Saturday, June 18, 2016

Satisfied

Death is a fearful thing, but to be dead and alive at the same time is surely worse. He had always thought so, and now his experience confirmed it. To be a leper was to be dead to your family, your friends; your place in society and the trade you had lived by. You were dead to the Law of Moses and the worship of God. There was no place for you in home or synagogue or temple. Even here in Samaria, where some rules were far less strict than Jerusalem, that remained a constant. The horror ascribed to leprosy was universal  You were an outcast from everything that made life sweet and good, condemned to have no fellowship with anyone except your fellow outcasts, and they, living in a world without hope or kindness or any rule of law except the one that demanded that they name themselves “unclean”, were not always generous or caring. And the while, even as you endured these things, your body rotted away inch by inch, and your self-loathing grew in proportion. You were feared and despised by all, and all joy was fled from life.

But, even among lepers, rumours travel and news is shared, especially news of a man who worked miracles of healing. When you have no other hope such a possibility, however remote, is potentially the most exciting prospect in the world. Of course, not for everyone. Some had turned their backs on hope, preferring a cynical pragmatism to protect themselves from further disappointment. But he had not yet fallen so far, and nor had some others. So, when they heard that this Jesus was travelling in the border lands between Samaria and Galilee, well, why not give it a try?

They waited in hope by the roadside, and there were ten of them. And strangely, as he waited, the hope of healing tore his heart wide open. All the suppressed pain and longing rose up inside him, and he discovered that his leprous eyes could still cry. He kept his face averted, ashamed of his emotions.

They heard the sound of people coming, and gazed anxiously down the road as a group approached. The lepers did not dare to come close, so they stood at a distance and cried out, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us.”

“Go and show yourselves to the priests,” he replied, and somehow his bare word was enough for them. They knew the law, they knew that only a priest had the authority to declare them free from leprosy and allow them to re-enter the community . So, obediently they set off, hardly daring to think about it.

But while they were walking, they discovered they were healed, and their pain and fear was turned to joy. He stopped, he looked at the flesh which had become his disgusting prison and saw that it was new and whole. Every mark every disfigurement, had vanished, and he was overwhelmed with wonder. Forgetful of his companions, he turned and ran back to Jesus, shouting to the world his praise of God, for he knew that nothing less than the power of God could have done this. He came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pouring out his broken, stumbling words of thanks. He was complete, he was whole; his world, his life had been remade by the mercy of God. He heard Jesus comment on the fact that he was the only one to return with thanks, but that was not his concern. He had no room left for anything but wonder and joy.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Perhaps ..

Perhaps I’m not the artist but the art,
The one you shape and mould and colour in,
Carve and smooth out, retouch relentlessly,
Infinite patience whittling me within.

Perhaps I’m not the singer but the song,
The music that Your mercy loves to play,
The theme resolving sorrow into hope,
Anguish to wonder, darkness to new day.

Perhaps I’m not the dancer but the dance,
Your choreography positions me
Lifted to heights I never thought to reach
And plunged with grace to rise exultantly.

Perhaps I’m not the writer but the tale
You tell again, the story old and new,
The wonder that we weep for every time,
The marvel that is gloriously true.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

I believe

I am the king of all I survey, ruling a great and mighty empire. Other nations and their gods fall before my armies. Who is like unto me? Who can compete with my power and glory? I am the chosen vessel of Bel and Marduk, the gods of my people, and perhaps I have outstripped even them in glory. My power knows no limit. I move peoples and nations according my whim, mixing them up so that they might become one people, just as when water and wine are mixed together and cannot be separated again.  But is it enough?

No, it is not enough. I want more than just their subservience, I want their worship. I have ordered the construction of a mighty golden image of myself. Who is fitter than I am to receive the worship, the homage, the adoration of the people of Babylon? I am Nebuchadnezzar and I believe that I am a god.

……………………………………………………………

My name is Nebuchadnezzar and I am not a god, just a foolish and vainglorious man. I believe that there is one true God in the universe, the Most High, King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The only power any man has is the power that the Most high allows him to have.

I should have known, I should have believed much sooner. First there were the boys who refused to eat the idolatrous meats from my table, yet they throve. (How could I not have seen? How could I not have known? But pride is a terrible blindness). Then there was my prophetic dream of the large statue made of various materials, which no one but Belteshazzar, prophet of the Most High God, could discern or interpret. He told me then that it was his God who was the revealer of mysteries. I should have known when those three Hebrews refused to bow to my image and I had them thrown in the fierce flames but they did not burn. Instead they walked around in the furnace with the same ease with which I walk around my private gardens, and they were in the company of another who was as glorious as a son of the gods. How could I not have realised that He was so much greater than I?

But I persisted in my folly. I was warned in a dream to change the direction of my heart, for the Most High is merciful beyond man’s comprehension, but I was wedded to my pride, so the King of Heaven humbled me so that I might be delivered. In the very hour when I raised my voice to declare that the glory of Babylon was a reflection of the glory and majesty of myself a voice from Heaven de3clared my sentence. Everything I treasured was taken from me, I was driven forth from the city, and, with my sanity vanished, my very humanity disintegrated. For seven years I lived like a beast of the field, filthy, unkempt, unsheltered, eating grass like mindless cattle. I had neither majesty nor dignity.

After seven years came a moment of blessed clarity, and I lifted up my heart in praise of Him who orders the kingdoms of men and gives them to whomsoever He pleases. And my kingdom was restored to me.

