Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), September 8, 2019 - Philemon 1-21 and Jeremiah 18:1-11 and Luke 14:25-33

Philemon 1-21

Rembrandt: St. Paul in Prison (1627)


Philemon made a name for himself
By being the kind of guy
That Paul knew he could lean on
To do the right thing for Onesimus.
The latter, then, was an apostle, too,
Sent off by Paul so good news
Might make another more kind,
Which turned out to be one for the book.

Scott L. Barton

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and co-worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. When I remember you in my prayers, I always thank my God because I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith toward the Lord Jesus. I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective when you perceive all the good that we may do for Christ. I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother.

For this reason, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do your duty, yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love—and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus. I am appealing to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become during my imprisonment. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful both to you and to me. I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you. I wanted to keep him with me, so that he might be of service to me in your place during my imprisonment for the gospel; but I preferred to do nothing without your consent, in order that your good deed might be voluntary and not something forced. Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it. I say nothing about your owing me even your own self. Yes, brother, let me have this benefit from you in the Lord! Refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I am writing to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.

+ + +

Jeremiah 18:1-11
This is not my sister pictured,
but my thanks to Terri-Jo Ciocca,
who educated me on some of
what a potter does in pursuit of
her or his art.

The Potter

The potter's centering
the pot is everything;
And while she turns the wheel,
her fingers push and pull,
support, out, and rib, in, 
compressing, then, the rim;
At some point she decides
if this pot will abide,
or if another go
she’ll have at it. 
                               She knows
that when her work is right,
'twill fill her with delight, 
and all, with joy, will smile
at such a potter's style.

Life imitates God's art
In turn with loving hearts. 

Scott L. Barton

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him. 

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings.

+ + +

Luke 14:25-33

Jesus's Odd Take on Family Values

The family values Jesus had
Were things we wish he had not said,
Like hating parents, siblings, wife,
And even (dare he say it?) life!
The thing we have to see is where
He's headed when he says that therefore
You must give up all you own,
Which, after all, are all on loan,
If you would his disciple be -
It's to Jerusalem, you see,
Where God gives all for you and me!
Can we show love to that degree?
The new disciples of this Christ
Will find our values are mispriced
Until what's dear will now expand
So Grace for All's our family plan.

Scott L. Barton

Now large crowds were traveling with [Jesus]; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time C), September 1, 2019 - Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 and Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Luke 14:1, 7-14

Duccio, di Buoninsegna: Prophet Jeremiah
Panel from the Maesta Altarpiece (1308-1311)
Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Siena, Italy)
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Entertaining Angels Unawares

Be not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
For thereby some have entertained angels unawares.*
Oh, how poetic is that older English line,
Which speaks to such a modern need, with such a flair.

What angels now arrive at border crossing points -
Who in our ignorance, we harshly turn away?
Remember Abraham and Sarah, hosting those
Who gave them hope, and with their message, saved the day?

Why are some so afraid of shared humanity,
And think that someone different cannot be a gift?
And think, above all costs, we have to hold our own,
As if a mark of human faithfulness is thrift?

No. Faithfulness means looking out not for yourself,
Not grabbing everything you can, and damn the rest;
So trust the giving flair of God, who made all things,
Whose bounty means: to fear you need not acquiesce.

Scott L. Barton

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.* Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators and adulterers. Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” Remember your leaders, those who spoke the word of God to you; consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

[*RSV, vs. 2. The NRSV has Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.]

+ + +
Jeremiah 2:4-13


To Israel, Yahweh speaks his mind,
   and tells it like it is,
He pulls no punches, questioning,
   but this is not some quiz;
He knows the answers, but asks why,
   just like a spouse in pain:
Why did you leave? Why go to those
   whose love they only feign?
Why give it up - the love I gave -
   to nothing be enthralled?
This makes no sense! We were this close!
   This will our friends appall!
Thus Yahweh bared his heart to speak
   the wrong that he'd been dealt;
The question is, will we return,
   and cause God's heart to melt?

