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

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

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

Made Well by Faith

Meditation in response to Proper 23, 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Luke 17:11-19)

 

Click here for biblical texts

 

I know people like Samaritan Leper Number 10,
despite being among the innumerable despised,
putting thank you at the top of their vocabulary,
for the sun rising, moon glowing, worms crawling, bugs biting,
children hugging, also begging, adults arguing, politicians pointing,
dancers leaping, actors declaiming, movie stars posing,
thieves conniving, cops getting it right, even wrong
when we need to get angry about racism,
and lots of other ills we have yet to fix—still
all these are signs of life in God’s universe,
opportunities to celebrate creation
or to pray, confess, take responsibility for what
has gone wrong.
So far.

black-hands
vi.sualize.us

Gangs of today’s lepers wander our streets;
some claim them untouchables out of fear
they will rob or hurt them or because they look different.  
Others know these modern Samaritans hurt too,
projecting toughness to disguise their pain,
so mothers and lovers will not give away truth
of their vulnerability to The Man who patrols
mean hard streets looking for trouble.
And then the sound of gunfire, was it police,
or was it another untouchable?
What if Jesus appeared, would they keep their distance
but call out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
We don’t want to die, we don’t want to kill,
have mercy on us. Would Jesus send them
to local priest or pastor, would Jesus send them
to church to be judged, given a food bag,
sent on their way?  Or would they be welcomed,
given a bath, new clothes, hope, an invitation
to come back next week for more of the same
and even more, a ride to a job interview,
chance to earn a GED, then community college,
visit to medical clinic, maybe even a hug?

And then, improbable as all this sounds,
would one come back to say thank you,
praise God—could they even believe
God is involved given the press God gets
these days—prostrate in gratitude,
ready to create a new life for themselves and others?
A miracle you say?
Well yes. Maybe it could happen,
maybe it would happen, for real,
if we centered ourselves
in faith that results in, and rests on, gratitude.
Then Jesus would say to us, get up, go your way,
your faith has made you well.
About this poem . . . Leprosy remains a significant health problem in some parts of the world, and in the United States several hundred contract the disease each year. It is now curable by a multi-year regimen of powerful antibiotics. Scholars are not certain that the biblical references to leprosy involve what we know as leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, today. It may have been in ancient times also a reference to a number of skin conditions which were thought to convey impurity and contaminate the entire community, requiring the contaminated to stay a distance away from everyone else. There is another skin condition that too many among us fear yet today, one that is not curable by antibiotics—praise God—but the fear that infects can be undone by mercy, confession and full-throated justice.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Time to Sign Up

Reflection in Response to Proper 9, 7th Sunday after Pentecost

(Click here for biblical texts)

We are descended from the seventy
appointed by Jesus to go to all the towns
where he intended to go. So we too must go,
offering like Elisha our version of God’s power
and wisdom to heal those who are sick or broken—
such as Naaman, the mighty warrior, commanding
troops but unable to command God’s man
who heals not on human order but on divine
grace—and so many today seeking help,
thinking they can gain blessed, fruitful life,
not from holy agents but from acquiring
more things, controlling more people, building
walls and attacking those they fear, not trusting God
or really anyone, even their sacred selves.

Sending-the-70-out-to-heal
diggingdeepernow.org

There seems so little faith today, even among
ones who proclaim how strong is their belief,
confusing belief with faith, the latter
being, as sainted Bill Coffin said long ago,
not believing without proof but trusting
without reservation.  Can we trust God,
will we trust Her to not only send us
out to the places we are needed but also
to give us the tools we need to do what
is right before us, the first tool being
sight clear enough to see the work,
brave enough not to look the other way,
smart enough to escape the snares
put in our way.

