February 28, 2015

A Sonnet of Tearful Hope

Posted in Faith, Family, Grief, Hope, Incarnation, Kingdom, Love, Resurrection, Suffering, Thankfulness, The Eucharist tagged at 4:50 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

When we must leave, we grieve to say goodbye,
Or when we part with others who must go,
If tears flow not, we heave a weighty sigh
To think the miles between us now must grow.
But time and space and every vale or hill
That separates sincere companion souls
Cannot erode the love that binds them still
Nor take the hope that constantly consoles.
Yet hope would be in vain, except for trust
In Him whose tender love surrounds us all.
His life ennobles feeble forms of dust
And reunites them in his banquet hall
In Heaven, where there is an end to grieving;
For it is the place from whence there is no leaving.

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

This poem is dedicated to Bill and Kathy, and to all who have suffered great loss and yet cling to an even greater hope.

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.

April 2, 2014

To See the Kingdom

Posted in Bread of Life, Kingdom, Laetare, Lent, Son of God, Suffering Servant, The Church, The Eucharist at 11:15 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

They had watched the water transformed into wine,
And later saw Christ heal Bethesda’s thrall.
But the twelve could see no remedy at all
When the hungry multitude approached to dine.

They had no money, nor could food be bought
For those who came for signs and benisons.
Just five small loaves from one of Judah’s sons,
A meager gift, but he gave all he brought.

How could this paltry portion feed the scores
Who hungered for the very Bread of Life,
Who lived their days in bitter toil and strife,
Who looked for manna from the heavenly stores?

Christ made the men sit down and take their rest
In verdant pastures while He blessed the food.
They ate until their hunger was subdued.
The prodigals received the Father’s best.

Seated on earth cursed for their crime,
These sons of Adam sweated not a drop
Yet ate like princes on the mountaintop
And glimpsed the Kingdom coming in their time.

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

The Gospel lesson for the Fourth Sunday in Lent (sometimes called Refreshment Sunday) is one I have written about before, but this year as I listened to it I was struck by additional connections to other scriptures, in part thanks to an excellent sermon by our priest. This poem carries the same connection between John 6, Genesis 3, and Isaiah 55 that I have used in the past. Those concepts are all so interconnected that to leave any out would do the Gospel a disservice. This year, our priest brought in the connection between the Gospel and Psalm 23, so that has found an emphasis in verse 4. The other addition is the emphasis not only on “free bread” which rolls back the curse of sweaty work, but on the fact that Jesus has them sit down on the very earth that was cursed because of them. Now, however, the bread, the people, and the earth are all blessed by the presence of the Bread of Life.

The thread that runs throughout the poem is that of seeing. I once heard a speaker say that when Jesus said those who are not born again cannot see the kingdom of God, He didn’t just mean that they would be denied entrance into heaven. He meant that they also do not recognize the kingdom here, in the people of God, the Church.

One final word about scripture references in the poem. I have always been fascinated by Exodus 24, a passage in which God calls Moses and 73 of the elders to “come up” and worship Him. Verses 10 and 11 in particular have a striking connection with John 6:

And they saw the God of Israel: and there was under his feet as it were a paved work of a sapphire stone, and as it were the body of heaven in his clearness. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel he laid not his hand: also they saw God, and did eat and drink.

Thanks be to Him who calls us up to worship, to rest from our labors, to dine with Him in the everlasting Eucharist, to see His Kingdom in all of its life-giving glory!

March 26, 2013

The Witness

Posted in Eastertide, Holy Week, Kingdom, Liturgical Calendar, Palm Sunday, Redeemer, Son of God, Son of Man, Spiritual Warfare, Suffering Servant tagged , , , at 11:59 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

One minute I was dozing in the morning sun;
Then I awoke to find my ropes had been undone.
The kindest Man that I have ever seen drew near,
And with one gentle touch He drove away my fear.
When His disciples led me to a crowded street
I bowed my back to Christ, the Mercy Seat.
So I, a donkey, bore the burden of the Lord;
Beneath my feet were palm leaves, spread there by a horde
Of selfish folk who sought a powerful earthly king,
And loud hosannas through the lanes began to ring.
But all too soon the shouts of victory had turned
To “Crucify Him!” as the Holy One you spurned.
The crown you gave had thorns that pierced His noble head;
The regal robe you offered dripped with crimson red.
You persecuted prophets when they preached to you,
But every chain will crumble, and every stone you threw
Will cry aloud to bless the God that you deny,
For all of His creation is prepared to testify
That Immanuel has come to break the dreadful curse
And all the ruinous powers of darkness to disperse.