Scott L. Barton

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of Jacob, and all the families of the house of Israel. Thus says the Lord: 

What wrong did your ancestors find in me
that they went far from me,
and went after worthless things,
and became worthless themselves?
They did not say, “Where is the Lord
who brought us up from the land of Egypt,
who led us in the wilderness,
in a land of deserts and pits,
in a land of drought and deep darkness,
in a land that no one passes through,
where no one lives?”
I brought you into a plentiful land
to eat its fruits and its good things.
But when you entered you defiled my land,
and made my heritage an abomination.
The priests did not say, “Where is the Lord?”
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the rulers transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal,
and went after things that do not profit.

Therefore once more I accuse you, says the Lord,
and I accuse your children’s children.
Cross to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
send to Kedar and examine with care;
see if there has ever been such a thing.
Has a nation changed its gods,
even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory
for something that does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this,
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
                                        says the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
cracked cisterns that can hold no water.

+ + +
Luke 14:1, 7-14


Here Jesus, to the guests, apprises
The news that God's about surprises!
Perhaps you find it disconcerting
That Jesus here does no asserting
To claim humility means showing
That you think others are more owing
Of what this good life has to offer!
Oh, no! What Jesus seeks to proffer
Is that God's kingdom means believing
That you are really blessed, receiving,
When you could think of no potential!

That's why we call it Providential.

Scott L. Barton

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), August 25, 2019 - Luke 13:10-17 and Jeremiah 1:4-10

Luke 13:10-17
James Tissot: Woman with an Infirmity of Eighteen Years
1886-1894, Brooklyn Museum, NY

Back to the Bible

Some people just seem to live
So they can play the “Gotcha!” game;
It gets demoralizing
How hate, they constantly inflame;
If you would do otherwise,
If you’d stand up to some crass hack,
Remember you’re not the first,
And Jesus, Lord, still has your back.

Scott L. Barton

Comeuppance of a Blowhard

The indignant leader
Huffed and puffed
When the bent-over woman
Raised her head,
Blaming the victim
For being in the right place
At the wrong time.
He didn't even have the dignity
To address the woman,
Much less the man who healed her.
And he kept it up.
(Don't you hate it when that happens?)
So Jesus let him have it.
And he brought the house down,
While the woman smiled
With dignity.

Don't you love it when that happens?

Scott L. Barton

Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

+ + +

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Annie Valloton: Good News Bible (1976)

Knowing Who You Are

Oh, what a job a prophet has,
To say things people hate to hear,
At least, until you're dead and gone,
When maybe, then, you'll be endeared,
Your words, enshrined, your praises sung -
Except you won't be here to know!
But Jeremiah chanced that touch
Would be the word of God bestowed.

Do you believe in destiny?
Sometimes, it seems quite heavenly.

Scott L. Barton

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, 
and before you were born I consecrated you; 
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 
Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me, 
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; 
for you shall go to all to whom I send you, 
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them, 
for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord.” 
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, 
“Now I have put my words in your mouth. 
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, 
to pluck up and to pull down, 
to destroy and to overthrow, 
to build and to plant.”

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), August 18, 2019 - Hebrews 11:29-12:2 and Isaiah 5:1-7 and Luke 12:49-56

 Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Marc Chagall: : Rahab et les Espions de Jericho, from The Bible, 1956

The Cloud Surrounding

By faith the walls of Jericho
Fell down; while Rahab, mercy showed;
With just a handful, Gideon routed
The Midianites, who Yahweh flouted;
By faith, Barak, like lightning, struck
The Canaanites, while by him stuck
The prophet Deb’rah, under palm,
Replacing fear with needed calm;
When Samson sought to mischief make
He slew the lion so he might take
Revenge on rival Philistines -
The LORD will use most any means
To serve his ends, like Jephthah, called
‘gainst Ammonites (yet pride appalled);
The youngster David ruled the day,
While Samuel bravely showed the way.

Consider allegorically
The tribes, who categorically
Describe what still is opposition
To what we claim’s the definition
Of God - Pure Generosity!
- Though actions or verbosity
By many now would do it in,
And set us all ‘gainst kith and kin.
Therefore, remember all who chose
The enemies of love t’oppose,
And though, not perfect, they defied
Those who in love would not abide.
A cloud of witnesses surrounds
Us still, and still, their faith abounds;
By faith each passed through some Red Sea,
And so, if them, then why not me?

Scott L. Barton

By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.

