Messaging Woes

“n the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” – Luke 3:1-2

“Excuse me, are you John son of Zechariah?”

“Yes. Why do you ask?”

“I’ve got a delivery for you. Sign here.”

“What is it?”

“It says it is… let’s see… ‘The Word of God.'”

“Oh, no. I’m not accepting that. Take it back.”

“I can’t do that. It says it right here. ‘NO REFUSALS.’ It’s even in all capital letters.”

“What are you talking about? There’s no such thing as small letters in these days. Everything is capital letters.”

“It doesn’t matter. ‘NO REFUSALS.’ You have to accept it.”

“[Grumbling] I might have known this day would come. ‘Miracle baby,’ my parents said. That kind of thing always happens for a reason.”

“There’s an additional message for you here.”

“I suppose that’s marked ‘NO REFUSALS’ as well, huh?”

“I’m afraid it is.”

“Well, read it out. I’ve got my hands full of the Word of God here.”

“Okay. It says… Get yourself a camel’s hair outfit, move to the Jordan valley, and start washing people.”

“What?”

“Yep. That’s what it says. Camel’s hair, Jordan, washing.”

“Do I look like a camel’s hair kind of guy? I’m the son of a priest, for heaven’s sake.”

“Well, shouldn’t the washing and preaching be right up your alley?”

“Not in camel’s hair it’s not. Do you have any idea how much that itches?”

“Yes, which is why I’m not wearing it.”

“Good grief. What am I supposed to eat? Does it mention that?”

“Let’s see… locusts and wild honey.”

“I do not believe this.”

“‘NO REFUSALS.'”

“Right. Well. I guess I’ll look over this Word of God.”

“Sounds like a good idea. Anything else I can get for you before I leave? A thesaurus with synonyms for snake? Means of monarch-mollifying? A Messiah recognition kit? A dancing adolescent?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

Yes, I know the last line is a pun.

Not precisely a poem and not precisely a prayer but still based on Luke 3:1-6, the Gospel lesson for Year C, Second Sunday of Advent.

The image is Landscape Composition: Saint John in the Wilderness by Thomas Cole (1827) – The Athenaeum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=183048.

I Don’t Want to Hear About Fig Trees

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.” – Luke 21:29-31

I don’t give a fig for fig trees, Jesus.
Tell me clearly what the future brings.

I know that changes in the wind forecast
the rain, or sun, or clouds, or stormy blast
that drowns or feeds or shields the fields,
or lays them down in wind-swept rows.

I know that rumblings deep within the ground
presage emergence of the fiery rock
that ravages the things we’ve built
and does what we cannot: make land.

And, yes, I know that human beings have a way
of signaling the things they’ll do.
I mean, sometimes they say it loud and clear
and we, somehow, will not believe.

I even know that when I dare not say myself
the compass point to which I’ll set my course,
I’m pretty sure which ways I will not go,
and that’s a good prediction where I will.

So it’s not ignorance of figs and leaves
or strength of wind or human whim:
it’s weariness, my LORD. The fig may speak;
my spirit is too tired to hear its voice.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 21:25-36, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, First Sunday of Advent.

The image is a Byzantine icon of Jesus as in Mark 11:12–14 – http://revcrystalk.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/miraclesofthelordpa31.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19042975.

Distant Thunder

“The LORD! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven.” – 1 Samuel 2:10a

Ah, Hannah, generous of you, to spread your thanks
as broadly as a many-bristled brush, and not
to concentrate upon the detail of
your own distinctive celebration.

How dare we be so proud? We know
that God has lifted up, and God has tumbled down
the weary and the prosperous not once,
but time and time again across the span of time?

Indeed, these days have found us humbled once
again, at least we should be humbled now,
discard vainglory’s claim to safety through
the wonders of technology,

For all the care we take to trace disease,
and all success to find the means
to vaccinate the people, still
the folly of humanity prevails.

Ah, Hannah! Pray for us, that this reversal might
not bring us down to grovel in our pride,
to weep at further graves, lament our lost
communities and loved ones gone.

Yes, Hannah, pray for us, that this reversal might
lay down our pride, so we can stand
and raise each other up, to weep in joy
that we discarded folly’s ways in time.

O help us hear, upon the flowing wind,
the distant rumbles of salvation’s thunder, hope
that peoples near and far may know God’s grace,
and with their voices echo Hannah’s song.

A poem/prayer based on 1 Samuel 2:1-10, the Revised Common Lectionary Psalter Reading for Year B, Proper 28 (33).

The image is Anne, femme d’Elqana et mère de Samuel, priant (Hannah, Wife of Elkanah and Mother of Samuel, Praying) by Unknown author (10th century), found in the Psalter of Paris – Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF). Cote : Grec 139, Folio 428v., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14041273.

