Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Fourth Sunday of Advent (C), December 23, 2018 - Luke 1:39-45 and Luke 1:46-55

Luke 1:39-45
Henry Ossawa Tanner: The Visitation (also known as Mary Visiting Elizabeth) 
1909-10.   Kalamazoo Institute of Arts

Never Barren

She went with haste, she did not tarry!
There was no time to waste! For Mary,
Whose solitude had just been broken,
Had news that could not go unspoken!

“Hello!” she cried, on first appearing,
Yet, first to speak, after her greeting,
Was old Eliz’beth who, on hearing,
Perceived her baby, inside, leaping!

You never know, with news astounding,
When someone else, also confounding
Convention that no good can happen,
Reminds you love is never barren.

Perhaps you’ll ask, “Why has this happened?
“More joy than what I might imagine?”
“For even now, to us is coming
“A child to set the whole world humming!”

Scott L. Barton

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

+ + +
Luke 1:46-55

James Tissot: The Magnificat (Le magnificat), 1886-1894
Brooklyn Museum

To the Readers of the Christmas Story:
“No More "Ho-hum, the reading of Scripture"

It isn't wordy explanations that I seek,
It isn't toned-down phrases that are mild and meek;
Don't stand up front in church and then apologize,
As if you need to cut a story down to size;
This news that comes today is bigger than us both,
Nor should the fact I've heard it often, make you loathe
To call out flabbergasting news with such surprise
The people catch their breaths and find their spirits rise!

Also, it could be Christmas is the only time
That you can get away with old King James, sublime
In phrases like, "hath holpen," and "doth magnify,"
As Mary to her cousin - and to us - still cries!
But mostly, don't throw out the mystery and awe
For people who today, to what you say, now draw:
Give me a preacher or a reader who proclaims
This gospel text such that I know your heart's aflame!

Scott L. Barton
(Partly inspired by the narration of the Christmas story from Isaiah, Matthew and Luke by the tenor narrator, Duane Moody, at a Holiday Pops performance in Boston in 2015. It's a basically secular event, but he read it so well, that singing with the chorus behind the orchestra, there were tears in my eyes. He actually sounded as if he was surprised by the news! Believed it himself! And couldn't help but want others to believe it, too.)

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. 
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, 
and holy is his name. 
His mercy is for those who fear him 
from generation to generation. 
He has shown strength with his arm; 
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, 
and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, 
and sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel, 
in remembrance of his mercy, 
according to the promise he made to our ancestors, 
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”


And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,
And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: 
for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.
He hath shewed strength with his arm; 
he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Third Sunday of Advent (C), December 16, 2018 - Philippians 4:4-7 and Luke 3:7-18

Philippians 4:4-7

Benjamin West: Two Angels Singing (1783)
Berger Collection, Denver

“The Lord is Near

Do you believe the Lord is near?
Or is your talk just of his birth?
Is Advent just pre-Christmas time
Rememb’ring he was born on earth?
Are you just happily recalling
His coming to a cradle, bawling?

Or - can you really sing with hope,
Rejoicing that the day soon comes
When kindness rules across the land,
And every voice of hate is dumb?
Is Advent less of decoration
And more the future of creation?

Oh, let us not just solemnly
Prepare the baby’s birth today,
But gladly sing that, since he came,
We’re not just talking child’s play,
But at the wrong can thumb our noses,
For Love all tyranny deposes!

Scott L. Barton

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

+ + +

Luke 3:7-18

Leonardo da Vinci: St. John the Baptist
ca. 1513-1516, The Louvre, Paris
probably Leonardo's last painting

Good News, Despite Initial Appearances

He's not very Christmassy, this John the B.,
In calling them snakes, who from judgment would flee;
Who worry that God will not be on their side,
And therefore, to save themselves, others deride;
But John simply tells them a down-to-earth creed:
Be honest, not violent, and help those in need!
That's it! But still troubled all won’t be made right?
Then leave it to God! Not your goodness and might
Will enkindle the reign that you think should come now,
But the One by whose powerful love shows us how.

