Emmanuel, Come to Us! A Prayer for our World at Christmas

sunsetO God of wondrous grace and holy love, we give you thanks and praise that you entered into our world to share our messy humanity. In this holy season we are quick to speak and sing of your majesty, mystery, glory and might. Yet this season reminds us that you are not a distant God, but come close to us in Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh. He is Emmanuel, God with us, and in and through him you are with us in all the comings and goings, the beings and doings, of our days. Continue reading

“Thanksgiving” A Daily Devotional

turkey“O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.”—Psalm 136:1

Our family gathers around the Thanksgiving table every year. The venue changes, but now the menu does not. Once I cooked a wild turkey our sexton had hunted. Another year I abandoned my bread stuffing for a chipotle corn bread recipe I saw in a foodie magazine. These innovations were met with the kind of murmuring that a pastor hears when she changes the words of the Doxology, and for much the same reason. Continue reading

“Her name was Grace” Is God’s Love Unfair?

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“But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” —Romans 5:8

My Mom’s older sister outlived her by forty years. She never had children, but she doted on my brother and sister and me.

One of her abiding principles was fairness. If she gave something to one of us, she would make sure she gave something equivalent to all of us. She was fair.

Children learn to spot unfairness pretty quickly. “That’s not fair!” can be heard on any playground, and rightfully so, since fairness is an important part of what makes any society workable, be it the small society of a school playground or the large one of a nation.

So it was that many who heard Jesus’s teachings were scandalized by his assertion that the divine economy works on another principle. It is all about grace, which by definition is unfair, because the recipients of the gift are undeserving.

Recall his parable of the workers in the vineyard? Jesus says the ones who came late will get paid the same as the ones who worked all day. “That’s not fair!” Try explaining that policy to either union or management.

The waiting father runs out to greet his prodigal son and throws him a big party. “That’s not fair!”

Paul wrote to the Romans, “While we still were sinners Christ died for us.” So is God’s love unfair? You bet it is, and it’s a good thing too, for who among us deserves such love? Even my aunt understood this good news. After all, her name was Grace.

Prayer: Loving God, we thank you that you run to greet us even when we have run away from you.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for June 4, 2016. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here. Photo: “The Laborers in the Vineyard” by Jacob Willemsz.)

“Prone to Wander”

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way.” —Isaiah 53:6

church-window4-224x300There is a magnificent chorus in Handel’s Messiah based on this text from Isaiah. Near the end of it there is a long series of intricate fugues among the several voices that keep repeating the line “We have turned.” The effect is striking, as the music describes in sound everyone turning and turning (like sheep) in new and different directions (but always astray).

One of the earliest and most abiding Christian insights about human nature is that we were made for God, but keep turning away. Just as flowers are “heliotropic”, designed to turn toward the sun, so we humans are “theotropic,” designed to turn toward God.

But somehow our natural theotropism has become faulty and broken. We are more likely to go astray, to turn to our own way, than to turn toward God.

But the Good News is we have a still-seeking God who does not give up on us. It is true that we are “prone to wander.” The phrase comes from Robert Robinson’s powerful hymn “Come, Thou fount of every blessing.”

In that hymn Robinson also wrote this: “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God.” He knew that though we turn to our own way again and again, God keeps bringing us back.

Prayer: Seek us and find us, Still Seeking God, and turn us back to you, the source of our life.

(This is my United Church of Christ Daily Devotional for April 19, 2016. To see the original go here. To subscribe to the Daily Devotional and receive it every day by e-mail go here. The photo is of the Lyons memorial window at the Church of the Holy Communion, Norwood, NJ. For more about this window see my post here.)

 

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

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

“Of Fig Trees and Second Chances” A Sermon on Luke 13:6-9

266_AlexanderMstrJHlsCrppWmnPrblBrrnFigKoninklijke_BibliotheekTheHague1430CROP-1Author T. C. Boyle has an intriguing short story entitled “Chicxulub.” Chicxulub is the name of an enormous asteroid (or perhaps a comet) that collided with the earth sixty-five million years ago on what is now the Yucatan peninsula, leaving an impact crater one hundred and twenty miles across, and twelve miles deep.

Boyle’s short story intersperses such episodes of catastrophic natural disasters with a story of one night in the life of one family. The main characters are a husband and wife, parents of a 17-year old daughter named Maddy. They receive a phone call from a hospital: “There’s been an accident!”

Apparently Maddy has been hit by a drunk driver while walking home from the Cineplex. They head to the hospital in that dream state of shock that overtakes those in the midst of disaster. At the hospital they are unable to get much information out of the staff. They are told she is in surgery. They wait and wait. Finally a young doctor comes out and speaks to them. He drops his eyes. “I’m sorry,” he tells them.

When I first read the story I was deeply moved, even though I knew it was a work of fiction. But Boyle was toying with his readers. He was toying with me. Because in the end we learn that Maddy is not dead. The dead girl on the gurney is a sixteen year old friend of hers, Kristi, who borrowed Maddy’s I.D. to get into an NC-17 movie in the next theater. Maddy gets another chance. Continue reading