A Poem for Palm Sunday and Passion Week

This is a poem that I wrote and preached as the Palm/Passion Sunday sermon this past weekend at the Upper Room. A number of people have requested copies of it, so I’m making it available here.
 

What kind of king are you?

 

What kind of king

rides on a donkey

a donkey that might be borrowed,

or might be hijacked?

 

What kind of king

builds a castle

with a wide open door for children to enter

but a needle-eye sized hole for the rich?

 

What kind of king

rides on a donkey

into the city where

his assassins are waiting?

 

What kind of king

enters his assassins’ city

with a ragtag commotion for all to see

and not one security guard?

 

What kind of king

lets his subjects treat him like a

military liberator but doesn’t

come with a single sword or weapon?

 

What kind of king

lets his followers send a

public message to the competing powers

with no intent of answering a single challenge?

 

What kind of King are you?

 

What kind of King

can send two followers

to fetch a donkey

and know exactly what they’ll need to say?

 

What kind of king

can tell a blind beggar

“your faith has made you well.”

And actually make him see?

 

What kind of king

can weep at the funeral of his friend

only to say, “Lazarus, come out!”

and watch him come back to life.

 

What kind of king

can sit at the dinner table

with his subjects and be subject to them

and wash their feet?

 

What kind of king

can carry his own cross

can serve his assassin and

help in his own execution?

 

What kind of king

can die

so that his assassins

can live?

 

What kind of King are you?

 

A King who came not to be served

but to serve and to give

his life as a ransom

for many.

 

A King who keeps his promises

A King who I can trust

A King who can save

A King I want to follow

 

And so I come to you, King Jesus

not to be served by you

but to serve you

and to give my life to you.

 

So take my cloak

use it to clothe the naked

or use it for your donkey to step on.

I don’t care

so long as you’re the one taking it.

 

Because you’re the only one who

will give me a new garment in return,

a white robe made of saints righteous deeds,

a garment that fits so well it’ll be

a new self, your self.

 

Use me, King Jesus,

all of me.

As you see fit.

Make me a knight or a bishop or a rook,

or make me an expendable pawn.

I don’t care what piece I am.

So long as yours is the hand that’s moving me.

 

Because yours is

the mighty hand with an outstretched arm.

Yours is the hand that rules with an iron scepter,

and that knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

So let me follow you,

King Jesus

all the way to Golgotha.

 

Let me walk next to you

and put palm branches at your feet

and shout “Hosanna!” with the children.

 

And if the child in me shouting “Hosanna!”

grows up to an adult shouting “Crucify!”

bring me back to the water where I can be born again.

 

Let me sit at the table with you

and take bread and wine from you hands

and let me lay my head on your chest.

 

And if thirty pieces of the world’s silver

are ever enough to draw me away

Wash my feet and make me clean again

 

Let me pray with you at Gethsemane

and learn from you how to be vulnerable with the Father

let me see your tears and sweat and grief.

 

And if my prayers give way to sleep

wake me again

with the waters of regeneration.

 

Let me walk with you to the cross.

Let me be Simon of Cyrene,

and learn to carry your cross with you.

 

And if my Simon of Cyrene becomes Simon Peter

and I walk away from your cross to deny you

lead me back to these waters where I can still die with you.

 

And live.

 

And all along this long rough road

let my song be:

 

Hosanna!

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!

Hosanna in the highest!

A Poem For Christ the King

This past Sunday, I preached another sermon in the style of spoken word poetry. A few people asked me for the text, which is below. Once the audio is posted on the Upper Room website, I’ll link it here. The Scripture texts are Ezekiel 34:1-11, Psalm 95, and Matthew 25:31-46 (with some added help from Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.

-Ezekiel 34:11

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

-Matthew 25:40

Today, if only you would hear his voice, Do not harden your hearts…

-Psalm 95:7b-8a

Can you hear him?

Can you hear the voice of the Shepherd?

Can you hear His call to eternal life?

Can you hear Him, scattered flock?

 

Listen!

Beyond the noise of chit chat…

Beyond the noise of iPods and radios

Beyond the noise of engines and horns

 

The Shepherd is calling.

