Monday, December 26, 2016

The First Sunday after Christmas Day (A), January 1, 2017 - Isaiah 63:7-9 and Matthew 2:12-23

Dürer, Albrecht: Flight into Egypt (1494-1497)
Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (Dresden, Germany)

Isaiah 63:7-9

Not Just in Days of Old

God knows it's not enough to talk,
So God comes by to visit,
To lift, to carry those God loves 
E'en when they fail to get it. 
The point of God has always been
That grace, you cannot lose it;
To those who fear, love sidles near,
So anxious folk might cool it.

Scott L. Barton

I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, 
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, 
because of all that the Lord has done for us, 
and the great favor to the house of Israel 
that he has shown them according to his mercy, 
according to the abundance of his steadfast love. 
For he said, “Surely they are my people, 
children who will not deal falsely”; 
and he became their savior in all their distress. 
It was no messenger or angel but his presence that saved them; 
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; 
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.

+  +  +

Matthew 2:12-23

The Two Josephs 

It seems to me I've heard this song before;
Remember Joseph, by his dad, adored,
Who, off to Egypt went one day, enslaved,
As good as dead, his brothers so depraved
They'd even murder just to guarantee
He'd bloom no more upon the fam'ly tree?

But then, in dreams, we see that God persists
In showing that he all the while insists
That even though a tyrant's on the throne,
Those loved by God will never stand alone.

Again weeps Rachel - God abandons not -
And this new dreaming Joseph finds a spot
To raise the child born with no silver spoon!
- All to the end that we might be attuned
To hear the old familiar score, known well;
And yearning, searching love for all, retell.

Scott L. Barton

Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.”

Friday, December 16, 2016

Christmas Eve/Nativity of our Lord, December 24/25, 2016 - Luke 2:1-20

Peter Busch: No Room at the Inn. Sand sculpture,
Belen de arena de Las Canteras, Plaza Saulo Toron,
Canary Islands, Spain. 

When History Repeats Itself

It was a terrifying time
Which we, by faith, now think sublime;
But then, a madman on the throne,
Drove everyone away from home,
That everyone be taxed and counted;
But this, in point of fact, amounted
To terrorism by the high,
Who gave no choice but to comply.

Think, immigrants; think, refugees;
Think how all those of low degree
In every age are made to do
The bidding of a mighty few.
Think those who fear they'll be deported,
Their work, and fam'ly life now thwarted;
Think those from bombed out cities fleeing,
What kind of news would bring wellbeing?

Imagine they see in the flesh,
Perhaps in angels and a creche,
Or maybe, solidarity
From those who bear Christ's guarantee
That he'll be with us all our days!
Then they, as well, might be amazed -
Like shepherds hearing angel choirs -
What real love from God requires.

Thus into angst and grief and fears
The God of every soul appears,
Yes, then, but also here, today,
And bids us live just as we pray.

Scott L. Barton

My pastor, Richard Manzelmann, used
this on the "Christmas Sunday" bulletin cover
in 1974 at New Hartford, New York 
Presbyterian Church. I used it on occasion
for the same purpose over the years but would 
love to know its source. It seems like a 
Rembrandt, but I can't confirm that.

To Make Our Love Braver

She did something different,
She treasured and pondered;
Not only amazed, but
She thought, and she wondered
Just what was their meaning -
That this diapered wee boy,
Would be to all people
The sign of a great joy?

And why even now does
He cause such a flutter
In hearts all around, while
These carols we utter?
Is this what they meant when
They said that a savior
Would come - a Messiah,
To make our love braver?

