“[Jesus said,] so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” – John 17:26
I imagined I saw Jesus. He was kneeling by a river. I walked up close behind him. He didn’t say a word. “Oh, Jesus, have you heard of all the children who lie slain?” He never turned his head; he said, “I’ve heard.”
“Why are you kneeling by the river?” I demanded of his back. “There are children who need saving, there is evil beneath the sun. In churches and in grocery stores the blood must surely shout. He never turned his head; he said, “It shouts.”
“What will you do then, Jesus? Will the churches, temples, stores, and schools be stained with blood? Will we sup full of horrors every day of life?” He never turned his head; he said, “You shouldn’t.”
I fell down there beside him, and I found the river’s source as a torrent ran from Jesus’ streaming eyes. “How can you bear this suffering?” I begged him with my tears. He turned his head, and softly asked me, “How can you?”
A poem/prayer based on John 17:20-26, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Seventh Sunday of Easter.
“During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia…” – Acts 16:9
“A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira…” – Acts 16:14
I’ve got to hand it to you, Paul. Some of us struggle with visions. It’s hard to believe God’s directions sometimes. “Go here! No, not there. I mean here, over here!” It would be clearer if God didn’t use pronouns alone.
But you saw a man from Macedonia. (I’ve always wondered: how did you know? Was there a look in the eyes? Or a pattern of jewelry? Or an only-in-Macedonia, for-a-limited-time-only, get-it-now haircut!) You saw him. You said: “Let’s go.”
So far, so good. If my sense of God’s spirit were only so clear as to know which “there” was “here.” But “Come to Macedonia! Enjoy the sun! See the crowds! Hang out by the river and help us! Bring the word!” That even I understand.
Now here is where I really hand it to you, Paul. For there by the river in Philippi, leading city of the district, you found no men of Macedonia, but women. And their leader Lydia – was from Thyatira, near where you’d just been.
God’s visions can blind us, you know, when we read them as anything other than metaphor. You met a woman from Thyatira in Asia, not a man from Macedonia, and you recognized God’s promises fulfilled in her.
A poem/prayer based on Acts 16:9-15, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Sixth Sunday of Easter.
“[Peter said,] ‘If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?'” – Acts of the Apostles 11:17
Look at them, God. Look at them, Jesus. Listen to their voices praising your names. It does my heart good – well, mostly it does. It’s also made my heart stop, you know?
For a time it all seemed so clear – in retrospect, why should I have thought that? – with the Holy Spirit giving me words and gathering the people in.
We grew so fast! Not everyone was ready for our size. Well, nobody was ready for our size. Some thought they’d hide their selfishness within the crowd.
Our sharing started to collapse. We tried enlisting serving people then to serve. Who knew that they, like we, would call attention to themselves so fatally?
It seemed like such a good idea to take this trip, to visit Lydda, get the summons to relieve the grief in Joppa over Tabitha.
But now… a nightmare in the house of Simon. Scads of creatures I have pledged I will not eat, and a voice declaring these things clean three times, three times, three times.
I get it now. Whatever might be said about a wider diet, it’s a wider church that’s on the menu here in Caesarea, with Latin tongues extolling God.
But… what a shambles this will be. We’d barely started with our own, and they have hardly come together yet. We haven’t learned to truly love each other.
However deep Cornelius’ faith – I’m sure it’s deep – how will he find acceptance in Jerusalem? I find my heart is in my mouth right now to share his table, eat the Gentile meal.
That’s bad enough, as I think most will come around. This fellow Saul, the one who sees things differently, I have a feeling he will be their advocate as fiercely as he once denounced both them and us.
These Greeks and Romans will reshape this church, and sometimes that will be just fine, a shedding of the weight imposed by ancient custom we no longer need and should not bear.
If only he were just a simple tradesman, this Cornelius, or worker of the soil, or fisher of the sea. Instead he is an agent of the Empire, oppressor’s instrument against us.
Yes, that will change this church, this Way. The day will come, I’m sure, when some will see us as oppressors, not oppressed, and ask if this is what our Savior taught, and how we love?
What will we tell them in that day? In welcoming the ones the Holy Spirit called, we welcomed also all the power we had feared, and holding it, rejoiced, as the Spirit drained away.
A poem/prayer based on Acts 11:1-18, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fifth Sunday of Easter.
[Simon Peter] turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. – Acts of the Apostles 9:40b-41
Just a moment, now… what’s happening?
Someone is here – no one has been in here in quite some time. I hear him breathing and… is that a murmured prayer? I think I’ll let my eyes stay shut and puzzle this thing out.
This doesn’t quite feel quite like my bed. That’s what I last remember and – oh, my! – I felt so bad. The aches, the failing strength, the fear. I struggled so to breathe.
Who is this man beside my bed? It’s not the doctor, sure. I know his sounds. Why is there no one else? What’s that I hear?
Beyond the door are quiet sobs, the kind I’ve made when weeping had near run its course, and the springs of tears were running low.
That’s Martha’s weeping; that is Miriam’s. Is Anna there? Joanna, too? The widows, then, my friends. But why are they not here, where this man is?
Could he be a physician, better than the one I had? So it must be. My breath is so much easier than it had been. Oh, yes.
Oh, now. His murmuring, his prayer has reached its end. Although my eyes are shut I feel his gaze, and… is that a smile I feel?
Then: “Tabitha, get up,” in soft but roughened voice, as if he was more used to shouts above the roaring sea.
