Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Day of Pentecost (C), June 4, 2017 - Acts 2:1-21

                                          4th Century B.C.E. Thracian urn on display
                                         Iskra Historical Museum, Kazanlak, Bulgaria

A Brief History of Bulgaria
Ode On A Thracian Urn

The Thracians with their works of gold,
And then Bulgarians of old,
The Byzantines of Empire East,
Then Bulgars once again increased,
Then people under Turkish "yoke"
(A word old hatred still evokes)
Revival that was long delayed,
Turks overthrown with Russian aid,
A culture trying to transpose
Until the Communists imposed
A system that would steal the hearts
Of each one's worth and diff'ring arts.

Oh, can a country grow in pride
When hist'ry o'er the years decries
First one group, then again, another,
Believing only blood makes brothers?
Oh, can God's Spirit work its power,
Not by religion, but by showers
Of truth and hope and understanding?
And can we all, our love expanding,
Perceive with empathy each child
Of God, who on the world still smiles?
Oh, let us put our racial pride
And fear, and wrongs, and guilt aside
And work like heav'n to make a world
Where flags of love are e'er unfurled.

Scott L. Barton

                                       In St. Mark's cathedral, Korčula, Croatia

Grace in Croatia

I understood nothing,
In St. Mark's Cathedral,
Korčula, Croatia.
Some two hundred had come,
Despite buckets of rain,
Five in the afternoon.
I'd call their hymns praise songs,
Repeated, known by heart,
Yet beautifully faithful.
Their songs of mystery -
And love - and sacrifice -
And, I think, gratitude,
Almost moved me to tears,
Everything understood,
Though no words known to me.
How could this be, given
My inability
To say anything back
About that which filled them?
I, too, was full of grace.

Scott L. Barton

Pentecost, Pope Francis, and the Lightness of Being

It used to be that when the Pope
Would speak, he didn't speak to me;
He's always been the voice of judgment,
And of high authority;
Plus, as a pastor, I had seen
The damage done unto his flock,
When people to our doors appeared,
Cast from their church right down the block;
But this Pope speaks a different line,
The Spirit has him in its grasp;
The lightness of his being shows
A man (like God?) in on the laugh
Of Christ, who doesn't spare the truth,
Yet always sees the world with grace.
All understand! And at his faith
And hope and love I am amazed.

Scott L. Barton

                      Image from St. Mark's & Putnoe Churches: www.thisischurch.com

Oh, What Would They Do?

A sound like the rush of a violent wind
Filled the whole house with all of them there;
These tongues, or this ruach, this fire, appeared,
Like an answer to all of their prayers;
Oh, what would they do, with their Lord up and gone,
Out of sight, vanished, gone, disappeared?
Thus, fire from heaven, like Sinai encore,
All their doubts of the kingdom then cleared:
The news of salvation is not some obscure
Or exclusive thing meant for a few;
All manner of folk, of all nations on earth
Now are given the love that makes new.

Scott L. Barton

How Odd

How odd/ of God/ to choose/ the Jews
I used to like to say;
It was a favorite axiom
I might say some Lord's Day
To help the congregation see
These texts are not obsessed
With moral goodness all around,
But rather, how God blessed
A motley crew of liars, cheats,
And folk like you and me!
Which is, of course, good news today,
For, though we don't agree
On points of doctrine, song or style,
The Spirit gladly speaks
So people hear within their hearts
(Despite our own techniques)
That blessings far and wide abound;
Such things still come from God!
So go proclaim the love you have,
Not like a drunk - but odd!

Scott L.  Barton

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Ascension of the Lord (A), May 25, 2017/The Seventh Sunday of Easter (A), May 28, 2017 - Luke 24:44-53 and Acts 1:6-14

                                         Vie de Jesus MAFA: The Ascension
Luke 24:44-53

From Stressing to Blessing

Luke's first book ends with the ascension;
Without much fanfare, his attention
Not focused high, is on the promise:
"He said that there would come upon us
The power on high that's from the Father 
That we might tell the news much farther
From here in town than we'd imagined!"
So thus, when what we now know, happened,
They had his words in their back pockets,
Until they'd come out from the closet
When they had dealt with all their stressing
By worshiping the God of blessings.

Scott L. Barton

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

+  +  +

Acts 1:6-14

(A page from J. S. Bach's Mass in B minor with the line, ascendit in coelum.)

Ascendit in Coelum

They must have thought that they had failed
When, strung up on the cross and nailed,
He died, with all he'd giv'n, undone;
The end of all their joy had come.

But then, they briefly knew him there!
In upper room and beach, despair
Dissolved! How could it be, I ask,
That Love returned, with death unmasked
As powerless his end to make?

I know not how, nor could they take
This joy for granted, for he soon
Rose out of sight, while they, marooned,
Stood open-mouthed at such a turn,
Hopes dashed again, until they yearned
For his return; Now, more than twelve,
This fam'ly with their fears dissolved,
Are gathered, back in upper room,
This birthplace of the church, this womb,
Where soon, in eating, prayer and hymn,
By Spirit, they'll be born again.

Scott L. Barton

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Sixth Sunday of Easter (A), May 21, 2017 - Acts 17:22-31 and John 14:15-21

                   François de Nomé: St. Paul Preaching to the Athenians (ca. 1620-1624), 
                                         Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Acts 17:22-31

Oh, What a Politician!

Oh, what a politician,
Is Paul among the Greeks!
He says they are religious,
Who e'en unknown gods seek;
And then with news he hits them:
The God who made all things
Lives not in what's made by us -
Our wealth, our fame, our bling -
But we, in fact (per poets
They knew) are God's offspring!
Which means the highest value
Of which we all can sing,
Is love, like of a parent,
Defines our life and death;
Thus, Jesus be our policy
With every daily breath.

Scott L. Barton

+  +  +

John 14:15-21

The link below is to a performance of Thomas Tallis' "If Ye Love Me," with John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers. 


If You Love Me

"If you love me,
keep my commandments,
And I will pray the Father,
And he will give you
another Comforter."

"You're not alone,
When you keep my words,
(He says that it's forever!)
You sure have it made,
Since the Spirit's with you."

"Because I live,
You will live also
(How many times I've said that!)
Father, Son, Spirit -
Enough love all around!"

Scott L. Barton

(The poem's meter is a bit unusual: 4/5/7/5/6.  Jesus' opening words pretty much determined it.  Maybe his words determining things is how it should be all the time for us!)

”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Fifth Sunday of Easter (A), May 14, 2017 - Acts 7:55-60 and John 14:1-14

                                         Rembrandt: The Stoning of Saint Stephen
                                            (1625, first signed painting, age 19) 
                                                 Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

Acts 7:55-60

Prelude to a Fall

Who knows if Saul, in seeing Stephen's faith so strange,
Was set to wond'ring if he simply was deranged,
Or if forgiveness was some quality divine
That in this Jesus had, in Stephen, life defined?
I think he wondered, as he pondered what to do,
If all his zeal was misplaced, which next construed
A twinge of doubt in what he'd been, 'long with remorse,
Which then portended being knocked right off his horse.

Scott L. Barton

But filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.

+  +  +

 John 14:1-14 
Way, Truth and Life

I am the way, and I am the truth,
I am the life by which you may live;
Let no one say that for God to be real,
One must utter God's name; then God will give.
"Is that what I said? Oh no! Read the text!
Right! It's my way, how I lived that's the key;
My goal is never to make folks perplexed,
But if you live my way, surely you'll see
The Father who lives in me, living in you!
You'll have all you need; all you ask will come through.

Scott L. Barton

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."