Monday, July 28, 2014

The Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 3, 2014 - Genesis 32:22-31 and Matthew 14:13-21

Marc Chagall, Jacob wrestling with the angel, 1931
Musée national Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice, France


Vie de Jesus Mafa, Jesus Multiplies the Loaves


It's as if, like his grandfather,
He plays a game of chicken
With this Yahweh, testing whether
He can entrust all he has
To the promise of abundance;
He sends them, unprotected,
Wrestling all night with what he's done.
The grabber gets a blessing,
Although it doesn't come scot-free -
Faith limps in this, our family tree.

Along comes Jesus. He's alone,
In his own way, wrestling, too.
The crowds can't get enough of him;
Can his disciples do it?
But they need another lesson -
Astonishing numbers fed!
Hilarious unexpectedness,
Not disaster we expect,
Is news that comes again this week,
When of this God, we dare to speak.

Scott L. Barton
[The phrase "hilarious unexpectedness" is from Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale. See http://www.frederickbuechner.com/content/weekly-sermon-illustration-gospel-comedy.]


The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

* * *

Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 27, 2014 - Genesis 29:15-28


Rembrandt: Laban leading Rachel or Leah (1635)


The cheat became the cheated,

In Laban he met his match;
To marry Laban's daughters off,
A daring plan he hatched;
When Jacob saw those lovely eyes,
He knew that he'd been had,
His eyes were opened to the truth:
"I'm not the only cad!"
I wonder if the "girls" were in on
Laban's crafty plan?
He says, "WE'LL give the other, too,
If you serve ME [the man]
Another set of seven years."
Thus, he whose mother pulled
The wool over his father's eyes
By women, too, was fooled!
Oh! What a pack of fools and foolers
Form this family tree!
Which goes to show the nature of
The prodigality
Behind the LORD who chose them all
As blessers and as blessed;
And holy fools today still know
By love they are possessed.

Scott L. Barton

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 20, 2014 - Genesis 28:10-19a

Marc Chagall: Jacob's Ladder (one of several)

This Stairway to Heaven Really Makes Me Wonder

"How awesome is this place," he says,
Where hope and presence intersect;
It is as if God lives where, missing
What you long for, you expect
It yet to be!
       Though you can't see
What otherwise would leave you stunned;
And so the LORD to Jacob says,
"I will not leave you 'til I've done
What I have promised."
        So, I ask,
Does this mean God might someday leave?
The text implies as much!
        And yet,
Perhaps God's "present" when we cleave
To what, in hope, we cannot see,
And God's house - Bethel - is that place
And time when you and everyone
Now realize that just by grace
Are more than moon and heaven ours,
And stairways climb to more than stars.

Scott L. Barton

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’ And he was afraid, and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 13, 2014 - Genesis 25:19-34 and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

(After) Rembrandt: Esau Sells His Birthright

Poor Isaac

Scarred for life by that trip up Moriah,
His father tries to make it up to him
By getting a girl for him from back home.
But like father, like son, and the wife can't conceive.
Like father, like son, and the promise is in jeopardy.
Like father like son, and young Isaac tries to pass off his wife.
Like father, like son, and old Isaac prays.
And now a new wrinkle - twins,
And the right of the first-born out the window!
A dullard and a grabber, hardly the best of friends;
Father and mother each with their own favorite.

I'll bet it wasn't what Isaac had in mind.
I hope someday he had the last laugh.

Scott L. Barton

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren; and the Lord granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said to her,
‘Two nations are in your womb,
   and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
one shall be stronger than the other,
   the elder shall serve the younger.’
When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.




Van Gogh: The Sower (1888)


The Happy Sower

We misconstrue this parable
To say where people fail
To let the word take hold, as if -
"Oh God! It won't prevail
Without more folk like us - good soil -
To make a healthy yield!"
Except - this sower's joy's so full,
The point is not the field,
But that he flings it everywhere,
And that he won't hold back;
"Huzzah!" (It's there!) "Hurray!" (And there!),
With each dip in his sack;
Think back four weeks to Genesis,
Day one, day two, day three,
God throwing out things here and there,
"That's good!" he cries with glee!
Thus by the sea our Lord assures
The crowd all gathered there -
And all of us - to know again,
That way beyond compare,
Are all the possibilities
Created by this sower,
Just take it in, and it will grow,
Because of this grace thrower.

