These Words Gave Me Hope

Almost a decade ago I had three important people in my life die within 2 months. Mixed with a stressful job situation, I found myself unsettled, upset, and lost in my grief. And, unfortunately I was not in the company of people who saw value in the gift of presence. Instead, my work colleagues shared what they would do to fix me with unhelpful quips like, “Just shake it off.”

Grief, in my experience, is not just shaken off.

Then a friend gave me a small book entitled Grief: A Month of Meditations from Forward Movement, a collection of short essays written by clergy and laity alike. Each morning I would sit on my back porch with my coffee and read the meditation for the day. For the first few days, reading the meditations took a while – as reading while crying does.

But I read. I read that grief didn’t need to be fixed or shaken off, but experienced and even welcomed as part of the holy experience of love. I read the words of others who felt crushed and overwhelmed by grief, and I read their words of life and hope.

At the end of the month of reading those grief meditations, I rediscovered my self and soul. I will always consider that small book a great gift that in many ways, saved my self and soul and helped me enter a new place in my life and ministry.

I wonder if the people who wrote those essays about grief, the staff at Forward Movement, and those who have supported the ministry of Forward Movement with their donations knew the way the words they offered would have impacted and changed my life? I hope so.

Because they did. And they do. From their Forward Day by Day, which is a central part of many people’s daily devotions, to their ubiquitous tracts and their online ministries like Lent Madness and 50 Days of Fabulous, Forward Movement offers their ministry to tens of thousands, and that ministry changes lives. From 50 Days of Fabulous, I’ve read comments and received emails with statements saying, “I needed to read this today,” or “These words gave me hope.”

If you would like to support the ministry of Forward Movement and the words that give people hope, I invite you to make a donation. Forward Movement is a ministry, and as such, strives to provide its offerings either free (like Lent Madness and 50 Days of Fabulous) or at low cost. Donations of any amount are welcomed and appreciated.

You can donate via text message (because we’re cool like that) by texting the keyword 50days to 41-444. When you do, you’ll get a prompt and a link to the donate form.

You can also donate via this secure link: igfn.us/f/gsc/n.

If you enjoyed 50 Days, if you’ve encountered words that gave you hope through the ministries of Forward Movement, and if you want to make sure words that give people hope are available to those in need, please donate.

Invest in the words that give others hope.

 

 

 

The Spirit Means Business

Read
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.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs– in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

-Acts 2:1-13

Reflect
Pentecost. The disciples, gathered together, probably hiding in fear, when suddenly…WHOOSH...a violent wind that filled the entire place. The Holy Spirit, like tongues of fire, descends upon them. They all speak different languages. People are amazed. Others think they are drunk.

It’s not a particularly tranquil and serene moment. This is not a scene of quiet music softly playing on strings as people sit calmly and sip herbal tea in a committee meeting. It’s big and bold. It stuns some, amazes others, and scares quite a few. Some are aware of the staggering mystery they see and are willing to ask questions and be led. Others dismiss it.

As we humans do. When something big and bold bursts into our lives, into our communities, and into our churches, we respond similarly. Some of us are called into action, speaking words that amaze and challenge. Others are witnesses, and still others dismiss or try very desperately to explain or manage this wild Spirit of God.

But the Spirit of God is not all that manageable. The Spirit does not offer Survey Monkey questionnaires asking us when a convenient time to enflame us to love more like Christ would be. She just bursts on the scene, often uninvited by those most comfortable in our expression of the Church. Such is the nature of the Spirit. The Coming of the Holy Spirit of Pentecost, and I’ve always connected it with the same Spirit who hovered over the chaos at the beginning of creation and who shook up the people of God on regular occasion by charging into their lives in most unexpected ways, is not always a sweet, calm event. We may think we contain it with images of doves, but make no mistake, when She arrives, when the violent wind of the Spirit blows into our lives, She means business.

And this business is the ministry of the Gospel in the community we call the Church.  This business the Holy Spirit calls us to is the business of welcome, of love, of forgiveness, of commitment to the promises of baptism and a life modeled after the teachings of Christ. The Spirit lights upon us, asking if we are spending too much time talking and too little time doing. The Spirit enflames us, burning away the chaff of things we no longer need and igniting energetic fires of newness. The Spirit gives us new ways to speak, filling our souls with words we don’t always understand, but She gives us the courage to speak our truth in love, even when our voices shake.

