“First Things First”

first-things-first“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” —1 Corinthians 3:11

My secular friends sometimes ask me, “Why the church?”

I hear myself come up with different answers at different times. “Because of the community.” They say, “Couldn’t you just join a book group?”

“Because of the morality and ethics, and the passion for justice.” They say, “There are lots of decent, ethical, moral people outside the church.”

They are quite right. There are many groups that do many of the things the church does, and some of them do it better. I think Twelve-Step programs often foster better community and personal transformation than the church does.

I think many organizations working for peace and justice, and for protecting the environment, are better organized and more efficient than the church in doing this vital work.

And I admit that the church can be a maddening place, slow-footed for needed change, too often liberal on matters that should be conserved, and conservative about things that should be shaken up. My love for the church is not blind.

But my best answer to the question, “Why the church?” is simply, “Jesus Christ.” He is the one unique, distinctive thing that the church has that nobody else does. I find that after a lifetime in the church the compelling figure of Jesus Christ in all his complexity and incomprehensibility still engages me deeply.

Paul knew this when he employed a building metaphor to say that Christ is the only foundation on which the church can rest. Without Christ the church risks becoming a religious voluntary association with a big list of good causes. The truth is that Christ is the “why” for those causes.

“Why the church?” Jesus Christ is the “why!”

Prayer: Always keep your church, O God, on the solid foundation that you have laid for us in your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for February 19, 2017. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here.)

“On Our Side!” A Devotional on the Atonement

Atonement“But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
—1 John 2:1-2

When I was a child my siblings and I worshipped with our parents and went to Sunday school before worship. I don’t remember much about Sunday school, but I have many powerful recollections of worship.

We were Episcopalians and so worship was out of the old Book of Common Prayer, with its grand 16th century language, a good bit of which I didn’t understand. Nonetheless, my faith was shaped and formed by those words that washed over me from Sunday to Sunday.

The passage above from 1 John was often read in the service. I wasn’t exactly sure what the passage meant, but somehow I knew it meant Jesus was on my side, even amidst whatever sins might befall my little life. It was a comforting thought. Continue reading

Can we know enough about God from observing the creation? Ruminations on a General Revelation

DriftwoodI was preparing this morning to lead Romans using the new small group study book that Mike Bennett and I wrote for the UCC’s “Listen Up!” Bible Study Series.

I came across that vexing section of Romans 1, no not that one, this one: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” (Romans 1: 19-20).

These verses have often been employed to put forth one or another versions of the idea of General Revelation, so I paid attention when a short while later, while I was wasting time on Twitter, I came upon a thoughtful blog post by J. Scott Jackson entitled Got General Revelation? Well, Isn’t that Special! 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

“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)

Preparing for Christmas with a prayer from Karl Barth

Finish

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)

“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