February 15, 2015

A Sonnet for the Lenten Journey

Posted in Grace, Hope, Lent, Sanctification tagged , at 4:47 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Oppressed by heat, I slow my pace
And search the skyline for a friendly tree.
But in this desolate and lifeless place
Is naught but sand as far as eye can see.
After a while, my thoughts melt into pain
Of hunger unfulfilled and burning thirst.
Then feeble knees cannot my weight sustain;
I stumble, fall, and feel myself accursed.
But pressed against my face are grains of sand
Real as the promise made to Abraham.
With hope and strength renewed, I rise and stand
In courage flowing from the Great I AM.
This desert would my heart and soul consume
But for the promise that a Rose would bloom.

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


The companion passages for this piece are Genesis 22, Isaiah 35, and Matthew 4. There are days when I seem only to see the wilderness, but we walk by faith and not by sight. Because of God’s promise, I know that I am not alone, and I know that the desert will blossom as a rose because Living Water flows from the side of the Lamb who was slain.

January 4, 2015

The Presentation of Christ

Posted in Christmastide, Grace, Incarnation, Original Sin, Presentation of Christ, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man tagged , , , at 8:40 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Their footsteps echoed in the temple court,
He whose faithful heart with hope was swelled
And she whose greatest hopes had been cut short.
Her husband gone, she in the temple dwelled
To serve the Lord of Hosts both night and day.
An Eve and Adam waiting to be freed
From power of sin that led mankind astray,
In prayer they waited for the promised Seed.

When Simeon’s gaze fell on Messiah’s face,
He blessed the Lord to see salvation’s day
And hailed the coming of the gift of grace,
This Son whose life and work shall grief allay.
Here now Christ would receive the sacrament,
Thus sanctifying earth to heaven afresh.
God’s mysteries dwell in corporal element,
Immortal Son abides in human flesh.

Copyright © 2015 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


The accounts of Mary and Joseph obeying the law, first by having Jesus circumcised and then by bringing Him to the temple to be presented, are too significant not to consider as important to our redemption; otherwise, why would they have been recorded? For one thing, these events show that His life reflected perfect obedience to the Law.

But there is another important point in both of these events, and that is their sacramental nature. Both in circumcision and the presentation of the firstborn (which was also a pronouncement of the purification of the mother), earthly elements (which God pronounced good at their creation) are being set apart, sanctified, made holy for the service of Heaven.

It is in that context that we see the lives of Simeon and Anna, devoted as they were to the practice of their faith (not just the mental assent to abstract truth). They were living a sacramental life and thus were privileged to be witnesses to the fulfillment of God’s promise of the Messiah who would save His people from their sin.

The sacraments are by very nature anti-Gnostic, for instead of separating the material from the spiritual, they join earth to heaven. The finest statement against the Gnostic heresy is found in John 1:14–”And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Let us never forget that the physical, material world belongs to its Creator and should always be offered back to His service. Anything else is ingratitude of the basest sort.

December 11, 2014

David’s Other Sons

Posted in Advent, Bread of Life, Christmastide, Grace, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Redeemer, Shepherd, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, The Eucharist tagged , , , , at 7:10 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Out in the fields where David penned the psalms
And tended wounded sheep with soothing balms
The shepherds kept their watch with diligence,
Straining their ears for sounds of violence:
For lions who would kill the precious lambs
Or thieves who’d take the finest of the rams.
Then as they watched, the news from heaven fell
Like snow in winter; then the sky did swell
With piercing light from realms of glory bright
And news of One who would dispel their night.
Then heaven rained down songs of praise and peace,
The promised advent of the earth’s release.
In Bethlehem, the lowly house of bread,
Lay the Messiah in a manger bed.
Then going forth with joy, they obeyed
The angel’s word and were no more afraid.
They left the ninety-nine to find the Lamb,
Who is the Son of God and Great I AM.
These words the angel gave they told abroad
To bring all nations to the house of God.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This piece is a deliberate intertwining of Luke 2 and Isaiah 55, with a few other references along the way. As for Isaiah 55, it is one of my all-time favorite passages. Who could resist reading about a time when the mountains and hills will break forth in song?

