Monday, December 29, 2014

Second Sunday after Christmas Day (B), January 4, 2015 - John 1: (1-9) 10-18

Mike Chapman: Christ Child (1999)
Trafalgar Square, London
And the Word became flesh
And the Word lived with us,
And though John knows no creche,
And no first Christmas fuss,
Still he tells us this news
Of this Word in the world
So we'll be disabused -
Woman, man, boy and girl -
Of the notion God lives
In a place we must find!
Au contraire! What God gives
Is the world now defined
Where we fully receive -
By the Maker's embrace -
Every love now conceived,
Every grace upon grace.

Scott L. Barton

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Bonus Poem: December 28

Sunday, December 28

All over the country
Grandparents are collapsing
In their chairs. My wife says,
Start the fire? I'll finish
This load of dishes, and we'll
Just read all afternoon?
I say that sounds good to me.
But soon the fire, crackling,
And the dishwasher, running,
And the unspoken glances,
All seem to say that it
Is going to be way too quiet here,
At least until next Christmas.

Scott L. Barton

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

First Sunday after Christmas Day (B), December 28, 2014 - Luke 2:22-40

Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple
And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Do you know that riotous Christmas song
About outrageous gifts from a lover?
"On the first day of Christmas my true love
Gave to me" - and then the gifts no one craves:
A partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves,
Three French hens. And on it goes to the end,
With four calling birds, and five golden rings,
Six geese a-laying, seven swans a-swimming,
Eight maids a-milking, nine ladies dancing,
Ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers piping,
And finally twelve drummers drumming -
Gifts by someone joyously, extravagantly in love.

Joseph and Mary brought two turtle doves
(or maybe pigeons), a token, really,
But a sign, dedicating their son to the Lord.
And then like the beginning of a raucous song,
They hand their son off to old Simeon,
And you could have knocked them over with a feather
What with all he told them about what the child meant,
Whereupon no sooner does he hand the baby back
When old Anna utters more astonishing words.
Thus it begins, chapter after chapter
Of teaching and healing and kidding and prodding -
Until we all laugh with joy at this outrageous, outrageous gift.

Scott L. Barton

When the time came for their purification according to the law of
Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as
it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be
designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice
according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of
turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was
righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the
Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s
Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when
the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was
customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said
about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This
child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of
many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe
of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for
seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of
eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with
fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began
to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for
the redemption of Jerusalem.
The Return to Nazareth

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child
grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was
upon him.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Nativity of the Lord (B), December 24/25, 2014 - Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Rembrandt van Rijn,
The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds


"It's the big night!"
Is what my father used to say,
And then in June,
It was, "Tomorrow's the big day!"
- Thus, the solstice
Always arrives for me with mirth,
Which may be what
We need to hear about this birth
Announced each year!
The angel told with twinkling eyes
- Thus, cast out fear -
So they would laugh with great surprise;
Despite the dark,
This same news called to you this night
Begs to be told,
That Love may be our solstice light.

Scott L. Barton

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, 
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Monday, December 15, 2014

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (B), December 21, 2014 - Luke 1:26-38 (see also 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16)

Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation (1898),
Philadelphia Museum of Art
How can this be? How can this be?
There's nothing I can possibly see
To prove that to this world might come
Some hope where life is surely undone
By all the darkness, grief and pain
Which at this time assuredly reign.

What's this you say? What's this you say?
You've something even more to convey?
O my! This news you now declare
Is that through me there will come to bear
The saving grace that people need,
A rule of love to come now indeed?

Thus, as her forebears, Mary learned
The thing we want, for which we most yearn,
Comes not because we make it so;
Such wisdom now we're called to forego,
Embracing, rather, gifts, amazed
That obstacles still leave God unfazed.

