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.