Monday, February 27, 2017

Bonus Poem: Surprise Endings

We thought that La La Land had won,
But Moonlight's moment in the sun
Was yet to be! 
Which goes to prove that it behoves
You never to decree
With absolute finality
You know the score, or how things end.
Elections, Super Bowls and Oscars nights
Serve to portend the truth that 'though we might
Think sometimes everything is said and done,
The world has great capacity to stun.

Scott L. Barton

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The First Sunday in Lent (A), March 5, 2017 - Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 and Matthew 4:1-11


Marc Chagall: Adam and Eve
Musée du Message Biblique Marc-Chagall
Nice, France

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7

What's Really Original Here

The LORD God governs by the seat of his pants
In this passage, or so it seems.
He creates the man, and then
Has the idea to put him in the garden.

Why didn't he create him in the garden in the first place, and save a step?

He commands the man that he may eat of every tree.
Oh, wait, he thinks. Maybe not.
Scratch that idea of eating from the tree 
Of the knowledge of good and evil. 

So why did he start out with "every," anyway, so he had to backtrack?

God comes up with the brilliant punishment 
Of death, not just someday, but on that day,
The day when the man might eat from the tree
That's now forbidden.

What kind of God issues idle threats, anyway, unless he's just making it up?

The text doesn't absolve God from responsibility, either:
He's the one who made a crafty wild animal.
Plus (before the invention of Dr. Doolittle),
One who talks! And is understood!

Why create a talking, crafty animal in the first place? 

Apparently, God is protective of his place in the scheme of things.
At least (if the serpent knows the score)
God would prefer the man not be like him,
Which means, knowing good and evil.

Okay, the obvious, now: So why make that tree in the first place?

Now, before she has the knowledge of good and evil,
The woman sees that the fruit is good for food. 
And was a delight to the eyes,
And was to be desired to make one wise.

Does she have any say in the matter? Whence delight? And who is the subject of that last passive phrase - unless it's God?

Apparently, the man, not quite as quick-witted, didn't see the things the woman did.
He was with her, but maybe he was wondering
How all of a sudden he got to be this woman's husband,
Without benefit of clergy, and all.

And how could he be a husband (and she a wife?) if they didn't know a good thing when they saw it yet?

They eat the fruit, and their eyes are opened.
And all of a sudden they get the concept of nakedness!
And sewing! And metaphor!
(I mean, presumably, nobody had woven loincloth yet!)

There are way too many questions here.

Why do we have to do backflips to make sense of this tale? 
Why spoil it with something nowhere to be found in the text?
Why not call it original relationship?  Because, really. 
Isn't that what this new, astonishing God wants with you and me, a little give and take?

A little, well... love?

Scott L. Barton

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

Matthew 4:1-11

When the Spirit Drove Jesus to Have His Retreat

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

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

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." But he answered, "It is written,

'One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. '"

Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,

'He will command his angels concerning you,'
and 'On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'"

Jesus said to him, "Again it is written, 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, "All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! for it is written,

'Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'"

Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Transfiguration Sunday, February 26, 2017 - Matthew 21:1-9 (10-21). A hymn for worship.

Raphael: The Transfiguration
Crucified Lord Who Rose So We Might Live 
Scott L. Barton (2014)              John Bacchus Dykes (1861)

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
After six days, you took them up the mountainside,
There a new defining, in your face all shining,
You, our new Moses, ever here abide.

We have come before you, seeking to adore you,
In this sanctuary, our songs to you we raise,
Your word still astounds us, grace for all surrounds us,
Our love for you, and all, our greatest praise.

There is no delaying, for we hear you saying,
"Follow where I go,-and cure the sick and heal the lame;
Folk of every label, welcome to my table,
Fear not, by faith, my love to all proclaim."

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Now we go returning, out to the world you give;
Traveling together, through all kinds of weather,
Crucified Lord, who rose so we might live!

Scott L. Barton

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.

When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”

Bonus Poem for the kids for this Sunday, based on the Matthew text

An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,
Makes the whole world blind,
A better weapon you can use
Is always keep in mind
That you are still a child of God
No matter what your pain,
And so's the other person, too,
Although I can't explain
Just why that's true! But God loves more
Than you or I can guess,
And when we all can learn that fact,
Is when we'll all be blest.

Scott L. Barton

Print the picture on the front of little cards, with the poem on the back.  Put your name and/or the church's name at the end. Talk about how hard it is when someone hurts you not to want to hurt them back in the same way.  Read them the poem and finish by giving every child a card.

Have fun!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (A), February 19, 2017 - Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 and Matthew 5:38-48 (cf. also Leviticus 24:20)

Ten Commandments, illustrative
wood relief carving, Catholic Church
Paszyn, Poland

Come Again?

Oh, how so many seem to think

That Jesus taught an innovation,

That love for others as yourself

Was born after his incarnation;

But he, a Jew, knew well his faith,

And said anew just what the text does;

He simply spoke with grace and joy,

And put his money where his mouth was.

Scott L. Barton

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy. When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest.You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lordyour God.

You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; and you shall not lie to one another. And you shall not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God: I am the Lord. You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning. You shall not revile the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind; you shall fear your God: I am the Lord. You shall not render an unjust judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord. You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.

+  +  +

Matthew 5:38-48 (cf. also Leviticus 24:20)

Also, page up, or lick on the "Bonus poem for the kids" at the right for an idea for this Sunday.

Christian Evolution

Consider lex talionis,

That wonderful innovation

The Jews invented for us all.

It had been a life for an eye,

A clan for a life, and a tribe

For a clan - justice meant revenge;

But eye for eye was radical;

Life for life was retributive,

Not revenge, not, "We are god now."

Give thanks for Leviticus, then;

Give thanks for that step which allowed

Jesus to go one step further.

It's the progression of faith, see?

I guess evolution always

Takes a very long time to get

To where God wants us all to be.

Scott L. Barton
(with thanks to my good friend Ken Williams, who reminded me of the term lex taliones that Paul Hammer taught us over 40 years ago at Colgate Rochester Divinity School/Bexley Hall/Crozer Theological Seminary (now CRCDS).

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (A), February 12, 2017 - Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Matthew 5:21-37

Frederic Edwin Church:
Moses Viewing the Promised Land (1846)
Private collection

Deuteronomy 30:15-20

The River We Crossed

Perhaps by now we're too removed 
From when our ancestors improved
Their lives by coming to this land,
Since far too many now command
A blanket prohibition to
The people who don't look like you
Against their coming 'cross the sea -
Forgetting that the guarantee 
Of blessings is to keep in mind
God's people e'er have been defined
By their rememb'ring whence they came,
And still by love, God's love proclaim. 

Scott L. Barton

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.

+  +  +

Matthew 5:21-37

Like a Poem

Is this just an ideal time
He posits, where reason and rhyme
Will fin'lly rule the way we live?
Or do his words an image give
Of faith right now, where anger, lust,
And all the things that he discussed
- Which cause us woe - make us averse
To let our lives by them be cursed?
This "You have heard it said, but I..."
Reveals that he's the reason why
We, too, might live with trust and thanks,
And on unmetered love now bank.

Scott L. Barton

“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one."