Everyone Out!

 

Reflection for the 5th Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11: 1-45
Click here for biblical texts

 

His bones were not yet dry
but after four days his soul-less
body needed Jesus
to breathe him back to life
just as Ezekiel records God did
for the Israelites.
How many times have you been resurrected?
Even in a good life there can be dead ends
for which holy help is the only way out.

Fleeing war zones, finding refuge in camps,
waiting for clearance to emigrate,
arriving in a strange land—
this is resurrection,
a time to hear “Unbind them, and let them go, ”
just as gay men, lesbian women, transgender siblings,
rescuing themselves from closets, breathe freer
where spirits and bodies
live in wholesome union,
no longer victims of anti-sex and gender wars .

Tombs are everywhere,
rulers building more private prisons,
hells hundreds of miles from somewhere,
Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE)
freezing folks out,
police continuing urban carnage
within walls of despair and fear.
Lazarus was lucky,
love that freed his entombed body
seems in short supply today.

The Mary-Martha-Lazarus-Jesus Family home
a center where ties that bind are love,
where even when he is late, Jesus is welcomed,
freed to be himself,
to do impossible things that look easy
because he wastes no words in argument,
going right to freeing the captive,
not seeking applause
or waiting for authorization
from any ruler except the One
whose decrees are freedom,
life, love, hope.

Lazarus, come out!
Everyone else, too.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem…..It can be difficult for us, so rational in our scientifically conditioned minds, to accept the idea that dead bodies can be brought back to life—certainly after four days in a tomb, let alone an entire valley of bones. In the latter case, it may be metaphor, but even the metaphor has power. I have been down, way down, a few times, filled with despair, and I was raised up; I know others, too.
©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

I See the Promised Land

Sermon preached at
Open Door Metropolitan Community Church, Boyds, MD
January 15, 2017
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
Martin Luther King Sunday

Audio version available from the church; click here

The story is that the Hebrews wandered forty years
in the wilderness before they crossed into land
promised to them by God.
The prophet Isaiah claims he was called before he was born,
the divine inheritance present at the moment of his conception
and thereafter at his core without loss or interruption
even as he, like us, fell short in his servanthood. Like Isaiah,
we have been shaped and polished to be God’s help as God
has been our help in ages past and our present and future hope
without end, world without end.

Wandering likely seemed endless to these Hebrews,
and we know they grumbled
and acted out against Moses and God.
To me that seems a lot like what is going on in our nation today—
people tired of feeling left behind by those seeming to have
everything they want, denied by fate
of being born in the wrong place or by the wrong parents
from the wrong country or color or loving the wrong person
or living as the usually subordinated gender
or choosing your correct gender while being denied by others
who think you don’t know your own soul and body,
or maybe people who feel left behind
because the job they thought to have forever
is now gone and they can’t find a new one that pays
nearly enough, or things they were taught to believe
about who is good and who is bad
or what behavior is acceptable and what is not,
no longer seem to be the law of the land
let alone the ironclad rules of civilization.

Still the space for these Hebrews was not all that big
and sometimes it seems hard to believe they wandered so long.
But don’t we all do that, at least time to time,
wander around and around in the same space of our minds, sometimes
even of our jobs or social life, maybe even our nation, thinking that somehow, sometime,
things will change? But they never seem to change the way we want and need
and pretty soon we despair—that can
feel like 40 years when it lasts a day or a week or a year or even longer,
and some of us have wandered for 40 or more years
only to wake up and see the promised land in twilight years,
at least then it is not too late.
I did not know I was wandering for more than 40,
call it 50 to keep it simple, but now I see the promised land,
 indeed I am in it.

But some people never get there,
despair going bone deep, and more,
and then someone speaks up, naming our grievance, or maybe
saying something ugly one time too many and someone else goes off,
yelling and making threats, maybe shaking fists
or shooting at someone or arguing with an angry cop,
pretty soon the cops are shooting,  
there are headlines and accusations and bodies, too often dead ones,
people march, protesting the killing, while others
defend the cops; the arguments go on and on,
where it will end nobody knows.

That’s the scariest part, nobody knows…..
or maybe more scary is that many seem to know
but we don’t agree on where we are, let alone where are going
and certainly not where we need to go.
So as a people we wander
even if our own lives feel good,
because the larger picture produces fear and even anger
and tweets and headlines and angry social media exchanges,
and family dinners which are very tense if they still happen at all.
We are no longer in Egypt, or have we returned to it . . .
or maybe we still are, having never really left?
Even so, many of us claim our land is the one promised
by God to our ancestors long ago
but of course others know it as land taken from their ancestors
by ours, and still others as land to which their ancestors were dragged
against their will—and yet, and yet,
we all love it one way or another,
even as we seem to wander, even despair.

In less than one week there will be a new leader
of this wandering band in which we have membership—some
may see a Moses, others a Pharaoh, few are without opinions;
unlikely anyone sees this leader as much likethe one
whose name and memory and sainthood we honor today.

