Not Too Late

A Reflection in Response to Proper 18, 16th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C,
(especially Luke 14:25-33)

Click here for biblical texts

Disciples walk, at least those following Jesus,
and not just the Galilean ones but today’s as well,
but not always a pleasant garden stroll,
chatting, admiring the flowers and butterflies;
more often a demanding call on our soul and body,
asking us to set aside important things, as we see,
for life-changing, even world-changing acts of faith,
trust, love and justice to transform ourselves,
maybe all God’s people,
and even save some corner of God’s earth.

Jesus discourse with disciples James Joseph Jacques Tissot Public domain, Brooklyn Museum
James Joseph Jacques Tissot, Brooklyn Museum (public domain)

A lesbian woman goes on a journey, connecting
with her soul and body, as loved ones reject her—
you are not our daughter, sister, they say, we no more family—
her walk feeling desert dry, dust caking her mouth
and her heart. She keeps walking with Jesus
her disciple walk of truth, wholeness, beside him.
A writer denying his craft for more lifetimes
than he cares to count hears the call,
laying down what he thought the world wanted from him
and walks not really knowing the direction but trusting
Jesus by his side. One, sometimes a man, sometimes woman,
 who has every possession, trips over all the stuff—
lands upside down hearing the voice
trying to get through for so many years,
gives up trying to decide which of six homes to visit,
what investments to sell, which party to attend—
breaks clean from that pursuit to kneel and pray
and then gives most all away save one little urban bungalow
and some green energy stocks and peace bonds,
to walk sweaty streets with the Lord, greeting homeless,
ex-cons, disturbed, old and young, inviting them home to a meal and shower,
lessons in self-care, clean clothes, job and education links,
like some latter day Paul saving souls they used to condemn.

Not all disciple walks are dramatic, a change in attitude
enough to turn around to walk with Jesus rather than against him.
What voice are you hearing , or refusing to hear?
Walking beside him may not be the same as following;
turning back is harder when you are shoulder to shoulder.
It’s not too late to turn aside from the demands we and the world
have put at the center to walk with the One who is the center.

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . It is not easy being a disciple, and Jesus does not want to delude us with an easy invitation. So he makes it hard, really hard. We may even be shocked by talk of hating one’s family, but we surely know of family that hate their children, grandchildren, siblings. Sometimes, discipleship is not about our hate but others hating us. Or finding our own way even though we don’t know the way, or maybe we have to give up dreams of material abundance? He’s often gentle, but not often easy.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 Faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above wherever this poem is published.

Damn It, Jesus

A Reflection in Response to Proper 17, 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(focusing on Luke 14 and Proverbs 25)

Click here for biblical texts

Jesus is a gracious guest, not grabbing
the best seat, not worrying for himself
about status—at the same time using status
to suggest that blessing
is more important than being blessed,
even as we bless others we are blessed.
He is such a good rabbi, reminding the gathering
as in Proverbs 25, “it is better to be told,
‘Come up here,’ than to be put lower in
the presence of a noble,” but Jesus also, again,
makes a challenging claim on us—
“when you give a banquet, invite the poor,
the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

beggar with hands out
vincentmars.com

There is a man at the Metro stop where I live
who sits often, saying “pennies, pennies, pennies . . . .”
in a small, rasping, needy voice.
Most of us pass him by, part of the everyday landscape
not unlike the Native woman who carries a crude sign,
“Single mother, 4 child,” holding the hand of one of them,
a girl about seven or eight, seeking donations on the train.
How do we invite them to share in the banquet?
So far all I know is to give them some
change, a dollar bill or a protein bar.
Most people seem to look away.
Is it enough for me to give that small support
or do I at least need to see doing this as a joyous act,
not a duty but a gift given to me to reach out
and invite them to the banquet?

