Forward Today: Holy Cross, holy love

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on tomorrow’s Holy Cross Day, and his hope “that the Cross of Christ will be more than an abstraction for us.”


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Tomorrow, the church celebrates Holy Cross Day, a commemoration of events from the fourth century. It was on this date in the year 335 that the Emperor Constantine dedicated a large church on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. That building was ravaged by time and armies, but you can visit Jerusalem today and pray in a later (and now ancient) building on the same site.
 
When Constantine had ordered construction on the building, his mother, Helena, was entrusted with overseeing the work. During the construction, tradition says that fragments from the True Cross, that is, the cross on which Jesus had been crucified, were found. It sounds fanciful, and perhaps it is. What is not fanciful are the fervent prayers of pilgrims from around the world in that site every day.

 

Calvary Chapel, the traditional site of Jesus’ Crucifixion. scottagunn via flickr

Recently, the traditional site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection was renovated. During the construction, another miracle of sorts happened. It turns out that under more modern layers of marble, ancient, first-century stone was discovered. This is the latest in a series of archeological finds which support the idea that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the actual sites where the actual events of Good Friday and Easter Day took place. It is almost overwhelming.

I have had the privilege of visiting this church several times, and each time has been a profound experience. Speaking for myself, I think it’s tempting to think of the cross and the resurrection as abstract events. I know they are “real” but they are too amazing to sink in, as it were. When I visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, something changes in my heart and in my mind. You can touch the stone. You can pray where Christians have been praying for nearly twenty centuries.

Tomorrow is Holy Cross Day. I hope that that the Cross of Christ will be more than an abstraction for us. On the Cross, we see living and dying proof of God’s love for us and the whole world.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is John Ohmer’s Slaying Your Goliaths.

Forward Today: Discipleship Matters

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott considers what real discipleship entails—and why it’s so essential.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Sometimes in our churches, I think we forget our marching orders, the ones given to us by Jesus. It’s easy to become a Preservation Society or a Museum of Maintenance or a Social Club of those we love. No one wants this, it just happens over decades. But our directions from Jesus couldn’t be more clear:
 
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. (Matthew 28:19-20)
 

These verses often show up as a sound bite around the edge of baptismal fonts, but we shouldn’t stop with the exhortation to baptize. Jesus instructed his followers (that’s us!) not only to baptize, but to teach. And we are not just meant to teach, but to teach people obedience to Jesus’ commandments. Commandments are not very chic these days, but we Christians are bound to obey and to teach them. And what are these commandments? Jesus told us to love God with our whole being, and to love our neighbors as our selves. Jesus told us to love others as he loves us.

Practicing this kind of love is impossible on our own. We need God, and we need to be steeped in the life of discipleship – hearing, learning, and practicing this radical, loving way of life. Churches should be places where we explore what it means to love God fully and to love our neighbors fully as well. If church is going to move from being a place of comfort and familiarity into being a place of transformation, challenge, and sacrifice, we’ll need to work hard at creating a culture of discipleship.


This discipleship is not navel-gazing or internal focus or vapid spiritualized faith. No, the first clue something else is happening is that Jesus’ exhortation starts with “Go!” We are meant to leave our easy places and go into the whole world bearing Christ’s love and his message of hope and redemption. Discipleship means not only daily prayer and weekly worship, but regular service and great generosity. Discipleship is how our church might address many of the challenges of our time.
 
Forward Movement, along with our RenewalWorks ministry, is offering the Discipleship Matters conference next month. It’s an entire conference focused on discipleship. I hope you will consider coming to St. Thomas’ Church, Whitemarsh, near Philadelphia, October 16-18. Send your congregation’s lay and clergy leaders or anyone who wants to learn more about discipleship and how to make it the main thing in your church. You can learn more online, and you can register here.
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is Table Graces and Family Graces—just $11.57 for both!

Volunteer Opportunity: Share your love for Forward Movement

Forward Movement is seeking volunteers to run exhibit tables at diocesan conventions. Our staff travels as much as possible, but can’t reach every convention that we’d like to. We have packages with 6-7 sample books, copies of our catalog, giveaways items, and a table cover ready to go—the only thing missing, is a dedicated volunteer to run the exhibit table.

Our staff will handle all the logistics, shipping, and convention red-tape, allowing you to show up the morning(s) of your convention, setup the table, and spend the day answering basic questions about Forward Movement and our resources. We’ll provide a cheat-sheet about everything in the box…so don’t worry about being an expert on everything Forward Movement does.

As a thank you, we’re offering a “New Titles Subscription” to volunteers. This subscription means you’ll receive mailings throughout the year with complimentary copies of our latest books, calendars, pamphlets, and booklets.

Interested? Please contact us at volunteer@forwardmovement.org to learn more, and see if your diocesan convention is available for this opportunity.

Forward Today: Being our best selves online

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on the flooding in Houston, and how in the wake of disaster, we’ve seen the best of humanity on social media.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

I’ve been thinking about social media lately. Last week, my Forward Today was about my eclipse experience. One aspect I did not write about was the social media side of it. Nearly everyone who posted, at least until the traffic problems, was writing about how delighted they were. Awe and wonder were the words of the day. What I realized as I watched all this is that we were united in something wonderful online. Instead of the usual partisan rancor, social media allowed us to share a common experience.
 
