Last Days

 

Reflection on the Day of Pentecost, Year A

 

 

Text focus: Acts 2:1-21
Click here for biblical texts

 

 

 

Happy birthday, Church,
we say on Pentecost—
meaning not our local community
but whole Big C,
the Church universal—
but what if Luke in Acts 2,
citing ancestor Joel,
saw a bigger vision
in the tongues, the fire, Holy Spirit
moving, touching everyone,
surging wind filling the whole space
and beyond as crowds gathered
amazed, these devout Jews—
were there only Jews—
from every nation gathered in Jerusalem
for Shavuot, the feast of weeks
fifty days after Passover
and the Resurrection,
how could they all fit in one room
that was intended for disciples
including women of course;
how is violent wind
of many fiery tongues
contained in one room?

Did the walls disappear,
not crashing down
not scaring or hurting people
nor in battle as at Jericho
but vanishing
so that in a twinkling
the room is the world
the street is the room
all open to the divine
swirling in and around them—
all things are possible with God—
so on that day
as on all days
there were no limits
on the Spirit of God
that brooded long ago
on the face of the deep
in the first days.

In the last days God says
I will pour out my Spirit
upon all flesh
young and old all genders
humans of all stations
including those not allowed their God-given freedom,
all flesh, God says—
when does all not mean all,
and if we claim the right to change
the word, to say it is only
people who believe a certain way,
what or who is our authority?

Are we still waiting
or did the last days already come—
has not God poured already
does not God pour every day,
are not all blessed,
and how do we, will we,
you and I, respond?
 

 

About this poem . . . Walls are often necessary, but we also can get stuck behind them. I don’t think God likes many of our walls, so often slipping through them and hoping we do, too. The biggest, hardest walls are, of course, the ones in our heads.
 

©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

 

Standing Up in the Hard Places

Reflection in response to Proper 16, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (focus on Luke: 13:10-17)

Click here for biblical texts

The bent over woman stood up straight, praising God,
when Jesus touched her, erasing her long disfigurement,
and people in the synagogue rejoiced.
Scholars agree Jesus did not violate halakhah,
the compilation of Jewish law governing worship,
even as Luke records objection by the synagogue leader.
Rules often help communities to be strong, orderly,
but leaders, not just in synagogues to be sure,
can confuse order they want with order God wants—
not always the same.  When health, liberation, mercy, are at stake,
as then, like now, the rules enabling those outcomes control.
But do really follow those rules all the time?
If we did, would health care and prisons be run for profit,
would anyone be allowed to carry firearms in school,
would we then allow God’s creation to be spoiled by greed,
dictators to fire poison at their people,
officers to shoot Black men just because they can,
Palestinians to be denied their own true homeland?

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It is tempting to leave Jesus back there in synagogue,
upending the claim of power by the leader,
feeling all righteous, critical, about the leader then,
instead of hearing our Lord here and now, saying
about rules of today, Stop! Indeed laying holy hands
on victims of health care and prison profit rules
so they, and more importantly we, can stand straight
and throw off the tyranny keeping them bent down.
And he, then as now, weeping not only over Jerusalem—
but also the earth despoiled by our careless selfishness,
children at risk in school, brave citizens gassed by their own leaders,
our streets war zones where peace officers shoot first, ask later—
he touches us as he touched the crippled woman
so that finally we can take his power, his love, his peace
from the sanctuary where we too often embalm it
into the world that too is bent over, crippled,
crying out in pain, and need.

There is hope, yes, always hope, but its wealth
cannot be shared if we do not follow him in
breaking the rules of oppression and keeping rules that liberate.
Jesus asks us to go to the hard places, and stand up.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem…..The text does not say it, but the synagogue ruler was probably a Pharisee, and it is so easy to poke not only fun but also righteous judgment at them—forgetting our own Pharisaic ways, and our own resort to rules to keep order rather than freedom and liberation. This incident is not intended to be about people long ago so much as it is a caution to us. Can we overcome rules of today—stuff we breathe so much we cannot see its effect, like thinking “for profit” means better care, that authorities must know what they are doing, that guns save lives, that the survival of one people is more important than the survival of another?

