The Same Inside

Poem for a Tuesday — “The Same Inside” by Anna Swir

“Walking to your place for a love feast
I saw at a street corner
an old beggar woman.
I took her hand,
kissed her delicate cheek,
we talked, she was
the same inside as I am,
from the same kind,
I sensed this instantly
as a dog knows by scent
another dog.
I gave her money,
I could not part from her.
After all, one needs
someone who is close.
And then I no longer knew
why I was walking to your place.”

— from A Book of Luminous Things, ed. Czeslaw Milosz. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1996, p. 200.


Anna Swir (Anna Świrszczyńska) emerged from humble origins to become one of the most respected Polish poets of the twentieth century. She served in the Resistance during World War II and worked as a military nurse in the Warsaw Uprising. She wrote frankly about death, war, and the female body. She published nine collections of poetry, as well as plays and stories for children. She received a number of literary awards in her native Poland. She died in Krakow in 1984.


image source https://www.freeimages.com/photo/poor-beggar-woman-1440739

Fed, Forgiven, Sent

Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Fed, Forgiven, Sent” John 21:1-19

“Feed My Sheep”

—Mary Baker Eddy

Shepherd, show me how to go

“O’er the hillside steep,

How to gather, how to sow—

How to feed Thy sheep;

I will listen for Thy voice,

Lest my footsteps stray;

I will follow and rejoice

All the rugged way.

Thou wilt bind the stubborn will,

Wound the callous breast,

Make self-righteousness be still,

Break earth’s stupid rest.

Strangers on a barren shore,

Lab’ring long and lone,

We would enter by the door,

And Thou know’st Thine own;

So, when day grows dark and cold,

Tear or triumph harms,

Lead Thy lambkins to the fold,

Take them in Thine arms;

Feed the hungry, heal the heart,

Till the morning’s beam;

White as wool, ere they depart,

Shepherd, wash them clean.”

What’s next? It’s the question of the Easter season.  The sanctuary is still decked in Easter white, but the lilies are beginning to fade. The Easter crowd has ebbed and may not be seen again until Christmas Eve. Yet, we have rejoiced together and affirmed that Jesus has risen and God has won the victory over sin and death.  So, what are we to do and how are we to live in this post-resurrection world? Our reading from John’s gospel suggests that Eastertide is all about being fed, finding grace, and going forth in Christ’s purpose.

What’s next? That question must have been on Peter’s mind. After the disciples encountered the risen Lord on Easter evening, they had made their way back to the Galilee.  After the chaos and trauma of Good Friday, Peter must have felt the comforting pull of the familiar, and so he returned to the well-known rhythms of fishing.  With six of his friends, he climbed into a boat, pushed out into deep water, and spent a fruitless night casting his nets.

As the sun rose above the Golan Heights, Jesus stood on the beach and guided his friends to a surprisingly bountiful catch.  When the disciples returned to shore, Jesus knew that folks who have been out all night long, rowing and towing a drag net, need to be fed, so he invited them to a breakfast of bread and fish, grilled on a charcoal fire.  Have you ever noticed how good food tastes when it is fresh, simply prepared, and eaten outdoors?  As the disciples filled their bellies in Jesus’s good company, I suspect they felt “fed” in more ways than one.

We all need to be fed.  If life is a spiritual journey, then we need good food to sustain us along the Way.  In our Lenten Study this year, a dozen of us considered what sustains us along life’s spiritual journey.  We all need nourishment.  We all need ways in which we connect with God — because it is there that we find the refreshment and energy that are needed to live faithfully.  In fact, the class brainstormed a list of things that are bread for our journey.  On the list were worship, scripture, the Lord’s Supper, meditation and prayer, fellowship, nature, the arts, and more.  How are you fed for the spiritual journey?  This Easter season invites us to know the risen Lord and to deepen our relationship with him.  As we spend time with Jesus — in church, with others, or in nature — we are filled and energized.

I am certain that, as Peter enjoyed that fish breakfast on the beach with Jesus, the apostle was struggling with guilt and shame.  After all, he had promised to follow Jesus, even if the way led to suffering and death.  But on the night of Jesus’s arrest, fear had gotten the better of Peter.  The last time that Peter had warmed his hands at a charcoal fire, he had been in the courtyard of the high priest.  There he had repeatedly and vehemently denied even knowing Jesus.  Jesus, seeing his friend’s inner turmoil, gave Peter a second, third, and fourth chance—a Mulligan, a “do-over.”  Peter found much-needed grace and forgiveness as he affirmed his love for Jesus three times.  It was the perfect, poignant remedy to those three haunting denials.

We all need mercy and grace.  We may not have denied Jesus three times to save our own skin, but we all stumble and fall short in right living.  We have treated our relationship with Jesus as an after-thought to be sprinkled around the edges of our lives at our personal convenience.  We have made mistakes in our personal lives.  We have been impatient with our spouse, insensitive to our children, or unavailable for our friends.  We have remained silent at injustice, indifferent to suffering, and unwilling to share with those who need our help, compassion, and generosity.  Where do you need grace this morning?  In this Easter season, we remember the enormity of God’s love for us.  If Christ can forgive a repentant thief, his executioners, and the Apostle Peter, then we can trust that Jesus forgives us.  In this Easter season, we can trust that grace and forgiveness abound for us.

