Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany (B), January 28, 2018 - 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 and Mark 1:21-28

Maurycy Gottlieb: Christ Preaching at Capernaum (1878-9)
National Museum, Warsaw

(Please page down for the poem on the Markan text.)

On Second Thought

Some prohibitions may not harm,
But if another, not so armed
With knowledge, sees you flout some law,
And thus, from what is good is drawn
Away, then, in effect, you've caused
The harm they think is done. Thus, pause,
And always act for them with love,
Forgetting self, like God above.

Scott L. Barton

Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; but anyone who loves God is known by him.
Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols? So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

+  +  +

(Please page down, or click here for the post of January 8, which has my hymn with these words, put to a well-known theme from a Mozart sonata.)

Jesus of Nazareth Went to Capernaum

Jesus of Naz’reth went to Capernaum, 
To the synagogue to teach,
People, astounded, at his wisdom
Saw his power all to reach.
Jesus of Naz’reth, as we pray,
Please teach us, reach us, we beseech you;
Visit your people with your power;
With your life, our lives renew.

Into the room there came a man
Whose ranting, crying stole the show;
What would Jesus tell the madman,
All the people sought to know.
Jesus of Naz’reth, are you able 
To cast out, blast out demons today?
Your love saves us in each hour;
Come to us without delay!

Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit
While the people were amazed;
“He commands, and they obey him!”
Thus his name to all was praised.
Jesus of Naz’reth, we are yours,
We follow and hallow your will for peace;
You have called us to your purpose,
So your love may here increase.

God has called us to be faithful
In an age of fear and strife;
War and greed are now our demons,
But in Christ we have new life;
Jesus of Naz’reth, we your people
Now go, to show your gift of grace;
Give us courage you to follow,
That your church may all embrace!

Scott L. Barton

They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Third Sunday after the Epiphany (B), January 21, 2018 - 1 Corinthians 7:29-31; and Jonah 3:1-5, [6-9], 10 + Mark 1:14-20

Duccio di Buoninsegna (d. 1319)
The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew (1308/1311)
National Gallery of Art

(Please page down for the poem on the Jonah and Mark texts.)

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

What If?

What if we don't have
All the time in the world
To welcome a stranger
To touch a beggar
To say "I love you"
To act kindly 
Before kindness is given,
To let loose the better angels
Of our nature?

We don't?

Scott L. Barton

I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

+  +  +

Jonah 3:1-5, [6-9], 10 + Mark 1:14-20

The Shortest Sermon in the Book

The shortest sermon in the Book,
Five Hebrew words is all it took
To turn huge Nineveh around;
We know its size, for on the ground
A three-day's walk is sixty miles!
And thus the author makes us smile
To see what little Jonah said
To turn the whole place on its head.

With Jesus, "Son," "Beloved" named,
In Galilee, he then proclaimed
Good news; and with a scant nine words,
In Simon and in Andrew stirred
A calling deep - and so profound,
They left their nets without a sound;
Next, James and John could not resist
In heaven's cause then to enlist.

The Faithful One who ever seeks
Will come to those who hear, and speak.
Apparently, the sermon's length
Cannot predict the preacher's strength;
The anecdotes and wisdom deep,
From files and web that preachers reap,
Can hardly substitute for when
God would our lives begin again.

Scott L. Barton

[Note: Here are the Hebrew and Greek words in Jonah 3:4 and Mark 1:17 spoken by Jonah and Jesus:

עוֹד אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם, וְנִינְוֵה נֶהְפָּכֶת

Δεῦτε  ὀπίσω  μου,  καὶ  ποιήσω  ὑμᾶς  γενέσθαι  ἁλιεῖς  ἀνθρώπων]

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, ‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, ‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’ And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

[When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’]

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.


Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’

 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Hymn for January 28, 2018, based on Mark 1:21-28

I wrote Jesus of Nazareth Went to Capernaum for the Mark 1:21-28 text in 2006, which was also the 250th anniversary year of the birth of Mozart. The tune is the familiar theme from Piano Sonata no. 11 in A major, K 331. Dr. Arthur Frackenpohl, emeritus professor of music at the Crane School of Music, S.U.N.Y. Potsdam, arranged the tune and had it engraved. 

You are free to print the hymn for congregational use. Click on the image, then right click on the next image to save to your desktop for printing. It's been sung in Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, Northern New York, and perhaps elsewhere; please let me know if you use it. I will then let Dr. Frackenpohl know as well.

Grace, peace and good singing!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (B), January 14, 2018 - Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18; 1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

Marc Chagall:
Le jeune Samuel, 
serviteur du sacrificateur 
Eli et couchant dans la chambre 
de son maître, s'entend appeler par Dieu 

(Be sure to page down for the second poem on the Samuel and John texts.)

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18


Before genetics, I wonder: How did the Psalmist know
About that knitting of our DNA in utero?
Before geology, how did this ancient, faithful seer
Know we are literally dust from earth, to God endeared?
The writer says we're fearfully and wonderfully made,
The Maker's thoughts so vast there is no way they might be weighed,
And though they number more than all the grains of all the sand,
It's so astonishing I'm with this LORD still at the end.