Scott L. Barton
Imogene Herdman, "Hey! Unto you a child is born!" 
in Barbara Robinson's The Best Christmas Pageant Ever


"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

Rembrandt van Rijn,
The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds

They Thought It Was the Feds

Perhaps they thought it was the Feds who'd come for them!
Somehow, the N.S.A. had tracked, and would condemn
Those dirty shepherds, since they had not registered,
And since, without green cards, Augustus' wrath incurred!
But soon they found the searchlight not to be the law,
Which, with relief, provoked a different kind of awe;
That is, more powerful than all the "powers that be,"
Was then announced - as now - the holy mystery:
Quite openly, the one who saves comes not by strength
Of arm, but will not fail to go to any length
For love!  Thus wrapped, so even shepherds might embrace
This child, we, too, now hold our breath, to see such grace.

Scott L. Barton
2013, also published in The Presbyterian Outlook 12/09/13

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. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (A), December 18, 2016 - Isaiah 7:10-16 and Matthew 1:18-25

Nuttgens, Joseph: Immanuel -- Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive..., Church of St. Etheldreda, London

Isaiah 7:1-16

The Girl with the Virgin Brand

Who is this girl of whom Isaiah speaks,
Who, soon, would bear a child, and thus critique
The lack of faith that Ahaz came to bear
Upon the country that was in his care?
The child's name, Immanuel, would show
God's people, then (and now!) would ne'er outgrow
Their need to trust that God was in their midst.
This pedigree of faith, which wasn't missed
By Matthew or by Luke, would then describe
A mother and her child, who would inscribe
Upon the hearts of people for all time
A birth we celebrate, and call sublime.

Scott L. Barton

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

Matthew 1:18-25

What's In a Name?

What's in a name? Look at them here!
Jesus - the Messiah - Mary -
Joseph - Holy Spirit - the Lord -
David - Emmanuel - Jesus -
And the main character gets three!
This introduction, this prologue,
This tale to whet the appetite,
Foreshadows many other names:
Door - good shepherd - way - truth - life - bread -
Lamb of God - Rabbi - Son of God -
King of Israel - Saviour - Lord;
Perhaps the baby reminds us
That he by any other name
Would smell as sweet.

Scott L. Barton

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Third Sunday of Advent (A), December 11, 2016 - Isaiah 35:1-10 and Matthew 11:2-11

Isaiah 35:1-10

Gotthardt Kuehl:  Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (A Mighty Fortress Is Our God) (1896)

After Disaster

Apparently, you can go home again.
At least, Isaiah has the nerve to think
You can return to what you knew deep down,
Although you drank disaster's bitter drink.

Perhaps it's when you rediscover how,
You were assured, as children, all was right;
Perhaps it's when old innocence you find,
And speak the truth; assume they'll see the light.

Although the pain of what was past remains,
Still, strengthen hands; make firm the feeble knees;
Proclaim to those who love, "Be strong! Fear not!"
God will restore us from such times as these.

Scott L. Barton

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, 
the desert shall rejoice and blossom; 
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, 
and rejoice with joy and singing. 
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, 
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. 
They shall see the glory of the Lord, 
the majesty of our God. 
Strengthen the weak hands, 
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, 
“Be strong, do not fear! 
Here is your God. 
He will come with vengeance, 
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, 
and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 
then the lame shall leap like a deer, 
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. 
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert; 
the burning sand shall become a pool, 
and the thirsty ground springs of water; 
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, 
the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people; 
no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing; 
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; 
they shall obtain joy and gladness, 
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
+  +  +

Matthew 11:2-11

Hieronymus Bosch: John the Baptist in the Wilderness (ca. 1489); Museum of Lazaro Galdioano, Madrid, Spain.

A Messiah Like That

To a contractor I have said,
"Are you the one who is to come,
Or shall we wait for another?"
Now let's say I ask it this week,
Since now my particular need
Is getting a load of firewood;
But what if the answer I hear is,
"I am heating peoples' houses
For their entire lives, not just
One load at a time. Pretty cool!"
Would I risk it? Would I believe?
Or would my faith be just in what
I can see - my wood, the stove's flame?
The Preposterous One does more
Than you or I can imagine:
People see the light! Get moving!!
They're no longer outcast!!! They hear!!!!
Their spirits are no longer dead!!!!!
(Can you tell Matthew's shouting now?)