Scott L. Barton

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

+ + +

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Third Sunday of Advent (B), December 14, 2014 - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-8, 19-28

Vie de Jesus Mafa: John the Baptist preaching (1973)

Advent Recipe in Three Steps, 2014

Start with:
I am not the Messiah.
I am at an utter loss about racism.
I won't pretend it doesn't exist,
and don't ask me how to end it, either,
in Ferguson, in Staten Island,
in my own home town, and in me,
how we might straighten out the mess
that so long ago slavery began.

Add, while singing:
Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
O Lord, how shall I meet you?
People look east,
Prepare the way, O Zion,
The desert shall rejoice,
My soul cries out with a joyful shout,
Wild and lone the prophet's voice,
O come, o come, Emmanuel.

Don't forget:
I will neither give up, nor despair.
I will trust the one who is to come
and who always finds a way.
I will not let my spirit be quenched,
nor despise the prophets,
but give thanks in all things,
abstain from every evil,
and hold fast to what is good.

Bake to perfection. As long as it takes.

Scott L. Barton

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.


There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Second Sunday of Advent (B), December 5, 2014 - Mark 1:1-8

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665): 
St John the Baptist Baptizes the People, 
Musee du Louvre

We're now in Year B, and Mark's very first sentence with no verbs in it makes it a bit unclear just what "the beginning" is; but maybe it's not just the first chapter. Maybe it's even his whole book. I thought of Julie Andrews singing "Doe, a Deer, a Female Deer" in The Sound of Music, and the poem took off from there. Keep the tune in mind as you read the poem, and have fun!

Let's start at the very beginning,
A very good place to start;
When it's Matthew it's genealogy,
When it's Mark it begins with John the B.,
John the B.,
The one Isaiah wants us to see,
John the B.,
He won't grace your Christmas tea:

In the wilderness he cried,
"God forgives I now proclaim,"
People from the countryside
And the capital all came;
They confessed and were baptized
By the wild and crazy guy,
Even so, he still surprised,
Saying one will come not I!

(So stand by!)

Thus, the good news has begun,
Mark's whole book is just the start,
For the story's hardly done,
Each of us can play a part;
Jesus is the one who came,
He's the key for your life's scale,
Make his love your constant aim,
For his grace today prevails -


Lives Christ and loves! and, yes, Christ gives!
Gives, Christ, and yes, loves, and Christ lives.

Scott L. Barton

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Monday, November 24, 2014

The First Sunday of Advent (B), November 30, 2014 - Mark 13:24-37

When the world is going to hell in a handbasket,
the chickens have come home to roost,
the whole world's at sixes and sevens,
you're up the creek without a paddle,
we're going down with all hands,
everything's gone widdershins,
everything's gone bananas,
life's going down the tubes,
it's all gone horribly wrong,
it's FUBAR, and SNAFU,
things go cattywumpus,
all hell's broken loose,
we're taking on water,
the shit hits the fan,
it's pandemonium,
the wheels fall off,
things fall apart,
and the jig
is up,
a conversion,
a metamorphosis,
the turn of the tide,
the moment of truth,
the defining moment,
everything fresh and new,
the tree suddenly leafing out,
something you somehow haven't
to deserve occurs when you least expect it.
No one knows how that is, or when it is, either;
But it's something to anticipate, like the summer.
And who knows? Maybe it will even come like a baby.

Scott L. Barton

(The idea that the literal shape of a poem can be a part of the poetry came to me some years ago from J. Barrie Shepherd's The Moveable Feast: Selected Poems for the Christian Year and Beyond (1990)).

“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Bonus Poem: A Thanksgiving Prayer

(Pastors could provide something like this on a card in each bulletin this coming Sunday morning for members of the congregation to use at their Thanksgiving tables, maybe everyone at the table taking a couple of lines or more, and then the whole gathering saying or singing the Doxology at the end. I wrote the first version of this for Old First Church, Bennington, Vermont, and this version for Collenbrook United Church, Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. The first two lines are from a well-known sung grace.)

For health and strength and daily bread,
We praise your name, O Lord;
For blessings showered on our heads,
We praise your name, O Lord.

