Coming Soon: A New Bible Study on Romans

RomansP1cover_Page_1_large

I am pleased to announce that the Bible study on Romans that Mike Bennett and I have been working on for so long can now be ordered through UCC Resources and will ship on March 1.

Romans, Part 1, Romans 1-8 and Romans, Part 2, Romans 9-16 are titles in the United Church of Christ’s LISTEN UP! Bible Study series.

Romans, Parts 1 and 2 are not ground-breaking new works of original Biblical scholarship, but rather teaching tools to be used by small groups in Bible studies. A leader’s guide is included in every workbook.

Mike and I together bring over a half-century of experience as pastors leading Bible studies in local congregations. Romans Part 1 and 2 brings our knowledge of how to make Bible study come alive.

Behind these studies we bring our own understanding of Romans from a lifetime of engagement with this important book. Mike has been influenced by two important commentaries on Romans by Professors at his alma mater Yale Divinity School, Leander Keck and David Bartlett. Mike is also a contributor to the Feasting on the Word series.

I first studied Romans with William Robinson at Andover Newton Theological School and with Krister Stendahl at Harvard Divinity School. Later I studied Romans with my Bangor Seminary colleague Burton H. Throckmorton, and even later, on an Oxford sabbatical, with N.T. Wright.

These scholarly experiences with Romans are behind what we have written in these studies. Mike and I like the fact that the LISTEN UP series is both accessible and affordable. Here is how the UCC describes this series:

RomansP2cover_1024x1024

What’s a LISTEN UP! Bible Study, and why is it unique?

God’s word is alive. God will always have something new to say to us. That’s why the purpose of the LISTEN UP! Bible Study series is not simply learning information about the Bible. It is hearing God speak. There is a difference. In these Bible studies, you will be encouraged to listen: listen to the Bible, listen to your own questions and responses, and listen to the honest sharing among participants in your study group. Trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit, we believe that in that mix of biblical text, personal engagement, and honest speaking and listening, God’s word may be heard, speaking words of challenge and words of comfort.

Romans: Parts 1 and 2 LISTEN UP! Bible Study

Paul’s Letter to the Romans is the first of Paul’s letters in the New Testament canon, the longest of them (16 Chapters), and, in many respects, the most significant. The Letter to the Romans is written to a congregation Paul neither founded nor knew, but was hoping to visit soon. For this reason Romans both introduces Paul and also the major themes of his mature thinking about what God has done in Jesus Christ.

In making his case to the Romans Paul addresses some of the great themes of the Christian story: sin and grace, salvation, election, and the trustworthiness of the promises of God. Paul also writes at length about what the implications of the Gospel and the new life in Jesus Christ are for Christians and their congregations.

When we study the Letter to the Romans, we encounter together the still speaking God and discern the voice of God addressing our time and context. Don’t be surprised if you deepen your faith in the process.

Romans Parts 1 and 2 each sell for $6.99 for a single copy, or can be purchased in a five-pack for $20.00. To order go to UCC Resources which can be found here.

Working on Romans

Here we are putting the finishing touches on Romans, Part 1 and Part 2.

“Holy Weeping” A Sermon on Romans 12: 9 -18 and Revelation 21:1-4

CryOur two scripture readings today both speak about crying. The first reading speaks to the church on earth today, what I was taught as a child to call the church militant, and the second reading speaks to the church in heaven, what I was taught to call the church triumphant. Perhaps those terms are too martial for us today, but by whatever names it is the distinction between the church here and the church hereafter.

In the first reading Paul admonishes the Roman Christians on how to be the church now, and one of the things he tells them they need to do is to “rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep.”

The second reading is from the Revelation of St John the Divine. I have a soft spot for the writings of St John the Divine, as I was baptized at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York, which is the world’s largest gothic cathedral (so I come by my high church inclinations honestly.)

In this beautiful passage from Revelation, St. John describes the holy city, the New Jerusalem at the end of time and history. He says then there will be no more crying there because God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

So in engaging these two texts about the here and the hereafter, I started thinking about the function of crying in our lives, and especially in the church. I did a little research on crying, and discovered that we don’t know all that much about it. There are several competing theories about why humans cry, including those theories of evolutionary biologists who think it may have some social function. Continue reading

“Old Acquaintances Brought to Mind” A Review of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

images

(As per usual this review contains multiple spoilers. You’ve been warned!)

In a recent interview the stage and screen actress Blythe Danner said that part of why she left New York and the stage for LA and the movies was that, after she won a Tony on Broadway, whenever she made a stage entrance the audience would applaud.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens reminded me of that. Whenever one of the old crew appeared I expected the theater to break out in applause, and it seemed to me that director J.J. Abrams slowed these sequences down a tad for these special moments of reverent self-reference.

Because if this movie is anything it is self-referent; it is a less a sequel than a re-make of the first Star Wars movie. I found myself silently checking off references to the first movie (and its 2 sequels). Continue reading

My Top Ten Posts from 2015

winter-header-3

Once again as the old year passes and the new year beckons, it is my custom to look back at my most popular posts of the year. Here in order are the most visited new posts from 2015:

“The Message of the Cross” A Sermon on 1 Corinthians 1:23-25

“Taking the Long View” Reflections of a Retired Pastor

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

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

I was ordained forty years ago today

What I Love about the Gospel of Luke

“He’s Back!” A Christmas Story with a Happy Ending

“Better Late Than Never” Reflections on women in ministry.

