Friday, May 17, 2019

The Sixth Sunday of Easter (C), May 26, 2019 - Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5 and Acts 16:9-15 and John 14:23-29

Lace in the Yugoslavia National Room
Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

Revelation 21:10, 21:22-22:5


Imagine there’s no heaven
And no religion, too;
Oh, can you dare a vision
Which might our lives renew,
Where all our human glory,
And ev’ry nation’s pride,
Where ev’ry race and people
Somehow in God abides?

Oh, can you dare a vision,
Where lies will be no more,
Where cruelty done to others,
All people will abhor,
Where life itself thirst quenches,
And every day we’re healed
By God, o’er all heads reigning,
Our love, light, strength and shield?

Scott L. Barton

And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

+ + +

Acts 16:9-15

A New Normality

Why do you think that they supposed
A place of worship was where clothes
Were washed? There would the women be! -
Down by the river, where you see
Still, those who for their families care,
In third world countries everywhere.
There, Lydia, by Paul baptized,
And her whole family, then comprised
The founding members of the Way
In Macedonia, arrayed
Not just in royal fabric's hue,
But were with love and prayer imbued,
Which wove their hospitality
Into a new normality.

Scott L. Barton

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

+ + +

John 14:23-29

His Consistency

Remember how, two weeks ago,
"The Father and I are one," he said?
At first, I wondered, with the text
This week, if back then, I'd misread!
But Jesus' great consistency
Is that he's always giving more;
And so, today, his words about
The Father's greatness help restore
The confidence his friends now need
As they anticipate the worst;
He wants them all to know that
Loving them, and others, is the first
And foremost thing that he's about -
"Not as the world gives," he persuades;
He doesn't seek the credit! Thus,
They'll hear his words, "Be not afraid."
And so, the Spirit still reminds
Us, Jesus gives his own shalom,
So when we love, then God in Christ
With us will make himself at home.

Scott L. Barton

Jesus answered [Judas], “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

"You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe."

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (C), May 19, 2019 - John 13:31-35 and Revelation 21:1-6 and Acts 11:1-18

Vojta Brani┼í: “Post-War Motherhood"
at the Yugoslavia Nationality Room
Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh

John 13:31-35

Message in a Model

“Perhaps the most important sculpture in our town,”
Our guide to Pittsburgh said with love and pride.
An odd remark, I thought, for such a figure small,
Yet soon I found myself quite satisfied.
For here, Slovenes, Croats and Serbs together showed
Our need for common care, and end to war;
In warfare, women and the children suffer most -
A consequence that ought not be ignored.

Thus so, our Lord, when bidding farewell to his friends,
Foresaw the ease with which our ties can tear,
And told them that he had for them a new command,
That by their love, they might their faith declare.
I grieve how Christians eas’ly say another’s wrong,
When what we need is, each, in our own way
To show to all the love from God that we’ve received,
And in obeying Christ, that love portray.

Scott L. Barton

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

+ + +

Revelation 21:1-6

Just the Facts, Ma'am

Christ is the alpha and omega,
The beginning and end,
The be all and end all,
The whole ball of wax.

Christ, the bride adorned,
Forsaking all others,
For better, for worse;
Nothing do we lack.

Never out on a limb,
Or up a creek without a paddle,
Or at a complete loss;
Christ has your back.

All things new,
Trustworthy, true,
Your meat and your drink,
Love to the max.

Scott L. Barton

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

+  +  +

Acts 11:1-18

New Revised Standard

How int'resting their minds were changed
About one big taboo;
"We know that Gentiles can't receive
New life, like us," they knew,
Until, to Peter, God then came,
And taught him otherwise,
Which, when he told the church, they said,
"Our standard is revised!"
I am amazed how quickly God
Reversed the tried and true;
Or they, amazed more by God's grace
Than we, let God get through!
These days, so wedded are we to
God's gifts to man and wife,
We seem to think God powerless
To fill with grace the lives
Of two whose genders are the same!
Why? How could that bring hurt?
Perhaps we should think back to when
God bade the saints convert.

