Friday, January 20, 2017

Bonus Poem: The Narcissist in Chief 

The Narcissist in Chief

The Narcissist in Chief
Is blinded by belief
That he is blessed by God!
How odd
So many still are conned,
While with his magic wand
They let him suck their brains
Right from their head! They're fed
By pablum that would make
Messiah in his grave
Turn over!
- if he did not save
By being neither there,
Nor where this guy
Who's now sworn in pretends
(While people scrape and bend)
To make the nation great!
But greatness for the state,
Or you, or me, e'er comes
When we, refraining from
Our favor,
Will search instead for what
Is always good for neighbor.

Scott L. Barton

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (A), January 22, 2017 - Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23

Christ Calling the First Disciples:
Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, 
San Pedro Bautista, Candelaria,

Isaiah 9:1-4

Inaugurating Hope

When gloom spreads wide upon the land,
And darkness from a firebrand
Spews forth in ways unthinkable,
Each speech and tweeted syllable
Anathema to who you are,
Hear this: No help comes from afar,
But from the news no news feed brings,
Which peasants, workers, queens and kings
Alike have known from age to age:
The Lord of light will e'er upstage
Pretenders to the throne of grace,
So all might see, and all embrace
A world where light for all might shine,
And where God's people still align 
Themselves with those called "least of these,"
Thus multiplying love that frees.

Scott L. Barton 

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness 
have seen a great light; 
those who lived in a land of deep darkness— 
on them light has shined. 
You have multiplied the nation, 
you have increased its joy; 
they rejoice before you 
as with joy at the harvest, 
as people exult when dividing plunder. 
For the yoke of their burden, 
and the bar across their shoulders, 
the rod of their oppressor, 
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

+  +  +

Matthew 4:12-23

Waste Not, Want Not

Two brothers picked, and then, two more,
And when those pairs both come ashore
It's almost like, in these first calls,
He wastes not, wants not, by this haul,
Where with economy of words,
He's quickly gathered up one third
The crew! Who knew he's in a rush?
But with conviction, now, he's flush,
For when he sees John's likely fate,
It's time to fish, not just cut bait!
He doesn't stop to analyze,
(Or these guys' qualities apprise)
He simply calls; they simply go;
And not just there, or long ago,
But even now he calls all kinds:
His love is now for hearts and minds.

Scott L. Barton

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (A), January 15, 2017 - Isaiah 49:1-7 and John 1:29-42

John the Baptist Identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God

Isaiah 49:1-17

Proof Text

This text is proof you cannot separate 
First person singular from plural - 
At least not when it comes to faith,
Where one's salvation is no cure-all;
Isaiah segues back and forth,
The "me" once named and called, the nation,
But noting that he's called, as well,
Proclaims both born God's good creation.
The nation and the prophet, both,
Were called by God to be a blessing,
Through thick and thin, though down and out,
Our job's God's love for all professing.

Scott L. Barton

Listen to me, O coastlands, 
pay attention, you peoples from far away! 
The Lord called me before I was born, 
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 
He made my mouth like a sharp sword, y
in the shadow of his hand he hid me; 
he made me a polished arrow, 
in his quiver he hid me away. 
And he said to me, “You are my servant, 
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 
But I said, “I have labored in vain, 
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; 
yet surely my cause is with the Lord, 
and my reward with my God.” 

And now the Lord says, 
who formed me in the womb to be his servant, 
to bring Jacob back to him, 
and that Israel might be gathered to him, 
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, 
and my God has become my strength— 
he says, 
"It is too light a thing that you should be my servant 
to raise up the tribes of Jacob 
and to restore the survivors of Israel; 
I will give you as a light to the nations, 
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord, 
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, 
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, 
the slave of rulers, 
"Kings shall see and stand up, 
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, 
because of the Lord, who is faithful, 
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

+  +  +

John 1:29-42

What's In a Name?

