Can It Be So with Us?

A Reflection in Response to the 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year A

 

Text Focus: Psalm 146:5-10, Luke 1:45b-55, Matthew 11:2-11
Click here for all biblical texts
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in their God—truth known by John
the Baptizer and Mary too. Can it be so with us?
Dare we open our eyes enough to see
God at work in every moment, read signs
of the times and feel joy as God takes us
on new journeys in faith? John did, and it led him
to prison and death, while Mary’s life grew
both inside and all about her, she proclaiming
the gift of God’s favor, mercy and strength.

They seem so different, rough-clothed, even angry,
on one hand (though might he be sweet in his own way),
soft-spoken, gentle on the other (but so strong as well);
yet both open to what God delivers—
promise of salvation through another
born to her, seen by him;
she births, nurtures, the sprout,
he witnesses the full-grown tree
standing tall, speaking true in biblical witness
in pages close together but separated
by decades, yet saga tells us
their births—John and Jesus—were close
in time and even blood so they
are cousins through their mothers’ line.

We know stories of these men as they live and die,
almost side by side in Jerusalem and countryside,
to carry God’s word to those who want to believe
so long as it does not cost more than they, or we, will pay.
If Mary had known she would weep at the foot of the cross
on which hung her beloved son would then she praise
or curse her fate, and his? And John, and his mother,
cousin Elizabeth, would they then sing
or speak in joy and love for the God of Jacob?
The answer is yes, they did not count the cost dear
but the chance to witness so much more than ever
they dreamed in ordinary lives, a gift so rich
their hearts ring full, Mary’s praises,
John’s hand pointing to the one he came to announce.

Can it be so with us?
Will we birth and nurture what God places in us
trusting Holy One who is our soul and knows us
inside out, from glowing darkness of God within,
calling us to abandon old and narrow habits
that block our own sacred living
in a world that wants control and substitutes order
for life?
Will we cast out fear and choose joy,
to take a chance on God?
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem……This week’s lectionary contains two gospel options, the Magnificat from Luke (My souls magnifies the Lord) and Matthew’s account of John asking Jesus, “Are you the one?” It got me thinking about these two powerful characters in the Jesus story, especially when I came across reference to the Isenheim Altarpiece (featured image above) by the Italian Renaissance painter Matthias Grunewald. It shows a bloody Jesus on the cross, with Mary, on the left, despairing in the arms of the Beloved Disciple, and John the Baptizer, on the right, holding a book and pointing to Jesus. These two figures, joined together by more than shared family connection, may help us be prepared for the journey we are soon to begin again, from birth to ministry to death and beyond, with Jesus and so many more.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

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!

Impossible Is Opinion Not Fact

Meditation on Proper 22, 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke 17:5-10)

Click here for biblical texts

When I hear Jesus speak of mustard seed,
like a Mighty Mouse of faithful living,
I think of Muhammad Ali,
whose faith was awe-inspiring;
it matters not to me whether his faith
was in himself or in Allah
or something else, in fact he moved mountains—
he beat systems stacked against him and earned
respect even from those who hated him.
Would that I could be so faithful!!!

muhammad-ali
birminghamtimes.com

I was raised to hear Jesus shaming disciples,
us, for not having enough faith—
not even as much as a tiny mustard seed—
when what he is offering is encouragement,
indeed saying we have more than we need
to do what we are called to do, who we are called
to be in God’s economy of life and grace.
We need not be slaves to former understandings,
a Christianity that is about obligation,
hard rules, having to earn God’s love, and falling short.
Instead, we can break guilt-inducing chains,
even turning his lesson about doing what is commanded,
as if we have no choice,
into a commitment to live joyously, exuberantly
the way he did, not focused on duty alone
but also on the gift that comes from being all
we can be, of knowing that God calls us
not to perfection but to faithfulness.

Hard to hear Jesus speak of slaves, given our history,
how it continues to infect our world;
I choose not to hear this parable as an endorsement
of human cruelty. Instead, within the world he inhabits,
he speaks of a system of mutual accountability,
where each party provides what is expected: work  
by one and food, rest, care, and protection by the other.
Might this be a way to understand faith—with one
big difference: God provides the faith and the care,
and hopes we will use them to make our whole selves and our world
in God’s image? No divine punishment if we do or don’t, but
we are accountable to God and each other
for how we use God’s gifts, how we claim the power—
do we hide our soul lamp under blankets of fear
or do we boldly proclaim and live our mission,
do we don our cape, remember with Muhammad Ali:
impossible is opinion not fact?

