Monday, March 31, 2014

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

Rembrandt, The Raising of Lazarus, 1642
Amsterdam, Rijksprentenkabinet

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

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

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

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

Scott L. Barton

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Bonus Poem: March 25, Annunciation Day

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

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

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

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

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

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

Scott L. Barton

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bonus Poem on sunlight

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

March 18, 2014

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

Scott L. Barton

Monday, March 10, 2014

Poem #2 for the Second Sunday in Lent (A), March 16, 2014 - John 3:1-17 (see also John 7:45-53 and John 19:38-42)


Nicodemus knew
That Jesus was on to something
With all that talk
About being born from above,
Even though he hadn't a clue
Of the wind's comings and goings.
Thus he went to that meeting
Where the blowhards
Wanted to do Jesus in,
And tried to talk some sense into them.
I wonder where he got such courage,
Going again by night,
The weight of the world on his back,
Or at least a hundred pounds,
To bury his rabbi,
Winded by the law of love?

Scott L. Barton

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Second Sunday in Lent (A), March 16, 2014 - John 3:1-17 (with a reference also to Numbers 21:9)

Nicodemus Visiting Jesus
Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1899
Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia

It's not just at a football game
Where you will see the sign
That God so loved the world, God gave
God's son; for now "divine"
Means whatsoe'er is given from
The bottom of the heart;
And when that comes, like wind, unplanned,
You'll find your life can start
Again! You're born as if anew,
Since you've looked up to see
The love which from all poison now
Has set the whole world free.

Scott L. Barton

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

"Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

"Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Monday, March 3, 2014

The First Sunday in Lent (A), March 9, 2014 - Matthew 4:1-11

When the Spirit drove Jesus to have his retreat,
It was hardly a route that you'd call Easy Street,
For the things that he saw when he got there were spare,
Such as no food in sight for a forty day prayer!
Then Old Satan arrived with a tempting repast:
"Turn these stones into bread - or have you been miscast?"
Deuteronomy, then, was what Jesus recalled,
When the writer tells Israel their daily haul
Of the manna was given so they'd always know,
(And not only in places and times long ago)
That it's not just by bread that we find we're restored,
But by every word from the mouth of the Lord;
Next, the devil took Jesus way up to the top
Of the temple, where there, it's as if they talked shop!
Yes, the devil quotes scripture, in this case, a Psalm,
To which Jesus responds, with a certain aplomb,
- Deuteronomy still on his mind - that a test
Of the Lord surely misses the point that we're blessed
By the places we've been with the Lord as our guide,
Giving all that we need, since by love, God provides!
Then the tempter took Jesus to see from up high
All the kingdoms below, and then added his lie
About having it all, if for him, he'd declare;
But again, Deuteronomy calls us to swear
Our allegiance to God, and the Lord only serve,
Since for freedom, by grace, have our lives been preserved;
Now the devil was bested, and angels arrived
And they waited on he whom our spirits revive;
Thus we see here in Jesus the road that he took,
Which he did on his own, but he did by the book.

Scott L. Barton
(Written with Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) also in mind, born 3/2/1904, who often wrote in rhyming anapestic tetrameter. Think Yertle the Turtle, tempted to get way up high!)

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted
by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he
was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of
God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered,
"It is written,
'One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. '"
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the
pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God,
throw yourself down; for it is written,
'He will command his angels concerning you,'
and 'On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"
Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your
God to the test.'" Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain
and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and
he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and
worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is
'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.