Scott L. Barton

O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, 
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, 
O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, 
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; 
it is so high that I cannot attain it.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; 
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. 
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, 
when I was being made in secret, 
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. 
In your book were written 
all the days that were formed for me, 
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! 
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand; 
I come to the end—I am still with you.

+  +  +

1 Samuel 3:1-20 and John 1:43-51

Means of Grace

There's nothing like telling the truth!
So Samuel and Nathanael learned,
They told what they heard,
The meaning, unslurred,
And another truth to them returned.

In Samuel's case, somehow, he knew,
From the voice that kept calling that night,
What old Eli should know -
Though the news was his woe,
And though bad news is rarely polite.

Nathanael had heard, nothing good
From backwater Naz'reth could come,
So he challenged Phil's cry
The Messiah was nigh -
To the latest craze he'd not succumb!

Thus, speaking what they thought down deep,
Despite worry what others might say,
With their clear lack of guile,
Sure the Maker then smiled,
And astonishing things then displayed.

Scott L. Barton

Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread. At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle. On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end. For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them. Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.” Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the Lord. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli. But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.” Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.” So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the Lord; let him do what seems good to him.”

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.

+  +  +

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Baptism of the Lord (B), January 7, 2018 - Genesis 1:1-5 and Mark 1:4-11

(Be sure to page down for the poem on Mark 1.)

 Genesis 1:1-5

And God Saw

When, out of chaos, God called light
And saw that it was good,
The writers of this text are clear
What must be understood
Is not that God knew all along
Just how that light would shine;
But rather, to create from scratch -
To try! - marks the divine.
This is the thing that makes God, God,
Who makes all things anew;
As New Years, like some holy writ,
In joy, makes its debut.

Scott L. Barton

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

+  +  +

Mark 1:4-11

The Turning Season

It's not a repentance sandwich!
I know; it seems to be.
Two weeks before the birth of Christ
We heard from John the B.
And now it's two weeks on, and he
Appears around the bend;
Good God! With Christmas, didn't such things
Meet their joyful end?

But Jesus, now grown up, just smiles,
And to the water walks
To show that we've abused this word
With our religious talk;
It's not that you've been bad, and must
Be good, for goodness' sake,
But, like him, can you pride and fear
And ego finally shake?

Repentance, I am glad to say,
Is never the end game,
God doesn't groove on all our sin,
Our failures or our shame.
Inside us all, our essence is
The grace by which we live,
Such grace, the Spirit still proclaims,
Such grace, this voice still gives.

Scott L. Barton
[Slightly revised from 2015. I got some good ideas and even phrases for this poem from a sermon by my good friend and one of the best preachers I know, the Rev. Sarah Buteux. You can find the sermon here:

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Saturday, December 23, 2017

First Sunday after Christmas Day (B), December 31, 2017 - Luke 2:22-40

Rembrandt: Simeon with the Christ Child in the Temple

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Do you know that riotous Christmas song
About outrageous gifts from a lover?
"On the first day of Christmas my true love
Gave to me" - and then the gifts no one craves:
A partridge in a pear tree, two turtle doves,
Three French hens. And on it goes to the end,
With four calling birds, and five golden rings,
Six geese a-laying, seven swans a-swimming,
Eight maids a-milking, nine ladies dancing,
Ten lords a-leaping, eleven pipers piping,
And finally twelve drummers drumming -
Gifts by someone joyously, extravagantly in love.

Joseph and Mary brought two turtle doves
(or maybe pigeons), a token, really,
But a sign, dedicating their son to the Lord.
And then like the beginning of a raucous song,
They handed their son off to old Simeon,
And you could have knocked them over with a feather
What with all he told them about what the child meant,
Whereupon no sooner did he hand the baby back
When old Anna uttered more astonishing words.
Thus it begins, chapter after chapter
Of teaching and healing and kidding and prodding -
Until we all laugh with joy at this outrageous, outrageous gift.

Scott L. Barton

(Slightly revised from 2014 and posted here now because 1.) I really like it and 2.) The kids and grandkids are here, and I want to focus on them!)

(And for the best musical version ever of the old song, please see

When the time came for their purification according to the law of
Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as
it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be
designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice
according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of
turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was
righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel,
and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the
Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s
Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when
the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was
customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
   according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
   and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said
about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This
child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of
many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe
of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for
seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of
eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with
fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began
to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for
the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child
grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was
upon him. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Nativity of the Lord (B), December 24/25, 2017 - Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

Rembrandt van Rijn: The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds (1634) 
Middlebury College


"It's the big night!"
Is what my father used to say,
And then in June,
It was, "Tomorrow's the big day!"
- Thus, the solstice
Always arrives for me with mirth,
Which may be what
We need to hear about this birth
Announced each year.
The angel spoke with twinkling eyes,
To cast out fear,
Which turned to glee, and great surprise!
Despite the dark,
This same news called to us this night
Laughs its head off,
That Love might be our solstice light.

Scott L. Barton
(revised from 12/24-25/14)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, 
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.