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Reflections on Proper 7, Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year A

 

 

Textual focus: Jeremiah 20:7-13, Matthew 10:24-39
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

He was raking in 10 million
in leanest years, celebrated
for Midas ways with stocks,
his counsel sought by all
who wanted more and more
even as he felt less and less,
waking at night with scenes
of gaunt-faced children watching him
as he ate at Sardi’s and the White House.
He cried, he prayed, went to church every day,
gave away millions to hungry kids everywhere ,
still the money piled up
mocking his nightmares, misery and guilt.

Hurrying from one meeting to the next,
he heard a street evangelist quoting Jesus,
“Those who find their life will lose it,
and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
He was stopped, unable to move,
I want to lose this life—the voice sounded like his—
no more capital gains
no house in the Hamptons
no private jet.
He cried, right on Wall Street.
People stared, others averting their gaze,
most kept their distance as he tore
at his Armani uniform
thrusting his coat, then his tie, shirt, shoes, pants
at gaping tourists and brokers,
“I don’t need these, please take them, in the name of God,”
he said, and hearing himself thought,
where did that come from? Who said that?

He looked around, as if seeing the street
for the first time,
now knowing what he had to do.
He remembered hearing a preacher say
following a divine call is rarely easy,
Jeremiah and Jesus surely knew,
friends and family, authorities too
turn away, turn against,
the loneliness can overwhelm
even in the embrace of God.

But he felt raised up, resurrection-like,
his mind racing, his heart at peace,
beat of new life beckoning him
to become a disciple, a student
of the Lord, gentle Jesus whom he knew also said
some hard either/or words
about not bringing peace
setting children against parents
foes arising in the household
hierarchies of teachers above disciples
seeming normal
but masters over slaves grate against modern ears
can we love Jesus more than mother and father,
what about God?

He thought, I love God most of all,
and I want to serve with Jesus and the Holy Spirit;
this is my ‘I can’t not do it moment’
I heard my pastor describe, when he knew
he was called to share the Good News:
God’s total, unending, unconditional love.

Naked as Francis long ago,
he saw the church and went inside
to pray and to listen
for further instruction.

 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem. . . So many of the really cool people in the Bible show us that following God is not a necessarily smooth way, that the challenges can be huge, daunting .  Upending a life is best done with divine direction and that can come in all sorts of ways to all sorts of people. Jeremiah and Jesus, two prophets who had hard things to say because they listened so carefully to God, surely must have felt, from time to time at least, why me? Of course, God’s answer to them, as to us, is, who else?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2015 FaithfulPoetics.net

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

What Is the Reign of Christ?

Reflection in response to Proper 29, Reign of Christ, Year C

Click here for biblical texts
(Luke 1:68-79 and Luke 23:33-43)

 

What is the reign of Christ?
Surely not some royal court where he dispenses favors
at a whim, pointing a bejeweled finger
here, then there, to the delight of the crowd,
the retinue of those dependent on royal favor.
This is Jesus we are talking about,
the one who walked and talked with sinners, sex workers,
loan sharks and tax collectors, diseased folk
dreaded by all the good people,
and those cast aside for the color of their skin,
the one whom Zechariah prophesied
would give salvation to his people by the forgiveness
of our sins, to give light to those who sit
without the benefit of knowledge, to guide us
in the way of peace, the one who forgave
his tormenters at Golgotha,
who refused to play the games of Rome, and
told his fellow convict, as he tells us,
today you will be with me in paradise.

jesus-with-two-disciples-bfmindia-blogspot-com
bfmindia.blogspot.com

This is the one I know as Brother, Friend, and Lord,
who calls me to stand with the sojourner
in our land, and feed the hungry, comfort widows,
sit gently and lovingly with children,
stand against injustice wherever I find it—
and I find it many places
so what he asks is not to bow down but
to be brave and speak the truth with persistent  love—
trusting I am not alone, we are not alone.
In this day of troubles,
He knew such troubles—which is why
I trust him with my life—and now he shows
us to walk the walk as we talk the talk,
to listen to the depths of each other,
not just those we like but those we are trained to hate,
speak from our sacred souls more than our fear,
to create on earth the heaven as God intends
for all God’s people, their particular faith not counting
as much as their humanity, the participation
in the life of the divine family.

