Friday, March 16, 2018

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday) (B), March 25, 2018 - Philippians 2:5-11 and Mark 11:1-11

(About 50 years ago my pastor, Richard  L. Manzelmann,
 used this as a Palm Sunday bulletin cover at
New Hartford, New York Presbyterian Church, and I used it 
in three or four congregations over the years.)

Philippians 2:5-11

Real Fundamentalism

Paul calls each Christian have the mind
Of Jesus, who was disinclined
To use the status he possessed
To save himself from danger, lest
The raison d'être for his life
Would fade at once in face of strife.

Instead, he did not fade, but grew
In hearts and minds 'til he accrued
The name that is above all names.
And yet, if we would still proclaim
This Jesus, what he really needs,
Is followers where he still leads.

Scott L. Barton

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

+  +  +

Mark 11:1-11

Donkey Rustling

How odd that Mark spends so much time
On things that hardly seem sublime;
It almost seems ridiculous
To know such details infamous
As how he got that ne'er ridd'n colt!
Who cares? Yet maybe his revolt
Against the principalities
Includes his personality
Involved in ev'ry action where
His followers, his name declare.
The coffee hour, the ushers' list,
The anthem sung, the meals dished,
The lesson taught in Sunday School,
The need to pay the bill for fuel,
The book group some came to in Lent,
The youth on mission trip just sent,
The prelude, bulletins, and prayers,
The greeter there atop the stairs,
The new hymn that the pastor tried,
The news a faithful friend has died -
Such details of our life declare -
When done for him - that he is where,
By grace, we show that Jesus saves
By love, from cradle to the grave.

Scott L. Barton

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Fifth Sunday in Lent (B), March 18, 2018 - Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 12:20-33

 (One of hundreds of scenes of glee when the young Beatles 
toured the U.S. in concert in the early 1960s.)

(Please page down for the poem on the text from John.)

Jeremiah 31:31-34

With a Love Like That (You Know You Should Be Glad)

I think we should not overlook
The name of Israel in this book
By Jeremiah, from the south.
It seems this Judah prophet's mouth
Speaks to a time when no one blames
Misfortune on whatever claims
You have to your belief or tribe;
The LORD, instead, will now inscribe
The law he gives upon all hearts -
Both north and south - and thus impart
The knowledge that all people need,
That love is all you need. Indeed!

Scott L. Barton

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

+  +  +

John 12:20-33

The Word on My Coffee Cup

The word that's on my coffee cup
On Southwest Air while flying up
Above, in letters large, says, "Lift,"
The smile that it evokes, a gift;
How clever, as it says that I
No coffee benefit up high
Can have until I raise my glass -
No matter what my flying class!

So, Jesus, till he's lifted high,
No benefit can me supply,
Because, by definition, he
Can only save when I'm set free
From fear of losing everything,
And love! - and not to self still cling.
It seems to me his kind of style
Still lifts me up - and makes me smile.

Scott L. Barton

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Fourth Sunday in Lent (B), March 11, 2018 - Ephesians 2:1-10; Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21

Keith Haring, Altarpiece: The Life of Christ, 1990. 
Bronze with white gold leaf patina.

(Please page down for the poem on the Numbers and John texts.)

Ephesians 2:1-10

Way of Life = Way to Life = Life

How strange the writer says I'm dead
When by each day's desires I'm fed,
And with the things that I desire
It's only death that I acquire;
Instead, the kindness that I need
Is what from God each day proceeds;
And if this is a thing I know,
Then life, not death, will my life show.

Scott L. Barton

You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else.
But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

+  +  +

Numbers 21:4-9 and John 3:14-21

Lifted Up

Oh, how bizarre! - I'm sure you cry -
To read this text, where lifted high
Above the ground is some old snake
That Moses made for Israel's sake!

First, why on earth did Yahweh choose
To send those snakes, when they abused
The generosity God showed
When freedom on them, God bestowed?

Who knows? And yet a remedy
For lack of faith is what we see
God gives, whenever we are blind
To how God longs to be defined.

It also seems a funny thing
The praise of Christ who's killed to sing,
Since dying seems less victory
Than something contradictory.

Why would it that this faithful man,
Condemned to death, be some game plan
For how the world might finally see
The love that sets all people free?

Who knows? And yet, it matters not
The things that up God's sleeve, God's got!
Love backed not down, and thus displayed
Extravagance God shows today.

When snake or Son are lifted high,
The thing to see in your mind's eye
Is God who always demonstrates
The saving grace which love creates.

Scott L. Barton

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.
+  +  +

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. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Third Sunday in Lent (B), March 4, 2018 - John 2:13-22; Exodus 20:1-17

Greco: Christ Expelling the Money Changers in the Temple (1600)

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

John 2:13-22

Call Security!

I wonder why they don't shout out,
And call the cops on him who flouts
Decorum with his whipping ways!
Can you imagine him today,
Without a permit for such raucous acts
Which peaceful moderation lacks?
Perhaps it's theater, you think;
Would Jesus really raise such stink?

How 'bout the students who deplore
The politicians who now whore
Their way to office with no spine,
And claim some right, almost divine,
To have an automatic gun,
Belongs to each and everyone?
I cheer their anger born of grief
To finally bring us all relief.

This Jesus was no Caspar Milquetoast
And hated Temple profits foremost,
And students activated now
Will whip machines of death, somehow.

Scott L. Barton

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

+  +  +

Exodus 20:1-17

The World's Economy and God's

The thing about markets is this:
You get what you pay for;
The more you pay, the more you get,
The wise all know the score.
But watch that you don't read this text
As if it's tit for tat, 
As if the nature of our God
Is, "You do this, and I give that." 
The only God who's worth the time
Of day is One who gave; 
The only reason this God had
To free our forebear slaves 
Was just because that's how God is,
Who gives a heav'n for you;
So focus not on third and fourth
Removes as parents' due;
That line's a set up for the next
To make you drop your jaw -
The thousandth generation get
God's steadfast love! The law
We need to know is how for us
God wants the very best!
You get the world when you find out
By love you are possessed.

