If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away---Henry David Thoreau

Monday, January 16, 2012

Here I Am: I Samuel 3: 1-10

*This sermon was preached at Zion Mennonite Church on the second Sunday of Epiphany, January 15, 2012.

There you are in bed. The alarm clock is set. The red numbers glow in the dark room. All is quiet. Your pillow is fluffed just right. You curl up in your favorite position. But, in a few moments, you know this is going to be a night of tossing and turning. You can't sleep. A voice is stirring a pot full of questions in your head. The voice is relentless. Should I take that new job or not? It's a promotion. The salary and benefits are better. But, do I have what it takes? It will mean taking the kids out of school. Losing friends. Finding a new church. Starting all over. What's best for me, my wife, and my kids? Most importantly, what does God want me to do? A quick glance at the clock and it's 2:00 a.m. You long for some clear vision of what to do. You ache for a clear word.

Most of us would be envious of the clarity of the call of Samuel. We would like to hear the voice of God with the clarity of a phone call on Verizon. Can you hear me now? But, remember, Samuel's call was exceptional. The phone line from heaven was not ringing off the hook then, any more than it is in our day. As the text says: "For the word of the Lord was rare in those days." Not every Tom, Dick, and Harriet got a call from God.

Samuel's unusual call happened something like this. The near blind temple priest Eli was sleeping as snug as a bug on a rug. The temple lamp gave off a dull yellow glow causing shadows to dance like spirits in the room. The wind softly breathed through gaps in the curtains. Young Samuel had lain down near the Ark of the Covenant. The golden cherubim on the ark spread their protecting wings over him like a mother hen. From out of the silence came a whisper as soft as the desert wind. Samuel. One eyelid opened, looked around, and then closed. Samuel. "Here I am," Samuel mumbled, half-asleep. Then both eyes shot open and young Samuel sprang to his feet like a soldier caught sleeping on duty. He ran to the commanding officer, Eli and shook him. "Here I am. You called me?" said Samuel reporting for duty. "I didn't call you. Go back to bed," Eli groaned rolling over and pulling the covers up under his bearded chin. Samuel made his way back to his pallet and went quickly back to sleep. From within the hushed temple the voice came again. Samuel. "Here I am,” Samuel once again spoke back to the darkness. Once again he shook a grouchy Eli, who told him to go back to bed. And once again Samuel lay back down to a troubled sleep.

A third time Samuel heard the mysterious voice calling him. But this time Eli figured out that something unusual must be going on. It must have been the Lord calling him. So he told Samuel to go lay down, and if he heard the voice again he was to respond with words that sounded like a set formula: Speak, Lord, for your servant hears. So, the next time the Lord spoke Samuel heard the message as clear as a church bell.

We would like to hear such a clear and unambiguous voice. We debate with ourselves and struggle with decisions like what vocation should I pursue; should I take that new job offer; should I marry this person; should I go back to school. We systematically weigh the advantages and disadvantages on the scales of our mind. We flip through our busy calendar and logically examine our responsibilities. We have an inner dialogue about our gifts and abilities and try to imagine the risks and sacrifices required before making such decisions. We may even pray. But no answer seems to come from on high.

Most of us don't live in the temple of the Lord. We find it hard enough to just simply cast aside our nets and follow the call of Christ. We have competing loyalties. Job, school, marriage, family, social life, kids sports, enjoying retirement. So, when an invitation comes to teach a Sunday School class, serve as an elder, take a position in church, or the need arises for a new ministry, we look at our time schedule and our divided energies, question our abilities, get anxious, feel guilty, wonder whether it is simply the church that is calling us because it needs workers or is the voice of Christ calling us. And then, we pray that God will just tell us what to do. Speak, Lord, for your servant needs an answer, yesterday. We may toss and turn on our beds of indecision wishing that we would be given a sure word from the Lord. But, it seems like we are living in the days of Samuel, when the word of the Lord is rare.