And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

+ + +

Isaiah 5:1-7

from On Being with Krista Tippett
A Communion with the Earth: Gardening and Gratitude

Consummate Gardener

I think I know how Yahweh felt,
This pain Isaiah knew to tell;
For I have oft been blessed to dwell
Where stinking vines made gardening hell. 

I know the feeling that you'd like
To cut it all down in some pique,
To slash and burn, to cut and strike,
Since weeds nor vines grow never meek.

But then you take another breath,
And cultivate with love and care,
For weeds, nor vines, nor garden's death
Can make your essence, you forswear.

The Lord would still a garden tend 
Where fruits of love and kindness grow,
And cultivates for that sole end,
Since, "It was good" is all God knows.

Scott L. Barton

Let me sing for my beloved 
my love-song concerning his vineyard: 
My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 
He dug it and cleared it of stones, 
and planted it with choice vines; 
he built a watchtower in the midst of it, 
and hewed out a wine vat in it; 
he expected it to yield grapes, 
but it yielded wild grapes. 
And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem 
and people of Judah, 
judge between me 
and my vineyard. 
What more was there to do for my vineyard 
that I have not done in it? 
When I expected it to yield grapes, 
why did it yield wild grapes? 
And now I will tell you 
what I will do to my vineyard. 
I will remove its hedge, 
and it shall be devoured; 
I will break down its wall, 
and it shall be trampled down. 
I will make it a waste; 
it shall not be pruned or hoed, 
and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; 
I will also command the clouds 
that they rain no rain upon it. 
For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts 
is the house of Israel, 
and the people of Judah 
are his pleasant planting; 
he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; 
righteousness, but heard a cry!

+  +  +

Luke 12:49-56

Interpreting the Present Time

Don't rock the boat, they always say,
These things always take time;
End slavery?  Let women vote?
Or blacks? Oh, that's a crime
To jump the gun, get people hurt,
Pit brother against brother;
How odd that Jesus knew these things,
But rather than another
Delaying word, he longs for fire!
His grace means not peacekeeping,
But rather, making peace for all!
For God is never sleeping
Whene'er one's siblings get short shrift
But you think things are cool -
You'll want to wake up, then, and not
Have Jesus call you fool!

Scott L. Barton

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?"

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), August 11, 2019 - Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 and Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 and Luke 12:32-40

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

When Ritual Sacrifice Equals Fervent Patriotism

Oh, how astounding that the LORD —
Although with firm conviction
That doing justly, everyone
Is full of dereliction —
Yet, offers still to argue out
Just how they’ve failed their duty,
Thus stating their relationship
Remains a thing of beauty.

Isaiah makes it clear the LORD,
Not he, is the accuser;
‘Though stating forcefully the case,
The prophet’s no abuser.
In love, now let the church proclaim
Our patriotic fervor’s
No substitute for doing good,
Nor national preserver.

Scott L. Barton
The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear the word of the LORD, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

+  +  +

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

Jules Breton: The Song of the Lark (1884)
Art Institute of Chicago

Second Person Plural

Oh, what audacity is faith,
Believing what you do not see,
Some land, some city, up ahead,
No more adrift, at odds, at sea.
And though you wonder how on earth
You'll generate the world you need,
You still, by faith, will act, because
The love of God now supersedes
The country that you left behind:
The promise is for all, not one,
You're part of something bigger now,
Where faith means that you’ve just begun.

Scott L. Barton

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. 

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” 

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.

+  +  +

Luke 12:32-40

Gird Up Your Loins

"Gird up your loins!" as students we'd say,
Which meant, be prepared, or else, in dismay,
You'd find that a paper, or else a big test,
Would cause you to trip, since you were not dressed
To run your next race - or preach a good word;
Then, girding up loins also meant to be spurred
To walk into the pulpit and be not afraid!
"Gird" also means "belt," and thus fasten your blade,
To do battle with powers who’d make us believe
Our treasures we make, and not simply receive;
And finally, "loins" means it's not about "me,"
But those who come after, who through me might see
That believing means trusting the master to give
What I hardly expect!  But receiving, I live
For the sake of the One who has taught me how grace
Is the treasure of this oft afraid human race.

Scott L. Barton

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Let your loins be girded and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

[Note: I have substituted the KJV and RSV's more literal "Let your loins be girded" for the NRSV's "Be dressed for action" in vs. 35.]