This is another text brimming with names,
"Here is the Lamb of God," the Baptist claims;
Then it's not long until "Lamb," is ,"the Son!"
Thinking of these, I then wonder, "Which one?"
Lamb of God? Son of God? Which will it be?
Maybe there is a progression to see?
But, two disciples of John start with this -
"Rabbi!" they say (although not with a kiss!)
Then it's not long 'til "Messiah" he's called!
Don't get attached to one name above all,
John (the Evangelist) here seems to say;
Jesus is more than just one sobriquet -
Son of God, Rabbi, Messiah or Lamb,
Jesus is surely, "I am who I am!"
You and I, too, aren't just stuck in one place,
"Simon" can quickly be "Cephas," by grace;
Maybe it just all depends where you are -
What you are called - when, what matters, by far:
You are inscribed on the walls of God's heart,
Brimming with love, which for you, won't depart.

Scott L. Barton

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Baptism of the Lord, January 8, 2017 - Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 3:13-17

Bazile, Castera: Baptism of Jesus,
Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, Port au Prince, Haiti
 mostly destroyed by earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010
under reconstruction

Why does it matter that Jesus was baptized?

Why does it matter that Jesus was baptized?
Only that you really join him right there -
Into the water you go, as John holds you,
Then there's the voice as you gasp in fresh air;
Yes, of the Maker of all, you're beloved!
Chosen, and in whom our God is well-pleased;
How do I know this?  Isaiah says, clearly,
"Servant" means people whom God dearly sees
As those who are called to bring justice to all,
God is delighted with such a great scheme!
Taking God's people in hand as we step out,
We are God's servants, whose work, to redeem
People from darkness, injustice and prison;
We will not whine, nor our spirits be quenched -
Jesus was baptized so we, as God's people,
With water and spirit our lives might be drenched!

Scott L. Barton

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be crushed
until he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his teaching.

Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the LORD, that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to idols.
See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.


Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 2017 - Isaiah 60:1-6; Matthew 2:1-12; also Micah 5:2-5a

Adoration of the Christ Child by the Three Kings
1518; Milan

Off By Nine Miles

You have to be careful in choosing a text
When trying to figure what God will do next;
The wise men, it seems, had Isaiah in mind,
For in chapter 60, the prophet assigned
Jerusalem as the location for light
To shine, with the glory of Yahweh so bright
The wealth of the nations around it would come!
With frankincense, camels and gold they'd become
Disciples! From darkness, God's glory'd redound
To those who'd kept faith, and would now be renowned!

But wise can be wrong - they were off by nine miles!
The text that they needed was just not their style,
For Micah had said that a town, oh so small,
Would bring forth the one to be shepherd of all!
Poor Herod (the rich) also knew not this text,
And sent for the scribes of the people, perplexed
Because of the ruler his visitors sought;
Not wise, nor the powerful, ever had thought
A prophet from out in the country could know
A place such as Bethlehem ever could show
The world a new ruler who'd ever increase
The good of the world with his treasure of peace.

Scott L. Barton

(Based on the published observation of Walter Breuggemann that
imagines the wise men off by nine miles after picking the wrong text.)

Isaiah 60:1-6
Arise, shine; for your light has come, 
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. 
For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; 
but the Lord will arise upon you, 
and his glory will appear over you. 
Nations shall come to your light, 
and kings to the brightness of your dawn. 
Lift up your eyes and look around; 
they all gather together, they come to you; 
your sons shall come from far away,
and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. 
Then you shall see and be radiant; 
your heart shall thrill and rejoice, 
because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, 
the wealth of the nations shall come to you. 
A multitude of camels shall cover you, 
the young camels of Midian and Ephah; 
all those from Sheba shall come.
They shall bring gold and frankincense, 
and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

Micah 5:2-5a
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, 
who are one of the little clans of Judah, 
from you shall come forth for me 
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. 
Therefore he shall give them up until the time 
when she who is in labor has brought forth; 
then the rest of his kindred shall return 
to the people of Israel. 
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, 
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. 
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great 
to the ends of the earth; 
and he shall be the one of peace.

Matthew 2:1-12
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who is to shepherd my people Israel.’” Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The First Sunday after Christmas Day (A), January 1, 2017 - Isaiah 63:7-9 and Matthew 2:12-23

Dürer, Albrecht: Flight into Egypt (1494-1497)
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Dresden, Germany)

Isaiah 63:7-9

Not Just in Days of Old

God knows it's not enough to talk,
So God comes by to visit,
To lift, to carry those God loves 
E'en when they fail to get it. 
The point of God has always been
That grace, you cannot lose it;
To those who fear, love sidles near,
So anxious folk might cool it.