This week, we’ve seen awful images of devastation coming out of Houston and South Texas. Harvey has left thousands without homes, and recovery will take years. There is no way to sugar coat that or to pretend there is a silver lining. I do hope you will consider making a gift to Episcopal Relief & Development in support of their work.

 

Photo by Texas National Guard, via Flickr / Creative Commons
Without ignoring very real suffering, I also want to acknowledge something else. In the wake of this disaster, social media have allowed us to see humanity at its best. People have been generous with one another. People have offered care and shared their need for care. People have offered their prayers and their willingness to roll up their sleeves and work.
 
And the church has been at its best. Clergy have been amazing pastors on Facebook. Churches have offered online prayers when in-person services weren’t possible. Members have taken care of each other. Churches have rallied to open their buildings up to shelter strangers. It’s just what the church should be doing.
 
After sharing something similar to this on my own Facebook wall, a commenter wrote, “Not sure why it takes a disaster to show our best side, but so proud of so many kind people.” Yes. Let’s not wait until the next disaster to be kind to one another. And as long as people in Houston are suffering, let us continue to give, to work, and to pray.
 
While I do think we need to speak boldly to challenge oppression and injustice, I also think we need to offer kindness and compassion. How can social media allow us to reveal our best selves, whether that’s prophet or pastor? How can we be our best selves online?
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Today’s Wednesday sale item is Pathways of Faith: An All-Ages Coloring Book—a unique way to explore the simple joys of creation.

Forward Today: Glory and majesty

In this week’s edition of our weekly Wednesday newsletter, Scott reflects on this week’s awe-inspiring solar eclipse, and notes: “Perhaps there is a reminder here we all needed.”

And today in our Wednesday sale, take 25% off The Power of Imperfection: How to Have the Courage to Be Yourself.


Dear friends in Christ,

 

Like many millions of others, I traveled a few hours to see the total solar eclipse on Monday. I dithered for a long time, wondering if the time off and the hassle would be worth it. I sure am glad I went. Wow.
 
I had seen solar eclipses before, but this was my first time seeing a total eclipse. As many others have reported, the moment of totality was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Nature seemed confused, and people were gobsmacked. Amazing. Life-changing. Awe-inspiring. Wonderful. People used words like these over and over. In the park where I watched the eclipse, applause broke out. Others reported screams, but I mostly heard “wow” and soft, gleeful sounds.

 

What is going on here? The eclipse had been predicted for years. We were told what to expect. You could see videos of what an eclipse looks like. And, yet, it had a profound effect on us. It was one of those moments when we all realize that we are part of something much larger than ourselves. This universe we live in is pretty stunning. For people of faith, an eclipse is one of those things that reminds us of God’s glory and majesty.
 
Psalm 8 is on point:
 
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
    mortals that you care for them?
 
God’s creation is more beautiful and more vast than we can imagine, and yet God cares for each of us. Perhaps there is a reminder here we all needed.
 
Have you ever been gobsmacked by nature? What did you allow that to do in your life? What can we apply from our encounters with an eclipse to our encounters with God’s people – equally stunning in their own way?
 
Yours faithfully, 
 
Scott Gunn
Executive Director

 


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Watch: Presiding Bishop Curry’s Invitation to the Good Book Club

We’re getting really excited about the Good Book Club, the churchwide initiative to read together from the Gospel of Luke and Book of Acts next Lent-Easter.  But don’t listen to us tell it… Here’s Presiding Bishop Curry offering an invitation to the GBC!

Want to learn more? Like the Good Book Club Facebook page for updates during the leadup to the initiative, and head to goodbookclub.org for details on getting your church involved.

Forward Today: Grant us grace

In this week’s edition of Forward Today, Scott offers reflection and prayer in wake of hatred and racism in the country.

Today’s Wednesday sale features: Hour by Hour.


Dear friends in Christ,

Like many of you, I was shocked and saddened by images and news coming out of Charlottesville, VA last weekend. The presence of racism in our nation should shock no one, because racism has been the original sin of the United States from its founding. What I found shocking is the boldness with which white nationalists now pursue their racist agenda using Nazi symbols without apology or shame. And, sadly, many of these racists attempt to deploy Christian symbols in their campaign of fear and hatred.

In thinking about writing this week’s message, I was tempted not to write about these events. After all, I wondered, what can one more white person say that hasn’t been said? But then I thought about the cost of remaining silent at a time when some misuse the Christian story and in a time when we Christians sometimes have trouble facing up to our own complicity and troubled history of racism.

So, speaking as the leader of Forward Movement, let me suggest three things that might help us all in our effort to proclaim a Gospel of love in a world that is sometimes dominated by the din of hatred.