Scott L. Barton


That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!’

‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’



Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Bonus Poem #2 for Today: How Much Wood Could a Poet Chuck?

How much wood could a poet chuck
If a poet could chuck wood?
On a day like today, killing ants, fighting bees,
- And at 90 degrees -
You might think he'd swear off fires for good;
But the job is now done, lots of water has run
Through the poet, that mostly was sweat;
And now winter can come,
We, from cold, won't succumb,
With the best stack of four good cords yet!

Scott L. Barton

Bonus Poem: You Have to Think of Something While Stacking Wood (A Laugh for You)


July 1, 2014

Today is the birthday in 1804
Of the woman who thought that her God she adored,
But her parents objected to her as a nun,
So George Sand she became, and a wild life she'd run;
Then in 19 hundred and 79,
A man named Ibuka thought it would be fine
To listen to music while walking along,
Thus the Walkman combined exercise with a song!
51 years ago this July one,
Mr. ZIP was rolled out to make mailing more fun!
All the numbers you'd need to send bills or a letter,
Made it faster, they said - your new address is better!
Finally, way back in 1869,
William Strunk came to be, and he said, draw the line
On a surfeit of words; thus I'll here end this verse,
Brevity, meritorious; better is terse.

Scott L. Barton
(Thanks to The Writer's Almanac for information about this day!)

Monday, June 30, 2014

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), July 6, 2014 - Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67

William Hilton the Younger (1786–1839): Rebecca and Abraham’s Servant at the Well
Tate Gallery, London

Toto, We're Not in Kansas Anymore

These days, we would call it racist,
Sending for a bride for your son
Back home amongst your own people;
So what's wrong with Canaanite girls?

I sit in a local restaurant,
Amazed at combinations there,
Black and white, and Asian and white,
And the new grandparents who aren't
(I surmise) entirely happy
With their white daughter's non-white spouse;
It's a new world, to some's chagrin;
But I think: This is wonderful.

Abraham needed son Isaac
Not to forsake this new Yahweh;
But much more than race was at stake -
Much more than he could imagine.

God cares not a whit about tribe,
But only what it takes to see
That someday all will know: just love
Will put us where we need to be.

Scott L. Barton

So he said, ‘I am Abraham’s servant. The Lord has greatly blessed my master, and he has become wealthy; he has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male and female slaves, camels and donkeys. And Sarah my master’s wife bore a son to my master when she was old; and he has given him all that he has. My master made me swear, saying, “You shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live; but you shall go to my father’s house, to my kindred, and get a wife for my son.”

 ‘I came today to the spring, and said, “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, if now you will only make successful the way I am going! I am standing here by the spring of water; let the young woman who comes out to draw, to whom I shall say, ‘Please give me a little water from your jar to drink,’ and who will say to me, ‘Drink, and I will draw for your camels also’—let her be the woman whom the Lord has appointed for my master’s son.”

 ‘Before I had finished speaking in my heart, there was Rebekah coming out with her water-jar on her shoulder; and she went down to the spring, and drew. I said to her, “Please let me drink.” She quickly let down her jar from her shoulder, and said, “Drink, and I will also water your camels.” So I drank, and she also watered the camels. Then I asked her, “Whose daughter are you?” She said, “The daughter of Bethuel, Nahor’s son, whom Milcah bore to him.” So I put the ring on her nose, and the bracelets on her arms. Then I bowed my head and worshipped the Lord, and blessed the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me by the right way to obtain the daughter of my master’s kinsman for his son. Now then, if you will deal loyally and truly with my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so that I may turn either to the right hand or to the left.’ And they called Rebekah, and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ She said, ‘I will.’ So they sent away their sister Rebekah and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his men. And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,
‘May you, our sister, become
   thousands of myriads;
may your offspring gain possession
   of the gates of their foes.’
Then Rebekah and her maids rose up, mounted the camels, and followed the man; thus the servant took Rebekah, and went his way.

 Now Isaac had come from Beer-lahai-roi, and was settled in the Negeb. Isaac went out in the evening to walk in the field; and looking up, he saw camels coming. And Rebekah looked up, and when she saw Isaac, she slipped quickly from the camel, and said to the servant, ‘Who is the man over there, walking in the field to meet us?’ The servant said, ‘It is my master.’ So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.