You may think I blaspheme
when I say I have two Jewish men in my life,
my husband and my Lord,
and with me they make a holy threesome—
oh, yes, only one of us is perfect,
and we fail him far too often—
but he helps us get up and move forward,
indeed my earthly partner who goes to temple
loves him some Jesus even though
he does not follow as I do,
but then I go to temple too
and find much truth about the Lord
I love, and seek to serve, among his own people,
ones he loves with all his heart as he loves
us who turned away from them, maligning the very ones
he came to serve and save.

This reign is one of joy and love, justice and truth,
peace and plenty for all,
so we may live out loud
as God intends.
Praise be to God!

 
About this poem . . . . What used to be called Christ the King Sunday is now the Reign of Christ. I appreciate the effort to undo some of the earthly trappings of royalty so that now we can remember, and love and serve, the one who never claimed any office but teacher and fellow-traveler on the dusty, difficult roads of life. This poem evokes the truth of my life that it took two Jewish men, my Lord and my Jonathan, to get me to accept the call of God on my life, so that today I know this paradise about which Jesus told the robber hanging with him—the blessed land of walking with him every day, no matter what troubles beset me, beset all of us, in this place we call Earth.

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Go Well into the Good Night

Reflection in response to Proper 27, 25th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17; Luke 20:27-38)

Click here for biblical texts

 

Sing to God a new song because of the marvelous things
God has done! The psalmist often plays this tune and Jesus
repeats it, too, especially when skeptics try to use
what they believe are settled Mosaic axioms to trap him
in embarrassment. Jesus is too wily to be trapped
because he refuses to be locked behind boundaries
set by his critics and by ancient texts of which they claim to be
the sole interpreters.

night-road-pinterest
pinterest.com

Sadducees not alone; other people, even ourselves,
spouting things we have been taught and accept without question,
trying to maintain control of our lives and maybe others,
too, even when they, we, have no evil intent. Others
use intimidation, base intent, to squelch those
they hate, burning Black churches in Mississippi,
erecting walls to keep Mexicans and Palestinians out,
police shooting unarmed men first, checking, asking, later.

Jesus knows we are free in God, not to abuse others or God
or do evil; but God likes free thinkers,
people faithful enough to trust God’s love does not
depend on their parroting human doctrines and judgments.
Seven dead husbands/brothers, one wife, no child—they become,
if flesh and blood or not, the center of an argument
whose purpose is to entangle Jesus and his hearers,
endless hairsplitting as if the point of religion is debate.

Yet discussion is good, even debate, about important stuff,
deep enough issues to really matter in people’s lives,
soulful digging into the ground of all being.
Trouble is too often debaters think someone has to win,
and someone lose. Religion is not free from politics
inside itself, jockeying for human advantage in the name of God,
the search for truth used to create disadvantage
for those with whom we disagree.

Before Catholics were Sadducees, before Protestants Pharisees,
religious people always dividing into groups to be sure
the right side wins. Yet the main response from Jesus
to the provocation about divorce and afterlife
is that God is not God of the dead but of the living,
saying arcane and yet important arguments
over points of doctrine and practice matter less
than trusting God to orient our lives.

Predictions of the Lord’s return just that,
no more, hopeful guesses perhaps sincerely arrived at
and intended, yet merely claims of insider knowledge
about an event of which we can know little.
Our real task is to wait and be ready
for whatever God has in store, our faith to trust
God and go forward whether we know the actual way
or not, traveling mercies being God’s specialty.

