I See the Promised Land

Sermon preached at
Open Door Metropolitan Community Church, Boyds, MD
January 15, 2017
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A
Martin Luther King Sunday

Audio version available from the church; click here

The story is that the Hebrews wandered forty years
in the wilderness before they crossed into land
promised to them by God.
The prophet Isaiah claims he was called before he was born,
the divine inheritance present at the moment of his conception
and thereafter at his core without loss or interruption
even as he, like us, fell short in his servanthood. Like Isaiah,
we have been shaped and polished to be God’s help as God
has been our help in ages past and our present and future hope
without end, world without end.

Wandering likely seemed endless to these Hebrews,
and we know they grumbled
and acted out against Moses and God.
To me that seems a lot like what is going on in our nation today—
people tired of feeling left behind by those seeming to have
everything they want, denied by fate
of being born in the wrong place or by the wrong parents
from the wrong country or color or loving the wrong person
or living as the usually subordinated gender
or choosing your correct gender while being denied by others
who think you don’t know your own soul and body,
or maybe people who feel left behind
because the job they thought to have forever
is now gone and they can’t find a new one that pays
nearly enough, or things they were taught to believe
about who is good and who is bad
or what behavior is acceptable and what is not,
no longer seem to be the law of the land
let alone the ironclad rules of civilization.

Still the space for these Hebrews was not all that big
and sometimes it seems hard to believe they wandered so long.
But don’t we all do that, at least time to time,
wander around and around in the same space of our minds, sometimes
even of our jobs or social life, maybe even our nation, thinking that somehow, sometime,
things will change? But they never seem to change the way we want and need
and pretty soon we despair—that can
feel like 40 years when it lasts a day or a week or a year or even longer,
and some of us have wandered for 40 or more years
only to wake up and see the promised land in twilight years,
at least then it is not too late.
I did not know I was wandering for more than 40,
call it 50 to keep it simple, but now I see the promised land,
 indeed I am in it.

But some people never get there,
despair going bone deep, and more,
and then someone speaks up, naming our grievance, or maybe
saying something ugly one time too many and someone else goes off,
yelling and making threats, maybe shaking fists
or shooting at someone or arguing with an angry cop,
pretty soon the cops are shooting,  
there are headlines and accusations and bodies, too often dead ones,
people march, protesting the killing, while others
defend the cops; the arguments go on and on,
where it will end nobody knows.

That’s the scariest part, nobody knows…..
or maybe more scary is that many seem to know
but we don’t agree on where we are, let alone where are going
and certainly not where we need to go.
So as a people we wander
even if our own lives feel good,
because the larger picture produces fear and even anger
and tweets and headlines and angry social media exchanges,
and family dinners which are very tense if they still happen at all.
We are no longer in Egypt, or have we returned to it . . .
or maybe we still are, having never really left?
Even so, many of us claim our land is the one promised
by God to our ancestors long ago
but of course others know it as land taken from their ancestors
by ours, and still others as land to which their ancestors were dragged
against their will—and yet, and yet,
we all love it one way or another,
even as we seem to wander, even despair.

In less than one week there will be a new leader
of this wandering band in which we have membership—some
may see a Moses, others a Pharaoh, few are without opinions;
unlikely anyone sees this leader as much likethe one
whose name and memory and sainthood we honor today.

But perhaps that one, that king of hope and truth and love,
has guidance for us? He knows about difficult days,
he knows what it means to have your spouse and children
threatened in your own home, what it is to
comfort the parents of little girls killed in a church
bombing, what it feels like to watch friends and allies
beaten and hosed by thugs playing cop;  he knows about serving
jail time.
He also knows glory,
honored with a Nobel prize, confidant and prodder of Presidents,
praised abroad as well as home, people hanging on his every word.
God called him up the mountain, allowing him to look over.
He saw the promised land.
He knew he might not get there with us,
and yes an assassin’s bullet stopped his journey.

