Saturday, January 28, 2017

Bonus Poem: The Newer Colossus, 21st Century

The Newer Colossus, 21st Century
(with thanks and apologies to Emma Lazarus, whose famous poem follows this)

Not like the giants of colonial fame
Who wrote a Constitution for this land;
Here at our airports and our ports now stands
A lightweight man who torches truth, whose flames
Of lies and rancor darken all, whose name,
Grabber of Women. From his shadow-hand
Pens fear to all; his cold blue eyes command
The minds of Congress who our laws once framed.

"Keep, ragged lands, your suff'ring hoards!" cries he
With sneering lips. "Give us no tired, nor poor,
No huddled masses who would here be free,
No war-torn refuse welcomed at these shores.
Send back the homeless, tempest-tost from me,
I lift my hand to shut the golden door!"

Scott L. Barton

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (A), February 5, 2017 - Matthew 5:13-20 and Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)

Matthew 5:13-20

Alternate Fact

Jesus used an alternate fact
Because they knew: Salt cannot lack
For taste, no matter what they say;
Nor can a city on a hill
Be hid, no matter what you will;
Boxed up, a new lamp doesn't stay,
But everyone will plug it in
For light - there is no other spin;
Such facts stood then, and stand today. 

And you are like that lamp and salt,
Existing so you might exalt
The one whose love has made you so;
This fact no one can take away,
And thus, the rules of love will stay!
God's people from them shall not go,
And need each day to demonstrate
That neighbor-caring cannot wait,
In towns and cities, high or low. 

Scott L. Barton

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

+  +  +

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12)

Here I Am! 

Have you ever noticed, "Here I am,"
That great response to the great "I am?"
So many say it throughout the text,
But then, Easy Street is never next!
Abraham says it first to the LORD,
And then, to Isaac, while holding a sword;
And then a third time back to his God,
Each time portends a challenge so odd
You worry for the one who spoke it,
Since what those words all seem to transmit
Is something so scary up ahead
It's like a cue, filling you with dread;
For Esau, Jacob, and Joseph, too;
And then again, when Israel, who
Heard words that he should be not afraid
Feared, by sons, again he'd be betrayed!
Moses says it to that burning bush,
Then, Samuel, when, from sleeping, is pushed
To go to old Eli, speaks times five
These words; which means he could be deprived
Of life and limb, since answ'ring that call
Some day means he'll stand up to Saul!
The Psalmist, too, then risks offending
Those who would mock his faith unending;
And finally, Jeremiah risks it;
We hold our breaths, 'til he's acquitted.

But guess what? The LORD says such words, too!
In Isaiah, these same words construe
The risk God takes not to be swayed by
Our words, unless it's love we live by.

So when it comes
to love, I guess,
There's no such thing
as no duress.

Scott L. Barton
(The references above are to Gen. 22:1, 7 and 11;  27:1 and 18; 31:11; 37:13; 46:2; Exod. 3:4; 1 Sam. 3:4, 5, 6, 8 and 16; Psalm 40:7; Jer. 26:14; and Isa. 65:1, as well as our text, 58:9)

Shout out, do not hold back!
Lift up your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their rebellion,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet day after day they seek me
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness
and did not forsake the ordinance of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments,
they delight to draw near to God.
"Why do we fast, but you do not see?
Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?"
Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day,
and oppress all your workers.
Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to strike with a wicked fist.
Such fasting as you do today
will not make your voice heard on high.
Is such the fast that I choose,
a day to humble oneself?
Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush,
and to lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Will you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

If you remove the yoke from among you, 
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 
if you offer your food to the hungry 
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, 
then your light shall rise in the darkness 
and your gloom be like the noonday. 
The Lord will guide you continually, 
and satisfy your needs in parched places, 
and make your bones strong; 
and you shall be like a watered garden, 
like a spring of water, 
whose waters never fail. 
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; 
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; 
you shall be called the repairer of the breach, 

the restorer of streets to live in.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary time (A), January 29, 2017 - Micah 6:1-8; also Matthew 5:1-12, with a reference to 1 Corinthians 1:18-21

Symeon Shimin: Contemporary Justice and Child
Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C. (1940)

Micah 6:1-8

The Controversy of the LORD

"The controversy of the LORD"
Is written by the prophet to restore
The right relationship between
A people who believe, and God not seen.

He argues, he contends; his "rib"*
(In Hebrew) means much more than he's just peeved,
Or that his nose is out of joint;
He brings a lawsuit now to make a point.

That point is this: There is no God
That you can claim unless you think it's odd
That you have gotten where you are
Apart from being such a shining star.

The word, my friends, says Micah, still,
Is gratitude that is unproved until
The kindness, love and justice shown
To you, from you to others will be known.

Scott L. Barton

* רִיב  complaint, suit, contention

Hear what the Lord says:
Rise, plead your case before the mountains,
and let the hills hear your voice.
Hear, you mountains, the controversy of the Lord,
and you enduring foundations of the earth;
for the Lord has a controversy with his people,
and he will contend with Israel.

"O my people, what have I done to you?
In what have I wearied you? Answer me!
For I brought you up from the land of Egypt,
and redeemed you from the house of slavery;
and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
O my people, remember now what King Balak of Moab devised,
what Balaam son of Beor answered him,
and what happened from Shittim to Gilgal,
that you may know the saving acts of the Lord.”