But perhaps that one, that king of hope and truth and love,
has guidance for us? He knows about difficult days,
he knows what it means to have your spouse and children
threatened in your own home, what it is to
comfort the parents of little girls killed in a church
bombing, what it feels like to watch friends and allies
beaten and hosed by thugs playing cop;  he knows about serving
jail time.
He also knows glory,
honored with a Nobel prize, confidant and prodder of Presidents,
praised abroad as well as home, people hanging on his every word.
God called him up the mountain, allowing him to look over.
He saw the promised land.
He knew he might not get there with us,
and yes an assassin’s bullet stopped his journey.

But that ugly shot did not stop ours.
He told us so, he told us that we will get there,
we will get to the promised land.
We know, as he may have intuited but not known for sure,
that he told us that glorious truth the night before that bullet
struck him down, not unlike Jesus who fed his companions
the night before his death upon the cross.
Both knew, as we must know, too, that death is not the end,
that no mere human act or construction, no matter how dire,
no matter how much it threatens to undo our liberty
or strike against human dignity or knock down one group
to raise another or abuse the bodies of those less powerful
or deny basic care to those in need, none of it
ever spells the end, nor should it create such despair in us
that we cannot go forward, that we feel paralyzed in fear
any more than others who celebrate what we fear
can believe that claims by any person to know more
than all others about important matters make it so.

I see the promised land.
You can see it too. We are reunited there
with each other every time we gather at this table
to share in the holy meal or at a potluck,
and with others every time
we pray for and visit the sick
or spare some change or a dollar
with a street person or speak up against ugly talk
aimed at others or write a letter to the editor
or even call or tweet our leaders to stand
not for themselves but for justice and wholeness,
indeed every time we stand not just for ourselves
but all those in need, every time we not only pray
to end world hunger but also actually feed a
malnourished child down the street or in Africa or Gaza
or put our arms around a wounded friend
or even stranger or take the hand of someone
afraid to march for justice so both of us can join
a happy, determined throng.
Oh, this promised land is right here, right now,
my friends! Don’t we know? Have we not been told?
Did the prophets not tell us? Did not Jesus make it clear?
Did not the evangelist tell us what the Baptizer proclaimed,
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
Have we not been baptized, like John baptized Jesus
in the Jordan?

Do we have to go on living in the sin already taken away?
No!
Will we?
Yes, of course, we are human and fallible.
But do we need to stay stuck there every time we fall into it?
No!!!
The healing of God never dies, the love of Jesus never ends,
the hope of the Holy Spirit lives forever, right here, right now,
and we can dwell in the House of God forever,
world without end.

But we are going to have to let go of the fear that others
will ruin it, that any election, that any stock market up or down,
any war, any law or proclamation of official ugliness,
any pronouncement by legitimate or illegitimate authority
will end it all—all of that has power yes, but it is not ever
the biggest power, unless we let it be so.

I see the promised land right here, right now, with you,
in this lovely building on this beautiful land,
and later today I will see it in the old converted garage
that is MCC Baltimore in the midst of a storied city
struggling to keep body and soul together,
and later tonight back in my cozy little
Depression-era co-op home in Greenbelt,
because everywhere is the promised land
when we learn to see it and treat it that way,
trusting God to always be on the move
and the lookout for us, always desiring
our highest and best as God knows and defines it,
telling us again and again that we are God’s beloved,
that everyone is God’s beloved without exception,
the ones we fear as well as the ones we love,
the ones who hurt us and the ones who help us,
all children of divinity and grace
even when they or we or all of us together screw things up.

It’s not too late. We are not done, and more, God is not done,
God is not done with us. It is never too late with God–that is what
makes God, God. She, or He, or They, refuse, despite ancient testimonies
to the contrary, to give up on us, you and me, too, and the others,
even those whose agendas seem foreign and evil.
No one is a hopeless case with God, and if we claim
to follow God, to love God, then we will make that our truth,
our way of life, too. We will not stop looking, and like the disciples
of John we will ask, where are You staying—
to which Jesus always answers if we listen—
and like them as well, we will go and see and know, we will go and see and know
the beauty of the promised land and the promised people,
we will not stop listening and we will hear the love song
of the promised land and its people,
and most of all the never-ending melody of our God,
and we will, like the disciples of John, keep asking over and over,
to get our bearings, to stay connected to God and our souls,
where are You staying, and we will discover, again and again,
if we are honest, that God is in our souls, that Jesus is already
at our side and walking, that the Holy Spirit is dancing all around us,
so close we can actually taste and see, we can know, we can feel;
we can, my dear ones, walk with God along the highways and byways
of the promised land under our feet,
indeed we can march with joy and hope,
singing as others did long ago in other troubled days
when this wandering people, our people, us,
seemed torn asunder, confused, angry and sad . . .

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of our God,
who is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
And has loosed the fateful lightning of a terrible swift sword;
God’s truth is marching on.

Chorus: Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah!
God’s truth is marching on.