A Messiah like that may be
A better bargain than you thought.

Scott L. Barton

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Second Sunday of Advent (A), December 4, 2016 - Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12

Edward Hicks: The Peaceable Kingdom (1826) Philadelphia Museum of Art

Isaiah 11:1-10

Time to Remember

A shoot shall come from Jesse's stump,
A branch from his roots sure will grow,
God's spirit of wisdom,
And right understanding,
The fear of the Lord shall he know.

The wolf shall then live with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie with the kid,
The calf and the lion,
The fatling together,
Shall all by a child be led.

These words from Isaiah all point
To one who would someday be born,
Whom we know and expect
With our houses bedecked,
When waiting will end Christmas morn.

And now is the time to recall
He favors the poor and the meek;
So that none be destroyed,
He our walls would avoid,
Let us Christ, show and tell, breathe and speak.

Scott L. Barton

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

+ + +

Full Communion

He's not very Christmassy,
this John the B.,
to people presuming that
they're guaranteed
to have the good life because
priv'leged they are;
But when the one born, who was
brought gifts of myrrh,
reveals a new twist on what
John thought would come,
the world can now know that all
judging succumbs
to he who now chooses to
make from the grain
the bread of his life, so we'll
all know love's reign.

Scott L. Barton

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The First Sunday of Advent (A), November 27, 2016 - Isaiah 2:1-5 and Matthew 24:36-44

Evgeniy Viktorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974):
Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares (1957),
 United Nations north garden area

These two poems are specifically addressed to preachers, although in the second poem, "Christian" could be substituted for "preacher."

Isaiah 2:1-5

No Sermon Necessary?

Oh, how can you improve upon this poem?
Isaiah is the master of the verse.
To read this text, delib'rately and bold,
The one up front who's preaching could do worse
Than looking out upon the people there
With hope that some day, all of us might hear
The One who calls all people as God's own,
All tribes and factions, with our pride and fear.
The reason that someday we'll beat those swords
Into the implements that would us feed,
Is that we'll know the love God has for all,
Including those of different breeds and creeds.
Reflecting on this hope and faith and dream,
O, preacher, end the reading with a grin;
Then close the book, look out at those you love,
And in the silence, let it all sink in.

Scott L. Barton

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say, 
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, 
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways 
and that we may walk in his paths.” 
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, 
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. 
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 

they shall beat their swords into plowshares, 
and their spears into pruning hooks; 
nation shall not lift up sword against nation, 
neither shall they learn war any more. 
O house of Jacob, 
come, let us walk 
in the light of the Lord.

+ + +

Matthew 24:36-44

Freed for Love

Oh, woe to the preacher who parses this text
To figure out how and when Jesus comes next;
For those of the "left behind" ilk are the folk
Who build their theology on such a joke
As worrying whether they all might be saved!
But Jesus calls "worry" a trip to the grave!
For back in verse three, when his friends sought to know
The timetable for the world's powers' overthrow,
He gave this long discourse so they might all see,
The one thing in life that's God's sure guarantee,
Is this day's your chance to see Christ in your deeds;
Leave end times to God - so for love you'll be freed!

Scott L. Barton

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Monday, November 14, 2016

Christ the King/Reign of Christ (C), November 20, 2016 - Luke 23:33-43


This poem can be sung as a hymn for this Sunday, Christ the King/Reign of Christ. My original idea for a tune was VESPER HYMN (Now On Land and Sea Descending).  But it also works with most any hymn with an D meter. I especially like it with GENEVA (Sovereign Lord of All Creation; Swiftly Pass the Clouds of Glory) because of the mid-way change from minor to major. It would also work with BEACH SPRING (God Whose Giving Knows No Ending), EBENEZER (Come, O Spirit; Once to Every One and Nation), HYFRYDOL (unless maybe you plan to sing Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus to this tune soon), HYMN TO JOY (Joyful Joyful, We Adore Thee), IN BABILONE (There's a Wideness in God's Mercy), NETTLETON (Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing), or WEISSE FLAGGEN (When the Morning Stars Together).