Can you hear him?

Do you recognize his voice?

His sheep know his voice

 

Can you hear his voice?

calling from a distant land

around the world

the voice of a child,

malnourished and hungry.

The King who once

put on human flesh

now hidden…

in frail, naked bodies

with starved, bloated stomachs.

 

Can you hear his voice?

calling from a distant land

across the street

the voice of a man

begging for change.

The hands that formed

the depths of the earth

now hidden

in cracked, dirty hands

that hold a beggar’s cup.

 

Can you hear him?

Can you hear the Shepherd’s voice?

He’s calling for you.

He’s seeking his sheep.

He’s seeking us out.

 

But we are scattered.

We’ve wandered off into

clouds and darkness

blinded by green-hewed clouds

with presidential faces.

blinded by darkness that glows off of

flat-screens in high resolution

 

And we fall

into crevices of

to-do lists and

consumer debt and

desires for power

so the Shepherd

calls out our name

but we

 

Can’t hear his voice

because our hearts…. are hard.

 

We long to touch the hem of his garment

but his garment is disguised

as an orange jumpsuit

as a hospital gown

as a soiled overcoat

as the unused sweater

stuffed in a our dresser

but longing to embrace the shivering stranger.

 

But we can’t find the hem of his garment

because we think it’s hidden

on a Macy’s rack

or a

Parisian runway.

We look in the wrong places

because our hearts

are hard.

 

We long for the comfort of his rod and staff

but his rod and staff are disguised

as an empty cup

as iv needles

plunged into skin

as a cardboard sign

and a grocery cart

filled with things that we dare not touch.

 

But we can’t find his rod or his staff

because we think they’re hidden

in a 401k

or a

better credit score.

We look in the wrong places

because our hearts

are hard.

 

We long to hear his voice

and he calls out to us

the Shepherds voice rings out

out of dark prison cells

out from lonely hospital beds

out of kitchens lined with empty cupboards

and filled with hungry families.

 

But we can’t hear his voice

because we think his voice is calling

from a corner office

or in

friends’ flattery.

We listen to the wrong voices

because our hearts

are hard.

 

Our hearts are hard

and with

every rationalization and

selfish decision our

frozen hearts get even colder

until we’re blind and deaf

to the Shepherd’s search and call.

 

So we don’t see the Shepherd

when we walk by

the lonely homeless man

begging for change.

We don’t hear the shepherd

in the silent cries

of the poor woman

with no other income than

her own body.

 

The Shepherd calls out

cries out

SHOUTS OUT

for our attention

in the voice of

every “least of these.”

And we miss out

because our hearts

are hard.

Rock hard.

Stone-cold hard.

Frozen solid.

 

But the Shepherd

calls from

one more place.

 

The Shepherd calls

from a loaf of bread

and cup of wine

set on a table

prepared for us in

the presence of

our enemies.

In the presence of

our hard hearts.

 

We eat this bread and

our frozen hearts

begin to melt away in

the warmth of his own body.

 

We drink this cup and

our thawed-out hearts

begin to beat and pump

the Shepherd’s own blood.

 

And slowly

our eyes open

our ears unplug and

we hear and see the Shepherd in

all who hunger and thirst, and shiver and

we see that the “least of these”

are brothers and sisters.

 

And finally we hear the Shepherd’s call

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father.”

And we are led back to still waters

and back to the Shepherd’s house

where we will dwell

forever.

My Poem/Sermon on Romans 5:12-19

Yesterday at Upper Room, I preached a sermon on Romans 5:12-19 and Genesis 3:1-7. Early on, I decided that I should write this sermon in a unique. So, I wrote a poem. Or at least something resembling a poem. Reading poetry, especially my own, was a new experience for me, and I found it very different from preaching. I felt much more exposed and vulnerable.

The sermon/poem was well-received – maybe just because it was significantly shorter than most of my sermons, but hopefully because it spoke to people’s hearts. The text of the sermon is below, but I suggest reading the Romans and Genesis passages first so that it makes sense.

 

You made us… for a garden.

