Poetry Month 2023 Post #23: “Rocks and Hard Places”
April is #NationalPoetryMonth and I am posting a Poem-A-Day. I wrote this poem for my sermon today at Grace Covenant on the Emmaus Road.
Rocks and Hard Places
And a hard place.
Yes, church is a hard place. Especially when we lose track of the rock.
The further we get from the rock, the harder of a place the church becomes.
Rocks are solid, foundational, grounding.
Rocks are the core, they are the floor.
And in this faith tradition, the rock is the door.
For Jesus followers, the rock is that stone rolled away from the tomb–
the rock is the elephant in the room–
the savior who didn’t do the saving the way his followers thought he should.
The incarnation of Divine Love who did everything he could…
He did everything he could to show us the way.
And just think how hard it was to believe in much of anything
back in the day,
way back then on that road to Emmaus.
The day the tomb came up empty and Mary Magdalene said “I have seen the Lord.”
That very same day her pronouncement was called an “idle tale.”
That same day–these two disciples were walking back home–
leaving Jerusalem after the Passover Feast–
what was supposed to be a celebration,
a festival of ancestral liberation.
But that year, it turned bloody–
it turned violent and vile.
That year the meal was the beginning of the end for Jesus’ friends.
And the end was just the beginning for the likes of us.
So picture it if you can–
Cleopas walking the 7 miles back home
after those days of terror, of grief…
those 7 miles were defined
by disorientation, discombobulation, and disbelief
Some say Cleopas’ companion on that road was his wife.
So, add to the list the potential dynamics of some marital strife!
Talk about a rock and a hard place!
So back to that Emmaus Rd.
Cleopas and maybe his wife were talking it out…
they were confused, they were exhausted,
they were taking a different route
No need to stay in Jerusalem–
it was time to go back home,
to return to the life they had hoped would be rearranged.
To count not so much their blessings
but the ways they had been short-changed.
Luke tells the story in this provocative way.
These two are trying to make sense of what happened that day
and how Jesus had not been who they thought he would be.
They were talking about hopes dashed,
they were talking about grief.
They didn’t know who or what to believe.
And then Jesus sidles up and says “What’s the buzz!”
And Cleopas and maybe his wife ask this stranger–
who in the world he was–
have you been living under a rock!
Are you the only person who hasn’t heard what’s been going on in Jerusalem?
Jesus plays dumb–
just to see what they will say–
on that dusty, trudge back to Emmaus that day.
“What things?” he says.
And then they proceed to tell him all the things–
and how they just don’t know what to believe–
even though “some women” told them he was risen.
Jesus, the Rock, is there in this hard place with his earliest followers
he’s there in their confusion, their misconceptions, their doubt, their refusal to see.
The Rock can be right there, as clear as can be,
and the church can just stare…
Off into the distance,
off into the past.
The patterns so familiar, so common,
so able to last.
That’s why the church is the hard place today–
between the rock and the ones who SAY we are his people,
his hands and feet on the earth–
the ones who live in his name and celebrate his birth.
Jesus’ own followers make this whole story hard–
the ways we don’t listen, the ways we are scarred,
the ways we disregard,
the ways we retard the accelerations of Spirit
in order to guard
our hearts, our pennies,
our habits of mind, our normal, our familiar,
our very own kind.
The church can be the hard place
because of how much we struggle
to see Jesus when he’s right here on the road with us.
But it’s not just church history
that makes this journey challenging–
it’s the world, too.
The world that just keeps dishing up
more crucifixions than resurrections.
This week–there were more shootings–
they just keep getting more grotesque–
a missed turn, a mixed up address,
a birthday party at a place
where children take dance lessons.
This week–more laws passed
to deny health care to our transgender siblings.
This week–more books taken off school shelves
around the country–
under the auspices of “protecting children.”
Whose kids is Mr. DeSantis protecting?
Make no mistake, no one is safe
with this violence so common, so alive,
with the brazen ways this country
can put our history in the same chains that enslaved,
the same shackles that paved
the way for this economy
based on free labor and exploitation
All along this rocky road of white supremacy’s oppression,
the church has been right there putting gas in the tank–
giving Divine sanction to the putrid stank.
I am betting Jesus’ sense of humor is pretty much done at this point.
It was on the road to Emmaus–
he’s exasperated to say the least–
come on you all–
how many times do I need to explain.
And he teaches them again about
the prophets and the ancestors
and the messiah’s actual purpose.
But they still don’t get it.
At least they are polite–they ask him to dinner.
And that’s when they see him,
in the breaking of bread–
in the formula that
the Last Supper had ingrained in their head.
This is my body, broken in two.
