
makes God, God. She, or He, or They, refuse, despite ancient testimonies
to the contrary, to give up on us, you and me, too, and the others,
even those whose agendas seem foreign and evil.
No one is a hopeless case with God, and if we claim
to follow God, to love God, then we will make that our truth,
our way of life, too. We will not stop looking, and like the disciples
of John we will ask, where are You staying—
to which Jesus always answers if we listen—
and like them as well, we will go and see and know, we will go and see and know
the beauty of the promised land and the promised people,
we will not stop listening and we will hear the love song
of the promised land and its people,
and most of all the never-ending melody of our God,
and we will, like the disciples of John, keep asking over and over,
to get our bearings, to stay connected to God and our souls,
where are You staying, and we will discover, again and again,
if we are honest, that God is in our souls, that Jesus is already
at our side and walking, that the Holy Spirit is dancing all around us,
so close we can actually taste and see, we can know, we can feel;
we can, my dear ones, walk with God along the highways and byways
of the promised land under our feet,
indeed we can march with joy and hope,
singing as others did long ago in other troubled days
when this wandering people, our people, us,
seemed torn asunder, confused, angry and sad . . .

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of our God,
who is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
And has loosed the fateful lightning of a terrible swift sword;
God’s truth is marching on.

Chorus: Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah!
God’s truth is marching on.

God has been there in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
where they built a sacred altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read the righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
God’s day is marching on.

Chorus

God has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
and is sifting out the hearts of all before the judgment seat;
O be swift, my soul, to answer and be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Chorus

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in whose bosom that transfigures you and me;
As Christ died to make us holy, let us die to make all free;
While God is marching on.

Chorus
©Robin Gorsline 2017 (sermon only)

God Shows Up

 

Reflection on Epiphany, Year A

Focus: Matthew 2:1-12
Click here for biblical texts

God shows up in a stable, then in a star in the sky
showing astrologer sages the way
to share in the celebration .
When has God shown Godself to you?
Perhaps you saw women not wearing underwear
selling lemons on the streets of Buenos Aires
and knew God in new ways.
Or you met a homeless man at a Metro stop
and now know God’s face bears deep lines
and few teeth but always a dazzling smile,
while the divine body wears rags,
sharing blessings with you and all who pass.

Soprano voices of a boy childs’ choir pierce my ears and heart—
I’m now in angelic realms of glory—
tears streaming down my cheeks and shivers cutting through my soul.
I hear a truth I thought I never knew before
that now feels like an old dear friend—
poet or preacher or sidewalk saint pierces consciousness:
I am never again the same.
A doe and her fawn run as I invade what they thought was their space
and in the grace of leaping legs I suddenly know
how the Holy Spirit moves among our souls and bodies.
A great white oak stands guard
at the entrance to my home; as it reigns
I begin to trust God’s steady strength,
knowing the One who makes the oak makes me.

Epiphany is a high class word for what happened long ago,
but it did not stop then.
Where is God showing Godself to you, to me, this very hour,
this holy day?

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . .In some cultures, Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, is the highlight of the liturgical season of Christmas (the twelve days of Christmas).  However, by the time the calendar turns to January 6 in others it is no longer news because the magi have been to the manger and left their gifts already in pageants and malls. Still, this season of Epiphany is a good time to remember that God keeps appearing, and we keep being gifted, really on a daily basis—if we keep our hearts, minds, eyes, ears, and hands open. And like the manger, God often shows up in humble or unusual ways, and like the star, sometimes God arrives in glory.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics

Eden Again

 

Reflection offered on January 1, 2017
at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.

Focus texts: Psalm 8 and Eccleasiastes 3:1-13
for New Year’s Day, Year A
Click here for texts

God gives us so much.
With the psalmist we give thanks and praise,
but the singer also knows we may not be all we think we are.
What are human beings that God cares about us?
Is it because we are created to be divine franchise agents,
with everything at our feet–presumably God knew what She
was doing, but polluted lakes and streams, endangered species,
stripped-mine hillsides, fouled air, war,
poverty, and group hates and ugly stories about those not like us,
may create skepticism in parts of heaven
not to mention earth.

There is a time for all that, of course, but so much more,
or maybe less, I mean the simple ways of living in peace
and hope and love and joy that God intends which
could take up all our time if we accepted the gift of God:
that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results
of their hard work. It seems so simple, and it is,
but not easy, never easy when every day in so may ways
we are tempted by the siren calls of those who claim
to have something better: building walls to keep people out,
a bigger house or better car and internet to go faster,
private schools to increase odds of Ivy League admissions, 
droning, bombing everyone who looks at us wrong, making sure
there are enough guns to shoot every person, adult and child,
at least once, and kill as many of them as necessary
to keep stocks rising along with income gaps widening
between rich and poor at home, even slowing the climb
of other nations out of the rut of domination.

But its not too late. It is never too late with God–that is what
makes God, God. She, or He, or They, refuse, despite ancient testimonies|
to the contrary, to give up on us, you and me, too, and the others,
even those whose agendas seem foreign and evil.
No one is a hopeless case with God.

The divine calendar is not ours,
so there has been only one new year, how many
millions of years ago we do not know,
and God is not counting,
but this is the moment of our latest attempt at renewal,
and in truth we can make the most of it—yes, with resolutions
of self-improvement if we must, but even more powerfully by a simple,
again not easy, commitment to listen to our individual
and collective souls where rests and rises the voice and hope
and love of God. And justice, too.

Let us not forget justice, divine justice which is not to punish or even chastise
but to repair, heal, move us to change, to do differently, better than last time.
Self-care is important, essential, but with God the we is as
important as the I, and the test of fealty to our holy parent
is how well we treat the rest of our human family, the ones God loves
as much as God loves us, not more not less, often
in different ways but still with an arm around all and each of us
at all times, everywhere without end.
World without end.

Don’t we know not to fear what is coming,
because of what God has given, and continues to give,
even when we don’t earn it? If we truly know and savor and trust
what God has provided, can we not share in the bounty
willingly, freely, joyously, generously,
so that no one goes without, no child is hungry,
no refugee is turned away from some safe place,
no young Black men and trans women hunted
and slaughtered on our streets,
no body is without health care,
no holy prayers cursed regardless what God or gods
or heavens are invoked.

This is the year God is making, again, for us, with us,
so let us rejoice and be glad in it,
and show our gratitude by making this the Year of Our God
and All God’s people, taking care of each human other and
all the rest of Creation, too, finally rising to meet
the divine challenge issued, earthly opportunity given,
at dawn on the first new year long ago,
to be Eden on earth again,
and forever.

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . Two biblical readings without a real story presented a challenge for me, but I soon realized that the gratitude, reality, and hope present in them fit for today. This is of course the gift of Scripture, and indeed in some way or other all inspired writing (whether called “holy” or not). And as I finished the earliest draft, I remembered poem inspired by Judy Chicago’s famous art installation, The Dinner Party, with its evocation of Eden. God must keep hoping we shall yet understand, accept, and celebrate the gift of life caught in that ancient story.

©Robin Gorsline 2017 LectionaryPoetics.net