Saturday, March 23, 2019

The Fifth Sunday in Lent (C), April 7, 2019 -Philippians 3:4b-14 and Isaiah 43:16-21 and John 12:1-8

Bassano, Jacopo: Christ in the House of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus (~1577)
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Philippians 3:4b-14

Key to a Successful Life

I count it all as loss for Christ, he says,
Then calls it skubala, or rubbish, trash;
We have a stronger word than that, today,
“Bullshit,” it’s called (if I may be so brash).

All we have gained and saved and held so close,
They’re, all of them, a trivial amount;
It’s not too often that we face this truth
About the things of life that really count.

A cyclone hits, tornado, or a flood,
And homes and memorabilia all are lost;
And people ought to fall and not get up,
To contemplate what’s gone, and all its cost.

Instead, they’re thankful they got out alive!
“We have each other - what could matter more?”
How will you do? What’s up ahead? - “Who knows?”
At such a time they cannot love ignore.

Paul realized that all he’d gained was dross
Compared to knowing Christ, which set him free,
And so he promised he must live to love;
The goal, to love as Christ, became his key.

Scott L. Barton

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

+  +  +

Isaiah 43:16-21

Then and Now

With Israel in captivity,
It must have been quite hard to see
How Yahweh, who had split the sea,
Could once again a savior be.

The poet said, "Forget all that,
The LORD, who for you, went to bat,
Because, in love, had you begat,
Will now, for you, go to the mat!

"And though, the metaphor be new,
Now, desert rivers will break through;
So you should never misconstrue,
All tried and true, my love for you."

Isaiah thus reminds us how,
Words change, yet still can be endowed
With what is true, if we'd allow
Our God to speak, if then, then now.

Scott L. Barton

Thus says the Lord,
who makes a way in the sea,
a path in the mighty waters,
who brings out chariot and horse,
army and warrior;
they lie down, they cannot rise,
they are extinguished,
quenched like a wick:
Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
The wild animals will honor me,
the jackals and the ostriches;
for I give water in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert,
to give drink to my chosen people,
the people whom I formed for myself
so that they might declare my praise.

+  +  +
John 12:1-8

These last three weeks,
We seem to be on the theme of extravagance -
Extravagant care for that lazy fig tree,
Extravagant welcome for that lazy brother,
Extravagant defense for that lazy...
Wait! (You say.)
Hold on here!
You don't mean that Mary....
Well, didn't Martha seem to think so?
And once again, she's serving;
I wonder what she's thinking of her sister this time?
And Judas certainly wants to give a good impression,
That he knows the value of a buck,
Talking as if Mary hadn't really earned
That perfume she'd bought.
Maybe Judas was even sweet on Mary!
But he found her unstealable,
Since she was only sweet on the One
Who points the way
To extravagant death,
Which points the way
To extravagant love.

Scott L. Barton

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (C), March 31, 2019 - Joshua 5:9-12 and 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

He Qi: Prodigal Son
in "The Art of He Qi”

Joshua 5:9-12 (vss. 1-8 added at the end to show more of the context)
Meal on the Plains of Jericho

It doesn’t say just what was the disgrace
Of Egypt that the LORD then rolled away;
But it’s implied the social status of
Ancestral slaves would be no more conveyed -

Life now was new, for what was past, was past!
It meant the parents’ tragedies were gone,
And would no more define just who they were -
Which well we know’s more eas’ly said than done.

And thus, the sons and grandsons of those slaves
Were circumcised so all would surely know
They were the LORD’s! They’d hold their heads up high;
In confidence, the LORD who saves, they’d show.

It meant the manna was no more, because
The people now could stand on their two feet;
The passover they kept that day declared
No other god can with the LORD compete.

Scott L. Barton

(When all the kings of the Amorites beyond the Jordan to the west, and all the kings of the Canaanites by the sea, heard that the Lord had dried up the waters of the Jordan for the Israelites until they had crossed over, their hearts melted, and there was no longer any spirit in them, because of the Israelites.

At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites a second time.” So Joshua made flint knives, and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath-haaraloth. This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the males of the people who came out of Egypt, all the warriors, had died during the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt. Although all the people who came out had been circumcised, yet all the people born on the journey through the wilderness after they had come out of Egypt had not been circumcised. For the Israelites traveled forty years in the wilderness, until all the nation, the warriors who came out of Egypt, perished, not having listened to the voice of the Lord. To them the Lord swore that he would not let them see the land that he had sworn to their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So it was their children, whom he raised up in their place, that Joshua circumcised; for they were uncircumcised, because they had not been circumcised on the way. When the circumcising of all the nation was done, they remained in their places in the camp until they were healed.)

The Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” And so that place is called Gilgal to this day.

While the Israelites were camped in Gilgal they kept the passover in the evening on the fourteenth day of the month in the plains of Jericho. On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain. The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.

+ + +

2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Meeting with the Pastor Nominating Committee

Jeff Curtis asked me in the interview
Which verse of scripture meant the most to me;
I said the one where everything is new,
And where, in Christ, we're from the past set free. 

