Tag Archives: Forward Today

Forward Today: How will you fall in love with God again?

In the new Forward Today, Scott reflects on Bishop Curry’s powerful sermon on love at last weekend’s Royal Wedding.


Dear friends in Christ,

It seems like everyone is talking about Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding last weekend. When does a sermon ever become a news story? And yet, Bishop Curry has been on CNN, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and even TMZ to talk about his sermon. Why?
 
Certainly it has to do with Bishop Curry himself, who knows the power of media and who has the charisma to fill an entire room with contagious joy. But it’s more than that. It’s not really about Bishop Curry at all, I think. The reason the world has been captivated is that, last Saturday, some two billion people around the world heard a message of God’s love in Jesus Christ.

 

Other than the spectacle of “one of our own” appearing in surprising places, what does this mean for us? Surely, there’s more to be gained here than a few chuckles from a funny impression of Bishop Curry on Saturday Night Live.
 
It seems to me, we have two big opportunities. The first is to renew our own love of God and our neighbors. How can we once again fall in love with God and then share that love with others? And the second is this: how can we invite other people to know the transforming power of God’s love in Jesus Christ?
 
Not long ago, Forward Movement published a book that Melody Wilson Shobe and I have written. Walk in Love: Episcopal Beliefs & Practices offers one way to explore what a life rooted in love looks like. Our book suggests that knowing and sharing God’s love is rooted in the sacraments, in daily prayer, in service of others, and in sharing the Good News.
 
How will you fall in love with God again? How will you invite someone else to know the transforming power of love?

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: Springtime gratitude is not just for spring

In the new Forward Today, Scott reflects on spring, and asks: What keeps you from constant amazement?


Dear friends in Christ,

Spring is here. Technically, it’s been spring for several weeks, but at least in the part of the country where I live, we’re just now enjoying what might be called spring weather. The sky is blue, the flowers are blooming, people are outdoors more, and it’s the season of picnics.

 

For some reason, I’m especially grateful this year. Maybe it’s an usually long winter. Perhaps it’s the chaos of world news contrasted with the simple beauty of flowers. Whatever it is, I’m filled with gratitude for the goodness and beauty of creation. The thing is, two weeks ago, the world was just as amazing. But I wasn’t in a place to appreciate nature quite as much. I wonder what life would be like if my heart and mind were always open to the wonders of nature, to the beauty of creation?
 
And it’s the same for our neighbors, isn’t it? Do you ever meet someone and think, this person is amazing! It’s such a blessing to hear from this new person I’ve just met! The thing is, there’s an amazing person lurking inside everyone we meet. The question is whether or not our hearts and minds are open.
 
Today I’m praying for the grace and the wisdom to be amazed. It’s never a question of whether amazement is around. The question is always whether I’m open to seeing it.
 
What about you? Are you grateful for springtime? Are you grateful for the things you see and the people you meet? What keeps you from constant amazement?

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: Let’s celebrate Saint Mark the Evangelist

In the new Forward Today, Scott suggests a way to honor St. Mark: simply read his whole gospel.


Dear friends in Christ,

Today is the feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist. This is a major feast, a red-letter day! We remember and celebrate the author of the Gospel of Mark. You can read about Saint Mark and the fascinating history of how the church has remembered him over on Wikipedia. The story of his relics would make a great Hollywood movie.

 But that’s not my point today. I want to encourage you to celebrate this day in a particular way. For one thing, your local church may be offering Holy Eucharist for Saint Mark’s Day. Churches are, after all, meant to observe all the major feasts. Beyond that, there’s a simpler way to honor this evangelist. We can read the Gospel he wrote.

A lion on St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Photo: Scott Gunn

Mark is the shortest of the four gospels. You can read it in about an hour, maybe less. My friend from seminary, Bert Marshall, goes on the road reciting the entire gospel. On a sabbatical several years ago, Bert memorized the entire gospel. He travels to churches and tells the story, in one sitting. Having experienced this, I can tell you it’s gripping. Mark’s writing is compact; there is a high degree of urgency. Bert tells the story in a way that makes it seem like he is simply telling the story, and that’s the point of the gospel. We tell the story.

