Thursday, May 16, 2024

Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time/ Proper 9 (B)—Mark 6:1–13

Jesus Sends the Apostles, Duccio, c.1300

The Sacrament of Failure

"Just who does he think that he is," they all said, 

"This Jesus who does such great deeds, so widespread?"

They took such offense, all these neighbors so shrill,

The chances they had for their healing were nil.

The lesson he gave to his friends was to leave,

Move on, when it's clear good news won't be received;

Not taking your marbles away in a huff,

But trusting God's grace will go on, is enough.

You won't change the world, and not always succeed,

He sent then his friends out to do what good deeds

They could! But when failing, he told them to shake

The dust from their feet, that their spirits not break.

Some call it, of failure, a sacrament, now,

A physical sign that God lives, despite how

We're tempted to think that it's all up to us:

In God's time, not ours, will the whole world be blessed.

Scott L. Barton

(Leonard Sweet's sermon, "The Sacrament of Failure" has stayed with me since Colgate Rochester Divinity School/BexleyHall/Crozer Theological Seminary's commencement service in 1976.)

[Jesus] left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time/ Proper 8 (B)—Psalm 130; Mark 5:21–43


 (John Moore/Getty Images)

Psalm 130


Today's Psalm


Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice!

Now at our border, tears are daily poured by those who have no choice!

Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

Oh, hear the voices of the children, and their parents' lamentations!

If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

Do we, O Lord, know just how blessed are we by this great land?

But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

For by your love and care alone, O God, have we been reared.

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

I will not give up the fight, or throw in the towel just to cope;

my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

I stand with those who cry to you, for in your love for them is my warning, your love for them is my warning.

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

O America, hope in the Lord! For in our treatment of those whom God loves is our esteem.

It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

And our greatness will spring from all our sympathies.


Scott L. Barton


+  +  +


Mark 5:21–43 

Ilya Repin: Raising of Jairus' Daughter (1871)

Russian Museum, St. Petersburg


When Jairus and the Woman Heard


When Jairus and the woman heard

Of Jesus, there was nothing that deterred

Them both from bowing low before the one

Who'd heal where they had come undone.


Who knows where else they'd gone to find

Not only healing, nor just peace of mind,

But someone with the kind of love that saves,

Not that which just attention craves.


This little girl just twelve years old,

This woman, who, for twelve years unconsoled,

This girl, though dead, the Lord not loathe to touch,

This one who touched, and risked so much;


These two reborn, both at twelve years,

Reveal propriety is far less dear

To God than we, called like the Twelve, surmise;

Great grace is always such surprise!


Scott L. Barton


When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”


So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”


While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Proper 7 (B)—1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4–11, 19–23) 32–49; Mark 4:35–41


Rembrandt: Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) 
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, stolen 1990

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4–11, 19–23) 32–49 and Mark 4:35–41

Identifying with Those Once Stirred

Oh, how exciting, these two tales to tell!

The danger and the dialogue propel

Us forward, like a stone that from a sling

Is slung, and soon it all comes to a head!

In story one, Goliath falls down dead,

And we (with Israel’s army) cheer and sing

Because in God this David put his trust.

In story two, the waves and blowing gusts—

Which would destroy—are calmed with just a word,

And those who were afraid are filled with awe.

How easily, by such emotions raw,

We can identify with those once stirred

By One who gave such courage to a lad,

Whose word of peace so strong, it makes us glad.

 Scott L. Barton

+ + +

Mark 4:35–41 



Even Jesus Used a Pillow


Scott Barton, 2018                                Attr. Dimitri Bortniansky (1751-1825) 


Even Jesus used a pillow;

Maybe someone put it there,

Helped to make his nap more restful,

Knowing all he had to bear.

Noticing, he sidled sternward,

Thinking he might lend a hand,

Tenderly, the head he lifted,

Moved to act with love unplanned.


Soon the wind came up in danger,

Strong the threat to do them in,

“Don’t you care?” they soon demanded,

Wet with fear for kith and kin.

Jesus woke, rebuking quickly

Wind, and to the sea, “Be still!”

“Even wind and sea obey him!”

Cried his mates with awe so filled.


Jesus and his pillow bearer

Acted quickly, seeing need,

Empathy’s a thing that strikes you,

Voice that calls, with love, you heed!

Lord, compassion never fails you,

May we trust you notice still,

And, when human need next moves us,

May we boldly do your will.


Scott L. Barton 


(Frederick Buechner proposed the idea that someone may have been moved to put a pillow under Jesus’ head in his page called “Jesus” in Peculiar Treasures[Harper & Row, 1979] and the subsequent Beyond Words.)