We can go well into the good night, singing a new song
not only for what God has done
but also for what God is doing, and will do.

 
About this poem . . .  Doctrinaire believers are nothing new, and they generally are sincere in believing what they profess. At the same time, the debates can so often become like erecting walls to keep some in and others out, perfecting points to demolish one’s opponents, or at least attempting to make them look foolish or uninformed or ignorant. In the record we have, Jesus was deft in deflecting others who seemed to want to trap him, without demeaning them. It is a skill many of us could learn more fully. It probably begins with an admission that what we believe is, at best, a partial truth, God being far bigger than all of us combined.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Always More with God

Reflection in response to Proper 26, 24th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Isaiah 1:10-18 and Luke 19:1-10)

  Click here for biblical texts

 
Isaiah starts in chapter one telling the Israelites
how little God values their sacrifices, they really
get under the divine skin, creating holy heartburn.
The prophet reminds them God wants justice:
Do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend orphans,
plead for the widow. Don’t waste time, energy on empty
rituals, focused on obeying rules. Show up
where needed, be ready for divine presence at all times
especially when, like Zacchaeus, you catch a glimpse.
Always want more, eager to see and to receive,
because with God there always is more, never less.
Sometimes you have to climb up to get a good view,
one reason God creates trees is so that we can
see above the crowds, past the human barriers.

zacchaeus-in-the-tree-prayer-bracelet-com
prayer-bracelet.com

Desire to see God, to be with God,
is an attribute, an attitude, a precondition and an outcome of faith.
In parts of the world going to church, temple or mosque
because you want to be with God
and others who love and want to serve God
can cause trouble in your life, even serious injury
or death. In other places, some people will be angry
if you try to come to church because you are viewed
as irredeemably sinful. Don’t come here with your filth,
they say! Sometimes, as happened with Jesus and Zacchaeus,
people grumble when you hang out with the wrong sort
at church or anywhere, or as happens today
when the wrong people—maybe immigrating “bad hombres”
or Black men wearing hoodies—walk or move
into “our” not their neighborhood,  
want their kids to attend “our” not their school,
to disrupt our children’s opportunities in the Ivy League.

Jesus says he came to seek out and save the lost.
But who is lost? Was Zacchaeus, even though he wanted
to see who Jesus was and gave away much
of his ill-gotten wealth—if he was lost, he surely now
is saved. What about the grumblers? A woman
told a pastor she would no longer come to
church because they had sinners serving communion.
The pastor replied that he did not know who else to ask;
besides, he said,  if sinners were excluded then he too
would have to step aside.

 
About this poem . . . Christians struggle today, as always, with the competing demands of religious perfectionism in ritual and other practices versus enacting justice within the church, in society, even in the family.  Isaiah’s remonstrance to Israel rings very clearly today. And Zacchaeus is a wonderful role model for faithfulness, not so much because he gave away so much money but because he climbed a tree to see Jesus. Would we bestir ourselves from our television if Jesus came to town? Or would we go to a neighboring church if he went there rather than showing up at ours?

 

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

God Is Ringing the Bell

Message shared at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C. on October 16, 2016

Lectionary Texts: Genesis 32:22-31, Psalm 121, Luke 18:1-8

You can read the message below, and you can listen to it here

I remember wrestling once, perhaps twice or more, in middle school
gym class, not really knowing the rules, certainly
having little athletic skill of any sort—
but I remember how intimate it was, how my opponent,
my partner, and I touched each other a lot, really all over.
I think of this when I hear of Jacob wrestling,
wondering what it would feel like to be that close
to God, to feel God’s muscles, God’s head, hair and beard,
God’s feet and legs and hands and arms,
to smell God’s sweat, to  hear God’s grunts and groans,
even gastric retorts up close and personal.

