Grapes Inherited

Sour grapes – that’s our phrase. “It’s just sour grapes.”
We use it to disguise injustice.
We use it to to discredit injury.
We use it to avoid accountability.
“It’s just sour grapes,” and therefore we
bear no responsibility.

For Jeremiah and Ezekiel, however,
sour grapes were something that passed on,
with parents’ sour sufferings
experienced by children. “As I live,” said God,
“this proverb shall no more be used.”
That’s true – but the proverb’s truth remains.

The child of the refugee is hungry.
The child of the battered woman cries.
The child of the homeless has no home.
The child of the oppressed is marked.
The child of the person of color
wonders when their life will matter.

Will we blame you, O God,
that we reject the refugee, that we
refuse the see the signs of the abuse,
that we permit a child to be homeless,
that we accept oppression and
we give excuses to this violence?

Of course we will.

And you will say, to quote Ezekiel,
who wrote from exile in the shadow
of the walls of Babylon, who knew
disaster from the inside and from out:
“Repent and turn from your transgressions,
or iniquity will be your ruin.”

And so it is.

A poem/prayer based on Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32, the Revised Common Lectionary Alternate Reading for Year A, Proper 21 (26).

Icon of the prophet Ezekiel attributed to Terentiy Fomin from Vologda – photo by shakko, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8828814.

I Got a… Denarius

When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received [a denarius] the usual daily wage. – Matthew 20:9

“I got a rock.” – Charlie Brown in It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Nobody hired us. You could say I didn’t try.
At least, I didn’t try the ones with work.
I promise you I tried the ones that didn’t,
at least the ones who said they didn’t.

Another day of working to find work;
another day of working without pay;
another day of wondering just how
the evening’s meal will come together.

“Why are you standing here so idle all the day?”
“I’ve chased the ones who will not hire
from this end of the marketplace to that.
So now, I stand, because there is no hope for work.”

Or is there?

Now that was just an hour ago. I worked
to pull the weeds and stake the vines,
but to be honest, darkness came too soon
to make much impact on this vineyard.

Darkness came too soon to make much impact
on the emptiness of my larder.
Darkness came too soon for work to be
rewarded with enough to keep our lives.

But look: there in my hand. The owner
of the vineyard has presented me
with a denarius, a coin whose worth
will keep us fed today, perhaps tomorrow.

I run back to the marketplace
for oil and flour, beans and dates.
My family will not believe
the owner’s generosity – I hardly do!

Behind me I hear quarrelling.
I pay no mind if others’ eyes are evil.
My family will eat tonight
because someone was good.

I usually imagine Jesus’ parable from the perspective of the all-day workers, the ones “who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” For this poem/prayer, I thought I’d choose another point of view.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 20:1-16, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Proper 20 (25).

Photo of a denarius by Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. http://www.cngcoins.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=534248.

Horse and Rider Thrown into the Sea

“…and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.” – Exodus 14:30b

“Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them: ‘Sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.'” – Exodus 15:20-21

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

I can’t imagine where they found the energy
to sing, to sound the tambourine, to dance.
My feet are lead; they sink into the marshy mud
that runs along the reedy shore.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

We were not last in line, but close enough
to feel as if we were the least in all of Israel.
No doubt the chariots and archers were not close
enough, but we could feel their breaths upon our necks.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

I ran, we ran, we galloped through the slime and muck
and knew – and knew – we were too slow. We were
too late. We were too weak. We knew – we knew –
that swords and chains and whips would be our lot.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

Then suddenly we climbed the bank, the shore
had made its way to us, it seemed, lest we
expire before our limbs had carried us to it.
And still we heard the cries of the Egyptians.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

With trembling I reversed my gaze to see
the sword that shortly would relieve my life,
and saw the waters closing, heard the malice
of Egyptian voices carried off by wails of fear.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

And now… I cannot summon up the strength
to sing, or dance, or beat the tambourine.
When breath returns, perhaps I will be strong
to sing a song of thanks that now I do breathe free.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

The churning waters have devoured the Egyptians.
The shores are strewn with all the corpses of the drowned.
One gazes up at me with vacant eyes, no more
surprised than I to see I live and he has died.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

So when I sing, dear Lord, in celebration of this gift
may I remember to regret the slain. Though ill
was their intent, and evil was their goal,
they, too, could claim the title of your children.

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea.

