Monday, December 15, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (B), December 21, 2014 - Luke 1:26-38 (see also 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16)

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation (1898),
Philadelphia Museum of Art
How can this be? How can this be?
There's nothing I can possibly see
To prove that to this world might come
Some hope where life is surely undone
By all the darkness, grief and pain
Which at this time assuredly reign.

What's this you say? What's this you say?
You've something even more to convey?
O my! This news you now declare
Is that through me there will come to bear
The saving grace that people need,
A rule of love to come now indeed?

Thus, as her forebears, Mary learned
The thing we want, for which we most yearn,
Comes not because we make it so;
Such wisdom now we're called to forego,
Embracing, rather, gifts, amazed
That obstacles still leave God unfazed.

Scott L. Barton

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

+ + +

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”


But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Third Sunday of Advent (B), December 14, 2014 - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Vie de Jesus Mafa: John the Baptist preaching (1973)

Advent Recipe in Three Steps, 2014

Start with:
I am not the Messiah.
I am at an utter loss about racism.
I won't pretend it doesn't exist,
and don't ask me how to end it, either,
in Ferguson, in Staten Island,
in my own home town, and in me,
how we might straighten out the mess
that so long ago slavery began.

Add, while singing:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
O Lord, how shall I meet you?
People look east,
Prepare the way, O Zion,
The desert shall rejoice,
My soul cries out with a joyful shout,
Wild and lone the prophet's voice,
O come, o come, Emmanuel.

Don't forget:
I will neither give up, nor despair.
I will trust the one who is to come
and who always finds a way.
I will not let my spirit be quenched,
nor despise the prophets,
but give thanks in all things,
abstain from every evil,
and hold fast to what is good.

Bake to perfection. As long as it takes.

Scott L. Barton

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

+++

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Second Sunday of Advent (B), December 5, 2014 - Mark 1:1-8

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665): 
St John the Baptist Baptizes the People, 
Musee du Louvre

We're now in Year B, and Mark's very first sentence with no verbs in it makes it a bit unclear just what "the beginning" is; but maybe it's not just the first chapter. Maybe it's even his whole book. I thought of Julie Andrews singing "Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer" in The Sound of Music, and the poem took off from there. Keep the tune in mind as you read the poem, and have fun!

Let's start at the very beginning,
A very good place to start;
When it's Matthew it's genealogy,
When it's Mark it begins with John the B.,
John the B.,
The one Isaiah wants us to see,
John the B.,
He won't grace your Christmas tea:

In the wilderness he cried,
"God forgives I now proclaim,"
People from the countryside
And the capital all came;
They confessed and were baptized
By the wild and crazy guy,
Even so, he still surprised,
Saying one will come not I!

(So stand by!)

Thus, the good news has begun,
Mark's whole book is just the start,
For the story's hardly done,
Each of us can play a part;
Jesus is the one who came,
He's the key for your life's scale,
Make his love your constant aim,
For his grace today prevails -

(prevails)

Lives Christ and loves! and, yes, Christ gives!
Gives, Christ, and yes, loves, and Christ lives.
Amen!

Scott L. Barton


The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

The First Sunday of Advent (B), November 30, 2014 - Mark 13:24-37

When the world is going to hell in a handbasket,
the chickens have come home to roost,
the whole world's at sixes and sevens,
you're up the creek without a paddle,
we're going down with all hands,
everything's gone widdershins,
everything's gone bananas,
life's going down the tubes,
it's all gone horribly wrong,
it's FUBAR, and SNAFU,
things go cattywumpus,
all hell's broken loose,
we're taking on water,
the shit hits the fan,
it's pandemonium,
the wheels fall off,
things fall apart,
and the jig
is up,
then
kairos,
peripeteia,
crossroads,
a conversion,
a metamorphosis,
the turn of the tide,
the moment of truth,
the defining moment,
everything fresh and new,
the tree suddenly leafing out,
something you somehow haven't
to deserve occurs when you least expect it.
No one knows how that is, or when it is, either;
But it's something to anticipate, like the summer.
And who knows? Maybe it will even come like a baby.

Scott L. Barton

(The idea that the literal shape of a poem can be a part of the poetry came to me some years ago from J. Barrie Shepherd's The Moveable Feast: Selected Poems for the Christian Year and Beyond (1990)).


“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bonus Poem: A Thanksgiving Prayer

(Pastors could provide something like this on a card in each bulletin this coming Sunday morning for members of the congregation to use at their Thanksgiving tables, maybe everyone at the table taking a couple of lines or more, and then the whole gathering saying or singing the Doxology at the end. I wrote the first version of this for Old First Church, Bennington, Vermont, and this version for Collenbrook United Church, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. The first two lines are from a well-known sung grace.)

For health and strength and daily bread,
We praise your name, O Lord;
For blessings showered on our heads,
We praise your name, O Lord.

For eyes to see the stars above,
We praise your name, O Lord;
For ears to hear, “It’s you I love,”
We praise your name, O Lord.

For home and hearth and blue sky view,
For courage saying what is true,
For peace and justice to pursue,
We praise your name, O Lord.

And if our lives are mixed with pain,
May faith in you we still retain;
May at this board each quarrel end,
That grace from you all people mend;
And now we’re glad your gifts to take,
For here is known the love you make.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise God, all creatures here below,
Praise God above, ye heav’nly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Scott L. Barton

Christ the King (Reign of Christ) Sunday (A), November 23, 2014 - Matthew 25:31-46

Early 6th-century mosaic from Ravenna, the Church of Appolinare Nuovo


The Gospel is about surprise;
Forget the habit to surmise
Just how you might reap some reward,
Or fear that you might be ignored
By God, say, when you're at the end,
And wonder if you might ascend,
Or descend, so to speak, to find
God's system of reward is blind
To whether you had made the grade!
No matter what, you'll be dismayed,
Since God's less likely to be bribed,
And more inclined to be described
As Christ who so inspires your love
That, focused less on God above,
You'll worry not, nor will you gloat,
To be a hero, or a goat,
But simply offer all your care
To needy angels unawares.

Scott L. Barton


“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), November 16, 2014 (part 2) - Matthew 25:14-30

Annette Gandy Fortt: Parable of the Talents
http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56021


Beware that you not use this text
To be the means whereby the next
Year's budget you might "make" converges
With what seems the parable urges.

One talent being far too much
For common laborers to touch,
It speaks, instead, of what is gained
When nothing you did, you attained.

Those overwhelmed by all they have,
Who know that all they are, God gave,
In joy, astounded by their treasure,
Know greatest gifts cannot be measured.

But those who try to make it last,
In worry they'll lose all amassed,
Have entered now into the hell
Which only trust in grace dispels.

Scott L. Barton

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’