If you’re wondering what the title means, it’s multifaceted. (This is poetry, after all). Throughout the gospels, our Lord is known as the Son of David, as He is a physical descendant of David. Some of the other sons of David are the shepherds, who are residents of the city of David and who spent their time protecting sheep, as did David in his early years. But even we who are not physical children of David have been made fellow heirs to the covenant that God made with David (Isaiah 55:3). Though the wise men and not the shepherds are usually associated with the inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s covenant, the account of the shepherds’ faithfulness and obedience has been recorded for all nations to read.

November 30, 2014

The Curse Undone

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Bread of Life, Grace, Original Sin, Redeemer, Serpent, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering, Suffering Servant, The Eucharist tagged , , , at 10:20 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Hiding their faces from the evening sun,
They stood ashamed among the shuddering trees
And heard the bidding voice of God, the One
Whose judgment brought the sinners to their knees.

“You will give life, but mingled with deep woe,”
He said to Eve, who sold her children into war
With him who on his belly now must go,
His fangs poised for destruction near and far.

To Adam, careless watchman, God then said,
“And you will earn your food by toil and sweat,
The dirt shall thwart your quest for daily bread,
While children doomed for death you shall beget.”

But of the woman’s pain a Seed would come
Just at the moment of earth’s darkest night.
This promised Seed to sin could not succumb,
The Second Adam, who all wrongs would right.

For He would freely give Himself for food,
The Bread of Life to take the curse away.
His agony the grieving world renewed
As death gave way to life at break of day.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This is the companion piece to The Advent of Grace.

The idea that I could not let go in writing that piece was that the remedy for the curse is not only as real as the physical effects of sin have been upon mankind, but also is like in kind to the Fall and its results. Stolen food was the undoing of man; Food given freely now gives us life and nourishment. The Eucharist is the meal that we may have without money or price (Isaiah 55:1). Pain, toil, and death were sin’s reward; the Son of God bore all of these on our behalf, then threw them back into the face of the wily serpent as He crushed its wicked head.

I suddenly realized that reading most of my poems is like attending an abbreviated version of Lessons and Carols or The Great Vigil. This one starts with the Fall of man and ends with the Resurrection of the Man, Christ Jesus, which was the undoing of the Fall. Even the first and last lines are bookends of sorts, the first ending at evening and the last at dawn. Though it may not seem like it when you read the newspaper or watch the news, the victory has already been secured. Day has broken; let us walk in the light. Food has been provided; let us meet Him at His table.

September 19, 2014

Mark 7, A Play in Three Acts

Posted in Bread of Life, Christology, Creator, Grace, Hope, Kingdom, Obedience, Redeemer, Resurrection, The Church, The Eucharist, Water of Life, Word tagged , , at 6:56 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The curtain rises as the scribes and Pharisees,
Incensed that their traditions are not kept,
Stand blind and deaf to what the Water means.
They rail about the eating of the bread
With unwashed hands, yet take no thought
Of the condition of their stony heart.

He that hath ears must heed the Gospel call.
Take care lest you who think you hear should fall.

The Gentile knew traditions all too well,
For they excluded her and all her kind.
And yet He spoke to her, the Lord of all,
Giving her hope her daughter could be saved.
She was content to be a puppy underfoot
And share in eating of the Kingdom bread.

She that hath ears shall heed the Kingdom plea
To sit at table with His children and be free.

The man born deaf who spoke with halting tones
Was brought to Him, the Word who must be heard.
Now with His touch and water, and a sigh,
His ears are opened and his tongue made whole.
The Word creative spoke and it was done,
Just as at Lazarus’ tomb His word brought life.

He that hath ears must have them opened by the One
Whose very Words can heal: God’s only Son.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This poem has been trying to form in my brain for several weeks, but the cares of life almost prevented it. The story of the Gentile woman and that of the deaf man were Gospel readings a few weeks ago, and when I looked at the context, I could not help but notice the progression of events found in Mark 7. The religious leaders of that day simply did not understand the full import of what God wanted to do in their lives. In the words of Christ, they did not have ears to hear. They thought it was enough to demonstrate outward obedience to easily measurable rules such as, “Wash your hands before you eat.” Of course, we know that washing hands is a good practice for the purpose of sanitation. But that is certainly not the only cleansing that should concern us. God’s design is to cleanse our souls of the sin that would overtake us, apart from His grace. Washing hands as a ritual is indicative of a much greater need, expressed in Psalm 51:10—“Create in me a clean heart, O God.” I wrote a line that I could never quite place in the grand scheme, but it sums up the condition of the scribes and Pharisees: Clean hands or no, they shall not touch the Bread.

