Author Archives: Laurie Brock

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?

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.

 

Whom Do You Hate?

“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

Saturday nights are school nights for me. I don’t do much exciting. I catch up on the television shows I’ve missed during the week. I eat dinner. I take my pup Evie for her evening walk. I read through my sermon one more time and almost always make a few more edits.

Then I pray before I go to bed. Yes, that habit many of us formed as small children still resonates with me as part of my bedtime routine. Lights out. Rest in the silence for a bit. Then pray.

O God, the source of eternal light: Shed forth thine unending day upon us who watch for thee, that our lips may praise thee, our lives may bless thee, and our worship on the morrow may give thee glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is the prayer for Saturday in the Book of Common Prayer for Evening Prayer. While I have great affinity for many prayers in the Prayer Book, certain prayers have such a rhythm to the profundity of their words they become ingrained in my memory. The prayer is part of my routine as I prepare to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on Sunday morning.

Many of us reading this will be preparing for worship on the morrow (isn’t that a great phrase?). We will gather with fellow Christians, hear the Word of God, pray, and receive the Body and Blood. As we prepare to stand or kneel to receive Christ, who will we stand or kneel alongside?

Whom do we hate?

And none of us get to say, “Oh, I don’t hate anyone. I just really dislike a few people. Walk with me to the parking lot and I’ll tell you ALL about them.”

Hating someone (which Jesus clearly knows we do) means regarding them with extreme ill-will, having extreme aversion to, and (a very telling older definition), holding great grief about.

Are there people in our congregations, perhaps in our lives, we hate? Are there those whom we have excluded or whom we’ve talked about in unkind and even unfair ways? Do we go out of our way on Sundays to avoid them? Do we skillfully miss them while exchanging the Peace? Have we moved to another pew or even another church because of our hate?

While this section of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Plain doesn’t directly address our strained and broken relationships with each other through our behaviors, his words do indirectly address that we, as humans, act and say things that are profoundly hurtful to each other because we want to hurt the other.

And yet, so often we justify our hurtful actions.

“Well, she started it.”

“I wouldn’t have been so rude if he hadn’t said those things about me.”

“We used to go to St. Swithin’s Church, but it’s just filled with so many unchristian people we left and never looked back.”

And Jesus says, “Love your enemies.”

Yes, even those enemies.

Sometimes I wonder if Jesus doesn’t think we are all essentially four year olds who missed our naps and are hungry. On a very basic level, the Holy Eucharist renews us and feeds us so we can grow up from our hurtful behavior.

We gather on Sundays and remember our voices can just as easily be used for praise and reconciliation as they can for defamation and division. God reminds us on Sundays that our lives can be witnesses of love and inclusion rather than hate and exclusion.

Where are the relationships in your life that may need mending? With whom might you need to kneel or stand before the altar of God and allow the love of God to replace discord and disunion as you both receive Christ?

On account of the Son of Man, we are all called to reconciliation, to love those who challenge us. We don’t get a pass from that love. Perhaps our prayers on Saturday night may include the names of those whom we hate, so that on Sunday morning, we can see them more clearly as beloved children of God.

 

The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.

Listen to the Prophets

“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

Prophets, by and large, did not have an easy go of it. Their calls to this ministry came with a deep sense of sacrifice. Jeremiah was quite unhappy about God calling him to prophetic ministry. Amos likely didn’t get invited to any of the cool kids’ parties after he called them cows of Bashan, and extra-canonical legend holds Isaiah was sawed in half in response to his prophecies.

We people of God don’t particularly care for prophets. Our ancestors dismissed them. They called them names and ignored them or engaged in character attacks.

“Sure, Hosea brings up some interesting stuff about how we love material wealth and power more than God, but have you heard about his wife?” we’d whisper in the parking lot.

“All that lion and lamb stuff Isaiah is saying sounds really challenging, like we might have to re-evaluate issues of power and authority and how we use the weak for our own needs and build relationships based on fear. Let’s make it into a cute Christmas ornament and no one will notice what he’s really saying,” a church leader might offer, worried Isaiah’s message might cost him his largest donors.

Prophecy didn’t end with the canon of the Bible being put in place. It continues today. We still hear those whose lips and lives are burning with the fire of the Holy Spirit, calling us out on our sins, holding up the standard of God’s love so we can see how far we sometimes fall from that standard, and reminding us following Christ will often call us to make challenging and sacrificial decisions.

