December “Sadness and Silences”

winter-night

An important writing mentor of mine was my friend and colleague the late Arnold Kenseth. Here are a reflection and a prayer of his for Advent. For more about this remarkable writer, poet and minister see my  post “Arnold Kenseth: A New England Poet of the Sacred.” Continue reading

“Displaced Persons” A Sermon on Jeremiah 29: 1-14

jeremiah“Home Sweet Home.” “Home is where the heart is.” “There’s no place like home.” But what if you must leave your home? What if you find yourself far from home?  I want to explore the theme of “home and exile.”

 We will look at an important letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the exiles in Babylon. It is a letter of hope and comfort to people who have lost their homes, whose lives have been turned upside down. They are dislocated, displaced persons. I think the letter has things to say to us in our time. Continue reading

“Wolves and Lambs” Devotionals for Advent 2016

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The United Church of Christ 2016 Advent Devotional, “Wolves and Lambs,” from The Stillspeaking Writers’ Group is now available. I have two devotionals in it.

Why “Wolves and Lambs”? Here’s a snippet by Quinn G. Caldwell from the Introduction:

We’re calling this year’s Advent Devotional “Wolves and Lambs” because we think that the image of a wolf and a lamb lying down together should be comforting, yes, even sweet.

But it should also be deeply unnerving.

As the first Christmas was. As this one will be, if Isaiah and God—and we—have anything to say about it.

You can order it here. You can see a sample preview here. Order soon. They only print so many and some years they have run out.

A Tribute to Meredith Brook “Jerry” Handspicker 1932-2016

Jerry(We had a beautiful and moving Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving for the life of Jerry Handspicker this afternoon at the Second Congregational Church, UCC, of Bennington, Vermont. The Pastor, the Reverend Mary H. Lee-Clark, presided and delivered a fine homily. Jerry was Professor of Practical Theology at Andover Newton Theological School for 36 years, my former teacher, colleague and a family friend. I was asked to give one of the remembrances. Here are my remarks:)

I’m Rick Floyd. Jerry was my teacher, my colleague and my friend. I knew Jerry for 45 years through many ups and downs and changing experiences of life.

I met him when I arrived at Andover Newton in 1971. That very first week I applied for a field education position, running a coffee house (that dates me!), at the Newton Highlands Congregational Church. There were two token youths on the search committee, Amy Handspicker and her best-friend Martha Talis. By Amy’s telling they judged I was hip enough for the job, and convinced the skeptical grown-ups that I was their man.

Thus began a long association with that congregation, where Jerry was the associate pastor, and with the Handspicker family. Jerry and Dee embodied what today we would call “radical hospitality,” and I had many a dinner with them and Amy, Jed and Nathan. I once briefly lived in their attic! (And I wasn’t the only one.) Continue reading

A tribute to Max L. Stackhouse

MAx 2(Yesterday our church, the First Congregational Church UCC of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, had a grand celebration for the life of Max L. Stackhouse. Our pastor, Brent Damrow, presided gracefully over a beautiful mosaic of spoken and musical offerings to remember and honor Max. Family, friends and colleagues shared their thoughts. There was a half hour of Bach organ prelude music by the Reverend Tim Weisman, Yo Yo Ma played a cello introit, an expanded choir sang an anthem under the direction of Tracy Wilson, and a choral benediction conducted by Joseph Flummerfelt. God was glorified and the promises of God were proclaimed. I was privileged to make some remarks. Here they are:)

I have been blessed to know Max for most of my adult life. I met him in 1971, when I started my studies at Andover Newton Theological School, where he was my teacher. Our paths have crossed ever since.

For three years I was a seminary intern at the church where Max and Jean and their family belonged. I was Dave’s 3rd grade church-school teacher. I must confess that I had one of those “Come to Jesus” moments when I realized that Professor Max Stackhouse’s child was in my class!

