Go!

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)

Go therefore and make disciples.

Jesus’ final words in Matthew are words of action. Go, make, and baptize. Teach and remember.

He’s taught us how to love, without expectation of recompense, without limits. He’s given us examples of how to forgive, of how to feed the hungry and heal the broken. His words in the Sermon on the Plain in Luke are at the same time comforting and disturbing, much like our Lord himself.

He also reminds us we don’t have to go, make, baptize, teach, and remember alone. Jesus is with us always and…AND…we do all this in community.

We forget the salvation of the world does not rest entirely on our our shoulders. We alone don’t have to interpret Holy Scripture or have all the exact prayers. We are part of a huge community of believers, saints past, present, and yet to come. We are part of the communion of saints.

A priest mentor once explained the communion of saints to me, saying when he felt empty and dry of faith and prayed prayers that seemed flat and dim and filled with doubt, that was okay. Because somewhere in the world, someone overflowed with drenching faith that was particularly alive in her prayers. And the time would come when the roles switched.

We are supported and sustained by each other. My doubt is balanced by another’s deep faith. Again, the entirely of Christian faith does not depend on me. It is held together by Christ in a loving community of us.

I give thanks for this communion of saints, this rag-tag group of faithful Christians who go forth and teach, baptize, and remember. I give special thanks for the saints at Forward Movement who do this.

Forward Movement provides spiritual resources that teach and remember. Some are online, like Fifty Days of Fabulous, and free to whoever takes the time to click on a link. Others, like Lent Madness, provide fun ways to learn more about our fellow neighbors in this communion of saints. Their flagship publication, Forward Day by Day, is available to those in prisons, hospitals, in the military, and in our churches. It also has devotions available online. They publish books, pamphlets, and digital resources for communities of faith. The words they curate and collect, the reflections of the teachings of Christ and the experiences of the saints they nurture, are shared with the particular focus of reinvigorating the life of the church.

Forward Movement provides a way for us to follow Jesus’ charge to go into the world and make disciples. It does so, in part, through donations. If you’ve enjoyed Fifty Days of Fabulous, if you would like to support the many ways Forward Movement provides spiritual reflections to those who need to be drenched by the Word of God, and if you would like to support this particular way the Church goes therefore into the world, please consider making a donation.

Thank you to all who joined us for Fifty Days of Fabulous. Thank you for your comments, for your shares on social media, and for your support. May we courageously go therefore and make disciples. May we be disciples, and may we model the movement of love.

Amen. Alleluia!

If you would like to support the ministry of Forward Movement, you can click here to make a secure online donation. Thank you for your support!

 

The Light of Christ and the Flame of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4)

Fifty days ago many of us gathered in a darkened place. Maybe outside in a church garden. Maybe the parking lot. Maybe the entrance lobby of the church. We gathered in that space between the end of Lent and Holy Week and the beginning of Easter.

The celebrant gathered us with words and prayer, reminding us on this most holy night, our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, and as a symbol of this new life, we kindled and blessed the New Fire.

The celebrant struck flint together to produce a spark, or maybe lit a match, or perhaps pushed a button on a nifty automatic lighter. And then kissed the raw material of wood or rock salt doused with alcohol or shavings or whatever kindling we holy people use with this flame, and the Light of Christ roared back into fullness.

We begin and end Easter with flame, with fire. The New Fire from the Easter Vigil appears again, new and wild, flickering and burning, as the fire of the Holy Spirit. The disciples, we read, were huddling in the Upper Room, probably fearful and unsettled. They were seemingly alone – again – without the physical manifestation of Jesus to guide them, to inspire them, to comfort them, and to challenge them.

They didn’t have much spiritual kindling left, I suppose, after the upheavals of all that had been Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. He’s gone forever, they likely thought.

Until it changed. Easter Day proved them wrong.

Alleluia! He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!

So for 40 days, they shared life with Jesus again, almost as it had been, but not quite. Maybe they thought, as many of us do when trauma has unsettled us, uprooted us, and drained us, they had found newness that would never change.

Until it changed. Jesus ascended to God. The disciples experienced loss and change. Again.

I imagine their spiritual tanks were low. Some may have remembered his words and been steady in the faith, but others likely had faith that felt brittle. Their fuel for ministry flat. Maybe this was all a big mistake, some of them likely thought. This is too hard, too unsteady, others may have voiced. We’ve been left alone again.

