“The God of the Far Off” Toward the Ministry of Inclusion

Prodigal sonWhat an extraordinary week this has been for our country! The great Swiss theologian Karl Barth liked to admonish the church that it must read both the Bible and the newspaper, because we Christians live in the world.

And what a week of news it was! There were two historic Supreme Court decisions that will change our national life in significant, and in my opinion, profoundly positive, ways.

On Thursday, by a 6-3 decision, the Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, which makes health care available to all Americans.

And on Friday, by a 5-4 decision, Marriage Equality became the law of the land.

The reason I am here before you instead of our pastor Brent Damrow is that he is in Cleveland at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, representing the Massachusetts Conference. I am sure he will have stories to tell about the celebrations taking place there, as our national church has been a long and tireless advocate for equal rights for the LGBT community and a supporter  of marriage equality.

I believe that these two historic Supreme Court decisions share a common idea, and that is the idea of “inclusion.”

And a third extraordinary event in our national life also happened on Friday. President Obama climbed into the bully pulpit in Charleston, South Carolina to give the eulogy for the Honorable Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Emmanuel AME Church who, along with eight of his congregants, was murdered by a gunman while attending a Bible study at the church on June 17.

President Obama gave a stirring eulogy for Pastor Pinkney, but he was addressing not only those present, but also the nation. I’d like to share with you some excerpts of his eulogy:

The alleged killer could not imagine how the city of Charleston . . . .the state of South Carolina, how the United States of America would respond — not merely with revulsion at his evil act, but with big-hearted generosity and, more importantly, with a thoughtful introspection and self-examination that we so rarely see in public life.

Blinded by hatred, he (the alleged murderer) failed to comprehend what Reverend Pinckney so well understood — the power of God’s grace . . .

This whole week, I’ve been reflecting on this idea of grace . . .

According to the Christian tradition, grace is not earned. Grace is not merited. It’s not something we deserve. Rather, grace is the free and benevolent favor of God as manifested in the salvation of sinners and the bestowal of blessings. Grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

Martha and I were driving to Onota Lake in Pittsfield for a walk on Friday when the President’s eulogy came on the radio. We got to the parking lot at the boat ramp, but we didn’t get out of the car. We sat in the car until it was over, and when it was over I had tears streaming from my eyes.

The President was addressing the painful facts of racial relations in today’s America. He mentioned that in response to the massacre at the church the Confederate flag had been taken down in the South Carolina capitol and elsewhere. That flag, he said, was a symbol of our nation’s “original sin,” slavery.

The president had both the Bible and the newspaper in mind as he gave this incandescent speech. I don’t know of such a theologically astute presidential address since Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural.

And once again I would argue that inclusion is the big idea that binds all these events together. Inclusion.

I believe in the power of ideas to shape societies, and, as my teacher, mentor and friend, Max Stackhouse taught me, to examine where they come from and what they mean. So I want to do a little bit of that with you today about the idea of inclusion. Continue reading

“Praying from the depths”

Out of the depths“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord!” — Psalm 130: 1

In the prayer book I grew up with each Psalm had a Latin title, which was always the first line of that Psalm. The only one that I distinctly recall was “De Profundis,” the Latin title of Psalm 130, which begins, “Out of the depths.”

I’m not sure what it was about that title that was so intriguing to me. Perhaps it reminded me of the English word “profound.” I know now that “profound” is derived from the Latin “profundus” which means literally “at the bottom.”

As I have lived out my life through the decades there have been some difficult, even desperate, times when I have cried out to God from somewhere pretty close to the bottom. We have phrases that describe such times. We say someone has “hit bottom” or is “bottoming out.”

But it is not only in these desperate times that we can pray from the depths. We can always pray from the very deepest part of our selves, from the very “bottom of our hearts.” Sometimes we are able to find the words, other times our silent prayers are, as Paul described them, “sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Either way, our God, who is Lord of the depths as well as the heights, hears our prayers.

Prayer:

O God, your love fills the world, help us to fathom the depth of the love you have for us in Jesus Christ.

