Monday, April 14, 2014

Resurrection of the Lord (A), April 20, 2014 - Matthew 28:1-10


Henry Ossawa Tanner: The Three Marys (1910)
Fisk University Galleries

I sang a piece once
(Bach? Handel? Mozart? You tell me)
where, late in the piece,
the Gloria Patri -
"Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,
as it was in the beginning..."
has the same music as the opening of the piece.
Get it? Pretty clever, we singers all thought.

Thus we come to Matthew:
"Do not be afraid;
go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee;
there they will see me."
Why Galilee?
Why, it's back to the beginning, of course.
Back where the ministry started.
Do you want to see the risen Jesus?
Go back to his healing, his forgiving, his inviting
everyone into the kingdom of God.
That's where you'll see him.
Read the story again. Live it each day.

Get it? Pretty clever, isn't he?

Scott L. Barton
(The idea that "Galilee" means going back to the beginning comes from Tom Long in a Christian Century article, April 4, 2006.)

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, 'He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.' This is my message for you." So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, "Greetings!" And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Palm Sunday, Liturgy of the Palms (A), April 13, 2014 - Matthew 21:1-11

Palmesel, 15th c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Cloisters Collection 1955

The Donkey in the Room

We like to keep our politics
Apart from Sunday church;
Woe to the preacher who would dare
The worship to besmirch
With commentary on the powers
That tend to rule the day;
And yes, it can be overdone -
And peoples' trust betray;
But Jesus, on parade that day,
Lampooned the power and might
Of Caesar, and all who in great
Display would take delight;
He's making fun of those who lord
It over people's hearts;
This Jesus, not just meek and mild,
Is brave, and heav'nly smart.

Scott L. Barton

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, 'The Lord needs them.' And he will send them immediately." This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, 

"Tell the daughter of Zion, 
Look, your king is coming to you, 
humble, and mounted on a donkey, 
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey." 

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, 

"Hosanna to the Son of David! 
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! 
Hosanna in the highest heaven!" 

When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, "Who is this?" The crowds were saying, "This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee."

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fifth Sunday in Lent (A), April 6, 2014 - Ezekiel 37:1-14; John 11:1-45

Rembrandt, The Raising of Lazarus, 1642
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet


"O mortal, can these dead bones live?"
"O Lord, my God, you know;"

I wonder which came first - the trust
Ezekiel, despite woe,
Embodied?  Or - the vision, which
Appeared, and made him brave
Enough he might proclaim the news
That Yahweh yet would save?

And which comes first, belief in Christ,
So, dying, one still lives?
Or when you've seen the hopeless, change,
Know God enamored gives?

Perhaps it doesn't matter how
From death you might come out,
Just listen to Christ's call, who still
By grace, all dying flouts.

Scott L. Barton

(The phrase "God enamored gives" is from a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, "Come, My Beloved, Hear from Me.")

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” 

So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. 

Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

+++

Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. 

Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.” After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.” The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.” Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” 

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” 

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bonus Poem: March 25, Annunciation Day

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Annunciation (1898),
Philadelphia Museum of Art

A favorite painting hangs upon my office wall,
Well, just a print, but still, it helps me to recall
The awe and wonder Luke describes in Mary's life
That supersedes restriction that she's not a wife;
The angel Gabriel in bright, amorphous form,
Astonishing his words, this young girl's life transformed.
This news, this "Greetings, favored one! The Lord's with you"
On this Annunciation Day returns anew;
The seed of future grace is promised deep within
Your life, no matter what the strain or strife, or sin
That seems to make impossible such future birth  -
It's planted by the One who made the heav'n and earth!
Be not afraid, O favored one, some work and pain
Ahead will yield the joy expectant love contains;
This bathrobed Mary, who, upon her bed now sits,
Is you! - the one to whom, in love, our God commits.

Scott L. Barton
(with thanks to Steve Garnaas-Holmes (www.unfoldinglight.net) for inspiration for this poem, especially the phrase, "the seed of future grace."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Fourth Sunday in Lent (A), March 30, 2014 - John 9:1-41

Rembrandt, Jesus Heals the Blind Man
pen and brush drawing, ca. 1655-60, 
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen

John says the man was blind from birth,
Which means they thought he had a dearth
Of goodness, or, perhaps his parents
Were the ones who had been errant -
For otherwise, who can explain
Conditions we find inhumane?
But Jesus isn't into reasons,
Or int'rested in open season
On those calamity befalls;
Instead, his actions always call
Attention to the acts of God
We find so hard to see, and odd,
Because their aim is to remind
Us if we miss God's love, we're blind.

Scott L. Barton

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, "He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?" And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, "What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened." He said, "He is a prophet." The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself." His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him." So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, "Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?" Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Third Sunday in Lent, March 23, 2014 - Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-42

Christ and the Woman of Samaria 
Probably by a student, and retouched by Rembrandt
Metropolitan Museum of Art 

"Is the LORD now among us, or not?"
Cried the thirsty and quarreling tribe,
Thus when Moses told God,
He was told, "Use the rod!"
And by striking the rock, they imbibed.

"Woman, give me some water to drink,"
Jesus, to the Samaritan said,
But if drink he received,
We can't tell, or perceive -
What we learn is, she drank in, instead.

Thus we hear that refreshment is giv'n,
When for water or love we might thirst,
When we think it's our job
To prove how we love God,
We're supplied with good news quite reversed.

                                                                                                 -Scott L. Barton
(The limerick form probably comes from County Limerick in Ireland; so I thought of the above style for St. Patrick's Day.)

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

+++

So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?" (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?" Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water." 

Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come back." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!" The woman said to him, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming" (who is called Christ). "When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one who is speaking to you."

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you want?" or, "Why are you speaking with her?" Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?" They left the city and were on their way to him. 

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, "Rabbi, eat something." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Surely no one has brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you not say, 'Four months more, then comes the harvest'? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor." 

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I have ever done." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bonus Poem on sunlight

This poem applies, as is, just to Hadley, Massachusetts, where my congregation is.  They will see it this Sunday. But with a little research and tweaking, you could probably have it apply to your town, as well.

March 18, 2014

This Tuesday is a special day
As far as daylight goes,
For we will have more day than night,
The solar chart now shows;
Today we have more night than day,
It’s Hadley winter, yet;
The sun was up at 1 past 7,
At 3 ’fore 7 it sets;
Tomorrow gains two minutes since
The rising is at 7,
And setting is just 2 before –
A bit more dark the heavens;
But Tuesday is that golden day
When daylight’s o’er the line,
6:58 the sun is up,
But down at :59!
Now, welcome to this time when we
Enjoy God in this place,
And by our song and prayer be strong
Each day to show more grace.

Scott L. Barton