Author Archives: RenewalWorks Admin

Monday Matters (April 23, 2016)

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I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset.
-Nadia Bolz-Weber
 
A Prayer for the Human Family 
(page 815 in the Book of Common Prayer)
 
O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
Acts 10:34-38
 
Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached- how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”

The Easter Way

I had a birthday recently and my beloved sister sent me a card which repeated a message she’d given me years ago, then in the form of a bumper sticker. She knew I was tickled by that bumper sticker because I’ve quoted it a bunch. So when she saw the message on a card, she couldn’t resist buying the card and sending it to me. Again. As a reminder.

The message read: “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.”

It’s something siblings may not verbalize but often feel, whether we’re talking about siblings in a biological family, or siblings in a broader sense, i.e., the brothers and sisters of the whole human family. As one of my seminary teachers once told me, the Bible is just a story of sibling rivalry.

My witty sister is kidding, of course (I think). But humor has its truth, and it makes me think that any of us who speak of having a relationship with God, a commitment of faith, a religious orientation probably have some lurking inner sense that God is kind of lucky to have us on the team. While God may tolerate some real jerks, God is wild about enlightened and decent folks, say, just for instance, like me.

Which brings me to one of the readings chosen to be read on Easter Day, arguably the most important day in the church year. The reading comes from Acts 10, and you can find it above. It’s also one of the passages included in this week’s assignments for those reading through the book of Acts this Easter season as part of the Good Book Club. (Note: It’s not too late to start that spiritual adventure.)

In Acts 10, Peter preaches to fellow church members. He explains insights that have come to him in his leadership role. He affirms a wideness to God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea, much wider than Peter could have ever imagined. Those insights mean that God’s welcome mat is huge.

So think with me about why this reading appears on Easter, again, our biggest day. I suspect it is because the news of resurrection, the news of Easter, is meant to make a change not only in how we relate to God, but how we relate to each other.

The way of life that draws distinctions, that relies on expressions of partiality, that focuses on who is in and who is out, all of that is frankly the way of death. It is limited thinking. It’s a dead end. Pursued to its extension, we’ll end up thinking of ourselves as the only one who has it right. What a lonely place. Perhaps even hellish.

The Easter way, the way of resurrected life, the way of new life embraces an ever-expanding vision of God’s love, reaching to everyone, even folks that annoy us. The Easter way says that we can find the risen Christ in all persons, even when Christ comes very well disguised.

So here’s a thought for this Monday morning: Where in your heart and mind do you draw distinctions? Who, if anyone, in the human family seems beyond the wideness of God’s mercy? (That may include the person you see in the mirror.) Identify that person (or persons). Pray for that person. Pray for the way you regard that person. Ask the Christ of Easter to open your heart to that person.

It’s the Easter way.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

(Take the Easter season to read the Acts of the Apostles, bit by bit each day. We’ll link the assignments for each day each week.)

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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (April 16, 2018)

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 Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
-Margaret Mead
 
Acts 9:3-6
As Saul (a.k.a., Paul) neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
 
Acts 10:27-29
While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people. He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
 

Change is good. You go first.
-Dilbert

It may well be true that nothing is certain in life but change. That doesn’t mean any of us like change, or that any of us are good at it. That often seems especially true of church life, organized religion, religious people and the spiritual journey.

I’m wondering this Monday morning when and if you’ve ever experienced change in your life, especially in your spiritual life. Have you ever changed your mind? Have you ever changed patterns of behavior? Were those changes for the better? What caused the change? What were the catalysts?

It’s ironic that we resist change because so many of the stories in the Bible speak about change and growth. In this Easter season, we are reading our way through the New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles. It’s filled with stories of change as the news of Jesus’ resurrection grabs hold of a small group of disciples. When that happened, the world was changed. (Note Margaret Mead’s quote above. I think she had the early church in mind.) What do we learn about how that kind of change happens from these readings?

Among the stories in this week’s reading (see schedule below), we read about the ways that change came to St. Paul. Paul had dedicated his life to persecuting the church, bringing considerable talents and energy to that task. He was good at it. He got kudos for it. He was on a roll, until a light shone on the road to Damascus and he was set on another course. He pulled a spiritual 180. That change, the individual transformation came with a personal encounter, a voice from heaven calling his name, challenging him to think about what he was doing, making him rethink everything that had given his life meaning. St. Paul had thought he was right. He came to see another way.