(This is my Daily Devotional for June 11, 2015. To see the original go here. To subscribe (for free) to this daily e-mail service go here.)

“Taking the Long View” Reflections of a Retired Pastor

Presiding(This is a talk I gave to “The Saints” which is the United Church of Christ retired clergy group in the Connecticut Conference of the UCC. The talk was in Cromwell, CT on May 14, 2015)

I’d like to thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I have great respect for ministry as a high and holy calling, and I enjoy the company of ministers. I am proud to be a minister, and this year is the 40th anniversary of my ordination. And it is good to be in the Connecticut Conference. I never served here, but my daughter, Rebecca Floyd Marshall, is an ordained minister here in CT, serving in Westport. If you bump into her at a Conference meeting introduce yourself.

My talk today is entitled “Taking the Long View” which was the title of a UCC STILL SPEAKING Daily Devotional I wrote for March 14 of last year. I see it was re-printed in your newsletter. I’m going to share with you some of my personal back-story behind the writing of this particular devotional.

I began the devotional with an anecdote about Ralph, a congregant of mine in my first church, who owned an apple orchard: “I drove over to see Ralph at his hilltop orchard a week after I had presided over his wife’s funeral and burial. He was well into his nineties and they had been married for seven decades. I was all of twenty-seven. It took me awhile to find him, because he was out planting apple trees. He seemed glad to see me and said, “You may wonder why I am planting trees that I will never live to see bear fruit. But it’s what I have always done, and I am not going to stop now. There were apple trees in this orchard when I came here that somebody else had planted, and there will be apple trees here after I’m gone.”

I’ve held onto Ralph’s words for forty years, and lately they have helped me as I think about what it means to be a retired minister. That hasn’t been easy for me. Because when I left my role as a pastor it seemed, at first, and for a long while, like the loss of my calling as a minister. Now I have come to realize that, although I am no longer a pastor of a congregation, I am still a minister. When I turned 65 the UCC Pension Boards mailed me a good little book by Paul Clayton entitled Called for Life (Perhaps you all got one, too). I love the play on words in the title, and I do believe we are “called for life” in both senses of the phrase.  Continue reading

Rick’s salade niçoise

Nicoise

As the weather warms up it’s time for a hearty dinner salad. Some friends of ours served us a lovely salade niçoise a few weeks ago and then last week I was at a bistro in Boston and one of my dining companions ordered a good-looking one. It seemed as if it was calling to me to make it since it has been a long time, and I knew I had some nice cooked French beans and some cooked Yukon gold potatoes leftover from a supper a couple of days ago. So the only thing I actually had to cook were the hard-boiled eggs. There are nearly endless variations of this. Here’s mine:

The Ingredients

A few leaves of washed lettuce or other greens (I used Romaine since I had some)

1 can of good quality oil-packed tuna, drained

Some cooked small potatoes such as Yukon Gold sliced.

About 8 good quality canned anchovy fillets, rinsed and drained

½ cup good black olives, such as (duh) niçoise, or kalamata

8 oz. cooked French beans (haricot verts) or green beans

4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

Thinly sliced red onion (or scallions)

Coarsely chopped good fresh tomatoes or cherry tomatoes halved

Capers and fresh herbs (parley, basil or tarragon are nice) for garnish

Some sliced radishes for color (I didn’t have any)

The Vinaigrette

4 TBS red wine vinegar

½ cup extra virgin olive oil (French evoo is nice if you can find it and afford it)

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely minced

½ TBS Dijon mustard

¼ tsp. kosher salt

¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2 TBS finely chopped parley

Putting it together

Whisk the dressing ingredients and put it aside. Assemble the salad on a platter starting with the greens, the tuna, the potatoes, the beans, the egg slices, the onion, the tomatoes, the anchovies, the capers and herbs. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, a few turns of the pepper mill, and serve.

It’s a meal on a plate. Get yourself some good bread, some Provençal rosé and “Robert est votre oncle!”

(Photo: © R. L. Floyd, 2015) If you see an ad here it is WordPress doing their mercantile thing, over which I have no control. This has always been, and will continue to be, a non-commercial site.

