Complete

Reflection on the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

 

Textual focus: Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, John 10:1-10
Click here for biblical texts

 

It’s not just wolves that cause sheep
to run in the wrong direction,
fellow sheep do, too;
some wolves pretend to be shepherds
(see Sunday morning cable).

A good shepherd is needed
in personal and community life,
especially if we seek a world
where people care for one another,
where works and blessings of God are manifest.

Church is best known by its relationship with the Shepherd
the earliest disciple-sheep knew, loved, and followed,
but there are churches where he might not be welcome
when he approves of selling their possessions and goods,
and distributing proceeds to those in need.

Sounds un-American, socialist even—
how we want to claim religion
to support what we already do, who we already are,
planting our national flag in God’s house
as if God cares about lines on a map.

Following the Shepherd means going where he goes,
not necessarily where we have been or want to go,
trusting he knows where water and food are,
how to avoid wolves and other dangers,
protecting us and our lambs.

Abundant life is the promise,
we do not want
when we let him lead us there.

 
About this poem . . . All we like sheep have gone astray, haunting words from Isaiah and melody from Handel, point to the need for not just a leader but the Shepherd of the shepherds.  The payoff is huge, but we cannot know for sure what it will look like, or how we will get there.

©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

Make It Real for Everyone

Reflection in Response to Proper 28, 26th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Isaiah 65:17–25; Luke 21:5-19)

Click here for biblical texts

Behold, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth–can I imagine that
when a pink sky tinged with gold and orange
bathes troubled souls,
when despite whatever
calamity has happened in the world,
an election gone awry, perhaps coup d’etat
in some foreign land, even here,
or a death in the family,
or an anguished call from a friend,
cancer diagnosis–can I imagine God
promising not only me, not only my family
and friends and community, but the world,
faithful and otherwise, such a glorious reality?
But it is here all the time, is it not?
Did God stop promising this after Isaiah
wrote it down or later prophets
intoned the words and preached
them as if they were true?
No way!
This not a new or old promise,
not even an unfulfilled one
nor expired either.

new-heavens-and-new-earth-isaiah-65

backtothescriptures.org

Do not become trapped in terror when ugly things happen,
whether created by men (yes, sometimes women,
but with their lesser social power it is more
often male-bodied persons), or by force
of nature, sometimes referred to as Acts
of God though if people die I doubt it is God
acting–God not wanting to lose any
of the divine inventory
of creation known as humans.
Instead, in the midst of challenge
see an opportunity to witness, testify
to your faith that when needed God shows up.
When you are not sure of this, check the sunset
or look at the blue waters of the bay
in front of your eyes, or beautiful child
singing quietly as she plays with toys,
or falling leaves and even snowflakes
preparing for new spring and somnolent summer,
grandfather holding the hand of toddler
learning to walk, youths abandoning care
of what others think to dance their hearts out,  
again to be reminded that God shares
much with us including beauty as well as
hardship, the former a gift to feel loved,
the latter to remind us there is always work
to do.

Jesus knew about this and he tells us
nation will rise against nation
(white nations against nations of color,
men nations against nations of women,
have nations against nations of have-nots,
ableist nations against nations of differently able,
youth-obsessed nations against old people nations,
profits-above-all nations against care-giving nations,
discrimination nations against nations of Queer warriors),
and there will be earthquakes, famines, and plagues
not to mention dreadful portents, great signs
from heaven (whatever they are);
there will even be persecution and arrests:
Oh we shall, we must, know about persecution
and arrest because without those
can our testimony break through
the veil, the wall, of privilege and power
that believes in earthly strength rather than divine mercy,
bombast more than quiet murmurings of prayer,
conflict more than peaceful coexistence,
despair and finger-pointing more than hope–
can we be brave and true, faithful,
no matter the provocation?   

It takes strength, courage, to be persistent
and gentle when all about us
are flailing and screaming, beating each other up
with words, as well as fists, armies, and drones.
Endure, that is the word, the truth, the way:
new heavens and a new earth are here already
even if we,
and most, maybe all, others
have yet to see enough
right in front of ourselves
to work with each other and God
to make it real for everyone.

