Last Wish

Last Wish

I was recently reminded of a story which Steve Brown tells in his book, Approaching God. It is a story of a funeral and one of the kindest invitations to know Jesus I may have ever heard. Dr. Brown writes,

Not too long ago I conducted a funeral for the spouse of a very dear friend of mine. The spouse died of AIDS. My friend moved in a very fast crowd, and the funeral service in the home was quite informal. There was a keyboard artist playing jazz and plenty of booze and balloons. The people who came to the service were not the kind of people who are generally found sitting on the front row at the the First Church by the Gas Station. In fact most of the folks who were at the service had long since given up on religion. I could understand that. I’ve almost given up myself on several occasions. I went to the keyboard artist and said to him, Son, when you finish this piece bring it to an end because I’m going to say something religious. When he stopped playing and there was silence, I decided to follow Jesus’ example. He would probably (judging the report of the gospel writers who chronicled his life) be more comfortable with people like this than with the normal folks who attend normal funeral services. So, after saying a quick silent prayer, I said to the folks there:

“I don’t do many funerals with balloons and booze. But it’s okay because that’s the way [my friend] would have wanted it. The balloons are appropriate because this is not a funeral service, it’s a graduation service. Our friend isn’t here. She’s in another place where there isn’t any more pain. She’s in heaven, and I’m going to tell you why.”

I told them about the people Jesus loved. I told them that their friend wasn’t in heaven because she was a “good” person (they knew better than that) but because she knew she wasn’t and had turned to One who loved her enough to die on ta cross in her place.

I’m here. I went on, for only one reason. You needed someone to tell you the truth. I’m just one bad person telling other bad people the most important thing you will ever hear: God is God, and you should remember that. But if you go to him, he won’t be angry with you. In fact, he’ll love you. Our friend found that out, and we wanted to make sure you knew.

Sometimes phrases like “booze and balloons” just beg to be made the most of. This poem is a reimagining of the event which Dr Brown tells. Thought the imagination is mine, the story and certainly some of the words are his. Let’s just say, Steve gets the credit, and I get the blame.

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

It did not seem like a funeral
With all the booze and balloons,
More like a denial of the noumenal —
Life and death caricatured like cartoons.

In the cocktail hour’s jazzy mix of
Celebration and intoxication,
Smartly dressed people laugh and chuckle
Hide their unease behind conversation.

But we cannot escape when Death comes
For spouses — takes our friends into finality,
But the booze and balloons makes light and numbs
Us to the end of our common reality.

Beneath our unease, we grasp with white knuckles
Our scotch like the roller coaster’s seat bar —
Hoping these cups won’t let us fall out
Into eternity like some shooting star.

A man stands up, clears his throat to say
Why we’re here — why he’s come today.
Says “You need someone to tell you what’s true.
And though you’re bad people, I am one too.
I’ve been invited to come in this sad season
For one purpose, for this very reason:
That if you will take a moment, lend an ear,
I’ll tell you what I hope you’ll never unhear —
Something you should not ignore or laugh at
And that is, God is God; you should remember that.
And though He is, and that He is, you should see,
But what I want you to know more importantly
Is, if you go to Him, he won’t be angry with you.
In fact He’ll warmly welcome — He will love you.

Our friend, the one whose death brings me to you,
Found that out at the last, and it meant all in the end.
She came to know Love which would not withhold but send,
Love willing to die, and by dying make things new.
Our friend’s last wish and mine too
Was to make sure that you knew it too.”

© Randall Edwards 2020.
Artwork: James Tissot [Public domain]

Epiphany

For Epiphany I am re-posting a sonnet based upon a devotional by Elisabeth Elliot in her book, A Lamp Unto My Feet. My friend, Mark Z., shared this with me once when I was discouraged about my own circumstances.

The passage from which the devotional is based in John 1:29. Mrs. Elliot takes up the matter that even though one may know that Jesus is the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world yet, because of the guilt and shame of those sins, cannot believe that he would forgive them and take those sins away. She writes gospel gold,

“Someone who is suffering as a result of his own foolishness or failure may read these words. These griefs are hard indeed to bear, for we feel we might easily have avoided them. We have no one to blame but ourselves, and there isn’t much consolation there. Sometimes we imagine that we must bear this kind of trouble alone, but that is a mistake. The Lamb of God, slain for us, has borne all of our griefs and carried all of our sorrows, no matter what their origin. All grief and sorrow is the result of sin somewhere along the line, but Christ received them willingly. It is nothing but pride that keeps me from asking Him to help me to bear the troubles which are my own fault. ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,’ take away mine.”

The sonnet is titled, Hard to Bear. If it is helpful, you may listen to me read the passage via the player below.