For eyes to see the stars above,
We praise your name, O Lord;
For ears to hear, “It’s you I love,”
We praise your name, O Lord.

For home and hearth and blue sky view,
For courage saying what is true,
For peace and justice to pursue,
We praise your name, O Lord.

And if our lives are mixed with pain,
May faith in you we still retain;
May at this board each quarrel end,
That grace from you all people mend;
And now we’re glad your gifts to take,
For here is known the love you make.

Praise God, from whom all blessings flow,
Praise God, all creatures here below,
Praise God above, ye heav’nly host,
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.  Amen.

Scott L. Barton

Christ the King (Reign of Christ) Sunday (A), November 23, 2014 - Matthew 25:31-46

Early 6th-century mosaic from Ravenna, the Church of Appolinare Nuovo

The Gospel is about surprise;
Forget the habit to surmise
Just how you might reap some reward,
Or fear that you might be ignored
By God, say, when you're at the end,
And wonder if you might ascend,
Or descend, so to speak, to find
God's system of reward is blind
To whether you had made the grade!
No matter what, you'll be dismayed,
Since God's less likely to be bribed,
And more inclined to be described
As Christ who so inspires your love
That, focused less on God above,
You'll worry not, nor will you gloat,
To be a hero, or a goat,
But simply offer all your care
To needy angels unawares.

Scott L. Barton

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), November 16, 2014 (part 2) - Matthew 25:14-30

Annette Gandy Fortt: Parable of the Talents

Beware that you not use this text
To be the means whereby the next
Year's budget you might "make" converges
With what seems the parable urges.

One talent being far too much
For common laborers to touch,
It speaks, instead, of what is gained
When nothing you did, you attained.

Those overwhelmed by all they have,
Who know that all they are, God gave,
In joy, astounded by their treasure,
Know greatest gifts cannot be measured.

But those who try to make it last,
In worry they'll lose all amassed,
Have entered now into the hell
Which only trust in grace dispels.

Scott L. Barton

“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary time (A), November 16, 2014 (part 1) - Judges 4:1-7 [8-24]

Deborah sends Barak into battle
(From the Psalter of St. Louis, 13th century,
Bibliothèque nationale de France)

I wonder if our Barak O.
Was raised to know this ancient tale,
Where, Barak asks a prophetess
She'd go with him before he sails
To battle a strong enemy,
Ensuring that he might not fail.

Or, does he ask since this strong male
Thinks Deb'rah's words an old wive's tale?
Or is it more that he won't trust
His aspirations she'd assail
(Like some Uriah prequel) by
Her sending him to be impaled?

At any rate, she says she'll go,
Though goes with him to no avail -
That is, he will no glory earn;
Another woman will derail
The plans of Sisera, who burns
To conquer Israel, yet fails.

Soon Sisera will be no more,
His gory end makes us inhale;
But though, to us, the ethics of
Jael seem dubious and frail,
God's purposes for those oppressed
Will, by God's chosen means, prevail.

Scott L. Barton

(Note: It's a shame the lectionary designers stop at verse 7, which in my view pretty much misses the point of the story. Go at least through verse 9. [I did that at my sister's wedding 28 years ago to highlight the companionship requested by Barak.] I think we should go even further in Sunday worship, which in this case means telling the rest of the story which includes Jael, as long as we realize it's meant to make us smile at how God will do in a cruel oppressor by whatever means will do the trick.)

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord , after Ehud died. So the Lord sold them into the hand of King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor; the commander of his army was Sisera, who lived in Harosheth-ha-goiim. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord for help; for he had nine hundred chariots of iron, and had oppressed the Israelites cruelly twenty years.

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” [Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh.

Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; and ten thousand warriors went up behind him; and Deborah went up with him. Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites, that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh. When Sisera was told that Barak son of Abinoam had gone up to Mount Tabor, Sisera called out all his chariots, nine hundred chariots of iron, and all the troops who were with him, from Harosheth-ha-goiim to the Wadi Kishon. Then Deborah said to Barak, “Up! For this is the day on which the Lord has given Sisera into your hand. The Lord is indeed going out before you.” So Barak went down from Mount Tabor with ten thousand warriors following him. And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.

Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died. Then, as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple. So on that day God subdued King Jabin of Canaan before the Israelites. Then the hand of the Israelites bore harder and harder on King Jabin of Canaan, until they destroyed King Jabin of Canaan.]

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), November 9, 2014 - Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25

Raphael: Joshua Addressing the Israeites at Shechem (ca. 1516-18)
sketch for fresco in Loggia of Raphael in the Vatican, Teylers Museum, Haarlem

Once to every one and nation
Comes the moment to decide;
Hymns, though fallen out of favor,
Tell a truth from which we hide.

Glibly, we think way back then, in
"Bible times," "their" faith was strong;
Surely God then clearly spoke; for
Yesterday, God's people long.

Joshua notes otherwise; the
Ancestors all got it wrong!
Gods were served beyond the river,
Now's the time for a new song!

New occasions teach new duties,
Time makes ancient good uncouth,
Faith means always new decisions,
Grace calls us to live the truth.

Scott L. Barton

(The first two lines of the first and last stanzas come from the 1845 poem by James R. Lowell that he wrote as a protest against the U. S.'s war with Mexico, and which was put to Thomas J. Williams' tune EBENEZER.)

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan and made his offspring many. I gave him Isaac; “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.

Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.” But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the Lord, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.” And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the Lord!” Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.” So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Bonus Poem: Comcast/NBC Universal ad seen in the Philadelphia Inquirer

"WHAT'S POSSIBLE" the ad starts out
You might expect it then to tout
Adults on laptops, smiling faces,
In off the beaten track spaces.

Instead, two p-j'ed children stare
At cartoon screen, as twilight falls,
Inside their backyard screened tent where,
Outside, the crickets chirp their calls,
But no one hears through wi-fi walls.

Proclaims, as if it's what they need,
These children who will not be glad
Someday that parents let them heed
The calls imaginations feed.

Scott L. Barton

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), November 2, 2014 - Joshua 3:7-17

Frans Francken II (1581-1642): The Israelites Crossing the River Jordan
Cornell University 

(I took this picture when I saw it a month ago at the Johnson Museum of Art at Cornell. I wonder why Francken painted the water on the left of the people as they crossed, since presumably the story has them crossing from east to west, which would put the Dead Sea to the south - and thus, "the heap" on their right.)

The text progresses, as it must;
not Moses, out alone, or just
this Joshua, either, at this river,
this new, dividing sea the Giver
parts; but now, instead of one,
it looks like twelve ensure undone
the chaos that would interfere
with what the LORD would engineer.
They venture out into the deep,
which is no more, but just a heap
on their right hand, while on their left,
no waters stand; and they are blessed
to be a nation now, where all are saved -
Let us, just like those Jordan priests, behave.

Scott L. Barton

The Lord said to Joshua, “This day I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, so that they may know that I will be with you as I was with Moses. You are the one who shall command the priests who bear the ark of the covenant, ‘When you come to the edge of the waters of the Jordan, you shall stand still in the Jordan.’” Joshua then said to the Israelites, “Draw near and hear the words of the Lord your God.” Joshua said, “By this you shall know that among you is the living God who without fail will drive out from before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites: the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is going to pass before you into the Jordan. So now select twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. When the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan flowing from above shall be cut off; they shall stand in a single heap.”

