Review: Advent


Advent: The Once & Future Coming of Jesus ChristFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2018.

Summary: A collection of sermons and writings organized according to the lectionary calendar of pre-Advent and Advent Sundays and special days, focusing on preparation for return of Christ.

Advent is often thought of as the four Sundays before Christmas, and a time of anticipating the celebration of Christ’s birth. It is that, and Fleming Rutledge would propose, far more. Reading Advent, it became more for me as well. This book is a collection of sermons given over many years and various locations, as well as a shorter collection of writings. Aside from the writings the sermons are organized by the Episcopal pre-Advent and Advent calendar, spanning a seven week period.

Our typical mental picture of Advent is one of warm, family-centered times of Advent calendars and activities, and the lighting of Advent wreaths. Rutledge presents us with an older tradition, and one not for the faint of heart, She reminds us of Episcopal practice, in which the church is not decorated until Christmas, in contrast to a society that decorates for Christmas with lights, ornaments, trees, and more before Thanksgiving. All this is occurring during Advent which is a time of darkness rather than light.

Rutledge reminds us that Advent occurs in a season of darkness, and in a world that is sin-darkened. It is a season of waiting for the king, and not simply for his first coming, but his return. We wait, conscious of the evil in the world and each one of us. We wait, learning to long for judgment as a setting right of things . We understand that history is coming to a culmination–a cosmic war. We wait, remembering the ministry of John who prepared the Lord’s way. Rutledge does not shy from things like judgment and hell, and believes that in the facing of biblical teaching about these things, we understand more clearly the salvation of our God in the two comings of Christ, leading us to welcome his coming in our lives.

The sermons model how to weave the events of the day, from 9/11 to an ordination into the text of a message, and to adapt material to retreats, mid-week services as well as Sundays. Most of the sermons are five or six pages in length, ideal for reading over the course of pre-Advent and Advent as a series of meditations on Advent. The sermons are not theological treatises, but rather theological addresses, from the “I” of the preacher to the “you” of her hearers. They are rich both in the unpacking of the doctrines of the incarnation and return of Christ, and practical application of these truths for individuals and congregations.

Reading this left me with fresh wonder that our God would so seek us out in the person of his Son, and left me longing for his return. To live nearly two-thirds of a century is to see a good deal of evil, including that in myself. To see the atrocities people wreak upon each others, the contemptuousness of many in power for the lowly, the desecration of a beautiful world, all leave me longing for the day when things are set right Rutledge’s sermons do not offer an escape from the harsh realities of life. Rather, the sermons repeatedly reframe these in a larger story–one in which the God who has acted in the cradle and the cross, will act decisively both to wondrously save, and judge, wiping away every tear.

It is this we await in the darkness of Advent, mirroring the darkness of the world. Rutledge helps us see what a wonder the coming of the Dayspring truly is. Her forthright messages evidence one who has reached “the simplicity on the other side of complexity” that will prepare our hearts for Christ. There is yet time to sit down with this work before Christmas begins. I was not sorry and I do not think you will be.

Reading Reflections on this book in previous posts:

Reading Reflections: Advent by Fleming Rutledge — One

Reading Reflections: Advent by Fleming Rutledge–Two


Review: Three Hours

Three Hours

Three Hours: Sermons for Good FridayFleming Rutledge. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2019.

Summary: Short messages on the “seven last words” of Christ on the cross, preached on Good Friday of 2018.

One of the ways churches have remembered the death of Christ on the cross on what is called Good Friday is through a three hour service from noon until 3 pm, usually organized around the seven “words” of Jesus from the cross, interspersed with liturgy, hymns, prayers, and silence.

Fleming Rutledge gave seven meditations on these “seven last words” at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, New York City on Good Friday, March 30, 2018. These meditations were published, with little alteration earlier this year, and served as my own Good Friday meditations this past Friday.

Each of these short meditations left me with a thought for reflection. This may or may not have been Rutledge’s focus, but I share these as much to capture them for myself, as well as to give you a taste of what is here. There is much more to each short meditation than my summary thought!