But that ugly shot did not stop ours.
He told us so, he told us that we will get there,
we will get to the promised land.
We know, as he may have intuited but not known for sure,
that he told us that glorious truth the night before that bullet
struck him down, not unlike Jesus who fed his companions
the night before his death upon the cross.
Both knew, as we must know, too, that death is not the end,
that no mere human act or construction, no matter how dire,
no matter how much it threatens to undo our liberty
or strike against human dignity or knock down one group
to raise another or abuse the bodies of those less powerful
or deny basic care to those in need, none of it
ever spells the end, nor should it create such despair in us
that we cannot go forward, that we feel paralyzed in fear
any more than others who celebrate what we fear
can believe that claims by any person to know more
than all others about important matters make it so.

I see the promised land.
You can see it too. We are reunited there
with each other every time we gather at this table
to share in the holy meal or at a potluck,
and with others every time
we pray for and visit the sick
or spare some change or a dollar
with a street person or speak up against ugly talk
aimed at others or write a letter to the editor
or even call or tweet our leaders to stand
not for themselves but for justice and wholeness,
indeed every time we stand not just for ourselves
but all those in need, every time we not only pray
to end world hunger but also actually feed a
malnourished child down the street or in Africa or Gaza
or put our arms around a wounded friend
or even stranger or take the hand of someone
afraid to march for justice so both of us can join
a happy, determined throng.
Oh, this promised land is right here, right now,
my friends! Don’t we know? Have we not been told?
Did the prophets not tell us? Did not Jesus make it clear?
Did not the evangelist tell us what the Baptizer proclaimed,
Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?
Have we not been baptized, like John baptized Jesus
in the Jordan?

Do we have to go on living in the sin already taken away?
No!
Will we?
Yes, of course, we are human and fallible.
But do we need to stay stuck there every time we fall into it?
No!!!
The healing of God never dies, the love of Jesus never ends,
the hope of the Holy Spirit lives forever, right here, right now,
and we can dwell in the House of God forever,
world without end.

But we are going to have to let go of the fear that others
will ruin it, that any election, that any stock market up or down,
any war, any law or proclamation of official ugliness,
any pronouncement by legitimate or illegitimate authority
will end it all—all of that has power yes, but it is not ever
the biggest power, unless we let it be so.

I see the promised land right here, right now, with you,
in this lovely building on this beautiful land,
and later today I will see it in the old converted garage
that is MCC Baltimore in the midst of a storied city
struggling to keep body and soul together,
and later tonight back in my cozy little
Depression-era co-op home in Greenbelt,
because everywhere is the promised land
when we learn to see it and treat it that way,
trusting God to always be on the move
and the lookout for us, always desiring
our highest and best as God knows and defines it,
telling us again and again that we are God’s beloved,
that everyone is God’s beloved without exception,
the ones we fear as well as the ones we love,
the ones who hurt us and the ones who help us,
all children of divinity and grace
even when they or we or all of us together screw things up.

It’s not too late. We are not done, and more, God is not done,
God is not done with us. It is never too late with God–that is what
makes God, God. She, or He, or They, refuse, despite ancient testimonies
to the contrary, to give up on us, you and me, too, and the others,
even those whose agendas seem foreign and evil.
No one is a hopeless case with God, and if we claim
to follow God, to love God, then we will make that our truth,
our way of life, too. We will not stop looking, and like the disciples
of John we will ask, where are You staying—
to which Jesus always answers if we listen—
and like them as well, we will go and see and know, we will go and see and know
the beauty of the promised land and the promised people,
we will not stop listening and we will hear the love song
of the promised land and its people,
and most of all the never-ending melody of our God,
and we will, like the disciples of John, keep asking over and over,
to get our bearings, to stay connected to God and our souls,
where are You staying, and we will discover, again and again,
if we are honest, that God is in our souls, that Jesus is already
at our side and walking, that the Holy Spirit is dancing all around us,
so close we can actually taste and see, we can know, we can feel;
we can, my dear ones, walk with God along the highways and byways
of the promised land under our feet,
indeed we can march with joy and hope,
singing as others did long ago in other troubled days
when this wandering people, our people, us,
seemed torn asunder, confused, angry and sad . . .

The Battle Hymn of the Republic

My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of our God,
who is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored,
And has loosed the fateful lightning of a terrible swift sword;
God’s truth is marching on.

