Always More with God

Reflection in response to Proper 26, 24th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Isaiah 1:10-18 and Luke 19:1-10)

  Click here for biblical texts

 
Isaiah starts in chapter one telling the Israelites
how little God values their sacrifices, they really
get under the divine skin, creating holy heartburn.
The prophet reminds them God wants justice:
Do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend orphans,
plead for the widow. Don’t waste time, energy on empty
rituals, focused on obeying rules. Show up
where needed, be ready for divine presence at all times
especially when, like Zacchaeus, you catch a glimpse.
Always want more, eager to see and to receive,
because with God there always is more, never less.
Sometimes you have to climb up to get a good view,
one reason God creates trees is so that we can
see above the crowds, past the human barriers.

zacchaeus-in-the-tree-prayer-bracelet-com
prayer-bracelet.com

Desire to see God, to be with God,
is an attribute, an attitude, a precondition and an outcome of faith.
In parts of the world going to church, temple or mosque
because you want to be with God
and others who love and want to serve God
can cause trouble in your life, even serious injury
or death. In other places, some people will be angry
if you try to come to church because you are viewed
as irredeemably sinful. Don’t come here with your filth,
they say! Sometimes, as happened with Jesus and Zacchaeus,
people grumble when you hang out with the wrong sort
at church or anywhere, or as happens today
when the wrong people—maybe immigrating “bad hombres”
or Black men wearing hoodies—walk or move
into “our” not their neighborhood,  
want their kids to attend “our” not their school,
to disrupt our children’s opportunities in the Ivy League.

Jesus says he came to seek out and save the lost.
But who is lost? Was Zacchaeus, even though he wanted
to see who Jesus was and gave away much
of his ill-gotten wealth—if he was lost, he surely now
is saved. What about the grumblers? A woman
told a pastor she would no longer come to
church because they had sinners serving communion.
The pastor replied that he did not know who else to ask;
besides, he said,  if sinners were excluded then he too
would have to step aside.

 
About this poem . . . Christians struggle today, as always, with the competing demands of religious perfectionism in ritual and other practices versus enacting justice within the church, in society, even in the family.  Isaiah’s remonstrance to Israel rings very clearly today. And Zacchaeus is a wonderful role model for faithfulness, not so much because he gave away so much money but because he climbed a tree to see Jesus. Would we bestir ourselves from our television if Jesus came to town? Or would we go to a neighboring church if he went there rather than showing up at ours?

 

 

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net

The Holy Fray of Living

 

A Meditation in Response to Proper 24, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
(Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8)

Click here for biblical texts

 

Banging on pots and pans, chanting, parading
with signs, demanding and working for change;
justice surely requires persistence
as those who seek equality, or even elemental
fairness, have to learn endlessly.
Who does not know this woman, perhaps you
have been one, are one, who pesters over and over
until she gets her answer—not that
there are not men like that, many must do the same—
and do we not at least know of an official who,
corrupted by power, listens to the little people
only when he—and this is most assuredly a he—
has to?

jacob_wrestles_with_god_small

Is Jesus comparing God to politicians
who avoid concerns of lesser beings?
Or is this parable, like others, about us,
about needing persistence in our prayers,
to desire God’s presence in our lives without ceasing,
knowing that God is always present and so
it is we who must show up, like Jacob,
and be prepared to wrestle the entire night
without knowing the outcome at daybreak
or even if for sure there will be a new day?

The struggle for justice: an endless endeavor
requiring great patience married with tenacious
impatience and commitment to create change,
undermining injustice at every turn,
calling out those who sustain the status quo
whether by active connivance and intention
or through ignorance and resignation—
a struggle in which God is at the center
despite those who claim their reign of
oppression finds support in Holy teaching.

God unceasingly breaks the bonds
where mortals seek to imprison Her,
showing us that liberty for the captives,
freedom for us and all the others held hostage
to the greed and hubris of individuals
and systems intent on their own aggrandizement
without regard to us and others—this justice
is our work as much as God’s. Perhaps more.

We cannot do it without divine help
but God seeks us, as He did with Jacob,
to prepare us, inspire us, challenge us
to enter the holy fray of living knowing  
whose banner we carry, whose trumpet we follow,
and by whose scales we are measured.

Who in our day is the widow and who the judge?

 
About this poem . . . . The parable of the persistent widow is a homely tale and can seem to suggest that God is slow to respond to our prayers—that we need to bombard God with requests for aid. Yet, Jesus cautions us to be aware of God’s constant and timely care, and warns us to be ready when we are called upon to account for our faithfulness. What have we done with our time on earth? How have we responded to God’s call for justice?  Perhaps God is the widow and we are the judge?

 

©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

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

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?