 

About this poem . . . God does not cause all things but God is present in all things. Troubles, like  joys and celebrations, can be opportunities for us gain new wisdom and to experience the presence, grace, and love of God.  Isaiah’s prophecy of new heavens and a new earth need not be about some time in the great “by and by,” but now, right in front of us if we are able, and willing, to read the signs. And we can see in the daily struggles of people for liberation, and wholeness and peace (shalom), despite often daunting odds and steep climbs, God at work. But we do have to be open and receptive, allowing ourselves a level of vulnerability not often encouraged in human society, one based on deep and continuing trust in God.

(c) 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

Impossible Is Opinion Not Fact

Meditation on Proper 22, 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke 17:5-10)

Click here for biblical texts

When I hear Jesus speak of mustard seed,
like a Mighty Mouse of faithful living,
I think of Muhammad Ali,
whose faith was awe-inspiring;
it matters not to me whether his faith
was in himself or in Allah
or something else, in fact he moved mountains—
he beat systems stacked against him and earned
respect even from those who hated him.
Would that I could be so faithful!!!

muhammad-ali
birminghamtimes.com

I was raised to hear Jesus shaming disciples,
us, for not having enough faith—
not even as much as a tiny mustard seed—
when what he is offering is encouragement,
indeed saying we have more than we need
to do what we are called to do, who we are called
to be in God’s economy of life and grace.
We need not be slaves to former understandings,
a Christianity that is about obligation,
hard rules, having to earn God’s love, and falling short.
Instead, we can break guilt-inducing chains,
even turning his lesson about doing what is commanded,
as if we have no choice,
into a commitment to live joyously, exuberantly
the way he did, not focused on duty alone
but also on the gift that comes from being all
we can be, of knowing that God calls us
not to perfection but to faithfulness.

Hard to hear Jesus speak of slaves, given our history,
how it continues to infect our world;
I choose not to hear this parable as an endorsement
of human cruelty. Instead, within the world he inhabits,
he speaks of a system of mutual accountability,
where each party provides what is expected: work  
by one and food, rest, care, and protection by the other.
Might this be a way to understand faith—with one
big difference: God provides the faith and the care,
and hopes we will use them to make our whole selves and our world
in God’s image? No divine punishment if we do or don’t, but
we are accountable to God and each other
for how we use God’s gifts, how we claim the power—
do we hide our soul lamp under blankets of fear
or do we boldly proclaim and live our mission,
do we don our cape, remember with Muhammad Ali:
impossible is opinion not fact?

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This reading seems to combine two distinct strands and many wonder why the author of Luke chose to bring them together. And yet they are both about how we can live God’s truth and power—either claiming them or not, being accountable or not. In our today, mustard comes in a jar and slavery is ugly, so we can miss the message, or even choose to do so. But I hear power and I hear . . .  get to work, there’s a world to heal, a world to save.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Looking in the Mirror

Response to Proper 21, 19th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke 16:19-31)

(Click here for biblical texts)

 

People of means in your church help pay the bills, including
salaries, and especially the pastor’s,
and they are usually pleased and proud to do so,
but conflict may arise when Jesus tells
the parable of Lazarus and the unnamed rich man.
What church, indeed what church leader, lay or ordained,
would know the name of a beggar
but not that of a rich man who either
already gave funds to build the new addition
(and where his name is on the plaque)
or who is being asked to do so?
But that is what Jesus does—leading us
again to wonder what kind of leader
he would be for our church? Could we afford
a pastor who lives this way, turning the tables
not only over in the sanctuary but also
making it difficult, perhaps impossible, to buy new ones?

lazarus-and-the-rich-man-wikigallery-org
wikigallery.org

Here again Jesus provides comfort to the slave,
the sharecropper, the unemployed, victims of racism,
ableism, sexism, xenophobia, and all other ways we divide people
into those with whom we connect,
those we see, those whose eyes we meet,
and those we walk by, step over, avert our eyes
as if to say we deny they exist,
echoing today in the claim “All Lives Matter”
in response to anguished cries of many
that some lives more than others are blown away by bullets,
thrown away by poverty, discrimination and privilege.