As the Church's Year Is Done

1. Save the Sundays after Christmas,
Christ the King's* the only one
With his name or title noted,
As the church's year is done.

Though it doesn't change him any,
Doesn't sudd'nly make him king;
Not by churchwide nomenclature
Do his praises now we sing.

2. This day is the culmination
Of the message we have heard,
Starting with the proclamation
Christ would come in flesh, from Word.

Yes, he came, revealed, was baptized,
Then the twelve to him he called,
Suffered, with his death approaching,
Demonstrated giving all.

3. After death, a resurrection!
-still proclaimed from week to week;
Shouts of joy, what acclamation,
Love o'ercoming death so bleak!

Then disciples, still unsure of
How the future would unfold,
Prodded by the Spirit outward,
Learned that grace for all be told.

4. Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Is the basis of our claim
Through our ordinary time, the
Life Christ shows is still our aim.

If we choose, if we can own him
As the one who in us reigns,
That's the day in which we crown him,
Lamb, who all our lives sustains.

*or Reign of Christ's 

Scott L. Barton

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Litany for November 9, 2016

 When every progress for every minority is in danger of crumbling,

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.

Though the cause of evil prosper, and upon the throne be wrong,

Then behind the dim unknown, yet 'tis truth alone is strong;

When it looks like nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,

By your endurance you will save your souls.

When Caesar on his big white horse is parading into the city,

Hosanna! Save now, you who ride on a donkey.
When we feel as if we have been turned back to dust,

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

When we are the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us, a laughingstock among the peoples,

Rise up, O Lord, come to our help. Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love.

When you are thrown into exile,

Seek the welfare of the city, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

(Martin Luther and Psalm 46, James Russell Lowell, Luke 21, Palm Sunday texts, Psalm 90, Psalm 44, Jeremiah 29.)

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Pentecost (C), November 13, 2016 - Luke 21:5-19 and Isaiah 65:17-25

Duccio di Buoninsegna:
Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles  (1308-11)

Whatever Happens/Happened on November 8

"By your endurance you will save your souls."
This is a message that has different goals
Than if one thinks some strong and outside force,
Some revolution, soon will change the course
Of history. Not anger, shouts or hate
Can ever bring God's kingdom, make us great;
No, just the opposite: Forsaking fear,
And giving hope - and blood - and sweat - and tears.
It's giving of yourself, with constancy
For neighbor, yes, whoever that might be -
All this is what it means to follow he
Who calmed the wind, with love, and stilled the sea.

Scott L. Barton

Luke 21:5-19

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

+ + +

Isaiah 65:17-25

Lion and Lamb

Every Advent my wife and I send
A lion and lamb Christmas card;
We carry on the tradition
of my Reformation professor,
Charlie Nielsen, and his wife, Eloïse;
It's nice to have a theme,
But it's not always easy.
Sometimes I almost despair
of finding the card with
The right amount of preposterousness!
I don't want it to be "religious;"
Surprise, even comedy, is the key.
For isn't this what we mean by
God's vision for the world?
Unexpected?  Brand new?
And then, as in answer to prayer,
A new lion and lamb appears,
A new take on an old theme, and
A witness, we hope,
To those who will receive it,
So that they might be glad,
And rejoice forever
In what God is creating
- and be a delight, too!

Scott L. Barton

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the Lord— and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent—its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (C), November 6, 2016 - Luke 20:27-38

If This Be Love

A person dies, someone you love.
Mother, father, sister, brother.
Then this headline, which today blared,
"Girl, 9, dies in bus accident."
Oh, dear God, who can bear such news?
How could any of us survive?
That any do, is miracle.
I weep to think of deaths I've known.
And yet. And yet. Perhaps it's true
That for our God, all are alive.
I know not what that means, except
Even when I'm long forgotten,
Just a tombstone name, in some book -
I'm alive, you're alive, and all
Who've ever lived, in him, somehow
Live, and move, and have our being.

