Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Second Sunday of Easter (B), April 8, 2018 - Acts 4:32-35; John 20:19-31

Vie de Jesus MAFA: Jesus Appears to Thomas

Acts 4:32-35

Practicing Resurrection

Perhaps they thought they didn't have much time,
Which made the way they acted, so sublime;
The property they owned, they did not keep,
But, giving all, they made the have-nots weep
To see the real conviction they proclaimed
That Christ was risen, showing love untamed;
Thus, having no more need for self-protection,
They still show how to practice resurrection.

Scott L. Barton

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

John 20:19-31

It's Not God If You Think You Understand*

Perhaps you think there's something wrong with doubt,
And wonder if you might be less devout
Than others who on faith sound much more pure,
Reflecting by their words a love more sure.

But doubt in faith's no enemy of mine,
And Thomas has no less of love divine
Than anyone who thinks, and yet risks still
Believing that God's love our lives fulfill.

The Kenyan Muslims who protected friends
Are blessed; while those whose certainty descends
Unto the hell of Al Shabab, depraved,
Reveal a faith by which they are enslaved.

Likewise, it's clear religious freedom laws
When twisted to what seems a righteous cause
Devolve unto the wrong which just divides,
Confusing fervent love for God with pride.

Who knows why love forgives in Jesus' form,
Or bids the Risen One now be our norm;
It's not God if you think you understand,
The best of faith with doubt goes hand in hand.

Scott L. Barton 

[*Augustine: "Why wonder that you do not understand? For if you understand, it is not God."  Serm. 117, 5: PL 38, 673.]

Caravaggio: The Incredulity of St. Thomas (c. 1602)

Your Door's Too Light to Shut Out God

Young man –
Young woman –
Old man –
Old woman –
Middle-aged man –
Middle-aged woman –
Your door’s too light to shut out God.
You may think
You’re safe from trouble
And nothing can get in,
You may think
The door is barred
For fear of what has been,
You may think
That what you’ve done could
Never be forgiven,
Or most of all,
That love is gone,
Along with joyful living;
But when for all
That you’ve been through
You then expect the least,
The Lord of love
Will walk right in
And say just one word: Peace.

Scott L. Barton

(The beginning is a take-off on James Weldon Johnson’s “The Prodigal Son” from “God’s Trombones.”)

Why "Peace?"

Oh, why do you think that he said to them, “Peace,”
When they huddled together for fear the police
Would find them, and charge them with breaking the Law?
Well, they worried their running would stick in his craw!
And now he was back, he would give them what for!
But he knew they were scared to death; thus through the door,
This Jesus, whom not by cruel death could be changed,
Walked right in, since betrayal could not stop the range
God's grace would extend – which is what we all doubt!
So don’t limit this text, thinking Thomas it flouts;
It’s you, and it’s me who need Jesus’ kind word,
Which is why he then told them, their spirits to gird,
And follow his lead towards the whole human race,
And not doubt that e’en you can bear witness to grace.

Scott L. Barton 

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Resurrection of the Lord (B), April 1, 2018 - John 20:1-18, and Mark 16:1-8

Hi Qi: Do Not Hold On To Me

The Bottom Line

When Mary ran to tell the news he was not there,
And others' racing speeds by John were then compared,
One wonders why this hurry is so big a deal,
Unless the rush to know makes Easter less genteel!
They ran! They looked! And then went home, no doubt, upset
At one more insult, one more cause for deep regret.

But Mary stayed, perhaps she'd run, as well, and stopped
Outside the tomb, where running tears at gravesite dropped.
Remember how she'd cried with joy at Jesus' feet,
Because her life had changed from bitterness to sweet?
But now, her world and all she loved turned upside down,
She weeps in vain attempt to make her sorrows drown.

But then she looks. One wonders why. And suddenly, instead
Of empty tomb, sit angels where'd lain foot and head!
And then that gardener! And all ask why she weeps!
Good grief! Where have you been? Have you all been asleep?
Is what I'd ask; but Mary cooly wants to know
The whereabouts of his remains, who made her glow.

And at her spoken name, she turns, and says his, too;
And this, perhaps, is key to knowing him anew;
For not in running after, not in looking for
Him in the Gospels, or in fervent prayer galore;
But he will call your name, and you will finally see
That he still means it when he says to "Follow me."

Scott L. Barton

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet.They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

+  +  +

Mark 16:1-8

(Here's another bulletin cover (front and back) from my pastor from many years ago, 
Richard  L. Manzelmann, at New Hartford, New York Presbyterian Church.
I borrowed it to use in a couple of congregations over the years. 
It's also nice just copied on a copier in black, on a heavy bright yellow paper.)

Conjunction, Junction, What's Your Function?
"Ephobounto gar" it ends,
As strange an ending you'll find anywhere,
But take Mark at his word, who sends
Us back to Galilee to find him there;
I mean, the "for" connects us to
The start, because the women did not go;
They were afraid and told no one,
But Mark still has the Lord to us to show.
It's where he started out, Mark says,
Go back to the beginning, chapter one;
You'll find him where they found him then,
Now, this time, put yourself where he'd begun;
Pretend you're one of them who saw
Him by the Sea of Galilee pass by,
Pretend he calls - what do you do?
Does he, for you, move earth and sky?
Pretend in synagogue you hear him teach,
An honest preacher tells the truth!
Pretend he makes someone you love brand new,
Your hope is as it was in youth.
No resurrection scene does Mark present,
Instead, He'll meet you where you are,
Not at his tomb, but where you walk in life,
Not way back when, but here.
Not far.