Devoured

Note that both Jesus and the widow are in the background of the painting. The foreground features a religious official who resembles those Jesus described as liking to walk around in long robes and be greeted with respect.

“They devour widows’ houses…” – Mark 12:40a

“…But she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” – Mark 12:44b

So what was your expression, Jesus,
when you called your friends to see
the widow whose last coins had rattled down
into the treasury collection?

Did you watch with soft, approving eyes,
to see such faith, such generosity,
such confidence of God’s aloha
to relieve the crisis now at hand?

Or did your brow bear furrows
of concern, of worry, for her poverty
had now reached destitution, and
her final meal had clinked into the box?

Or did you grind your teeth to witness on
the Temple grounds the very thing
of which you’d warned? For here
a widow’s house had been consumed.

Oh, Jesus! Have you any teeth remaining in
your jaws? Or do you lubricate
their grinding with your tears? For still
the widows bring their homes… and we devour.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 12:38-44, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 27 (32).

The image is O óbolo da viúva (The Widow’s Mite) by João Zeferino da Costa (1876) – Scan: MNBA/Banco Santos catalogue, São Paulo, 2002., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15742896.

Nobody Asked

“One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?'” – Mark 12:28

You thought it was a worthy question, Jesus,
so worthy that you did what you so often
did not do: you answered it. With quotes.
“Deuteronomy six, verses four and five,” you said.
“The second is much like it, but you’ll have to turn
the pages to Leviticus nineteen, the eighteenth verse.”

Well, no, you didn’t tell him that,
and force him to refresh his memory for numbers
rather than the force of God’s commands:
“The first is ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD is one,
so love the LORD with heart and soul and mind and strength.
The second is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

An honest earnest question and an honest earnest answer,
so you and he agreed. “Yes Teacher, you have truly said
that God is One, there is no other, to love the LORD
so well, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is better
than the offerings and sacrifices of this Temple.
And so you told him he was near the Realm of God.

“After that no one dared to ask him any question…” but
I wish they had. For if to know that loving God and
loving neighbor is to stand upon the verge
of God’s expanding realm, the question still remains:
How do we cross the border from its edge
and find ourselves as citizens of God?

I see that steady, steely gaze, of course.
You have no need to answer what you’ve answered
time and time and time again. To know
we are to love our God, to know we are to love
our neighbor, these bring us to the gate.
To make the crossing, we must bring the love.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 12:28-34, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 26 (31).

The image is Caritas by William Wilson, 1905-1972. From Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57837 [retrieved October 27, 2021]. Original source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/paullew/8539356086/.

Lightened

“Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.” – Mark 10:49-50

He heard the Nazarene was near.
He called the name,
He shouted “Jesus, Son of David!
Come and bring me mercy!”

He saw more clearly than the ones
Who sought to quell his voice.

They sternly ordered him,
But quiet would not serve the time.
“Son of David, come!
Come and bring me mercy!”

He saw more clearly than the ones
Who shortly would declare, “Hosanna!”

They would acclaim a conquering prince.
He shouted for a healer’s power.
They would prefer their preconceptions
To the Way the Christ would tread.

He saw more clearly than the ones
Who sought to sit at left and right.

“The Teacher calls,” the word had spread,
And hearing, he erupted from the ground,
Now lighter in his movements as
His cloak was left a-flutter in the dust.

He saw more clearly than the ones
Who’d take two tunics on the Jesus road.

So Jesus, tell me true,
Because I find myself confused.
Why when he asked to see again,
You said, “Your faith has made you well”?

You might have said, in deepest truth,
“My friend, you see. You do.”

A poem/prayer based on Mark 10:46-52, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 25 (30).

The image is Christ Giving Sight to Bartimaeus by William Blake – XQENbMVCvBS7kw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22207218.

Rise and Fall

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her…'” – Mark 10:11

“But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.'” – Mark 10:14

Rise and fall, rise and fall.
One minute you set the goal posts high,
to give relationships the dedicated work
we give to our most cherished crafts.

Perhaps you were remembering the potter
Jeremiah watched five centuries before,
who made those errors but reshaped
and did not throw away the clay.

But harsh, Jesus, harsh, to raise the spectre
of a Ten Commandment sin when other sins
like violence defile the marriage bond,
when some receive no options but assent.

Rise and fall, rise and fall.
Another minute and you are indignant
once again, but not with divorcees but friends,
who would “protect” you from the crush of children.

Lower now the barriers, you say,
and let the children come to me,
the heirs, possessors, owners of
the reign of God.

And so they come, the carefully washed
when leaving home, now layered with
a liberal crust of dust, and hardly struck
with the importance of the blessing they’ll receive.