Scott L. Barton

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, 
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, 
because of all that the Lord has done for us, 
and the great favor to the house of Israel 
that he has shown them according to his mercy, 
according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 
For he said, “Surely they are my people, 
children who will not deal falsely”; 
and he became their savior in all their distress. 
It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; 
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; 
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

+  +  +

Matthew 2:12-23

The Two Josephs 

It seems to me I've heard this song before;
Remember Joseph, by his dad, adored,
Who, off to Egypt went one day, enslaved,
As good as dead, his brothers so depraved
They'd even murder just to guarantee
He'd bloom no more upon the fam'ly tree?

But then, in dreams, we see that God persists
In showing that he all the while insists
That even though a tyrant's on the throne,
Those loved by God will never stand alone.

Again weeps Rachel - God abandons not -
And this new dreaming Joseph finds a spot
To raise the child born with no silver spoon!
- All to the end that we might be attuned
To hear the old familiar score, known well;
And yearning, searching love for all, retell.

Scott L. Barton

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Eve/Nativity of our Lord, December 24/25, 2016 - Luke 2:1-20

Peter Busch: No Room at the Inn. Sand sculpture,
Belen de arena de Las Canteras, Plaza Saulo Toron,
Canary Islands, Spain. 

When History Repeats Itself

It was a terrifying time
Which we, by faith, now think sublime;
But then, a madman on the throne,
Drove everyone away from home,
That everyone be taxed and counted;
But this, in point of fact, amounted
To terrorism by the high,
Who gave no choice but to comply.

Think, immigrants; think, refugees;
Think how all those of low degree
In every age are made to do
The bidding of a mighty few.
Think those who fear they'll be deported,
Their work, and fam'ly life now thwarted;
Think those from bombed out cities fleeing,
What kind of news would bring wellbeing?

Imagine they see in the flesh,
Perhaps in angels and a creche,
Or maybe, solidarity
From those who bear Christ's guarantee
That he'll be with us all our days!
Then they, as well, might be amazed -
Like shepherds hearing angel choirs -
What real love from God requires.

Thus into angst and grief and fears
The God of every soul appears,
Yes, then, but also here, today,
And bids us live just as we pray.

Scott L. Barton

My pastor, Richard Manzelmann, used
this on the "Christmas Sunday" bulletin cover
in 1974 at New Hartford, New York 
Presbyterian Church. I used it on occasion
for the same purpose over the years but would 
love to know its source. It seems like a 
Rembrandt, but I can't confirm that.

To Make Our Love Braver

She did something different,
She treasured and pondered;
Not only amazed, but
She thought, and she wondered
Just what was their meaning -
That this diapered wee boy,
Would be to all people
The sign of a great joy?

And why even now does
He cause such a flutter
In hearts all around, while
These carols we utter?
Is this what they meant when
They said that a savior
Would come - a Messiah,
To make our love braver?

Scott L. Barton
Imogene Herdman, "Hey! Unto you a child is born!" 
in Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever


"It's the big night!"
Is what my father used to say,
And then in June,
It was, "Tomorrow's the big day!"
- Thus, the solstice
Always arrives for me with mirth,
Which may be what
We need to hear about this birth
Announced each year!
The angel told with twinkling eyes
- Thus, cast out fear -
So they would laugh with great surprise;
Despite the dark,
This same news called to you this night
Begs to be told,
That Love may be our solstice light.

Scott L. Barton

Rembrandt van Rijn,
The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds

They Thought It Was the Feds

Perhaps they thought it was the Feds who'd come for them!
Somehow, the N.S.A. had tracked, and would condemn
Those dirty shepherds, since they had not registered,
And since, without green cards, Augustus' wrath incurred!
But soon they found the searchlight not to be the law,
Which, with relief, provoked a different kind of awe;
That is, more powerful than all the "powers that be,"
Was then announced - as now - the holy mystery:
Quite openly, the one who saves comes not by strength
Of arm, but will not fail to go to any length
For love!  Thus wrapped, so even shepherds might embrace
This child, we, too, now hold our breath, to see such grace.

Scott L. Barton
2013, also published in The Presbyterian Outlook 12/09/13

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.