Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)—Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26


Wesley, Frank, 1923-2002. Woman with the Flow of Blood  

Art in the Christian Tradition, the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN


Pharisee and Bleeding Woman

These days, if a wonder worker 

Showed the love of God to both sides 

Of our clear political aisle,

Healing someone I disparaged,

Plus, in my book, someone worthwhile,

I might be tempted to get up

And follow just like Matthew did,

Wondering just how it was done,

Wondering what was behind it,

Wondering if it was a fluke,

Or whether a small band of us

Could try to go and do likewise.

Scott L. Barton


As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.


Saturday, May 20, 2023

Trinity Sunday (A)—Genesis 1:1–2:4a; Matthew 28:16–20

Vincent van Gogh: Starry Night (1889) 
Museum of Modern Art, New York

Genesis 1:1–2:4a 

Creation Boiled Down

First, when chaos reigns and life is ruined, 
There will always be light;
Second, when we find ourselves lost and at sea,
There is yet air to breathe;
Third, when we are flailing around thinking there is no tomorrow,
There are still grounds for planting trees and tilling gardens;
Fourth, when we are completely under the weather,
The sun and the moon will rise;
Fifth, when we feel like a fish out of water, with bird brains,
We really don't have to be everything to everybody;
Sixth, when we think it's all about us,
There are countless other creatures, but we're made to create;
Seventh, when we think we have to work until we drop,
Even God said, "I've gotta get out of the office."

Man, that's good!

Scott L. Barton

(Walter Brueggemann used the line about getting out of the office in a talk I heard many years ago. The last line of the poem is how a colleague, the Rev. Jim Cortelyou, ended his mini-meditation one morning long ago as all the canoes of an Adirondack Canoe Expedition trip of the Presbytery of Northern New York rafted up for morning devotions on a still and misty pond. Since then, I've wondered if Jim ("Les Voyageurs") was thinking at the time of James Weldon Johnson's sermon on Creation in God's Trombones.)

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.

And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.

These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.

+ + +

Matthew 28:16­–20

His Face, Everywhere

Sometimes it seems most of my Facebook feeds
Are full of rants and diatribes and screeds
That, I admit, all have their point that we
Must pay attention, and not fail to see
Injustice wheresoever it might lie,
Not be complacent, ills of the world deny.
And yet, I also know that I need more
Than simply outrage over sin abhorred.

Be angry, yes, but then never forget
The time they worshiped, and some doubted, yet
He told them that despite the wrong they'd known,
Authority o'er all was his alone;
Which means his way, his grace, his love, his face
Can never be supplanted or replaced
By anyone or anything; so sing,
Since his enduring life is one sure thing.

Scott L. Barton

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

The Day of Pentecost (A)—Acts 2:1–21

4th Century B.C.E. Thracian urn on display
Iskra Historical Museum, Kazanlak, Bulgaria
Photo by the author

A Brief History of Bulgaria
Ode On A Thracian Urn

The Thracians with their works of gold,
And then Bulgarians of old,
The Byzantines of Empire East,
Then Bulgars once again increased,
Then people under Turkish "yoke"
(A word old hatred still evokes)
Revival that was long delayed,
Turks overthrown with Russian aid,
A culture trying to transpose
Until the Communists imposed
A system that would steal the hearts
Of each one's worth and diff'ring arts.

Oh, can a country grow in pride
When hist'ry o'er the years decries
First one group, then again, another,
Believing only blood makes brothers?
Oh, can God's Spirit work its power,
Not by religion, but by showers
Of truth and hope and understanding?
And can we all, our love expanding,
Perceive with empathy each child
Of God, who on the world still smiles?
Oh, let us put our racial pride
And fear, and wrongs, and guilt aside
And work like heav'n to make a world
Where flags of love are e'er unfurled.

Scott L. Barton
He Qi: The Holy Spirit Coming
in The Art of He Qi

Oh, What Would They Do?

A sound like the rush of a violent wind
Filled the whole house with all of them there;
These tongues, or this ruach, this fire, appeared,
Like an answer to all of their prayers;
Oh, what would they do, with their Lord up and gone,
Out of sight, vanished, gone, disappeared?
Thus, fire from heaven, like Sinai encore,
All their doubts of the kingdom then cleared:
The news of salvation is not some obscure
Or exclusive thing meant for a few;
All manner of folk, of all nations on earth
Now are given the love that makes new.

Scott L. Barton

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Ascension of the Lord/Seventh Sunday of Easter (A)—Luke 24:44–53 and Acts 1:6–14


Vie de Jesus MAFA: The Ascension

Luke 24:44–53

From Stressing to Blessing

Luke's first book ends with the ascension;
Without much fanfare, his attention
Not focused high, is on the promise:
"He said that there would come upon us
The power on high that's from the Father 
That we might tell the news much farther
From here in town than we'd imagined!"
So thus, when what we now know, happened,
They had his words in their back pockets,
Until they'd come out from the closet
When they had dealt with all their stressing
By worshiping the God of blessings.