Now I believe and declare that all glory dominion and power belong to God. His kingdom, and his alone, has dominion over all the world and shall endure for all generations. And all He does is right and true and just.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Two hundred and three million

Two Hundred and three million
(the number of victims of genocide in the 20th Century)

Two hundred and three million
And our tears are turned to ash,
Scattered by dry winds.

There was a time they laughed,
Looked at the sky,
Tasted music in the wind,
And touched with love.
There was a time their stumbling tongues
Learned speech; their stumbling legs
Learned to walk, run, hop, skip,
To dance … to dance …
Till all the dancing stopped,
The walls went up,
The blade came down,
The shots spun through the dark:
Humanity
Denied itself again.

Take up your tears,
Two hundred and three million
Have scarcely stirred the dust on barren graves,
The pitiless dust on barren, silent graves,
One drop for each is more than we can spare.
In a world gone mad with madness,
Who will dare
Name the unnameable,
Take up the mirror,
(The one that does not glow with rose-pink light,
Or Hollywood halos flashing)
To show our social garments of compassion
For the rude rags that deck our empty hearts.

Let the wind take up their cry.
Let the earth blench with shame to have covered such a burden.
Let the songbirds cease their songs.
Let the flowers hesitate to bloom
Let the angels of heaven stand in the places where we failed to.

Let there be light,
Remorseless light –
Blaze into our darkness
Till the excuses die upon our tongues.

“Any man’s death diminishes me”

We have hardened our hearts
Lest the knowledge break us.
We have turned away our faces
Lest we see they look like us.

We have clasped our hands behind our backs
Afraid of driving nails,
Afraid of life, afraid of human blood,
Afraid of being vulnerable like them.

I cannot pretend to walk
With the burning compassion of the angels.
It is easy not to care.

Two hundred and three million had no choice.

Two hundred and three million call my name.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

In the Name

They knew they had done nothing wrong. In fact, it was a work of mercy of the highest order, the very sort that their Master used to do. Now they would continue, for His sake and in His name. But they also knew exactly why they had been arrested – because they had done this act of healing in the name of the One whom the priestly party had condemned to death with agitated ferocity.

It had been a completely spontaneous response. A crippled beggar had asked for money, but they had none to give, so they had given what they could. “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I will give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” And the man had done just that, jumping up and putting the new-found strength in his legs through its paces, all the while praising god for this miraculous gift.

And the crowd was astounded. The ripples of attention spread out rapidly as the immediate witnesses told others what had just happened. “Did you see that?” they said to one another, and soon everyone was thronging around to see for themselves, for the crippled beggar was well-known. An explanation was in order, and Peter and John were only too happy to give it. The very Jesus who had been handed over to death by the people of Jerusalem, was the one whom God had raised from the dead, and they were His witnesses to proclaim this wonder to the world. And men believed.

But the priestly council, the same people who had bribed the soldiers to cover up the truth of Jesus’ resurrection, were not pleased at all, so they had arrested  and imprisoned Peter and John, and now they were going to question them. “By what power or name did you do this?”

It was the crucial question, and the answer was the resurrected Jesus, the same person whom these very men, gathered here, had condemned to death and turned over to the Roman authorities to be crucified. And now they had the opportunity to preach of their Christ to the ones who were his murderers. Peter did not hesitate. He had met the risen Lord, he had been filled, changed and renewed by the Holy Spirit. He was no longer the one who had denied his Master three times before the cock crowed twice on that fateful night.  In the name of Jesus, their crucified and risen Lord, they had raised a crippled beggar to walk on his own strong legs, to the praise and glory of God. There was, after all, no other name under heaven by which men might be saved.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

To the Shadow

Yes, we have touched, have met
In the woods where we passed
There, when the sun grew cold
And blight lay on the grass.

I heard you in the trees,
The wind betrayed your course.
I had no energy
To trace you to your source

There, while the morning burned,
I was a flattened thing
Laid low with so much ease
By the brush of your wing.

I am so very small,
You, a monstrosity,
Mighty to shake my world,
Mighty to fall on me.

Yet I know all that tale
Which you would not have told,
Of your triumphant day
When sun and moon grew cold.

Oh, it was all a lie,
Your famous victory –
It took one empty tomb
To crush you utterly.

You still breathe venomed breath
Where paths grow hard and grim;
Yet you are dead, oh death!
All is restored in Him.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

For Good Friday

As the bird shelters nestlings
In the shadow of its wing
Whatever storm may rage,
So you have sheltered me
In the shadow of the cross
And the worst has not come nigh me.

Sometimes I almost sense
The thud of hammer strokes,
Unimaginable tear of flesh,
The scream of worlds unmaking,
And I turn my head away
That the worst may not come nigh me.

Sometimes I almost sense
The blood-lust of the crowd
(It is not so far away)
Where justice bends to evil
And the social contract shreds:
May the worst still not come nigh me!

Sometimes I almost sense
The bright, clean light depart,
Dark where dark should not be
Swallowing friendly stars,
With death’s entirety
And the worst has not come nigh me.

Sometimes I almost sense
The mockery that kills,
The laughter born in hell
That splinters like cruel glass
And stabs with poisoned stroke,
But the worst has not come nigh me.
………………………………………………………….
I climb again that hill
Standing aloof from time
Trying to face those wounds
Which should have all been mine.
I cannot hold them fast,
No longer mine to bear,
All that I see is love,
Love that is everywhere.
All that I see is you,
Welcome upon your face,
Under that crown of thorns
Shines such transcendent grace,
No portioning of blame,
No tallying of sin,
Only your arms stretched wide
To take a whole world in.