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Reflections on Proper 7, Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: Jeremiah 20:7-13, Matthew 10:24-39
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

He was raking in 10 million
in leanest years, celebrated
for Midas ways with stocks,
his counsel sought by all
who wanted more and more
even as he felt less and less,
waking at night with scenes
of gaunt-faced children watching him
as he ate at Sardi’s and the White House.
He cried, he prayed, went to church every day,
gave away millions to hungry kids everywhere ,
still the money piled up
mocking his nightmares, misery and guilt.

Hurrying from one meeting to the next,
he heard a street evangelist quoting Jesus,
“Those who find their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
He was stopped, unable to move,
I want to lose this life—the voice sounded like his—
no more capital gains
no house in the Hamptons
no private jet.
He cried, right on Wall Street.
People stared, others averting their gaze,
most kept their distance as he tore
at his Armani uniform
thrusting his coat, then his tie, shirt, shoes, pants
at gaping tourists and brokers,
“I don’t need these, please take them, in the name of God,”
he said, and hearing himself thought,
where did that come from? Who said that?

He looked around, as if seeing the street
for the first time,
now knowing what he had to do.
He remembered hearing a preacher say
following a divine call is rarely easy,
Jeremiah and Jesus surely knew,
friends and family, authorities too
turn away, turn against,
the loneliness can overwhelm
even in the embrace of God.

But he felt raised up, resurrection-like,
his mind racing, his heart at peace,
beat of new life beckoning him
to become a disciple, a student
of the Lord, gentle Jesus whom he knew also said
some hard either/or words
about not bringing peace
setting children against parents
foes arising in the household
hierarchies of teachers above disciples
seeming normal
but masters over slaves grate against modern ears
can we love Jesus more than mother and father,
what about God?

He thought, I love God most of all,
and I want to serve with Jesus and the Holy Spirit;
this is my ‘I can’t not do it moment’
I heard my pastor describe, when he knew
he was called to share the Good News:
God’s total, unending, unconditional love.

Naked as Francis long ago,
he saw the church and went inside
to pray and to listen
for further instruction.

 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . So many of the really cool people in the Bible show us that following God is not a necessarily smooth way, that the challenges can be huge, daunting .  Upending a life is best done with divine direction and that can come in all sorts of ways to all sorts of people. Jeremiah and Jesus, two prophets who had hard things to say because they listened so carefully to God, surely must have felt, from time to time at least, why me? Of course, God’s answer to them, as to us, is, who else?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2015 FaithfulPoetics.net

The Lord’s Day

Reflection on Proper 6, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

 

Textual foci: Matthew 9:35-10:23; Psalm 100; Romans 5:1-8
Click here for biblical texts
Sunday morning at the Metro Station
pleasant people staff stations for sharing
the truth they claim, they know, will set us free
pamphlets, magazines, personal testimony
and smiles, handshakes, even hugs too
to show the love of God
in case we don’t know it
already and to be sure our belief
is correct so when Jesus comes,
when Jesus comes,
we are counted worthy.

They smile and say “Good Morning” as I pass
clerical color and dangly earrings
marking me a man different from others
as I smile too—the politeness of our exchange
linking us strangely with the One
who was often impolite, or at least impolitic,
healing the wrong people on the wrong day
breaking bread with the disreputable
loving sinners as much as the pious—
or maybe more—the One
with big plans for his twelve
just as he has for us,
compassion to share with the lost,
curing disease, healing the sick
in body and heart, guiding sheep
who lose our way.

Yes we are the sheep called also
to be shepherds—there always is
someone who needs leading
to water or food or medical care
or encouraging words
like those some give
my friend Tyrone the Pennyman
at this same station but not on Sunday.
He does not sit in his usual spot to call out
“Pennies, pennies, pennies,”
to busy travelers
on the Lord’s Day,
we being fewer in number
(why is church attendance declining now?)
and perhaps more intent on filling the collection plate
than the stomach of one
with few teeth, many rags
and unkempt hair—
 yet in his cheerful countenance
reminds me of St. Paul who says
suffering produces endurance
and endurance produces character
and character produces hope.