Soil and clay fashioned by divine hands and Spirit-breathed into life,

Made to cultivate and till with the Gardener.

Made to be fruitful and multiply

Made to fill and subdue.

Made not to be alone, but together.

Made to hear your footsteps in the cool of the day,

and come running to meet You,

arms open and nothing to hide,

swooped up in your love and laughing in shared delight.

Made to enjoy Your garden together.

Made for satisfaction.

Made for life.

 

But we chose death.

 

Adam and Eve reached for that fruit

grasping for equality with you.

The trees that you gave us were not enough

we wanted more.

Being who we are wasn’t enough

we had to be like You.

Life wasn’t enough

we wanted life and knowledge of good and evil…

… and we lost them both.

 

We chose death.

The garden where once we delighted in love

became a place for hiding and fear.

Your presence ceased to be our delight

Your presence became our dread.

 

And we spiraled down.

One disobedience leading to others.

Brother kills brother.

Brother steals brother’s birthright.

Brothers sell brother into slavery and traffic brother to Egypt.

 

And death reigned.

 

And death reigns.

 

Death reigns over children robbed of childhood,

toys pried from their fingers and replaced with guns,

forced to kill for the sake of a man they do not know

and a movement they did not start.

 

Death reigns over women and girls locked up in brothels

forced to do whatever men please,

men who are prisoners themselves –

captive to death disguised as desire.

 

Death reigns over the child in the sweatshop –

fingers-worn and soul-wearied,

Just so we can afford to keep up with the fashions

and pretend to look like our silver-screen gods.

 

Death reigns over the girls and boys

who worship these silver-screen gods –

air-brushed idols who demand lives,

starving their followers of food and self-esteem.

 

Death reigns over the woman abused by her husband,

hiding her bruises and fears from the world around her

and trying to keep an illusion of perfection,

hoping vainly that things will change by remaining the same.

 

Death reigns over the consumer

coming home from the store with shopping bags

filled with high-fructose poison

that slowly turns our own cells against us.

 

Death reigns over suburbia –

neighborhoods of half-furnished mansions

freshly mowed and pristine on the outside,

hiding the debt and threats of foreclosure within.

 

Death reigns over our relationships.

We desire connection without vulnerability.

So we give up on people

and seek community on a computer screen.

 

Death reigns over our love.

Wanting control, we kill those we love

through actions and words, withholding affection

and, without knowing it, denying love for ourselves.

Our murderous plans become a suicide.

 

Death reigns

leaving us alone in a self-dug grave

of guilt, emptiness and despair;

life-sapped and soul-drained.

 

Death reigns

leaving us in a graveyard of doubt

afraid to pray

afraid to love

 

Death reigns like an oppressive regime

Mocking their captors into hopeless skepticism

Doing all that they can to rob us of hope,

convincing us that the truest realities are doubt and depression

 

How can this regime be defeated?

Who will free us from this oppressor?

Can an enemy this strong be defeated by anything

but an army of strength and force?

 

We longed for You.

And You came.

But you didn’t send an army.

You sent Christ into this world

not with gun or sword in his hand,

but with a free gift.

 

Christ came to undo what Adam did

by not doing what Adam did.

Christ didn’t grasp for equality with You.

Christ made himself nothing.

 

Christ hangs on the cross

arms open and nothing to hide

swooping us up again in his love,

taking our sin, our doubt and despair.

 

Christ hangs on the cross

And we hang with him.

Christ dies.

And we die with him.

 

Our guilt

Our doubt

Our despair

Ourselves

All dead with Christ

 

Death thinks that it’s won

Death thinks that it reigns

But death died on the cross, too.

 

Death is dead and Christ is alive

The free gift is an empty tomb.

The free gift is a new relationship.

The free gift is new possibilities

 

The free gift has a message attached:

“Death does not reign.”

Christ reigns.

Hope reigns.

Life reigns.

 

Life reigns and sends the Spirit

breathing fresh breath into dry, weary souls.

Redeeming our love and raising our spirits

 

Hope reigns and sends Christ’s light,

piercing itself into dark rooms and cells.

Undoing shackles and revealing true beauty.

