Again

Reflection on Resurrection of the Lord, Year A

 

Text focus: Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24; John 20:1-18
Click here for biblical texts
Jesus Christ is risen today!

We rise to celebrate,
go to church, dinner, parade, egg hunt.
Are we raised, too,
on this New Year’s Day,
life no longer the same,
when we, like him,
have been changed,
given new spiritual garments,
shown new paths
as God’s beloveds
to navigate a world
that acts as if there is no God?

First Apostle Mary Magdalene
hung out at the tomb, waiting—
she feared all was lost
but we know otherwise,
God still active,
Jesus keeps rising,
Holy Spirit moving all the time,
we can miss it if we stop
witnessing, watching,
being open to the latest—
where are we waiting
and what are we waiting for?

Signs of the times were not good then,
not good now, powers of death
and oppression and hate
still strong, maybe stronger
in age of alt-whatever,
but during and after two dinners today—
the open meal in the sanctuary
and the ordinary one at home
or church basement or restaurant—
we can witness, we can follow
Mary as she followed Jesus,
share the good news,
tell the world that life and love
win, as they do when enough people show up
to testify, when we wake up, show up
stand up, act up, live up, speak up
so people still in their tombs,
captive to fear—
including ourselves—
put on the love and hope and power
of God, and go forth singing
Jesus Christ is risen today,
knowing we are raised, we are pulled up,
ready or not we are made new,
again.

 

  

About this poem . . . . Our voices, our spirits, our arms and hearts arc in successive crescendos as we feel the joy of Jesus breaking the bonds of death. It is about him, surely God, as well as Mary and Peter and the others. But it is us, too. I ask myself, how am I changed? Am I changed? Is this the New Year, and will I do better with resolutions—or do I need resolutions? Maybe I just need to listen and follow what I hear.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

What Have We Learned?

Reflection on Good Friday, Year A

 

Textual Focus: Psalm 22; John 18:1-19:42
Click here for biblical texts
 

 

When I was a boy in a small town
40 miles northwest of Detroit
I asked my Dad, “Why are stores closing at noon today?”
He told me it was because Jesus was killed.
I cried.
I loved Jesus.
We went to church and cried together.

Not so many stores close today, even then
the South Side Grocery on the wrong side of town
did not close. Years later, as a teen,
at noon on the day Jesus died,
I helped Dad clean out an apartment
when the tenant left unexpectedly;
new renters were due later that day.
I felt ashamed—we were on Main Street
with our truck loading trash for the dump
while Jesus was dying, and good people
were with him (a few people drove by,
they were not with Jesus either,
and did not seem bothered to see us).
Were we like disciples who disappeared—
maybe they had work to do at home
or needed to fix their nets and boats?

A body will be struck down as I write
and as you read this meditation.

What if we sat in church, or even home or a park,
by ourselves or with others,
three hours every time someone in our town,
or  Jerusalem and the West Bank, Chicago or Ferguson,
Syria or South Sudan, dies
a violent, avoidable, death, every time a child
dies of malnutrition, starvation, in a world
with enough food for all,  
every time a refugee is shot
struggling to get to a land where they can breathe?

We don’t have to wear church clothes,
just sit, and ask forgiveness.
Nothing else would get done. We’d be sitting all the time
no sleep, no reading, no eating, nothing but sitting,
praying, mourning the dead,
and our failure to stop the killing.

What have we learned
since Jesus and two others 
were hung out to die?  
 

About this poem . . . I will sit quietly in this space today.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

On Our Feet

 

Reflection on Holy Thursday, Year A

 

Textual Focus: Exodus 12:1-14; John 13:1-17
Click here for biblical texts
 

Moses told the Hebrews to prepare
for their journey of liberation by eating
prescribed food and marking their doors
with the blood of lamb on which they feasted.
They set off, on foot,
through desert and sea
to and throughout the land promised by God.  

The ancients  used their feet, just as we do—
dirty, calloused, twisted, arthritic, gnarled, hard or soft,
massaged with oil, too, sweet scented or not,
smelly sweaty feet common—
all sorts and conditions of human feet.
on journeys called by God.