God has been there in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
where they built a sacred altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read the righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
God’s day is marching on.

Chorus

God has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
and is sifting out the hearts of all before the judgment seat;
O be swift, my soul, to answer and be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Chorus

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in whose bosom that transfigures you and me;
As Christ died to make us holy, let us die to make all free;
While God is marching on.

Chorus
©Robin Gorsline 2017 (sermon only)

He Will Touch You

(Second Sunday of Easter, Year C; click here for biblical texts)

jesus_doubting-thomas-cropped
thejesusquestion.org

Some of us need proof beyond the testimony
of others—at least when it comes to things
out of the ordinary; like Thomas we want
to put our fingers in the holes, maybe even feel  the dried blood.
But can faith ever be dried, captured in a book
or locked up in systems that claim to explain everything?

Some people appear to freeze-dry their beliefs and then
add water when needed and call it faith;
others quote a verse or two and claim that resolves it all.
But faith is a more lively affair, lived in ups and downs,
not without doubt or fear, often messy, unpredictable like
soft ripe pears, juicy peaches, grapefruit squirting all over,
sweet liquids running down my chest
rivulets of nectar coursing through hair over nipples
reminding me of tactile sensations—
like Jesus healing the leper with his fingers,
life poured out and on a hungry soul and body
made whole by faith, in faith, working in ways
reason always fails; logic has limits beyond
which God continually goes, inviting us
to cast aside fear and doubt which hold us
back. Yet doubt is part of faith if we dare
to really go where God leads—walking in
clouds of unknowing, not always able to see
through the fog of our own creation let alone
glimpsing far off a divine horizon we will never
reach but whose power when we let it in
draws and drives us forward. But it is right
for Thomas to want to touch Jesus’ wounds—
it is often in our wounds that we find deeper
faith, and why not in our Lord’s wounds
as well—to learn how to see all that God
has for us and all that the world creates,
including death and destruction and oppression,
too often in God’s name however wrong
it may be. God works with our doubt as well
as our faith—there is nothing God will not,
cannot, use to lead us forward where we
fear to go. Let us then not judge Thomas—
have you not demanded proof, have you not
doubted? So, let us go on the journey
with him and the others who scattered like
holy seed to the east, the west, the south
and north, knowing that they had a story to tell.

What is your story, what is your witness,
when have you said, I have seen the Lord! Are
you even looking? If not, you may miss him, too.
But trust that he will come by if you ask.
He will touch you even if you cannot touch him.

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

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .As a preacher, I got tired of the story about Thomas, the same year in and year out—as if the Lectionary architects felt we needed a dose of doubting every year after the big Sunday of the Resurrection. It does get me ponder doubt, however, and how essential it is to living in the midst of the ups and downs of faith.  

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.  

You Are My Beloved

(Baptism of the Lord, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

In the name of the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit I claim you
for Christ the priest intoned
as the drops of water rolled down
the chubby infant cheeks
recalling in that moment as in all other
moments at the font how God claimed
Jesus for God’s Own rising from River
Jordan amidst the heavenly chorus
booming voice no applause
then but today the pews
resound with joy as proud parents
and godparents and grandparents
and siblings crowd around grinning
hugging awaiting the cake and coffee
downstairs thinking not that moment
perhaps of what this means belonging not
just to your family and friends
but to God to be God’s cherished
walk the earth build a life of hope
prayer joy truth love peace sadness
too all marked by this moment of
holy inauguration into the journey
of faith the steps in years to come
the newly baptized will take that
none can foretell except
God the love and nurture and nudging
that give life shape and meaning when
if we pay attention—can we will we
help this new one listen and learn—  
will we ourselves listen and learn
what it means to be chosen for
special responsibility in the
eternal global family setting
our face toward Jerusalem
going into our own wildernesses
emerging no limits on love
bearing crosses speaking our truth
beloved beginning to end.

©RobinGorsline2015 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use this credit whenever this poem is published in any form

The Temple of Never Ending Love

(1st Sunday after Christmas, Year C; click here for lectionary texts)

Belief takes us familiar places
Passover at table Christmas midnight
mass Easter at sunrise weekly worship
choir practice Bible study groups
but sometimes we wander off caught up
in new understanding or led in a direction we
do not know maybe even want finding ourselves
like pre-teen Jesus in the temple listening asking questions
speaking words beyond what we and others
thought we knew.  Then we see the hand of God
caressing our lives touching intimately our
souls to awaken the true potential
we are blessed to become not God
but one with God born of God one
of God and one in God. What Jesus tells
us is that it could be us at temple
speaking wisdom way beyond we
are told we can know.  We must free
ourselves.  God is ready to loose the chains
of convention and rules when we say yes.
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us
dwells among us Christ is not just coming
again Christ is here now inviting us
to sit with him grow in him to become
not him but our full selves in the beauty
of holiness wholeness shalom passing
all understanding going beyond all human
knowledge to the holy of holies
within us the temple of never ending love.
©RobinGorsline2015 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form