By contrast, the Gentile woman—an outcast—was invited to share the Kingdom blessings precisely because she knew she needed cleansing. She did not deny her desperate condition, but in her identification of herself as a little dog under the table, she expressed knowledge of a truth that the religious leaders had totally missed: the purpose of the Kingdom of God in this world is to be a blessing and light to the surrounding nations. Her faith showed that her ears were open to God’s true call and purpose. The Pharisees went away hungry. The Gentile woman received all that she needed, so very much more than crumbs under the table!

Finally, the deaf man (he had ears but could not hear) is brought to Jesus for healing. He is helpless, in that he could not hear instructions, even if someone were to give him the instructions of the scribes: “All you need to do is wash your hands, and you’ll be cleansed.” Nor could he ask for healing; he was virtually mute. As do we all, he approached the Lord completely helpless. And the Creator of the world repaired the brokenness, just as He does in our lives. He gave the deaf man ears to hear and a tongue to speak of the glory of God. It is no coincidence that the following words are found in Psalm 51:15, part of David’s humble confession of his great sin: “O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise.”


As for form, don’t look for rhyme in this one. I tried briefly to make it rhyme, but the ideas just would not be harnessed in that way. The “Greek chorus” lines following each verse contain the only intentional rhyme. Otherwise, I followed the model of a Shakespearean play and used iambic pentameter. Mostly. And if you see a double intention in the words incensed and rail, you are correct.

June 14, 2014

Work of Grace

Posted in Cleansing Fire, Grace, Hope, Moses, Pentecost, Spiritual Warfare, The Church tagged , at 5:52 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Surrounded by the swirling sea, the Upper Room
Held those who rested, waiting for the promised Gift.
Their enemy lurked near to orchestrate their doom,
To shake their confidence and set their hearts adrift.
But they were not in danger from his frail design.
This room, the ark of safety for the Lord’s elect,
Was hallowed ground where Love and Law would intertwine.
The Captain of salvation would their souls perfect
By unconsuming Flame in this high, holy place.
Isaiah’s coal fell on the branches of the Vine,
And Breath of Life ignited cleansing fire of grace,
The sea around them parted, as they saw the sign
Of Word made comprehensible to every ear
And Heaven’s Kingdom bursting into now and here.

Copyright © 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


The primary inspiration for this poem is the account of Pentecost in Acts 1 and 2, and the concept began with meditation on how Pentecost relates to other Scriptural events. I first had the notion of comparing the events of the Upper Room with the escape of the children of Israel through the parted waters of the sea. In Scripture, the sea is often used to represent the masses of the ungodly on this earth, and it seemed reasonable that the few faithful who went to Jerusalem to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit might have felt themselves completely surrounded by a sea of unbelievers. Their opposition, of course, finds its focus in Satan the Opposer, who is constantly seeking whom he may devour. But I used the term “rest” to refer to the disciples because our Lord had called them into the rest that He provides, even though the stormy seas rage about us (Matthew 11:29).

Other passages that inform the poem are these:

Exodus 3, where Moses is commissioned at the burning bush
Isaiah 6:5-8, where the natural response to the cleansing power of the Lord is an offer of service to God.

All of these connections show why the key to the poem’s message is found in the title. Quite simply, there is no truly good work that we can do unless God’s Holy Spirit is working in and through us.


This is not exactly a sonnet, other than rhyme scheme and number of lines, because the meter is one foot too long for each line. My usual method of expression is iambic pentameter (sometimes even my grocery lists), but I couldn’t get all the required ideas into five feet per line.

I am not satisfied with the final line because the wording seems a bit trite, but it does accomplish one thing: it turns a cliché upside down. That the Kingdom of Heaven is upon us in the presence of the Church was made very tangible to me this week as I saw friends from around the world who are serving Christ faithfully, and as I saw the investiture of a new presiding bishop for the REC. The peaceful and orderly succession of leadership is one of the greatest gifts Christianity has given to this world.


I began writing this poem during a break at the REC General Council this past week, and I completed it today after arriving home, twelve hours later than planned due to storms.