Scott L. Barton

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” Then Peter began to explain it to them, step by step, saying, “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, reptiles, and birds of the air. I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I replied, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But a second time the voice answered from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane.’ This happened three times; then everything was pulled up again to heaven. At that very moment three men, sent to me from Caesarea, arrived at the house where we were. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon, who is called Peter; he will give you a message by which you and your entire household will be saved.’ And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?” When they heard this, they were silenced. And they praised God, saying, “Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Fourth Sunday of Easter (C), May 12, 2019 - Revelation 7:9-17 and Acts 9:36-43 and John 10:22-30

Cappella Palatina di Palermo (mid-12th century)

Revelation 7:9-17

Last Words

“The sun shall not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night,”
At graves I’ve often said those words,
And it all seemed right.

To martyrs here the text refers,
Who were struck to death;
And offered hope to others who
Faced their dying breaths.

Not many face such reckoning
But we still proclaim
A God whose faithfulness declares
Love is no cause for shame.

Scott L. Barton

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they are before the throne of God, and worship him day and night within his temple, and the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Some Miracle!

Though no daughter of Samantha and Darrin*
This Tabitha bewitched Joppa
By her good works and charity,
But also provided the opportunity
For Peter to follow his Lord
And pull off a Lazarus trick.
Then, to top it all off,
Peter went and stayed at the home of
One Simon the tanner,
As unclean a fellow as you'd ever meet,
By way of his occupation and all,
And apparently didn't even hold his nose,
Let alone wiggle it.

Now, that's some miracle!

Scott L. Barton
(*The popular ABC sitcom, “Bewitched” (1964-72) featured a witch (Samantha) and an ordinary man (Darrin) who tried to live an ordinary suburban life, and their daughter, Tabitha. Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) occasionally did magic by wiggling her nose, which infuriated Darrin (Dick York and later Dick Sargent.))

Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.

+ + +

John 10:22-30

Don’t Split Him Down the Middle

When in the portico of Solomon,
He gives me quite a clue
About the nature of a faith in him,
When Pharisees construe
He's uttered simple blasphemy to them
In his equation, bold;
I think it's even hard for US to take,
Although the church of old
Attempted to make sense of such a thing:
"The Father's not the Son."
And yet he pulls no punches with this line:
"The Father 'n' I are one."
There seems to be one way that even we
Might answer now this riddle -
Just think of young king Solomon at court -
Don't split Him down the middle!
He's not a human here, and God o'er there,
As if two forms of him might live;
He's what we need to see just what "God" means:
That is, to give, and give, and give.

Scott L. Barton

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” The Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus replied, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these are you going to stone me?” The Jews answered, “It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you, but for blasphemy, because you, though only a human being, are making yourself God.”

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Third Sunday of Easter (C), May 5, 2019 - Psalm 30 and Acts 9:1-6 (7-20) and John 21:1-19

Pietro da Cortona: Ananias Restoring the Sight of St. Paul (1631)

Psalm 30 in Iambic Decameter
(using as much of the NRSV as possible)
(The poem could be sung to a tune such as TOULON)

I will extol you, Lord, you’ve drawn me up,
Allowing no rejoicing from my foes;
O LORD my God, to you for help I cried,
And you’re the one from whom my healing flows;

O LORD, you brought my soul up from Sheol,
And from the Pit you have my life reclaimed!
Sing praises to the Lord, O faithful ones,
And give your thanks before God’s holy name;

God’s anger only for a moment lasts,
With favor your whole life will God adorn;
Tho’ weeping yet may linger through the night,
You’ll be surprised when joy comes with the morn.