Now here is something very strange: 
Rabbi Jesus wants to wash our feet —
even Peter’s, who, of course, objects as he always does.
Is there ever a time when there is not
at least one Peter in the group,
one long ago offended by the idea
of his Lord stooping to wash feet,
like today’s recoiling at showing
the imperfection of feet, even more
at being asked to touch others’?

Today, on Passover, Jews everywhere,
believers or not, gather to share bitter herbs,
unleavened bread, greens, haroset, and lamb or substitute.
Most Christians avoid Jesus
when it comes to feet. Strange.
So many ask, “What would Jesus do?”
How about: what he did?
Just not with feet.

A preacher said, “Jesus touched his heart
and there was healing in his hands.”
I want healed feet
for miles ahead, years, I pray,
of journeying with God. I need strong, resilient feet
empowered to support journeys from my Egypts
to new worlds promised again and again.
I want company, too, I can’t make it alone.
Let me bless yours with living water, sacred touch,
our Jesus feet guiding us all the way together.  
 

 

 

About this poem . . .Every year on Holy Thursday, I am deeply moved by the washing of feet. It is such a humble act—to allow my feet to be washed and to wash others’—so like Jesus to assume the role of servant and invite us to do the same. The invitation, I hear command, is to be agents of healing and to allow ourselves to be healed by the human touch of others.
 

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

Blessed Are the Ones

Reflection on Palm Sunday, Year A

 

Textual focus: Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29; Matthew 21:1-11
Click here for biblical texts
 

We say each week in church
“Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.”
Who do we mean? Are we thinking of Jesus
riding on the donkey in Jerusalem
or our pastor, preacher, other spiritual leader?
Or ourselves? Could we be the ones who are blessed
to come in the name of God?

When the alarm goes off in the morning,
do we come to in the name of God?
Pee and shower in the name of God,
eat breakfast, get dressed, go to work,
lunch, the store, return home, eat dinner,
bathe the children, tuck them in,
watch television, read the paper or our book,
have sex, go to sleep, in the name of God?

The crowds acclaimed the Son of Daivd
as he rode the donkey walking on their cloaks
and branches, a peoples’ carpet—
believing he was their champion
in the face of domination by Rome
and distance from religious authorities.
Today, without fanfare, in terror
of what lies behind and perhaps ahead,
refugees flee the devastation of war,
extremism, chemicals, poverty,
maybe all of the above,
Blessed are the ones who come,
claiming in Jerusalem and elsewhere
power that resists fear,
breaks institutional barriers,
defies narrowness, all in the name
of the God of of holiness everywhere,
in everyone.

Who knows what will happen—a dead body
hanging from a tree or lying on a street or the desert
with a chest full of bullet holes,
or sex work or drug-running for a pimp,
or maybe,
just maybe, a new life, dignity,
deepening of soul connection,
new love or better job,
appreciation by others for gifts
freely shared in sacred communion.

Whatever.
Blessed are the ones
who come,
and go,
in the name of God.  
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .It is easy to read or listen to this familiar story and see Jesus, the donkey, the disciples, the crowds, and to wave our own branches (although I have not seen coats laid on the ground), and feel good. But what about today? What are we doing that might cause others to see God riding or walking or loving or speaking in and/or through us? And do we allow ourselves to see, to experience, the blessing of ordinary, as well as extraordinary, others who come in the name of God?
 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Stay Open

Reflection for the 4th Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

Textual focus: John 9:1-41
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

A person need not be born blind
to not see; it happens all the time,
those sure of Earth’s flatness,
slavery ordained by God,
women unfit to lead.
Just last week I ran a stop sign
I did not see, and before that
I knew beyond all doubt
the name of that tune
I hummed most of my life—
too bad I lost the bet.

Those born blind do not not see,
drawing on different methods  to perceive
–like butterflies and bees with acuity 
of color more nuanced than ours–
what we with working eyes often miss.
Always tempting to make fun
of Pharisees not seeing
the truth of Jesus right in front of them,
but if fast-melting Arctic ice
and destruction of Great Barrier Reefs
cannot convince us something is wrong
with the planet what good
will new glasses do?

