Shining

Reflection on Transfiguration Sunday, Year A

 

Textual focus: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Click here for biblical texts

 

She began slowly,
so softly we had to quiet ourselves to hear
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia,
and again, many repetitions
as she mined the word-notes for all their life—

Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John
and led them up a high mountain by themselves—

the purity of her contralto
caught us as she moved to Bless the Lord, O my soul,
many more now singing and beginning to stand,
arms in the air, and all that is within me,
bless His holy name, her eyes begin to glisten—

And he was transfigured before them,
and his face shone like the sun,
and his clothes became dazzling white—

her voice stronger, He has done great things
her face begins to glow, bless His holy name—

suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him—

then This Little Light of Mine, almost all of us
on our feet, singing, tears of joy and thanks,
I’m gonna let it shine,
glow spreading face to face—

suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them,
and from the cloud a voice said,
“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased;
listen to him!”—

I’m gonna let it shine,
bodies swaying
our collective gleam radiating through walls
all the way to heaven and back,
let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

As the applause and tears and hugs
roll across the sanctuary
the preacher says,
“Jesus told the disciples on that mountain,
‘get up, don’t be afraid,’
meaning living belongs to those who stand
even when it is difficult,
who rise not just in church
but when we come down from holy highs,
Spirit touching us deep as our bones and more,
knowing sacred work begins
when we stand where bodies are needed
to say no to injustice,
yes to justice, or both,
to remind America First, to remind ourselves,
God is first.”

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . To our rationalist eyes and ears, the story of Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop can sound too much like Christian scripture writers trying to outdo, or at least, match the glow of Moses’ face or the divine blessing of Elijah. But such transfiguration, on a more human scale, happens fairly often, at least it seems so to me, when one of those truly holy gospel church moments begins to capture all within hearing distance, when a singer or choir and instrumentalists take us out of the room, certainly out of our seats, and we feel the gleam of heaven’s bright sun and stars not only on us but in us, not only shining on us but glowing out from us. And that is when we can get the courage to go forth and “god” (a wonderful verb) in the world.

©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

The Fast to Which We Are Called

Reflection on the 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

Textual Focus: Isaiah 58:1-12, Matthew 5:13-20
Click here for biblical texts

 

Being salt of the earth is not easy
nor is it simple to be the light of the world.
But Jesus told disciples that is what they are,
what we are, too, if we take our vocation seriously.
Salt enhances the flavor of our faith,
perhaps the faith of others because ours is so tasty,
helps preserve faith when times are tough.
Light can help us see, but what Jesus really means
is our light is meant to help others see.

Faith needs pepper too, black for sure, maybe cayenne,
surely garlic and oregano, even paprika
if it is to be strong, resilient and ready to upend us
from our lethargy and acquiescence
to the way things have always been.
We need  full-bodied faith, richly textured,
deeply flavored, pungent to attract attention
not to us but to God working in us.  
The prophet says shout loudly, don’t hold back,
lift every volce and sing,
and I say people need not only to hear our faith but also
to smell it, to be drawn from spiritual emptiness,
aromas reminding them how hungry they are
for the more they know exists but cannot
seem to find in the usual holy places, showing them
there is a source, a spiritual diner, cafeteria,
just waiting to feed them
with love and glory of God all their lives.
This the fast to which we are called:
to open our repast to the hungry,
to bring scents of heaven to the outcast,
to feed the lost with the succulent,
never-ending feast of God.

There needs to be more than light, too.  
To see the stars we must be in the dark,
heavens more visible at night,
often a time when divine stillness settles in,
and souls brood in their native habitat,
primordial darkness from which God made, makes, light.
We need to be more than the light,
others need us to share
luminous darkness of our souls
buried deep in first threads of life
where we were created
and in whom we move and have our being.
We need to bring the dark night of our souls
Into the temple, freely, fully, offering ourselves,
letting go of our attachments to things
and places, turning all over to God,
falling in love again with God,
not so much for our sake but for God’s sake.
This the fast to which we are called:
to go to our deepest, darkest places
and know how lovable we are,
how lovable all are,
stars shining in darkest heaven
right here on earth, world without end.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem: Sometimes it feels that Jesus’ words have become such spiritual clichés that if we really want to get into them, or for them to get inside us, we have entertain the opposite, or at least the opposite of what we have been taught, pushing against conventional wisdom (just as he so often did). As someone who enjoys cooking, I know the importance of salt, but I also know it is rarely enough to make a savory dish. And light is only half of God’s story, so we need to welcome the dark, not only in nature but also ourselves.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Elder Wisdom

Reflection on Presentation of the Lord, Year A and C

Focus: Luke 2:22-40

click here for the biblical texts

Elder wisdom carries authority beyond its years
we sense more than passing of time
deep joyful gravity unafraid to speak whole
a word a paragraph a book to testify when asked or not
it needs to be said I will speak even if forbidden so says
the ancient wise one to remind the rest of us that modern facts
cannot replace aged sagacity to stretch horizons well past prime
time as Simeon and Anna proclaim in the Jerusalem temple
what they see in Jesus circumcised as a boy
the promised Messiah in the flesh before them,
even as our postmodern minds wonder how can they know
such profound spiritual truth from a baby.
How did it come to the gospel writer
Did Mary recount the story later or Dad Joseph
maybe writing it in his baby book Jewish parents recording
Important moments in the life of their precious son
Yes he was a Jewish boy a rabbi teacher
growing up to speak unconventional
ideas. Did he learn to speak power
from Simeon and Anna at eight days
their spirits passed to him through Adonai
touching his soul to grow strong with wisdom
beyond his years the one who did not survive to
elderhood yet touched and spoke as one blessed
beyond all around him with truth alive today
still changing lives upending old ways even as others
use him to enforce their narrow rules.
So we need descendants of Simeon
and Anna elders for this day to speak
breaking open new wisdom wine
that we may drain the cup of truth and live
the love and hope and joy and peace
of God in all we are and do.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . Biblical stories sometimes challenge our credulity as people living in the age of science and cynicism, and yet it is not the details that matter so much as the deeper truth. I have known elders who make strong statements about the soul, the future, of young people. Sometimes the prophecies come true, sometimes not. But I have come to trust their knowing even if life, circumstances, outside forces, stand in the way of fulfillment.  

 

This reflection originally appeared on January 16, 2016

©Robin Gorsline2016  FaithfulPoetics.net

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