When the people set out from their tents to cross over the Jordan, the priests bearing the ark of the covenant were in front of the people. Now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest. So when those who bore the ark had come to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the edge of the water, the waters flowing from above stood still, rising up in a single heap far off at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, while those flowing toward the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, were wholly cut off. Then the people crossed over opposite Jericho. While all Israel were crossing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, until the entire nation finished crossing over the Jordan.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 26, 2014 - 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879): The Kiss of Peace (1869)

Item: A doctor goes from Worcester, Massachusetts to Liberia, learns how to put on and take off the protective gear, and, when caring for a pastor with Ebola, finds himself prayed for before the pastor dies:

The pastor prayed for Dr. Hatch
Who'd known he could not stay detached
From human need, and thus has dared
To give, to those he might, God's care.
I know not if he calls it such;
I know not, if he prays, how much,
Or if he thinks that he's been called;
But this I know: that writer Paul,
When speaking of the tender nurse
Whose gentle care for children mercy
Shows, cares more for deeds than words,
And giving self is grace conferred.

Scott L. Barton

You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 19, 2014 - Exodus 33:12-23

Rembrandt: Moses and the Burning Bush (ca. 1655)

Moses keeps upping the ante,
He asks the LORD for more and more.
Though it seems this LORD knows his name -
What are your ways? How keep favor?
(Besides they're YOUR baby, not mine)
And really, who will go with me?
The LORD says, I'll go.
                                         Moses: Mean it?
The LORD says, Yes, yes; as you'll see.
       We'll really stand out, that's for sure.
The LORD says, Yes, yes; you I bless.
        But where is the proof positive?
The LORD says, My glory's my goodness,
Which means, I choose you, not you, me;
Mercy and graciousness are mine.
Such giving's what my goodness means;
The back you see, will be your sign.

A couple on a recent flight
Told me the Lord they also seek,
This text, however makes me think,
When Moses sees the LORD, oblique,
It's not that Moses just was mooned,
But it's the other way around -
The Lord's the one who seeks you out,
Let not your search such truth confound.

(Dedicated to that delightful couple, Steve and Caroline.)

Scott L. Barton

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 12, 2014 - Exodus 32:1-14 [15-20]

Emile Nolde: Dance Around the Golden Calf (1910)
[Note: This poem highlights for me the importance of the reader of the text in worship speaking with conviction, with surprise at the news proclaimed, and most of all, a palpable sense that the reader believes this stuff he or she is proclaiming. And yes, the reader in the poem was one of my daughters.]

She must have been just eight years-old,
I asked her if she'd read that day;
Her voice, so strong and so controlled,
I hear it in my mind's replay
(An octave higher than 'tis now)
It woke the people up, so clear!
With bold expression, furrowed brow,
Her Moses pleads the LORD might hear,
And change his mind! But grace not cheap,
Her rising voice described the scene
Of reveling and dancers' leaps,
And Moses, hot - not church serene! -
With tablets smashed - and calf all burned -
To powder, ground - and then in rage -
The most bizarre - how Israel learned
No idol can our thirst assuage!

I love the passion of that day;
No age can take such faith away.

Scott L. Barton

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered around Aaron, and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take off the gold rings that are on the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mold, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the Lord.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’“ And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

[Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain, carrying the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, tablets that were written on both sides, written on the front and on the back. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets. When Joshua heard the noise of the people as they shouted, he said to Moses, “There is a noise of war in the camp.” But he said, “It is not the sound made by victors, or the sound made by losers; it is the sound of revelers that I hear.” As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.]

Monday, September 29, 2014

Bonus Poem: The Mystery of the Chimney Caws

While sitting in my living room
I heard a noise that I assumed
To be a crow up on the roof,
On chimney top, perched high, aloof,
Who then, when I went out to see,
Was there no more with such decree.
This happened more than once, and so
I thought it strangely odd to go
On hearing such a foreign sound -
Not really caw-sharp, something round?
I found it hard to put in words
The sounds, more like some small game bird
That rarely lasted very long,
But when it came, it came on strong.
Last night, we heard it once again,
The cat and I; he sprang up then
And bolted to the door to find
This thing that boggled yet my mind.
And so, today, I ladder took
And climbed the roof to take a look;
Removing then the cap all screened,
With mirror and a flashlight seemed
The way the answer I might find,
Thus down the chimney liner shined
My light! But no; 'twas dark I saw,
And nothing that might like to caw!
I scratched my head, put back the cap,
And thought, some mysteries are wrapped
In mystery; I'll never know
Why sounds from here are heard below.
But suddenly I chanced to spy
Under the liner's lip, two eyes,
And there crouched down in silent mode,
Looking at me, I saw a toad!
I kid you not! On chimney peak
A toad and I were cheek to cheek!
I think that I will never know
How that toad got up there to crow,
Or ribbit, as the case must be,
But I am glad the mystery
Of WHO it is, is solved, but WHY?
Why there? What for? And how so high?