Now the Philistines gathered their armies for battle; they were gathered at Socoh, which belongs to Judah, and encamped between Socoh and Azekah, in Ephes-dammim. And there came out from the camp of the Philistines a champion named Goliath, of Gath, whose height was six cubits and a span. He had a helmet of bronze on his head, and he was armed with a coat of mail; the weight of the coat was five thousand shekels of bronze. He had greaves of bronze on his legs and a javelin of bronze slung between his shoulders. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam, and his spear’s head weighed six hundred shekels of iron; and his shield-bearer went before him. He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants; but if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” And the Philistine said, “Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.” When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. Now Saul, and they, and all the men of Israel, were in the valley of Elah, fighting with the Philistines. David rose early in the morning, left the sheep with a keeper, took the provisions, and went as Jesse had commanded him. He came to the encampment as the army was going forth to the battle line, shouting the war cry. Israel and the Philistines drew up for battle, army against army. David left the things in charge of the keeper of the baggage, ran to the ranks, and went and greeted his brothers. As he talked with them, the champion, the Philistine of Gath, Goliath by name, came up out of the ranks of the Philistines, and spoke the same words as before. And David heard him. David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!” Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these; for I am not used to them.” So David removed them.

Then he took his staff in his hand, and chose five smooth stones from the wadi, and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine. The Philistine came on and drew near to David, with his shield-bearer in front of him. When the Philistine looked and saw David, he disdained him, for he was only a youth, ruddy and handsome in appearance. The Philistine said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. The Philistine said to David, “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the field.” But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

When the Philistine drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.

+ + +

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time/Proper 6 (B)—1 Samuel 15:34—16:13; 2 Corinthians 5:6–10 (11–13) 14–17


Synagogue interior wood panel 
Dura Europos, Syria. 
300 B.C.-257 A.D, in current eastern Syria. 
Source: Gill/Gillerman slide collection.

1 Samuel 15:34—16:13

When Samuel Sought the Choice of Heaven


The LORD told Samuel not to grieve

When Saul to Yahweh didn’t cleave;

Instead, he said, another king

He’d choose from Jesse’s male offspring.

To Bethlehem, thus, Samuel came

To see which son the LORD would claim.

From Eliab to number seven

Old Samuel sought the choice of heaven

To be the next anointed one;

But of all those, the LORD chose none.


“Make something of yourself,” some say,

As if such making could display

The thing that makes a life worthwhile;

And yet before our work, or style,

Or how we put ourselves to use,

Is something we could ne’er induce

Ourselves—quite simply, that we are!

Such recognition is, by far,

The thing to turn a life around,

And all anxieties confound.


Thus Samuel took his horn of oil,

(Which made, perhaps, the brothers boil)

And witnessed to the faith he knew,

That what we are is not our due,

But outright gift, to me, to you.


Scott L. Barton 


Then Samuel went to Ramah; and Saul went up to his house in Gibeah of Saul. Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death, but Samuel grieved over Saul. And the Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king over Israel.

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.


+ + +


2 Corinthians 5:6–10 (11–13) 14–17

John August Swanson: Peaceable Kingdom  
Luther Seminary Fine Arts Collection, St. Paul, Minn.


Question and Answer


It was the best question

Anyone had asked me

In four call interviews,

Plus two for interims.

“What is your favorite

Bible verse?” wondered Jeff,

The smart P.N.C. chair.


It didn’t take me long.

“If anyone’s in Christ,

There’s a new creation.

The past is finished, gone;

Everything is brand new.”

It’s what it’s all about;

The crux, I think, for Paul.


From nothing God creates

For the sheer love of it.

Stars flung across the sky,

Womb-knitted D.N.A.,

Barren couple have child,

Slaves made a free people,

Nation, exile, return.


Glad tidings to Zion:

From virgin’s womb, God’s son;

From desert, a calling,

Fishers, then disciples;

From death, resurrection,

Disarrayed fear, then church;

From oppression, vision.


In love, it’s all brand new;

There’s nothing can stop it.

No terror strong enough.

No illness deep enough.

No failure wide enough.

No question hard enough.

This is the crux for me.


Scott L. Barton 


So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord— for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. 

Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade others; but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences. We are not commending ourselves to you again, but giving you an opportunity to boast about us, so that you may be able to answer those who boast in outward appearance and not in the heart. For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 

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!

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Proper 5 (B)—1 Samuel 8:4–11 (12–15) 16–20 (11:14–15); Mark 3:20–35

1 Samuel 8:4–11 (12–15) 16–20 (11:14–15)


                                             Marc Chagall: The Anointing of Saul


And Samuel Wept


"We want someone to rule us with authority," they said.

"We want him to be big on the military," they said.

"We want a businessman, who knows how to profit, even from us," they said.