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This reading seems to combine two distinct strands and many wonder why the author of Luke chose to bring them together. And yet they are both about how we can live God’s truth and power—either claiming them or not, being accountable or not. In our today, mustard comes in a jar and slavery is ugly, so we can miss the message, or even choose to do so. But I hear power and I hear . . .  get to work, there’s a world to heal, a world to save.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

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
vivacolorado.com

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

Where We Must Go

A reflection in response to Proper 8, Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(click here for biblical texts)

Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem
knowing he had to go to fulfill his mission
despite probable pain and rejection.
Mission. A word we associate with missionaries
going to foreign lands to spread Good News,
to convert, at least teach others
about Jesus, or to help with health and self-care
among those whose worlds are filled not
with science and modern learning
but with age-old remedies and ways of being.
Corporations and businesses have missions too,
principles designed to express the values and purpose
of the corporate culture, increase investment,
inspire workers to new heights
of achievement, more whole ways of toiling.

Jesus set his face medium com
medium.com

Do you have a mission? Do I?
Do we as the Body of Christ?
If we set our collective face,
even our individual, personal face,
to go to the Jerusalem, the hard place in our lives,
where would that be? Would we seek out
the person we have not yet forgiven,
be human and confess our sin
in order to set us, the world, more free?
Would we go, if we are white, to Baltimore or D.C.
or Ferguson, to engage in hard work
of undermining what white privilege has done,
is doing, to our siblings in Christ? Or
into corporate boardrooms to demand
an end to ceilings, Black and Brown and glass?
Or maybe all of us, regardless of
color or origin to stand outside the Pentagon
or White House demanding an end
to nuclear arms and a beginning to fund,
fully fund, programs to feed the hungry,
or health care for all? Or if we are L,G,B, or T,
do we bare our souls, maybe bodies, in places
of the greatest hate and intolerance,
go home to the small town we fled
and proclaim our embodied joy, or perhaps sit
in at a meeting of Catholic Bishops
or the Southern Baptists to ask them not
to talk to us but listen, just listen
to the truths of our lives? Or stand somewhere,
telling our government no walls,
return no immigrants other than criminals,
to open our hearts by the golden door
to all in need of new starts, a reprieve
from unrelenting violence in their own land.
Must we not take in the widows, orphans,
and sojourners in our midst? Is that not
holy teaching?

We are not Jesus, or Elijah, you say, not needing
to defeat the gods of Baal or of mighty Rome
or even rules of the ancient temple.
It is so, and yet, and yet, Baal walks among us
in many forms, and our nation is perilously close
to Rome despite our good intentions, our religious rules
often not far removed from the law from which Paul
told Galatians, and us, we were liberated.
We cannot condemn Pharisees
for short-sightedness when our own vision is small.
Like those whom Jesus met on his way to Jerusalem
we have many reasons to say “Okay,
just not now.” Or we can, like disciples,
threaten to destroy those from whom we feel
rejected, but Jesus, Jesus of Easy Yoke
and Hard Way, calls us to put hand to plow,
set our jaw, with confidence in God if not joy,
turn our face to the Jerusalem of our day,
our life, whatever it may be,
knowing, as it happened for Elisha
as he followed heaven-bound Elijah,
that the waters will part and we can go
where we are called to go,
where we must go.

About this poem . . . This is not an easy lectionary collection. Today’s gospel has hard sayings from Jesus, and the Hebrew accounts of Elijah and Elisha can seem too fantastic to our modern sensibilities, and even Paul, seeming to say flesh is bad in and of itself. And yet, there is through here, for me at least, a thread of engagement with the world, of being empowered and guided by divine forces to participate in co-creating the world God wants us to share.

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

The Next Prophet

(4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

Now the word of God came telling Jeremiah
I appointed you a prophet to the nations
But prophets are more numerous speaking
unstoppable truths no matter some try to bury them.
God testifies from unlikely places a southern white
matron organizes spy ring to  undermine the Confederacy
a rabbi speaks for whole justice for Palestinians
Jesus pokes at ancient insularity by harking back to
Elijah and the poor unnamed widow at Zaraphath
in Sidon Elisha’s healing the leprous Syrian army leader
Naaman while white people march with Dr. King heterosexual couples
refuse to wed until their lesbian gay friends can be married.
Prophets often pay dear especially when some perceive
them breaking social rules undermining the status quo
that protects their shared group.
Membership carries privilege conditional at best
the price often too high we look the other way
keep heads down but there are always some who are reached
by God even those who do not believe.
Their bravery changes things us the world
saves lives even as it may cost them theirs.
And they like Jesus walk through angry crowds proving
once again divine truth love peace joy hope will not be stopped
always another day another voice the next prophet
could it be you?

©Robin Gorsline2016  lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . We tend to think of prophets as the ones with big names—Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Dr. King, Mohammed. We don’t usually think of Jesus precisely in that way, but in Nazareth, among his home folks, he learned that telling too much truth can land you in hot water (and then he just kept doing it). Many people, even ones of lesser note, throughout history and today have done or are doing the same thing, sometimes on a grand scale, sometimes smaller. It’s how things change.