Jacob is in such an intimate encounter—we must
remember he is on his way to what could be a life-giving
or death-dealing meeting with his estranged
brother Esau, the brother he wronged, the brother
whose forgiveness he seeks as his knees knock
and heart beats in fear–what if Esau attempts to kill him
in revenge—so it is an emotional time, Jacob
has left his herds and servants and family and he is now
alone, in the dark, and a man appears.
Is it Esau, also separated from herds, servants, family,
or is it a robber? We must remember that although
we know it is neither, Jacob did not. Have you
been in the dark, perhaps in wilderness, alone,
as I have, hearing strange noises, wondering if
someone unknown was there, or a wild beast? 
Would you be afraid? Yes? I was.

Jacob does not back away, they wrestle,
he and this unnamed man.
We do not know how long
they grasped and grunted and grimaced,
first one on top, then the other, rolling
on the hard ground, seeking the advantage,
losing it, gaining it. How many times
one was on top, then the other, we do not know,
all we know is that as rosy fingers of dawn
creep forward, he who started things
asks to be released. Did that mean Jacob had won,
or only that the other wanted to stop? Jacob had
endured that is true, yet his adversary, his partner,
struck him, at the hip socket, some translations say he “wrenched”
and others he “touched” him but whatever
the action, Jacob’s hip is dislocated and he walks on with a limp.

There is no trip to the ER or urgent care, no call
to security, only Jacob asking for a blessing from the contender
before he will release him. Jacob readily supplies his name—somehow we think
the man must have known without asking—and is told
his name is now changed, no longer Jacob (‘heel grabber” for
his long-ago animus toward Esau)
but “Israel,” “overcomer of God,
because you have wrestled with both God and mortals, and you
have prevailed.” Prevailed, meaning  Israel,
the one formerly known as Jacob, did not lose.

More, he realizes he has done as Moses did,
he has looked on the face of God
and survived, more than that he has been blessed.  
In this case, God has taken human form
to engage a flawed human named Jacob, a man God had already blessed
despite misbehaviors, a man God wants to continue
to show up and serve God, and to serve and lead God’s people.
Here’s some good news my friends:
God shows up, one way or another, because God
wants us to do the work of God.
You might think that God lost this match;
I think instead God chose to stop because once again God
had taken measure of this man Jacob, who did not let God down,
who stayed the course, who wrestled mano a mano,
and when his adversary said “Enough,”

Jacob was clear whose blessing he wanted.
God is big enough to lose, or seem to lose, and will do anything necessary
to help us stay our godly course.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

I don’t know about you, but I have wrestled a few times
with God. Oh not hand to hand exactly, but surely mind to mind,
heart to heart; I have protested, I have tussled, I have argued,
and cursed, said “No” more times than I want to admit. And God
has let me survive, even prevail. God has asked to be released,
recognizing I think because God knew further contest
would not serve any purpose then, and has blessed me
even when I did not ask. And I know God has
blessed you even when you did not ask. Just like me.
God does it all the time.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

But here is another truth. God would like to wrestle more
with me, with you. In fact, God’s mat is all set up
and the bell ready to be rung,
waiting for me, for you, for us, to care enough,
to love enough, to doubt enough, be scared enough,
to be angry enough, be bold enough,
to go mano a mano, faced to face,  with God.
I continue to learn that God taps me
on the shoulder all the time, pokes at me,
tries to get my attention, even tackles me;
but I am expert at ignoring these
divine provocations. God does not cause
bad things to happen to us, any of us, but
I will tell you this: God enters the fray
as soon as something does, hoping we will engage.
Indeed, I know that when I get angry
and say something nasty to God,
God gets this big ole smile and just says, bring it on!
Come on, Robin, come at me! Talk to me, baby,
curse me if you want, lay a hand on me, let’s get it on,
let’s wrestle until I know you know, my beautiful, blessed child,
that I care, I love, you so much I will spend my whole night,
even days if I must, rolling around on hard, unforgiving, ground
just to get your attention, just to leave you my blessing.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