Chorus: Glory, glory, hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah! Glory, glory hallelujah!
God’s truth is marching on.

God has been there in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,
where they built a sacred altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read the righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps;
God’s day is marching on.

Chorus

God has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
and is sifting out the hearts of all before the judgment seat;
O be swift, my soul, to answer and be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

Chorus

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
with a glory in whose bosom that transfigures you and me;
As Christ died to make us holy, let us die to make all free;
While God is marching on.

Chorus
©Robin Gorsline 2017 (sermon only)

God Shows Up

 

Reflection on Epiphany, Year A

Focus: Matthew 2:1-12
Click here for biblical texts

God shows up in a stable, then in a star in the sky
showing astrologer sages the way
to share in the celebration .
When has God shown Godself to you?
Perhaps you saw women not wearing underwear
selling lemons on the streets of Buenos Aires
and knew God in new ways.
Or you met a homeless man at a Metro stop
and now know God’s face bears deep lines
and few teeth but always a dazzling smile,
while the divine body wears rags,
sharing blessings with you and all who pass.

Soprano voices of a boy childs’ choir pierce my ears and heart—
I’m now in angelic realms of glory—
tears streaming down my cheeks and shivers cutting through my soul.
I hear a truth I thought I never knew before
that now feels like an old dear friend—
poet or preacher or sidewalk saint pierces consciousness:
I am never again the same.
A doe and her fawn run as I invade what they thought was their space
and in the grace of leaping legs I suddenly know
how the Holy Spirit moves among our souls and bodies.
A great white oak stands guard
at the entrance to my home; as it reigns
I begin to trust God’s steady strength,
knowing the One who makes the oak makes me.

Epiphany is a high class word for what happened long ago,
but it did not stop then.
Where is God showing Godself to you, to me, this very hour,
this holy day?

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . .In some cultures, Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, is the highlight of the liturgical season of Christmas (the twelve days of Christmas).  However, by the time the calendar turns to January 6 in others it is no longer news because the magi have been to the manger and left their gifts already in pageants and malls. Still, this season of Epiphany is a good time to remember that God keeps appearing, and we keep being gifted, really on a daily basis—if we keep our hearts, minds, eyes, ears, and hands open. And like the manger, God often shows up in humble or unusual ways, and like the star, sometimes God arrives in glory.
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics

Eden Again

 

Reflection offered on January 1, 2017
at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.

Focus texts: Psalm 8 and Eccleasiastes 3:1-13
for New Year’s Day, Year A
Click here for texts

God gives us so much.
With the psalmist we give thanks and praise,
but the singer also knows we may not be all we think we are.
What are human beings that God cares about us?
Is it because we are created to be divine franchise agents,
with everything at our feet–presumably God knew what She
was doing, but polluted lakes and streams, endangered species,
stripped-mine hillsides, fouled air, war,
poverty, and group hates and ugly stories about those not like us,
may create skepticism in parts of heaven
not to mention earth.

There is a time for all that, of course, but so much more,
or maybe less, I mean the simple ways of living in peace
and hope and love and joy that God intends which
could take up all our time if we accepted the gift of God:
that all people should eat, drink, and enjoy the results
of their hard work. It seems so simple, and it is,
but not easy, never easy when every day in so may ways
we are tempted by the siren calls of those who claim
to have something better: building walls to keep people out,
a bigger house or better car and internet to go faster,
private schools to increase odds of Ivy League admissions, 
droning, bombing everyone who looks at us wrong, making sure
there are enough guns to shoot every person, adult and child,
at least once, and kill as many of them as necessary
to keep stocks rising along with income gaps widening
between rich and poor at home, even slowing the climb
of other nations out of the rut of domination.

But its not too late. It is never too late with God–that is what
makes God, God. She, or He, or They, refuse, despite ancient testimonies|
to the contrary, to give up on us, you and me, too, and the others,
even those whose agendas seem foreign and evil.
No one is a hopeless case with God.

The divine calendar is not ours,
so there has been only one new year, how many
millions of years ago we do not know,
and God is not counting,
but this is the moment of our latest attempt at renewal,
and in truth we can make the most of it—yes, with resolutions
of self-improvement if we must, but even more powerfully by a simple,
again not easy, commitment to listen to our individual
and collective souls where rests and rises the voice and hope
and love of God. And justice, too.