Eventually both Max and I ended up here in the Berkshires. Max was a frequent lecturer and guest preacher at the church I served in Pittsfield. After I retired we became fellow church members here in Stockbridge. Stockbridge was theological “holy ground” for Max, as two of his heroes, Jonathan Edwards and Reinhold Niebuhr, had lived here. Continue reading

“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

“Thin Places”

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“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)

Preparing for Christmas with a prayer from Karl Barth

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On this Fourth Sunday of Advent my pastor picked this prayer from Karl Barth as part of the prayers of the people for this morning. Barth wrote it in the middle of the last century, but it struck me as eerily contemporary. It helped me sort out some of what I need to do to prepare for Christmas, and so in that spirit, I share it with you:

Lord, our God and Father, give to many, to all, and to us as well, that we may celebrate Christmas like this: that in complete thankfulness, utter humility and then complete joy and confidence we may come to the One whom you have sent, and in whom you yourself have come to us. Clean out the many things in us that now that the hour has come have become impossible for us, can no longer belong to us, may, must, and will fall away from us, by virtue of your Son, our Lord and Savior, entering into our midst and creating order.

Have mercy on all of those who either do not yet or do not fully know you and your kingdom, who perhaps once knew everything and have either forgotten, misunderstood or even denied it! Have mercy on all of humankind, who today are once again especially plagued, threatened and haunted by so much foolishness. Enlighten the thoughts of those in both the East and the West, the South and the North who are in power and who, as appears to be the case, are today in complete confusion and despair. Give the rulers and representatives of the people, the judges, teachers, and bureaucrats, give even the media in our homeland the insight and sobriety that are necessary for their responsible work. Place the right, necessary and helpful words on the lips of those who have to preach during this Christmas Season, and open then also the ears and hearts of those who hear them. Comfort and encourage those who are sick, both in body and spirit, in hospitals, as well as prisoners, and those who are distressed, abandoned or despairing. Help them with what alone can truly help them and all of us: the clarity of your Word and the quiet work of your Holy Spirit.

We thank you that we are permitted to know that we do not pray and will never pray to you in vain. We thank you that you have let your light rise, that it shines in the darkness, and that the darkness will not overcome it. We thank you that you are our God and that we may be called your people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

(Photo: R. L. Floyd, 2015)

“He will come like child.” Rowan Williams’ “Advent Calendar”

Last fall's leaf

I have long been an admirer of the estimable Rowan Williams, the 104th archbishop of Canterbury, since the time I saw him give an awkward, brilliant, and humble paper in 1989 in Oxford. Since then I have read with profit his thoughtful theological books and essays. But I just learned that he also has written poetry. I came across this fine Advent poem today. It is from his first collection of poems: After Silent Centuries (Oxford, 1994), and is now available in The Poems of Rowan Williams’ (Oxford, 2002 and Grand Rapids MI, 2004).

Advent Calendar

He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.

He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.

He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.

He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.

© Rowan Williams

(Photo by R. L. Floyd, 2015, “Autumn leaf after the rainstorm,” Ashuwillticook  Rail Trail, Lanesborough, MA.)

“Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise”

Wonder

“Finish, then, Thy new creation!”

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”— Romans 8: 22-23

The Advent hope recognizes that there is something unfinished about God’s creation. In today’s passage Paul employs the metaphor of childbirth, the “whole creation groaning in labor pains,” to describe the ongoing process of creation.

Our United Church of Christ Statement of Faith testifies to the two calls of God, the original creation (‘God calls the worlds into being”), and the new creation in Jesus Christ (“God calls us into the church”).

It is humbling to imagine that we have some part to play in the completion of God’s work, in our lives, in our communities, and on this earth we share with all God’s other creatures.

The Advent hope invites us to actively share in the reconciling, restoring, healing and saving activity of the living God. Such hope points to a promised future when the whole creation will finally be completed, a vision captured by the last verse of the great Charles Wesley hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling:”

“Finish, then, Thy new creation;

Pure and spotless let us be.

Let us see Thy great salvation

Perfectly restored in Thee;

Changed from glory into glory,

Till in Heav’n we take our place,

Till we cast our crowns before Thee,

Lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

Prayer: O Creator God, let your work be our work, as we long for the promised day when you will bring it to completion, through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

(This is my devotional for today from “Wonder” the 2015 Advent Devotional from the United Church of Christ’s Stillspeaking Writers’ Group. Photo: The Pilgrim Press, 2015)