Scott L. Barton

Another poem on  Luke 20:27-38 (see also Haggai 1:15b-2:9; plus Paul, Synoptics, John - you name it!)

The Heart of It
This really is the heart of it, isn't it?
They "neither marry nor are given in marriage."
Or try this:
"The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former."
"We will all be changed."
"They thought it was a ghost."
"Because I live, you also...."
Like a Sadducee,
I just can't wrap my head around any of this.
And maybe that's the point.
This God
...this word
...this news
...this love
Changes everything.
Most of all, my heart.
This really is the heart of it, isn't it?

Scott L. Barton

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.” Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, October 30, 2016 - Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Luke 19:1-10

Thanks to Carol Sumner, who took this picture
of Zion National Park's Watchman last week.
(For a couple of recent poems on strictly political matters, please page down or click on Bonus Poem(s) to the right.)

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

Keep Watch

On the plane,
I watch the man
Across the aisle
Reading the magazine
With at least one gun
Pictured per page.
Some of the headlines,
Mostly ads, read:

American exceptionalism
A smoother way to shoot
Clinton and Shumer are one election away from taking your guns
Stop any threat dead in its tracks

I worry about this kind of vigilance.
It purports to trust in oneself;
But if truth be told,
The trust is really
In all you can buy
To keep you safe -
Ever bigger, ever faster,
Ever smoother, ever prouder.

Look at them, says Habakkuk;
Some spirit is not right.
But wait for it. Wait for it.
Wait for the exception,
Trust the one who comes to you,
Live like no one will let you down,
Watch for grace for all
That'll knock your socks off.

Scott L. Barton

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, 
and you will not listen? 
Or cry to you “Violence!” 
and you will not save? 
Why do you make me see wrong-doing 
and look at trouble? 
Destruction and violence are before me; 
strife and contention arise. 
So the law becomes slack 
and justice never prevails. 
The wicked surround the righteous— 
therefore judgment comes forth perverted.

I will stand at my watchpost, 

and station myself on the rampart; 
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, 
and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 
Then the Lord answered me and said: 
Write the vision; 
make it plain on tablets, 
so that a runner may read it. 
For there is still a vision for the appointed time; 
it speaks of the end, and does not lie. 
If it seems to tarry, wait for it; 
it will surely come, it will not delay. 
Look at the proud! 
Their spirit is not right in them, 
but the righteous live by their faith.

+ + +

Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man

Zacchaeus was a wee little man:
We loved to sing that song!
With finger wagging, "You come down!"
We knew we all belonged
To Jesus, who, to us might come
Someday, though we were small!
These days, much taller, would he still
To my house make a call?
And if he did, would I be so
Astounded that he came,
I'd change my ways, perhaps give more?
And he would change my name?
Or is this scene all by itself
A parable of grace,
Since those who'd like to know this God -
No matter time or place -
Will find Christ even more inclined
To knock upon their door,
For he insists! Not just observed
Will he be anymore!
This God e'en now, across the years,
Would still with us consort,
For faith, you see, is not a climb,
Or some spectator sport;
To be a "child of Abraham,"
Means you have been restored
Not by your efforts, but by love,
Which is its own reward.

Scott L. Barton

[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Monday, October 17, 2016

Bonus Poem: Islamophobia, and Many Others

(Please page down or click to the right for poems for October 23 and before.)

Islamophobia, and Many Others

How quickly we can judge
A tribe, a faith, a race,
By actions of a few
Which we believe debase
The whole, whom we don't know!
What we don't know, we fear;
And yet, what's worse is those
Who fan the flames with sheer
And outright lies, and tie
Their own prestige to hate;
They're good at firing up
The crowd, and thus create
A toxic brew to drink,
Like war, where enemies
Must be destroyed, e'en though
It's peace we all would see
Within our hearts, so none
Would be afraid; and all
The better angels of
Our nature might enthrall.
To love sincerely means 
To risk, for right to stand,
And know your chance to make
A difference is at hand.