Scott L. Barton

The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), October 5, 2014 - Matthew 21:33-46

Van Gogh: The Red Vineyard at Arles (c. 1888)

Our view of God's so saccharine
We shrink from such a God where sin
Results in consequence! So hence,
We think this tale's about the Jews
Who, like those tenants, didn't choose
To follow Jesus, but instead
Made sure that he'd be silenced - dead!

But what if all this violence
Is in itself the great offense,
(Not Jews, but those in pulpits and
In pews) which Jesus notes WE share
If ever, all our wealth we dare
To think is ours! And we refuse
To think that God is owed God's dues?

God's mercy is forever sure,
Not just for those who think they're pure,
But God can offer all God owns
To all who thought they were disowned.

Scott L. Barton

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 28, 2014 - Matthew 21:23-32

A portrayal of John's baptism by He Qi, currently of Minnesota, who was the first among Mainland Chinese to earn a Ph.D. in religious art after the cultural revolution.

Since, if anyone is in Christ,
There's a new creation -
Since the past is finished and gone,
And everything's brand new -
There's no need not to change your mind!
Old convictions don't count,
Don't worry about precedents,
Don't worry you'll look weak,
Who you are today is what counts;
Maybe you were dead wrong,
Or maybe even partly right,
But that was then, before;
And God is not above getting
Down on hands and knees to
Bring the least of us around to
The here and now of love.

Scott L. Barton

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Bonus Poem on Former Arizona state Senator Russell Pearce resigning as Arizona Republican Party's first vice chair late Sunday after receiving criticism over recent comments he made about women on Medicaid


Russell Pearce as a GOP vice-chair's resigned
After comments 'bout birth control which he opined,
Saying, if you're on Medicaid, and you have sex,
And are female-inclined, then the state should object,
And should make you take Norplant, or have your tubes tied,
And should test you for drugs or for booze, then deny
You the help you might need if from such tests you fail,
Yes, especially if, from some male,  you're impaled!
Now Republicans distance themselves from this jerk,
Who assumes women helped by the state just won't work,
And are lounging around, all quite drunk and in heat,
While they mooch from old men, who no more rule the streets;
Now we pity the folk living in this young state
Since the rest of the country just laughs at the hate
That we see in a guy who would help not a dame,
Who, while maybe Latina, needs help, just the same.

Scott L. Barton

The Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 21, 2014 - Exodus 16:2-15 and Matthew 20:1-16

Ercole de' Roberti: Israelites Gathering Manna (1490's), London National Gallery

Jesus Mafa: The Late-arriving Workers (1973), Cameroon

They said, "What is it?" each to each,
For they did not know what it was;

Some workers, the owner beseeched
With (to them) a much-righteous cause;

The kingdom's hard to recognize,
Though it be in front of our nose;

The generous Giver defies
When we think: "It's just how it goes;"

We never know when we might see
New gifts to be rained on our heads;

Likewise, are answered neighbors' pleas:
Give us this day our daily bread;

The last will be first, the first last,
Surprise is the hallmark of grace;

To you it will come, and to all,
And every hunger erase.