"We want a man who appreciates women, and puts them in their place," they said.

"We want tax brackets shifted to reward the wealthy," they said.

"We want someone who looks like us, whom we can bow down to," they said.

"We like trash talk, tough talk, and lying talk, as long as he likes us, and fights our battles, and always blames someone else for our problems," they said.


And Samuel wept, and said, "Dear God, I hope this never happens again."


Scott L. Barton


Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to govern us.” Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now then, listen to their voice; only—you shall solemnly warn them, and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” 


So Samuel reported all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel; they said, “No! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” 


…Samuel said to the people, “Come, let us go to Gilgal and there renew the kingship.” So all the people went to Gilgal, and there they made Saul king before the Lord in Gilgal. There they sacrificed offerings of well-being before the Lord, and there Saul and all the Israelites rejoiced greatly. 


+ + +


Mark 3:20–35

Women's Study Bible: Jesus's True Family


Family Man


It used to say, "He is beside himself,"

As if some other person stood nearby;

A twin, perhaps, who also looked the part,

But part one, now, the second part belied.

It turns out too familiar did he seem

For them to see in him the other side,

From which, this bigger family man still calls,

That those who hear, on part two might decide.


Scott L. Barton


...and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.


“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”


Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Proper 4 (B) — Mark 2:23–3:6


Byzantine mosaic


Does Jesus Still Thumb His Nose?


Two times at them he thumbed his nose,

Not meek and mild, this Jesus shows 

Religious  law is superseded

When graciousness for someone's needed;

The law to God does praise redound—

It's not the other way around!

Thus those who would refuse to bake

For couples gay now take the cake,

For in God's loving Parenthood

God set up laws for human good;

But time makes ancient good uncouth,

And those who stand abreast of truth

Will ask what Jesus might have said

Today, for he is risen from the dead!

His foll'wers find God's rule of love

The sole ingredient of God above. 

Scott L. Barton

("Time makes ancient good uncouth" and “keep abreast of truth” are from abolitionist James Russell Lowell's 18-stanzas poem, The Present Crisis. The lines were in Once to Every Man and Nation in the Pilgrim Hymnal [Congregational, 1958], and The Hymnal [Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., 1933]. I see no reason why the hymn can't be sung today simply by changing "man" in the title and verses to "one.")


One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”


Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Trinity Sunday (B)—Isaiah 6:1–8; John 3:1–17

Rembrandt: The King Uzziah Stricken with Leprosy (1635)

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Isaiah 6:1–8

The Odd and Overwhelming Otherness of God


The odd and overwhelming

     otherness of God

—In which Isaiah stands as if

     he's some divining rod

Who's found the source of life

    and all creatIon's power—

Is followed by so deep a self-

     awareness, he just cowers

In his inadequacy:

     Woe! Lost! And unclean!

And he is doomed, for all

     the majesty that he has seen;

But God has means, it seems,

     the doomed one to reclaim,

The coal in tongs atones,

     and guilt departed is proclaimed.

But lest we think the prophet

     basks in holy bliss,

All-glowing with what must have seemed,

     with such an act, God's kiss,

The one who's touched, looks up,

     and from his bended knee,

And knowing what he's called to do,

     says, "Here I am; send me!"

Such odd, persistent grace

     comes when and where it will;

To you, to me, and everyone,

     So love its name fulfills.


Scott L. Barton


(The phrase "the odd, overwhelming otherness of God," and other ideas in the poem come from Walter Brueggemann's Isaiah 1-39 in the Westminster Bible Companion series, pp. 57-60.)



In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: 


“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; 

the whole earth is full of his glory.” 


The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 


Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”


+ + +


Henry Ossawa Tanner: Nicodemus Visiting Jesus (1899)

Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Philadelphia



John 3:1–17 (see also John 7:45–53 and John 19:38–42)




Nicodemus knew

That Jesus was on to something

With all that talk

About being born from above,

Even though he hadn't a clue

Of the wind's comings and goings.

Thus he went to that meeting

Where the blowhards

Wanted to do Jesus in,

And tried to talk some sense into them.

I wonder where he got such courage,

Going again by night,

The weight of the world on his back,

Or at least a hundred pounds,

To bury his rabbi,

Winded by the law of love?


Scott L. Barton



John 3:1–17 (see also Numbers 21:9) 




It's not just at a football game

Where you will see the sign

That God so loved the world, God gave

God's son; for now "divine"

Means whatsoe'er is given from

The bottom of the heart;

And when that comes, like wind, unplanned,

You'll find your life can start

Again! You're born as if anew,

Since you've looked up to see

The love which from all poison now

Has set the whole world free.


Scott L. Barton


Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God." Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?


"Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 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."