You Go First

Reflection on the 7th Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

 

Textual focus: Leviticus 19:9-18; 1 Corinthians 3:18-19; Matthew 5:38-48
Click here for biblical texts

 

Give to everyone who begs from you,
Jesus says that, oh yes he does, and more, too:
Turn the other cheek, give up your cloak,
do not refuse anyone, anyone,
who wants to borrow from you.
How can we keep the economy going
with talk like that? And what about the beggars,
what if they use my money to buy booze?
What good is that?
Respond to being forced to go one mile
by going the second mile—what if I don’t have time
to go that far?
Don’t resist an evildoer, love your enemies,
pray for your persecutors:
How can we live in the world today
with attitudes like that? Does he even know, or care,
about ISIS and our opponents from the other party?

The world is a tough place; you’d think Jesus
would know that, given how Rome treated
the Jews, how Herod killed cousin John.
Sometimes, I think Jesus lives in another world.

Oh, right, he does.
And he keeps trying to get me to join him there,
except for him the there is here, now. 

This didn’t start with him either, he knows
Leviticus: leave the gleanings of fields
and vineyards for those in need
(remember Ruth?), no defrauding your neighbor,
no keeping wages of others, no false swearing,
no slander, no unjust judgments;
you shall love your neighbor as yourself
(yes, Jesus was repeating Leviticus).

So why is it so hard for me, maybe you, too,
to go where Jesus goes, to be one
of the people of the Way—some of his
early followers were called that—to live
with open heart and open hand,
to speak in love even to those
whose ugly words and deeds
cause me to shudder and rise in anger
to say No? Can I do both? Can I say no
and also say I love you? Why not?
Is not all possible with God?

Paul told Corinthians the wisdom
of this world is foolishness with God;
so, he said, become fools
that you may become wise.

So let us dance in the street
when there is no music
except the tapping of our souls,
let us toss coins in the air
and take beggars to lunch,
let us hug the racists and the thugs,
let us find men and women in need of coats
and strip ours off our backs,
and do all generous, foolish things that
will cause authorities,
and our families and churches,
to question our sanity,
believing, knowing(?), that is where and when
we will find Jesus.

You go first, I’ll follow.

 

 

writing+poetryAbout this poem: As faithful people we really do love Jesus, want to serve God, but it can be very difficult when what we encounter in Scripture demands a whole different way of living, not just a way of life, but actual behavior changes in everyday life. The texts in this week’s lectionary really challenge me, and I imagine others, and frankly I am uncertain how to proceed. If I do as they instruct, it seems I shall soon be a pauper, probably begging myself. Can that be right? Maybe, if we all did it together…….would that work better? Is that what the writer of Leviticus, Paul, and Jesus are talking about?
©Robin Gorsline 2017 FaithfulPoetics.net

Made Well by Faith

Meditation in response to Proper 23, 21st Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Luke 17:11-19)

 

Click here for biblical texts

 

I know people like Samaritan Leper Number 10,
despite being among the innumerable despised,
putting thank you at the top of their vocabulary,
for the sun rising, moon glowing, worms crawling, bugs biting,
children hugging, also begging, adults arguing, politicians pointing,
dancers leaping, actors declaiming, movie stars posing,
thieves conniving, cops getting it right, even wrong
when we need to get angry about racism,
and lots of other ills we have yet to fix—still
all these are signs of life in God’s universe,
opportunities to celebrate creation
or to pray, confess, take responsibility for what
has gone wrong.
So far.

black-hands
vi.sualize.us

Gangs of today’s lepers wander our streets;
some claim them untouchables out of fear
they will rob or hurt them or because they look different.  
Others know these modern Samaritans hurt too,
projecting toughness to disguise their pain,
so mothers and lovers will not give away truth
of their vulnerability to The Man who patrols
mean hard streets looking for trouble.
And then the sound of gunfire, was it police,
or was it another untouchable?
What if Jesus appeared, would they keep their distance
but call out, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!
We don’t want to die, we don’t want to kill,
have mercy on us. Would Jesus send them
to local priest or pastor, would Jesus send them
to church to be judged, given a food bag,
sent on their way?  Or would they be welcomed,
given a bath, new clothes, hope, an invitation
to come back next week for more of the same
and even more, a ride to a job interview,
chance to earn a GED, then community college,
visit to medical clinic, maybe even a hug?