Scott L. Barton
(For Jim Wohlgemuth, warrior for peace)

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bonus Poem: The Enemy Within

(Please page down or click to the right for poems for October 23 and before!)

The Enemy Within

A Presidential candidate,
An embarrassment to mankind
(And I mean that literally),
A narcissistic psychopath,
A pacing megalomaniac -
Is that how they saw Cyrus,
King of the Persians and the Medes,
An instrument of God's cleansing
Of those called to love and to bless,
A big, belligerent blaster?
God save us! Call a spade a spade!
Turn now, and avert disaster!

Scott L. Barton

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost (C), October 23, 2016 - Joel 2:23-32 and Luke 18:9-14

Michelangelo Buonarroti: The Prophet Joel
1508-1512, Sistine Chapel

Joel 2:23-32

Lord of the Harvest

O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice,
The LORD has poured down for you, rain;
The wine vats and threshing floors all will be full,
And no one will be put to shame.
There soon will be plenty, and all satisfied,
The LORD still does wonderful things;
I'll say it again: no one need be ashamed,
The praises of heaven you'll sing!
Now grace comes to all - even slaves will receive! -
The women and men, young and old
Will see, after judgment, the spirit come strong;
Such harvest will surely unfold!

Scott L. Barton

O children of Zion, be glad 
and rejoice in the Lord your God; 
for he has given the early rain for your vindication, 
he has poured down for you abundant rain, 
the early and the later rain, as before. 
The threshing floors shall be full of grain, 
the vats shall overflow with wine and oil. 

I will repay you for the years 
that the swarming locust has eaten, 
the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, 
my great army, which I sent against you. 

You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, 
and praise the name of the Lord your God, 
who has dealt wondrously with you. 
And my people shall never again be put to shame. 
You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, 
and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other. 
And my people shall never again be put to shame.

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; 

your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, 
your old men shall dream dreams, 
and your young men shall see visions. 
Even on the male and female slaves, 
in those days, I will pour out my spirit. 

I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lordshall be saved; for in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.
+  +  +

Luke 18:9-14

Remedy for Chest-Thumping
It is surprising, is it not,
How righteous we can stay?
Shenanigans in Washington
Are just Exhibit A
Of how some folks perceive themselves
As better than the rest,
While calling out, "Full speed ahead!"
As if, alone, they're blessed
With knowing what is right and good!
But they are justified
- As we - when knowing all we have
The Lord our God provides!
This might change how we see ourselves,
And all the world, as well,
When it's no longer "me" or "us,"
Since faith in God propels
Our looking out, not in!  That is,
These days, God's mighty deeds
Will show, when taxers and those taxed
All know it's love we need.

Scott L. Barton

[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost (C), October 16, 2016 - Jeremiah 31:27-34 and Luke 18:1-8

John August Swanson: Celebration
Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.

What We Might All Know

In time to come, there'll be no blame,
One generation to the next;
To save one's pride, none will inflame,
Claim by another tribe they're vexed;
But all will know within their hearts,
A common humanness believe;
Such is the covenant for which God yearns,
That we perceive, conceive, receive.

Scott L. Barton

Jeremiah 31:27-34
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
+ + +

Better Than a Calm Façade

It's quite all right to bother God!
That's better than a calm façade,
Or resignation of your lot;
For Jesus says the one who's got
The gumption not to knuckle under
Exhibits real faith and wonder
That justice, always, God intends,
Although we may not comprehend
The schedule! Thus, the widow's might
Is in her cry the judge make right -
Which teaches us to fight despair
By voicing what becomes real prayer.

Scott L. Barton

Luke 18:1-8
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Bonus Poem: You Can Just Taste It

(Please page down to the previous post for the lectionary poems for October 9.)