What made this verse pop then into my head - 
One I believed, but never called it “best?”
Perhaps in worship, I had often said
Those words, which now, in being asked, expressed.

The “old” means when you think you have it planned,
A place for everything, all in its place;
Out of the blue, then, on the other hand,
God's newness will be right before your face. 

Paul calls us to be reconciled to God,
That is, be acclimated to the news
Which, in our daily life, we find quite odd:
You cannot stop the love which God pursues.

Scott L. Barton

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

+  +  +
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Prodigal Son, Prodigal Dad

Prodigal son, prodigal dad,
I call him that because he's glad!
To say it as might Dr. Seuss,
Son 1 thought 2 had cooked his goose!
And then begrudged the fatted calf
Was cooked instead! It makes me laugh
To know that Jesus with a smile
Knew God, the Dad, the extra mile
Goes, falling on the neck to kiss
Each son or daughter whom he's missed.

Scott L. Barton

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:

“There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Third Sunday in Lent (C), March 24, 2019 - Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13:1-9

Isaiah 55:1-9

The poem is a rendering of the Isaiah text. Click on the image above for the hymn, put to the tune, MELITA (“Eternal Father, Strong to Save”). The last two lines of the poem below are the refrain for every verse of the hymn. Free for congregational use, formatted to be printed on 8.5x11 bulletin insert paper (sideways, two per sheet).

For Heaven's Sake

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come drink,
Though you be poor, come now and eat!
With all your money, do you think
Your spending makes your life complete?

Just listen up, and you will see
The food that's good which I will give;
Incline your ear and come to me,
Filled with delight, so you will live!

My steadfast love for David shows
My love for you will never end,
And people everywhere will know
You're blessed, and run, and you befriend.

Now seek, so that the  LORD, you find,
Forsake the wrong in mind and deed,
Because the LORD is always kind,
And pardons all who come in need.

I'm not like you in thoughts and ways,
For heav'n's sake, I'll never stray.

Scott L. Barton

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; 
and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! 
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, 
and your labor for that which does not satisfy? 
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, 
and delight yourselves in rich food. 
Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. 
I will make with you an everlasting covenant, 
my steadfast, sure love for David. 
See, I made him a witness to the peoples, 
a leader and commander for the peoples. 
See, you shall call nations that you do not know, 
and nations that do not know you shall run to you, 
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found, 
call upon him while he is near; 
let the wicked forsake their way, 
and the unrighteous their thoughts; 
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, 
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, 
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, 
so are my ways higher than your ways 
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

+ + +

Luke 13:1-9

Fig Tree

I think, perhaps, we miss the point
If we think God condoned
The cutting of that fig tree which
The vineyard grower owned;
For note the gard'ner said to him,
"Then YOU can cut it down;"
He must have said it with a grin,
And not some judgment frown,
Since first, the owner'd said to him
That HE should do the deed;
But Jesus' gard'ner knew the owner's
Nature supersedes
The "Fix yourself right now - or else"
View we think others need;
Thus, we can cut some slack for all,
Since God's love none exceeds.

Scott L. Barton

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

The Second Sunday in Lent (C), March 17, 2019 - Philippians 3:17-4:1; Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; and Luke 13:31-35

He Qi: Look Towards the Heavens
(from his book, "The Art of He Qi")
Philippians 3:17-4:1

I like how Paul
Calls them his joy and crown;
A better move
Than saying, “Settle down.”

Scott L. Barton

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

+  +  +

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

The Big Delay

Oh, why did Abraham believe,
When God said, what was up God's sleeve,
Was Abraham would have an heir -
And of the promise, had a prayer?
It's so important here to see
The promise long-delayed as key
To what this text to us declares:
That Abram's yearning now compares 
To all our hopes for justice, peace,
While faith, though questioning, not cease.
The stars, God's generosity, declare,
And still, unceasing love, God dares.
There's still a vision for this time,
It speaks of peace, and does not lie,
If it seems long, we still need wait,
For come it will, and not be late.

Scott L. Barton

(The concluding four lines is the message of Habakkuk 2:3. Remember that this Gen. 15 promise of God's to Abram wasn't the first; it was given way back in chapter 12 and by chapter 15 still has not appeared. So Abram questions God, wondering if God really, really meant it. Holding in tension that problem of unresolved promise is always the nature of this faith of ours. But "standin' on the promises," as the old hymn goes, is the only way to live and so invite such promise into being.)

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”

But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.

Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.

When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,”

+ + +

Luke 13:31-35


It has been said that fear, not sin's
The curse of human life,
It surely seems that that's behind
The things that cause my strife;
And so it was, those Pharisees,
Who said to Jesus, "Scram!"
Were worried that his love, unchecked,
Would make their city damned
By Herod, since he was, all knew,
The ruling King of Fear;
But Jesus said to tell that fox
What we still need to hear,
That is, that resurrection is the end
("The third day" is his clue)
And what I think that means, when by
Our fears we seem pursued,
Is that the mother hen still calls
Her brood upon her breast,
So all our fears, allayed, we now
Might bless, as we are blessed.

Scott L. Barton

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”