Until it changed.

Pentecost mosaic (mid 12th century) in Cappella Palatina di Palermo, Italy

The Holy Spirit burst into their lives, found fuel in their souls, and burned within them and above them and moved their feet to go forth into the world. We read they began to speak in other languages, to prophesy, to dream dreams, to share the Gospel, and to change the world.

The New Fire of God found them. The New Fire of God finds us.

God’s fire of the Holy Spirit inspires us and enlivens us. We may be steadily faithful in the word of God. We may be filled with doubt. We may feel empty of any kindling in our lives. We may not even think we have enough life in our souls to burn at all.

We may gather in the darkness of our lives, of life. We are surrounded by what is constant tragedy, a world bent on repaying hate with hate instead of loving one another, and a society so drenched with the tears of grief and pain no fire could ever be lit.

And yet…

On this day, we remember that God leans into our lives and hovers over our piles of life, love and mess and all of it, and strikes the flints of love and grace together. Or lights a match from the eternal dreams of God, or perhaps pushes a button on a nifty automatic lighter of thousands of years of prayer and hope.

And then God kisses the raw material of our selves and souls, our faith and doubt, our grief and hope, our very lives, and the Light of Christ roars back into fullness in a new way.

The Holy Spirit’s flame rests on us, burning from the graceful generosity of God, and inspires us to go into the world in love and service.

Will we we walk boldly into God’s future, guided by this roaring flame of the Spirit?

Let Us Proclaim Easter Hope

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

I’m going to take the liberty of ignoring my writing assignment for the day. Let’s talk full-on about Eastertide. Tomorrow, we can go back to the woes.

Like everyone else I know, I’ve been disturbed by the news recently. I think this is true for liberals, conservatives, the whole lot. We can all see great chasms of separation in our society, no matter our preferences or perspectives. And, yet, through all this, we proclaim that Christ is risen.

Whether or not we are in the Paris Agreement, Jesus is Lord. Whether or not we have a border wall, Jesus is Lord. If Clinton had been elected, Jesus would have been Lord. With President Trump in office, Jesus is Lord.

I’m not at all saying that our differences and challenges don’t matter. Quite the opposite, in fact. God is in the hope business. Easter morning manifests for us the sovereignty of God and God’s love. It is the very act of liberating us from our fears, from our sins, and from death itself. So when we look at the world, I think we have to see that God is on the side of all those who live in captivity to fear and sin. The scriptures teach us that from the beginning of creation, God has relentlessly sought us. God offers us salvation – healing, wholeness, liberation, eternal life – again and again.

So liberals shouldn’t give up hope because Trump is in power. Conservatives shouldn’t give up hope because liberals refuse to go away. Use your own examples if you don’t like those. Even if we are facing death itself, we must have hope.

We don’t sit back and imagine that God will sort out our problems, but we also don’t need to think that it’s all up to us. The task for us Christians, then, becomes the proclamation of hope. That proclamation of hope might be a Facebook post. It might be a warm meal for a hungry person. It might be a decision to cut back our carbon footprint, to change our habits of life, for the sake of the planet. It might be an invitation to someone to follow Jesus. But whatever we do, for the love of God, let us not lose our hope. Let us not fail to proclaim the hope that is within us.

Alleluia, Christ is risen! How will your life show forth Easter glory today?

 

P.S. If you begin to be a real Easter Christian, people will talk. See there? I fulfilled my writing assignment after all.

Scott Gunn is an Episcopal priest and executive director of Forward Movement, a ministry that seeks to inspire disciples and empower evangelists. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his spouse, Sherilyn Pearce, who is also priest, and their social media canine, George T. Dog. Scott blogs at www.sevenwholedays.org.

Because of the Son of Man

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

We’ve been thinking about how if we are boldly living as disciples of Jesus, we’ll get into a bit of trouble. At least, people will mutter about us or condemn us for rocking the boat. You can see this play out in the scriptures as Jesus and his followers go against the grain of the religious and political authorities. Again and again, the authorities speak against Jesus and his followers.

But this doesn’t mean that every time someone says something negative about me, it’s because I’m being an awesome follower of Jesus. If someone calls me a jerk, maybe it’s because I was a jerk (hypothetically speaking, of course). So how do we know when we’re being attacked in the “good way” or the “bad way”? The key comes in the blessing that matches this woe. It comes a few verses earlier in Luke. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).

