Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (B), May 3, 2015 - Acts 8:26-40

Rembrandt: The Baptism of the Eunuch (1626)

The Ethiopian Eunuch

The eunuch of the Candace*,
Although the Nubian queen's trustee,
Could not quite trust God's love extends
To one cut off, so life would end.
While wond'ring who Isaiah meant
About the one who underwent
Humiliation he, too, knew,
Then, Philip, through the words, cut through,
To tell how Jesus was good news
To anyone by life so bruised.
The eunuch found himself beguiled,
And baptized, smiled to be love's child.

Scott L. Barton

[Compare the end of verse 33, "For his life is taken away from the earth," with the Hebrew version of Isaiah 53:8c, "For he was cut off from the land of the living."]

*pronounced "KAN-de-si"

Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (B), April 26, 2015 - Psalm 23


The Shepherd King

The shepherd king provides for all my needs,
It is by grace (or think, "dumb luck!") I feed
Upon the love from people in my life,
My home, my meals, my mostly lack of strife;

The shepherd king protects me when I'm prone
To think I daily go through life alone;
In face of need, before me lies a spread -
Saved from devouring enemies, instead;

The shepherd king pursues me my life long,
And tracks me down to know I still belong
By grace to one who'll never let me go,
And surely - Wow! - such love I'll ne'er outgrow.

Scott L. Barton

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;

he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Third Sunday of Easter, April 19, 2015 - Luke. 24:36b-48

Duccio di Buoninsegna (1255-1319)
Jesus' Appearance While the Apostles are at Table

Easter Meals

He asks for food, they give him fish,
And then remember every dish
They ate with him along the way.
It is as if they hear him say,
"The loaves and fishes that you passed,
To feed a multitude, surpassed
What anybody would have guessed;
But that was just an alpha test
Which you, my friends, can now repeat.
You're witnesses none can defeat
The love for which I lived and died,
Though crucifying me, they tried.
Go out to all the world to show
Forgiveness that will overflow
As through you, everyone rethinks
How love is now your food, your drink."

Scott L. Barton

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Second Sunday of Easter (B), April 12, 2015 - John 20:19-31

Vie de Jesus MAFA: Jesus Appears to Thomas

It's Not God If You Think You Understand*

We think that there is something wrong with doubt,
And wonder if we might be less devout
Than others who of faith seem much more sure,
Reflecting by their words a love more pure.

But doubt in faith's no enemy of mine,
And Thomas has no less of love divine
Than anyone who thinks, and yet risks still
Believing that God's love our lives fulfill.

The Kenyan Muslims who protected friends
Are blessed; while those whose certainty descends
Unto the hell of Al Shabab, depraved,
Reveal a faith by which they are enslaved.

Likewise, it's clear religious freedom laws
When twisted to what seems a righteous cause
Devolve unto the wrong which just divides,
Confusing fervent love for God with pride.

Who knows why love forgives in Jesus' form,
Or bids the Risen One now be our norm;
It's not God if you think you understand,
The best of faith with doubt goes hand in hand.

Scott L. Barton

[*Augustine: "Why wonder that you do not understand? For if you understand, it is not God."  Serm. 117, 5: PL 38, 673.]

For other ways of looking at this text, please see previous posts for this Sunday in 2014 and 2013:

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Resurrection of the Lord (B), April 5, 2015 - Mark 16:1-8

(Here's another bulletin cover from my pastor from almost 50 years ago,
Richard  L. Manzelmann, at New Hartford, New York Presbyterian Church.
I borrowed it to use in a couple of congregations over the years.
It's also nice just copied on a copier in black, on a heavy bright yellow paper.)
Conjunction, Junction, What's Your Function?
(In The Christian Century, April 4, 2006, Tom Long wrote about the awkward, "dangling" original ending of Mark, translated literally, “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for." That may very well have been intended to send us back to the beginning of the Gospel. The poem's title comes from the old PBS children's show, Schoolhouse Rock. Thanks to my daughter, Leah Barton, for remembering this phrase. 

"Ephobounto gar" it ends,
As strange an ending you'll find anywhere,
But take Mark at his word, who sends
Us back to Galilee to find him there;
I mean, the "for" connects us to
The start, because the women did not go;
They were afraid and told no one,
But Mark still has the Lord to us to show.
It's where he started out, Mark says,
Go back to the beginning, chapter one;
You'll find him where they found him then,
Now, this time, put yourself where he'd begun;
Pretend you're one of them who saw
Him by the Sea of Galilee pass by,
Pretend he calls - what do you do?
Does he, for you, move earth and sky?
Pretend in synagogue you hear him teach,
An honest preacher tells the truth!
Pretend he makes someone you love brand new,
Your hope is as it was in youth.
No resurrection scene does Mark present,
Instead, He'll meet you where you are,
Not at his tomb, but where you walk in life,
Not way back when, but here.
Not far.

Scott L. Barton

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (B), March 29, 2015 - Mark 11:1-11

(For my adaptation of a hymn celebrating the decision by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to open eligibility for marriage to all loving couples, please page down to the previous post.)

(My pastor from almost 50 years ago, Richard  L. Manzelmann,
 used this as a Palm Sunday bulletin cover once at
New Hartford, New York Presbyterian Church.
I borrowed it to use in three or four congregations over the years.)

Donkey Rustling

How odd that Mark spends so much time
On what seems so unlike sublime;
It almost seems ridiculous
To know such details infamous
As how he got that ne'er ridd'n colt!
Who cares? Yet maybe his revolt
Against the principalities
Includes his personality
Involved in ev'ry action where
His followers, his name declare.
The coffee hour, the ushers' list,
The anthem sung, the meals dished,
The lesson taught in Sunday School,
The need to pay the bill for fuel,
The book group some came to in Lent,
The youth on mission trip just sent,
The prelude, bulletins, and prayers,
The greeter there atop the stairs,
The new hymn that the pastor tried,
The news a faithful friend has died -
Such details of our life declare -
When done for him - that he is where
By grace we show that Jesus saves
By love, from cradle to the grave.

Scott L. Barton

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Bonus Poem: A Hymn in Celebration of the Vote for Marriage Equality in the PCUSA

(For the lectionary poem for March 22, please page down to the previous post.)

Be Thou Our Vision
A hymn based on the Irish poem, especially the first two lines of each verse, and sung to SLANE, in celebration of the decision by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) finalized on March 17, 2015, to broaden marriage to include more people, describing marriage as being between two people rather than only a man and a woman.

Be thou our vision, O Lord of our hearts,
Nought be all else to us save that thou art,
Thou our best guide for more truth and more light,
Thou, ever faithful, thy presence our might.

Be thou our wisdom, and thou our true word;
We ever with thee and thou with us, Lord;
Thy love, great Father, for each one is sure,
Thy dwelling in us, forever endures.

Riches we heed not, nor vain, empty praise,
Thou, our inheritance, now and always,
Thou, in thy speaking bring joy to our hearts,
We, in our loving, thy treasure impart.

High King of heaven, our victory won,
May we reach heaven's joys, O bright heaven's Sun!
No "ifs" or "buts" may to any now fall,
Thou, still our vision, O Ruler of all.

Scott L. Barton

 (The penultimate line refers to a comment, per the New York Times, by William Blake Spencer, pastor of Ocean Heights Presbyterian Church in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., who is gay and voted with his presbytery on Tuesday. “It will be the last L.G.B.T.Q. issue that we debate and fight about, and finally our welcome comes without a ‘but’ or an ‘if.’”)