I mean whose banquet is it anyway?
And what kind of banquet is it,
where I, or we, invite the poor—I am afraid
to ask Penny Man home, would he leave
when the meal ends and how would I feel sending him
back on the street?
How could I forget him when I did that?
Damn it, Jesus, why do you leave us with these words
that challenged those long ago and can upend us
when—if –we allow ourselves to let them
get under our skin—when we usually resist
by hoping someone else will feed the poor
and the rest you mentioned, and more we know
need help? Can’t the government do something
or what about other churches or charities?

But you speak about more than helping; you want us
to become community with those we rarely see and never
consider part of our group, our social set, our tribe, our people.
That would mean digging deeper into understanding our neighbor;
who is my, who is our, neighbor really?
I know the immigrant is my neighbor,
and others who some despise, but what about Penny Man
and that desperate mother and the Black man and others
behind bars for being in the wrong place at the wrong time,
as well as those who really broke the law?
When was the last time I visited someone in prison?
At least they have a roof, three squares a day—
but not much dignity on the inside
and most often little help when they are allowed to rejoin
what we call society.

Thanks to you, Lord—yes, I mean that,
and my voice also carries an edge—I cannot get Penny Man
or the mother with her four kids,
out of my head, maybe even my heart.  
I’m on my knees, let this cup pass me by I say,
knowing how offensive that sounds compared
to your request in the garden long ago . . . so I keep
praying, trusting you will guide me to become both
my neighbor’s keeper and just a better neighbor.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Sitting in a comfortable church and no matter the power of the excellent, liberating preaching, it is not always easy to hear and feel the discomfort Jesus intends with his modest words, especially when they can seem to be about others long ago. I have walked by, and even given money and food to, more homeless people than I can possibly count. I am not quite sure why this man at my Metro stop, and this mother with the haunting eyes and her daughter whose face registers both fear and gratitude when I hand over a dollar, have gotten under my skin, but I know some of it, much of it, has to do with Jesus, and not just this reading from Luke. I am feeling ‘buked for my years of what appear to be hard heart (and thus a little, maybe more than that, ticked off) and simultaneously blessed for being given a gift I do not yet understand.  Is this what faithfulness looks like, feels like?
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever this poem is published.

Lost and Found

(Lent 4, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

If you’ve ever been lost—scared out of your mind lost,
so lost you despair coming out alive, maybe unsure if you are really you—
you know how good it feels to find your way or to be found,
almost as good as, maybe better than, arriving in the Promised Land
or the welcome given the wastrel son embraced by his father,
robed, feted, made whole again.
Most equate ourselves with the virtues of the non-prodigal son number one,
loyal responsible no blame no shame, but the real center of Jesus’ story
is the father who loves both sons, perhaps seeing himself in each of them.
Are we not both/and rather than either/or?
Yet Pharisees among us delight in judging who can be found
or invited to a celebration of the finding. 
Think what they would do if we held parties to welcome immigrants
escaping from tyranny, violence, abuse in their native lands–but why not
celebrate their finding new homes with us?
They say sinners need not apply except who would be left if we are excluded? 
It is so easy to get caught up in blame, judgment, setting rules for who will
get into heaven, who will not, a game we play often, amusing
God who long ago decided on one gate only, unless there
is a crowd then two gates open, same rules apply: all are welcome
to this place that is not somewhere else but right here and now
up to us to live whole, faithful, hopeful, eager to open the gates of our hearts
as wide as God’s, grateful when loved ones find their way back and more so
when we don’t have to climb the fence because the gate again
again and again swings open
wrapping our bodies, spirits in everlasting
embraces of love and welcome.

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

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . This parable is so well-known, but it can yield nuggets each time we ponder it. Henri Nouwen and others have helped us see it is really the parable of the generous father more than the prodigal son (as many of us were told when growing up). We still see so many “fathers” who seem ungenerous, stingy even, no matter who the lost may be (and if you are like me, you have been lost in a big way at least once).  Jesus never turned any of the lost away, just as God does not, in fact, we are welcomed.