Just: “Tabitha, get up,” and so I might just choose to let my eyelids rise – them first, you see – and take a good long glance at this more capable physician.
Yes: “Tabitha, get up,” but wait. Before I do, with all my friends beyond the door, one burning question to resolve: What is this I’m wearing?
A poem/prayer based on Acts 9:36-43, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fourth Sunday of Easter.
Luke’s account of those attending the body of Tabitha lacks any names; I’ve used women’s names found in the New Testament for Tabitha’s friends. The story clearly states that Simon Peter asked everyone to leave him alone with her body. For whatever reason, the artists’ depictions of the scene routinely ignore this.
There is some suggestion in the writings of the Apostle Paul (he used that Greek version of the Hebrew Saul when writing his letters in Greek) that he did not fully regain his physical sight after this experience. In 2 Corinthians 12 he spoke of a “thorn in the flesh,” suggesting a disability without describing it. At the close of Galatians (6:11) he wrote, “See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand!” Though that might be due to unfamiliarity with using a pen, it might also be because of poor eyesight.
“Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’ As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it…” – Luke 19:29-41
If you had brought the crowd to silence, Lord, and made the air to still so stones could speak, would they have cried aloud their praise? Or would they have, instead, shed tears of grief?
Red, flowing tears, as hot with loss as ever streaked a human face, as hot as those you tasted on the cross, as scarlet as the blood you shed.
They flow, these tears of Earth, today from vents beneath the salty sea, from fissures high upon the mounts and far downslope in forest glades.
You wept to recognize that people will not do the things that make for peace. The stones in chorus weep to see our violence laid hard on you.
And when the scarlet tears encounter salt, the heat of sympathy explodes in sand, black sand, gray cinder, groaning now to bear the land extending into sea.
Weep stones. Weep people, weep. Weep all Creation. In the confluence of scarlet tears and human tears we build new land on sable sand.
A poem/prayer based on Luke 19:28-40 (plus verses 41-44), the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel Reading for Year C, Sixth Sunday in Lent, the Liturgy of the Palms.
Isaiah 43:16-21 with the reactions of the original author.
Thus says the LORD, who makes a way in the sea, a path in the mighty waters, who brings out chariot and horse, army and warrior; they lie down, they cannot rise, they are extinguished, quenched like a wick.
Ah! I hear you, LORD. The army that destroyed Jerusalem shall find destruction like the chariots of Pharaoh overwhelmed by falling walls of water, extinguished surely like a wick.
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
Wait. What? But you… But you just brought it up. And now you want me to forget what you just said? I… No. I can’t.
I am about to do a new thing;
All right. A something new. But I don’t see why I should spend the futile effort to forget the thing you did before, the thing you just recalled to mind yourself. You did. You know you did.
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Well, since you ask… No! I don’t perceive it. It hasn’t happened yet. Um. Right? For here we are in Babylon and scattered round the circuit of its walls. We languish here as exiles from our homes, and all we see are walls and spears and brutal troops.
Now, we could do with a repeat of Exodus. A plague or two or three or ten, or wait: would you consider, for these Babylonians, to raise the volume to eleven? I have no doubt that Nebuchadnezzar will exhibit his hard heart as Pharaoh long ago.
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
Well, that will be a thing. I see. Instead of crossing water now, a waste of desert lies between the ill of our exile and the blessings of our homeland far away. So will you strand the Babylonians in wasteland waterless as we rejoice for lack of thirst?
The wild animals will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people.
Now just a minute there. That doesn’t sound like rivers flowing just for us, and not for them.
the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.
Now, are you sure this message is the one you really want me to proclaim? Because I see a central problem here with this “new thing.” The old thing worked quite well, you know? It got us out alive, and kept an army off our back. These flowing rivers sound quite nice, except that flowers and rushes will not slow pursuit.
Oh, bring us home and you can count on praise. But LORD, I just don’t see it. Nor will they. Call us weary of you if you like, but what will freedom look like when it comes, and when?
A poem/prayer based on Isaiah 43:16-21, the Revised Common Lectionary First Reading for Year C, Fifth Sunday in Lent.
“[The elder son said,] ‘But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!'” – Luke 15:30
This agreement is between [REDACTED], the head of the family, hereafter called PROGENITOR, and [REDACTED], the elder child of the family, hereafter called HEIR.
PROGENITOR agrees that HEIR will be the sole heir to PROGENITOR’s property, and that no other living family members will have further claim upon PROGENITOR’s property at the time of PROGENITOR’s death.
PROGENITOR agrees that HEIR will have appropriate access to PROGENITOR’s property during PROGENITOR’s lifetime, including appropriate board and housing. “Appropriate” will include no less than two and no more than five larger events for HEIR and HEIR’s friends to celebrate each year.
HEIR agrees to labor on the property as directed by PROGENITOR unless PROGENITOR’s directions are to the detriment of the property. Disagreements as to welfare of the property will be resolved by discussion between HEIR and PROGENITOR and will not be referred to any other living family member.
HEIR agrees that the ring, clothing, and foodstuffs provided by PROGENITOR to a living family member have been provided and do not need to be restored to the estate.
HEIR consents to come to the celebration for the recently returned living family member. HEIR promises to speak and act according to common standards of politeness.
HEIR makes no promises about honest celebration.
PROGENITOR agrees to accept HEIR’s appearance at face value and make no further attempts to further relationships with any other living family member.