Monday, February 23, 2015

The Second Sunday in Lent (B), March 1, 2015 - Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Rembrandt: God Reveals his Covenant to Abraham (ca. 1655)
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Kupferstichkabinett

Stained glass panel, (c.1485)
from the south clerestory (window K)
of the Great Malvern Priory,
Worcestershire, United Kingdom

Lent 2: The Promise is the Thing

When Abram, old at ninety-nine,
A time when most feel past their prime,
Heard God Almighty cov'nant make,
Did he then say, "It's my big break?"
Or, had he such an attitude,
That, in a word, was gratitude
For all the things that yet would be?
The kings, foretold, he'd never see,
(The son, how could that come to be???)
And yet, and yet, his life was changed.
Perhaps, you, too, will see arranged
By God far more than you can make,
But simply trust, through pain and aches,
Such gifts which you can hardly guess
Will make new generations blessed.

Scott L. Barton

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,

“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

...God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Monday, February 16, 2015

The First Sunday in Lent (B), February 22, 2015 - Mark 1:9-15 and Genesis 9:8-17

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoń≠, 1837-1887:
Christ in the Desert

Lent 1: Good News, No Matter What

What a confluence of opposites here!
Jesus of Nazareth - baptized by John!
Out from the water the baptized comes up -
While from the heavens the Spirit comes down!
Voice from the heaven says he's the beloved -
But to the wilderness then he is driven!
Tempted by Satan to give it all up -
Service by angels is Jesus then given!
John is arrested, we know he will die -
Jesus goes preaching the good news of God!
Near is the kingdom, the judgment soon comes -
Think again - know that the good news is odd!
Waters may flood and your life overwhelm,
Violence, hunger and pain still confound -
God is the One who in covenant stays,
Promising love to the world still redounds.

Scott L. Barton

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

+ + +

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Bonus Poem: Are Clams Happy?

(For a lectionary poem for February 15, please page down to the preceding post.)

Are Clams Happy?

I have a friend who's just retired,
He says he's happy as a clam;
He asks me, though, just how we know
It's as a clam, happy I am?
Who's ever asked a clam how he
Or she is feeling just right now?
Whenever I have asked a clam
He just (or she) clams up - and how!
I wonder if we think they must
Be happy in protective shells;
We root for them, but maybe they
Don't want our wishing they be well
When cast ashore by some big wave,
Exposed to seagulls passing by;
For they keep smiling, come what may,
Like saying, happy, still, am I.

Scott L. Barton
In honor of W. Kenneth Williams

Monday, February 9, 2015

Transfiguration Sunday (B), February 15, 2015 - 2 Kings 2:1-12 and Mark [8: 31-9:1] 9:2-9

Vie de Jesus Mafa: Transfiguration

Nerving the Church

Elisha doesn't want this gig to end;
He can't imagine losing both his mentor and his friend;
The prophets keep on telling him he'll lose his master dear;
He'd stop such words he doesn't want to hear.

When Jesus told his friends what they would see,
And Peter took his Lord aside to say: "That cannot be!"
The Lord's response to his, "No way!" was, "Yes, that is the way;
"And Satan from my life would have you stray."

Elisha thought he'd need a guarantee,
A double share of ruah for success would be the key;
Elijah said he'd need to see his end, and spirit claim;
Elisha new Elijah then became.

When Peter thought the vision they could hold,
A voice to Peter, James and John just like the thunder rolled,
And they remembered what to them six days ago he'd said,
Which nerved their trust in One raised from the dead.

Scott L. Barton

(George Buttrick said that the Transfiguration nerved the early church.  It seems to me that these two parallel stories of disciples who don't want their master to leave them can still serve to nerve the church today to take on the mantle of the One whose giving knew - and knows - no bounds.  I include previous verses to the given NT text because I think they are critical to understanding the voice from the cloud.)

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

+ + +

[Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”]

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (B), February 8, 2015 - Mark 1:29-39

Rembrandt: Healing of Peter's Mother-in-Law (1660)
Up from the Sickbed and Right to the Stove!

Up from the sickbed and right to the stove!
Into her work, Peter's moth'r-in-law dove!
Funny how quickly to work did she fly,
Asking, it seems, neither wherefore nor why;
Then the whole city showed up, while they pressed
Jesus to cure all the sick and possessed;
Out to the desert he went then to pray;
Simon and friends showing up in dismay
Maybe helped Jesus decide to move on -
Get out of town, while he could, before dawn.
Work's never done, and all need the good news,
Grace to the next one will God always choose.

Scott L. Barton
[In a sermon at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, Joanna Adams once called Mark 1:31 one of the funniest verses in the Bible: "Speaking of get up and go!  Straight from the sickbed to the cookstove!"]

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now  Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.