Can we be as wise as Naaman’s servants who counseled
him not to be dazzled by showy demonstrations of prophetic power
or in thinking it is he who knows the way of healing
because he is a man of earthly power—can we in short
go about God’s work, our work, with a quiet determination,
listening to deep parts of ourselves, seeing God
in the faces and lives of others, trusting our call—yes, you, me,
everyone, has a call, maybe more than one but often
we miss it, paying attention to life’s fluff and stuff,
thinking we can be made whole, and others as well,
through the market and social media, watching
videos, unreality television, celebrity sightings,
forgetting God comes so often in stillness, soft voices
gentle glances of care, loving touches of our sacred bodies.

It is easy to admire the 70 who went out for the Lord
and then to look askance at how they enjoyed their moments of fame,
as if we are so pure and unwilling to be drawn in by worldly lures—
indeed we best start by signing up to receive our assignments,
admitting we feel ill-prepared and need to lean on everlasting arms
that will carry us from place to place, errand to errand,
in humble service,  whose reward is not “volunteer of the year”
but rejoicing, as Jesus said, for our names written in heaven.  

 
About this poem . . . The story of Naaman’s healing by Elisha is a suitable backdrop for the account of Jesus sending the 70 into the field, neither the General nor the disciples aware of how dependent they are on God’s grace and power. And it causes me to recognize in myself certain tendencies of self-aggrandizement and congratulation, cutting me off from sacred union with the divine within.  

 

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

 

Demons, Be Gone!

  • Reflection on Proper 7, Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C, and “Juneteenth”
    (click here for biblical texts)

When you want to drive out a demon or maybe more than one,
an addiction perhaps or a fear that saps life and energy,
or maybe a really big demon that runs and ruins many lives,
an ideology of hate or greed masked as business as usual,
you need divine help—a prayer is good, a plea for help
from on high, or if Jesus is nearby his touch or blessing works
wonders.  In Gerasene land, across from Galilee, one body’s worth of demons
is moved and then destroyed; perhaps some are aware
that in Galveston in Texas land almost two millennia later,
with what seems like less holy help,
a big demon was, for a while at least,
moved, although not destroyed (indeed it lives today,
but disguised for many).

Juneteenth
swlajuneteenth.org

On June 19, 1865, 151 years ago—known today as Juneteenth—
when General Grainger and Union troops entered Galveston
he issued General Order No. 3, putting into effect
what Lincoln had decreed more than two years earlier:
the slaves are free. Demon slavery had not gone willingly,
hanging on through a war of rebellion that cost more lives
than any other in our national saga; and in places like
Texas, far from the fighting, ignoring whatever transformation
the local powers did not entertain or accept in what
they perceived to be their own interest. But with
the new order, now freed slaves celebrated, as we continue
to celebrate today.

The powers that were in Texas probably felt like the locals
of Gerasene, opposite Galilee, when Jesus arrived, upsetting
local customs and freeing one man from demons
who enslaved him in self-hatred and destruction.  
In Galveston, this was an act of restoration, renewal
of identity—each slave’s humanity affirmed, their community
suddenly, in law at least, given recognition and perhaps
glimmerings of social power (sadly all too soon erased,
deliberately, viciously replaced by the
caste system called Jim Crow).
In the country opposite Galilee suddenly order
is overturned as the man’s demons, cast out of him,
enter swine, destroying herds,
and the local population see the formerly naked,
incomprehensible man now dressed and in his
right mind. Afraid of what has come to pass
and what it portends, the locals
ask Jesus to leave—just as federal troops and others
would be recalled from Texas and elsewhere.
The old order it seems must always be restored,
demons given their due.

And yet, and yet, the blessed man lives to tell his tale
of liberation and we read it still today, just as former
slaves—technically free while burdened
with old racist ways dressed in new fashions
of oppression, abuse, degradation—carried and shared
body memories of those few short years,
to be and live more or less free.  Today we remember
the hope and joy that was then and join the struggle
yet raging to free people and their demons everywhere—
God’s claim on us to topple diabolical powers
raging inside addicted fearful souls
and resist daily hell on earth
that is war, misery, poverty, racism, religious prejudice
(massacres of innocents in the name of God?),
proclaiming and instituting divine reality:
all our demons, be gone!