Let us not forget justice, divine justice which is not to punish or even chastise
but to repair, heal, move us to change, to do differently, better than last time.
Self-care is important, essential, but with God the we is as
important as the I, and the test of fealty to our holy parent
is how well we treat the rest of our human family, the ones God loves
as much as God loves us, not more not less, often
in different ways but still with an arm around all and each of us
at all times, everywhere without end.
World without end.

Don’t we know not to fear what is coming,
because of what God has given, and continues to give,
even when we don’t earn it? If we truly know and savor and trust
what God has provided, can we not share in the bounty
willingly, freely, joyously, generously,
so that no one goes without, no child is hungry,
no refugee is turned away from some safe place,
no young Black men and trans women hunted
and slaughtered on our streets,
no body is without health care,
no holy prayers cursed regardless what God or gods
or heavens are invoked.

This is the year God is making, again, for us, with us,
so let us rejoice and be glad in it,
and show our gratitude by making this the Year of Our God
and All God’s people, taking care of each human other and
all the rest of Creation, too, finally rising to meet
the divine challenge issued, earthly opportunity given,
at dawn on the first new year long ago,
to be Eden on earth again,
and forever.

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . Two biblical readings without a real story presented a challenge for me, but I soon realized that the gratitude, reality, and hope present in them fit for today. This is of course the gift of Scripture, and indeed in some way or other all inspired writing (whether called “holy” or not). And as I finished the earliest draft, I remembered poem inspired by Judy Chicago’s famous art installation, The Dinner Party, with its evocation of Eden. God must keep hoping we shall yet understand, accept, and celebrate the gift of life caught in that ancient story.

©Robin Gorsline 2017 LectionaryPoetics.net

Days of Turmoil

Reflection in response to the 1st Sunday after Christmas, Year A

Primary texts: Matthew 2:13-23; Isaiah 63:7-9
Click here for biblical texts

 

Refugees are people who flee to something less terrifying
than continuing to stay where they are or what they see coming,
often giving up what was once thought comfortable, pleasant, safe,
now untenable due to violence already inflicted
and/or more about to be dealt,
threats feeling so real you grab your clothes
and run, maybe a few pictures, a crust or two of bread,
your children of course, like Mary and Joseph grabbed
Jesus to escape to Egypt. This first-family-to-be
ran for their lives in the face of Herod’s
fear disguised as anger–tyrants, elected or not, everywhere
the same–to return later–tyrants die although they want us to forget–
to be replaced by a fearsome son–where have we heard that before–
so again this family finds another new home,
in Nazareth.
That is Matthew’s story, and he’s sticking to it.

Luke starts the story with a Nazorean family
forced to Bethlehem for the registration
who then return to Nazareth
to live and grow together in peace, love, and care.
Either way, a ruler, whether Emperor or lackey-King,
seems to control the earthly action.
It is good for us to remember in days of turmoil
that those who claim mandates to do as they wish,
no matter the needs of those less powerful,
do not in truth control everything or in some ways
much of anything. Who cares today what Herod thought
or even the august emperor, footnotes to history,
necessary props in the story that turns out to be
not about them at all, no matter how much they strut
and preen and issue a thousand tweets like a flock
of angry, self-absorbed starlings?

Isaiah and others knew all this so well–
tales of people pushed about by despots from afar
and often their own rulers, so that they lost their way–
prophets seeing God present in all things,
redeeming the people in divine love and pity
even when they did not know it, or denied
the very God who creates us all, of whom prophets
told repeated truths and angels in every sort of form
sang loud hosannas echoing across the skies of
slumbering yet unsteady, at risk, earth.