When people speak ill of us “on account of the Son of Man” then we know we’re in good company – the company of the saints through all time and history.

Have people defamed you? Was it because you were following Jesus?

Scott Gunn is an Episcopal priest and executive director of Forward Movement, a ministry that seeks to inspire disciples and empower evangelists. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his spouse, Sherilyn Pearce, who is also priest, and their social media canine, George T. Dog. Scott blogs at www.sevenwholedays.org.

Pregnant with God’s Possibilities

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)

Today is the Feast Day of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We remember the joyful moment between Mary and Elizabeth, both pregnant with sons who would come into the world preaching love and upsetting the standard order of things. Icons and images of this moment show two women, embracing. Mary, we read in Luke, has encountered the Archangel Gabriel who has announced God would like to collaborate with her to birth Jesus into the world. Of course, she immediately goes with haste to see Elizabeth to share this news. God is also collaborating with Elizabeth to bring John the Baptist into the world.

The Babe John leaps in the womb upon hearing Mary’s greeting. Elizabeth greets Mary, saying, “Blessed are you among women.” And Mary replies with her hymn, the Magnificat.

This day, filled with the love and joy of two women, pregnant with God’s possibilities, seems to be in opposition to Jesus’ teachings on the great sorrow people can expect when they strive for popularity among all people.

Mary’s hymn reminds us otherwise. She sings of God who is faithful to God’s children, of God who lifts up the lowly and scatters the strong in their conceit, of God who fills the hungry with good things and sends away the rich empty.

She in her hymn and Jesus in his teachings remind us of God who is unimpressed by wealth, showy gestures, and the number of Twitter followers.

God is in love with us because we are God’s, and blesses us not because we have earned God’s love, but because God waits for us to leap with joy at the sound of love verbalized in the voices, songs, and lives of others. God loves the parts of us hungry for food and love, outcast from the popular table and from our own sense of worth, and vulnerable among a world obsessed with power.

Woe to us all when we forget to meet the voice of God with joy because we are more concerned with what the voices of others say about us. Woe to us when we forget to collaborate with God to birth love into the world because we collaborate with those who would oppress and belittle children of God. Woe to us when we choose to visit with the rich, full, and powerful instead of going in haste to be with those who remind us of our own fragility and vulnerability.

May our souls magnify the Lord. May our spirits rejoice in God our Savior. And may we leap with joy at our own lowliness, the beloved of God.

 

The Trouble with Discipleship

“Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
In a week with a tough theme here at 50 Days of Fabulous, the lectionary keeps giving us more clues that any idea that Christianity is about being nice are dead wrong. In today’s daily office lectionary, Jesus is giving advice to those he has commissioned to be sent out. He says, “whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you” (Luke 10:10-11).
Where did we get the idea that to be a Christian is to be nice? Why do we imagine that the Gospel is anything other than provocative or, often, deeply disruptive?
There are no saints of the status quo. Every holy women and holy man the church remembers as a saint is known for bearing witness to the power of God’s transforming love. Many of the witness bore witness by giving their lives in Christ’s name. When the church has been at its best — throughout all time and all places — it has often found itself in trouble with the authorities.
Evidence begins to mount that if people are speaking well of the church as just another organization — alongside voluntary organizations and non-profits — then the church itself might be indicted by Jesus’ woe. “Woe to you when all speak well of you.”
The church is meant to bear witness to the power of God’s transforming love, and that love will often stand in opposition to what is polite, to what is acceptable, to what is popular, to what is convenient, or to what is politic.
In other words, I think if the church is being the church, we’re going to be getting into some trouble. The church which is proclaiming the kingdom of God will be rejecting other empires and kingdoms. The church which insists that every person is precious will find itself at odds with a culture that wants to sort people into categories safe/unsafe, good/bad, worthy/unworthy, or in/out. The church which insists there is always enough will be mocked by those whose cry is for a zero-sum world. The church which gently says, “Be not afraid” will be shouted down by entire industries devoted to peddling fear.
It’s time for us Christians to worry less about our reputation and more about the Gospel.

Scott Gunn is an Episcopal priest and executive director of Forward Movement, a ministry that seeks to inspire disciples and empower evangelists. He lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his spouse, Sherilyn Pearce, who is also priest, and their social media canine, George T. Dog. Scott blogs at www.sevenwholedays.org.