Hearing and responding to God's call is never a simple affair. At first, Samuel thought it was Eli's voice that he heard calling him. I thought it was my own voice that was speaking to me when I was called to the ministry. The call came at a turning point in my life. Or maybe the call was a turning point in my life. Nevertheless, as a student preparing to graduate from junior college, I was planning on going to art school to be an illustrator, something I had dreamed about since I was Samuel's age. In those days I found myself constantly in "the temple of the Lord" enjoying my involvement with the youth group at my church; voraciously studying the Bible, teaching a youth class, playing drums in the youth choir band. But, when the thought came to me of the possibility of "entering the ministry," I immediately dismissed the thought as my own inner voice.

The only similarity that I have with Samuel's call is that it was repetitive. From the first time the thought of becoming a pastor entered my mind, there wasn't a day that passed that this thought did not spring to the surface of my mind like a beach ball pushed under the water. But this was not just---three times, “speak Lord,” and “I read you loud and clear.” I had this inner dialogue every day for over a month. It was a painful, daily struggle of discernment; talking with a number of pastors about what was going on, constant prayer, wrestling with these daily thoughts, doubting, questioning, self-examination, and in the end, still believing that it was only my own voice. Really, I wanted to become an artist. Deep down I think I knew that I was not the minister-type. And if I did become a minister, it was not going to be based upon personal interest. It had to be the voice of God calling me. By the end of this time I was practically worn out by what I thought was my own nagging inner voice. If I had gone to a therapist at the time I would probably have been diagnosed with Vocational Anxiety Syndrome or some such neurosis.

One night, while driving on the freeway to visit a relative with Iris, that beach ball thought of becoming a pastor surfaced again. I was tired of pushing it back under. So, I missed my turn off and kept driving, knowing I had to make up my mind whether this was my voice or the voice of God. I had never had such an experience before, and have not had one since. I began questioning why my own inner voice would put me through such a struggle and over such a long period of time. Now, I doubted whether it was really my voice. So, a few miles down the road, I finally had to admit to myself that this must be God calling me. When I made that resolution it was like a weight was lifted from off my shoulders and I knew at that instant that my future vocational direction would change and my life would never be the same. A strange additional note: I hadn't mentioned to Iris a thing about my wrestling with this calling. When I told her about it that night on the freeway, intuitively, mysteriously, somehow she already knew that I was struggling with a call to the ministry and had told her mother so that she would have verification when I finally told her about it! God moves in mysterious ways!

God's call is not always that dramatic, nor is it always clear and unambiguous. God's voice may sound like Eli's, or our own, or the wind blowing through the curtains of your mind. Have any of you ever had the thought enter your mind of entering pastoral ministry, teaching theology, or doing missionary work? Most of you would probably quickly consider the pay, the hours, the stress, the responsibility, and immediately respond to the thought, "No way!" Some Mondays I have had that same thought!

But if that thought has ever entered your mind, it is a thought that I would listen to and dialogue with in fear and trembling. I would not quickly dismiss it as my own voice and rollover and go back to sleep. Nor would I jump into such a calling without a great deal of discernment. It is not a commitment one takes lightly. As a matter of fact, I agree with the advice Alan Jones gave in a wonderful book he has written on the call of the ordained ministry. He said, "When someone comes to me for advice about ordination I suggest that he or she avoid it if at all possible! Ordination should be the last resort, the final response to a lover who will not let go." A vocation, a call to the ministry of the Word will in the end, if it is a call from God, be a compelling call, even if it is not always a clear and unambiguous call.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we celebrate today, had a call to ministry that came almost as a natural part of his life, though his call to be a leader of the Southern Freedom Movement came in quite a different way. King said:

My father was a preacher, my grandfather was a preacher and my great-grandfather was preacher. My only brother is a preacher and my father’s brother was preacher. I guess I didn’t have much choice but to be a preacher. I grew up in the church and it was good to me, but one day I realized it was inherited religion. I had never had an experience with God that you must have if you are to walk the lonely paths of this life.

Then as a young pastor I was called to serve a church in Montgomery Alabama, where a woman named Rosa Parks was a member. She decided she was tired of being tired and would no longer sit at the back of bus. I didn’t know what to do but I knew what Jesus wanted me to do. So we stopped riding that bus. For 381 days, we walked.