AE24TVMAKERS
vivacolorado.com

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

Beloveds of God

A Meditation in Response to Proper 14, 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (especially Luke 12:32-40)

Click here for biblical texts

Jesus tells us, several  times at least, that we have what we need,
but most of us worry, doubt even, that we are not good enough
to earn, deserve, what we have already received.
And then Jesus tells us more proof that the gifts will arrive,
perhaps when we least expect it, and it can sound like we
had better be sitting up all night with our ears attuned to every
sound—which one will be him or God or Spirit breaking in our lives?

What he is really saying is that it is always happening,
In fact we need to learn how to be open to all the gifts, so many
gifts, that God has for us each day, all day.

I hope someday you grasp how loved you are
ursulinesmsj.org

Did you see the glint in the person’s eye as you passed by
them at the mall, they were having a God moment,
you could have received it too if you had been paying attention.
Or what about the touch of your friend as you parted after lunch,
did you feel the embrace of the Holy Spirit,
did you feel electric current between you and
your friend as it traveled up your arm into your shoulder,
taking direct aim at your soul? I mean, did you really
feel deep holy warmth at your core?

And the simple Shasta daisies outside your neighbor’s door,
did you see heaven as you rushed by them
this morning on your way, late for work, not too late
for God’s presence if you could simply pause
long enough to breathe? The question is not only
where are you putting your treasure, your money, but also
your time, your energy, focus. Where is your heart?
Your mind, is your mind on God or your to-do list?
Indeed, is God on your to-do list? Does God have a time
on your calendar? Every day? More than once a day?

Jesus wandered around Palestine talking with people,
all sorts of people—including the local people of color
known as Samaritans, as well as hated tax agents,
listening to their troubles, worries, ailments, offering
healing  and hope and clarity about how God,
the holy, is not locked up in Temple or even a book, but
is on the loose, moving freely among us, like Jesus,
open to hearing us, sitting with us, even praying
with us—how about we stop praying to God, start
praying with God?—everywhere we are, all of us,
not limited to folks in a particular pew in a particular house
of worship, God in some ways less like a bridegroom,
more like a street person, a beggar, just hoping
we will notice and stop and pass the time of day,
perhaps sharing not only a quarter or a dollar
but also a word or two of connection, human connection,
divine connection, trusting that as we open ourselves
to the wonders of the universe we shall remember
from whence we come and whose we are.  And then
we shall be ready for the next moment we catch a glimpse
of the holy among us, in us, with us, and we shall
celebrate with God and know we have once again
been invited to sit at the holy table and feed until
we are full of our inheritance, ready and eager
to share the blessing with those who do not yet know
what a glory it is to be blessed, to be beloveds of God.

 
writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . . It is so easy to get wound up in the literal text that we miss the larger message. In Luke 12:32-40, I don’t experience Jesus telling us to be in a literal vigil, not doing anything but sitting in readiness, day and night after day and night, but rather to be alert in all that we do and say and see and hear, in all moments, to the presence of God. We are given so much each day, each moment, and we, at least I, miss so much of it, busy fending off the vagaries and troubles of life that I forget to see the beauty and joy and holy power in each molecule, each atom, each moment.

 

©Robin Gorsline 2016 faithfulpoetics.net
Please use the credit line above whenever and wherever this poem is published

 

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

 

 

In the Garden

(Lent 3, Year C; click here for the biblical texts)

Gardening requires a generosity of spirit
a willingness to invest in unlikely specimens
seeing potential where another sees failure
taking a chance on a gangly fruitless tree
when the sure bet says cut it down.
To be a gardener is to know God
at least the God who patiently nurtures
without being certain of the outcome
but does not back away from the challenge.
God’s like that with us over and again
taking chance after chance on us,
playing against the cynic’s house,
not listening to the naysayers and gossips
prattling on about sin and lost causes—
she must have sinned a lot to be so sick,
hurricanes are because men marry men,
Muslims are mostly terrorists, Black men are dangerous—
tossing judgments around like rice
on the brides and grooms leaving church.
When we brood over or proclaim divine judgment,
it is good to remember God’s mercy—
sinners are always in the hands
of a loving God, despite Jonathan Edwards
and those who feel the need to tell God to punish
the others who break rules they tell
God He needs to make for our good.
But God does not love us because
we are good, She loves us because
God is good, the Master Gardener
who knows when our roots are dried out
our leaves shriveled and limbs drooping
even before we do, providing spiritual fertilizer
and living water—spigots are everywhere
always in the on position. Just pray and drink deeply,
the flow that never ends.

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

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . . The parable of the unproductive fig tree always feels a little incomplete to me; what will happen if the tree does not bear fruit even after the gardener digs around it and gives it nutrients? The gardener tells the owner he can cut it down then, but we do not know for sure that will happen. Might not the gardener ask for yet another year? I know God gives me more time to get right all the time.