You don’t need a guest to come and read the gospel out loud. You could gather everyone in your home and read the gospel, out loud or silently. It’s a quick read. And it’s a wonderful way to savor the power of Jesus’ life, ministry, passion, death, and resurrection.

So, today, let us honor Saint Mark the evangelist as we read the great gift he has offered us in writing a gospel.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: Good Shepherd, Good News

In the new Forward Today, Scott asks: “What would it mean to recover an authentic understanding of Jesus as a Good Shepherd?”


Dear friends in Christ,

This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s no wonder. The lectionary brings us the account from the Gospel of John where Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, and we sing or say Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
 
For many of the earliest Christians, this was the primary way to understand Jesus Christ and his ministry. One of the oldest known images of Christ, from around 240 CE, is of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. It was a powerful image then, and it still resonates with us today.

 

 

Most readers of this email live in urban areas, or at least in towns. We are, mostly, not agrarian people. So it should not surprise us that we have lost some of the potency of the image of the Good Shepherd. We might think that calling Jesus the Good Shepherd means that he is nice, or that he cares for us. While he certainly does care for us, it has nothing to do with being nice.
 
Shepherds lived difficult lives. They had to endure inclement weather. They faced threats from animal predators and those who would steal sheep. Their profession was dirty. Being a shepherd was quite the opposite of glamorous. In other words, understanding Jesus’ ministry as shepherd-like must surely mean that we understand his love for us as costly, willing to embrace danger, humble, and generous.
 
So this Sunday, try not to think of sheep as cuddly stuffed animals and Jesus as a nice person. Think instead of the great love Jesus shows for us, willing to lay down his life to protect and care for us sheep. We have a Good Shepherd, and that is very Good News, indeed.
 
Why do you think early Christians focused on Jesus as Good Shepherd, and why do you think we tend to portray him in other ways? What would it mean to recover an authentic understanding of Jesus as a Good Shepherd? How would this help us live as people who have heard and who bear Good News?

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: The daybreak of joy

In the new Forward Today, Scott reflects on the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., writing that “resurrection joy and King’s dream are two sides of the same beautiful coin.”


Dear friends in Christ,

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Our church recognizes him as a holy martyr of the faith, and this is the day the church keeps as his commemoration. Doctor King, pray for us. We need your intercession now, as ever.
 
One of my favorite works of King is his imagined “Paul’s Letter to American Christians” delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama on 4 November 1956. In the letter, King imagines what the Apostle Paul might have said to American Christians. Its message is disturbingly current today. In the letter, “Paul” warns of the dangers of capitalism. The letter chastises the church for its complicity in oppression. And then there is this:
 
I wonder whether your moral and spiritual progress has been commensurate with your scientific progress. It seems to me that your moral progress lags behind your scientific progress… How often this is true. You have allowed the material means by which you live to outdistance the spiritual ends for which you live. You have allowed your mentality to outrun your morality. You have allowed your civilization to outdistance your culture. Through your scientific genius you have made of the world a neighborhood, but through your moral and spiritual genius you have failed to make of it a brotherhood.
 
Do you find this as true, and as convicting, as I do?


We as a nation – and as a world – have much for which to repent, but surely our lack of a moral compass is chief among our sins. If we were more morally advanced, we would find racism, classism, and all forms of discrimination and devaluation to be waning. The church has, sadly, forfeited its place as a moral voice in society. (Popular Christianity’s embrace of culture-war wedge issues doesn’t count, because there’s nothing moral about those attacks.)
 
We are an Easter people. We ought to embrace an Easter morality. In the New Creation of Jesus Christ, love is stronger than hate, mercy is stronger than might, hope is stronger than fear, and life is stronger than death. If we manage to live as Easter people, I think we will find that we are very much honoring the legacy, vision, and hope of Martin Luther King, Jr. Resurrection joy and King’s dream are two sides of the same beautiful coin.
 