Then one night at around midnight, when the house was quiet; and King’s wife and baby girl were asleep, he got a telephone call. And it wasn’t a midnight call from God! On the other end was a vicious voice saying mean and hateful things; finally the voice said, “N…r” if you don’t get out of town we will blow your brains out and burn your house down.” Then the caller hung up. King goes on to say:

I couldn’t sleep. All I could think about was my precious baby and my wife. I went to the kitchen thinking a little coffee might help me, then I brought to mind all my recent philosophy and theology, but that didn’t help. I realized I couldn’t call upon my Daddy, 180 miles away in Atlanta. I realized I couldn’t rely on the experience of others with God. I had to call upon God myself. I said, ‘God I am trying to do what is right in your sight, but I am weak and tired.’ Around midnight I heard God say, ‘Martin stand up for justice. Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for Jesus. I will never leave you alone.’

King’s call to ministry came as a part of his family heritage, his involvement in church, his own experience of God beyond “inherited religion,” a congregational invitation, a social context of racism and segregation, a woman tired of discrimination, and his personal experience of God’s voice. King heard God’s voice in the night, like Samuel, but as you look at his whole life it seems as if his vocation chose him.

In the real sense of the word , you do not choose a vocation. A vocation, literally, “a calling,” chooses you. This not only applies to a call to vocational ministry like a pastor, but applies to other vocations, as well as to church leadership. God may call us; choose us, through the voice of our own giftedness. God has planted within each of us our own uniqueness, our own personality, and bank of experiences that lend themselves to certain outlets, expressions, vocations, ministries. Sometimes it takes the mysterious wind of God's breath to blow on those embers within us, to fan the flames of our gifts of service. Then it is a matter of discerning how and where our giftedness, or calling, is given concrete expression.

At other times the voice of God may sound as human as Eli's or the voice of someone from our church's Nominating Committee over the phone or the Educational chairperson after church or the pastor from the pulpit. From one who has struggled to discern God's call, I would not assume that you should immediately say "yes" to any and every invitation to serve, nor to believe that every voice that calls you to leadership or ministry is God's call to you. Neither would I respond upon the basis of guilt, arm twisting, nor because you think that nobody else will do it. I would advise that you look within, listen and pray and examine yourself and your gifts. I would advise that you look at your other obligations, your available time and energy and how it is being used, your other responsibilities to family, friends, job, and community, and your responsibility to nurture yourself.

But, the best advice that I could give to you concerning the discernment of God's call to leadership or service, in whatever form it may take, would be the advice that Eli gave to Samuel. When you want to know if it is God who is calling you, seek solitude or go within yourself for a while and talk to God. And simply say, "Speak, Lord, for your servant listens." I don't guarantee that you will hear a clear, audible voice, like Martin or Samuel saying, "Do this or that or go here or there." But, I honestly believe that God will speak to you somehow, someway. Exactly how or when, I cannot say. But, in the end, through the silence, the struggle of listening, and the ambiguities of discernment, you will know if it is God who is calling you. And once that becomes clear, the real question then becomes "How will you answer?"

Monday, January 9, 2012

Water Marks: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

*This sermon was preached on the Sunday after Epiphany, January 8, 2012 at Zion Mennonite Church, Hubbard, Oregon.

The oldest known baptistery, constructed around the year 232 AD, was uncovered alongside the Euphrates River at Dura-Europos, once a Roman outpost located in modern Syria. It is located within the home of an early wealthy Christian and is the oldest known building used as a Christian meeting place. It probably accommodated 50-70 worshippers. The baptistery is an open pool surrounded by images. Around the baptistery are frescoes of Adam and Eve, David and Goliath, and the earliest images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, healing of the paralytic, walking on the water with Peter, and three women at Christ’s tomb. We can see how visuals and art played a key role in the worship of the early church.

If you were one of those baptized in that ancient baptistery, as a catechumen you would have had to sit at the feet of an episcopos or overseer for three years of instruction and examination in preparation for becoming part of that house church. If your vocation was an actor, a government official, a gladiator, or a soldier you would have been immediately turned away from baptism. A clear and certain break from your pagan world was required. Many nights would have been spent before the golden glow of an oil lamp instructed in what it means to live as a Christian, as well as learning the basics like the Lord's Prayer and the Apostle's Creed. Your moral life would be thoroughly examined to see if you were truly breaking free from the surrounding pagan culture. At the weekly Sunday assemblies you would have been able to sit through the service of the Word, but excused when communion was about to be served.

