Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bonus Poem: Hymn in the wake of Houston's Hurricane Harvey

We Gather Together (Southeast Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, 2017)
 Scott L. Barton, 2017                Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck, 1626

We gather together to ask the Lord's blessing
On those who have hastened, God's will to make known,
Who rescued the stranger from rising water's danger,
Sing praises to the Lord, when such kindness is shown.

Beside us, to guide us, our God with us joining,
When neighbors, and shelters were found high and dry;
The waters all rising, the saints mobilizing,
Revealing by our lives that our Lord is still nigh.

We all do extol you, and pray for your comfort
On all who have lost homes, or loved ones so dear;
May thy congregation renew dedication
So love for all our neighbors will make your way clear.

Now send us, your people, to be the disciples
Of Christ who has calmed both the wind and the waves;
By water we enter, each day we remember
That you are by our side, 'till the end of our days.

The hymn borrows phrases from the 17th century folk hymn written during Holland’s struggle for independence. It is dedicated to and inspired by the Kingwood, Texas Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and their members, and Dr. Patel of F.E.M.A. Permission given to use freely.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), September 3, 2017 - Matthew 16:21-28 and Exodus 3:1-15

  Moses and the Burning Bush, part of a fresco in the Dura-Europas synagogue, in present-day Syria, discovered in 1932,  the last phase of construction dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 C.E. Photo courtesy of Art in the Christian Tradition, Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Matthew 16:21-28

Special Agents

Sometimes it almost seems as if 
Another person pushes him
To go where he has not yet gone,
Such as the Canaanite, who showed
That she was not some dog, when with
Her grace and wit she took him on;
And now, with Peter's push against 
His telling them about his fate,
He pushes even harder back to say
Not only he, but even those
Who follow him should be prepared
Their cross to take - it's now their way. 

The heroes of this holy book
Are never fixed, are never still;
They bend, they move, and even Jesus
Bends to do his Father's will.

Scott L. Barton

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

+  +  +

Exodus 3:1-15

When God Notices

So Moses, just a shepherd in the wilderness,
Whose job, to watch for sheep that might be in distress,
Observes an unconsumed, yet burning bush one day,
And does not think it better that he stay away!
Instead, he turns aside to see this bush in flames,
And from the bush, the LORD twice calls out Moses' name
Upon the LORD's observing that this Moses looked!
How strange that Moses does not think his goose is cooked,
But like his forebears, Abraham and Isaac, too,
And Jacob (even Esau!) says words like, "I do."

This Here I am's a sign of danger up ahead,
As if, through thick and thin, the speaker then is wed
To One whose promise not a bed of roses gives,
But rather, presence, if the speaker dares to live
As if this LORD rests not, until oppression ends;
Perhaps, this means, you'll be the one this see-er sends;
He calls himself, to Moses, I AM WHO I AM,
And adds the name, the LORD, the God of Abraham,
The God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, too.
And holiness is more than taking off your shoes.

Scott L. Barton

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of 'the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.” But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“ God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 27, 2017 - Matthew 16:13-20 and Exodus 1:8 - 2:10

Shiphrah, Puah, Jocheved, Miriam, Pharoah's Daughter, and the infant Moses. 
Painting in Dura-Europas synagogue, in present-day Syria, discovered in 1932, the last phase of construction dated by an Aramaic inscription to 244 CE. Photo courtesy of Art in the Christian Tradition, Vanderbilt Divinity Library.

Matthew 16:13-20

"Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah."

Perhaps he thought a movement, underground,
Would be more fitting for his church
Than something popular, and much renowned;
Who knows? The Lord, I guess. But search
The Scriptures and you'll see it's hard to find
Cathedrals, or a meetinghouse,
Or power, or wealth; for what this Peter binds,
Is us to Christ, despite our doubts
Faced every day that he alone can save;
We're free to follow him - or loosed! -
In church or out; but in, are people brave,
Because from love they're ne'er seduced.

Scott L. Barton
(It may well be that the terms "bind" and "loose" are rabbinic for forbidding and permitting. But here I see the former as forbidding our separation from God, and the latter as permitting us to follow in the footsteps of the Lord of all.)

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is? And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

+  +  +

Exodus 1:8 - 2:10

Five Women's Disobedience

The civil disobedience
Of women isn't new,
Nor did it stop with just one case
Where midwives helped push through
The life that Yahweh had in mind;
Oh, no! This kind of birth,
Meant not for just a few back then
Is all about the worth
Of all - despite some despot's claim
That he could cleanse a race
Right off the map! His daughter even
Risks her own disgrace,
While Shiphrah and Puah, and Moses'
Mother and sister, too,
By their outwitting, show this LORD
Will never be subdued.

Scott L. Barton
(somewhat modified from its original publication for 8/24/14)

Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him, “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Bonus Poem: Hymn, "Oh, Charlottesville!"

Oh, Charlottesville!
A hymn that can be sung to the tune "Materna" by Samuel A. Ward

Oh, Charlottesville! A nation grieves
To see men so deceived
By claims of white supremacy,
And, violence we see
Resulting in the murder of
One who was surely loved;
And so we also stand, oh, Charlottesville, 
For you, with God above.

Oh, Charlottesville, your pride in those
Who stand for truth is great;
Who know the image of our God
In each one conquers hate;
Hold high the flag of liberty
For all in this great land;
May every soul, by love controlled,
For everyone now stand.

Oh, Charlottesville, for you we pray,
And for our nation, dear;
That soon the love of neighbor reigns
To wipe away our tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

Scott L. Barton
Written 8/12/17, on the anniversary of the birth of Katharine Lee Bates, author of "America the Beautiful," in 1859

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 20, 2017 - Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28 and Genesis 45:1-15

 Jean Colombe: The Canaanite Woman, in the French Gothic manuscript, Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, completed 1485–1489; Musée Condé, Chantilly, France.

It's the Canaanite Woman Who Gives Me Delight

Oh, to think that he learned it from some Canaanite

When he knew it quite well, but he wasn't quite right;

When he argued how food couldn't make you defiled,

Which in hearing reports, made the Pharisees riled,

Since to toss out religion, tradition and rules

Can produce people fearful, and fretful, and fools!

But the prophets have always decried when a rite 

Has, in hurting the poor, turned creative thought, trite;

Jesus, too, observed how the establishment fails

To point out where society's "goodness" oft ails;

But he found himself mouthing traditional aims

That did nothing the love of his God to proclaim:

Thus, the Canaanite mom played her prophetic role,

Reaching back to Hosea and Amos and Joel;

But the thing about Jesus is, he paid her heed -

Helping those who now follow him, follow his lead!

Scott L. Barton

Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

+  +  +

Genesis 45:1-15

Rembrandt: Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers (c. 1640-1642), Musée du Louvre

"And after this his brothers talked with him."

I wonder what it was they talked about

When Joseph finally told them who he was?

Perhaps, "How's Dinah? How's she holding up?"

Or, "How's your mother? ...Yours? ...And yours?" because

We're led to think he cared about such things;

We can guess, "Don't be angry with yourselves"

Reveals he knew his family well enough

To see that deep within these brothers twelve

Was worry over whom Dad loved the best!

He later* tells them not to quarrel on the way. 

They talked. They left. The promise did not die;

And talk is not as cheap as people say.
                                                                        *(vs. 24)
Scott L. Barton

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A), August 13, 2017 - Matthew 14:22-33 and Genesis 37:1-28 [5-11 officially not included]

Tanner, Henry Ossawa: Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water (ca 1907)
                                                      Des Moines Art Center
Matthew 14:22-33 

Just a Bit

He makes them go into the boat
And while he prays, to go ahead;
He tells them not to be afraid -
Unlike a ghost, he isn't dead;
To Peter he commands he come
To him atop the batt'ring waves;
He notes that Peter has some faith,
And some is all it takes to save;
But some was not enough for Pete,
Who thought that he could have it all.
If that's your goal, then you're all wet,
A bit of trust avoids a fall.

Scott L. Barton

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

                     Ferenczy, Károly, Joseph Sold into Slavery by his Brothers (1900), 
                                                Hungarian National Gallery

Genesis 37:1-28

Another "Here I Am!"

Once again you have to wonder
If a patriarch believes -
For Jacob knows the boys can't stand
This Joseph with long sleeves;
It's not as if the father is
Oblivious to the threat;
He knows how much the dreamer is
Despised by them - And yet
He still sends out his pride and joy
(Another lamb to slaughter);
He knows the opportunity
Will make their mouths all water!
I think deep down he wonders: "Is
This promise true? Or tale?"
Is this a challenge to the LORD
To see if it will fail?
Perhaps his father, Isaac, once
Had told him 'bout that ram,
Then, just like Grandpa, Joseph tells
His father, "Here I am!"
It takes all kinds to grow this faith,
The doubters and the brave,
The truth is, Yahweh works through both
To show the love that saves.

Scott L. Barton

[Please see also the poem for July 2 about the almost-sacrifice of Isaac.]

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

[Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.]

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’“ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.