I just pray Tyrone’s hope
does not disappoint him
and others who struggle in like manner,
that somehow divine love
moves enough sheep, and shepherds too,
you and me among them,
to help the lowly rise
that all may make a joyful noise
and worship God with joy.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . . Jesus sent out the 12 and sends us out, too. The question, at least for me, is what is the mission to which I have been called? What is most needed in the world, and what is my part in meeting that need? And am I sure I am hearing the call correctly? Is it really Jesus or is it just my idea or the idea of others I like?  
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Where?

An Unfinished Reflection on the 5th Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: John 14:1-14
Click here for biblical texts
 

 

Easter is not ended officially
yet it seems long ago that we sang Alleluia!
wore our Sunday best, feasted at two tables,
maybe looked for a certain rabbit
to entertain our children—
do we still proclaim resurrection
and if we do, are we ready to follow
the risen Christ wherever he leads us?

We don’t know exactly where he is calling us
though many claim to know—
earnestly telling us they have the inside scoop
because they have the key to scriptural truth,
God not having said a new thing for several
millennia—and we must learn to trust,
sometimes what we see when following Jesus
looks unfamiliar even strange
but that does not make it less godly,
after all Jesus was always going places, doing things
those in the know knew were wrong.

God’s house is said to be roomy
at least that is what Jesus said
whether some of his latter day disciples
still see it that way;
no longer whites only on the main floor
but nursing moms and their babes
may be segregated to be sure
no one glimpses part of a holy body
and gays may want to be quiet
lest they be asked to leave.

Going with Jesus is a challenge—
he said we will do what he does
and even greater things
but when was your last miracle,
and who knows if he really meant that
even though he was not one for idle chatter or boasts—
easier just to read and ride along
and not get too engaged or eager
nor too far in front where we might be tempted
to look down like Peter and sink.
 

 

About this poem . . . .Did Easter really happen? Is it over? The church calendar says no, but what about in daily life?

 

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Good Morning, God

Reflection on the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

Textual focus: Psalm 116:1; Luke 24:13-35
Click here for biblical texts

 

He always says “Good morning,”  “Good afternoon”
or simple “Hello” as he meets others on walks.
“You never know what someone may want to tell you,
so I like to prepare the way with courtesy and care,”
he said in response to a friend who asked him about his habit.
“It might be Jesus out for a walk, or someone else
God has tapped with a message for me.
Besides,” he continued, “I believe
each of us is created in the image of God,
so when I greet someone I feel I am greeting
part of God. I really appreciate when God answers back.”

“Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus,
you just never know when a conversation
will change your life,” he said. “One thing is sure,
if you don’t engage others,
the conversation will not happen.  I am
not in charge of which conversations
God may use so I try to be open all the time.”

“Here’s the deal,” he said, “we pray
often for God to be present.
I wonder how God feels about that,
when in my experience God
already is here and now, everywhere,
all the time. There is no place, no time, God is not;
I figure my job is to be present,
so God can get through to me
when God wants. I even speak
to some trees, the squirrels, flowers, birds.
You just never know.
Like those disciples, I might get a message
from the food I eat—that’s why I give thanks,
not just physical nourishment
but also spiritual feeding.
Anything, everything, is possible with God.”
 

 

 

About this poem . . . As a boy, I remember wondering what it must have felt like for the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus to be engaged by, and to engage, Jesus. Later, thanks to some wonderful spiritual teachers and moments of my own, I began a lifelong journey into understanding I can experience that closeness, too. I am still learning, and receiving.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

What Now?

Reflection on the Second Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

Text focus: John 20:19-31
Click here for biblical texts

 

Huddled in a room too small for their number
fearing for their lives 
keeping windows covered
password required for entry;
others hiding outside
praying ICE agents do not see them
or dogs smell them
before night when they slip across the border
trusting false IDS will be ready
so they can find work
a place to stay
a new life to build
in the land they hope
will accept their bravery
and award freedom;
or gay men, lesbians, trans people
hiding in closets,
wanting life, not sure
they have strength to claim wholeness.