When the day of your baptism approached, most often at sunrise on Easter Sunday, your stomach would probably be growling from fasting on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Your skin might be wrinkled from various washings and bathings. The darkening sky of Easter eve would have found you once again before the glow of lamps attending an all-night vigil of scripture reading and instruction. The first rays of sun on Easter morning would have warmed you as you walked through the colonnaded courtyard of the Roman home and entered the room where the baptistery was located.

As the cock crows, there you are in the room set aside for baptism. Your eyes fall upon the sparkling baptismal waters with an image of Christ, the Good Shepherd watching over you from above and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden reminding you of your own sins and brokenness. The episcopos intones a blessing over the clear, rippling water. The aroma of sweet smelling oils floats through the room. You are invited to disrobe, to shed the garments of your old life like a snake sheds its skin. Then, you renounce Satan and his evil works as the wet sign of the cross is drawn on your forehead with warm, fragrant oil.

The cool water splashes and gurgles as you step into the baptismal pool. The leader asks you three questions of faith based upon the Apostles Creed. You respond to each saying, "I believe." With each response you are dunked under the crystal waves. Assistants hold your arms and help you out of the pool. A fresh white robe is placed upon your wet body like a new skin. You are drenched from head to toe in the waters of baptism. The assistants lead you to a large hall where the table is set with flat bread and a pitcher of wine. The assembly welcomes you with the holy kiss. You are now part of this community of Christians, who are ready to break bread and share the cup with you. You have left behind the world you once knew as you stepped out of the baptismal room. You have a new identity. Christ is your Lord. This is your new family. These are your people. You belong to God and the church. You have been marked for life.

This initiatory rite of baptism goes back to the days of Jesus. Along the Jordan River John the Baptizer was drawing crowds of people. They came to hear his fiery preaching and to be dunked beneath the murky waters as a sign of repentance, a moral about face, before God bursts through the doors of time and like a farmer separates the chaff from the wheat. Some thought John to be the Messiah, the Coming Judge. John pointed his finger to the horizon and said, "I dunk you in water. The One who is coming will dunk you in the Holy Spirit and fire!"

Though the temple had its ritual washings for purification, John's baptism was a counter ritual to the temple. His baptism "for the remission of sins" was offered as an alternative rite to those of the temple system, which needed its own purification. As the common people turned from their old lives in preparation for the coming judgment, they were marked as people identified with John and his apocalyptic message of the coming judgment.

One of those who come to be baptized by John is Jesus. He steps waist deep into the brown water with the rest of the people. By all appearances he's just one more sinner come to repent and be scrubbed clean by the Spirit. The reeds along the shore bend in the breeze. Expanding circles spread out around him from the water drops. A crane soars over the surface of the river. John dunks Jesus beneath the watery skin of the river with a splash and gurgle. The dripping of water harmonizes with the mumbling of a prayer as Jesus lifts his wet arms to the heavens. The cobalt blue sky responds to Jesus as if opening to receive his prayer. The Spirit of holiness descends upon him as when Noah's dove finally found a resting place. A thunder clap in the sky speaks, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."

Jesus is a marked man. His baptism marks him as one identified with sinful humanity. He is one of us, wading right beside us through the murky waters of life. His baptism by John for the remission of sins and identification with sinners would prove to be an embarrassment to the early church. How could a sinless Savior be dunked in the sin-soaked waters with the rest of us? As his mission unfolds we will soon see that Jesus is not embarrassed to cavort with tax-collectors and traitors and to dine with the social outcast. Jesus will continue to be marked as a prophet of the people, a Savior of sinners, Lord of the lost.

Jesus' baptism marks him as one identified with God and God's people. Like a baby born from a watery womb and named by their parents, Jesus emerges from the baptismal waters and is named by his heavenly Parent. Jesus is declared to be God's own beloved Son. Like the kings of ancient Israel, who were anointed with oil to set them apart as exercising a special relationship between God and God's people, Jesus is anointed by the Holy Spirit to be God's representative to the people. But, this wet king will take up the towel of the Suffering Servant and rule with the basin and reign from a cross. The waters of Jesus' baptism mark his identity as one with God and God's people.

