Monday, August 18, 2014

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time, August 24, 2014 - Exodus 1:8 - 2:10

Shiphrah, Puah, Jocheved, Miriam, Pharoah's Daughter, and the infant Moses. 
Painting in Dura-Europas synagogue, in present-day Syria, discovered in 1932, the last phase of construction dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE. Photo courtesy of Art in the Christian Tradition, Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

The civil disobedience
Of women isn't new,
Nor did it stop with just one case
Where midwives helped push through
The life that Yahweh had in mind;
Oh, no! This kind of birth,
Meant not for just a few back then
Is all about the worth
Of all - despite some despot's claim
That he could cleanse a race
Right off the map! His daughter even
Risks her own disgrace.
How clever, Shiphrah and Puah,
And Moses' sister, too;
And their outwitting shows this LORD
Will never be subdued.

Scott L. Barton

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 17, 2014 - Genesis 45:1-15

Rembrandt: Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers (c. 1640-1642), Musee du Louvre

"And after this his brothers talked with him."

I wonder what it was they talked about
When Joseph finally told them who he was?
Perhaps, "How's Dinah? How's she holding up?"
Or, "How's your mother? ...Yours? ...And yours?" because
We're led to think he cared about such things;
We can guess, "Don't be angry with yourselves"
Reveals he knew his family well enough
To see that deep within these brothers twelve
Was worry over whom Dad loved the best!
He later* tells them not to quarrel on the way.
They talked. They left. The promise did not die;
And talk is not as cheap as people say.
                                                                        *(vs. 24)
Scott L. Barton

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bonus Poem - On This Day, August 6

For Terri-Jo

The birthday of my sister, dear,
Is also that of Tennyson
(Alfred, the lord, that is) who wrote
The famous "In Memoriam;"
He was the poet laureate
As popular even as the Queen,
When Albert died, on Alfred's words
For comfort, she was known to lean:
"I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all."

This also is the famous day
When LBJ signed into law
The Voting Rights Act; Earlier,
When MLK on TV saw
The Prez say, "We shall overcome,"
He cried, with such a day arrived -
A Southerner who'd said to take
It slow, now hope for change, revived.
The universe's moral arc
Is long, at least in human years;
Towards justice, though, it bends, though tears
Must fall, 'til light o'ercomes the dark.

Another "lord" was born this day
Who saved uncounted human lives;
By accident, he found that staph
Around a mold would never thrive;
For in a Petri dish one day,
Sir Alexander Fleming found
Some mold, a penicillium,
But no bacteria around;
"One sometimes finds," the doctor said,
The thing "one is not looking for;"
His find would millions' lives restore,
Who, otherwise, would live in dread.

We did, it seems, take one step back
On this day back in '45
When the atomic bomb first dropped;
That world war's end, then soon arrived;
But at what cost? The captain o'er
Hiroshima, observed begun
A horror that would haunt us all,
And wrote, "My God, what have we done?"
I cannot find the words this time,
With this week's images in mind,
For when you see, in war you find
There is no reason or no rhyme.

Today, perhaps, in looking back
To see where we've both failed, and learned,
The measure of each add, or lack,
Is when for neighbors' good we yearn.

Scott L. Barton
(With thanks to The Writer's Almanac for information about this day)

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 10, 2014 - Genesis 37:1-28 [5-11 officially not included]

Ferenczy, Károly, Joseph Sold into Slavery by his Brothers (1900), 
Hungarian National Gallery

Once again you have to wonder
If a patriarch believes -
For Jacob knows the boys can't stand
This Joseph with long sleeves;
It's not as if the father is
Oblivious to the threat;
He knows how much the dreamer is
Despised by them - And yet
He still sends out his pride and joy
(Another lamb to slaughter);
He knows the opportunity
Will make their mouths all water!
I think deep down he wonders: "Is
This promise true? Or tale?"
Is this a challenge to the LORD
To see if it will fail?
Perhaps his father, Isaac, once
Had told him 'bout that ram,
Then, just like Grandpa, Joseph tells
His father, "Here I am!"
It takes all kinds to grow this faith,
The doubters and the brave,
The truth is, Yahweh works through both
To show the love that saves.

Scott L. Barton

[Please see also the poem for June 29 about the almost-sacrifice of Isaac.]

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

[Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.]

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’“ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 3, 2014 - Genesis 32:22-31 and Matthew 14:13-21

Marc Chagall, Jacob wrestling with the angel, 1931
Musée national Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, France


Vie de Jesus Mafa, Jesus Multiplies the Loaves


It's as if, like his grandfather,
He plays a game of chicken
With this Yahweh, testing whether
He can entrust all he has
To the promise of abundance;
He sends them, unprotected,
Wrestling all night with what he's done.
The grabber gets a blessing,
Although it doesn't come scot-free -
Faith limps in this, our family tree.

Along comes Jesus. He's alone,
In his own way, wrestling, too.
The crowds can't get enough of him;
Can his disciples do it?
But they need another lesson -
Astonishing numbers fed!
Hilarious unexpectedness,
Not disaster we expect,
Is news that comes again this week,
When of this God, we dare to speak.

Scott L. Barton
[The phrase "hilarious unexpectedness" is from Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale. See http://www.frederickbuechner.com/content/weekly-sermon-illustration-gospel-comedy.]


The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

* * *

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 27, 2014 - Genesis 29:15-28


Rembrandt: Laban leading Rachel or Leah (1635)


The cheat became the cheated,

In Laban he met his match;
To marry Laban's daughters off,
A daring plan he hatched;
When Jacob saw those lovely eyes,
He knew that he'd been had,
His eyes were opened to the truth:
"I'm not the only cad!"
I wonder if the "girls" were in on
Laban's crafty plan?
He says, "WE'LL give the other, too,
If you serve ME [the man]
Another set of seven years."
Thus, he whose mother pulled
The wool over his father's eyes
By women, too, was fooled!
Oh! What a pack of fools and foolers
Form this family tree!
Which goes to show the nature of
The prodigality
Behind the LORD who chose them all
As blessers and as blessed;
And holy fools today still know
By love they are possessed.

Scott L. Barton

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 20, 2014 - Genesis 28:10-19a

Marc Chagall: Jacob's Ladder (one of several)

This Stairway to Heaven Really Makes Me Wonder

"How awesome is this place," he says,
Where hope and presence intersect;
It is as if God lives where, missing
What you long for, you expect
It yet to be!
       Though you can't see
What otherwise would leave you stunned;
And so the LORD to Jacob says,
"I will not leave you 'til I've done
What I have promised."
        So, I ask,
Does this mean God might someday leave?
The text implies as much!
        And yet,
Perhaps God's "present" when we cleave
To what, in hope, we cannot see,
And God's house - Bethel - is that place
And time when you and everyone
Now realize that just by grace
Are more than moon and heaven ours,
And stairways climb to more than stars.

Scott L. Barton

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.