Scott L. Barton

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.” Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

+ + +

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 14, 2014 - Matthew 18:21-35

Beware the preacher who pontificates,
The one who has to tell the people what to do;
Beware bad news, when we are in bad straights:
"Forgiveness is the thing to which we all must hew
Or else!"
                For though the text appears to say
That God is like a king who'll throw you into jail -
Who, if you don't forgive, will make you pay -
If Jesus said it, he means evil will prevail
Within our hearts, 'cause that's the way things are!
It's how God made it; enmity will eat away
Forever, always burning, nevermore to scar
Until its hold by you is loosed; and that's the day
When you discover that the thing that God holds dear
Is you! Forgiveness is what puts you in the clear.

Scott L. Barton

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 7, 2014 - Exodus 12:1-14

Kirshenblatt, Mayer (1916-2009)
Passover Seder at My Paternal Grandfather's, 1992

This text, combining liturgy
And narrative in one,
Things like, "You shall" plus "I'll pass over"
Say that we're not done
With any biblical "account"
Until we realize,
What makes it sacred is when we,
Somehow, internalize
The things that happened way back when;
Thus, in our time and place
The story's meant to give to us
A measure of the grace
That we still need, that is, the news
That God's the one who saves
From slavery, disaster; and,
From cradle to the grave
Will not abandon you, so therefore,
Do not hesitate,
Within your households everywhere,
Such love to celebrate.

Scott L. Barton

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 31, 2014 - Exodus 3:1-15

 Moses and the Burning Bush, 
part of a fresco in the Dura-Europas synagogue, in present-day Syria, discovered in 1932, 
the last phase of construction dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 C.E. 
Photo courtesy of Art in the Christian Tradition, Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

So Moses, just a shepherd in the wilderness,
Whose job, to watch for sheep that might be in distress,
Observes an unconsumed, yet burning bush one day,
And does not think it better that he stay away!
Instead, he turns aside to see this bush in flames,
And from the bush, the LORD twice calls out Moses' name
Upon the LORD's observing that this Moses looked!
How strange that Moses does not think his goose is cooked,
But like his forebears, Abraham and Isaac, too,
And Jacob (even Esau!) says words like, "I do."

This Here I am's a sign of danger up ahead,
As if, through thick and thin, the speaker then is wed
To one whose promise not a bed of roses gives,
But rather, presence, if the speaker dares to live
As if this LORD rests not, until oppression ends;
Perhaps, this means, you'll be the one this see-er sends;
He calls himself, to Moses, I AM WHO I AM,
And adds the name, the LORD, the God of Abraham,
The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, too;
And holiness is more than taking off your shoes.

Scott L. Barton

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of 'the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 24, 2014 - Exodus 1:8 - 2:10

Shiphrah, Puah, Jocheved, Miriam, Pharoah's Daughter, and the infant Moses. 
Painting in Dura-Europas synagogue, in present-day Syria, discovered in 1932, the last phase of construction dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE. Photo courtesy of Art in the Christian Tradition, Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

The civil disobedience
Of women isn't new,
Nor did it stop with just one case
Where midwives helped push through
The life that Yahweh had in mind;
Oh, no! This kind of birth,
Meant not for just a few back then
Is all about the worth
Of all - despite some despot's claim
That he could cleanse a race
Right off the map! His daughter even
Risks her own disgrace.
How clever, Shiphrah and Puah,
And Moses' sister, too;
And their outwitting shows this LORD
Will never be subdued.

Scott L. Barton

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 17, 2014 - Genesis 45:1-15

Rembrandt: Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers (c. 1640-1642), Musee du Louvre

"And after this his brothers talked with him."

I wonder what it was they talked about
When Joseph finally told them who he was?
Perhaps, "How's Dinah? How's she holding up?"
Or, "How's your mother? ...Yours? ...And yours?" because
We're led to think he cared about such things;
We can guess, "Don't be angry with yourselves"
Reveals he knew his family well enough
To see that deep within these brothers twelve
Was worry over whom Dad loved the best!
He later* tells them not to quarrel on the way.
They talked. They left. The promise did not die;
And talk is not as cheap as people say.
                                                                        *(vs. 24)
Scott L. Barton

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.