Privilege. That is what the rich man had,
the option not to see Lazarus, not even to see
the dogs who licked Lazarus, infecting his wounds.
So we see what to do, emulate Father Abraham,
bring those we “diss” and dismiss into our heart,
make it the bosom of Abraham—and that is not
only the work of the rich but also many, including me,
whose privilege is not only wealth greater than most
of the world but also whose skin color,
gender, ability, age, weight gives us
a leg up in the marathon of life.

Oh that Jesus, doing it again, holding the mirror
up to see ourselves so we can decide
which actor in the parable is us—
and perhaps choose how to respond . . .
today.

If you are reading this, it’s not too late.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This parable continues Luke’s focus on money and spiritual health, but it seems to me to be one that is often overlooked, because I suspect it makes us uncomfortable. There is no mercy for the rich man and somehow many of us (the ones who set the social norms or whose lives live in concert with them), although most certainly not all of us, instinctively know who we are in the story. And we may inhabit several different identities and that can change which character we are at any given moment. Still, it seems, again, that Jesus wants us to choose.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

Real Choices

A Reflection in Response to Proper 20, 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Luke16:1-13)

 

Click here for biblical texts

 

A cool September morning, walking in the park,
my husband talking about work troubles,
our dog sniffing the ground and eying the scampering squirrels,
birds flitting and singing, we sharing good mornings
with those on the same path, admiring other dogs,
all the while I keep hearing Jesus, you cannot serve God and wealth,
or the way I learned it long ago, God versus Mammon,
the god of money, Caesar, evil chasing after wealth,
visions of an ugly beast with multiple tentacles
reaching out to ensnare us all
into putting the pursuit of worldly riches
at the center of life.

money-prisoner
godmammon.com

Sometimes he just gets in your head and you can’t stop it,
sort of like the manager in Jesus’ parable caught up in
what he saw as survival, leveraging what was not his
to keep him from money or Mammon ruin,
forgetting about honor or responsibility—
and strangely he seems to come out alright
avoiding the axe using other peoples’ money;
is this not what we read about with banks too big to fail?
Is Jesus recommending cheating those who are owed?
Or is he playing us, and his hearers?
I don’t claim to know, some scholars I read
seem unclear at best, so I can only say
the Jesus I know does not dismiss honor, care,
love, responsibility, moral judgment so easily.
You just have to take my word on that. Or not.

Wall Street, even lobby of my friendly local credit union,
feel far away, because I keep hearing Jesus who once again
sounds like a socialist, not a fan of free enterprise, or consumersm.
Ouch. Most U.S. citizens are not partial to that label,
despite The Bern, not ready to see the welfare of the mass
more important than the profit of the few who make it work,
no prophet of that ancient view accepted even in his hometown
or sanctuaries that claim him for their own.
Once again Jesus unsettles the easy assumptions
of my life and the lives of my comrades in the pews,
and so we look away, embarrassed by the demand
on our individual and collective soul.
Why does he do this again, force us to stand,
uncomfortable like school children found wanting,
not knowing our lessons and resentful that we cannot
go to recess and play as if we have no cares,
pretending that no one Is hungry, no one is shivering,
no one is dying from neglect?

A walk in the park is a choice for health and happiness;
the market says we have choices, and we do, between brands
of toothpaste and cars, but Jesus reminds us we have real choices,
life and death soul choices.  

 
About this poem . . . . This choice Jesus calls us to make, between focusing on God and focusing on wealth or money or Mammon, is perhaps the most difficult one there is, at least in the United States where the reigning ideology is about getting enough wealth to survive and then to do more, to become wealthy enough to live well and then better and better, until we die and leave it our loved ones who can continue the quest. We are, it seems a “more” culture—everyone wants, we are told by experts, 20% more than they have . . . and that is true if we are at the bottom of the economic pile or the top. Do not our things get in the way of our relationship with God? What are we supposed to do?

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit live above when this poem is published