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.

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!

June 5, 2013

A Sonnet of Sweat

Posted in Faith, Hope, Incarnation, Lent, Moses, Obedience, Original Sin, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant, Word tagged , , , at 6:53 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Our father Adam tilled the stony ground;
In chains of sin and grief he stumbled, bound.
Anointed by the sweat of his own face,
His efforts could not merit God’s free grace.
In linen garments that prevented sweat,
The Levite servants never could forget
Their labor could not pay the price of sin,
But pointed to the One who can save men.
Our Saviour, deep in prayer, sweat drops of blood.
In anguish He endured the wrathful flood,
Though never disobedient, He became
The price of sin to wash away our shame.
And when His work was finished, He proclaimed
Salvation to all men who trust His name.

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


Recently I became interested in the parallel between the pronouncement on Adam that he would earn his living through the sweat of his brow and the account of Jesus in the Garden sweating great drops of blood. The title of the poem is not glamorous, but neither is sin. There is such profound grace to be found in the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians: “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

May we always glory in the Cross, for there is no glory in our own frail frame.


I started this about a week ago and completed it this morning, 5 June 2013.

February 24, 2013

Battlefield

Posted in Eastertide, Good Friday, Holy Spirit, Holy Week, Hope, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Original Sin, Redeemer, Resurrection, Sanctification, Self-Discipline, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant, Tempter, Word tagged , , at 12:11 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In the beginning, the battle line was drawn
When rebels stole what God had disallowed.
The evil one had used them as his pawn,
Pretending he could elevate the proud.
Then God in mercy banished them from Paradise
And charged an angel with a flaming sword
To guard them from the tree that would entice.
The tree of life could not be their reward.
Not life but death was due for their offense,
Yet as the battle raged throughout the years
Kinsman-redeemers came to their defense.
In expectation of the One who ends all fears.
Though dying on a tree, He won the day,
Pierced through by sword of Roman soldier rude.
And three days in the silent tomb He lay,
Till with His rising all things were renewed.
This time the Father charged the angel guard
To speak His peace to those who love the Son,
Soldiers of Christ armed with the Spirit’s Sword,
The Living Word who has the conquest won.
Now marching on to songs of victory
His army keeps the disciplines of war
Until all prisoners have been set free
And God is glorified on every shore.

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


This may be the most epic piece I’ve ever written because it spans all of history. A few days ago I started thinking about the three swords mentioned in the poem, and I was especially intrigued by the idea that the Roman soldier’s sword pierced through Him who is called the Word, and the Word is called the sword of the Spirit. Then tonight I was captured by the thought that there was an angel at the gate of Eden and one at the tomb. I know it is fruitless to dwell on questions like, “Could that have been the same angel?” But I still think it’s amazing that the angels are an integral part of the story of man’s reconciliation to God.


Completed in the hours just before the Second Sunday of Lent.

February 14, 2013

Rest in Returning

Posted in Grace, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Parables, Prodigal Son, Sanctification, Self-Discipline tagged , at 9:58 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

He made a bed of self-pity and foul hay
Amid the rowdy pigs, his only comrades now.
Then he, the noble son, in sorrow lay
And dreamed of all that he had disavowed.

His dreams were fitful, for his hunger gnawed
So deeply he would steal the husks to eat.
Then waking up, he set out on the path unshod
To seek his Father’s blessed mercy seat.

Humiliated by the world, he ran
In humble penance to the Father’s arms
And there, enfolded, his new life began,
No longer tempted by the world’s false charms.

A robe of righteousness he then received
From Him who met him while he was far off.
Unbounded love flowed from the One he grieved.
Here ends the shame of dwelling in the trough.

Thou, Lenten fast, our tutor for these days,
Return us from the pigsty of our sin.
Make clean our hearts and cause our eyes to gaze
Upon our Father; help us rest in Him.