Oh, will a sunrise ever come, O God, that sees
the power-filled renouncing their prerogatives?
When slavery in all its forms is done? When death no longer rules?
When no one casts their eyes on corpses,

Gasping, panting, wheezing on the edge of the sea?

A poem/prayer based on Exodus 14:19-31 and Exodus 15:1b-11, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading and alternate Psalm Reading for Year A, Proper 19 (24).

The image is Miriam’s Song by Samuel Hirszenberg, Center for Jewish History, NYC – https://www.flickr.com/photos/center_for_jewish_history/3560756375/, No restrictions, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41533409.

Two or Three or Seven or Seventy-Seven

It sounds so… easy… Jesus.
Like when those friends of mine
cajoled their mother into asking you –
the gall! –
to ask you if her sons could sit
at either side of you upon your throne.

Oh, yeah. Like that was gonna happen.
I knew full well that your ideas
were not in line with theirs –
the gall! –
but also, well, they weren’t in line with mine
but trust me, you’ll see my way, won’t you now?

Such simple steps. First me, then me and Andrew, say,
or me and Matthew or Iscariot
to talk to James and John (and mom) –
the gall! –
and get them straightened out. And if that
doesn’t work, we’ll get the group. And you.

But really, just how many times
will I be forced to make this run-around?
How many times will James and John (and mom) –
the gall! –
be able to repeat this sorry circle
and distract us from your better work?

Once ought to be enough. Or twice.
They’re smarter than they ought to be, you know,
these Sons of Thunder and their mom –
the gall! –
but I’d be willing now to go as high as seven
and then they can be tax collectors to us all.

What’s that you said?
Like… Matthew?
Oh.
The gall.

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 18:15-20 (with references to Matthew 20:20-28 and 18:21), the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, Proper 18 (23).

The image is Le Christ rencontrant la femme et les fils de Zébédée by Paolo Veronese – photo by Tylwyth Eldar, 2018-08-04 11:05:41, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71396860.

And After That

And [Joseph] kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him. – Genesis 45:15

Where does that conversation start?
“You sold me into Egypt.”
“Well, yes, we did. We, um, thought…”
“Well, we didn’t think…”
“Mostly, Joe, we felt…”
“Yeah, we felt, and mostly what we felt…”
“…Was angry.”
“Yeah.”
“Angry.”

I get angry, God. Oh, yes.
Despite the best advice, I’m ready now
to test You. Yes, and such a test.
For if our weary state is not
so great a hardship as the state of slavery,
or worse, imprisoned and yet guiltless,
or worse, awaiting a deliverance
that should not be delayed, yet is…

Our weary state is bad enough
that I can set it side-by-side
with seven years of famine and
with seven years of harvests
left to rot amidst the fields.
We ignored the Josephs who would tell us to
prepare for harsher times…

Well.
Suffice it to admit my heart is aching
and my blood is pounding and
I do not weep for resolution but
I weep in deep frustration and
I am not ready to embrace
my not-so-sorry siblings.

I hesitate as well to reach for You, O God.

So.

May I swiftly come into that place “and after that”
enjoyed by Joseph, Reuben, Judah, and the rest.
Restore to us the unity of family.
And… as I come to You, may my tears drench Your neck
and may Your tears run down beyond the collar
of my robes, as sweet upon the ground
as is the dew of Hermon.

A poem/prayer based on Genesis 45:1-15 and Psalm 133, the Revised Common Lectionary Alternate First Reading and Alternate Psalm for Year A, Proper 15 (20).

The image is Joseph Recognized by His Brothers by Léon Pierre Urbain Bourgeois (1863) – http://www.culture.gouv.fr/Wave/image/joconde/0419/m015586_0004599_p.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8740999.

Midnight Wrestling

Hoarsely breathing.
Sweat’s aroma growing.
Taste of dust across the teeth.
A shapeless silhouette against the stars.
Muscles aching, skin abrading, jaw clenched tight,
we wrestle to the dawn.

In ignorance I strain.
In ignorance I fumble for a hold.
In ignorance I push or pull or pivot.
In ignorance I gasp for breath, inhale, exhale,
and beg for blessing, beg for name.

Is this you, God?
Do you produce this ache
by dislocation of my frame?
Is this the silent panting struggle with Creation?
Is this you, God?

No name.
Just a name for me,
a name for a devoted wrestler, but
I weary of the struggle, weary of the pain,
weary of the ignorance.