Scott L. Barton

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Second Sunday of Advent (C), December 9, 2018 - Philippians 1:3-11 and Luke 3:1-6

Philippians 1:3-11

The End of Going to Church

What if each of us who go to church -
The regulars and some-timers,
The grandparents and folks with kids,
The social climbers and the rhymers,
The single, married and the widowed,
The bill givers and big check signers,
The singers and the bell ringers,
The smilers and the oft-time whiners -

Would know the gospel’s what we share!

Not just the building that we pay for,
Not just committees that we’re on,
Not just the pastor and his visits,
Or her sermons, fine, to which we’re drawn;
But a treasure that no one can hold,
Cannot accumulate or save;
A strange, persistent gift among us,
From the cradle to the grave.

This is the end, the purpose for our going,
That we perceive the love we share,
So when we leave, a brand new world we’re knowing.

Scott L. Barton

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

+ + +

Luke 3:1-6

All Flesh Shall See the Salvation of God

All flesh shall see the salvation of God,
And not just the rulers, the well off and proud,
Not just the ones who live in the right places,
Who get lots of press and are known by their faces,
Not just the people who rule in the tabloids,
Or out on the field, with their skill or their steroids,
But you! With your wrongs, and the things you've not righted,
Will think again, seeing that God is delighted
To break every barrier that keeps separated
The folk for whom Love, all these long years, has waited!

Scott L. Barton

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The First Sunday of Advent (C), December 2, 2018 - Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36

Jeremiah 33:14-16

Marc Chagall: The Prophet Jeremiah (Le prophète Jérémie), 1968
Musée national d’Art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

Prophet Time

If you, these days, in exile feel
From what you thought we were about,
Then Jeremiah is your friend,
Proclaiming faith ‘gainst these days’ doubts.

And isn’t that our job these days,
That - though the throne be oft deranged -
We still proclaim a greater power
Our nagging, mean, malaise to change?

The prophet promised a regime
Would spring to life, and execute
A reign of doing right and good
No violence might then refute.

And so we wait this Branch again
That might be born from David’s line;
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
May peace from you our lives define!

Scott L. Barton

The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The LORD is our righteousness.”

+ + +
Luke 21:25-36

We Would Ever Be More Faithful
PICARDY                      French Carol

1. Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
As we grieve and mourn this day,
Gasping in the face of violence,
Lives and trust all torn away;
We would ever be more faithful,
Seeking peace from you, we pray.

2. Bombings that sow dread and terror,
Making tears for those who are lost,
Have the power to lead us to error,
Tolerance for others the cost;
We would ever be more faithful,
Never sunk, although we be tossed.

3. In the midst of fear and foreboding,
Christ, your way still lives herein,
Keep the love we've known from eroding,
Reign o'er us, and draw us in;
We would ever be more faithful,
Loving all, again, we begin.

Scott L. Barton

(This hymn was written three years ago after bombings in Paris, Baghdad and Beirut. It would be suitable for congregational singing on Advent 1 or at any other appropriate time. The motto of Paris, "Elle est agitée par les vagues, et ne sombre pas,” essentially means, “Tossed, but not sunk.” Permission given for congregational use. Click on the image above for a bulletin-ready copy.)

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Christ the King/Reign of Christ (B), November 25, 2018 - Revelation 1:4b-8 and John 18:33-37

Revelation 1:4b-8

 Catacombe di Commodilla, Rome, 4th c.

When All Is Said and Done

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” he says,
a phrase not in common usage anymore,
so let’s imagine what he might say these days:

“I’m A to Z.”

Or, he might try this:
“I am the start of it all, and the living end.”
     “the be all and end all,
          “the real McCoy,
               “the genuine article,
                    “the real deal.”

Or how about this?
“I am the whole nine yards,
     “the whole enchilada,
          “the whole shebang,
               “the whole bailiwick.
                    “the whole ball of wax,
                         “the whole shootin’ match,” and,
                              “the whole kit and caboodle.”

“I am the unvarnished truth,
     “the honest truth,
          “the naked truth,
               “the full monty,
                    “the inside track,
                         “the whole story,” and of course,
                               “the gospel truth.”