These griefs and sorrows are indeed hard to bear–
This bed of my trouble in which I must lie;
Had I simply avoided the obvious snare,
I’d be holding the pearls I’ve trampled in this sty.
The troubles I’ve made are mine and mine alone
To silently bear (suck it up) make no plea,
Any help of relief I must pay out on my own
I’ve no one to blame, pass the buck, just me.
Ev’ry grief and sorrow came somewhere from sin,
And Christ received them all and willingly bore
All our sins no matter what their origin
Only pride keeps you from going, to humbly implore,
“Lamb of God, who the sins of the world takes away
Take the troubles I’ve made; please, take my sins today.”

© Randy Edwards 2016

This sonnet 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). Thanks.

artwork: Unknown

The Good Shepherd

I think about leadership a good bit from day to day. I probably think about it a bit more in recent days. It helps me to be reminded of the kind of leaders we need and be encouraged by the kind we have.

This is a little poetic meditation on John 10:11 which reads, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Not a robber stealing in stealth
Nor a hired paycheck player
Not a wolf preaching for wealth
Nor a people pleasing prayer
Not a smarmy smooth-talking seller
Of whatever contemporary fad
Nor some nouveau riche mansion dweller
Clothed in gold or fashion clad.
Across the breach lying down, giving all for his sheep
We rest confident in our keeping, peaceful in our sleep.

Artwork: Historiated initial M depicting the parable of the Good Shepherd, France, Artist: Charles Fournel

Who for Love

This is a re-working of a previous sonnet based on Mark 10:17-22 which reads,

And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” 20 And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” 21 And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

He looked at him and seeing, he loved him–
This man waiting for the answer to come,
This man who hoped in the law of his limbs.
Who held everything, left nothing undone.
But he was undone and with a word,
“One thing you still lack,” the poor rabbi said,
“Sell all you have–be delivered of your hoard
Make God your only treasure instead.”
In this miserly, moneyed moment of time
His dis-heartened heart chose to trust
Only the good which he could call “mine”.
And he gave himself to that which would rust.
Away in sorrow his heart’s wealth he bore
Empty of the Treasure, who for love, became poor.

© Randy Edwards 2016
artwork: Alexandre Bida, The rich young man

Waking to Our Fear

This sonnet is based on the account of the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee with Jesus when they are overtaken by a great storm.
I’ve often thought of this passage in conjunction with Carrie Underwood’s song, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”–except, when the disciples finally call out, he’s asleep at the wheel, or tiller. The disciples don’t shout instructions to their land lubber rabbi, they ask the most heart wrenching question of fear and doubt, “Lord, do you not care that we are perishing?” This is one of the constant questions underneath all our questions. The answer which bolsters and strengthens is knowing the significance of how he answers it.

Here is the passage from Mark 4:35-41:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36 And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37 And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39 And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
40 He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”
41 And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

It was because you wanted that we
Started for the other side that evening–
Crossing at night Galilee’s warm, fitful sea
When the cool air of Mt Hermon comes beating.
And as we’d seen a hundred times before,
You lose when caught out in the night-storm’s billow.
So we reeled and rowed–heaved to any shore
With an untended tiller, you asleep there on the pillow.
And shouting, “Lord, don’t you care if we die?
We did as you asked! Ignored our own warnings!”
And waking to our fear, you spoke to the sky
And all was as quiet as a holiday morning.
Who are you that into the storm you lead–
Permitting despair, that your friends may be freed?

© Randy Edwards
artwork: Gustave Dore

God’s Office

There is an anonymous saying that comes up in Twelve Step meetings that goes like this, “God’s office is at the end of your rope.” I like that a lot. Nothing like good, clear directions to find something.

Here’s a roundel based on that saying.

At the end of your rope — no where left to hide
Having lived your life like some imperious pope,
Having spent it all no more time left to bide
God’s office is at the end of your rope.

When your plans fail, and blindly forward you grope
Through the ruin of all the strategies you’ve tried,
Will you now punish others, in bitterness mope?

Let go of your will — your self-centered pride;
By faith, lay down, be taken up in hope.
Though it feels like death, it’s just your pride that’s died.
God’s office is at the end of your rope.

(c)Randy Edwards
artwork: From the 1894 A Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear. More public domain artwork can be found at zorger.com

The Old Becomes New

This is the third in a series of sonnets based on John’s first letter to the churches. This one is based on 1John 2:7-14 though it is particularly based on verses 7-8 to read:

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining.

The darkness is passing away;
The True Light already shines.
The night flees, gives way to day;
The Word His wolde and ware refines.
But deceit darkens when we hate;
Confusion dulls our heart’s clarity.
We throw down hands refusing the weight–
Of life’s unyielding responsibility.
Yet the rebel, the Word has forgiven;
He explains to us the Timeless One;
Names a new family, reconciles the riven,
Inhabits our hearts, makes us strong.
“Beloved little children, what is old becomes new
When you love one another as I have loved you.”

(c) Randy Edwards
artwork: Gustave Doré, The Last Supper (1865), engraving, from La Sainte Bible.