An old story, fear driving people
into hiding, authorities, angry crowds,
vigilantes, pious rule-enforcers,
fundamentalists of one sort or another,
determined to tamp down
freedom movements, different religions,
new ideas, ways of living
beyond poverty and despair—
not unlike disciples
behind locked doors
the evening of the day Jesus rose,
afraid they would be next on crosses.

But Jesus visited them
to breathe Spirit into them
give them hope.
release them from their prison
get on with sharing good news
healing the sick
witnessing to divine love.

So today’s question:
whose prisons will we visit
whose cells will we unlock
which fugitives will we take in
which disciples of love and hope
and family and justice
will we welcome
to our churches, our homes
to keep them safe,
whose hearing will we attend
to speak on behalf of mercy and justice
for all
or at least for one or two or more
of those most vulnerable
most afraid
most at risk?

 

About this poem . . . . It is so easy to leave the disciples back there, knowing things will get better for them. But we have been, maybe are, afraid; and have received the Spirit too; what do we do with it? 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

More than Sightseeing

Reflection for Ash Wednesday, Year A
An unpolished poem for a day of ash and glitter

 

Textual Focus: Joel 2; Isaiah 58; Matthew 6
Click here for biblical texts
 

The Ash Wednesday readings seem an odd collection,
especially Matthew, for the day on which we mark our foreheads
with faith for all the world to see;  maybe that is why Matthew 6 is chosen,
to remind us that bearing ash marks is not intended
to be an advertisement, not putting our name on a hotel
or other grand building or taking out a full-page ad
in The New York Times, but a pledge, a promise,
to be faithful no matter who is watching or not,
knowing the only one watching who really counts
is God, the One who wants us not to rend our clothes
but our hearts, who calls priests not to exalt but to weep,
so aware of their own failings and those of their neighbors,
who reminds us that the real fast is doing justice,
taking in the homeless, feeding the hungry,
freeing the oppressed, to admit our shortcomings,
our iniquities, to endure whatever hardships
come our way in service to God and God’s people.

And then there is the verse that I remember
every Sunday from early childhood on,
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,”
knowing it was the moment to pull out my dime, or dollar,
or check, or look sheepish and hope no one noticed
as I passed the plate in a swift motion without
adding to it—whether giving or not these words
seemed to carry guilt, sensing that no matter what I added
to the plate it was an inadequate response to what God
gives me.  But the plate is only one measure of where my heart is;
how much time do I spend with God? When was the last time
I listened to Jesus, not just talked to him but waited to hear him?
When was the last time I invested myself in being all
God wants me to be?

I saw an Ash Wednesday drive-by yesterday, a church advertising getting
ashes on your forehead when you drive into their parking lot—
no need to come to service, no need to join in community
prayer. At first, I was repelled, maybe still am, but also I
know that it might help some, who would not otherwise bother,
to pause to consider their lives, even for just a few moments.

And glitter. I like glitter, and am glad that some churches
are combining ash and glitter,
acknowledging that I, and everyone else,
is a complex mixture of saint and sinner.
I remember the year I gave up Lent for Lent.
I was tired of beating myself up for my failings
and decided to spend forty days focusing
on my good qualities. I wanted to put my best foot
forward for Jesus, to be all I could be with him
on the journey to the cross. I did that only once,
but I am glad I did, because it has helped me
ever since have a fuller view of me and my relationship
with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with God the Parent.