Copyright © 2013, 2022 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

I dedicate this poem to Pedro, the sweet donkey who helped make our Palm Sunday Passion Play complete. I always smile when I remember that the animals share a part in the same remedy that makes us new creatures. The recapitulation of earth will certainly include donkeys.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)

I felt compelled to have the donkey be our accuser, the witness against us. It was man’s sin that caused the donkey’s life to be filled with unpleasant toil. Therefore, it was only right for this obedient creature who served our Lord to bring the covenant lawsuit against rebellious mankind.

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.


September 3, 2011

Behold the Lamb of God

Posted in Advent, Kingdom, Lent, Sheep, Son of God, Spiritual Warfare at 9:08 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Behold the God-man true, who took our place
To ransom Adam’s doomed and broken race.
As one of us, though deity, He trod
On earth that we might ever dwell with God.

Behold the Shepherd-Lamb who gently leads
Unruly sheep and gives each one just what it needs.
Tending His flock, He rescues us from every harm
And brings the wanderers home in His strong arm.

Behold the Servant-King, whose mighty reign
Encompasses this frail world to cure all bane.
His kindly kingdom vanquishes each foe.
Earth touches heaven where His healing waters flow.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

If I heard once in seminary that Christ Jesus was 100% man and 100% God, I heard it a hundred times. In different classes, in different contexts, that truth was shown to be a lynchpin not only to Anglican theology but to all Christian truth. Throughout the Scriptures, the Son of God is shown to be the only bridge between heaven and earth. The first verse in the poem scratches the surface of the atonement, a topic about which much ink has been shed to propose so-called competing theories. I would prefer to spend less time arguing about exactly why Jesus had to die and exactly what His death accomplished from God’s point of view and more time in gratitude that He rescued His people from sin and death. While on earth, Jesus gave His apostles the keys to the kingdom, but the risen and ascended Lord told St. John that He Himself holds the keys to Death and to Hell (Revelation 1:18). His is the victory, and we can share in it.

The second verse draws together those verses that speak of our Lord as the Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. This theme is a continuation of the God-man theme, but it goes more specifically to the concept of sacrificial love of the Shepherd who risks everything to save His sheep and provide for them. As shepherds, Moses and David were types of Jesus, who is the Shepherd who supplies all our needs (Psalm 23). Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all delivered God’s promise of a Shepherd who would gather His people.

The third verse turns to the image of our Lord as King of all the earth. The world’s idea of a king is of someone who exploits his people for his own benefit. Not so with Jesus Christ. While He was on earth, the only placard He had to declare His reign was a rudely made sign that hung on the Cross. Through word and deed, He taught the concept of the servant-leader, as He washed His disciples’ feet and warned them about competing for the title of “Greatest.” He who is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9) prefers to vanquish His foes by converting them. The Great Commission was His royal decree to the Church to conquer the world in His name, not by the power of earthly weapons but with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

Dated 18 February 2008, this is another poem that grew out of the weeks right after I returned to seminary following the death of my son James. As I worked through the pain, I thought a lot about the relationship between Heaven and Earth. People dealing with loss sometimes drown in sentimentalism, so I tried very hard to avoid all of those mawkish notions like “James’ death means that heaven has another angel.” James is no angel. He was a sinner saved by grace, and it was much more comforting to me to know that there is a Saviour, who knows our sorrows but who is also the loving Shepherd and all-powerful King.

August 31, 2011

Daily Bread and Kingdom Come

Posted in Egypt, Incarnation, Kingdom, Laetare, Lent, Original Sin, The Eucharist at 6:34 am by Teresa Roberts Johnson

Their fathers had craved bread from Egypt’s store
And spurned the manna sent from God above.
Now seeing wine from water vessels pour,
Sons thronged to hear the words of Light and Love.

Since they had stayed till setting of the sun,
He had compassion on their hungry souls.
The Bread of Heaven fed them everyone
With one child’s meal of fish and barley loaves.

He fed them without money, without price,
As with the barley gleaned by faithful Ruth.
He, the better Boaz, made the sacrifice,
Revealed Himself as Way and Life and Truth.

