Hindering God

“[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.

The image is Peter Baptizing the Centurion Cornelius (1709) by Francesco Trevisani – http://www.istrianet.org/istria/illustri/trevisani/works.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1804538.

Unholy Dominion

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

I look to Your face, O Righteous and Holy One.
It should be beaming bright as noonday sun,
and in its radiance my eyes should be dazzled.
Then why instead do Your hands obscure Your face?
Why does Your forehead tremble? Why do
Your shoulders shake? Why does a river run
from both Your eyes down to Your feet?

You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet…

Why do the heavens wail? Why does the lightning strike?
Why do Your eyes flash amidst Your tears,
rising suddenly above Your trembling hands?
Why do Your brows draw together
in holy wrath arising from Your sorrow?
You have made us, after all, a little less than You.
We stand in crowns of glory and of honor.

You stand. I fall. My face is to the ground.
Your glory is too wonderful for me, too great
Your anger, and too great Your grief.
Your foot descends to hover just above
my neck. “Is this,” You ask, “dominion you
would choose? It’s not? Then why,” You whisper,
“do you force it on My children?”

A poem/prayer based on Psalm 8, the Revised Common Lectionary Psalm Reading for Year A, Trinity Sunday.

Detail of a large gypsum relief showing the Assyrian king Tiglath-pileser III placing his foot on the neck of an enemy. From the North-West Palace, reused in South-West Palace at Nimrud, Iraq. ca. 728 BCE. The relief is now in the British Museum. Photo by Dr. Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90697184.

Go Tell that Fox

Salomé with the Head of John the Baptist by Caravaggio
Oil on canvas, 114 x 137 cm, 1606 – 1607

“Go tell that fox for me…”

Are you kidding, Jesus? I’m not telling Herod
anything. I know the risks. And if you don’t,
might you recall the head of John
the Baptist on a platter?

“…’Listen, I am casting out demons
and performing cures today
and tomorrow…”

That’s great for you, Messiah, but,
I’m no messiah (if you hadn’t noticed).
I stand by beds of illness impotent,
and listen to my breaking heart.

“‘…and on the third day finish my work.”

Ha! That’s a good one, Jesus. Yes, I know
the joke, that preachers only work one day
a week. Not even I believe I’ll finish –
or you’ll finish – in just three.

“‘…Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day
I must be on my way.'”

Oh, must you leave so soon? No longer to
encourage me to take on earthly powers,
summon them to righteousness,
decry their foul abuses?

Yes, there you go, into your self-proclaimed
three days of labor, leaving me…
leaving me… commissioned
to confront the Herod of today.

A poem/prayer based on Luke 13:31-35, the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading for Year C, Second Sunday in Lent.

The image is “Salome with the Head of John the Baptist” by Caravaggio, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=509510.