And then, improbable as all this sounds,
would one come back to say thank you,
praise God—could they even believe
God is involved given the press God gets
these days—prostrate in gratitude,
ready to create a new life for themselves and others?
A miracle you say?
Well yes. Maybe it could happen,
maybe it would happen, for real,
if we centered ourselves
in faith that results in, and rests on, gratitude.
Then Jesus would say to us, get up, go your way,
your faith has made you well.
About this poem . . . Leprosy remains a significant health problem in some parts of the world, and in the United States several hundred contract the disease each year. It is now curable by a multi-year regimen of powerful antibiotics. Scholars are not certain that the biblical references to leprosy involve what we know as leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, today. It may have been in ancient times also a reference to a number of skin conditions which were thought to convey impurity and contaminate the entire community, requiring the contaminated to stay a distance away from everyone else. There is another skin condition that too many among us fear yet today, one that is not curable by antibiotics—praise God—but the fear that infects can be undone by mercy, confession and full-throated justice.
©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

We All Know the Story. Right?

NOTE: I posted this poem, although I consider it incomplete–due to time and commitment pressures at the General Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Reflection in response to Proper 10, 8th Sunday after Pentecost

(click here for biblical texts)

We all know the story.
Jesus continues on his journey to Jerusalem;
even as his face is set toward danger
he is asked the question we may well ask
if we are brave enough to trust we can bear the answer:
What must I do, how must I live, to inherit eternal life?
It’s so simple, Jesus seems to say in response:
You shall love God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your strength,
and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.
He does not have to come up with a new teaching,
he merely cites Deuteronomy and Leviticus
like a good judge calling on precedent already set
to decide the case. But his interlocutor, lawyer or scribe,
has a further question: then who is my neighbor?
Is it a trick question or is it a sincere seeking after wisdom?
Or do we care?

And do we really know the story?
It all seems so neat, so tidy. We are to show mercy,
as the lawyer concludes, be kind to others,
help the stranger stranded by the side of the road.
But, but, always the but, with Jesus,
we should know by now that our Lord teaches
at many levels, with meanings within meanings.
Maybe here it is good to ask, for example,
who is it from whom we cannot imagine mercy,
from whom we would not want mercy, whose kindness
would set our teeth on edge?
Who is it whom we cannot imagine as neighbor?
Is the man from ISIS my neighbor? Is the gunman
mowing down dancers in Orlando my neighbor?
Is the presidential candidate who says everything
I abhor my neighbor? Is David Duke my neighbor?
Is the policeman who kills a black man on the ground my neighbor?
Are any of them your neighbors? Why or why not?
Can we say their names in the same sentence
as neighbor, or do we, like the lawyer who refuses
to say “the Samaritan,” choose to look and speak the other way?

The prophet Amos and his plumb line perhaps
can help us here, or make it even harder:
do you, do I, do we, hold ourselves to the same
standard we insist for others? Of course, not!
We are human! Is the status quo
too often our refuge as it was for Amaziah
the priest–not a bad man we might say, just
a little protective of the king? Do we have
the national flag in our sanctuary reminding us
that Jeroboam or his successor today is king?
Where do we pledge allegiance, really?
Do we accept immigration
quotas so we don’t have too many of them, the others,
invading our space? Our space, our country,
our land, our, our, my, my, my, my,
but whose is it anyway?

That ditch was on the open road, a dangerous road
we are told, between Jerusalem and Jericho, maybe
like a highway going too close to inner city “danger
zones,” nonetheless part of God’s creation, God’s earth,
where people may, if they choose, freely go. But would we
even be on that road, and would be we be walking so we
could see a person in the ditch? Or would we be whizzing
by in our SUV unable to see someone in distress,
and if we did see them, would we stop? Would we call
911, or would we think, hope, someone else would do it?
Or would it not even occur to us to call?
Would we wonder why these danger zones exist and
would our answer be to blame those who live there,
avoiding any culpability for ourselves or those who
profit from these places.

We all know the story. Right?

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net