Sunday, May 24, 2015

Trinity Sunday (B), May 31, 2015 - Isaiah 6:1-8

(For two poems on the John 3:1-17 text, please see blog archives, 2014, March 16.)
Rembrandt: The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy (1635)

The Odd and Overwhelming Otherness of God

The odd and overwhelming
     otherness of God
- In which Isaiah stands as if
     he's some divining rod
Who's found the source of life
    and all creatIon's power -
Is followed by so deep a self-
     awareness, he just cowers
In his inadequacy:
     Woe! Lost! And unclean!
And he is doomed, for all
     the majesty that he has seen;
But God has means, it seems,
     the doomed one to reclaim,
The coal in tongs atones,
     and guilt departed is proclaimed.
But lest we think the prophet
     basks in holy bliss,
All-glowing with what must have seemed,
     with such an act, God's kiss,
The one who's touched, looks up,
     and from his bended knee,
And knowing what he's called to do,
     says, "Here I am; send me!"
Such odd, persistent grace
     comes when and where it will;
To you, to me, and everyone
     that love, its name fulfill.

Scott L. Barton

[The phrase "the odd, overwhelming otherness of God," and other ideas in the poem come from Walter Brueggemann's "Isaiah 1-39" in the Westminster Bible Companion series, pp. 57-60.]


In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; 
the whole earth is full of his glory.” 

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Day of Pentecost (B), May 24, 2015 - Acts 2:1-21


Pentecost, Pope Francis, and the Lightness of Being

It used to be that when the Pope
Would speak, he didn't speak to me;
He's always been the voice of judgment,
And of high authority;
Plus, as a pastor, I had seen
The damage done unto his flock,
When people to our doors appeared,
Cast from their church right down the block;
But this Pope speaks a different line,
The Spirit has him in its grasp;
The lightness of his being shows
A man (like God?) in on the laugh
Of Christ, who doesn't spare the truth,
Yet always sees the world with grace.
All understand! And at his faith
And hope and love I am amazed.

Scott L. Barton

(The phrase, "lightness of being" is from a recent opinion piece about Pope Francis by Timothy Egan in the New York Times, http://nyti.ms/1Fc9gp5.)

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Ascension of the Lord (B), May 14, 2015 - Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:1-11

John Singleton Copley: The Ascension (1775)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Rejoicing in His Absence

Remember Cold Mountain, North Carolina, from the book or movie?
     Inman travels towards it, coming home from the Civil War,
         as we anticipate his return to his true love, Ada.
It was also the backdrop for a sunset I once saw near     
     Hendersonville.   
Just before the sun dropped, nearly three dozen people arrived.
     Couples with children. Couples without children. Middle-aged 
      people.
           And people in their eighties who had dressed up for the 
           occasion.
We all stood or sat on rocks in the gathering twilight, 
     taking in the show,
          the blues and purples and pinks, 
               talking and anticipating the grand finale.

Suddenly the sun came out from behind a long cloud, fiery orange,
     It lit up everyone’s faces as we looked back at the purple 
     mountains’ majesty.
          A mother told her daughter, “It’s almost gone.”
               Two lovers broke off their amorous attentions.
                    And several kids repeated, “It’s going!"
                         "There’s not much left!"  "There it goes!”

And then – it was gone.
     And there was an instant of silence.
          And then – applause!
                 Three dozen people on Jump-Off Rock gave their hearty 
                  review of the sun
                      at the curtain call of that day’s performance, along 
                      with those in supporting roles
                          - the clouds, Cold Mountain and all its neighbors, 
                          the Pisgah Forest,
                               the purples, blues, reds, pinks and oranges -
And, to my way of thinking, to the Director of the whole show.


Unlike sunset watchers, the early disciples didn't know when the return would be.
And yet, they rejoiced.
     They gazed.
          They worshipped.
                Maybe they even applauded, if people did that back then.
                     And then they returned.
And they waited for the gift that would make them witnesses to all the world,
    And proclaim good news when the news is bad,
          trust light when it’s dark,
               and even, although it’s increasingly harder, 
                   when convinced that we have it all, 
                        or deserve it all now, we, too, even now wait:
For a savior to be in our midst,
      for the kingdom to come,
             for our troubles to be healed by someone, 
                 because God knows we can’t seem to solve them all 
                 ourselves,
                    including all the troubles of the world 
                    which mirror our own:
For racism to be healed;
       for ethnic and religious warfare to be healed;
            for ageism and sexism and homophobia to be healed;
                  for the dead we have loved to be raised.

All  the evidence suggests that that savior packed up and left a long time ago.
     And yet, on this day we celebrate his absence!
          On this day we take a leap, because from that point on,
               he was going to have to be present in a new way,
                    if he was to be present at all.

Maybe the absence of God is underrated.
     Like silence, if we can get someplace without the noise and 
     clamor,
          we appreciate more the sounds that matter that we suddenly 
          hear.
               Like the absence of someone who cares about you,
                    it becomes clearer than ever how important 
                        that person was to you in the first place.

And so it is that in his absence, the Spirit of God will still catch you,
     and somehow, by some power completely outside yourself,
           you will, like those first disciples, no longer look up to the 
           sky,
                but at those around you, and you will minister to each 
                other
                     and to the world the way he ministered to them,
                          showing them forgiveness,
                               and challenging them to go beyond what they 
                               thought was possible 
                                    in terms of who could be called 
                                         a child of God,
                                             precious in God’s sight.

And what a beautiful sight that will be!

Scott L. Barton

Then [Jesus] 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. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

+ + +

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. While staying with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. “This,” he said, “is what you have heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 10, 2015 - Acts 10:44-48

Corneille Michel I  (c. 1601 – 1664)Baptism of a Centurion
What Will Be Is Odd

When those of us today who feel not blessed to have the gift
Consider how, back then, it gave the circumcised a lift
To hear in tongues the Gentiles speaking and extolling God,
We should not be surprised to hear that what will be - is odd!
Imagination's eyesight cannot see beyond its nose;
(Who would have thought the Jews would be the ones whom this God chose?)
So never doubt the future brings what we can ne'er conceive,
A God who loves means there is always more that's up God's sleeve.

Scott L. Barton

While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles, for they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter said, “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” So he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for several days.

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

PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER:
THE GOOD SHEPHERD (ca. 1600)

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.