Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 1, 2017 - Exodus 17:1-7 and Matthew 21:23-32


Exodus 17:1-7 
 
Nicolas Poussin: Moses Striking the Rock (1649)
The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

Is the LORD Among Us or Not?

Is the LORD among us or not?
Is a question everyone's asked,
In the face of suffering and pain, 
When by loss and grief you're harassed.

When life sucks, and death hits your gut,
It's so clear that God is no more;
Just mentioning God seems absurd -
Until there's a knock at the door.

There, a neighbor friend has come by,
And with kindness touches your heart,
Uninvited, out of the blue,
You taste what this Moses imparts.

And you've found you won't die of thirst,
And for now, you really believe,
For the best of love is the kind
That by grace you've simply received.

Scott L. Barton

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

+  +  +

Matthew 21:23-32 

A portrayal of John's baptism by He Qi, currently of Minnesota, who was the first among Mainland Chinese to earn a Ph.D. in religious art after the cultural revolution.

Brand New: Not Just a Slogan Anymore

Since, if anyone is in Christ,
There's a new creation -
Since the past is finished and gone,
And everything's brand new -
There's no need not to change your mind!
Old convictions don't count,
Don't worry about precedents,
Don't worry you'll look weak,
Who you are today is what counts;
Maybe you were dead wrong,
Or maybe even partly right,
But that was then, before;
And God is not above getting
Down on hands and knees to
Bring the least of us around to
The here and now of love.

Scott L. Barton

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Bonus Poem: Reclaiming the Benediction for the Church


Reclaiming the Benediction for the Church
(Or: What's this business of sitting for the postlude?)

I've noticed in more congregations
A new addition to the service,
Purporting to be part of praying,
But counter to the church's purpose.

The benediction by the pastor -
Good words to all (by definition) -
Should be the people's marching orders
To be the church, a commendation.

It sets them on their path of foll'wing
The One from whom the blessing's given,
Have courage, now; in peace be going,
Be brave, let not your light be hidden!

But then imagine you're not going,
As if your prayers before were lacking?
Or you'd not heard enough fine playing,
And now the organist, you're thanking?

I was all pumped to love! you're thinking, 
But now the steam is gone in sitting;
Oh, pastors, please reclaim an ending
For followers of Christ, more fitting!

Scott L. Barton

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 24, 2017 - Exodus 16:2-15 and Matthew 20:1-16


Ercole de' Roberti: Israelites Gathering Manna (1490's), London National Gallery

Jesus Mafa: The Late-arriving Workers (1973), Cameroon

Manna (For Late Workers, Too)

They said, "What is it?" each to each,
For they did not know what it was;

(Some workers, the owner beseeched
With their clear but self-righteous cause;)

The kingdom's hard to recognize,
Though it be in front of our nose;

(The generous Giver defies
When we think we know how things go;)

We never know when we might see
New gifts rained right down on our heads;

(Others, too, have had answered pleas:
"Give us this day our daily bread;")

To you it will come, and to all,
And each and all hungers erase;

(The last will be first, the first last,
Surprise is the hallmark of grace.)

Scott L. Barton
(The poem is a re-write from the one for 9/21/14)

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

+ + +

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 17, 2017 - Exodus 14:19-31 and Matthew 18:21-35




Marc Chagall: Crossing the Red Sea (1955) 
National Museum Marc Chagall, Nice

Exodus 14:19-31
 
Dead on the Seashore

This text, awash in vividness,
Reveals the LORD's omnipotence,
But maybe not in how it seems;
It's not just that the waters cleared,
But that the LORD here persevered
To see the still enslaved, redeemed.

The program of this one we laud 
Is less that we, the act applaud,
And more we're grounded in the why:
God always stands with those oppressed,
While those who cause others' distress
God with a mighty arm, defies.

Scott L. Barton

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore.Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

+  +  +

Matthew 18:21-35
 


For Your Own Good

Beware the preacher who pontificates,
The one who has to tell the people what to do;
Beware bad news, when we are in bad straights:
"Forgiveness is the thing to which we all must hew
Or else!"
                For though the text appears to say
That God is like a king who'll throw you into jail -
Who, if you don't forgive, will make you pay -
If Jesus said it, he means evil will prevail
Within our hearts, 'cause that's the way things are!
It's how God made it; enmity will eat away,
Forever burning, evermore to scar,
Until its hold by you is loosed; and that's the day
When you discover that what God holds dear
Is you! 
               Forgiveness is what puts you in the clear.