Let us repent where we are wrong. Let us embrace what is right. And let us, like those women at the Easter tomb, share the glad news of new life in Jesus Christ.
 
I close with the end of King’s imagined letter from Paul. “And now unto him who is able to keep us from falling, and lift us from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy, to him be power and authority, forever and ever. Amen.”

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: The most important days

In this Holy Week edition of Forward Today, Scott suggests you try attending every service of the Three Holy Days this year, writing, “It is a big time commitment, for sure. But there is no better way to spend time with Jesus, to see him differently.”


Dear friends in Christ,

Holy Week is the most important week of the year for Christians. For this week, we remember the passion, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Tomorrow we enter into the mystery and awe of the Three Holy Days. We will mystically journey to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem is mystically made real for us. It is a kind of pilgrimage, without leaving our physical communities.
 
My experience as a parish priest is that some people liked to skip one or more of the services of the Three Holy Days. Some people don’t like the idea of foot washing. Others prefer not to attend the solemn, and sorrowful, Good Friday service. I’ve run into people who think the Great Vigil of Easter is “too long” so they don’t come.
 

 

When I was a parish priest, I used to make this promise. And I still stand by it. If you come to all three services of the Three Holy Days, it will change your life. You will leave the Great Vigil of Easter with a deeper faith and a renewed purpose. Try it. And then let me know if it worked for you, especially if you’ve never gone through all three services.
 
It is a big time commitment, for sure. But there is no better way to spend time with Jesus, to see him differently. For you will meet him in friendship, in tender care, in betrayal, in sorrow, in agony, in death, and in resurrection. And in all this, you will have new insights into God’s great love for you.
 
Blessings to you as we approach with awe the most important days.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: I am a Christian

In this week’s Forward Today, Scott reflects on Perpetua, and the powerful inspiration of her testimony.


Dear friends in Christ,

Today the church remembers Perpetua and her Companions. Perpetua was a catechumen, not yet baptized, when she was summoned to appear before the Roman authorities. She refused to make a sacrifice in honor of the emperor. At a public hearing, she said, “I am a Christian.” She was sentenced to death, to be martyred in an arena by wild animals. She faced death bravely, urging those around her to remain steadfast in faith.
 
It might be tempting for us to read a story like this and think of it as little more than a fanciful legend. But it is more than that. For one thing, the blood of those martyrs, along with the blood of countless others, had the opposite effect from what the empire’s authorities wanted. From their witness, the church was made stronger. People were inspired by the way Christians faced death, clinging to their Savior and Lord Jesus Christ until the end.
 

 

In our world, today, there are Christians under threat. But it’s not just in places where martyrdom is a risk that our faith is at risk. Most Episcopalians are reasonably well off. We certainly do not face persecution for our faith. But there is another danger. It’s easy to make sacrifices to false gods. Do we worship the accumulation of wealth? Do we choose to remain silent while others suffer injustice? Do we treat our churches are social clubs rather than outposts of God’s kingdom? Do we honor power and might over love and sacrifice?
 
I know that I often fail to live the demanding life that Jesus Christ asks of me. I neglect opportunities to share my faith. I fail to give generously to those in need. I enjoy the comforts of the institutional church, which sometimes looks too much like the empire. Today, I am inspired and indicted by Perpetua’s simple and incredibly brave testimony. “I am a Christian.”
 
May we all stand ready to testify to our faith, whether it’s at our last day or in the quotidian choices we make too casually. Let us all say, when the time comes, “I am a Christian.”

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: Turning toward God

In this week’s Forward Today, Scott reflects on sin, and how Lent offers “a good time to look at our own lives, and see how we might turn toward God.”


Dear friends in Christ,

Not long ago, I saw a conversation on Facebook that was, perhaps unwittingly, deeply theological. People were debating whether someone was a “good person” or a “bad person.” Of course, for Christians, the answer to both categories is Yes.
 
We are all made in God’s image, put in this world to be and to do good. So in that sense, every person on the planet is a good person. After all, we are made in the very image of God. That means every person is both beautiful and good.
 