The message of the prophets through the centuries hasn’t changed all that much. We still read the prophets for a reason. They speak to us of God who demands mercy and not only sacrifice, of God who wants justice to roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream, and of God who yearns for us to love God with all our heart and mind and soul.

We still need to hear the prophets, ancient and modern. They warn of us of the consequences of our actions, of our self-centeredness, of our discarding the poor and needy for a pair of sandals (or other benefit), and of our faithlessness. They implore us to hear the word of God speaking to us and to turn our hearts from hate and exclusion to God’s lavish love.

We are our ancestors who did not listen to them.

We can also be our ancestors who did heed their words and turned from selfish ways to God’s selflessness.

Can we choose to hear them? Do we allow their words to burn away the chaff of sin from our souls?

The prophets, we hear in the Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain, are in a good place. God has embraced them.

Those to whom they speak, those to whom they prophesy? Well, we might need to listen to their messages, their words imploring us to be dedicated to God in a new way.

We need to listen to the prophets.

The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.

Could You?

“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

Photo: Jackson (Mississippi) Daily News

Could you sit in their places?

Could you maintain the peace and dignity they maintained while those around you taunted you, defamed you, hated you, and poured ketchup, mustard, and salt on your head?

Could you pray for them as they did these things?

Of all the images of the Civil Rights Movement that serve as icons for a Christ-like faith, this is one that never ceases to humble me and challenge me in love. The image is from the Woolworth’s lunch counter in Jackson, Mississippi taken on May 28, 1963. College demonstrators participated in a sit-in to integrate the whites-only lunch counter in Mississippi’s capital city. John Salter, a Tougaloo College professor, sits with Joan Trumpauer and Anne Moody as white high-school students revile and hate them.

Anne Moody and another friend begin praying as they were subjected to actions of hate on account of inclusive love. A white man, hearing Anne praying for those who were persecuting her, slapped her face.

Could you continue to pray?

Jesus reminds us that when we are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed on his account, we don’t get to stop loving. We don’t get to hand them back the same denigrating behavior they’ve poured on our heads. We don’t get to exclude them from God’s love.

We are to respond in love.

This doesn’t mean we are doormats. If someone is engaging in abusive behavior and if someone is violating our boundaries, we don’t simply endure the abuse. We can speak the truth in love and create distance, if needed, to keep ourselves safe. If we witness another harming someone by abuse, degradation, or exclusion, our Christian faith demands we are not complicit in the abuse by remaining silent.

We are to act in love.

But let’s be honest, that’s a tall order from Jesus. How much easier is it to respond to those who have wounded us by delivering our own punches to their guts? How much easier is it, when we are defamed by another, to spread our own rumors? How much easier is it, when we have been hurt by all that is the complexities of human relationships, to exclude them from our lives instead of seek reconciliation?

How much easier is it to pray for the victims of a crime and keep silent before God with the name of the criminal? How much easier is it, when we see children of God excluded and defamed, to shrug our shoulders and offer our thoughts and prayers rather than subject ourselves to the same treatment?

Jesus knows our base reaction is easier.

And he still calls us to love.

For three hours, these children of God sat at this counter, enduring and praying for righteousness’ sake. They prayed. They sat. They persisted. Woolworth’s finally closed the store.

For three hours, Jesus hung on the cross. He endured and prayed for righteousness’ sake. He died, and they finally closed the tomb.

We know the ends of both stories. Love did and does win. But the struggle for Civil Rights and love still persists. We are still called to endure, to pray, to demand justice and work for righteousness.

When the time comes when we are hated, excluded, reviled, and defamed because we are following the teachings of Christ, and believe me, it will come, remember this particular trinity of courageous love sitting at a lunch counter in Mississippi.

Can we do what they did?

Maybe the most honest answer is, “We don’t know.”

Maybe our responses to the wrongs and offenses that are more minor that something like this give us some insight into how we would respond. Next time we are troubled by someone’s actions or response to us, we can consciously choose to act in love instead of embrace revenge.

And then we pray that when the time comes when we encounter resistance because of the Son of Man, we remember his response, their response, and go and do likewise.

 

The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.