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


Based on Luke 15:11-22. The story is so well known that the poem needs no explanation. The title is a slight alteration of a line in one of my favorite prayers in the BCP:

O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength; By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


As much as I am able to squeeze into a poem, so many things must still be left unsaid. I wanted to revisit the idea of sin leaving him shoeless by stating that the Father put sandals on his feet, but I figured since the Scripture takes care of the second half of the equation, I only needed to supply the first. I also wanted to state that hunger drives us back to God, but it never found a place in the structure. The idea is there even if the words are not.


I completed this poem on 14 February 13. I started it last night and fell asleep shortly after asking the question “What rhymes with pig sties?” As you can see, I worked it out so that the rhyme was unnecessary.

February 13, 2013

The Lenten Call

Posted in Holy Spirit, Hope, Lent, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Sanctification, Spiritual Warfare at 6:36 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

And now resounding through the turbid earth
The solemn call to keep a holy Lent
Would lift our eyes from things of little worth
And bid us find in Jesus true content.

As Spirit hovered over formless void
Dispelling chaos by the Word decreed,
He clears the wilderness that sin destroyed;
He fills our hearts with all we ever need.

Beauty for ash, and love to conquer fear,
The days of Lent teach us to comprehend
That all else fades when Jesus is what we hold dear.
We throw off worldly weights in order to ascend.

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


Begun on the evening of Shrove Tuesday and completed this morning, Ash Wednesday, 2013.

December 16, 2012

Lamp to Our Feet

Posted in Advent, Christmastide, Creation, Hope, Incarnation, Liturgical Calendar, Obedience, Word tagged at 9:15 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The Word spoke forth into the formless dearth:
“Let there be light,” and so the darkness fled.
The light was good and to good things gave birth.
And Light and Word like a great river spread.

Though chaos fought to keep its stranglehold,
The Light pierced through with beams of glory bright.
As Word spoke through His prophets sent of old,
The promise broke the curse of gathering night.

Through years of silence, still the Light remained
And kept sweet hope alive through trials grim.
The wretched people sat in darkness, chained,
Waiting the sound of morn’s melodious hymn.

In the beginning was the Living Word.
Then Word made flesh brought light and life to men,
And through His death new life has been transferred.
Now all must walk in Light who live in Him.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


St. John provides an obvious link between the first chapter of his Gospel and Genesis 1. The two great “in the beginning” passages mark the narratives of creation and re-creation, the beginning of life and of life abundant. But in this poem I have taken this connection a few steps further to follow the thread in its path from Genesis to John’s Gospel and then beyond to his epistles. God’s working throughout history has been weaving a tapestry that is still taking shape as the Kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven. But from our vantage point, we can look back and glimpse creation and the fall, with the aftermath that included the prophets and the promise, and then the promise fulfilled in the Word made flesh who lived and died for us. In the second verse, there is a conscious play on words, as we normally think of promises being broken. But in this case a promise broke the curse. Thanks be to God!

I purposely stopped the poem at the point where our responsibility lies. It is true that one day we will live with Him in perfect Light, but in this present age it is still a daily struggle to walk in the Light; given the phrasing in John’s epistle, it is not a foregone conclusion that we will do so. It is an act of the will, one that begins with a love of His Word and Law, as we read throughout Psalm 119, the source of the poem’s title. It is also an act of faith, hope, and love to behave now as citizens of a Kingdom we cannot yet see. Abiding in Christ is the key, as He told His disciples in the Upper Room.

God help us ever to do so.


This poem is a by-product of my work to prepare the resources for Christmas Day. Now, back to work!

May 23, 2012

Holy Fire

Posted in Bridegroom, Holy Spirit, Moses, Obedience, Pentecost, Sanctification tagged , , at 11:01 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

In fire the LORD came down, and awe
Engulfed the people, flesh and blood and bone.
And then His prophet waited for the Law
To be inscribed upon the brittle stone.
And they, though called His kingdom and His priests,
Could not ascend to Sinai’s lofty peak.
And so they stayed and danced among the feasts,
Forsaking covenant, a new god they did seek.
But Moses interceded for their crimes,
And they were spared from death in ancient times.