That’s when they realize,
Oh my gosh, Jesus, it’s you!
And right as they get it,
he vanishes into thin air.
He’s gone and they’re off to find their friends,
so they can share–
the Good News that they finally believe.
Jesus is not a failure, he is not a disappointment,
he’s not a hoax or a joke or a fly in the ointment.
He’s the real deal–the one who can save us,
the one who reveals that God is love that never ends,
that takes death into an eternity that transcends
all the sorrow this world can dish out.
Jesus is the model of courage and compassion and truth,
he’s the liberator, the freedom-maker,
the one who is not afraid to provoke the oppressor,
to challenge the transgressor.
And he asks us to trust that the Spirit can empower us to heal
and to be real about what it is the church is supposed to be about.
We’re not about institutional clout–
we’re not about buildings
and endowments and structures and such.
We’re about the God
who always comes through in the clutch.
That’s the God we follow and trust–
the God whose bumper stick is “Freedom or Bust.”
It’s a destination more precious than gold,
more sturdy than pews all in a row.
It’s a place where all can breathe,
where there’s room to stretch out and be,
it’s a way of seeing the world in all its possibility–
it’s the glory of God in each person’s face,
in the blessing of place,
in the slowing of pace.
It’s the place where we can
stop hurting each other for another’s gain,
it’s a place where we can
finally sit down and be honest about our pain.
The rock and the hard place can become one–
so we’re no longer propping up an institution that got overrun
by the powers the church is supposed to transform,
the church who needs to never shy away from our own reform.
Grace Covenant, moving our furniture may feel monumental or
maybe some see it as inconsequential, incidental.
But what if it’s a bend in the road that helps us to heal,
what if it’s the very good kind of a very big deal–
the kind of hard place that sharpens our faith,
that calls us to trust God,
to believe anew in the power and practice of grace–
of the ways Jesus walked in this world and
moved mountains with his powerful love.
The church needs the rock to be what sets our course–
Jesus is our rock, Jesus is our source–
the one who shows us that Christianity is being abused,
used for evil, appropriated for greed,
deployed to misguide and mislead.
The church is the hard place
because just look what is being done
in the name of the one who we say is love.
The church is the hard place
because God’s name is daily taken in vain–
in places where the Bible is quoted to shame,
to blame, to maim those who Jesus came to free!
The church is the hard place
because we’ve been afraid to break ranks
with our delusion,
with our confusions,
with our collective American contusions.
If we want the Rock and the hard place to come clean,
to begin to let go of the mean,
to be a place where all people, ALL people can be seen,
then we have to be able to stretch, we have to be able to let go–
we have to be able to be in the know
when Jesus sidles up
and we are caught in the past,
when he tells us again and again
that the first shall be last.
We have to practice the art of constant change–
so we are the ones who are not afraid to rearrange—
and it’s not just the pews that we say goodbye to–
let us bid farewell to the things the pews
may have allowed us to accept–
like “one right way,” like rigidity,
like being the frozen chosen,
like checking our bodies at the door,
like getting stuck in the muck of white ways
of thinking we know what’s best.
Let us say goodbye to this arrangement
also with gratitude for the beautiful memories
that this wood has supported and soaked in,
with gentleness toward the sweet moments,
the music, the friendships that formed.
Thank you, pews, for the support you have provided–
for the sturdiness, for the familiarity,
for the faith nurtured and guided.
We make this shift because
that’s what disciples do
when Jesus stops by and
gives us a cue that it’s time to switch gears,
it’s time to have the ears
to hear how the story got misunderstood,
how the power of love needs
to be used to serve God’s highest good.
This adventure we’re on requires
that we be no strangers to change–
that we not be afraid of the times
when God calls us to rearrange–
to be rocks in the hard places–
that can moved like that tomb-stone–
rocks that don’t block life-giving change,
but rocks that anchor us in hard times,
that we are strong enough to pick up
and reposition to let Jesus have room,
to really get up
and get out of that tomb!
Here’s to resurrection, GCPC,
and all the ways we can live and breathe it–
all the ways we can practice and believe it,
all the ways we work with the rocks and hard places,
the ways we see all the traces
of Jesus here–the Rock, Jesus the liberator,
may Jesus be the rock that the church holds dear.
May the church become a soft place to land
when the powers and principalities make their stand.
May the church be the rock
that can be counted on to disrupt
oppression with the breaking of bread,
with the breaking of chains,
with the breaking open of hearts hardened
by all that constrains
our human family from
living the way that God calls us to live.
Trust the Rock!
Free the church!
So instead of the church being the hard place,
we can come together for the hard work
of following Jesus on whatever road he meets us on.