Scott L. Barton

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 10, 2017 - Matthew 18:15-20 and Exodus 12:1-14



Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Passover Seder at My Paternal Grandfather's, 1992

Matthew 18:15-20

Ouch!

In case you think that Jesus gave us rules
That we can use to run the church, some tools
For how to deal with disagreement;
Or how, in anyone's community,
The way to solve all that disunity
Is give the worst the kicked-out treatment -
Remember how he treated tax collectors,
Or people over in the Gentile sector,
And love them even more than it's convenient!

Scott L. Barton

“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

+  +  +

Exodus 12:1-14

Know How to Party!

This text, combining liturgy
And narrative in one,
Things like, "You shall" plus "I'll pass over"
Say that we're not done
With any biblical "account"
Until we realize,
What makes it sacred is when we,
Somehow, internalize
The things that happened way back when;
Thus, in our time and place
The story's meant to give to us
A measure of the grace
That we still need, that is, the news
That God's the one who saves
From slavery, disaster; and,
From cradle to the grave
Will not abandon you, so therefore,
Do not hesitate,
Within your households everywhere,
Such love to celebrate.

Scott L. Barton

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bonus Poem: Hymn in the wake of Houston's Hurricane Harvey



We Gather Together (Southeast Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, 2017)
KREMSER
 Scott L. Barton, 2017                Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck, 1626


We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing
On those who have hastened, God's will to make known,
Who rescued the stranger from rising water's danger,
Sing praises to the Lord, when such kindness is shown.

Beside us, to guide us, our God with us joining,
When neighbors, and shelters were found high and dry;
The waters all rising, the saints mobilizing,
Revealing by our lives that our Lord is still nigh.

We all do extol you, and pray for your comfort
On all who have lost homes, or loved ones so dear;
May thy congregation renew dedication
So love for all our neighbors will make your way clear.

Now send us, your people, to be the disciples
Of Christ who has calmed both the wind and the waves;
By water we enter, each day we remember
That you are by our side, 'till the end of our days.



The hymn borrows phrases from the 17th century folk hymn written during Holland’s struggle for independence. It is dedicated to and inspired by the Kingwood, Texas Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and their members, and Dr. Patel of F.E.M.A. Permission given to use freely.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 3, 2017 - Matthew 16:21-28 and Exodus 3:1-15



  Moses and the Burning Bush, part of a fresco in the Dura-Europas synagogue, in present-day Syria, discovered in 1932,  the last phase of construction dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 C.E. Photo courtesy of Art in the Christian Tradition, Vanderbilt Divinity Library.


Matthew 16:21-28

Special Agents

Sometimes it almost seems as if 
Another person pushes him
To go where he has not yet gone,
Such as the Canaanite, who showed
That she was not some dog, when with
Her grace and wit she took him on;
And now, with Peter's push against 
His telling them about his fate,
He pushes even harder back to say
Not only he, but even those
Who follow him should be prepared
Their cross to take - it's now their way. 

The heroes of this holy book
Are never fixed, are never still;
They bend, they move, and even Jesus
Bends to do his Father's will.

Scott L. Barton

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”


+  +  +

Exodus 3:1-15

When God Notices

So Moses, just a shepherd in the wilderness,
Whose job, to watch for sheep that might be in distress,
Observes an unconsumed, yet burning bush one day,
And does not think it better that he stay away!
Instead, he turns aside to see this bush in flames,
And from the bush, the LORD twice calls out Moses' name
Upon the LORD's observing that this Moses looked!
How strange that Moses does not think his goose is cooked,
But like his forebears, Abraham and Isaac, too,
And Jacob (even Esau!) says words like, "I do."

This Here I am's a sign of danger up ahead,
As if, through thick and thin, the speaker then is wed
To One whose promise not a bed of roses gives,
But rather, presence, if the speaker dares to live
As if this LORD rests not, until oppression ends;
Perhaps, this means, you'll be the one this see-er sends;
He calls himself, to Moses, I AM WHO I AM,
And adds the name, the LORD, the God of Abraham,
The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, too.
And holiness is more than taking off your shoes.

Scott L. Barton

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of 'the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.