Water can leave indelible marks. Consider the rocky banks of a lake where the water has marked the rise and fall of the water level. The winter snow melts and drains off the mountains into the lake. The hot summer sun drinks up the water revealing the lines of years of the ebb and flow of the lake's changing face. Water changes whatever it contacts. I remember storing my artwork in the shower of a garage turned into a small house, where Iris and I lived while serving as youth director in my first church position. The shower had not been used for a long time and the water had been shut off. One day something happened and water backed up through the drain. Even though the water was clear, it left a permanent sign of its presence on all my artwork. Water leaves its mark.

There is another kind of water mark. You can see it on quality paper. That is, if you hold a sheet up to the light. There stamped, almost imperceptibly on the paper, is the identifying water mark of the company from which the paper was produced and the quality of the paper. The water mark identifies the paper and to whom it originally belongs. The scene of Jesus' baptism in Luke's gospel is as if the writer were holding up Jesus' life to light of God to reveal his water mark. There, almost imperceptible, hidden beneath his humanity is his identifying stamp. Holding him up to heaven's light, there is no mistaking to whom he belongs. This is God's Beloved, a servant of the people.

Our baptism is our water mark. It identifies who we are and to whom we belong. In our baptism we are named for who we truly are, God's beloved children, followers of Christ, sealed with the Spirit. Remember, when you knelt in front of the church with your head bowed. To get to that moment, you had to sit through those long, tedious catechism classes, which sometimes bored you to tears. You were a bit nervous as the day for your baptism approached. The new flowered dress or suit jacket was laid out on the bed that Sunday morning. When you got to church, you were trembling and rubbing your hands together. When the time in the service came, the pastor called you to the front. Some passage was read from the Bible and some words said that you can't remember any more. As you knelt down you heard, "I baptize you in the name..." The water streamed down your face. Everyone sitting in the pews was smiling. A firm shake of the hand. The pastor said, "We welcome brother or sister so-and-so to the congregation." Maybe the water was at a stream or in a baptismal pool, or poured over you while you knelt, like at Dura-Europos. But, wherever and however it happened, you were marked for life. You stepped into that stream of saints flowing through the ages that have claimed allegiance to Christ and were engrafted into the church.

In that simple, yet profound act of baptism, we all received our water mark. We publicly declared our identification with Christ and God's Spirit sealed us as one of God's own, stamped on our lives an indelible mark. The application of water in baptism inscribed upon us a mark, not immediately apparent, but which indicates to whom we belong. We are God's children, Christ's followers, born of the Spirit. When you hold us up to the light of God you can see our water mark. We have been marked as followers of Jesus Christ. Our baptism has stamped his life, teachings, death, and resurrection upon us. Christ is our Lord. Our allegiance is to Jesus, his way, his people. No longer is our primary identity one of belonging to the people that makes up our nation, our race, our political party, or even our blood family. We have been marked as members of a people from every nation, tribe, and race set apart by their baptism in the name of Jesus Christ. We have been marked for life.

Occasionally we need to be reminded that we bear an indelible water mark that shows who we truly are. When our job serves us up a cold cup of put downs; when the cacophony of voices on TV blare out at us telling us who we should be; when the flags of other allegiances begin to wave over our heads, it is good for us to take another look at our water mark and remember to whom we ultimately belong.

I once walked into entrance of a sanctuary of a Catholic church in Houston, Texas and was surprised to see a cross-shaped baptismal pool in the floor. Not only was it a delightful surprise to find it in a Catholic church, which most often practices infant baptism by sprinkling, but that this baptismal pool was located right in the entrance way of the sanctuary. Everyone who entered to worship would have to walk by the baptismal pool as they came into the building for worship. I thought it was a wonderful architectural reminder, to all those came through the church's door each week, of their baptism and the covenant they made with God and God's people.

We all need to be reminded that we have participated in a holy bath. We have been set apart as God's beloved, followers of Christ, sealed by the Spirit. We belong to God and God's people. The people sitting in the pews around you are not just friends and acquaintances. They are your family, your community, along with all those who claim allegiance to God in Christ. Remember, above all else, we are God's children. Baptized into Christ. Sealed with the Spirit. Marked for life.