As Peter was fed and forgiven, he learned that Jesus had a purpose for him.  The Lord asked Peter to feed and tend the flock that was being entrusted to his care.  Through Peter, Jesus would continue to reach out, heal, and bless a world that was desperately hungry for good news.  When we read the Book of Acts, we note that Peter answered that calling.  Peter would heal a lame beggar on the doorstep of the Temple.  He would raise from the dead the beloved Dorcas, who had so generously cared for the widows of Joppa. Peter would venture into enemy territory, taking the gospel to the household of Cornelius the Centurion in Caesarea.  Through Peter, and those other disciples who answered Jesus’s call, Christ’s love would be made known and shared from one side of the Roman Empire to the other.

Jesus continues to entrust his ministry to flawed people like Peter, to flawed people like us.  Jesus’s flock needs faithful people who will love and feed them, and the Lord trusts that we, too, will reach out with healing, help, and blessing for neighbors who hunger for good news.  When we plant the church garden and we bring food offerings to the pack basket at the side entrance, the flock gets fed.  And when we pray for others in the Prayers of the People or share concerns with the Prayer Chain, the flock is tended.  When the deacons reach out with calls and cards, or we invite a hurting friend to church, the flock is blessed.  In this Easter season, we find our purpose and fulfill our calling when we answer Christ’s call to love and serve the neighbors that he entrusts to us.

What’s next?  It’s the question of the Easter season. What are we to do and how are we to live in this post-resurrection world? According to Jesus, Eastertide is all about being fed, finding grace, and going forth in his purpose.  May it be so. 

“Shepherd, show me how to go

O’er the hillside steep,

How to gather, how to sow—

How to feed Thy sheep;

I will listen for Thy voice,

Lest my footsteps stray;

I will follow and rejoice

All the rugged way.”

Resources:

Thomas Troeger. “Homiletical Perspective on John 21:1-19” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Gary D. Jones. “Exegetical Perspective on John 21:1-19” in Feasting on the Word, Year C, vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.

Robert Hoch. “Commentary on John 21:1-19” in Preaching This Week, April 10, 2016.  Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

Joy Moore. “Commentary on John 21:1-19” in Preaching This Week, May 5, 2019.  Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.

David Lose. “Two Things Everyone Needs” in Dear Partner in Preaching, April 5, 2016.  Accessed online at davidlose.net.

Longyear Museum. When The Heart Speaks: Feed My Sheep. Poems by Mary Baker Eddy set to music in the Christian Science Hymnal. October 1, 2021. Accessed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8xI1J5sGbEM


John 21:1-19

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 3 Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”


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Happiness

Poem for a Tuesday — “Happiness” by Jane Kenyon

“There’s just no accounting for happiness,
or the way it turns up like a prodigal
who comes back to the dust at your feet
having squandered a fortune far away.

And how can you not forgive?
You make a feast in honor of what
was lost, and take from its place the finest
garment, which you saved for an occasion
you could not imagine, and you weep night and day
to know that you were not abandoned,
that happiness saved its most extreme form
for you alone.

No, happiness is the uncle you never
knew about, who flies a single-engine plane
onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes
into town, and inquires at every door
until he finds you asleep midafternoon
as you so often are during the unmerciful
hours of your despair.

It comes to the monk in his cell.
It comes to the woman sweeping the street
with a birch broom, to the child
whose mother has passed out from drink.
It comes to the lover, to the dog chewing
a sock, to the pusher, to the basketmaker,
and to the clerk stacking cans of carrots
in the night.
It even comes to the boulder
in the perpetual shade of pine barrens,
to rain falling on the open sea,
to the wineglass, weary of holding wine.”

in Claiming the Spirit Within, ed. Marilyn Sewell (Boston: Beacon Press, 1996). p. 119.


Jane Kenyon (1947-1995) grew up in Michigan but settled as a young adult in New Hampshire at the family farm of her husband, the poet and academic Donald Hall. Jane published four books of poetry in her too-short life. Her work is celebrated for her exploration of rural life, nature, and living with depression. She received the prestigious Hopwood Award at the University of Michigan and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. At the time of her death from leukemia in 1995, Kenyon was the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire.


“So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” — Luke 15:20


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Facing It

Poem for a Tuesday — “Facing It” by Yusef Komunyakaa

“My black face fades,   

hiding inside the black granite.   

I said I wouldn’t  

dammit: No tears.   

I’m stone. I’m flesh.   

My clouded reflection eyes me   

like a bird of prey, the profile of night   

slanted against morning. I turn   

this way—the stone lets me go.   

I turn that way—I’m inside   

the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

again, depending on the light   

to make a difference.   

I go down the 58,022 names,   

half-expecting to find   

my own in letters like smoke.   

I touch the name Andrew Johnson;   

I see the booby trap’s white flash.   

Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse   

but when she walks away   

the names stay on the wall.   

Brushstrokes flash, a red bird’s   

wings cutting across my stare.   

The sky. A plane in the sky.   

A white vet’s image floats   

closer to me, then his pale eyes   

look through mine. I’m a window.   

He’s lost his right arm   

inside the stone. In the black mirror   

a woman’s trying to erase names:   

No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.”

in Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)


Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He served as a war correspondent and managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam war, earning him a Bronze Star. His poetry reflects the cadences and influence of jazz and his grandparents, who were church people: “the sound of the Old Testament informed the cadences of their speech.” He takes on complex moral issues: the Vietnam War, his experience as a black man, and the underside of life in America. He lives in New York City where he is Distinguished Senior Poet in NYU’s graduate creative writing program.


Vietnam War Memorial — Washington, DC

The Task

Poem for a Thursday — “The Task” by Denise Levertov

As if God were an old man
always upstairs, sitting about
in sleeveless undershirt, asleep,
arms folded, stomach rumbling,
his breath from open mouth
strident, presaging death . . .

No, God’s in the wilderness next door
— that huge tundra room, no walls and a sky roof —
busy at the loom. Among the berry bushes,
rain or shine, that loud clacking and whirring.
irregular but continuous;
God is absorbed in work, and hears
the spacious hum of bees, not the din,
and hears far-off
our screams. Perhaps
listens for prayers in that wild solitude.
And hurries on with the weaving:
till it’s done, the great garment woven,
our voices, clear under the familiar
blocked-out clamor of the task,
can’t stop their
terrible beseeching. God
imagines it sifting through, at last, to music
in the astounded quietness, the loom idle,
the weaver at rest.

in Oblique Prayers. New Castle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1984.

Denise Levertov was born in England in 1923. Her father Paul Levertov was a Russian Hassidic Safardic Jew who became an Anglican priest. When she was twelve, Levertov sent some of her poems to T. S. Eliot, who replied with a two-page letter of encouragement. She published her first book of poems in 1940 at age seventeen. She served as a nurse during the Blitz in London. Politics, war, and religion all became major themes in her life’s work. Levertov published more than twenty books before her death in 1994. She received the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Frost Medal the Lenore Marshall Prize, the Lannan Award, a Catherine Luck Memorial Grant, a grant from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

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As the Ruin Falls

Poem for a Tuesday — “As the Ruin Falls” by C. S. Lewis

“All this is flashy rhetoric about loving you.
I never had a selfless thought since I was born.
I am mercenary and self-seeking through and through:
I want God, you, all friends, merely to serve my turn.

Peace, re-assurance, pleasure, are the goals I seek,
I cannot crawl one inch outside my proper skin:
I talk of love —a scholar’s parrot may talk Greek—
But, self-imprisoned, always end where I begin.

Only that now you have taught me (but how late) my lack.
I see the chasm. And everything you are was making
My heart into a bridge by which I might get back
From exile, and grow man. And now the bridge is breaking.

For this I bless you as the ruin falls. The pains
You give me are more precious than all other gains.”

C.S. Lewis was perhaps the most influential Christian writer of the twentieth century. A noted scholar of Medieval and Renaissance Literature, he taught at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Lewis wrote more than thirty books. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere ChristianityOut of the Silent PlanetThe Great DivorceThe Screwtape Letters, and The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.

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In the Bleak Midwinter

Poem for a Tuesday — “In the Bleak Midwinter”

by Christina Rossetti

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.


Christina Georgina Rossetti is considered one of the finest female poets of the Victorian era. Born to Italian political refugees and classics scholars, she lived in London and was homeschooled. She began writing poetry by age 12. She suffered from bouts of depression which she soothed with religious devotion. A noted beauty, Rosetti never married but was engaged three times. She wrote sonnets, ballads, narrative poems, and lyrics. Remarkably prolific, Rosetti’s complete poems run to well over 1,000 pages. Her poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter,” was adapted as a Christmas carol by another child of refugees Gustav Holst.


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“Risk”

Poem for a Tuesday — “Risk” by Lisa Colt

“My teacher says,

You’ve got to stink first.

I tell her, I don’t have time to stink–

at 64 years old

I go directly to perfection

or I go nowhere.

Perfection is nowhere,

she says, So stink.

Stink like a beginner,

stink like decaying flesh,

old blood,

cold sweat,

she says,

I know a woman who’s eighty-six,

last year she learned to dive.

Published in Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women’s Poetry, ed. Marilyn Sewell. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.


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The Three Goals

Poem for a Tuesday

“The Three Goals”

by David Budbill

“The first goal is to see the thing itself

in and for itself, to see it simply and clearly

for what it is.

No symbolism, please.

The second goal is to see each individual thing

as unified, as one, with all the other

ten thousand things,

In this regard, a little wine helps a lot.

The third goal is to grasp the first and the second goals,

to see the universal and the particular,

simultaneously.

Regarding this one, call me when you get it.”

from Good Poems, ed. Garrison Keillor. New York: Penguin Books, 2002. Page 225.