When will we learn, really learn and understand,
it is not tyrants, blowhards, insecure rulers
and small-minded puppets pretending to pull strings
of the rest of of us who matter, but God, the one who
refuses to treat us with other than respect and love,
whose gentle power is what really runs the show?
Not a puppet master, not even a taskmaster or
judge, but one whose desire for us, for us to live
whole lives as we are given at birth, exceeds all
negativity, all hate, all puny politics and war–that is
The One whom we worship, The One who touched the babe
in the manger and continues to touch us, too.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . . The familiar, though often forgotten story, of Herod’s mad rampage on feeling tricked and scared by challenges to his rule, is the backdrop for Joseph and the family, as it really is even today as in the midst of wonders and joys in our lives, and even our private sorrows, we continue to contend with small-minded, petty oligarchs of politics, business, militarism, etc., just to survive. But history is not really about them, any more than daily life is.

©Robin Gorslilne 2015 FaithfulPoetics.net

Where Are the Shepherds?

Reflection on Nativity of the Lord, Year A

 

Focus: Luke 2:1-20
Click here for biblical texts

 
In those days a decree went out
from Caesar Agustus that all the world should be registered,
but did that include the shepherds? 
If so, what were they doing in the fields?
Waiting for the angels?
Are you waiting, too? Or has the story
become so worn, predictable, that it no longer sends shudders
down your spine, as it did when angels shone
in the sky, proclaiming the best news of that, and our, time.
‘Tis the season of outcasts, and none were more scorned
than shepherds—so of course angels appeared to them,
not magistrates or merchants or certainly kings.
Indeed, the story of Christmas is about the lowly,
not just Mary but Joseph too and all the rest
of Israel under the heel of Rome
and those on the margins of the marginalized.

But it is not only that angels appeared to shepherds,
God doing what God does so often—appearing to,
speaking with, the powerless not the powerful—
but that shepherds became angels themselves,
testifying for and to those gathered in the stable,
agents of the Holy One to the world.
Is not that our call as well, to witness
to the grace, truth and love of God
wherever we are—hillsides, homes, small towns,
big cities, churches and temples,
family dinners, public places, casual conversations,
anywhere we hear good news that needs to be shared
with a world hungry for more than increasing stock prices,
celebrity misbehaviors and divorces, political tweeting,
and mad attacks on shoppers and students.

Shepherds in the church are expected to be calm,
perhaps even quiet, always kind and gentle,
and it is good when they do not yell or condemn,
but to get excited, to be eager,
is what we need, and God wants, to share love and hope and joy
and peace, too, with strong voices , heartfelt expressions,
souls bursting with deep truths of divinely inspired lives.
Not sure what to say? Maybe we can venture to nearby hillsides
or other quiet places under the stars
and wait, like shepherds, for the angels on their way—
there are always angels, God makes sure of that—
the question is, for us, will the shepherds show up again?
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Jesus and his parents are the focus of course, and yet there are all these others playing important roles, the animals in the stable, of course, as well as shepherds and angels. I used to raise sheep—a small flock for a 4-H project on the farm long ago—and I continue to wonder at the many times sheep and shepherds are central to the biblical record.  I know I have been at times a sheep (and beautiful though they can be, that is not necessarily a compliment) and as a pastor some called me a shepherd.  But maybe, just maybe, shepherds are supposed to do more than keep the sheep in line, maybe we, all of us, shepherds ourselves, are called to testify in our own ways to the presence of God in our lives.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Thank You, Joseph

A reflection for Advent 4, Year A

Text focus: Matthew 1:18-25
For biblical texts, click here

 

The conception not socially approved, an inauspicious start
to marriage where the rule is the man’s right to be the  first,
but as we know this plays out differently. Joseph listens
to God and the world is never the same. Is that not true
every time we listen to God? Joseph, sainted Joseph,
did not ask to raise a child technically not his,
but what does that mean, not his? He claimed the baby,
raised him in his trade, made sure he learned the Torah,
respected his elders even when he knew more.
This was a good father raising a blessed son.

The child was from the Holy Spirit; many wonder though
If that means immaculate conception,
parthogenesis, procreation without fertilization,
or whether it means God’s blessing does not depend
on following human rules. Is not every wanted child
a gift from the Holy Spirit? Is a marriage license
required by God for the child’s holiness?
Can non-monogamous partners not give life to a blessed child?
We spend so much energy trying to bend God to us
when what Joseph, and so many others, show us
 is that God breaks rules, our rules, all the time.

