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

 

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

Real Choices

A Reflection in Response to Proper 20, 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke16:1-13)

 

Click here for biblical texts

 

A cool September morning, walking in the park,
my husband talking about work troubles,
our dog sniffing the ground and eying the scampering squirrels,
birds flitting and singing, we sharing good mornings
with those on the same path, admiring other dogs,
all the while I keep hearing Jesus, you cannot serve God and wealth,
or the way I learned it long ago, God versus Mammon,
the god of money, Caesar, evil chasing after wealth,
visions of an ugly beast with multiple tentacles
reaching out to ensnare us all
into putting the pursuit of worldly riches
at the center of life.

money-prisoner
godmammon.com

Sometimes he just gets in your head and you can’t stop it,
sort of like the manager in Jesus’ parable caught up in
what he saw as survival, leveraging what was not his
to keep him from money or Mammon ruin,
forgetting about honor or responsibility—
and strangely he seems to come out alright
avoiding the axe using other peoples’ money;
is this not what we read about with banks too big to fail?
Is Jesus recommending cheating those who are owed?
Or is he playing us, and his hearers?
I don’t claim to know, some scholars I read
seem unclear at best, so I can only say
the Jesus I know does not dismiss honor, care,
love, responsibility, moral judgment so easily.
You just have to take my word on that. Or not.

Wall Street, even lobby of my friendly local credit union,
feel far away, because I keep hearing Jesus who once again
sounds like a socialist, not a fan of free enterprise, or consumersm.
Ouch. Most U.S. citizens are not partial to that label,
despite The Bern, not ready to see the welfare of the mass
more important than the profit of the few who make it work,
no prophet of that ancient view accepted even in his hometown
or sanctuaries that claim him for their own.
Once again Jesus unsettles the easy assumptions
of my life and the lives of my comrades in the pews,
and so we look away, embarrassed by the demand
on our individual and collective soul.
Why does he do this again, force us to stand,
uncomfortable like school children found wanting,
not knowing our lessons and resentful that we cannot
go to recess and play as if we have no cares,
pretending that no one Is hungry, no one is shivering,
no one is dying from neglect?

A walk in the park is a choice for health and happiness;
the market says we have choices, and we do, between brands
of toothpaste and cars, but Jesus reminds us we have real choices,
life and death soul choices.  

 
About this poem . . . . This choice Jesus calls us to make, between focusing on God and focusing on wealth or money or Mammon, is perhaps the most difficult one there is, at least in the United States where the reigning ideology is about getting enough wealth to survive and then to do more, to become wealthy enough to live well and then better and better, until we die and leave it our loved ones who can continue the quest. We are, it seems a “more” culture—everyone wants, we are told by experts, 20% more than they have . . . and that is true if we are at the bottom of the economic pile or the top. Do not our things get in the way of our relationship with God? What are we supposed to do?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit live above when this poem is published

Turned Upside Down

Reflection in response to Proper 19, 17th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

(click here for biblical texts)

Jesus’ long line coming before him, just like us, includes:
Moses being told by God to get down off the mountain
to stop the golden calf, Jeremiah speaking of God’s anger
at foolish people, psalmists singing of people, us, gone astray.
And then there are those who grumble because he dares
to hang out with, even like, wrong people, you know
those who still make golden stock portfolios, who make fools
of themselves denying God and others, who wander off
from divine connection, maybe never seeking that gift
so they do not even know what they are missing,
until they meet Jesus.

bayard-rustin-angelic-troublemakers
princetonlgbt.tumblr.com

That’s the point, right? Freshest recruits for spiritual awakening
are not among the practiced who already know
the answers everyone else knows, those running church affairs
who view order as the sign of their faithful stewardship,
or those who daily read their Bibles avoiding new ideas religiously.   
Moses was not the only one who encountered stiff-necked people,
and their descendants are all too sure of themselves today.
A question for this time: would Jesus join us for worship
or would he be on the wrong side of town
hanging out on the street asking passersby for spare change
for homeless people, or joining protests against police
brutality in the ‘hood, or maybe drawing crowds in alleys
as he healed the sick, lame, blind, and lonely?

Brother Bayard Rustin praised angelic troublemakers—
he was one himself—and he knew heaven rejoiced
when someone cared more for healing a hurt
or righting a wrong than for living decently
and in the correct order.
God is indeed merciful, waiting patiently for us
to get things turned upside down by worldly standards,
that is, divinely right side up.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . It is easy to feel superior to those who questioned Jesus’ choice of companions, but do we really get the radical demand he places on us? How much time do we spend hunting for, caring for, the lost sheep, or do we just walk by them on the street?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2015 FaithfulPoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published.

Not Too Late

A Reflection in Response to Proper 18, 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C,
(especially Luke 14:25-33)

Click here for biblical texts

Disciples walk, at least those following Jesus,
and not just the Galilean ones but today’s as well,
but not always a pleasant garden stroll,
chatting, admiring the flowers and butterflies;
more often a demanding call on our soul and body,
asking us to set aside important things, as we see,
for life-changing, even world-changing acts of faith,
trust, love and justice to transform ourselves,
maybe all God’s people,
and even save some corner of God’s earth.

Jesus discourse with disciples James Joseph Jacques Tissot Public domain, Brooklyn Museum
James Joseph Jacques Tissot, Brooklyn Museum (public domain)

A lesbian woman goes on a journey, connecting
with her soul and body, as loved ones reject her—
you are not our daughter, sister, they say, we no more family—
her walk feeling desert dry, dust caking her mouth
and her heart. She keeps walking with Jesus
her disciple walk of truth, wholeness, beside him.
A writer denying his craft for more lifetimes
than he cares to count hears the call,
laying down what he thought the world wanted from him
and walks not really knowing the direction but trusting
Jesus by his side. One, sometimes a man, sometimes woman,
 who has every possession, trips over all the stuff—
lands upside down hearing the voice
trying to get through for so many years,
gives up trying to decide which of six homes to visit,
what investments to sell, which party to attend—
breaks clean from that pursuit to kneel and pray
and then gives most all away save one little urban bungalow
and some green energy stocks and peace bonds,
to walk sweaty streets with the Lord, greeting homeless,
ex-cons, disturbed, old and young, inviting them home to a meal and shower,
lessons in self-care, clean clothes, job and education links,
like some latter day Paul saving souls they used to condemn.

Not all disciple walks are dramatic, a change in attitude
enough to turn around to walk with Jesus rather than against him.
What voice are you hearing , or refusing to hear?
Walking beside him may not be the same as following;
turning back is harder when you are shoulder to shoulder.
It’s not too late to turn aside from the demands we and the world
have put at the center to walk with the One who is the center.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . It is not easy being a disciple, and Jesus does not want to delude us with an easy invitation. So he makes it hard, really hard. We may even be shocked by talk of hating one’s family, but we surely know of family that hate their children, grandchildren, siblings. Sometimes, discipleship is not about our hate but others hating us. Or finding our own way even though we don’t know the way, or maybe we have to give up dreams of material abundance? He’s often gentle, but not often easy.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 Faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above wherever this poem is published.