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

Good Morning, God

Reflection on the Third Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

Textual focus: Psalm 116:1; Luke 24:13-35
Click here for biblical texts

 

He always says “Good morning,”  “Good afternoon”
or simple “Hello” as he meets others on walks.
“You never know what someone may want to tell you,
so I like to prepare the way with courtesy and care,”
he said in response to a friend who asked him about his habit.
“It might be Jesus out for a walk, or someone else
God has tapped with a message for me.
Besides,” he continued, “I believe
each of us is created in the image of God,
so when I greet someone I feel I am greeting
part of God. I really appreciate when God answers back.”

“Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus,
you just never know when a conversation
will change your life,” he said. “One thing is sure,
if you don’t engage others,
the conversation will not happen.  I am
not in charge of which conversations
God may use so I try to be open all the time.”

“Here’s the deal,” he said, “we pray
often for God to be present.
I wonder how God feels about that,
when in my experience God
already is here and now, everywhere,
all the time. There is no place, no time, God is not;
I figure my job is to be present,
so God can get through to me
when God wants. I even speak
to some trees, the squirrels, flowers, birds.
You just never know.
Like those disciples, I might get a message
from the food I eat—that’s why I give thanks,
not just physical nourishment
but also spiritual feeding.
Anything, everything, is possible with God.”
 

 

 

About this poem . . . As a boy, I remember wondering what it must have felt like for the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus to be engaged by, and to engage, Jesus. Later, thanks to some wonderful spiritual teachers and moments of my own, I began a lifelong journey into understanding I can experience that closeness, too. I am still learning, and receiving.

 

©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

 

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

Stop!

A Meditation on the Second Sunday of Advent, Year A

 

Focus: Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12
Click here for all biblical texts
 

This strange John arises out of the wilderness
sounding like a crazy man wandering the streets
muttering and yelling incantations
we do not understand, or if we do
not wishing to hear as we bustle to and fro
from work to home to shopping, maybe even a party
where we gather to celebrate the Savior’s birth
with too much food and drink.
He is not Isaiah though he uses the prophet’s words
to declare his mission: big things are coming and the Lord
is on his way!

He is far from the first to proclaim big God news;
Isaiah himself tells us a shoot shall come from the stump
of Jesse and a new branch, a new David, will arise
to change everything, all the predators will cease,
their victims shall not only breathe easy
but all will lie down in peace and plenty,
a glorious vision for humans while undoing animal
ways of survival—and it cannot be disconnected
from Isaiah’s immediately prior verses where stumps
are made by divinity angry at the ruining of life,
the distortion of human relationships, by people
who profess to love God. Cedars of Lebanon
are cut down in response to perfidy by God’s people.

Strange John also points with alarm at the practitioners
of unholy or at least mixed religious rule
and greed for lofty stations based on public pieties
of his day—we might include, as Isaiah does,
those who trample on the economically distressed
and disempowered from their high towers
of privilege and gold-fixtured bathrooms—
even as we pray for the souls of all,
proclaim the coming reign of God. singing
Come, O Come, Emmanuel, ransom captive Israel.

But who is captive? Israel then as now for sure,
to fear of neighbors and desire to stride regionally,
but closer to home are we not captive as well,
enthralled by our own national virtue,
sure of the rightness of our cause
in the world as we bicker and stab each other
at home, unwilling to provide health care for all,
end violence on our streets and campuses by controlling guns
and transforming dead-end lives on mean streets
through shared commitment to the well-being of all,
no matter color, nation, religion, gender and all the rest.

Stop!

Could not this Advent be a time not only to honor
tradition—getting ready in the usual ways
for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, and wise men—
but also to break with tradition and turn the world upside down,
letting our world be turned upside down, inside out,
waiting in hope not for what we want or expect under the tree,
or at the pageant, but being fully open to receiving
what God wants in our lives?
 

 

 

About this poem. . . . The figure of John the Baptizer never quite seems to fit in well-ordered worship; it is often hard enough to domesticate Jesus (but by and large much Christian practice and worship has succeeded all too well), but John really stands out. This is especially so as the stores and the web are alive with shopping deals and catchy, familiar Christmas songs. But the message this Sunday is quite clear and stark: repent and let God have God’s way.
 

 

© Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

Idols of Our Day

A Meditation in Response to Proper 25, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Jeremiah 14:19-22; Luke 18:9-14)

Click here for biblical texts

 
Idols are not always objects.
Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story,
we can bow down before our own attitudes and habits,
seeing only our self-publicity, our own estimation,
or as in his case, and maybe ours,
his righteousness, looking down his patrician nose,
thinking so well of himself that no one else counts
in his endless internal census of who is good and who not.

being-humble-mindbody-core-values
MINDBODY Core Values

We too can assess others based on what they do
for work, what kind of car they drive or home they own
(or don’t), who they are, whom they love, their race,
or where they or their ancestors came from, of course gender,
or gender identity, ability, weight—aah weight!
a whole culture overrun with judging bodies
as fat, old, wrinkled, bad hair, with wrong breast or penis size,
so much judgment!!!!

And yet I know few people who think so highly
of themselves—certainly some in the public eye
come to mind, with egos large enough to fill Yankee Stadium,
and you want to think they are healthy but sometimes
it looks like insecurity more than sanity—most of us
carrying around some sense of inadequacy
induced by Madison Avenue or bullied into us
on playgrounds, in locker rooms or summer camps long ago.

All humans err but few of us want to be reminded
of our sins or these days to so openly declare them
like Jesus’ friend the tax collector; sin such an old-fashioned word
in a world obsessed with tweets, instagrams, selfies, sexting,
and well-rehearsed reality television where confession
is intended to boost ratings and perhaps land
a contract, at least a headline, for the one who tells all.
Now it is Judge Judy absolving or assigning penitential rites.

Still Jesus comes again, reminding us
that simple humility is not only wise
but also divine—even if Caesar and his saplings
of the day jeered as do those now who seek to trump  
common sense and dignity in a sea of denial
masquerading as self-importance and power
believing they now make the rules. If it were only human rules
they might be right, but instead it is a more basic truth:
what is pumped up must sooner or later come down.

About this poem . . . The prophet Jeremiah reminds us again that God’s people are usually in some sort of struggle with God, due to our inability to live fully the lives God has for us. And Jesus, knowing his Jeremiah (and other texts) well, as a good Jew, shares with us a lesson about what it means to be humanly aware of our shortcomings as well as trusting in God’s love. None of us is without shortcomings and none of us is without God’s love.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net