I once said my prosperity is strong,
And like a sturdy mount, I am secure;
But then, you hid your face! I was dismayed!
I pleaded with the Lord to be assured:

“What profit is there in my death?” I cried;
“If I am in the Pit, can dust give praise?
Will it tell of your constant faithfulness?
O hear, O Lord, help with your gracious ways!”

Now you have turned my mourning into dance,
And clothed me not in sackcloth but in joy,
My soul will not be silent, but will praise,
O Lord my God, I’ll give you thanks for aye.*

Scott L. Barton
(*aye: That pesky word heard at the end of the hymn, “Praise Ye the Lord, the Almighty,” meaning “ever” and pronounced as a long “a.”)

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up,
and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
O LORD my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O LORD, you brought up my soul from Sheol,
restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones,
and give thanks to his holy name.
For his anger is but for a moment;
his favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning.
As for me, I said in my prosperity,
“I shall never be moved.”
By your favor, O LORD,
you had established me as a strong mountain;
you hid your face;
I was dismayed.
To you, O LORD, I cried,
and to the LORD I made supplication:
“What profit is there in my death,
if I go down to the Pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me!
O LORD, be my helper!”
You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.

+ + +

Acts 9:1-6 (7-20)

Miraculous Responses

The fishy thing is, Ananias went,
When reason told him that it made no sense - 
Except the Lord had called, and told him, “Go.”
Would you? Would you say, "Here I am," and so
Become just like those many others who
Those same words said, though didn't have a clue
Of what it meant? Except, we know - that phrase,
Each time it's said - to us who read - conveys
A risky proposition up ahead,
One where, without God's help, you end up dead.
But Ananias, standing in a line
Of faithful, almost to the start of time,
Responded, and so risked a trip to Saul,
And thus began a church - which fished for all.

Scott L. Barton
(Note: The words, "Here am I" or "Here I am" by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, Mary (Jesus's mother) and Ananias all portend some risky business that the LORD has in store for those who answer.)

Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying,and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

+ + +

John 21:1-19

Omega 3 Antidote to Scarcity

I wonder why John gives the number
Of fish by which they were encumbered
While net hauling, a hundred yards from
The One ashore, who asked that they come
And have some breakfast! I think it's odd,
This detail of halibut or cod;
Why's it there? What's John want us to see -
That they dragged a hundred fifty-three?
Perhaps he's gotten so specific
Because his hero's so terrific
At pointing out the ways unending
That his disciples might be tending
His sheep - plus lambs and sheep be feeding!
At that, he says, we'll be succeeding
When trusting all his grace, exceeding
Whatever 'tis we might be needing.
He passes out the bread and fish, then;
They're holy, too, like bread and wine when
Ever in community we take them
And into loves unnumbered, make them.

Scott L. Barton
(Thanks to the Rev. W. Kenneth Williams, when he was pastor at Rochester, NY's First Baptist Church, for this title)

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Second Sunday of Easter, April 28, 2019 - John 20:19-31 and Acts 5:27-32

Caravaggio: The Incredulity of St. Thomas (1603)

John 20:19-31

Jesus said “Peace be with you.

He did not say that when we die we’ll be “at peace.”
Can we from somber calling hours that phrase erase?
A friend of mine, whose father died, was told those words;
“He’s now at peace,” if you just think, is quite absurd!
The phrase pretends that one can come to terms with death,
Not rage - the one who’s died, plus those who loved them best;
Imagining they ease that pain, some do not realize,
What’s needed then is that they simply sympathize!
No platitudes! No pap! No arrogantly you;
The one who died, of “peace,” no longer has a clue!
But if the resurrection here described be true,
It means that e’en in death, the Lord makes all things new.
This story’s weird: He walks through doors; is not the same;
And yet, he speaks in love to those who know his name;
It’s love that does not end that is the gospel here;
So love extend, through hugs, and tears, through gifts and ears.