There must be no end to the ways he might put it.

Get it?

Personally, today I like, “I am the cat’s meow.”

Scott L. Barton

John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

+ + +

John 18:33-37

Christ the King statue, Świebodzin, Poland
"Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 
And in the End (reflection on the last Sunday of the church year)

I think it's funny that
it's not the other way around:

Like, “All who hear my voice
belong to truth;” I think that sounds
religious! Yet, he still confounds
what we expect to hear.

The truth is that it's all a gift,
and everyone is dear;
Those living thus, will love as much -
he could not be more clear!

Still, list'ning to this king
is never easy - any year!

Scott L. Barton
(revised from 2015)

Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), November 18, 2018 - Mark 13:1-8 and 1 Samuel 1:4-20 + 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Marc Chagall: Hannah Praying to God (ca. 1956)

Mark 13:1-8  

New Birth

These days,
The cult of personality,
Like those days,
Purports to be reality,
With many taken in
By blasting hype and rumored spin.

But Jesus knew,
That those with his mentality,
Would rage eschew,
Since every nationality
Someday will grin
To see in neighbor, kith and kin.

Scott L. Barton

As [Jesus] came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”

When he was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Then Jesus began to say to them, “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. When you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This is but the beginning of the birthpangs.

+  +  +

1 Samuel 1:4-20 + 1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah's Hymn

Tune: St. Catherine (Faith of Our Fathers; Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me)

Hannah knew how her Elkanah
Forsook her not, nor cast aside,
And as a spendthrift, even more,
On Hannah, lavished love with pride.
Faith of our mothers, fathers, too,
Teach us God's love makes all things new!

Letting loose doubt the Lord provides,
Pouring out faith set Hannah free,
Her wish bore fruit by love and prayer,
And what she asked for, came to be.
Faith of our mothers, fathers, too,
Teach us God's love makes all things new!

"There is no Holy One like the LORD,"
Thus Hannah prayed, exulting that day;
Girding the feeble, thwarting the proud,
Love for the world will find a way!
Faith of our mothers, fathers, too,
Teach us God's love makes all things new!

Hannah could never know some day
Her prayer would be the model for
Another pray-er who magnified
The Lord, rejoicing in whom she bore!
Faith of our mothers, fathers, too,
Teach us God's love makes all things new!

Scott L. Barton

On the day when Elkanah sacrificed, he would give portions to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters; but to Hannah he gave a double portion, because he loved her, though the Lord had closed her womb. Her rival used to provoke her severely, to irritate her, because the Lord had closed her womb. So it went on year by year; as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she used to provoke her. Therefore Hannah wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? Why is your heart sad? Am I not more to you than ten sons?”

After they had eaten and drunk at Shiloh, Hannah rose and presented herself before the Lord. Now Eli the priest was sitting on the seat beside the doorpost of the temple of the Lord. She was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.” As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying silently; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard; therefore Eli thought she was drunk. So Eli said to her, “How long will you make a drunken spectacle of yourself? Put away your wine.” But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman deeply troubled; I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord. Do not regard your servant as a worthless woman, for I have been speaking out of my great anxiety and vexation all this time.” Then Eli answered, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And she said, “Let your servant find favor in your sight.” Then the woman went to her quarters, ate and drank with her husband, and her countenance was sad no longer.

They rose early in the morning and worshiped before the Lord; then they went back to their house at Ramah. Elkanah knew his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. In due time Hannah conceived and bore a son. She named him Samuel, for she said, “I have asked him of the Lord.”

+ + +

Hannah prayed and said, “My heart exults in the Lord; my strength is exalted in my God. My mouth derides my enemies, because I rejoice in my victory. “There is no Holy One like the Lord, no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God. Talk no more so very proudly, let not arrogance come from your mouth; for the Lord is a God of knowledge, and by him actions are weighed. The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength. Those who were full have hired themselves out for bread, but those who were hungry are fat with spoil. The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, and on them he has set the world. “He will guard the feet of his faithful ones, but the wicked shall be cut off in darkness; for not by might does one prevail. The Lord! His adversaries shall be shattered; the Most High will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”