Monday, October 27, 2014

The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), November 2, 2014 - Joshua 3:7-17

Frans Francken II (1581-1642): The Israelites Crossing the River Jordan
Cornell University 

(I took this picture when I saw it a month ago at the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell. I wonder why Francken painted the water on the left of the people as they crossed, since presumably the story has them crossing from east to west, which would put the Dead Sea to the south - and thus, "the heap" on their right.)


The text progresses, as it must;
not Moses, out alone, or just
this Joshua, either, at this river,
this new, dividing sea the Giver
parts; but now, instead of one,
it looks like twelve ensure undone
the chaos that would interfere
with what the LORD would engineer.
They venture out into the deep,
which is no more, but just a heap
on their right hand, while on their left,
no waters stand; and they are blessed
to be a nation now, where all are saved -
Let us, just like those Jordan priests, behave.

Scott L. Barton

The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 26, 2014 - 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879): The Kiss of Peace (1869)

Item: A doctor goes from Worcester, Massachusetts to Liberia, learns how to put on and take off the protective gear, and, when caring for a pastor with Ebola, finds himself prayed for before the pastor dies: http://nyti.ms/1rh6o07

The pastor prayed for Dr. Hatch
Who'd known he could not stay detached
From human need, and thus has dared
To give, to those he might, God's care.
I know not if he calls it such;
I know not, if he prays, how much,
Or if he thinks that he's been called;
But this I know: that writer Paul,
When speaking of the tender nurse
Whose gentle care for children mercy
Shows, cares more for deeds than words,
And giving self is grace conferred.

Scott L. Barton

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 19, 2014 - Exodus 33:12-23

Rembrandt: Moses and the Burning Bush (ca. 1655)


Moses keeps upping the ante,
He asks the LORD for more and more.
Though it seems this LORD knows his name -
What are your ways? How keep favor?
(Besides they're YOUR baby, not mine)
And really, who will go with me?
The LORD says, I'll go.
                                         Moses: Mean it?
The LORD says, Yes, yes; as you'll see.
       We'll really stand out, that's for sure.
The LORD says, Yes, yes; you I bless.
        But where is the proof positive?
The LORD says, My glory's my goodness,
Which means, I choose you, not you, me;
Mercy and graciousness are mine.
Such giving's what my goodness means;
The back you see, will be your sign.

A couple on a recent flight
Told me the Lord they also seek,
This text, however makes me think,
When Moses sees the LORD, oblique,
It's not that Moses just was mooned,
But it's the other way around -
The Lord's the one who seeks you out,
Let not your search such truth confound.

(Dedicated to that delightful couple, Steve and Caroline.)

Scott L. Barton

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 12, 2014 - Exodus 32:1-14 [15-20]

Emile Nolde: Dance Around the Golden Calf (1910)
[Note: This poem highlights for me the importance of the reader of the text in worship speaking with conviction, with surprise at the news proclaimed, and most of all, a palpable sense that the reader believes this stuff he or she is proclaiming. And yes, the reader in the poem was one of my daughters.]


She must have been just eight years-old,
I asked her if she'd read that day;
Her voice, so strong and so controlled,
I hear it in my mind's replay
(An octave higher than 'tis now)
It woke the people up, so clear!
With bold expression, furrowed brow,
Her Moses pleads the LORD might hear,
And change his mind! But grace not cheap,
Her rising voice described the scene
Of reveling and dancers' leaps,
And Moses, hot - not church serene! -
With tablets smashed - and calf all burned -
To powder, ground - and then in rage -
The most bizarre - how Israel learned
No idol can our thirst assuage!

I love the passion of that day;
No age can take such faith away.

Scott L. Barton


When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’“ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

[Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound made by victors, or the sound made by losers; it is the sound of revelers that I hear.” As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.]

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bonus Poem: The Mystery of the Chimney Caws


While sitting in my living room
I heard a noise that I assumed
To be a crow up on the roof,
On chimney top, perched high, aloof,
Who then, when I went out to see,
Was there no more with such decree.
This happened more than once, and so
I thought it strangely odd to go
On hearing such a foreign sound -
Not really caw-sharp, something round?
I found it hard to put in words
The sounds, more like some small game bird
That rarely lasted very long,
But when it came, it came on strong.
Last night, we heard it once again,
The cat and I; he sprang up then
And bolted to the door to find
This thing that boggled yet my mind.
And so, today, I ladder took
And climbed the roof to take a look;
Removing then the cap all screened,
With mirror and a flashlight seemed
The way the answer I might find,
Thus down the chimney liner shined
My light! But no; 'twas dark I saw,
And nothing that might like to caw!
I scratched my head, put back the cap,
And thought, some mysteries are wrapped
In mystery; I'll never know
Why sounds from here are heard below.
But suddenly I chanced to spy
Under the liner's lip, two eyes,
And there crouched down in silent mode,
Looking at me, I saw a toad!
I kid you not! On chimney peak
A toad and I were cheek to cheek!
I think that I will never know
How that toad got up there to crow,
Or ribbit, as the case must be,
But I am glad the mystery
Of WHO it is, is solved, but WHY?
Why there? What for? And how so high?

Scott L. Barton

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 5, 2014 - Matthew 21:33-46

Van Gogh: The Red Vineyard at Arles (c. 1888)

Our view of God's so saccharine
We shrink from such a God where sin
Results in consequence! So hence,
We think this tale's about the Jews
Who, like those tenants, didn't choose
To follow Jesus, but instead
Made sure that he'd be silenced - dead!

But what if all this violence
Is in itself the great offense,
(Not Jews, but those in pulpits and
In pews) which Jesus notes WE share
If ever, all our wealth we dare
To think is ours! And we refuse
To think that God is owed God's dues?

God's mercy is forever sure,
Not just for those who think they're pure,
But God can offer all God owns
To all who thought they were disowned.

Scott L. Barton

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 28, 2014 - 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.

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.