So, here I am, here we are, another Ash Wednesday,
another Lent—again invited to walk
the often dusty and bumpy, sometimes crowded and busy,
at other times quiet and lonely,
even on occasion beautiful and merry, roads of life.
I’m a pilgrim, maybe you, too, with few if any answers,
and I’m here for more than sightseeing.
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . I generally approach Ash Wednesday with mixed feelings, aware certainly of my shortcomings, but also not sure how much it helps to focus on them without also seeing my positive qualities, indeed doing that with everyone I encounter and/or care about. I decided that I would not pore over this poem with revision after revision as I often do but let it stand pretty much as it came out—a way of exposing myself for the still being formed person I am.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

You Go First

Reflection on the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

 

Textual focus: Leviticus 19:9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:18-19; Matthew 5:38-48
Click here for biblical texts

 

Give to everyone who begs from you,
Jesus says that, oh yes he does, and more, too:
Turn the other cheek, give up your cloak,
do not refuse anyone, anyone,
who wants to borrow from you.
How can we keep the economy going
with talk like that? And what about the beggars,
what if they use my money to buy booze?
What good is that?
Respond to being forced to go one mile
by going the second mile—what if I don’t have time
to go that far?
Don’t resist an evildoer, love your enemies,
pray for your persecutors:
How can we live in the world today
with attitudes like that? Does he even know, or care,
about ISIS and our opponents from the other party?

The world is a tough place; you’d think Jesus
would know that, given how Rome treated
the Jews, how Herod killed cousin John.
Sometimes, I think Jesus lives in another world.

Oh, right, he does.
And he keeps trying to get me to join him there,
except for him the there is here, now. 

This didn’t start with him either, he knows
Leviticus: leave the gleanings of fields
and vineyards for those in need
(remember Ruth?), no defrauding your neighbor,
no keeping wages of others, no false swearing,
no slander, no unjust judgments;
you shall love your neighbor as yourself
(yes, Jesus was repeating Leviticus).

So why is it so hard for me, maybe you, too,
to go where Jesus goes, to be one
of the people of the Way—some of his
early followers were called that—to live
with open heart and open hand,
to speak in love even to those
whose ugly words and deeds
cause me to shudder and rise in anger
to say No? Can I do both? Can I say no
and also say I love you? Why not?
Is not all possible with God?

Paul told Corinthians the wisdom
of this world is foolishness with God;
so, he said, become fools
that you may become wise.

So let us dance in the street
when there is no music
except the tapping of our souls,
let us toss coins in the air
and take beggars to lunch,
let us hug the racists and the thugs,
let us find men and women in need of coats
and strip ours off our backs,
and do all generous, foolish things that
will cause authorities,
and our families and churches,
to question our sanity,
believing, knowing(?), that is where and when
we will find Jesus.

You go first, I’ll follow.

 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem: As faithful people we really do love Jesus, want to serve God, but it can be very difficult when what we encounter in Scripture demands a whole different way of living, not just a way of life, but actual behavior changes in everyday life. The texts in this week’s lectionary really challenge me, and I imagine others, and frankly I am uncertain how to proceed. If I do as they instruct, it seems I shall soon be a pauper, probably begging myself. Can that be right? Maybe, if we all did it together…….would that work better? Is that what the writer of Leviticus, Paul, and Jesus are talking about?
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Choose Life

A Reflection in Response to the 6th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

 

Textual focus: Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Matthew 5:21-37
Click here for biblical texts

 

Choose life so that you and your descendants may live,
loving your God, obeying God’s voice,  and clinging to God.

Jesus on the hill says life is threatened
when anger, judgment, and insult reign,
wisdom sorely needed today.
Too many around us, and probably ourselves at times,
slide into thinking of those with whom we disagree
as enemies, as people almost beyond the pale of humanity,
people in whose face we feel free to spit, if not literally
then certainly in our refusal to speak or even listen to them—
we can kill them even when they remain alive. 

In the patriarchal culture in which Jesus lived,
as within our contemporary but still toxic version today,
life is threatened because women are objectified,
seen only as agents to satisfy male appetites,
or valued only for bearing children.  
And there are others who seem to exist only to be
abused or discarded by others, or, by our inaction,
our inability, unwillingness, to say no to mistreatment:
Black men shot in the streets or locked away,
transwomen and men, too, shamed and beaten to death in restrooms,
immigrants and youthful Dreamers maligned as rapists or terrorists,
being walled out or sent back to the terror from which they fled,
sick people denied care because they can’t afford it.