Oh yes, She means business. And the Spirit is asking us today, “Are you still speaking the words of the Church? Are you still living the Gospel? Or have you let your fear get the best of you…again?”

Pentecost is not a past event we commemorate on this day. It is a continuing event. The Spirit is still rushing into our lives. She is still finding us in our closed rooms, hiding from the world and the movement forward we are called to make as Christians.

And she lights her fire deep in our souls, giving us new words to speak, daring words to speak, challenging words to speak. Then the Spirit moves us into action.

The Holy Spirit has arrived, my sisters and brothers. The Spirit’s fire rests upon us.

Will we try to extinguish it or dismiss it?

Or will we let it invite us into the business of the sharing the Gospel in new, uncertain, and exciting ways?

Respond
What are ways you and your faith community have tried to extinguish the Spirit? What are mindsets, ideas, and words that need to be burned away by the Spirit? And what are the new ministries of the Gospel that the Spirit may be kindling in you and your church?

 

The Gospel Is in Our Hands

by David Sibley

Read
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.  (Acts 1:6-9)

Reflect
I often wonder what it would have been like to have been one of the apostles in the time between Jesus’ Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts is quite clear: right as the apostles were prepared for Jesus to do something big – to restore the kingdom to Israel, to kick out the Roman Empire, to rule as king – Jesus tells them that they know nothing, but assures them that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And then… he ascends into heaven. The work of the gospel – which the disciples expected Jesus to complete in one fell swoop – is suddenly left in their hands, and their hands alone. They are given the promise that they will not be left comfortless – that the Holy Spirit will come – but yet still they remain – listening, talking, watching, hoping, praying.

With Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, the focus shifts. Before that day, he was bodily present on earth; after the Ascension, the church itself is Jesus’ body in the world. That language we often hear about being the body of Christ – it isn’t a metaphor. It’s a reality. A reality that, ready or not, the apostles had to come to terms with – quite quickly. All Jesus did, all Jesus was to them, all the good news he proclaimed – they were suddenly to be.

The gospel is in our hands. That’s scary to think about, isn’t it? Something so precious, so life-giving, so life-changing – lies in the hands of a rag-tag bunch of people like you and me. Fallible, crazy, folks like Peter, who denied Jesus three times, like James and John who wanted to sit at his left and right hand. I suspect, after the ascension, Peter and James and John knew just how crazy a plan this was that the Lord had – Who, us? Witnesses! The gospel in our hands?

Suddenly, we can understand why the apostles must have prayed so urgently for the Holy Spirit to come. There was witness to give, work to do, disciples to make, the dead to raise, the sick to be healed, lives to be transformed. There is a witness to be given – to the very ends of the earth. They knew they couldn’t do their work alone. Just as we cannot do our work alone. So they watched – and prayed. Listened and talked. And hoped.

We sit on the eve of Pentecost, ourselves preparing to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit in once again. We sit with the gospel in our hands, watching and praying day by day for that same Spirit that was poured out upon the apostles, to come into our lives, fill our hearts, stir our minds – and to send us out to set the world alight.

Respond
Consider your call to follow and witness to Jesus? Where do you long for the Holy Spirit to enliven your witness? Who is the community you keep around you to be faithful to Jesus? And how do you respond to the call to be the body of Christ to a wanting world?

Can You Hear Me Now?

by Tim Schenck

READ
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

John 21:15-17

REFLECT
We are a thick-headed people — at least when it comes to receiving messages. This isn’t an evil thing, but a human thing. We need to hear the same message over and over again before it sinks in.

Advertisers figured this out long ago. We aren’t given a single shot to hear the McDonald’s jingle. We’re bombarded with it until it’s embedded into the deep recesses of our brains and we’re convinced that we are, indeed, “Lovin’ it.”

So did politicians. We don’t receive a single mailing about a candidate’s credentials. We’re pummeled with radio and TV spots, billboards, bumper stickers, e-mails, and candidates are told by their handlers to stay “on message” at all times.

Jesus knows this as well. Which is why he asks Peter three times whether he loves him and tells him three times to feed his sheep. He wants the message to sink in. He wants the message to enter deep into Peter’s soul. And the only way for this to happen is to say it over and over and over again.

