Monday, September 17, 2018

The Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), October 14, 2018 - Hebrews 4:12-16 and Mark 10:17-31

Hebrews 4:12-16 

Hold Fast (A Lesson for the Pastor)

One cannot find a better line
Before the church confession time:
“Since, then, we have a great high priest...”
[And read to] “ in time of need.”

Fear not to use the scriptures more,
Not just in “lessons;” but restore
The sense, that more than that day’s crowd,
We worship with a witness cloud.

Your creativity that day
Cannot compare to the array
Of ways, time-tested, that express
How words, so old, still richly bless.

Remember that the gathering
Needs less pastoral blathering,
And more the church’s history
For bringing folk to Mystery.

And if this sounds curmudgeony,
Since I’m retired and fancy-free,
Perhaps I wish I could do o’er
The times I fear I must have bored.

Scott L. Barton

Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

+  +  +

Mark 10:17-31

Present Tense, or Eternal Now

The man ran up, and then knelt down
before the Lord could next leave town;
He asked with some anxiety,
while demonstrating piety,
just what he had to do to get
the big brass ring, through legal writ.
How would the LORD grant such a thing
to this child, so aspiring?
To which the son, who knew the ways
His father worked, then next amazed
the man, who walked away in grief
since offered grace gave no relief.

Why grace, you ask, since such a thing
proposed by Jesus seemed to sting?
Just this: That we might realize
eternal life is not some prize
which Jesus by and by suggests
should be his followers' big quest.
The more you have, more you perceive
you have to do, and not receive.
Not camel nor the rich go through,
but love is what threads through to you;
Thus, be not tense, or worry how,
but trust, and live eternally, now.

Scott L. Barton 

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions. 

Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

A Picture I Can't See
(A poem inspired by a conversation with the Rev. Sarah Buteux, as we were discussing, after a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in 2015, the idea espoused by some in Roseburg, Oregon, that more people need to carry concealed weapons.)

I do not think they understand
Propensities the good guys have
To carry evil in our hearts
So sometimes, even we can't save.
If good guys carried guns, they say,
The bad guys couldn't kill as much;
But don't we think we all are good?
And sometimes, can't we all be touched
By what could crawl up from the depths
And do us in - and others, too?
No one is good, but God alone,
Said Jesus then, to me, to you.

Or put it this way: if the good
Alone be armed, then that leaves One;
The One who is all good in love
Who'd be the One to hold the gun!
Is that what God is all about?
Would this God kill for you or me?
Pull out his gun from cloak, concealed...

This is a picture I can't see.

Instead of taking life into
God's hands, God goes and lays down laws
Whose purpose is to help us through,
When we, from what is right, withdraw;
A country's laws, as well, seek to
Prevent the harm some might commit
(Including us, none "Good!") that thus
Society and lives not split.

Meanwhile, God goes and lays down life,
A giving that we can't control,
So we might follow in his way,
And value each and every soul.

Scott L. Barton
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone...."

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), October 7, 2018 - Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 and Mark 10:2-16

 Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12



I like how the author remarks he remembers
That somebody, somewhere, said humans are rendered
Just lower than angels, since God is so mindful
Of those whom God cares for - a fact that’s delightful!

I think there’s a argument here for the present,
That Psalm 8, to memorize, really is pleasant,
And serves to remind you, whenever you wonder 
If anyone cares when the world’s weight you’re under.

And Christ who knew suff’ring, injustice and dying,
Despite what I see as a lifetime of trying,
A brother who actually cheers on your giving,
Reminds us all still, by his love are we living.

Scott L. Barton

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them,
or mortals, that you care for them?
You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honor,
subjecting all things under their feet.”
Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”

+  +  +

Mark 10:2-16
Jesus welcomes the children
Vie de Jesus Mafa (Cameroon, 1973)

I Never Liked to Preach This Text

I never liked to preach this text,
What with divorcées in the fold,
Perhaps cast out by their home church -
Which marriage two would not extol -
They came for grace, not for a word
Of judgment on what had to be;
What's past, is past, we said; and who
Were we to judge such returnees?