“With what shall I come before the Lord,
and bow myself before God on high?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousands of rivers of oil?
Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

+  +  +

First Congregational Church
Hadley, Massachusetts

Matthew 5:1-12, with a reference to 1 Corinthians 1:18-21

Blessed Are the Upside Down

"Blessed are the upside down,"
So he seems to say; But -
Who on earth is glad to mourn?
What blessing is conveyed?
Likewise, poor in spirit - Who
Is happy to be there?
Meek folks aren't on Forbes's list,
Such combination's rare;
No good deed goes unpunished,
The cynic wryly notes;
But kingdom view is different!
- And henceforth, faith denotes
Not wisdom for a sampler,
To hang upon the wall,
But vision upside down is -
God's vision, above all!
The good news is God sees things
To which we're mostly blind,
Unless we look with Jesus,
His heart, and soul and mind;
Things that are not, will yet be,
And God counts no one out;
Each one belongs to God, and,
Thus, blessed are you! - No doubt!

Scott L. Barton
(The opening line is from a sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor, published in Gospel Medicine.)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bonus Poem: The Narcissist in Chief 

The Narcissist in Chief

The Narcissist in Chief
Is blinded by belief
That he is blessed by God!
How odd
So many still are conned,
While with his magic wand
They let him suck their brains
Right from their head! They're fed
By pablum that would make
Messiah in his grave
Turn over!
- if he did not save
By being neither there,
Nor where this guy
Who's now sworn in pretends
(While people scrape and bend)
To make the nation great!
But greatness for the state,
Or you, or me, e'er comes
When we, refraining from
Our favor,
Will search instead for what
Is always good for neighbor.

Scott L. Barton

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Third Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (A), January 22, 2017 - Isaiah 9:1-4 and Matthew 4:12-23

Christ Calling the First Disciples:
Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, 
San Pedro Bautista, Candelaria,

Isaiah 9:1-4

Inaugurating Hope

When gloom spreads wide upon the land,
And darkness from a firebrand
Spews forth in ways unthinkable,
Each speech and tweeted syllable
Anathema to who you are,
Hear this: No help comes from afar,
But from the news no news feed brings,
Which peasants, workers, queens and kings
Alike have known from age to age:
The Lord of light will e'er upstage
Pretenders to the throne of grace,
So all might see, and all embrace
A world where light for all might shine,
And where God's people still align 
Themselves with those called "least of these,"
Thus multiplying love that frees.

Scott L. Barton 

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness 
have seen a great light; 
those who lived in a land of deep darkness— 
on them light has shined. 
You have multiplied the nation, 
you have increased its joy; 
they rejoice before you 
as with joy at the harvest, 
as people exult when dividing plunder. 
For the yoke of their burden, 
and the bar across their shoulders, 
the rod of their oppressor, 
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

+  +  +

Matthew 4:12-23

Waste Not, Want Not

Two brothers picked, and then, two more,
And when those pairs both come ashore
It's almost like, in these first calls,
He wastes not, wants not, by this haul,
Where with economy of words,
He's quickly gathered up one third
The crew! Who knew he's in a rush?
But with conviction, now, he's flush,
For when he sees John's likely fate,
It's time to fish, not just cut bait!
He doesn't stop to analyze,
(Or these guys' qualities apprise)
He simply calls; they simply go;
And not just there, or long ago,
But even now he calls all kinds:
His love is now for hearts and minds.

Scott L. Barton

Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Second Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (A), January 15, 2017 - Isaiah 49:1-7 and John 1:29-42

John the Baptist Identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God

Isaiah 49:1-17

Proof Text

This text is proof you cannot separate 
First person singular from plural - 
At least not when it comes to faith,
Where one's salvation is no cure-all;
Isaiah segues back and forth,
The "me" once named and called, the nation,
But noting that he's called, as well,
Proclaims both born God's good creation.
The nation and the prophet, both,
Were called by God to be a blessing,
Through thick and thin, though down and out,
Our job's God's love for all professing.

Scott L. Barton

Listen to me, O coastlands, 
pay attention, you peoples from far away! 
The Lord called me before I was born, 
while I was in my mother’s womb he named me. 
He made my mouth like a sharp sword, y
in the shadow of his hand he hid me; 
he made me a polished arrow, 
in his quiver he hid me away. 
And he said to me, “You are my servant, 
Israel, in whom I will be glorified.” 
But I said, “I have labored in vain, 
I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity; 
yet surely my cause is with the Lord, 
and my reward with my God.” 

And now the Lord says, 
who formed me in the womb to be his servant, 
to bring Jacob back to him, 
and that Israel might be gathered to him, 
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, 
and my God has become my strength— 
he says, 
"It is too light a thing that you should be my servant 
to raise up the tribes of Jacob 
and to restore the survivors of Israel; 
I will give you as a light to the nations, 
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord, 
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, 
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, 
the slave of rulers, 
"Kings shall see and stand up, 
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, 
because of the Lord, who is faithful, 
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

+  +  +

John 1:29-42

What's In a Name?

This is another text brimming with names,
"Here is the Lamb of God," the Baptist claims;
Then it's not long until "Lamb," is ,"the Son!"
Thinking of these, I then wonder, "Which one?"
Lamb of God? Son of God? Which will it be?
Maybe there is a progression to see?
But, two disciples of John start with this -
"Rabbi!" they say (although not with a kiss!)
Then it's not long 'til "Messiah" he's called!
Don't get attached to one name above all,
John (the Evangelist) here seems to say;
Jesus is more than just one sobriquet -
Son of God, Rabbi, Messiah or Lamb,
Jesus is surely, "I am who I am!"
You and I, too, aren't just stuck in one place,
"Simon" can quickly be "Cephas," by grace;
Maybe it just all depends where you are -
What you are called - when, what matters, by far:
You are inscribed on the walls of God's heart,
Brimming with love, which for you, won't depart.

Scott L. Barton

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).