Scott L. Barton

Doubt Flouter

Oh, why do you think that he said to them, “Peace,”
When they huddled together for fear the police
Would find them, and charge them with breaking the Law?
Well, they worried their running would stick in his craw!
And now he was back, he would give them what for!
But he knew they were scared to death; thus through the door,
This Jesus, whom not by cruel death could be changed,
Walked right in, since betrayal could not stop the range
God's grace would extend – which is what we all doubt!
So don’t limit this text, thinking Thomas it flouts;
It’s you, and it’s me who need Jesus’ kind word,
Which is why he then told them their spirits to gird,
And follow his lead towards the whole human race,
And doubt not that e’en you can bear witness to grace.

Scott Barton

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.

+ + +

Acts 5:27-32

Still, Still, Still

"You're determined to bring this man's blood upon us!"
Said the priest to disciples who would not be shushed,
Since the Spirit of God would not let them be still
About Jesus, now raised, whom e'en death would not kill;
Thus the gift of the Spirit, they had to obey,
Was forgiveness for all! They could not turn away
From the truth, which is love, and the measure of God,
Who still calls us to tell, who still pushes, still prods.

Scott L. Barton

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Resurrection of the Lord (C), April 21, 2019 - John 20:1-18 and Luke 24:1-12

John 20:1-18

Hi Qi: Do Not Hold On To Me

Resurrection Problem

It seems that John has a problem with names here:
"The one whom Jesus loved" is never named,
but is simply called, "the other disciple" - four times!
Why not, "John" (or whatever his name was)?
Then the two angels call Mary, "Woman."
Why not, "Mary"?
And Jesus does the same!
And she calls him "Sir."

Finally he names her, "Mary;"
but Mary only calls him, "Rabbouni."
Why not "Jesus"?
He calls the disciples, "my brothers,"
Again, no names.
She calls Jesus, "Lord,"
and later refers to him as "the Lord."
Again, why not "Jesus"?

John cannot seem to tell it direct;
Maybe you shouldn't tell it straight, either.
"Tell all the truth but tell it slant," said the poet.
(I could call her Emily, but that might be too familiar.)
Is that what he's doing, telling it slant?
Maybe so we won't get too familiar with it?
Don't pretend you understand. 
Proclaim, but don't explain. Yes, proclaim:
"He is risen!" "He is risen, indeed!"

Scott L. Barton

The Bottom Line

When Mary ran to tell the news he was not there,
And others' racing speeds by John were then compared,
One wonders why this hurry is so big a deal,
Unless the rush to know, makes Easter less genteel!
They ran! They looked! And then went home, no doubt, upset
At one more insult, one more cause for deep regret.

But Mary stayed, perhaps she'd run, as well, and stopped
Outside the tomb, where running tears at gravesite dropped.
Remember how she'd cried with joy at Jesus' feet,
Because her life had changed from bitterness to sweet?
But now, her world and all she loved turned upside down,
She weeps in vain attempt to make her sorrows drown.

But then she looks. One wonders why. And suddenly, instead
Of empty tomb, sit angels where'd lain foot and head!
And then that gardener! And all ask why she weeps!
Good grief! Where have you been? Have you all been asleep?
Is what I'd ask; but Mary cooly wants to know
The whereabouts of his remains, who made her glow.

And at her spoken name, she turns, and says his, too;
And this, perhaps, is key to knowing him anew;
For not in running after, not in looking for
Him in the Gospels, or in fervent prayer galore;
But he will call your name, and you will finally see
That he still means it when he says to "Follow me."

Scott L. Barton

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus' head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her, "Mary!" She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rabbouni!" (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

+ + +

Luke 24:1-12

He Qi: Empty Tomb (2001)

Different News Feed

Just women were the first evangelists
For what had happened on that day;
After their fear, they ran to tell the news,
And weren't believed; So now we say,
"Well, color me surprised! What's new? Like, duh!"

When Luke says Peter checked it out
And found it so, and yet he just went home,
We sometimes criticize his doubts;
But don't forget that he went home, amazed!
Which is a quality we need.