We cannot contain God; if we could, God would not be God
but god, an idol of our creation, the Creator being creature.
We are wondrously made in God’s image, probably images
in reality, not the other way around no matter our endless efforts
to tell God who God is. The greatest spiritual gift is listening,
a way of life requiring constant cultivation
in order to defeat human need for control,
and that means truly hearing and following what God says,
including hard stuff, the counter-cultural directions
and guidance, love bursting through and beyond all human restrictions.

Thank you, Joseph, for showing us the way.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . .  Joseph eventually seems to disappear from the Jesus story but at the beginning he looms large, the man who, according to Matthew, does “the decent thing” by not dumping Mary. It is critical to recognize that he had a choice; just because he dreamt of God telling him to be faithful to her even though it looked as if she were not sexually faithful to him does not mean he had to do that. And whether we believe that the conception of Jesus was due to parthogenesis, the Holy Spirit providing the spermatozoa if you will, or whether Mary was raped or even got herself in trouble—scholars have suggested all these—Joseph stayed the course with her, with his new son, and with God. So did she. And why wouldn’t God choose a child conceived out of wedlock for the Messiah? It’s just one more example of God acting by God’s rules, not ours.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

 

Can It Be So with Us?

A Reflection in Response to the 3rd Sunday in Advent, Year A

 

Text Focus: Psalm 146:5-10, Luke 1:45b-55, Matthew 11:2-11
Click here for all biblical texts
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in their God—truth known by John
the Baptizer and Mary too. Can it be so with us?
Dare we open our eyes enough to see
God at work in every moment, read signs
of the times and feel joy as God takes us
on new journeys in faith? John did, and it led him
to prison and death, while Mary’s life grew
both inside and all about her, she proclaiming
the gift of God’s favor, mercy and strength.

They seem so different, rough-clothed, even angry,
on one hand (though might he be sweet in his own way),
soft-spoken, gentle on the other (but so strong as well);
yet both open to what God delivers—
promise of salvation through another
born to her, seen by him;
she births, nurtures, the sprout,
he witnesses the full-grown tree
standing tall, speaking true in biblical witness
in pages close together but separated
by decades, yet saga tells us
their births—John and Jesus—were close
in time and even blood so they
are cousins through their mothers’ line.

We know stories of these men as they live and die,
almost side by side in Jerusalem and countryside,
to carry God’s word to those who want to believe
so long as it does not cost more than they, or we, will pay.
If Mary had known she would weep at the foot of the cross
on which hung her beloved son would then she praise
or curse her fate, and his? And John, and his mother,
cousin Elizabeth, would they then sing
or speak in joy and love for the God of Jacob?
The answer is yes, they did not count the cost dear
but the chance to witness so much more than ever
they dreamed in ordinary lives, a gift so rich
their hearts ring full, Mary’s praises,
John’s hand pointing to the one he came to announce.

Can it be so with us?
Will we birth and nurture what God places in us
trusting Holy One who is our soul and knows us
inside out, from glowing darkness of God within,
calling us to abandon old and narrow habits
that block our own sacred living
in a world that wants control and substitutes order
for life?
Will we cast out fear and choose joy,
to take a chance on God?
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem……This week’s lectionary contains two gospel options, the Magnificat from Luke (My souls magnifies the Lord) and Matthew’s account of John asking Jesus, “Are you the one?” It got me thinking about these two powerful characters in the Jesus story, especially when I came across reference to the Isenheim Altarpiece (featured image above) by the Italian Renaissance painter Matthias Grunewald. It shows a bloody Jesus on the cross, with Mary, on the left, despairing in the arms of the Beloved Disciple, and John the Baptizer, on the right, holding a book and pointing to Jesus. These two figures, joined together by more than shared family connection, may help us be prepared for the journey we are soon to begin again, from birth to ministry to death and beyond, with Jesus and so many more.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 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

 

Prayer

A Community Prayer offered at Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.

First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016 *

Holy One,
as we gather in Your name and your love,
in expectant hope for Good News You have for us
through music, teaching, prayer, community and grace
at this special Advent time, the birthing
of our new, transcendent church year,
we acknowledge Your presence here—
we don’t need to ask You to come,
you are here! And we are grateful.