Rise and fall. Rise and fall.
You set our aspirations high, O Lord,
for spouses, friends, and strangers, then
you let them fall, and give the realm of God to us.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 10:2-16, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 22 (27).

The image is Jesus Christ with the Children by Carl Bloch (1800s) – Photo by the Athenaeum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25991809

Nice

“Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp.” – Numbers 11:25-26

“John said to him, ‘Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.’ But Jesus said, ‘Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.'” – Mark 9:38-40

Within the tent, You spoke to Moses, and
the sixty-eight inside proclaimed
Your word, and likewise two
who couldn’t follow clear instructions. Nice.

Outside the house, You gave the healing strength
to one who followed Jesus without following
the others. John, like Joshua before,
protested. Jesus bade him silence. Nice.

Who, after all, could smother all
the movements of Your Spirit? We
can try it all we like, but still the breath
of God moves as it will despite us. Nice.

But then, it works (or not) the opposite,
for when I’d see Your Spirit wafting wide,
“the word of God was rare those days,”
and just a few declare Your power. Nice.

And so I hear the weariness of Moses, said
to Joshua, “Would that God’s people all
were prophets!” Then the labor of disciples could
be shared, and I might rest a while. Nice.

Oh, Eldad, Medad, unnamed exorcist
of Galilee, may that same Spirit that
empowered you empower more, ’till all
rejoice in holiness and healing. Wouldn’t it be nice?

A poem/prayer based on Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 and Mark 9:38-50, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading (Alternate) and Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 21 (26).

The image is Moses elects the Council of Seventy Elders by Jacob de Wit (1737) – AQGtI5P6nkpYyw at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21988106.

The Circularity of Arrogance

“[Jesus] sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.'”
– Mark 9:35

No, I don’t really want to talk about the things
we talked about, not when you’d likely
have preferred we talked about the things
you said, the things we didn’t want to talk
about at all. No, not at all.

I really do not want to tell you, nor
admit, that we were one in mind
to not discuss what you had said,
and in the unity of our denial broke
into an argument of who is chief.

Um. After you, of course.

So really, we’ll just stand in silence, let
our shuffling feet reveal what you
already know without our saying anything
(and have I said just how annoying that
we know you know what we’d prefer you did not know?).

Our lips compress as you confirm you know
(we knew you knew) and tell us greatness is
the thing you said that we’d preferred
to leave unsaid: the first is last, the last is first,
and yes, we know, but honestly…

You know this doesn’t ever work – you know.
You know there’s prideful service just as much
as prideful leadership. You know
that some proclaim their martyrdom of self
as virtue though they only serve themselves.

So even were we to have spoken of
the greatest servant soul among us
(after you), we still would have been puffing up,
not building up. Do you not see
the circularity of arrogance?

I see despair has crept across your face,
the desperation as you take the hand of… wait.
You mean it’s just that simple? Serve the child?
Serve the growing child? Serve the child that’s grown?
Serve the child – and so we serve our God?

A poem/prayer based on Mark 9:30-37, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 20 (25).

The image is Jesus and the Children, a Carolingian fresco on the north wall of the nave of the Monastery Church of St. John in Müstair, Switzerland, ca. 825. Image file from James Steakley; artwork: unknown – Jean Hubert et al., Europe in the Dark Ages (London: Thames & Hudson, 1969), p. 152, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6941409.

Don’t Tell Anyone

He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him. – Mark 8:29-30

Could I become your follower
without the burden of a cross?
The walk would be so easy then,
a spiritual stroll, an amble down
the garden path of soul, refreshed with rain.

Could I become your follower
and leave aside the self-denial?
I look around and see so clearly that
a number of your followers have done
this very thing. As I could, too.

And I could cheerily obey your word
to keep my silence, tell nobody
of your puzzling riddles: save my life
by losing it? Lose my life by saving it?
I can produce such nonsense without help.

But what temptation do I have for you?
Now Peter tried by loyalty and love
to make you do what you, right near the end,
preferred: to let the cup go by
and take the simple way of power.

You turned away from tempter’s lure.
You took the road. You dared rejection, found
rejection. You were faithful unto death.
Now through that course, temptation has
no power over you forever more.

In these five stanzas, though, you’ll find
temptation has its power still, not over you,
but over me, to choose the words which ask
the least of me, and leave aside the words
which ask my height and depth.

Reluctantly, then, Sufferer
of Calvary, I lift the burden of
the day, and hope it is, indeed, a cross,
and that a Simon of Cyrene might help
me bear it to the place where life meets life.

A poem/prayer based on Mark 8:27-38, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year B, Proper 19 (24).

The image is Christ Carrying the Cross by Titian (ca. 1585). Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15501461.