Soon after reading about the change that came to St. Paul, we read about a change that came to the early Christian community. Even in its infancy, it had set up institutional rules about who was in and who was out. It doesn’t take long. In Acts 10, we read about how St. Peter, the leader of that community, changed his mind on the issue of whether Gentiles could be included in the Christian community. St. Peter had thought he was right. He came to see another way.

The changes come in close encounters of a spiritual kind. For Paul, it was an encounter with God speaking directly to him. For Peter, it was an encounter with a faithful person outside of his normal circle, another way that God speaks to us. All of which underscores what we are learning about spiritual growth (or change or transformation). It is a process that is fundamentally relational. That change or growth or transformation happens in relationship with God and neighbor. It happens for the good when we are focused on love of God and neighbor. It causes us to listen more closely for God’s voice. It causes us to listen more closely to our neighbors, and what they have to teach us.

I don’t know where God is calling us to change this week. I don’t know how God is calling us to grow. I’m guessing that’s different for each one of us. I am convinced that God is never finished with us, which means that change is always open to us, available to us, beckoning to us. However it happens, we are called to open our hearts to it.

What will that look like for you this week?

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

(Take the Easter season to read the Acts of the Apostles, bit by bit each day. We’ll link the assignments for each day each week.)

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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (April 9, 2018)

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Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. 
-G.K.Chesterton
 
Acts 4:32-35
Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
 

So what was that all about?

Easter was a grand celebration, in many respects the biggest day of the year for church folk. It’s preceded by Holy Week, with lots of liturgies, lots of time, talent and treasure, lots of holy effort. That’s preceded by 40 days of Lent. People in church give something up, and take on spiritual disciplines in anticipation of the day of resurrection. Again, spiritual crunch time for many.

So what difference does it all make? Does it have lasting impact? Or do we just look at it all in the rear-view mirror and say “Well, that was nice. Done with that for another year.”

This time of year reminds me of the start of my decades-old hobby: collecting photos of church signs. There are many interesting signs out there, especially in this part of the world which Flannery O’Connor described as Christ-haunted. Many of you have been gracious enough to send me such photos which you’ve run across in travels. Keep ’em coming.

The sign that triggered this hobby was perched on a small trailer, in front of a country church. It read: “The Lord is Risen. No Bingo.” As a preacher who unceasingly grazes for sermon material, I used this sign to make the homiletic point that the news of Easter brings transformation. It’s meant to change things. It’s meant to change us.

That may or may not ring true in our culture, or in our churches. That may or may not ring true in your life. Apparently it was definitely the case for the first Christians, which we can discover as we read our way through the New Testament book called the Acts of the Apostles (see Good Book Club readings for this week below.)

The news of the resurrection transformed the first Christians. Thomas went from doubter to worshipper. Peter went from denial to leadership. Paul met the risen Lord on the road to Damascus and went from persecutor to preacher. And as we read in the passage above, assigned for this week, and as many of us heard in church yesterday, the early church had one of the most dramatic transformations. The news of the resurrection made them think differently about their money, about their possessions. Now that is change.

As Luke tells it, the church became a community which has been widely admired and rarely imitated throughout church history. Based on the preaching of the resurrection, equipped with “great grace upon them all”, the early Christians became of one heart and one mind. Outsiders looked at people inside the church and said “See how they love one another.” (Would folks say that today?) These Christians knew each other’s needs and provided for each other’s needs, with reckless generosity. If someone had a lot of stuff, they shared with someone who had a little. It was Easter faith in action.

This is one of those wonderful passages which safeguards us all against biblical literalism. No worry that a whole lot of folks will actually take the early church as a model. I confess I won’t. But if implementation is unlikely to follow, perhaps just a bit of inspiration might.

Maybe in light of this witness of the early church, we can look around and consider what we have to share with those in need, nearby or on the other side of the globe, even if it’s only a small offering. It’s not simply about a way to help other folks. It’s not simply a way to be charitable or benevolent or a nice person. It’s not a way to assuage the guilt of affluenza.

It’s a way to say we believe in the resurrection. It’s a way to be Easter people. It’s a way to say that Easter changes us. It’s a way to say that Easter matters. All year long.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

(Take the Easter season to read the Acts of the Apostles, bit by bit each day. We’ll link the assignments for each day each week.)