 

©RobinGorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published

Enough Is Enough

Enough is enough calls out the pastor again, again, again,
and the people respond in kind, round by round energy
rising, filling the sanctuary, layers of meaning
from shared history, older ones remembering Jim Crow,
younger ones feeling the endless string of indignities, living while Black,
all knowing that the latest brother gunned while down
could have been their son, their husband, their friend,
brother, neighbor, co-worker, and knowing it is not done,
that after seven years they are amazed the President
of the United States remains alive, while still victim of hate
that spreads across the web, doubting his religion,
even his birth, sure that a Black man cannot be trusted
to do more than loot or sit high in a hazy crack-filled
den or rape bodies of women the haters claim to own.

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Anger rises as tears flow, arms reach to heaven
a blend of righteous indignation and sacred supplication,
the preacher only pausing to catch her breath and renew
the claim on anger that can be turned not inward but out
in constructive action to change the world, undo old ways,
stand together even with white folk who love, care, and weep
in recognition of too long silence helping to create what is now
the crucible of death upon death, blood, more blood flowing,
urban rivers of mothers’ tears exposing like Jesus
on the cross the ugliness of humanity mocking God’s creation,
denying Her love that flows nonetheless with their tears.
Today is the day cries the pastor, today is the day
the people reply, we can do something to change this tortured world,
we have in us the power, God’s power since conception in our mothers’
wombs, and it is time to use it to stop the violence, to get the guns
off the streets, train the cops or remove them if they resist
the simple lesson that dark skin is not the enemy but friend,
neighbor, brother, sister, fellow child of the one and only God.

This has been going on a long time—whether we mean hate
or resistance to hate—and the tide keeps turning for love,
then falls back for hate, rolling to and fro, four hundred plus
years of enslavement first of African folk and now the
many descendants of slavers still chained to ugliness oozing
from every pore, spittle splattering what God intends to be hope,
while others use that hope to change direction, marching together
across the lines for justice, mercy, love.  We have had too much hate
and not enough love, so the pastor calls out, Love Is Love,
and the people respond in kind, in love for love, knowing,
believing in their depths, that it is the only power
to defeat hate. But this love must be more than sweet,
this love must overturn tables too, sometimes interrupting regular worship,
driving merchants of hate from sacred precincts, and back alleys and bayous,
by tidal wave upon tidal wave of love rising, cleansing sin
and the stain of sin from twisted white souls
yearning to be free, and bringing precious divine power
to the disinherited also yearning to be free.  
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom washing over me.  

Enough is enough. Love is love.
Love is enough.
Freedom, oh freedom, freedom washing over all.
Today. Now. Here.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . .Following a week of agony and anger about the killing of two unarmed black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, as well as the killing of police officers in Dallas, and participation at a global church conference at which candidates for church office who are people of color did not generally fare well (with one exception), Rev. Cathy Alexander of Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C., chose to call congregants together Sunday morning to vent their frustration and anger and pain in order to begin a healing process leading to action. This is my take (and solely mine) on the powerful moments.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

Freed for Extravagance

(Lent 5, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

The poor we always have with us,
so God’s truth is:  reach out, feed, house,
clothe, care—but not in tightfisted
begrudging dutiful charity ways,
and certainly not to pretend
poor people alone are to blame
for their reality and we who are not poor
are innocent—embrace God’s beloved,
all of us siblings in the divine family.

Let’s follow Mary at table,  
pouring the gift of our soul—a gift from God—
like cheap wine at a block party
where no one has to worry about driving home,
a fountain of living loving liquid
to quench the dried out hearts
and weary bodies of neighbors in need
of laughter, joy, mountains of love
to feed children’s empty bellies,
to ease pains of living on edge,  
not sure when the next paycheck comes
if it will, or whether there even is a job.