“Come Here by the Waters” A Baptismal Hymn

Rick’s salade niçoise

 And desperate preachers (of whom there seem to be many) and other net surfers brought in a surprising number of hits to my archived material from other years (“Ten Highly Effective Strategies . . .” for example, had a three-day run with over 9,000 hits, which speaks well either of people’s appreciation for satire or for the poor morale of the clergy.) In either case here are the ten most visited posts from previous years on this blog in 2015, which I began in 2009:

 Ten Highly Effective Strategies for Crushing your Pastor’s Morale

Why did Jesus refer to Herod as “That fox” in Luke 13:32”?

Prayer for a Retired Pastor

“Rejoice! Rejoice!” A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent

“God Gives the Growth:” A Retirement Sermon

“The Lord Will Provide:” A Sermon on Genesis 22

“Behind Locked Doors” A sermon on John 20:24-29

“There is nothing to be afraid of!” A sermon on Psalm 27:1-2

“Anticipation”: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent (Year C)

An Ordination Sermon: “The Secret Sauce of Ministry. A Recipe in Two Parts”

Thanks so much for dropping by, and keep visiting in 2016.

“The Miracle of Christmas” A Hymn for the Feast of the Incarnation

The Adoration of the Shepherds

The Miracle of Christmas
C.M.

He came to earth that winter night
to share our human frame.
A choir of angels took to flight
to glorify his name.

Some shepherds in a field nearby
were summoned to his birth,
And heard the angels raise the cry
of peace upon the earth.

They went to where the babe did lay,
and found a manger bare.
Some sheep and oxen in the hay,
and Mary, Joseph, there.

O mysteries no eye has seen,
no human ear has heard,
That God should come to such a scene,
and we should call him Lord.

The world’s vast empires rise and fall,
great Caesar lost his claim,
But Mary’s babe is all in all,
and Jesus is his name.

© 2001 Richard L. Floyd

Suggested tune: “Winchester Old”

(Photo: “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst)

“He’s Back!” A Christmas Story with a Happy Ending

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 2.55.33 PM

My friend and former Pittsfield colleague Karen Gygax Rodriguez is the Pastor of the Federated Church of Green Lake, Wisconsin. On the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, the baby Jesus figurine was stolen from the church’s nativity scene.

The police investigated, but had no leads. They speculated that the thief was from outside Green Lake, since “everybody knows everybody here, and it would have been returned by now.”

On Tuesday the local ABC affiliated TV station ran a feature on the story  letting the public know that the church would not press charges if the thief or thieves returned the figurine.

I’ve been following it on Karen’s Facebook page, and have been struck by several lovely features of the story. First is how gracious and loving Pastor Karen and her flock have been about the theft. The crèche was only a year old and given in memory of a beloved staff member, so they could have been really angry about the theft and lashed out at the thief. But instead they asked that the figurine be returned without penalty.

Secondly, Pastor Karen used the incident as a teaching moment to say that whether the figurine was returned or not Christ would be present in the church and in the hearts of the people. In the end some may have had to think more deeply about the meaning of Christmas because of this.

And, finally, in a gracious act of ecumenical solidarity the local Roman Catholic Church volunteered to share their Jesus figurine with the Federated Church.

But that won’t be necessary, because this Christmas story has a happy ending. Someone from a nearby town who had seen the news ( watch TV) spotted the missing figurine and called the police to report it. Officer Jason Reysen of the Green Lake Police Department brought the stolen figurine into the church office today. Karen just posted on her Facebook page: HE’S BACK! !! THANK YOU! And indeed He is:

He's back

How about that for some late Advent eschatology!

 

“Thin Places”

CWwWLrbU8AAomxb.jpg-large

“Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’”—Genesis 28: 16

In Jacob’s dream he sees a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending it. He named the place Bethel, “the place of God.” The ancient Celts called such spots “thin places,” where the distance between heaven and earth collapses.

Thin places can be famous holy spots such as the Isle of Iona or the Cathedral de Notre Dame, but more often than not they are ordinary places, such as Bethel, or a dusty road on the way to Damascus.

You can search for thin places, but, as with Jacob, it is more likely that they will find you.

Such unexpected encounters with the Holy seem to happen in times of crisis: Jacob running away from home, Saul on his way to persecute the church.

Is it the place itself that allows for these glimpses of the advent of God? Or is it some special state of mind and heart? Either way there are times and places when the ordinarily reliable distinction between heaven and earth gets erased.

Even if we see no burning bush or ladder to heaven, nor hear the voice of Jesus, we are no less certain that we have come upon a thin place, and can say, as Jacob did, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”

Prayer: Keep us alive and alert, O God, in all places and times, that we may not miss the moments of your visitation.

(This is my daily devotional for today from “Wonder,” the United Church of Christ’s 2015 Advent Devotional booklet. Photo meme by Pilgrim Press)