There was a time when our church, too,
Frowned on divorce as that day's sin,
Espec'ally for the clergy, who
Were barred from past'ring church, therein.
What changed? The word of God? Or what
Our Lord said plainly to those men?
(I use that word deliberately,
Since they were wondering for their ken.)

"Can we divorce, like Moses said,"
- they asked to set him up - "or not?"
To which he noted such a rule
Protected women from their lot;
Then his disciples wanted more
In terms of what was wrong and right;
I now believe his twinkling eye
Caused them their wagging tongues to bite.

For though he says adultery
Comes when divorced man marries wife,
He said it's true the other way,
Which must have caused a lot of strife.
"What woman could divorce a man?"
That such a thing could never be
Thus prompted them to turn away
From rules, so they might better see -

The children! - so they'd reassess
The nature of their need for law;
Except ye be as one of these,
You'll lose capacity for awe!
Try not to say who can or can't
Find love anew (or in some form
back then unknown), so you'll be blessed,
And each day's joy will be your norm.

Scott L. Barton

Speaking of preaching this text, the Rev. Sarah Buteux preached an absolutely wonderful one, "Outside the Box," at First Churches, Northampton, on October 4, 2015, in which she addressed marriage, the Pope, Kim Davis, and the thing we all need, and need to hear, the gospel. You can find it here:

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Friday, September 7, 2018

The Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), September 30, 2018 - Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22 and Mark 9:38-50

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10, 9:20-22

Rembrandt: Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther
Pushkin Museum, Moscow (1660)

Inside Job

Funny how sometimes
Someone on the inside
Can make a difference.
Can stand up to tyranny.
Can be publicly brave.
Can risk her own life.
Can expose resident evil.
Can save her people.

Oh, Esther, wherefore art thou?

Scott L. Barton

So the king and Haman went in to feast with Queen Esther. On the second day, as they were drinking wine, the king again said to Esther, “What is your petition, Queen Esther? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have won your favor, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me—that is my petition—and the lives of my people—that is my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have held my peace; but no enemy can compensate for this damage to the king.” Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has presumed to do this?” Esther said, “A foe and enemy, this wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance on the king, said, “Look, the very gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, stands at Haman’s house, fifty cubits high.” And the king said, “Hang him on that.” So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the anger of the king abated.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep the fourteenth day of the month Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

+  +  +

Mark 9:38-50


He says that I should be at peace,
and look to my own salt;
That is, my flavor should increase,
and be less apt to fault
the faith of others doing good,
as if their recipe
is somehow poison, and not food
that helps some child to see
that she is loved by God no less
than any I might feed;
Remember, that it's God who blesses -
Let none this love impede.

Scott L. Barton

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), September 23, 2018 - Proverbs 31:10-31 and Mark 9:30-37

Proverbs 31:10-31

The Ideal Woman

It's almost as if the ideal woman
Is one who doesn't need a man -
At least, per this text, which ought to be preached on:
So girls and boys will see God's plan.

She's called to be useful, as she decides it,
To think and act in many spheres,
To care for her fam'ly', diligent, steady,
Her strength and kindness calm all fears.

She doesn't neglect the poor and the needy,
With cheer and confidence she acts,
Her husband's approval's not what she's after,
In serving all, she nothing lacks.

The fear of the LORD is not about cow'ring
'fore God, nor a woman nor man;
Instead, it's big news: All people have value!
- Which we can show our whole lifespan.

Scott L. Barton 

A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax,
and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant,
she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night
and provides food for her household
and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it;
with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength,
and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them;
she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing,
and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy;
her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
and let her works praise her in the city gates.

+  +  +

Mark 9:30-37
Thomas Sully: Suffer the Little Children (1850)
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

What Is the Mark of Greatness When You Die?

What is the mark of greatness when you die?
Is how you've lived the way to death deny?
When Jesus broached predictions of his death,
Then his disciples almost held their breaths,
While wond'ring, if they, too, should be done in,
What might be said of them by kith and kin?
So Jesus took upon his lap a child,
And said, "Just live with trust like this."
And smiled.

Scott L. Barton

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”