As Jesus says, your life, my life,
all lives are threatened when we
do not follow through with the oaths,
the promises, we make and when we
and others succumb to the empty promises
of product advertising or political platforms
or leaders whom we let take us for fools.

Jesus reminds us interpreting the law, hearing the voice
of God in texts ancient and modern,
is far more complicated than many claim;
we have to listen with great care, with our hearts
not just our logic, with our souls as much as our minds,
we have to remember the fundamental commandment to love
not only ourselves but just as much if not more our neighbor,
knowing that Jesus knew everyone, including even Pilate
and the Pharisees and Judas, was his neighbor,
just as Pilates, Pharisees and Judases in our own day
are our neighbors, perhaps even more in this shrinking world.

If our interpretations lead to death –
silencing voices different from our own,
discounting the personhood of the other, whoever that may be,
disrespecting, disregarding, demeaning whole groups,
thereby putting people in what we think is their place –
then we have to think long and hard
about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus;
we have to wonder if we get Jesus at all.

So these days I am reminding myself to “choose life”
as the standard for how I speak and act,
how I seek to be the disciple I want to be,
the disciple I feel Jesus calling me to be.
Like those 2,000 years ago, I don’t do this perfectly,
but when I remember to ask myself, “Does this promote
and support life, or is it going to lead to more death,” I do less damage.
I may even help those around me, may be an agent of healing.

Today I set before you life and death, blessing or curse.
Choose life, then, so that you and your family and your friends,
indeed all the world living now and forever, may live.
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This text is excerpted, with some emendations, from a longer text I preached on February 12, 2017 at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. For that message, I was struck by what initially appeared as distinctly different themes in the two readings from Deuteronomy and Matthew, but as I pondered and prayed, I began to hear how they connect at a deep level, how Jesus was talking very much about choosing life. You can hear the entire message (20 minutes) by clicking here.
©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

Ready or Not

 

Meditation on Advent 1, Year A

 

(Psalm 122, Matthew 24:36-44)
Click here for biblical texts
 

I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord.

What other temple gives you so much joy?
Is it your home, or your parental home,
or maybe temples of shopping—Macy’s,
Walmart, Target—where do you go
for inspiration, nurture, joy and hope?
Now, beginning the annual march toward Christmas,
are we ready to enter the stable, familiar territory simultaneously
strange and comforting, where few have actually ventured
outside the obligatory pageant
but where we see proof of God showing up
ready or not.

Noah knew about this, and Pharaoh’s daughter too,
Sarah and Paul, fishermen with nets to put down,
later so full they cannot cope.
Are we ever ready for God,
I mean truly ready, eager,
like a child waiting on emotional tiptoe
for her natal day and the pile of gifts
to tear open
while gorging on cake and ice cream,
not wanting it ever to end,
ready or not?

The proverbial thief in the night comes
with good news, our life is turned upside down,
once settled in the north now we go south,
or are drawn inexorably by a star in the east
no one else can see—
or is it they don’t want to see,
maybe us, too,
afraid to take a chance on God,
we look away,
hoping God comes
at more convenient times?

Ready or not,
our calendar measures mere time
while God’s counts out yearning,
divine desire for us to become all
intended at conception—imagine
if we followed God’s agenda,
how much richer our individual lives,
and the life of the world, would be!
We could stop predicting
and start listening, going with the flow
of holy energy.

I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord,
ready or not.
 

About this poem . . . The urgency of Jesus’ teaching from this portion of Matthew, responding to the disciples’ anxiety about knowing when he will descend and the present age will end, can put off modern ears if we think that Jesus is endorsing violence and even what seems like capricious death (although death is often feels like that). Yet the underlying point that we need to be ready for God’s presence in our lives, and that we cannot know for certain how and when that presence will be enacted is fundamental to living a faithful life. We could stop trying to figure this out, and instead let the experience wash over us.

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net