Jesus knew about this, I suspect Jesus had plenty
of matches with God, in fact, I think Jesus wrestled his
way into what our ancient teachers called the Trinity.
I know he and I have had a few encounters,
along with the Holy Spirit. We have all rolled around
more than once, and often it happens when I feel certain
I know where I am going, or gotten into a rut
where I refuse to see any alternatives,
and then one of them shows up—or sometimes
I think all three of them come by, knowing I am that far
off course—and they wrestle me to the ground
and we go at it. I remember Jesus’ parable  
about the woman endlessly pressing the judge
to pay attention, to grant her enough dignity to not only hear
her plea but also grant her justice. Would that some
of his political descendants now could learn
that the righteous don’t give up, not if we
are paying attention to the divine power
at work in ourselves and that same power
that is always right at our side, on our shoulder,
whispering in our ear, grabbing our hand,
even sometimes giving us a punch in the gut.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

Oh, let me be clear about something very important:
This is God who is on the move
not the God who is locked up in a book
where so many want to keep Her, or Him,
whatever name you wish to say for God,
or the God whom preachers tell you is unchanging,
stuck up in the sky in some never, never land,
that if we are really, really good, I mean extra good,
we may meet in some distant time of which only they know  the date– 
indeed the God who met Jacob, now Israel, is the same God
who later told King David he did not need a palace,
was perfectly happy to stay in the tent so he could
move around with all the beloveds, on the ground,
in the ‘hood, with folks, right beside and among them,  
enjoying the intimacy of dear friends and neighbors.

Don’t forget, our help, our help comes from God.

See, I lift my eyes to the hills—and into the valleys,
and I lower them to my feet, all the places God is,
from where my help comes, help that comes
from God, the One who made and makes
heaven and earth and all in between, God
who will not let our footsteps slip, will not
wipe us out in a wrestling match, the One
who never sleeps and thus can be found on the shore
of the Yabbok River and the Potomac and the Nile
and the Yangtze and the James and the Seine,
wherever and whenever we are, Guardian
of Israel who reminds us that each of us
has a special name in God’s family roster,
God whose scrapbooks are overflowing with Polaroids
and selfies and even videos that God shows proudly
to all who will let the divine pride be expressed—
have you ever heard God say, “Look at this picture
of Robin, isn’t that just the most precious thing
you ever saw?”—God who blesses us again and again
with purpose and mission, God who shades us
when the glare of evil, indignity, inequality, greed, and hate
threaten to drown us in shame and despair,
God by our side so the ugliness does not overpower us
whether by day or night, God who guards us from harm,
who guards our lives and the lives of all, guards our leaving and our
coming back, now and forever……

Provided, my friends, we let God do it.

See, that is our power, we have the power to say no,
and if you are like me, you do it all the time,
maybe not in so many words,
but by failing to engage. God wants us. Oh God wants us,
not just to sit with God, not even to listen to God—
although listening is a very good thing and we need to do more—
but God wants us to take God seriously enough
to engage, to wrestle, to push back, to argue.
God does not so much want obedience—God is
not, never has been, a tyrant, God does not want
to trump our souls or make us grovel, God wants us
to stand up, knowing from whence our help comes,
and trusting in that help to be bold and daring
and loving and audacious, to let ourselves, our very names,
our souls, our hearts and minds, be changed,
to be changed over and over, because like Jacob we are not perfect;
when we  trust enough to face our flaws  we become willing,
despite our fears, and all the fearmongering around us,
to go on tour with God and the whole wrestling team
of angels and Jesus and the Holy Spirit, facing forward,
to do justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Because, in case you have forgotten, our help, our help, comes from God!

I don’t know about you, but my card is full, actually
two cards are full, my dance card, God’s one hot dancer—
but that’s another sermon—and my wrestling card.
I hope you are blessed that way, too.
Actually I know you are. So what are we waiting for?
God is ringing the bell. Let’s get it on!

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