Always More with God

Reflection in response to Proper 26, 24th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Isaiah 1:10-18 and Luke 19:1-10)

  Click here for biblical texts

 
Isaiah starts in chapter one telling the Israelites
how little God values their sacrifices, they really
get under the divine skin, creating holy heartburn.
The prophet reminds them God wants justice:
Do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend orphans,
plead for the widow. Don’t waste time, energy on empty
rituals, focused on obeying rules. Show up
where needed, be ready for divine presence at all times
especially when, like Zacchaeus, you catch a glimpse.
Always want more, eager to see and to receive,
because with God there always is more, never less.
Sometimes you have to climb up to get a good view,
one reason God creates trees is so that we can
see above the crowds, past the human barriers.

zacchaeus-in-the-tree-prayer-bracelet-com
prayer-bracelet.com

Desire to see God, to be with God,
is an attribute, an attitude, a precondition and an outcome of faith.
In parts of the world going to church, temple or mosque
because you want to be with God
and others who love and want to serve God
can cause trouble in your life, even serious injury
or death. In other places, some people will be angry
if you try to come to church because you are viewed
as irredeemably sinful. Don’t come here with your filth,
they say! Sometimes, as happened with Jesus and Zacchaeus,
people grumble when you hang out with the wrong sort
at church or anywhere, or as happens today
when the wrong people—maybe immigrating “bad hombres”
or Black men wearing hoodies—walk or move
into “our” not their neighborhood,  
want their kids to attend “our” not their school,
to disrupt our children’s opportunities in the Ivy League.

Jesus says he came to seek out and save the lost.
But who is lost? Was Zacchaeus, even though he wanted
to see who Jesus was and gave away much
of his ill-gotten wealth—if he was lost, he surely now
is saved. What about the grumblers? A woman
told a pastor she would no longer come to
church because they had sinners serving communion.
The pastor replied that he did not know who else to ask;
besides, he said,  if sinners were excluded then he too
would have to step aside.

 
About this poem . . . Christians struggle today, as always, with the competing demands of religious perfectionism in ritual and other practices versus enacting justice within the church, in society, even in the family.  Isaiah’s remonstrance to Israel rings very clearly today. And Zacchaeus is a wonderful role model for faithfulness, not so much because he gave away so much money but because he climbed a tree to see Jesus. Would we bestir ourselves from our television if Jesus came to town? Or would we go to a neighboring church if he went there rather than showing up at ours?

 

 

 

©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

God’s Tree, Our Tree

There is a tree, an oak, our tree I say,
although I do not know what kind of oak,
that stands like a beacon outside my church,
Metropolitan Community Church of Washington,
District of Columbia, United States of America,
a beacon of God calling the people
to worship, to focus on higher things,
to see the changing seasons through the glass
above the communion table, to see God’s sacred squirrels
and birds running, flying, landing in its branches,
reminding us that life is more than our
human-centered preoccupations, to accept
rhythms of life that beat the universe
into being and unfolding.

mcc-tree-through-glass

I love this tree, grateful to the people
who designed the sanctuary so that
when we sit in worship we face the tree,
even now as it is dying, leaves shriveling
up, clinging when they can to the branches
just like I want to hang on to the trunk,
resisting like the man in Tiananmen Square,
refusing to accept what the authorities
say I must, yet I know that denial
while real, must give way to tears, to grief,
to celebration of the faithfulness
of this divine creature, agent of God
who has served its time, whose angelic
presence is needed elsewhere now,
even as our memory will always be healing.

Authorities have painted the red blotch
of impending death on the trunk,
saying clearly tree homicide
is about to be committed
by those who don’t want trees to fall
on passersby or into the sanctuary—
I know they must do their job, but
how I wish we could give sanctuary
to our faithful friend, member, and beacon.
What we can do is hug—yes, hug this tree—
and speak our gratitude, perhaps we can
even make something from the wood
for the church as a permanent memorial;
never forget our friends, those who
stand with us through thick, thin, and in between.
God gave and gives us the church, and God shared
and shares God’s trees. Thanks be to God,
and thank you, Tree!!

 

robin-hugging-mcc-treeAbout this poem . . . I love trees, all trees. The first time I entered the sanctuary at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.–for a denominational function years ago–I immediately saw the tree standing tall in the clear glass above the communion table. I stared, teared up at the simple elegance of a tree–we say Jesus died on a tree, for one thing, and for another, trees signify life for me–in that vision. I never forgot that tree, and always looked forward to seeing it on other visits. Now, I am a member of the congregation, along with the tree, and I see my friend each week. I give God thanks for the gift which will never die in my heart. 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net