Luke 23:32-34. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” What about those who know what they are doing, as is the case for all of us at times? Christ is the one who died to justify the ungodly!

Luke 23:39-43. “Verily, I say unto thee, Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” We speculate much about the afterlife. We focus little on what it means when Jesus says that it will be “with him.” “In his presence is fullness of joy!”

John 19: 26-27. “Woman, behold thy son!…Behold thy mother!” Two unrelated believers become kin. “There is no other way to be a disciple of Jesus than to be in communion with other disciples of Jesus” (p, 32).

Matthew 27:45-46. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus “steered toward the pain” and plumbed the very bottom of despair and alienation as he “became sin” and surrendered to Death. This is the one who has defeated Death and Hell, whose love, nothing can separate us from.

John 19:28-29. “I thirst.” Water is life. Living water is nothing less than real water–the water from Jesus side along with his life-giving blood. The one who thirsted now says, “come to the water.”

John 19:29-30. “It is finished.” Rutledge writes, “The crucifixion is not just an unfortunate thing that happened to Jesus on his way to the resurrection. It is not a momentary blip on the arc of his ascent to the Father. John tells us otherwise. It is precisely on the cross that the work of Jesus is carried through to its completion” (p. 67). Tetelestai!

Luke 23:44-46. “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” In Flannery O’Connor’s words quoted here, “The creative action of the Christian’s life is to prepare his death in Christ.” We each may commend our lives to the Father through this Son.

It was the reading of Rutledge’s magnificent study on the crucifixion (review) that prompted me to buy this book. In much briefer form, I found the same depth of thoughtfulness, and elegance and economy of words. More than this, I was led to meditate through the Seven Words on the meaning of the cross–who Christ died for, the community Christ established, the hope of being “with him,” and the cross as the consummation of Christ’s work. I found myself stopping again and again and saying, “Hallelujah, what a Savior!”

This review comes too late for you to read this on Good Friday in 2019. But it is far from too late to acquire and read this book, particularly if you rushed through Passion Week preparing for Easter, or to have on hand for next year. This book will bear multiple readings and I look forward to returning to it again and again.


Review: As Kingfishers Catch Fire


As Kingfishers Catch FireEugene H. Peterson. Colorado Springs: Waterbrook, 2017.

Summary: A collection of 49 of Peterson’s sermons grouped into seven sections, focused on lives congruent with the teaching of scripture.

I’ve been a follower of the writing of Eugene Peterson since I heard him speak on the parables of Jesus after a very successful conference, where he warned us of the dangers that may come with success. He is a person who repeatedly has challenged me to look beyond the obvious, the “glittering images,” to the bedrock realities of keeping company with Jesus.

This is a kind of valedictory book, that Peterson has described as his last book, bringing together preaching over the course of his pastoral work into a collection of 49 of his sermons. He groups these is seven groups of seven organized around “preaching in the company of…Moses, David, Isaiah, Solomon, Peter, Paul, and John of Patmos.” Each section is preceded by a brief introduction about the one being kept company with in that part.

A theme which ties this collection together in his mind is congruence, particularly between our faith as articulated in Holy Scripture, and the ways we live out that faith. Peterson explains this further in introducing the collection:

“The Christian life is the lifelong practice of attending to the details of congruence–congruence between ends and means, congruence between what we do and the way we do it, congruence between what is written in Scripture and our living out what is written, congruence between a ship and its prow, congruence between preaching and living, congruence between the sermon and what is lived in both preacher and congregation, the congruence of the Word made flesh in Jesus with what is lived in our flesh.”

I find it almost impossible to summarize all the good I found in this collection without writing a very long review. What is compelling in these sermons is the joining of thoughtful engagement with the biblical text, thoughtful reflection on life, and unforced connections between the two. One sermon that caught my attention was “Train Up a Child” from Proverbs 22:6. After observing that the word we translate as “train” literally means “to rub the gums of a newborn child with oil before it begins to suck its mother’s breast” (scripture is so earthy!), he discusses the implications of this warm, intimate act of helping a child get started right in life. He writes,

Some people have a box labeled ‘Sunday school,’ where training takes place for an hour every week. There is another box labeled for parents that is consulted occasionally when there is misbehavior. One of the most visible boxes these days is child psychology, which is fairly expensive, but at least you know the person working out of that box knows a lot more than you do, which relieves you of some of the responsibility.