  • First, we must remember that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is utterly incompatible with white supremacy and all forms of racism. So redoubling our work of discipleship is itself an inherent rejection of racism. I say this because a life of discipleship means daily prayer, and when we pray, God will guide us away from fear and hatred toward hope and love. A life of scripture study will remind us that God’s will is for all people to thrive and that Jesus Christ stands especially with those at the margins. A life of generous giving will show us that there is always more than enough, and that God’s love can only be magnified, never diminished. A life of evangelism will bless us with joy as we share the liberating news that all people are beloved and that Jesus Christ has offered himself for the salvation of the whole world.
  • Second–here I am speaking to my fellow white people–rather than heaping scorn on others or imagining that this is a problem that afflicts only certain parts of the nation, we do well to look inside our own hearts. As with all sins, facing our shortcomings is never easy. As with all sins, God stands ready to forgive us if we but repent. “What sins of racism demand my repentance?” is the question we white people must relentlessly ask ourselves.
  • Thirdly, we might take a careful and thorough inventory of our churches. Where is racism found in our churches? This is the most pernicious place for racism, because it directly undermines our Gospel witness, and for that reason it is crucial that we do an honest examination. How does the racial composition of my church differ from that of my neighborhood or town? What do the leaders of my church look like? How has my church stood with–or failed to stand with–those who are the victims of racism, hatred, and fear? Has my church benefitted from white supremacy, and, if so, what must we do to repent?

 

Doing this work is hard, and if it’s easy, we’re not doing it right. The reward though is that we and our world become more Christlike, as all of God’s beloved children may flourish as the people God has created them to be. We can’t do this on our own, but with God all things are possible.

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: Our hope and strength

In this week’s edition of Forward Today, Scott offers reflection and prayer in these times of worry and fear.

Today’s Wednesday sale features: God’s Grace & Robert’s Rules.


Dear friends in Christ,

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, the news has been frightening recently. World leaders are speaking about nuclear war in a way we haven’t heard for decades. Terrorists have been, well, terrorizing people in many nations. Every day seems to bring about a new outbreak of violence, famine, or disaster. We can remind ourselves that, statistically speaking, most readers of this message will be quite safe, but that may not calm our fears.

Wave crashing on rock

What is a Christian to do? Certainly, we ought to work and pray for justice, freedom, and peace for all people. We Christians are called to serve Jesus Christ in strangers, the sick, prisoners, and all those who are at the margins of our society. I also think we do well to anchor ourselves in prayer, trusting that God will guide our actions and shape the hearts of people everywhere.

I am not suggesting that we should ignore our fears. Far from it. Fear is a natural human response to what threatens us, and it is even essential for our survival. But we are not mere animals, and we must not be governed by our fears along. Particularly for a people who profess faith in a God who said, “Be not afraid” again and again, we must face our fears squarely and then see our fear in perspective.

Today I ran across a lovely prayer in Saint Augustine’s Prayer Book. I commend it to you, and I know that I will be praying this prayer regularly in the hours, days, and weeks to come.

O God, thou art my hope and strength, a very present help in trouble; grant me faith and courage, that I may not fear, though the earth be moved, and the hills carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof rage and swell, and the mountains shake at the tempest of same. O be in the midst of my soul, that I may not be moved, but may be still and know that thou art God. Amen. (Based on Psalm 46 and a prayer attributed to Archbishop William Laud)

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Photo Credit: Amit Patel


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Forward Today: A shift in perspective

In this week’s edition of Forward Today, Scott reflects on the importance of mountains in scripture in preparation for the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Today’s Wednesday sale features The Bible Challenge.


Dear friends in Christ, 

This coming Sunday, we will celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Every now and then, when this feast falls on a Sunday, we set aside our usual Sunday readings to focus on what is, by any reckoning, a wondrous occasion. You probably know the story, which we’ll hear from Luke this year. Jesus takes three of his disciples up a mountain, and there he is transfigured before them. In a stunning moment, Peter, James, and John see Jesus for who he is, the eternal Christ, the fulfillment of the law.

Jesus at Tranfiguration

There are lots of ways to approach this story, but this year I’m struck by how it’s really a story about new perspectives. Jesus doesn’t change. He was the eternal Christ before the Transfiguration. Jesus is the same, but the disciples become different through their experience.

It’s interesting that this takes place on a mountain. Of course, the story echoes the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, which also takes place on a mountain. Perhaps mountains are on my mind because I’ve just come back from Colorado. Last weekend, I preached in Breckenridge, which is up at almost 10,000 feet elevation. It’s beautiful there, and even on the last day of July, snow was visible on the mountain peaks.

The thing about mountains is that they give us a new perspective. You see the world differently as you ascend and look down. The experience of hiking (I’ve never done real climbing) up a mountain itself can change our perspective, because it can be a real accomplishment just to get to the top! So it’s no wonder that scriptures are filled with amazing encounters with God in the mountains.

Here’s the thing: the disciples probably didn’t know they were going to see Jesus change when they started to hike up Mount Tabor. They just went. I wonder if we are ready to answer our Savior’s call? Are we ready to look at our world differently as we meet Jesus in the sacraments? Are we ready to see Christ’s dazzling presence in the most vulnerable people in our society?

O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director

Photo Credit: Cosmosphilly.com


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