Mary chose expensive ointment, showing
how to value those we love by stretching
beyond the comfortable to extravagance,
doing a new thing dazzling in simplicity,
grace and intimacy, using her own hair
as the agent of anointing, adoration,
and announcement of devotion to Lord Jesus
beyond the well-trod  ways.
Can you imagine presidential candidates
really hugging people, not photo ops,
really listening, not video opportunities,
telling whole truths in love, not advantage
against the other side?
That’s the revolution Mary began
and we are called to continue.

So when will you let your hair down
long enough to bathe your neighbor
and the world in endless pure love,
no conditions, no ugly boundaries
just love, more love still, an extravagance of love?

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

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . The story in John 12 about Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with costly oil and her hair seems to stand in stark contrast to the last line about the inevitability of poor people—at least that is how it has often been interpreted. But what if her actions are the template by which we learn to care for each other, and perhaps especially for the poor?

 

Elder Wisdom

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

Elder wisdom carries authority beyond its years
we sense more than passing of time
deep joyful gravity unafraid to speak whole
a word a paragraph a book to testify when asked or not
it needs to be said I will speak even if forbidden so says
the ancient wise one to remind the rest of us that modern facts
cannot replace aged sagacity to stretch horizons well past prime
time as Simeon and Anna proclaim in the Jerusalem temple
what they see in Jesus circumcised as a boy
the promised Messiah in the flesh before them,
even as our postmodern minds wonder how can they know
such profound spiritual truth from a baby.
How did it come to the gospel writer
Did Mary recount the story later or Dad Joseph
maybe writing it in his baby book Jewish parents recording
Important moments in the life of their precious son
Yes he was a Jewish boy a rabbi teacher
growing up to speak unconventional
ideas. Did he learn to speak power
from Simeon and Anna at eight days
their spirits passed to him through Adonai
touching his soul to grow strong with wisdom
beyond his years the one who did not survive to
elderhood yet touched and spoke as one blessed
beyond all around him with truth alive today
still changing lives upending old ways even as others
use him to enforce their narrow rules.
So we need descendants of Simeon
and Anna elders for this day to speak
breaking open new wisdom wine
that we may drain the cup of truth and live
the love and hope and joy and peace
of God in all we are and do.

©Robin Gorsline2016  lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . Biblical stories sometimes challenge our credulity as people living in the age of science and cynicism, and yet it is not the details that matter so much as the deeper truth. I have known elders who make strong statements about the soul, the future, of young people. Sometimes the prophecies come true, sometimes not. But I have come to trust their knowing even if life, circumstances, outside forces, stand in the way of fulfillment.  

 

 

When Good News Doesn’t Sound So Good

(Advent 3 Year C; please click here for link to the biblical texts)

Advent’s third Sunday known for joy a pink candle
no one told John so he called out the brood of snakes
he saw slithering around claiming holy lives
keeping warm with coats some need more
cheating others of funds bullies for personal gain.
No mincing words still people thronged
wondering who John is and he tells them
I am the harbinger the forerunner of the One who will bless
and baptize and toss into the fire those who fail
to pay attention. This is Good News?
Directions yes but a recipe for happiness not
happiness overrated anyway
Joy is the bigger deal lasting a lifetime no matter
what comes even a crotchety prophet who points
in the right direction we fear to go
sheep bleating stammering backs up
unwilling to be the first to go through the gate
except to buy presents and pretend all is well
while the world continues teetering closer to the edge
of oblivion fail-safe trigger fingers cocked
just in case figures on the chess board bolt their squares.
In God We Trust we say but it is bombs armies soldiers
sailors marines tanks guns generals admirals leaders
who act tough
we trust more
markets tycoons corporations stocks bonds mortgages too
profiting perhaps most of all
But prophetic  preaching
was long ago another time another world
a curiosity in the shop of spiritual memorabilia.
Still he speaks. Will we catch the truth
of joy within bearing salvation fruit to share
with a frightened angry torn weary world
that only knows nine shopping days ‘til Christmas?

©Robin Gorsline 2015 lectionarypoetics.org
Please use the credit line above when publishing this poem in any form