“God’s Good Pleasure”

Cherry blosoms

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”— Philippians 2:12-13

This passage reminds me of those jokes in which someone asks, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Which do you want to hear first?”

I’m inclined by temperament to want the bad news at once, so the bad news from Paul comes first: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Uh oh! This sounds to me like a counsel of despair, for who among us has the power to save ourselves? Is this the ultimate bad self-help advice? And that “fear and trembling” part is scary.

So what’s the good news? The good news is that Paul knows this salvation process is a collaboration with God “who is at work in you.”

That’s sounds much better, because only with God at work in us can we ever choose and accomplish the things that please God.

And what pleases God? Today’s passage follows directly after a beautiful hymn that describes how Jesus, in humble obedience to God, emptied himself of privilege and power to become a servant. Apparently that is the sort of thing that contributes to God’s “good pleasure.”

Prayer: O Jesus, before your name every knee should bend on heaven and earth, help us day by day to follow in your way, that both our will and our works may please God.

(This is my Daily Devotional for April 27, 2015. To subscribe to the UCC STILLSPEAKING Daily Devotional go to:http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/

(Photo: R. L. Floyd, 2015)

Veal chops with mushroom Marsala sauce

Vealchops

I saw these beautiful veal loin chops at my local market. One of my wife’s go-to meals in a good Italian restaurant is veal Marsala, which is made from very thin scallops of veal. Why not use these same wonderful flavors for chops? This recipe is for two, but it can be easily doubled.

Ingredients

2 TBS unsalted butter (divided)

1 TBS extra virgin olive oil

2 veal loin chops, about an inch thick.

Flour for dredging.

8 OZ white button mushrooms, quartered.

¾ cup dry Marsala wine.

½ cup beef stock

Salt and pepper.

Recipe

Start heating a no-stick pan over high heat. While you heat the pan dry the chops with paper towels and salt and pepper them. When the pan is hot add 1 TBS olive oil and 1 TBS butter.

When the butter and oil foam, dredge the chops in flour, and put in pan. You want to brown them but not burn them. When they are a golden brown remove to a plate and put in your mushrooms and saute’ them until they give up their juices. Splash in the Marsala and the stock, stir and keep them simmering for a minute or two to reduce a little.

Return the chops to the pan and cover. Turn down the heat. You want a gentle simmer to finish cooking the chops. Depending on the thickness of your chops and the heat source this will take between 8 and 12 minutes. You can flip them over about half way through.

When they are done remove them to a plate. Turn up the heat and reduce the sauce for a few minutes until it thickens a bit and is almost syrupy. Turn the heat off and add the remaining TBS of butter and stir. When it is blended into the sauce pour it over the chops and serve.

I served this over buttered noodles with a tossed green salad and a nice red wine from Italy.

“The Cross and the Church: The Soteriology and Ecclesiology of P. T. Forsyth”

Forsyth(Note: This article first appeared in the Andover Newton Review in 1992 (Vol 3, No. 1). It is the fruit of essays I wrote for my tutor the Revd. Donald Norwood during my 1989 sabbatical at Mansfield College, Oxford. I want to thank Professor Max Stackhouse for inviting me to submit it. This is the first time it is available on the Internet. RLF)

Part 1 The Church and Our Redemption

 The British Congregationalist P. T. Forsyth, 1848-1921, is above all a theologian of the cross, and it is this soteriological focus that dominates his understanding of the church. The church was created by the saving work of Christ, and, therefore, for Forsyth, it has no other principle or foundation. Everything in, of and about the church is informed by the work of Christ; questions of polity, ecumenism, church and state, ethics, the ministry, the sacraments, all these are seen through the lens of Christ’s atonement. Since Forsyth’s view of the atonement is profoundly corporate and universal, so too his understanding of the church is corporate and universal. This understanding of a corporate and universal church created by a divine act in the atoning cross of Christ gives Forsyth’s theology a truly catholic and truly evangelical character and accounts for his continued appeal to several branches of the church as a significant ecumenical theologian for our time. Continue reading