When it comes to truly taking something to heart, repetition is important. If you listen to the readings from John throughout Eastertide — both his gospel and epistles — you start to discern that Jesus might just want us to learn something about love. All that talk about abiding in love and loving others and God is love and love casts out fear and love is perfected in us and, oh by the way, did I mention that you should love one another as I have loved you?

All this love talk is repetitive because it matters. And it’s a message we need to hear again and again and again.

It’s also something we need to practice. When my second grade teacher handed me that sheet bearing the multiplication tables, I thought I’d never learn them all. But you chip away at it and eventually they stick. I was never a great math student (fortunately in my vocational life I only need to count to three), but I did know my multiplication tables and still do. They’ve stayed with me over the years because of the repetition — at home and on quizzes.

In the same way, we need to internalize Jesus’ message of unconditional love — for ourselves and others — by hearing it often and anew.

RESPOND
Why not learn a prayer by heart today? There are many brief, beautiful prayers in the Book of Common Prayer. Spend the time it takes to commit it to memory. Let it seep deep into your soul so it’s always accessible. Then pray it — over and over again!

 

Giving Thanks

by Neva Rae Fox

Read
O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Psalm 96

Reflect
Psalm 96 is my favorite psalm. Its words are uplifting and filled with hope and praise.

The Psalms, the hymns and poems of Israel, express the breadth and depth of human experience, from sheer glee to the oppressive despair. While many of us have a great affinity for the 23rd with its lovely, comforting imagery and recognizable phrases, the 96th Psalm remains my favorite.

To me, the psalmist is providing the words and the means for us to offer pure praise, thanks and happiness to the Lord.  The words for us to discover salvation in the works of our Lord.

It is also an invitation to join with others – all others – in offering praise to God.  And what can be better than singing praises to God, in thanksgiving for all we have been given, for the salvation that is offered to us from our Maker, for the great things at are to come

Even in my moments of difficulties or problems, I take a moment and sing to the Lord.  I bless his name, and am thankful for the salvation and hope has given to me.

Respond
Be thankful for all you have been given.  Several times this day, reflect on what in your life for which you give thanks. Write them down and offer prayers to God for them. For the people on your list, email, call, or share your thanksgiving for them in your life.

Anxiety…my friend?

by Martha Spong

Read
Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith.

              -1 Peter 5:8-9a, as found in The Order for Compline, Book of Common Prayer

Reflect
I like to say we run a little anxious in my family. I also have to point out that two anxious parents will likely produce anxious children, although I’ve seen no studies to prove it scientifically. It’s my hypothesis that the combination of whatever brain chemistry makes people prone to anxiety being passed down from both parents mashed up with the experience of living with those mildly anxious adults leaves children little choice but to join Team Anxiety.

Therefore, I have been giving my children ideas for to cope since they were old enough to have anything about which to worry. My oldest son carried a smooth stone in his pocket in 2nd grade, to rub between his fingers instead of chewing on them. My second son would call from boarding school, not even able to articulate what upset him, and I would talk him through square breathing. Their younger sister, now a college sophomore, sends me Facebook messages when a paper is due, occasionally in all caps, but more often like this one: “Mom I’m freaking ooooouuuuuut”

I understand it all.

Sometimes the worries that threaten to devour us are manufactured. We have let something go by, a work deadline or a birthday we ought to have acknowledged or a call we should have returned or even, God help us, the due date for all the financial aid paperwork needed to keep the freaking out child in college. Other times our fears are genuine and even mortal. If we run anxious, we tend to make both kinds worse for ourselves.

I am speaking from experience.

Sometimes the lion only growls, whispering to me in a low grumble, telling me no one cares, or my work doesn’t matter, that even my friends and family don’t really love me. When I get myself into a state, I’m not so sure the devil prowling around is anything definably external, but I am quite certain that I cannot overcome that adversary without the help of the One I trust does exist outside my normal reality. When I can hold firm in that faith, the lion recedes, and I rest secure.

Respond
How are you anxious? Have you found a particularly helpful way to respond to your anxiety that you could share with others? How do you invite God into anxious moment.

I offer this prayer:
Holy One, when we raise our fingers to our mouths, when we cannot catch a deep breath, when we are freaking oooooouuuuuut, be with us, we pray. Amen.