Facts are hard to see
when we don’t want to see them,
when by the ways of the world,
some things are not seen—
white people not seeing Black lives
that matter—and others magnified
by repetition and conventional wisdom
into sacred texts—our nation right or wrong.
Everyone knows are dangerous words,
a Ph.D. does not protect us from ignorance
any more than a creed built by humans
or certainty about the truth of holy writ.
Even Jesus failed to see the woman of Canaan,
confusing her with a dog.

How many ways of seeing are there?
Stay open.
 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This familiar story is both inspiring and troubling. Pharisees are again blinded by their ideological prism and Jesus does what seems a good thing anyway. Yet, is there not also a presumption that being without the use of one’s eyes is a condition that needs correction—a burden so heavy that it must be lifted by divine agency? I admit to not wanting to lose my eyesight, and yet people without it perceive reality I never know.
 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Give Me a Drink

Reflection on the 3rd Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; John 4:5-42
Click here for biblical texts
 

 

Water is soft except when frozen;
hearts, too, locked into hate and fear,
blocked from openness by judgment,
anger, othering.  Soft walls do not exist,
hot or cold, except for Hebrews
marching between watery walls
to escape Pharaoh.

Only way to overcome hardness
of a wall is to climb over or go around,
cut a doorway through.  When people
want to keep others out they build a wall,
but it is not easy to wall up the river
that runs between them;
water still flows somewhere,
maybe even drowning those
who built the wall. Pharaoh knew about
being overwhelmed by water
and Moses followed God’s direction
to strike the rock at Horeb
so water flowed  and people drank.

Jesus was thirsty, probably still is,
not for water, but for us,
wanting more connection.
So much life flows from times spent with him,
but I forget he sits nearby,
ready for me to ask.
I wonder how often he has said
to me, give me a drink,
and I, unlike the Samaritan woman,
neither hear nor reply.
Is the wall around, or in, me
higher, harder, than the one
built by the enmity
between her people and his?
 

 

About this poem . . . We focus often on how Jesus, despite his statement about the superiority of Jewish belief, spoke so openly with the woman of Samaria, and she with him. He did, with her cooperation, cross the historical boundary erected long before. What I have often missed, however, is how that crossing came, how the wall was breached, as the result of a simple request for a drink of water.  
 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2017 faithfulpoetics.net

 

Commitment

 

Reflection on the 2nd Sunday in Lent, Year A

 

Textual Focus: John 3:1-17
Click here for biblical texts

 
Two men sit quietly,
knowing God is present,
one seeking to better understand the other,
wanting a companion on the journey into deeper truth,
beginning, building, a relationship
laden with meaning and possibility.

Sitting with Jesus can yield such gifts,
man or woman or in between makes no difference.
He loves all, especially those who seek,
yearn, remain open to the more
that lies ahead and is already deep inside
when we listen, and touch soul to soul.

One who sat was Nicodemus,
acknowledging the power of the Galilean
while unsure of his teaching or mission.
I know many like him, I am often one myself,
claiming to follow and love, at least respect,
but failing to commit.

To commit is to change, to put one thing
ahead of what was first,
God ahead of mammon,
truth over alternate fact,
love in place of hate,
rebirth replacing lazy, long dying.

Jesus wants me to nurture the seed
planted in the womb of my soul
and to help others do the same,
all sprouting and growing
into the vibrant forest of humanity
God planted in Eden long ago.

This one immortally mortal man
was and is our oak, a model forest
in himself for us, the one whose fallen,
tortured body Nicodemus blessed
with spices even if he could not
walk the walk.

God asks us for more
because there is always more from God,
but heaven rejoices no matter how large
or small is the testimony of our lives,
especially when we choose to sit quietly
and keep trying to commit.

 
About this poem . . . A Sunday School teacher told me long ago that Nicodemus is one of the “good Pharisees,” meaning, I think, that he was shown actually listening to and talking with Jesus one-on-one, not trying to trap Jesus into betraying himself or his mission. Of course, he did later advise his colleagues to give Jesus a fair hearing and then showed up with holy spices to bless Jesus’ mangled body. But he is often pictured as a foil for Jesus, a prop for Jesus’ teaching, especially the beloved phrase about God giving his only Son (is Jesus really God’s only son?). I wonder if it might be more profitable to see the humility and openness of Nicodemus as a model for us.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

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