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poetry

The Incense

This sonnet is based on Isaiah 6:1-8, and is part of a new series on Isaiah titled, Full of His Glory.

I have always been brought up a bit short by the coal touching Isaiah’s lips and his subsequent eagerness to be sent. I can’t get over how painful I imagine it.

Much is made in my circles of the atonement made for Isaiah’s sin and the conviction that the coal must have come from the altar of sacrifice in the Temple’s courtyard. But Isaiah’s explicit mentioning of Uzziah at the beginning leads me to believe that the altar of incense inside the Sanctuary is what he has mind. Though I hold firmly to justification by faith, it seems that there is more going on than the battles of atonement theories.

In Isaiah more generally, but here too, the all too often malady of giving lip service to God while having a heart that is far from him seems to be more at hand. Even here, Isaiah’s preaching will fall on ears that cannot understand and be set before eyes which cannot perceive. Judah’s problem is in the heart. So this brings me back to Isaiah and his lips, and mine if I’m honest.

Burning coals and lips do not go together, but what if the image is not one of atonement but of sanctification. What if Isaiah is the incense who when ignited by God’s Spirit sends up the offering of prayer and praise –rising to heaven and suffusing everything around with the fragrant message of God’s word? What if Isaiah’s heart has been ignited in holiness and zeal and love? That he would rush forward and say, Send Me! Send Me! makes much more sense. So, here’s to Isaiah and hearts set aflame to make lips smoke with prayer and praise.

If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the sonnet via the player below.

In the year that King Uzziah died I
Saw the Lord seated in His Temple high
Above where he speaks, makes the threshold shake
At the sound of his voice and glory’s weight.

And I shake too and break, for I am one
Who has seen the Holy. I am undone.
Unclean in heart my lips lie, lay claim
To the greedy loves of self, pride, and fame.

But from the altar where Uzziah sinned,
Comes heat and fire born on wings and wind.
I, the incense, the coal touches my lips,
Ignites his word, prayer smokes, calling grips
With grace. My heart aflame, he calls to me
To proclaim His favor, set captives free. 

© Randall Edwards 2020. This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com).

artwork: Marc Chagall, Le prophète Isaïe, 1968–1968.

Categories
poetry

Doesn’t Look Like Much

This past Sunday was the first time the church had physically gathered for worship and the Lord’s Supper. It was a morning of expectation, and I sensed deep appreciation among those gathered for the opportunity, and our worship was full of gratitude.

Yet, there was a tinge of sadness. Our numbers were limited to under thirty people. We were socially distanced and masked. We were outside in the morning heat in our picnic shelter and not in the climate controlled building worshipping in the comfort of our sanctuary. The elements of the Lord’s Supper were one of those single, prepackaged, shipped-in-box-of 250 MRE’s. It all, we all, didn’t look like much. Yet, on the other hand, it seemed to be just about perfect.

You may listen to me read the poem via the player below.

It doesn’t look like much, no high altar,
No stained glass; it’s just a picnic shelter:
With a concrete floor and wooden tables.

It may not have looked like much,
But God first spoke, first reached with hands to touch
Us in a village stable.

We don’t look like much, not more than thirty
In our number gathered on a Sunday,
Scattered here to hear of Him who freed us.

They may not have looked like much:
Uncouth, unschooled yet bold in the clutch—
All knew they’d been with Jesus.

This doesn’t look like much, this plastic cup
Of juice, this tasteless bread, on which we sup,
Sealed in cellophane for distribution.

It may not look like much,
But the wicked and proud ne’er fed on such
A feast of absolution.

Yes, it isn’t much, only bread and wine
Bur it’s more than food on which we dine
It speaks pledge through sign, by words unspoken.

It may not look like much,
But here is promise more than enough:
He still loves and is for you, broken.

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© Randall Edwards 2020.
This poem is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com)

Categories
poetry

Ordinary Prayer: Psalm 19

The psalms are not the high-culture language of a life lived looking down on others. They are the down to earth lyrics of God’s people. The Psalms are words penned by some of them most famous Old Testament saints, and they have worked their way into the hearts of the church for millennia. Psalm 19 is one of those songs.