Scott L. Barton

Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

+  +  +

Acts 1:6–14 

(A page from J. S. Bach's Mass in B minor with the line,  
ascendit in coelum.)

Ascendit in Coelum

They must have thought that they had failed
When, strung up on the cross and nailed,
He died, with all he'd giv'n, undone,
The end of all their joy now come.

But then, they briefly knew him there!
In upper room and beach, despair
Dissolved! How could it be, I ask,
That Love returned, with death unmasked
As powerless his end to make?

I know not how, nor could they take
This joy for granted, for he soon
Rose out of sight, while they, marooned,
Stood open-mouthed at such a turn,
Hopes dashed again, until they yearned
For his return; Now, more than twelve,
This fam'ly with their fears dissolved,
Are gathered, back in upper room,
This birthplace of the church, this womb,
Where soon, in eating, prayer and hymn,
By Spirit, they'll be born again.

Scott L. Barton

So when [the apostles] had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

Sixth Sunday of Easter (A)—Acts 17:22–31; John 14:15–21

 Acts 17:22–31

François de Nomé: St. Paul Preaching to the Athenians 
 (ca. 1620–1624)
Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Oh, What a Politician!

Oh, what a politician,
Is Paul among the Greeks!
He says they are religious,
Who e'en unknown gods seek;
And then with news he hits them:
The God who made all things
Lives not in what's made by us—
Our wealth, our fame, our bling—
But we, in fact (per poets
They knew) are God's offspring!
Which means the highest value
Of which we all can sing,
Is Love, like of a parent,
Defines our life and death;
Thus, Jesus be our policy
With every daily breath.

Scott L. Barton

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

+  +  +
John 14:15–21
The link below is to a performance of Thomas Tallis' 
"If Ye Love Me," 
with John Rutter and the Cambridge Singers. 

If You Love Me

"If you love me,
keep my commandments,
And I will pray the Father,
And he will give you
another Comforter."

"You're not alone,
When you keep my words,
(He says that it's forever!)
You sure have it made,
Since the Spirit's with you."

"Because I live,
You will live also
(How many times I've said that!)
Father, Son, Spirit—
Enough love all around!"

Scott L. Barton

(The poem's meter is a bit unusual: 4/5/7/5/6.  Jesus' opening words pretty much determined it.  Maybe his words determining things is how it should be all the time for us!)

"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Fifth Sunday of Easter (A)—Acts 7:55–60; John 14:1–14


Rembrandt: The Stoning of Saint Stephen
(1625, first signed painting, age 19) 
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon

Acts 7:55-60

Prelude to a Fall

Who knows if Saul, in seeing Stephen's faith so strange,
Was set to wond'ring if he simply was deranged,
Or if forgiveness was some quality divine
In Jesus that, in Stephen had life redefined?
I think he wondered, as he pondered what to do,
If all his zeal was misplaced, which next construed
A twinge of doubt in what he'd been, 'long with remorse,
Which then portended being knocked right off his horse.

Scott L. Barton

But filled with the Holy Spirit, [Stephen] gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.
+ + +

 John 14:1–14
Way, Truth and Life

I am the way, and I am the truth;
I am the life by which you may live;
Let no one say that for God to be real,
One must utter God's name; then God will give.
"Is that what I said? Oh no! Read the text!
Right! It's my way, how I lived that's the key;
My goal is never to make folks perplexed,
But if you live my way, surely you'll see
The Father who lives in me, living in you!
You'll have all you need; all you ask will come through."

Scott L. Barton

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it."

Monday, April 3, 2023

Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)–Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25


Trinity Loaf made from 3 local grains for Common Ground,
First Churches, Northampton, Massachusetts
Acts 2:42-47

The Devotee

They devoted themselves to the teaching served up
By the apostles, and each others' care,
They devoted themselves in the power of love,
To the breaking of bread and the prayers;
These two words, "they devoted," now fill me with awe,
What a gift that such zeal they had!
What a wonder that all were provided with what
They had need of, which made them all glad!
And not just in the temple was church, then, "the church,"
But 'twas even at home as they ate,
Where their generous hearts and their genuine praise
All the peoples' goodwill did create;
Not by effort or work did community grow
To the faith that we now still can see,
But from all that would keep us from joy are we saved
By the Lord, who's the first devotee.

Scott L. Barton

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

+  +  +

1 Peter 2:19-25


It's quite a puzzle, isn't it,
How by his wounds you have been healed?
It says "from sins," but what is that?
Some basic human law repealed—
The law that says each person fears
To lose what he or she has gained,
One's safety, wealth, or way of life,
The things you've worked hard to attain?
The way you have to grasp for more,
Sometimes, no matter what the cost?
But then some person gives his all—
It's like a threshold has been crossed,
Some door into a life that's free
From worry since this person gave,
Without a thought for self—and now
You, too, can act as one who's saved.

Scott L. Barton

For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.

"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."

When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.