December 19, 2013

Song of the Christmas Sheep

Posted in Advent, Atonement, Christmastide, Grace, Incarnation, Lamb of God, Sheep, Shepherd at 8:19 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

From the days of shepherd Abel
Our lives were paid as sacrifice:
Savory offerings on the table,
Signifying sin’s dread price.
Cursed by Adam’s sin, we waited
For the coming of the Lamb,
When misery would be abated
By the perfect, spotless Ram.
When the time had been fulfilled,
While we grazed in pastures green
And deeply drank from waters still,
The sky exploded with a scene
Of brilliant light and thunderous sound
As angels chimed the glorious song
Of peace to flood the whole world round
To end all woe and right all wrong.
Then leaving us, our shepherds went
To see their Shepherd, filled with grace,
Who from the heart of heaven was sent
As sacrifice to take our place.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


I attended a sweet Christmas pageant at church last night, and when the actors in sheep’s clothing turned to listen to the “angel,” my heart was pierced with the realization that this glorious news of peace on earth, which we often take as completely man-centric, spoke of the animals’ freedom too. Just as the whole of creation was blighted by Adam’s sin, the coming of Christ to roll back the curse speaks freedom to them, but especially to the gentle sheep that had been slain as sacrifices. As the beloved Christmas hymn tells us, “He comes to make His blessings known far as the curse is found.”

The older I get, the stronger is the longing in my heart to see all things restored to their natural glory and to see death swallowed up completely in the victory of Christ. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

The only poetry note I’ll add is that the word our in the last line should be read as referring not just to the sheep but to them and the shepherds, and indeed, to the entire world.

P.S. I just thought of another poetry note. The short, choppy lines are meant to signify the motion of sheep. Somehow all my poems about sheep end up with a short-metered line.

August 2, 2013

Veterans

Posted in Creation, Faith, Grace, Hope, Thankfulness, War tagged , , , , , , at 10:13 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Black-eyed Susans peering through the chain-link fence
Divert my eyes from razor wire that looms above.
Unlike the well-armed guard, alert to every threat,
Their faces are alight with memory and hope.
For flower-beauty graced this place before
This fence was built and tanks assembled here,
And their soft splendor will withstand war’s ugly gaze
Until the time when swords become plowshares.
Even in death their eyes drop seeds that wait for spring
To shower them with the sky’s sweet tears,
Which blend with warming earth to coax new life,
New beauty, from the barren battlefield.
They bud, then bloom, diffusing calm amid the fray
And offering themselves as healing balm.
Their incense rises in the cruelest summer heat;
Their pollen nourishes a host of butterflies.
These blooms, untutored in the deadly art of war,
Prefer the art of peace and lavish loveliness.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


I have been pondering what it is like to live on this earth, where such incredible sadness can be countermanded by the beauty and promise that lives within a flower. I have referenced no specific Scripture within the poem other than Isaiah 2:4, but if you cannot see Christ in a Black-eyed Susan’s face, then nothing I can say will help you.

July 7, 2013

Naaman the Blind

Posted in Faith, Grace, Leprosy, Obedience, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man, Spiritual Warfare, Thankfulness, Water of Life, Word tagged , , , , at 7:03 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Respected man, much favored by his lord,
Fearless in battle, an expert with the sword.
Though skilled in war, one fight o’ercame his soul,
For pride had Naaman in its grim control.
It blinded him to God’s life-giving word
Delivered by the prophet he had heard.
A leper with the remedy supplied:
The Jordan? Why not a river clean and wide?
Ignoble water for a man of high esteem!
The prophet mocked his greatness, it would seem.
But with no other cure in sight, he deigned
To do as God had said, and health regained.
Now one more lesson Naaman had to learn:
That gifts of God cannot be bought or earned.
His leprous skin was clean; his pride was tamed,
No longer blind, God’s promises he claimed.
Thus baptized in the Jordan, like our Lord,
Through whose obedience we are restored.

Copyright © 2013 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This morning, the Old Testament reading was 2 Kings 5:1-14, which is the story of the healing of Naaman the leper. Apparently leprosy was not viewed the same in Syria as in Israel because it does not appear that Naaman was ostracized because of his condition. To the contrary, he was commander of the army of Syria and very highly regarded for his successes on the battlefield. Yet his pride in his success was his primary ailment. When given the opportunity to be free of leprosy, he balked at the humble nature of the cure. He wanted Elisha to make a big production, to wave his hands, say noble and compelling words, and order God to cure Naaman. What a disappointment to this great man to be told to do something so humiliating as bathe in God’s dirty stream. If there was to be no grand, theatrical production, why could it not at least be a beautiful, clean river in his own country? His anger revealed his blindness, caused by pride in his own accomplishments. It took his servants, who had no aspirations to greatness, to teach him that he needed to obey God, regardless of the ignominy.