This is a paraphrase of Psalm 19.

The night sky is the word of your worth, O God,
and the daytime brings all your skill to light.
Day after day something new is said
and each night more news is shared.
You can’t get away from it;
everywhere you hear it and everything has something to say.
The news goes all ‘round the globe,
and its word goes from one end to the other.
The expanse above is like a blue tent
for the sun which runs straight across the sky
like a bridegroom to his wedding or a strong man into battle;
it delights to do so.
From his rising he crosses the sky
from one end to the other
and nothing can escape its heat.

The law of the Lord is just-right, giving life to life;
the word of the Lord is dependable and makes sages of plain folk.
The things the Lord says are right, they give joy through and through;
the commands of the Lord are clear and help one see;
Knowing the holiness of Lord makes one holy forever;
the measures of the Lord are straight and completely just.
You’ll want these more than money, more than the best investments,
and these are sweeter than any honey you’ll ever come across.

And what is more, You keep me safe in their warnings
and show me the great fruit of following them.
Tell me now, who can really see?
Who can disentangle a heart from the knots of wrong?
Who can clear up one’s inner self-deceptions?
Please don’t let me stumble into presuming upon you.
Don’t let sin gain leverage against me.
Only then will I be free of blame and innocent.
Let the words I say and the thoughts on which I chew
be what would bring pleasure to you, O Lord,
the one who holds me up
and the one who has my back.

© Randall Edwards 2020. This paraphrase of Psalm 19 is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com
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Categories
poetry

Psalm 14: Ordinary Prayer

This is a paraphrase of Psalm 14 which you may read HERE.

In the inmost place of who they are,
They say, “There is no God.”
Not because they doubt,
But they imagine unthinkable things,
And do what no good person would think to do.

From the heights the Lord looks down on the children,
Looks for anyone who puts it together,
Who longing, seeks for the Other.

But they gaze at their navels,
Are turned in on themselves,
And not one does the good they’d hoped to.
It’s like they don’t even see
How the bad eats them up,
How they chew up others,
So consumed with themselves—
Just gorging on getting,
Never filled by the Lord.

There they are, feeding on fear,
Knowing something isn’t quite right,
You see, God is close to the just.

Go on, mock the plans of the poor,
But beware, it’s the Lord to Whom they run.

Now! Let it be now
That rescue comes from your Mount—
The rescue that rights and restores what was taken!
Let those who walk with a limp, rejoice.
Let the small people God loves, be glad.

© Randall Edwards 2020. This paraphrase of Psalm 14 is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com
Psalm 14

Categories
poetry

Psalm 13 an Ordinary Prayer

This is the next installment in my psalms paraphrase project titled, Ordinary Prayer. In Psalm 13, which you may read HERE, David tells a story of personal struggle in which begins with his admission of his experience. It moves on to his cry to the Lord, and it concludes with his full awareness of the Lord’s covenant faithfulness to him which wells up in praise and song.

I wait and wait.
Do you ever think of me?
Will you ever look my way?
I spend the day in my head.
I try and work it out, but worry wears me out
And leaves me sad from morning till night.
How long will haters brag and have the upper hand?

Think of me and speak to me O Lord, my God.
Only you can lift my spirits.
If you don’t, I’ll just lie down and die,
And the haters will stand over me and gloat–
They’ll high five each other because I’ve been dropped.

But I have thrown myself on your strong, certain love;
My heart swells at the news of your salvation.
It swells into song — a song to you
Because you’ve done more for me, than I ever dared hope.

© Randall Edwards 2020. This paraphrase of Psalm 13 is for Christ’s church. If it is helpful, please feel free to copy or reprint in church bulletins, read aloud, or repost. I only ask that an attribution be cited to myself (Randall Edwards) and this blog (backwardmutters.com
Ordinary Prayer