 

On the other hand, from shortly after the moment of creation, we have squandered the gifts that God has given us. Every single one of us turns away from God, choosing fear and selfishness over hope and love. We all sin. So, in that sense, we are bad people. If I were pressed, I’d say we are all people who do bad things.
 
This means that we should resist categories that sort people into “good” and “bad”. Jesus told us judgement was not our job, and I think he was serious about that. Our task is not to label or sort others, but to call people to turn toward God. In other words, we reject evil and turn toward good. And we ought to do this graciously, because we’ve all sinned.
 
The season of Lent gives us the gift of a whole season to focus on turning toward God. Maybe we’ll work a little harder to see God’s image in others. Maybe we’ll be a little more patient when we see sin in others. And perhaps this is a good time to look at our own lives, and see how we might turn toward God.
 
Some Christians don’t like to talk about sin very much. I find it freeing. For when I think about sins as times when I turned away from God, that makes my work pretty clear. And it helps me be generous with others. Jesus Christ offers true freedom to all, showing us perfect love, offering himself for the salvation of the world, and liberating us from the tyranny of sin. Thanks be to God.

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: Pray for those called to ministry

In this ember day Forward Today, Scott offers a prayer for clergy and a reflection on the call to ministry.


Dear friends in Christ,

Today our church keeps the first of the spring ember days. Four times each year, we set aside Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday to pray and fast for those to be ordained and for those in the ordination process. More lately, it has become common to pray for clergy and for all people in their vocations.
 

 

I encourage you to pray, especially for those discerning calls to ordained ministry and those in the ordination process. While every member of the church matters, because each of us has a place in the body of Christ, the task of identifying and training clergy is an especially important one. Pray for those involved in the ordination process, for bishops and Commissions on Ministry. Pray for seminaries. Pray for the church, that we might see the Holy Spirit at work in those who are called. 

 

The process leading to ordination is often challenging. And too often, our imperfect church allows human sexism or racism to blind us to the work of God in those who are called to ministry. Pray – and work for a church that is just and a church that listens carefully for the still, small voice of God wherever it speaks.

 

O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every
place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word
and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the
extension of your kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd
and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
ever. Amen.

 

Pray that God will bless every lay person and every ordained person with an inquiring and discerning heart.

 

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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Forward Today: We are marked as Christ’s

In the new Forward Today, Scott reflects on Ash Wednesday, writing that this day “reminds us that life is a gift from God.”


Dear friends in Christ,

When I was a parish priest, I loved imposing ashes. People of all sorts and conditions would present themselves at the altar rail. They would kneel. And as I put the ashes on their foreheads, I would say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Some people would have specially arranged their hair to make it easier to apply the cross. Some people looked bored, while others seemed to be struggling to take in the solemn warning. Young and old, long-time members and strangers all gathered to receive the ashes.

 

 

 

There is one cross I remember more than others. A whole family was preparing for baptism, including three children, the youngest of which was an infant. They all knelt, babe in arms. And there, I made an ash cross on the baby’s forehead. “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
 
It was a breathtaking reminder that all of us, even babies, are marching toward death. But there is good news. You see, Ash Wednesday reminds us that life is a gift from God. We don’t have much time in our earthly journey, so we should use this time well. We should do everything in our power to grow into the full stature of Jesus Christ. We should love as much as we can. We should be as merciful as we can be. We should work for justice with our whole heart. Ash Wednesday reminds us, graphically, that it’s not all about us.
 
We are marked as Christ’s. Everything we do is about Jesus Christ. The Lenten season offers us an annual opportunity to reorient ourselves, to reject those things that remove us from Jesus and take on those things that draw us closer to him.
 
The first time I went to Ash Wednesday, I was an adult. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The priest told me I’m going to die. And I was grateful for the reminder, and for the invitation to repent.
 
I hope you will gather with your church on Ash Wednesday and recommit to savoring this precious gift of life and using it well.

Yours faithfully,

Scott Gunn
Executive Director


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