“All these boxes are useful from time to time, but they have little to do with what is involved in the biblical proverb. The proverb doesn’t come from a box but out of a life lived. It has little to do with advice giving, counseling, or analyzing. Rather it is initiated through personal example and caring. It means that every time you engage in an act of faith in Christ, you are training another person. Every time you love another in obedience to Christ’s command, you are educating someone else. Every time you forgive someone because Christ forgave you, you are assisting materially in the Christian growth of that person. Every time you hope because Christ has promised his help, you are opening up new possibilities of growth in another person.”

Each sermon probably takes ten to fifteen minutes to read, but gives you plenty to reflect on for the next half hour, the next day, even the next week. Peterson writes at the beginning of the book his attempts to fit into his denominations expectations of him to motivate people to grow their church, to cast vision, and how this just didn’t fit his sense of pastoral calling. What we are given instead is transcripts of addresses of a pastor bringing out in plain language the meaning of texts, and considerations of what it means to live them out in everyday life. We are also given examples of how this may be done from Genesis to Revelation, from Moses to John of Patmos. These 49 sermons cover much of canonical scripture and begin to help us see how the Word of God written may become indeed, the Word of God for us.

This book has been caught up in controversy. At the time of its publication, Peterson gave what was meant to be a kind of “valedictory” interview, during which the interviewer, with his own agenda, pursued a line of questioning about Peterson’s views and pastoral practice around LGBT issues. After the article came out, Peterson, facing bookstores pulling his books, issued a “clarification.” In the end, no one was particularly happy. I question the interviewer’s judgment of pursuing his line of questioning in what was a kind of valedictory interview. I wish Peterson had responded differently or not at all, particularly because his answers and later clarifications might have discouraged people from discovering a treasure. I think it better that this book serve as his “valedictory address.” For me, it not only summed up his life and ministry, but modeled the skillful work of the diligent pastor in preaching week by week. We need more models like this.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher via Edelweiss. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The World’s Great Sermons, Volume 04

The World's Great Sermons, Volume 04
The World’s Great Sermons, Volume 04 by Various
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Kind of an odd thing to read, eh? Volume 4 of a collection of sermons. As it turns out, this was for a book group interested in 19th century preaching and particularly the sermons of Lyman Beecher, William Ellery Channing, Alexander Campbell, and Horace Bushnell, who were among the giants of the American pulpit in the 19th century. This is actually part of a 10 volume series published in 1908 by Funk & Wagnells and digitized and available for the measly price of .99 cents. The volume also includes sermons of Thomas Chalmers, Edward Irving, Thomas Arnold, Francis Wayland, Alexander Vinet, John Summerfield, and John Henry Newman.

One is struck as you read of the insight of Philip Brooks that preaching is “communication of truth through personality.” We see the contrast between the rigorous, propositional preaching of Lyman Beecher and the elegant prose of a William Ellery Channing and we understand why the Calvinists had such problems with Unitarians like Channing. We see the plain spoken character of frontier preacher Alexander Campbell as he speaks of the missionary cause and the deep insights into the affections of a Thomas Chalmers. John Henry Newman’s lush prose contrasts with Horace Bushnell’s spare but eloquent argument for the unconscious influence each of us has on the lives of others.

I think it is always helpful to read sermons aloud when I can. This is especially true in this period, where language is often prosier than most of our current preaching. Often when one does so, you begin to sense the rhythms and cadences of these preachers. My favorites? Probably Chalmers’ “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” for its exploration of how the love of Christ transforms our affections, Alexander Vinet’s “The Mysteries of Christianity” for its unabashed assertion that mystery is an indispensable part of Christian belief, and Horace Bushnell’s “Unconscious Influence” for its telling reminder that the ways we often influence the most are the ways of which we may be least conscious.

Each sermon is preceded by a brief biographical sketch of the preacher. One thing that would have been helpful would be to have information on the occasion of the sermon.

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