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Word became flesh: John 1:1-14

Prelude to a Poem

Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ Λόγος, καὶ ὁ Λόγος ἦν πρὸς τὸν Θεόν, καὶ Θεὸς ἦν ὁ Λόγος.

The prologue of the Gospel of John differs from the infancy narratives of the gospels of Matthew and Luke. It is in the form of a poetic narrative. It is written in the language of worship more than that of theology. In essence, it is a hymn of praise to the logos, the Word, who becomes incarnate in human life. John takes us back further than Jesus’ birth to a genesis time “in the beginning.”

Since John’s prologue to his gospel is in poetic form, I would like to echo John’s literary form and share an extended original poem entitled “The Word became flesh” that I have drawn from John’s poem along with visual images that reflect its words, thus the word again becomes flesh, or should I say, icon and image.


The Word became flesh

Jesus Christ,
where do we begin?
In the beginning,
which wasn’t a beginning.
At a time
when there was no time.
Long before the morning stars sang together.
Before God’s body
warmed the cool air of stellar space.
Before the world was hung
on invisible string
and spun like a top on its axis.
Before the seas roared in angry voice,
and the trees laughed in the wind.
Before the mountains proudly lifted their heads,
and the deserts cried out in thirst.
Long before an Unseen Hand
scooped up a batch of clay
from a muddy stream
and molded a living sculpture
that caught the breath of angels.
Before pain was etched on the brow
of a solitary face,
or a tear dropped crystalline
from a single eye.
Before the first cry was heard to burst forth
from between a mother’s legs,
or a note was plucked
upon the string of an angel’s lyre.
When the world was but an egg
incubating in the mind of God.
In the beginning.
When all there was
was silence….
and the Word.

The Word.
In the beginning
without beginning.
Eternity spinning in upon itself
and out again.
The Word was as timeless
as God,
as a clock with no hands or face.
As endless as Life.
Without lips to loose labials
or tongue to grunt gutturals.
Without teeth to sing sibilants,
or mouth to speak it into being.
The Word was.
Ready to communicate
Ready to speak
the first stammering,
s…s…stuttering syllables.
The Word hung on Sacred lips,
for the moment it would speak itself
into words that form sentences of reality.
Then, the silence will be broken.
The Word speaks universes, galaxies,
a tiny rotating blue orb,
and finally….
a word of skin and speech
not unlike itself….
a babbling being.

the Word as
Divine Wisdom.
She waits to woo and win the world,
even before She walks
into the room of time.
One with God,
like two peas in a pod,
twins who wear the same clothes
and think the same thoughts.
distinct from,
yet, fully God.
Very God of very God.
One with the Word.
And yet, other.
As other as the babe nestled in Mary’s womb
waiting on the edge of the world
to be born.
In a word,
to be heard.

Without throat, teeth, or tongue,
the Word spoke….
And silence shattered
into a billion stars,
like broken glass
from an opera singer’s high note.

A world was expelled
by a cough from the lungs of God,
spoken into being.
Tinier than a mustard seed
caught in God’s teeth,
it was flung into space
by one able to move mountains
with the blink of an eye,
fill seas with her tears,
create canyons with her footprints,
who says “Be!”
and it is.
After speaking a six-day sentence,
the tongue of the Word rested,
then tasted what She had made
with one luscious lick.
The Word said,
“It tastes mighty good!”
And the Word became

One day in time,
in eternity
spinning in upon itself
and out again,
Adam’s hand
snapped the string that held the world.
The wobbling world
fell from Eden’s perch
with a CRASHHHH!!
and cracked like a fragile vase
from a Potter’s wheel.
In pain and anguish
the Potter spewed forth colored words
over the broken, gray world.
The words landed
on the tongues of poets and prophets,
who cried out
in the desert
of punctured promises,
wilderness wanderings,
corrupted kings,
tainted temples.
God’s tongue
tasted the nation of her choosing.
It had gone sour.
The Word kept crying out
word upon word upon word.
The stammering, stuttering Word
stuck on the same sounds,
a broken record,
playing over and over and over
for a broken world
lying on the dying floor.