 

Christ reigns and stands among us

Next to the griever, the patient, the victim.

Next to the buried, calling them up.

 

Life reigns. And brings freedom.

Freedom to pray

Freedom to love

Freedom to return to the place we belong.

 

Life reigns.

But life is not like death.

Life is not an oppressor.

Life is a free gift.

 

Christ reigns and stands among us,

extending to us in nail-pierced hands

the free gift.

Himself. Life.

 

Life is for us to choose.

And to take it,

all we have to do is die.

 

Christ, we choose life.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

 

Preaching on Genesis 33

This is a bit of an experiment. I was thinking it would be fun to keep a post for each of the sermons I work on from the initial observations of the Scripture passage up to the sermon. The plan is to update the post through the week. Hopefully, this will create a place for me to share some thoughts about the passage I’m preaching, and get some feedback from others.

We’ve been spending the whole summer at Upper Room in the story of Jacob in Genesis. This is the next to last sermon in that series. The passage is Genesis 33. This is my own translation of the Hebrew:

33And Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and with him was four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah and among Rachel and among the two maidservants. 2And he put the maidservants and their children first, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3And he himself passed over in front of them, and bowed to the ground seven times until he drew near to his brother.

4And Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him and they wept. 5And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and children, and said, “Who are these with you?”

And he replied, “The children whom God graciously provided to your servant.” 6And the maidservants drew near, they and their children, and they bowed down. 7And Leah also drew near with her children and they bowed down. And afterwards Joseph and Rachel drew near and bowed down.

8And he said, “What do you mean by all this company which I meet?

He said, “To find favor in your eyes, my lord.”

9Esau said, “I have enough, my brother. Let that which is yours be yours.”

10Jacob said, “No, please, if now I have found favor in your eyes, take my gift from my hand. For my having seen your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have treated me favorably. 11Please take my blessing which has been brought to you. Because God has provided graciously for me. And because I have enough. So he strongly urged him, and he took.

12And he said, “Let us set out and go, and I will go in front of you.”

13He said to him, “My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and cattle which are nursing are upon me. And if they are driven hard one day, the entire flock will die. 14Please let my lord pass over in front of his servant, and I will journey slowly according to the pace of the cattle which are in front of me, and according to the pace of the children until I come to my Lord in Seir.

15And Esau said, “Let me leave with you some of the people who are with me.”

And he said, “Why that? Let me find favor in your eyes, my lord.”

16And Esau returned that day on his way to Seir.

17But Jacob set out for Succoth, and built himself a house and made booths for his cattle. Therefore he called the name of the place Succoth. 18Then Jacob came to Salem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram, and he encamped in front of the city. 19And he bought a portion of the field, where  he stretched his tent, from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. 20And he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.

Some of my initial observations and questions:

– In verse 11, Jacob insists that Esau receive the “blessing” that he offers him. The Hebrew (“baruch”) is the same word used in Genesis 27 when Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him the blessing due Esau. Is Jacob here trying to undo that injustice by giving to Esau a portion of that blessing?

– There’s a notable difference in how Jacob and Esau refer to one another. Esau refers to Jacob as brother. Jacob uses the language of a more formal (and less personal) relation. Esau is his “lord,” and he is Esau’s “servant.”

– Esau goes to Seir as plan, but Jacob goes to Succoth. I still haven’t looked at a good map to measure distance, but Seir and Succoth aren’t close to each other, as best I can tell. Why does Jacob not keep his word and go to Seir? He seems to be approaching his brother with fear at the beginning of the chapter; is that fear still present even after their reunion and embrace? Did reconciliation actually happen?

Update: From the Commentaries

The commentaries I looked at actually had very little to add. One thing that Victor Hamilton made a point of that I didn’t notice was the difference in Jacob post-wrestling match with God. In the previous chapter, Jacob sent a delegation ahead, and then sent his family across the Jabbok. Leaving himself in the rear. Now, Jacob is in the front of the caravan – the most vulnerable position should Esau and his men choose to attack.

The church fathers had little to say about this chapter. Cyril of Alexandria does, however, see the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau as a foreshadowing of the reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles.