Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Transfiguration Sunday (B), February 11, 2018 - 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; 2 Kings 2:1-12 and Mark [8: 31-9:1] 9:2-9

Vie de Jesus Mafa: Transfiguration

(Please page down for the poem on the 2 Kings and Mark passages.)

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

A Church Unveiled

If we do not proclaim ourselves,
But Christ as Lord, and we, then, slaves
To those we might the good news tell -
That changes what we're called to crave.

No longer need we fear the worst -
An empty church, and shuttered doors -
Instead, our hunger and our thirst
Would be for those the world deplores.

Contagious joy - for all - would show
That Christ has touched our hearts and souls,
And Church would be where none outgrow
The God whose love our love extols.

Scott L. Barton 

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

+  +  +

2 Kings 2:1-12 and Mark [8: 31-9:1] 9:2-9

Nerving the Church

Elisha doesn't want this gig to end;
He can't imagine losing both his mentor and his friend;
The prophets keep on telling him he'll lose his master dear;
He'd stop such words he doesn't want to hear.

When Jesus told his friends what they would see,
And Peter took his Lord aside to say: "That cannot be!"
The Lord's response to his, "No way!" was, "Yes, that is the way;
"And Satan from my life would have you stray."

Elisha thought he'd need a guarantee,
A double share of ruah for success would be the key;
Elijah said he'd need to see his end, and spirit claim;
Elisha new Elijah then became.

When Peter thought the vision they could hold,
A voice to Peter, James and John just like the thunder rolled,
And they remembered what to them six days ago he'd said,
Which nerved their trust in One raised from the dead.

Scott L. Barton

(George Buttrick said that the Transfiguration nerved the early church.  It seems to me that these two parallel stories of disciples who don't want their master to leave them can still serve to nerve the church today to take on the mantle of the One whose giving knew - and knows - no bounds.  I include previous verses to the given Gospel text because I think they are critical to understanding the voice from the cloud.)

Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

+ + +

[Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “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, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”]

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Bonus Ditty on the Super Bowl

The O.T. Lectionary Text for February 4, 2018 is Isaiah 40:21-31

Will Massachusetts preachers dare
To read Isaiah 40, where,
Though young may fall exhausted, still,
The image is the LORD who will
Renew their strength like eagles, serves
To give encouragement, and nerves
The team from Philly, who will run,
Not faint, until the game is won?

Stay tuned, O church, come to your pews
While preachers parse Game 52!
Observe the role that they will play
To bring good news on such a day,
When o'er in Minneapolis,
That night, one team, without success,
Will see, despite much disbelief,
Magnificat's still God's motif. 

Scott L. Barton

Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (B), February 4, 2018 - Isaiah 40:21-31; Mark 1:29-39

Rembrandt: Healing of Peter's Mother-in-Law (1660)

 (Please page down for the poem on the Markan text.)

Isaiah 40:21-31

Love Letter

There is no way I might construe
A poem that somehow could compare
To this, as if I'd e'er accrue
The faith and wisdom here laid bare.

This poet asks rhetorically
Why we might think we are alone,
Asserting categorically
What we have often claimed we've known.

And yet, though known, we're prone to act
As if it were the other way,
Imag'ning God as some abstract
Celestial concept, or cliché.

Isaiah shows another route,
Proclaiming overwhelming might
From One whose giving, absolute,
E'en lowly poets still recite.

Scott L. Barton

Have you not known? Have you not heard? 
Has it not been told you from the beginning? 
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? 
It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, 
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; 
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, 
and spreads them like a tent to live in; 
who brings princes to naught, 
and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing. 

Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, 
scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, 
when he blows upon them, and they wither, 
and the tempest carries them off like stubble. 

To whom then will you compare me, 
or who is my equal? says the Holy One. 
Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? 
He who brings out their host and numbers them, 
calling them all by name; 
because he is great in strength, 
mighty in power, 
not one is missing.

Why do you say, O Jacob, 
and speak, O Israel, 
"My way is hidden from the LORD,
and my right is disregarded by my God”? 
Have you not known? Have you not heard? 
The LORD is the everlasting God, 
the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He does not faint or grow weary; 
his understanding is unsearchable. 
He gives power to the faint, 
and strengthens the powerless. 
Even youths will faint and be weary, 
and the young will fall exhausted; 
but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, 
they shall mount up with wings like eagles, 
they shall run and not be weary, 
they shall walk and not faint.

 +  +  +

Mark 1:29-39  

Up from the Sickbed and Right to the Stove!

Up from the sickbed and right to the stove!
Into her work, Peter's moth'r-in-law dove!
Funny how quickly to work did she fly,
Asking, it seems, neither wherefore nor why;
Then the whole city showed up, while they pressed
Jesus to cure all the sick and possessed;
Out to the desert he went then to pray;
Simon and friends, showing up in dismay,
Maybe helped Jesus decide to move on -
Get out of town, while he could, before dawn.
Work's never done, and all need the good news,
Grace to the next one will God always choose.

Scott L. Barton
[In a sermon at Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago, Joanna Adams once called Mark 1:31 one of the funniest verses in the Bible: "Speaking of get up and go!  Straight from the sickbed to the cookstove!"]

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now  Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (B), January 28, 2018 - 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Mark 1:21-28

Maurycy Gottlieb: Christ Preaching at Capernaum (1878-9)
National Museum, Warsaw

(Please page down for the poem on the Markan text.)

On Second Thought

Some prohibitions may not harm,
But if another, not so armed
With knowledge, sees you flout some law,
And thus, from what is good is drawn
Away, then, in effect, you've caused
The harm they think is done. Thus, pause,
And always act for them with love,
Forgetting self, like God above.

Scott L. Barton

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

+  +  +

(Please page down, or click here for the post of January 8, which has my hymn with these words, put to a well-known theme from a Mozart sonata.)

Jesus of Nazareth Went to Capernaum

Jesus of Naz’reth went to Capernaum, 
To the synagogue to teach,
People, astounded, at his wisdom
Saw his power all to reach.
Jesus of Naz’reth, as we pray,
Please teach us, reach us, we beseech you;
Visit your people with your power;
With your life, our lives renew.

Into the room there came a man
Whose ranting, crying stole the show;
What would Jesus tell the madman,
All the people sought to know.
Jesus of Naz’reth, are you able 
To cast out, blast out demons today?
Your love saves us in each hour;
Come to us without delay!

Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit
While the people were amazed;
“He commands, and they obey him!”
Thus his name to all was praised.
Jesus of Naz’reth, we are yours,
We follow and hallow your will for peace;
You have called us to your purpose,
So your love may here increase.

God has called us to be faithful
In an age of fear and strife;
War and greed are now our demons,
But in Christ we have new life;
Jesus of Naz’reth, we your people
Now go, to show your gift of grace;
Give us courage you to follow,
That your church may all embrace!

Scott L. Barton

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Third Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (B), January 21, 2018 - 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; and Jonah 3:1-5, [6-9], 10 + Mark 1:14-20

Duccio di Buoninsegna (d. 1319)
The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew (1308/1311)
National Gallery of Art
(Please page down for the poem on the Jonah and Mark texts.)

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

What If?

What if we don't have
All the time in the world
To welcome a stranger
To touch a beggar
To say "I love you"
To act kindly 
Before kindness is given,
To let loose the better angels
Of our nature?

We don't?

Scott L. Barton

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

+  +  +

Jonah 3:1-5, [6-9], 10 + Mark 1:14-20

The Shortest Sermon in the Book

The shortest sermon in the Book,
Five Hebrew words is all it took
To turn huge Nineveh around;
We know its size, for on the ground
A three-day's walk is sixty miles!
And thus the author makes us smile
To see what little Jonah said
To turn the whole place on its head.

With Jesus, "Son," "Beloved" named,
In Galilee, he then proclaimed
Good news; and with a scant nine words,
In Simon and in Andrew stirred
A calling deep - and so profound,
They left their nets without a sound;
Next, James and John could not resist
In heaven's cause then to enlist.

The Faithful One who ever seeks
Will come to those who hear, and speak.
Apparently, the sermon's length
Cannot predict the preacher's strength;
The anecdotes and wisdom deep,
From files and web that preachers reap,
Can hardly substitute for when
God would our lives begin again.

Scott L. Barton

[Note: Here are the Hebrew and Greek words in Jonah 3:4 and Mark 1:17 spoken by Jonah and Jesus:

עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם, וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת

Δεῦτε  ὀπίσω  μου,  καὶ  ποιήσω  ὑμᾶς  γενέσθαι  ἁλιεῖς  ἀνθρώπων]

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

[When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’]

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Hymn for January 28, 2018, based on Mark 1:21-28

I wrote Jesus of Nazareth Went to Capernaum for the Mark 1:21-28 text in 2006, which was also the 250th anniversary year of the birth of Mozart. The tune is the familiar theme from Piano Sonata no. 11 in A major, K 331. Dr. Arthur Frackenpohl, emeritus professor of music at the Crane School of Music, S.U.N.Y. Potsdam, arranged the tune and had it engraved. 

You are free to print the hymn for congregational use. Click on the image, then right click on the next image to save to your desktop for printing. It's been sung in Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, Northern New York, Washington D.C., and perhaps elsewhere; please let me know if you use it. I will then let Dr. Frackenpohl know as well.

Grace, peace and good singing!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Second Sunday after the Epiphany/in Ordinary Time (B), January 14, 2018 - Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

Marc Chagall:
Le jeune Samuel, 

serviteur du sacrificateur 

Eli et couchant dans la chambre 

de son maître, s'entend appeler par Dieu 

 (Be sure to page down for the second poem on the Samuel and John texts.)

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18


Before genetics, I wonder: How did the Psalmist know
About that knitting of our DNA in utero?
Before geology, how did this ancient, faithful seer
Know we are literally dust from earth, to God endeared?
The writer says we're fearfully and wonderfully made,
The Maker's thoughts so vast there is no way they might be weighed,
And though they number more than all the grains of all the sand,
It's so astonishing I'm with this LORD still at the end.

Scott L. Barton

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, 
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, 
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, 
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; 
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; 
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, 
when I was being made in secret, 
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. 
In your book were written 
all the days that were formed for me, 
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! 
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand; 
I come to the end—I am still with you.

+  +  +

1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

Means of Grace

There's nothing like telling the truth!
So Samuel and Nathanael learned,
They told what they heard,
The meaning, unslurred,
And another truth to them returned.

In Samuel's case, somehow, he knew,
From the voice that kept calling that night,
What old Eli should know -
Though the news was his woe,
And though bad news is rarely polite.

Nathanael had heard, nothing good
From backwater Naz'reth could come,
So he challenged Phil's cry
The Messiah was nigh -
To the latest craze he'd not succumb!

Thus, speaking what they thought down deep,
Despite worry what others might say,
With their clear lack of guile,
Sure the Maker then smiled,
And astonishing things then displayed.

Scott L. Barton

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

+  +  +

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”