But even after humbling himself enough to take a chance that the dirty waters could make him clean, Naaman still didn’t fully understand the nature of God’s grace. He tried to pay Elisha for the cure. God had done something for him, and he would settle the debt and be back on equal footing, perhaps. But the prophet wisely refused any payment. How could we ever hope to repay God? We owe Christ our service out of gratitude, not out of any notion that we can repay a debt. And thanks be to God, Naaman finally saw exactly what was required: obedience in all things that were within his power to do.

I could not leave Naaman’s story without pointing us to the Christ, the perfectly obedient Son. He humbled himself to be baptized in the Jordan, not to be cleansed but to cleanse the water and open the way for us to be healed from all our afflictions. He took on our shame so that we might be set free from sin and shame.

Glory be to thee, O Lord!

March 9, 2013

Mercy’s Robes

Posted in David, Good Friday, Grace, Holy Week, Liturgical Calendar, Prodigal Son, Redeemer, The Eucharist at 10:15 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Forgiveness is clad in robes of linen white
And wears a signet ring and chain of gold.
He had a lesser robe he dropped in flight
From her who caused him pain with lies she told.

A many-colored robe he lost before
When jealous brothers sold him as a slave.
In all these tribulations Joseph bore,
He trusted it was God’s good will to save.

Sometimes forgiveness rends its battle robes
To know its enemy has fallen to his death.
Though Saul had sworn against him many oaths,
The mournful David raised laments and wept.

Forgiveness also sees past hardened hearts
Who laid their robes down so they could begin
Their vengeance on St. Stephen, who imparts
A prayer God would not charge them with their sin.

But when the lots were cast for our Lord’s robe
His great forgiveness fell like morning dew.
An avalanche of love flowed ’round the globe.
It is the selfsame mercy tendered you.

Repentant prodigals, we now approach
Our Father’s house and bask in His embrace.
Clad thus in mercy’s robes, without reproach
We join the feast prepared by hands of grace.

Copyright © 2013, 2014 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


The theme of clothing throughout the scriptures is worth studying in a larger context, but I have limited it to its relationship to forgiveness. In the beginning, Adam and Eve were clothed in God’s righteousness, and when they sinned, He made them coverings that reminded them not only of their former glory but of the blood-price of restoring them from their sin back to glory. But the fact that He was willing to pay the price Himself showed His great mercy, and it set the tone for our dealings with each other. Since He has so freely forgiven us such great sins, how dare we withhold forgiveness from our fellow man!? As those whose sins have been rolled away, we should in turn freely dispense mercy, though we must always remember that it is to a much lesser degree than our Father in heaven has done.

The message that this poem tries to convey is that those who live the life of forgiveness and love become like their Father, as is our goal. We are clothed in the righteousness of God when He forgives us of our sin, and that great gift obligates us to offer mercy freely to others. The three historical examples in the poem—Joseph, David, and Stephen—are prime examples of God’s people being exalted as they forgive their persecutors and allow God to fight their battles for them.

Joseph could have become bitter at his brothers or at the pharaoh’s wife, but he patiently endured suffering, and God exalted him to a level of honor and then gave him the perfect opportunity to show mercy to his brothers.

David had an opportunity to kill Saul, but he chose instead to honor Saul as the Lord’s anointed king, despite the fact that Saul had fallen into disobedience.

And then there is Stephen, who faithfully preached the Gospel, despite the cost of his own life. His dying words were filled with grace, love, and mercy for the very people who were killing him. They had removed their outer garments, which would symbolize their purposely shedding the robes of righteousness, in order to be freer to commit their atrocious sin. But the sinfulness of their deeds could not keep God from exalting Stephen.

We are always lifted up when we humble ourselves to forgive in the name of the One who forgave us everything.

The final verse was added during Lent of 2014. In re-reading the poem, it struck me how the first two lines resonate with the story of the prodigal son. And I realized that bringing in the reference would complete the thought that we forgive because we are forgiven.

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