By rolling back the stone of sin, providing
Bread and wine not earned by sweat of brow,
He shows us that in Him abiding
We can glean His Kingdom blessings now.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

One of my favorite themes is the Eucharist, and having all of the bread themes in the Scriptures pointing to the Bread in some way makes for a broad palette for poetic images. Part of the curse that Adam endured was having to toil for bread by the sweat of his brow, but Isaiah 55:1-3 tells of a time of effortless bread, provided through the “sure mercies of David.” The bumpy ride that the Israelites gave Moses throughout the Exodus is replayed by the finicky followers who clung to the Lord Jesus for as long as He was providing bread and miracles. But in that one child who offered up his food, we see other children (whose faith we should emulate), including Isaac on the altar briefly, Moses in the river briefly, and ultimately the Child who served up the Bread of life even as early as the age of 12 as He stood teaching the teachers in the temple.

Also mentioned is the beautiful love story between Ruth and Boaz, which mirrors the relationship between Christ and the Church. Boaz provided food for Ruth and then stepped forward to become her kinsman redeemer. All of these ideas are bound together in the poem’s final verse, which proposes the Resurrection as the final resolution of the Adamic curse. The poem ends with a reminder that we may abide in Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 15) who connects us to God’s Kingdom here and now. The word glean brings back the image of Ruth, the Church fed by her Boaz until the final redemption is complete. The poem’s title binds all of these ideas in the cord of the Lord’s Prayer, where we ask for daily bread (and daily Bread) and that the will of God be done as perfectly on earth as it is in Heaven. It is only God who can make that happen, which is why the words are given as a prayer and not a commision to us, but we have the holy invitation to participate in the work of accomplishing God’s purpose on earth. May God grant us grace to trust in the work of Bread and Spirit and Father, giving thanks daily that we have been invited to be part of the heavenly Family. The Eucharist is our down payment for better communion to come, when we see Him face to face.

I don’t have much personal background for this poem, other than some dates. It was completed 30 June 2007 and edited 16 February 16 2008. That last date would have been a few weeks after my son’s death, and the one thing I do know is that after we buried him, I buried myself in the Word and in contemplation on the things of this life that have eternal value. For those who know the Bread, there is confidence that we will be fed then as now, and always perfectly. Otherwise, the loss of a dear one would be unbearable.

When I posted the poem, I changed one word in the last verse. It had originally read “rolling back the curse of sin,” but I wanted to reinforce the image of resurrection, so curse became stone.

August 24, 2011

David’s Stone

Posted in David, Kingdom, Resurrection, Spiritual Warfare at 7:48 pm by Teresa Roberts Johnson

The brave young shepherd, stooping down,
Picked up five stones but needed only one.
For with that stone not cut by hand,
He toppled the Philistine giant’s land.

That stone invaded visions seen
By Babylon’s insistent, wrathful king,
To prophesy of kings to be,
Of giant empires forced to bend the knee.

The builders cast away the Cornerstone,
And God’s own Lamb was left to die alone,
Sweet Son of God and David’s heir,
The King of Shepherds braved the lion’s lair.

But when the stone was rolled away,
The Shepherd came to life on the third day,
That Stone not cut by hand arose
To crush the giant kingdoms of His foes.

Copyright © 2011 by Teresa Roberts Johnson (All rights reserved)

This poem is a montage of several scriptures, all held together by the themes of stones, shepherds, sheep, and sovereigns. That is one of my favorite methods of studying the scriptures, to follow a concept through the Old and New Testaments to see how they are connected. This poem starts with the shepherd David’s victory over Goliath using stones and a sling (I Samuel 17), then figuratively shows the deadly stone skipping off Goliath and landing in King Darius’ dream to become the Stone that was not cut by hand and that toppled the mighty kingdoms of this world (Daniel 2). Then Jesus, in whom all these themes intersect, is shown to be Cornerstone, Shepherd, Sheep, and above all, Sovereign. Although Jesus; death looked like defeat to this world that craves material prosperity, His Resurrection and the rolling away of the stone was the very process that toppled the kingdoms of this world, so that “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15). It always makes me smile to realize that the stone was rolled away from the mouth of the tomb not so that Jesus could get out (He could walk through walls) but so that the people could see in to verify that He had conquered death. Moving that stone in defiance of the Roman seal was also another way of His claiming sovereignty.

According to my notes, I completed the first draft of this poem on August 9, 2007. I found this note at the bottom of the page: “This idea has been bouncing around in my head like a ricocheting rock for several months. It was only when I had another deadline to meet that I was able to finish this poem. One of these days, I will have discipline enough to ‘do what I am doing’ and not try to find diversions from the task at hand.” That task was probably a seminary paper. As I recall, the original idea for the poem came from something that was said in a seminary class about King David, and a study on the use of the word “stone” accomplished the rest.

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