In latter days in one accord they prayed,
Christ’s faithful servants, gathered at His will.
So waiting for His promised gift, they stayed.
By now they knew His Word He would fulfill.
Though He was gone, His bride was not alone,
He sent God’s mighty breath for comfort kind,
Gave hearts of flesh in place of brittle stone,
Inscribed the Law upon their heart and mind.
With fire the Spirit of the LORD made them
A living sacrifice, and holy unto Him.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


Finished on the Wednesday of Ascensiontide, May 23, 2012

March 5, 2012

Thy Kingdom Come!

Posted in Atonement, Faith, Kingdom, Obedience, Son of God, Suffering, The Eucharist, Trinity at 6:43 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Thy kingdom, God, is strange indeed:
By Your Son’s death the slave is freed;
No more a slave, but Your own child,
Adopted from the raging wild.
But once a child, a servant too,
To wait the table set by You.
And You the Host and You the Bread,
And You the Firstfruit from the dead.
But not just child or servant, we
Are soldiers marching joyfully,
Enduring hardship in the fray
For God and kingdom, and the day
When pain and tears shall be no more
And we, with You, reign evermore.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


No wonder the Kingdom of God is a stumblingblock for those who are not a part of it! From an earthly standpoint, these things don’t make sense. Those who are not children of God believe that they are the ones who are free, while all the time they are slaves to sin. And we who have been freed are invited to take up our cross and to take on the yoke of Christ and to do battle, using the sword of the Spirit.

But the thought that kept running through my head this week was that as soldiers of the cross, we are promised a share in the kingdom for which we fight. Our battles are not endured for the sake of a despot but for our own heritage in the glorious kingdom of God, at whose right hand there are pleasures forevermore.

If that doesn’t raise your courage level, I’m not sure what will.


 

February 28, 2012

The Thicket and the Ram

Posted in Atonement, Faith, Good Friday, Holy Week, Hope, Obedience, Son of God, Son of Man, Suffering Servant at 12:21 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

When Father Abraham was called to kill his son,
He walked on faith up to Moriah’s lonely height.
With Isaac at his side, their three-day journey done,
They had tools of death, without a sacrifice in sight.

His back bowed down with wood, the faithful son inquired
About his father’s failure to provide a ram.
The answer was that God would give what He required,
For Abraham’s hope was resting in the great I AM.

He raised the knife to his own soul, his promised child,
But then the Angel of the Lord called out to stay his hand.
That Angel was the ram, who would for sinners be reviled
And thus increase the house of Abraham as grains of sand.

Oh, Father God, whose loving providence ordained
Your Son to climb the lonely hill and be nailed down.
He is the Lamb of God for Abraham’s children slain.
Your ram, caught in the thicket of the thorny crown.

Copyright © 2012 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)


This poem is primarily taken from the account in Genesis 22. As the poem presents a narrative of sorts, it reaches deeper to find the details that we sometimes miss in reading the Scripture, if we read it hurriedly. It is important that Abraham and Isaac walked three days, for that period of time is connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 11:17-19, we read:

By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.

Abraham’s hope lay in the God who had called him and had always been faithful. And God did not disappoint. On that day, He provided both the thicket and the ram, as evidence that He would in the fullness of time provide a Substitute to take away the sins of the world. Although the term I AM was given to Moses and not to Abraham, I have used it here because the I AM has always been the I AM. The benefit of our vantage point is that we see a fuller picture than either of those fathers of the faith.

There are echoes of Jesus from the very beginning of the poem, but the first line of the third verse begins a conscious shift from Isaac the potential sacrifice to Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. No doubt those who have read the book of Luke will see the parallel that is drawn between Abraham and the Virgin Mary, whose own soul was pierced by the sacrifice of her beloved Son.

One of the most significant details in the account of Abraham was that it was the Angel of the Lord, the Old Testament manifestation of the Second Person of the Trinity, who stopped Abraham’s hand with His Word. The One who would suffer for our sakes is the One who prevented Isaac’s death, and who invites us to partake of His life.


This was written today. I have been meditating on the image of the ram in the thicket for a few days now, but until I returned to Genesis 22, I had not made all of the connections that are (I hope) evident in the poem.

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