You Can Just Taste It

I wait in a very long and slow-moving line at the Big E.
It's a free wine tasting, and I'm marveling 

at everyone's remarkable patience, when - 
finally getting close to the front -
A woman hands each person in line a tiny plastic cup.
I stare at the cup and ask myself, 

"Is this all there is? Is this what all these people are waiting for? Because it's free?"
And this sets me to marveling at Christians who, 

all across the world, can be just as patient,
When they wait for the same size cup, also freely given,
But one that turns out to be, not just some local red,
But the cup of salvation.

Scott L. Barton

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (C), October 9, 2016 - Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7 and Luke 17:11-19

In Its Welfare You Will Find Your Welfare

The headline says that "Evangelicals despair"*
And feel, with no one in their Presidential camp,
Their values, these days, really just don't stand a prayer,
Since attitudes about gay rights have been revamped.

Perhaps a word from Jeremiah now pertains
To those who feel in exile in their native land:
If they would seek the good of all where they remain,
Perhaps they'd grow in love that faith in Christ demands.

Scott L. Barton


These are the words of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the remaining elders among the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Vie de Jesus MAFA
Why Wait?

He could not wait to have the priests
Declare that he was well;
Besides, as a Samaritan,
The priests would never tell
Him he was clean - and then it dawned
On him that he could shout!
For why hold back? Why keep it in?
Perhaps, day in, day out,
He'll help us realize that life
That's whole, includes loud joy!

When we're surprised at every gift,
Then faith's the real McCoy!

Scott L. Barton

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (C), October 2, 2016 - 2 Timothy 1:1-14; also Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26 and Luke 17:5-10

Edmund Pettus Bridge, "Bloody Sunday," March 7, 1965

2 Timothy 1:1-14

'Til Every Foe Is Vanquished

God did not give us cowardice,
A timid spirit holding back;
Bystanding's not the mark
Of Christ, whose grace for all, attacks
The powers that would thwart
The love for which he gave his all;
He asks us that we follow him:
Can you stand up, be brave? Your call.

Scott L. Barton

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

Esther Epp, Western Tract Mission

Lamentations 1:1-6; 3:19-26 and Luke 17:5-10

"Increase Our Faith!" They Said

I had spoken at my uncle's memorial service,
Saying the things you might expect,
The kind of guy he was, etc.
I referred to an old oral letter
He'd sent to me on cassette tape which,
On the way back to my pew,
I handed to his only child, his daughter, my cousin.
"You will love it," I said.
And then I sat down,
Satisfied that perhaps in some way,
I had increased their faith
(In God, if not in me?)
Then we sang a hymn that I didn't know
(Long before its inclusion
In the Presbyterian hymnal).
But my brother, standing next to me,
Belted it out from memory.
His different theological route from mine
Had taken him to this place I did not know.
"Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with thee."
I can still hear and picture him there,
Even more so as he, himself, dead this past year,
Brings tears to my eyes;
And like to think I learned then,
As maybe the apostles learned,
If they heard, that day,
This new theology
This new analogy
This new hymnology,
Sung way back in Lamentations,
And later served up at table,
In life and in words (which we still play)
By a Master of such increased faithfulness
You can hardly believe it.

Scott L. Barton

How lonely sits the city that once was full of people!
How like a widow she has become,
she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces
has become a vassal.

She weeps bitterly in the night,
with tears on her cheeks;
among all her lovers
she has no one to comfort her;
all her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they have become her enemies.

Judah has gone into exile with suffering
and hard servitude;
she lives now among the nations,
and finds no resting place;
her pursuers have all overtaken her
in the midst of her distress.

The roads to Zion mourn,
for no one comes to the festivals;
all her gates are desolate,
her priests groan;
her young girls grieve,
and her lot is bitter.

Her foes have become the masters,
her enemies prosper,
because the LORD has made her suffer
for the multitude of her transgressions;
her children have gone away,
captives before the foe.

From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty.
Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture;
they fled without strength before the pursuer.


The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

+ + +

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"  The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'?  Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'?  Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"