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . I appreciate the confluence of two events on the same day this year: the reading of the Lucan text involving the healing of the Gerasene demoniac and the 151st anniversary of Juneteenth, the day the slaves in Galveston were told of their freedom. Demons come in many forms, and they are often persistent, baffling, and cunning.  Yet God continues to give us authority to cast them out, if we choose to confront them and risk creating a new world.

 

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

It Is Always Them and Us

Reflection for Proper 6, Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C

(click here for biblical texts)

Sin is the great human equalizer
even though some always point with alarm
at sins of others and often manage
to sin really big as they hide behind
their judgments. A great gift King David shares
with us is the largeness of his sinning—
no petty morality thief he—this impregnator
of Bathsheba, murderer of Uriah did it big
not for the first or last time in his storied life.
Nor is it only once that loyal counselor Nathan
conveys God’s displeasure—can you just see
him, smacking his head perhaps, thinking how could he
do this, when will he learn there are limits
even for kings? Even great kings basking
in God’s favor.

Luke tells of less violent but still a disrespectful
act of Pharasaic inhospitality toward the woman
who dared show love and care for Jesus invited
to his home for dinner; this woman, labeled a sinner,
is judged unworthy by the host to grace his home—
can you not see him looking down his privileged
nose at her, even as she bathes Jesus’ feet with her tears
and alabaster ointment—and Jesus assumes Nathan’s
role to show the eminent one that etiquette
counts less than ethics, that generosity begins
in simple acts of kindness—greeting all your guests
invited or not with dignity, an embrace or kiss,
water for hands dirtied in the ordinariness of life
and for dried throats, perhaps even ointment
for weary brow and aching feet, none of this shared
by he who sits as judge.

This leader is to be sure well-meaning,
conscious of what he and others see as his role
and duty to keep rules of social decorum in place—
how will the others know where to sit without a place card,
and know if there is no such marker they are not welcome.
Order matters for him, as for many, maybe even for you and me;
It is so easy to sit on our own throne of judgment
but when did you last invite a homeless person to dine
with you, or even stoop to share a dollar with the beggar
lying rudely in his rags on the street?

As for David, those despicable acts are in a class
by themselves, so surely we can judge righteously,
not being rapists or murderers ourselves—but,
and think carefully before answering, when was
the last time you marched into your bosses’ office
and told her the company’s investments in the
West Bank, resulting in Palestinians being moved
off their land against their will, were immoral, or even spoke up
to object to the telling of a racist or homophobic
or transphobic joke, or went to an abortion clinic
to stand with women having to brave the pickets
standing in judgment of their need for help,
or if you are a person who considers himself white,
when was the last time you tried to organize your neighbors,
all of whom look like you, into protesting policies
and practices that make black men as many as ten times
more likely to be arrested than you and your friends?

Sin is the great human equalizer
because it comes in so many forms
and maybe the best way to see it is to look
in the mirror, at least to start there as a reminder
that redemption begins at home, that forgiveness
is a gift that keeps on giving, mercy is rarely overdone,
kindness is always appropriate, greed is always wrong
whether it is a brutal taking or a sly shoplift, killing
is at the apex of the index, whether it is one-on-one
or we sit idly as our army kills whether we know
the cause or not, just because someone has told us
it’s them or us.

The truth, God’s truth, is that it is never
them or us, it is always them and us, just us.
The sooner we learn that, the sooner sin
will die a holy and natural death.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . It can be comforting to read scriptural accounts of the failings of others, and to feel sorry for them, or judge them, or both, but in truth what if someone were writing down our acts, or our lack of acting in response to the wrongs we see? How would our story come out? Humility is a good place to live our faith. But boldness, too—when did you last bathe a stranger with your tears?
©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form