Friday, December 02, 2011

Sonnet: Markan prologue

If I had to describe Mark's gospel with a punctuation mark, it would be the exclamation point.

A bleak and austere scene for a beginning--
A desert splash outside Jerusalem.
Yet gospel comes to those whose hopes are thinning,
Who think that God's chief aim is to condemn.
We can't deny the voice is somewhat shrill:
"Prepare the way!" it cries from Jordan's banks.
"Repent and turn away from Satan's will!
Make straight the path for One of royal ranks!"
And yet within this message lies a vow:
The advent of this Holy One is near!
The prophets' long-awaited day has now
Arrived.  The world be cleansed of sin and fear!
              So let this gospel in bleak hearts find room
              That faith, like desert flowers, soon may bloom.

Phillip Martin 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sonnet: Matthew 25:31-46

In ancient times the shepherding tradition
Allowed the intermingling of flocks
Until day’s end, when shepherds had the mission
To herd the sheep and goats as separate stocks.
The world is like those hills of Palestine,
With righteous and accursed from ev’ry nation.
We dwell as one, our lives to intertwine
Until the end time’s final separation.
And there before our Shepherd’s throne and feast
The nations learn the most surprising thing:
That service to the sick, the lost, the least,
In fact was service to this Shepherd King.
              Who's sheep?  Who's goat? Give me a heart that sees
               Your presence, Lord, among the least of these!

image: "The Last Judgment" 1917, Eric Gill

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Sonnet: Matthew 15:10-28

"To eat with unwashed hands does not defile":
Such shocking teachings vexed the Pharisees
Whose laws, delineating pure from vile,
Had boiled faith down to following decrees.
For purity meant life in ancient days,
Pronounced one clean or foul, who's in or out.
Upending their religion, Jesus says
That sin corrupts within, not from without.
But soon his teaching moment gains a face
When Jesus, now in Gentile territory,
Receives request from someone deemed as base
Yet sees her faith as vessel for God's glory.
         Like her, I beg for crumbs of grace, dear Lord:
         To be proclaimed your child, to life restored.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Deuteronomy door jambs

One of the service projects on our recent youth group servant trip involved painting the entire interior of a church in a small community in South Carolina.  The congregation had hit hard times and was unable to pay to have their new worship and office space completed, and so they were depending on different volunteers working intermittently to get the job done. What our group found was the shell of a building that still has a long way to go.  The structure didn't even have any interior doors.  As we were putting paint on the walls, I noticed that one of the groups before us had left some "graffiti" in the door jambs by scrawling Scripture verses on bare wood.  Of course, eventually their graffiti will disappear once the doors are installed and the jambs are painted, too.  But, in the meantime, their message sustains the laborers.  I can only imagine that the graffiti artists used verses that they had already committed to memory and were not standing there with a Bible in their hand as they did it.

"I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." Phillippians 4:13

Apparently the King James is the preferred version.

"There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it."  1 Corinthians 10:13

This would be the verse I'd memorize:

 "Jesus wept." John 11:35

A little less uplifting, perhaps, but still good to be reminded...

"For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." Romans 3:23

A little Old Testament here...

"But they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings as eagles [sic], they shall run and not be weary, and they shall walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31

This one had actually been left on the leg of a sawhorse.  Perhaps appropriately, for "on this hangs all the law and the prophets" (at least partly, according to Jesus):

"Love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and all thine soul, and all thine strength."  Deuteronomy 6:5

This little encounter occured to me to be one way of heeding the command in Deuteronomy 11: "You shall put these words of hime in your heart and soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand...Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, so that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to your ancestors to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth" (vv18-21).  I pray the congregation who inhabits this buildling also has better days ahead of it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Sonnet: Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

Few parables come with an explanation
As patent as the lesson of the sower
Whose planting style becomes a demonstration
Of how our God's a gracious kingdom-grower:
Upon a well-worn path some seed is tossed
While other kernels fall in rocky soil,
And though some seed among the thorns is lost,
Some finds its way to earth where farmers toil.
So, like that seed, God's word brings forth a yield
When it into our yearning hearts is cast.
However, Lord, I fear my heart's a field
More path and rocks and thorns where life can't last.
           Yet in some hidden acre love takes root.
           When you're the sower, e'en I can bring forth fruit!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Sonnet: Mandatum Novum

The table’s set with symbols of salvation,
Which tasted, eaten, shared, would bring to mind
Those darker days they lived as oppressed nation,
A people with no hope, as slaves confined.
With grateful hearts, they share that recollection
And sing the hymn that echoes Miriam’s praise,
And in this meal, a chance for deep reflection:
Thus freed and loved, they serve God all their days.
But now they hear themselves called slaves once more
As gracious Teacher loves without reserve
And takes a towel, kneeling to the floor,
Cleans dirty feet, and shows them how to serve.
           Thus claimed by new commandment we are freed
           To lives that humbly stoop at neighbor’s need.