If you must put
your arms about me once again,
might it be a parent’s warm embrace
and not to separate my fragile, aching bones.
Oh, bless me as I am.

A poem/prayer based on Genesis 32:22-31, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Proper 13 (18).

Drawing of Jacob wrestling with the angel by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov – http://religionart.narod.ru/gal9/photo45.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9087629.

Poor Farmer

I don’t think much of your agricultural practice, Jesus.
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…”
a farmer who leaves the weeds amidst the wheat,
and only separates the two at harvest.

Well, let me tell you, Jesus, that the weeds
are not just growing peacefully beside
the wheat. They steal the water, hide the sun,
choke the grain. The wheat begs your relief!

“O that you would kill the wicked, O God,
and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me!”
“Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?”

I need a farmer who will bring me aid and comfort
from the spreading weeds of greed and folly
ravishing the struggling grain of your own planting,
LORD. “I hate them with perfect hatred,” indeed.

Unless…

Unless, of course, I let the Psalmist’s prayer
take root within my heart and blossom there:
“See if there is any wicked way in me;”
test me to see if I grow like the weeds.

Ah, now I am less eager for your justice
or your retribution or your weeding. Now
I am content to grow in peace however fragile,
to become, I pray, your wheat and not your weed.

“See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

A poem/prayer based on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Psalm 139, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading and Psalm for Year A, Proper 11 (16).

Photo by Eric Anderson.

Where is the Laughter?

Now Sarah said, “God has brought laughter for me…” – Genesis 21:6

Where is the laughter, O God?
Where is the delight in your created multiverse?
Where is the wonder that bubbles up
in human beings rejoicing?

But who can laugh in days like these?
Who can laugh? Four hundred thousand people
now have died around the world?
One hundred thousand of our closer neighbors?

Yes, who can laugh in days like these,
when the essential work and heightened risk
and sickening and dying falls upon
the people burdened by the sin of racism?

Yes, who can laugh when clubs and shields
and “rubber bullets” strike, when tear gas
drives the ministers from holy ground,
when violence asserts the mantle of Christ’s Church.

Yes, who can laugh, for who can breathe?
Who can laugh, for who can see for tears?
Who can laugh, for who do so through a mask?
Who can laugh, for who can see their neighbor smile?

The LORD said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh?…
Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

O LORD, let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream,
and we
will
laugh.

A poem/prayer based on Genesis 18:1-15, 21:1-7, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year A, Proper 6 (11).

A stained glass window in the Collegiale Notre Dame de Dinant in Walloon, Belgium. Photo by Vassil – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17808949.

Help of the Helpless

Father of orphans and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.
God gives the desolate a home to live in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious live in a parched land. – Psalm 68:5-6

I am grateful, O God, to know
the people for whom You labor,
the people for whom You care.

You care for the homeless.
You care for the resource-less.
You care for the refugee.

I am grateful, O God, to know
the people for whom You care.
Do You wonder why people do not?

A poem/prayer based on Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35, the Revised Common Lectionary Psalm Reading for Year A, seventh Sunday of Easter.

The image is a portrait of Tomomichi Yuuki, “Mizuhan portrait”, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64228756.

Orphaned

[Jesus said,] “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” – John 14:18

Technically, I have been an orphan now
for twenty months and three. My mother died
as I was starting to believe that I
was an adult – perhaps, of course, before
I had achieved that title – in the waning months
before my second decade reached its close.
It seems so odd to be now older than she ever was.

My father lived much longer, though afflicted so
in latter years by Parkinson’s Disease, he could
not make the trip to visit me, his eldest son,
in the Hawaiian Islands. The flowers of this place
adorned his passing when I wish they could
have welcomed him as honored guest.
But he greeted eighty years with such a smile.

So I have been left orphaned well into
my middle age, a kinder fate than many folk
endure. If none of us were perfect in our love,
we had at least the grace to learn and grow,
to love anew when older means to love had passed.
So Jesus, if you would, come visit me, I pray,
for I am orphaned, and I weep for your embrace.

A poem/prayer based on John 14:15-21, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year A, sixth Sunday of Easter.

The photo is of my father and my mother on their wedding day in 1962; photographer unknown.

This poem/prayer fails to honor the woman my father married in 1995; they met while both pursuing M.Div. degrees at Andover Newton Theological School. She has been the mother-to-an-adult my own mother could not be. My son said it best. His grandfather had had the privilege to marry the love of his life twice.