From deep within the bosom of God
the Word prepared to speak
a word unlike any word
that ever fell on human ear
or rolled off prophet’s tongue.
The Word rumbled around
in the belly of God
a mouth to speak it,
a tongue to articulate it,
a body to dance it,
a womb to birth it.
Then, the Word found
an open door into the world,
the only way to enter
the blood and bone sanctuary.

The Word became flesh.
Not like the putting on of clothing
to walk into the cold of winter.
Nor like an ancient actor wearing a mask
that displays personae and hides identity.
The Word became flesh,
vulnerable and vexed,
weak and wearied,
finite and fragile,

Just to speak the word
grates across the tongue.
Paraded and pink
on long legs looking for lonely lovers,
pleasure for pay.
Tan and taut
as leather stretched over a cage of bones
lying on the streets of Calcutta.
Bruised and battered
by angry hands
in a home bittersweet home
where Sophia cries.
Pale and pocked
By a four-letter disease
that numbers your days.
Wrinkled and wormed
lying in a satin-lined box
dust to dust.

The Word became flesssshhh.
Tormented and tempted,
tried and tested,
and tight enough
to be pierced
and hung out to dry
on two crossed sticks.

The Word
packed up its heavenly tent
and moved to a new home
sweet home
in the belly, of all things
…. a virgin.
From flesh came flesh.
In a barnyard of beasts.
Pushed out onto the hard earth
like raw meat
hanging in the window of a butcher shop.
The screaming wonder
wrapped in strips of cloth,
a mummy for the tomb.
The Word entered the world
of babbling beings
unable to speak…a word.
While angels bent over the earth
silent as a whisper.

Wrapped up tight
in the humanity of that child,
a future of unborn days,
when that fine hair will glisten
with water from the Jordan river,
when those tiny hands will scoop up mud
and heal hollow eyes,
when those lips will drip words of honey
on the tastebuds of hungry ears,
when those two round eyes,
as big as worlds,
will look upon the multitudes
hungry for more than bread,
thirsty for more than wine,
longing for true communion.
The day will come when those small ears
will hear the whispers of heaven
and clothe them in words.
The Word pitched a tent among us,
stretched out the cords of a sacred temple,
nailed them down,
and made our home his home,
our sod his sod,
our God his God.
Even death,
the end of speech,
could not silence him.
The Word still speaks.

The Word that was
and is
and is to come,
is with us.
When we toss and turn
in the sheets of pain,
sit in solitude,
hold the crumbs of our future
in our trembling hands,
or when life bursts through our door
with party horns blaring
and rainbow streamers flying
curly-cue in the air,
or when sitting
on the edge of the world
watching the dying sun
paint the sky with invisible brush
colors that pale the palette of Picasso.
The Word is with us,
when little ones make their singing debut
in the maternity ward,
or when a wrinkled hand drops limp
at the side of a rocking chair
in a rest home,
sweet rest, home.
The Word still speaks
in words wrapped in the swaddling clothes
of the human .

The Word became flesh.
With human face.
Have you seen the Word?
broken smile,
broken spirit,
begging near the freeway off ramp.
looking for cans in the park,
a sleeping place in the dark.
The Word with a face
seen between empty spaces
of iron bars
or at empty places
like local bars.
To miss the face,
the other,
the Word,
among the least of these,
is to stop the ears
to the sound of sacred speech,
and to end up as guilty as a goat
on judgment day.

O, Wondrous Word,
Let us see your face.
As black as night
in a Savannah swamp,
as pale as the moon
on Chesapeake Bay,
as red as mud
on an Oklahoma road,
as brown as earth beneath
Mexican sandals.
O, wonderful Word,
Will we listen for your voice
only in soaring song and silent sanctuary,
in petitioning prayer and preacher’s proclamation,
in bound Bible and believer’s bosom?
Or will we tune our ears
to listen for the Word
in the lost and lonely places,
the forgotten and forsaken places,
the marginal and manger places
of this turning orb?

The Word still speaks
from as far away as forever
or as near as a neighbor.
The Word still speaks
louder than dividing walls that fall.
Quiet as a flower budding
on April’s first birthday.
The Word still speaks
in eternity
spinning in upon itself
and out again
and in the still, small voice
of this moment….
The Word
is with us.
And we behold the glory,
full of grace and truth.