Scott L. Barton

(In The Christian Century, April 4, 2006, Tom Long wrote about the awkward, "dangling" original ending of Mark, translated literally, “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for." That may very well have been intended to send us back to the beginning of the Gospel. The poem's title comes from the old PBS children's show, Schoolhouse Rock. Thanks to my daughter, Leah Barton, for remembering this phrase. 

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (B), March 25, 2018 - Philippians 2:5-11 and Mark 11:1-11

(About 50 years ago my pastor, Richard  L. Manzelmann,
 used this as a Palm Sunday bulletin cover at
New Hartford, New York Presbyterian Church, and I used it 
in three or four congregations over the years.)

Philippians 2:5-11

Real Fundamentalism

Paul calls each Christian have the mind
Of Jesus, who was disinclined
To use the status he possessed
To save himself from danger, lest
The raison d'ĂȘtre for his life
Would fade at once in face of strife.

Instead, he did not fade, but grew
In hearts and minds 'til he accrued
The name that is above all names.
And yet, if we would still proclaim
This Jesus, what he really needs,
Is followers where he still leads.

Scott L. Barton

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

+  +  +

Mark 11:1-11

Donkey Rustling

How odd that Mark spends so much time
On things that hardly seem sublime;
It almost seems ridiculous
To know such details infamous
As how he got that ne'er ridd'n colt!
Who cares? Yet maybe his revolt
Against the principalities
Includes his personality
Involved in ev'ry action where
His followers, his name declare.
The coffee hour, the ushers' list,
The anthem sung, the meals dished,
The lesson taught in Sunday School,
The need to pay the bill for fuel,
The book group some came to in Lent,
The youth on mission trip just sent,
The prelude, bulletins, and prayers,
The greeter there atop the stairs,
The new hymn that the pastor tried,
The news a faithful friend has died -
Such details of our life declare -
When done for him - that he is where,
By grace, we show that Jesus saves
By love, from cradle to the grave.

Scott L. Barton

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Fifth Sunday in Lent (B), March 18, 2018 - Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33

 (One of hundreds of scenes of glee when the young Beatles 
toured the U.S. in concert in the early 1960s.)

(Please page down for the poem on the text from John.)

Jeremiah 31:31-34

With a Love Like That (You Know You Should Be Glad)

I think we should not overlook
The name of Israel in this book
By Jeremiah, from the south.
It seems this Judah prophet's mouth
Speaks to a time when no one blames
Misfortune on whatever claims
You have to your belief or tribe;
The LORD, instead, will now inscribe
The law he gives upon all hearts -
Both north and south - and thus impart
The knowledge that all people need,
That love is all you need. Indeed!

Scott L. Barton

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

+  +  +

John 12:20-33

The Word on My Coffee Cup

The word that's on my coffee cup
On Southwest Air while flying up
Above, in letters large, says, "Lift,"
The smile that it evokes, a gift;
How clever, as it says that I
No coffee benefit up high
Can have until I raise my glass -
No matter what my flying class!

So, Jesus, till he's lifted high,
No benefit can me supply,
Because, by definition, he
Can only save when I'm set free
From fear of losing everything,
And love! - and not to self still cling.
It seems to me his kind of style
Still lifts me up - and makes me smile.

Scott L. Barton

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (B), March 11, 2018 - Ephesians 2:1-10; Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21

Keith Haring, Altarpiece: The Life of Christ, 1990. 
Bronze with white gold leaf patina.

(Please page down for the poem on the Numbers and John texts.)

Ephesians 2:1-10

Way of Life = Way to Life = Life

How strange the writer says I'm dead
When by each day's desires I'm fed,
And with the things that I desire
It's only death that I acquire;
Instead, the kindness that I need
Is what from God each day proceeds;
And if this is a thing I know,
Then life, not death, will my life show.

Scott L. Barton

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

+  +  +

Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21

Lifted Up

Oh, how bizarre! - I'm sure you cry -
To read this text, where lifted high
Above the ground is some old snake
That Moses made for Israel's sake!

First, why on earth did Yahweh choose
To send those snakes, when they abused
The generosity God showed
When freedom on them, God bestowed?

Who knows? And yet a remedy
For lack of faith is what we see
God gives, whenever we are blind
To how God longs to be defined.

It also seems a funny thing
The praise of Christ who's killed to sing,
Since dying seems less victory
Than something contradictory.

Why would it that this faithful man,
Condemned to death, be some game plan
For how the world might finally see
The love that sets all people free?

Who knows? And yet, it matters not
The things that up God's sleeve, God's got!
Love backed not down, and thus displayed
Extravagance God shows today.

When snake or Son are lifted high,
The thing to see in your mind's eye
Is God who always demonstrates
The saving grace which love creates.

Scott L. Barton

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
+  +  +

And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”