Scott L. Barton

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments. You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Bonus poem: Lord, Who Threw Out These Forty Days

Lord, Who Threw Out These Forty Days

Today my preacher announced the hymn,
"Lord, Who Throughout These Forty Days,"
And immediately, I had a perverse thought:
What if Jesus threw out these forty days,
As in, threw out any glib, certain, outward penitence, 
And especially these days, all those "heartfelt"
Senatorial and Congressional prayers:

-Like from $4.5-million-campaign-help-from-the-N.R.A. Sen. Thom Tillis (R, NC)
"Please keep the victims, their families, first responders and the community in your thoughts and prayers."
-Like from $3.3-million-campaign-help-from-the-N.R.A. Sen. Marco Rubio (R, FL)
"Today is that terrible day you pray never comes."
-Like from $3.9-million-campaign-help-from-the-N.R.A. Sen. Cory Gardner (R, CO)
"I'm praying for our first responders."
-Like from $3 million-campaign-help-from-the-N.R.A. Sen Rob Portman (R, OH)
"Jane and I send our prayers to the school, the community, and the victims of this tragedy."
-Like from $3.1 million-campaign-help-from-the-N.R.A. Sen. Joni Ernst (R, IA) 
"Join me in praying for the students, faculty, and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, as well as their loved ones."
-Like from $1.1 million-campaign-help-from-the-N.R.A. Rep. French Hill (R, AR) 
"I would ask you to keep the community of Parkland, Florida, in your prayers as they reconcile the evil perpetrated against their community."

To these, and to so many others, I imagine Jesus saying,
"Woe to you, Senators and Representatives, hypocrites! 
For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, 
but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth."
And then, echoing the prophet, 
"I hate, I despise your festivals, 
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies."

I cannot believe otherwise: Jesus throws out their prayers. 
Now the question is, who will throw them out?

Scott L. Barton

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Second Sunday in Lent (B), February 25, 2018 - Romans 4:13-25; Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Rembrandt: God Reveals his Covenant to Abraham (ca. 1655)
Dresden, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Kupferstichkabinett

(Please page down for the poem on the Genesis text alone.)

Romans 4:13-25

I Reckon This Is True

I'm not sure Paul has it exactly right
About that part, "No distrust made him waver;"
For many incidents in later years
Reveal his faith had more a mixed bag flavor -
Like, passing off Sarah as his sister,
Which served to save this great believer's skin;
(And which later, Isaac also pulled off -
Like father, like son, we say with a grin!)
Like, on Moriah, there, with his only son
(Carrying the wood and sacrifice-bound)
It's as if he's playing a game of chicken
With this God, daring him to stand his ground.
But at one moment, Paul has it just right,
For Abraham, flat on his face, believed,
And at that moment, all his righteousness
Was not what he did, but what he received.

Scott L. Barton

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 

For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.

+  +  +

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Stained glass panel, (c.1485) 
from the south clerestory (window K) 
of the Great Malvern Priory, 
Worcestershire, United Kingdom

The Promise is the Thing

When Abram, old at ninety-nine,
A time when most feel past their prime,
Heard God Almighty cov'nant make,
Did he then say, "It's my big break?"
Or, had he such an attitude,
That, in a word, was gratitude
For all the things that yet would be?
The kings, foretold, he'd never see,
(The son, how could that come to be???)
And yet... and yet, his life was changed.
Perhaps, you, too, will sense arranged
By God far more than you can make,
And simply trust, through pain and aches,
That gifts which you can hardly guess
Will make new generations blessed.

Scott L. Barton
(Slightly revised from 3/1/15)

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him,

“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.

I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.

...God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The First Sunday in Lent (B), February 18, 2018 - Genesis 9:8-17; and Mark 1:9-15 + Genesis 9:8-17

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoń≠, 1837-1887:
Christ in the Desert
Genesis 9:8-17
Weather Forecast

God needed some way of remembering,
Or we needed some way of remembering
that God would remember,
Some sort of Post-It note,
"That pretty bow you tied around your finger"
As it's also been called,
A reminder that God would never smack us again,
Which shows up at the oddest times.

Yet many seem to have forgotten 
What sort of "us" is meant here.
It's you and me, yes;
But it's also "them" over there,
The people with different 
Looks and lives and even so-called beliefs,
Next door and across an ocean.
Oh - and every other living creature, too.

O God, I trust you remember the details.
But when will the rest of us remember 
That we're all in the same boat?
With the sun shining, I hope we get some rain soon.

Scott L. Barton

(The phrase about the "pretty bow" is from Leonard Bernstein's "Kaddish" Symphony #3 (being performed in March by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Tanglewood Festival Chorus.))

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

+  +  +

Mark 1:9-15 + Genesis 9:8-17
Good News, No Matter What

What a confluence of opposites here!
Jesus of Nazareth - baptized by John!
Out from the water the baptized comes up -
While from the heavens, the Spirit comes down!
Voice from the heaven says he's the beloved -
Yet, to the wilderness, then, he is driven!
Tempted by Satan to give it all up -
Service by angels is Jesus then given!
John is arrested, we know he will die -
Jesus keeps preaching the good news of God!
Near is the kingdom, the judgment soon comes -
Think again - know that the good news is odd!
Waters may flood and your life overwhelm,
Violence, hunger and pain still confound -
God is the One who in covenant stays,
Still, with the promise of love which redounds.

Scott L. Barton

(Slightly revised from 2/22/15)

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.” And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

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.”