Try going home amazed this Easter day,
Since love, all fear and death exceeds!
In these, our public narcissistic times,
When pomp and bombast, anger feeds,
Be brave in love and don't hold back -

For Christ is ris'n; and risen indeed!

Scott L. Barton


The chances of finding that Higgs boson
Were way less than one in a trillion,
Which is a big number, as I learned recently
At Boston's Museum of Natural Science;
I mean, a tube of a trillion of the nano-beads they were displaying,
Next to other tubes of a thousand, a million, and even a billion,
Would  have gone through the stories-high roof;
So what are the chances of someone rising from the dead?
About as small as the Big Bang itself?
I really can't wrap my mind around it.
What - or who? - can convince us of such against-all-odds love?
Look at the numbers in this text:
"On the first day of the week,"
"Suddenly two men in dazzling clothes,"
"On the third day rise again,"
"They told this to the eleven and all the rest!"
The news of such love multiplies;
The chances are minute,
But resurrection goes out to the whole world,
It will not be stopped, it'll go through the roof;
And I, like Peter, am amazed
At what has happened -
And what, by God, still can.

Scott L. Barton

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, "Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again." Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (C), April 14, 2019 - Luke 19:28-40

Here’s a hymn the congregation can sing, based on the old chestnut of a choir anthem, “The Palms,” by Jean-Baptiste Faure. The language has been updated in a couple of places. Your organist/pianist can use the anthem as the accompaniment, but be sure it’s the one in A-flat rather than C, which would likely be too high. Click on the image above to print it @ 8.5x11, which you can then copy on both sides and cut down the middle for a half-page insert.

Ex nihilo

It's not experience he needs;
No lack of expertise impedes
The course he takes,
Which shows he aches
To love the world in word and deed.

Take Mary as example one;
The woman who would bear the son -
A girl unknown,
A virgin womb 
Who magnified what God had done.

And those disciples whom he chose!
Inexpertly they spoke - or dozed;
Though novices,
They still were his;
Their emptiness showed where grace grows.

The donkey that he asked to ride
No rider ever was astride;
He rode the thing,
They called him King ;
His call decides what's bona fide. 

And soon a tomb as yet unused
Will bear the body crushed and bruised,
So he might rise
And show all eyes
Ex nihilo Love is infused.

Scott L. Barton

+ + +

No Ending, Period

The little donkey demonstrated
How Jesus lived; but that sure grated
The nerves of certain Pharisees who
Were worried people might live up to
The loud acclaim they gave the rider
Whose way's our sole (and soul's) provider -
Provided that we're brave for shouting
God's mighty deeds, despite our doubting,
And show by dying in ways myriad,
That love will have no ending, period.

Scott L. Barton

+ + +

The Very Stones

One of my first funerals, in my first pastorate,
Was for a young man barely out of high school;
One blistering July day, he died
Working in the hay mow of the neighbor farmer.
Survived by his parents and five siblings,
An older brother had died years earlier,
Hit by a car while on his bicycle near home.
The church was packed, of course,
And somehow, we muddled through.
Then we went to the cemetery:
Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,
Trusting your love and mercy,
In the sure and certain hope
Of the resurrection to eternal life.
When we were all done, the father,
Standing just an arm's length away,
Reached into his pocket,
Pulled out a pebble,
And handed it to me.
I still cry when I think about it,
Thirty-six years later.
For the previous Palm Sunday,
At the end of the sermon on this text,
I had handed out pebbles
To everyone in the congregation,
Scrounged from the manse's driveway,
And then, pretty much forgot about it,
At least until that day in July,
When a grieving father taught me
That you never know when, or how, or by whom,
The Word of God will be proclaimed.

Scott L. Barton

After he had said this, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. When he had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, “Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it.’” So those who were sent departed and found it as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They said, “The Lord needs it.” Then they brought it to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”