But we do ask You to help us
be open to You in our midst,
to trust Your whispers in our ears and hearts,
to live out loud, to dare holy boldness
in a world filled with fear,
a world that encourages us
to think small, even to be small
in our vision and our yearning.
But You are the big God, the God of all,
the God who frees captives, the God who responds to hunger
not just for food but for justice and peace,
the God who passes through walls and borders
and urges us to do the same.

Mother/Father, Birther of the cosmos,
You create all that breathes, and so much more,
and charge us with care for all You create:
yet so many are afraid, even in this room,
many filled with terror because
others, including some of our nation’s leaders
and people who live near or even with us,
people we love in this very congregation of the faithful,
have said things that sound harsh
or done things that cause us anxiety;
and we too have felt and said and done things
that create division and angst and fear.
We know this is not Your way, not the way of peace
and plenty and beauty and creation,
so we confess that we have fallen, and fall, short
and seek Your forgiveness here, now,
as we will do again many more times.

But still, we pledge to listen better, first always to You,
and to each other as well, knowing that peace comes
to those who not only do not give into violence
of thought, word, and deed, but also  
open themselves to the pain, joy and hope,
the yearnings, of others for peace and for plenty.

And we know You call us—even as we listen to discordant voices
and seek to engage them in difficult conversations—
to speak Your truth, our truths, to bear the cause
of equality and compassion and justice, surely freedom from fear and want,
from oppression that arises out of dread of difference—
different looking skins, genders, sexualities, abilities, classes,
histories, nations, faiths, and more—
for those long denied and left out of the bounty
You ordain for all Your people.

Help us, then, O Holy One of so many names,
to learn better how to be Your people
and thus to help restore the world
in Your name and Your image, renewing ourselves and our society
so the world we see and create, the world we strive to share,
is the one you called into being so long ago in Eden.
Thank you, God, for that world, and help us, God,
to make it so.

In all your names, especially in the name of Jesus,
our Brother and Friend, Guide and Constant Companion,
Amen. Asé.  May it be so. 

* A recording is available here

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Ready or Not

 

Meditation on Advent 1, Year A

 

(Psalm 122, Matthew 24:36-44)
Click here for biblical texts
 

I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord.

What other temple gives you so much joy?
Is it your home, or your parental home,
or maybe temples of shopping—Macy’s,
Walmart, Target—where do you go
for inspiration, nurture, joy and hope?
Now, beginning the annual march toward Christmas,
are we ready to enter the stable, familiar territory simultaneously
strange and comforting, where few have actually ventured
outside the obligatory pageant
but where we see proof of God showing up
ready or not.

Noah knew about this, and Pharaoh’s daughter too,
Sarah and Paul, fishermen with nets to put down,
later so full they cannot cope.
Are we ever ready for God,
I mean truly ready, eager,
like a child waiting on emotional tiptoe
for her natal day and the pile of gifts
to tear open
while gorging on cake and ice cream,
not wanting it ever to end,
ready or not?

The proverbial thief in the night comes
with good news, our life is turned upside down,
once settled in the north now we go south,
or are drawn inexorably by a star in the east
no one else can see—
or is it they don’t want to see,
maybe us, too,
afraid to take a chance on God,
we look away,
hoping God comes
at more convenient times?

Ready or not,
our calendar measures mere time
while God’s counts out yearning,
divine desire for us to become all
intended at conception—imagine
if we followed God’s agenda,
how much richer our individual lives,
and the life of the world, would be!
We could stop predicting
and start listening, going with the flow
of holy energy.

I was glad when they said to me,
Let us go into the house of the Lord,
ready or not.
 

About this poem . . . The urgency of Jesus’ teaching from this portion of Matthew, responding to the disciples’ anxiety about knowing when he will descend and the present age will end, can put off modern ears if we think that Jesus is endorsing violence and even what seems like capricious death (although death is often feels like that). Yet the underlying point that we need to be ready for God’s presence in our lives, and that we cannot know for certain how and when that presence will be enacted is fundamental to living a faithful life. We could stop trying to figure this out, and instead let the experience wash over us.

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net