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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (April 2, 2018)

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Send them into the world in witness to your love.
-A prayer from the service of Holy Baptism, a request for those being baptized.

 

An example of a modern-day apostle:
I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Graeco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular home town.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (who was killed on April 4, 50 years ago)

The vocation to discipleship and apostleship is given to us in baptism. In baptism, we are joined to our creator God in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and sent out into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit to participate in God’s mission. Dying to our old self in the waters of baptism and rising to new life in Jesus, we own anew our calling as followers of Jesus – disciples of Jesus in a new age. Sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever, we’re sent into the world as missionaries, – apostles of the mission of God.
-Ian T. Douglas Bishop of Connecticut

Who me?

In conversations with folks around the church, I often ask people what it means to them to be a disciple. The response I sometimes get: Who me? People are not always sure that they see themselves as a disciple. They are not always sure they want to. After all, in the gospels, it doesn’t always turn out well for disciples. As Flannery O’Connor noted, “You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd.” Being a disciple is for someone else, thank you very much. Sometimes, I ask folks to help me find synonyms. Instead of talking about being a disciple, they talk about being a Jesus follower, a learner, a student. That’s a bit more accessible. What does the word mean to you?

And once folks get done with that question, I have a follow up. I ask what it means to be an apostle. Then I really get the deer in the headlights look. Again, who me? And folks want to know about the difference between a disciple and an apostle. Aren’t they the same?

We’re shifting seasons now, moving from Lent to Easter. During Lent, we invited readers to read the Gospel of Luke, part of a denomination-wide effort called the Good Book Club. If any of you participated in that (not asking for a show of hands) I’m wondering about your reaction.

But we’re not done with the Good Book Club, just as Easter Day is not the end but the beginning. During the 50-day season of Easter, we invite you to read the New Testament book entitled the Acts of the Apostles. It’s also written by Luke and it tells the story, you guessed it, of the apostles.

So what’s an apostle? It’s often suggested that an apostle is some spiritual superstar, the spiritual 1%, greatly admired, rarely imitated. But the word really suggests someone (anyone) who has been sent, someone (anyone) who is on a mission. The mission is not their own, but in the vision of the Christian faith, it is God’s mission.

So as we begin to read the Acts of the Apostles this week, I’m wondering if you can explore this possibility. What would it mean to consider yourself both disciple and apostle? If these two churchy words get in the way, would it be possible to come at that question from aother angle.

When it comes to being a disciple, ask:

  • Who are my teachers, specifically about spiritual stuff? Is Jesus one of those?
  • What does it look like in my life, day to day, to be a follower of Jesus? What is the evidence of that commitment? Where does it show up?
  • If Jesus has something to teach me, how do I pick up those lessons? On line? In church? On my own?

When it comes to being an apostle, ask:

  • In my life, do I have a sense that there is anything I’ve been sent to do or be?
  • How would I describe that “mission” to a trusted friend?
  • How do I know where I’m being sent? What should I do when I get there?

Disciple and apostle. Not exactly the same thing, though meant to be found in the same person. You and I are candidates. As the season of Easter begins, consider a way that you can both follow Jesus and be sent by him into a world that needs God’s mission.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

(The readings listed above represent the assignments according to the Lenten Good Book Club. Never too late to join in! And we’re not done. Starting on Easter, we read the book of Acts.)

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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (March 26, 2018)

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You will be found.
 
No one deserves to be forgotten.
No one deserves to fade away.
No one should come and go and have no one know he was ever even here.
No one deserves to disappear.
To disappear.
Disappear.
-From the musical , “Dear Evan Hansen”
 
 
Luke 23
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Just as I am

Some years ago, while visiting a nursing home, a staff member commented on one resident as we passed her room. Her advanced years meant she outlived friends and family. She was pretty much alone in the world. But from time to time, she would call up the local florist and send herself flowers, her way of communicating to the staff that she had advocates out there, someone who cared for her. She wanted them to know that she was not alone. She was not forgotten.

I never had the privilege of meeting this woman. From afar, I admired her moxie, her resourcefulness, her valor. She had wit. She had wisdom. She had flowers. She reminds me that we all want to be remembered. We fear being forgotten. We wonder if we will disappear.

Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered on Saturday to march for their lives. One audacious, courageous young woman insisted on six-plus minutes of silence (on network TV) to make sure fallen friends were remembered, were not forgotten, did not disappear.

Our journey through the Gospel of Luke this Lent (see readings assigned for this week below) leads us to the core of the gospel, the Passion Narrative, Jesus’ final days. Luke, unique among the gospel authors, offers a memorable exchange between the two thieves on the cross and Jesus. There’s that one thief who makes this beautiful request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” His story resonates because we all want to be remembered. We fear being forgotten. We wonder if we will disappear.

The thief’s request was hardly transactional. He had nothing to offer Jesus except his failure and imminent demise. I do mean nothing. On the cross, no place for a wallet. No credit cards. No resume. No theology degree. No record of social action. No pedigree. No family connections. No generous pledge derived from a flush portfolio. You get the idea. He just opened himself up to mercy. All he offered was his need, that inner, unfilled God-shaped space.

And maybe that thief teaches us about how we’re supposed to approach Holy Week. As I thought about this thief on the cross (and as I thought about this lady in the nursing home surreptitiously calling FTD) the words of the hymn made famous by Billy Graham, and well situated in our hymnal, came to mind:

Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me. And that thou biddest me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.

I have no idea how you will navigate this Holy Week. I don’t know what your faith community presents as options for observance. But I hope you will take full advantage of those opportunities in this week at the heart of our faith. And I wonder what you and I can learn from this thief. I’m thankful Luke included him in his gospel. He becomes our teacher as he models how to ask without condition or commendation: “Jesus, remember me.”

Note that the word “remember” looms large in Holy Week. It turns up at the Last Supper, as Jesus gives his disciples this feast of bread and wine to be shared in remembrance of him. Hear it as you join disciples on the road to Emmaus, as they remember what Jesus told them about his own fate. But most of all, remember how Jesus answers when that thief who had no standing, no status, asks to be remembered. Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus could have said: “You loser, are you kidding?” He could have said: “Where were you when I needed you?” He could have said: “You deserve what you’re getting.” Instead, he stretched out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw this thief into his saving embrace. He draws you and me into that same saving and loving embrace. Thanks be to God, that’s what we celebrate this week. It’s not about transaction. It’s about grace.

On some mysterious, miraculous level, that holds the promise of paradise.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

(The readings listed above represent the assignments according to the Lenten Good Book Club. Never too late to join in! And we’re not done. Starting on Easter, we read the book of Acts.)

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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (March 19, 2018)

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Luke 22
 
A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
 
Mark 9
 
Jesus and disciples came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve: and he said to them,”If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” 

In a recent political campaign, red baseball caps invited us to think about greatness. Those hats triggered conversation about what makes a nation great, explicit and implicit exploration resulting in insights that vary widely and wildly (to say the least).

Providentially, along comes Holy Week, with opportunity to consider what Jesus had to say about greatness. And as we continue our journey through the Gospel of Luke, reading it in this season of Lent (see this week’s assignments below), this coming Saturday we’ll read from the 22nd chapter. We’ll eavesdrop on conversation at the Last Supper, on the night before Jesus was arrested, tortured and executed. Jesus met with his disciples who were apparently playing politics, debating which one of them would be considered the greatest.

One can only imagine criteria they had in mind. Who was the greatest fisherman? Apparently none of them were very talented in this regard. Who was the best evangelist? Who did the most to fill the pews or increase number of pledging units? Who was the best speaker? Maybe Peter, who may not have been the best speaker but was certainly the most speaker. Who was the greatest critical thinker? Thomas of doubting fame? Who was the most spiritual, the best theologian? John, the beloved disciple? Who handled money best? Judas, perhaps? The dispute makes disciples look a bit silly, except that these kinds of conversation still happen all the time, in families, workplaces, churches, between denominations, among the religions of the world. “I’m holier than thou.” “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.”

When Jesus gets wind of this dispute, he takes the opportunity to offer his distinctive vision of greatness. As told in John’s Gospel, at this point, he gets up from the table and washes the disciples’ feet. Here in Luke’s gospel (in the passage above), he simply says to his disciples that if they are at all interested in discovery of greatness, it will come with service. Jesus speaks of the witness of the youngest among us, which led me to think of the compelling witnesses I saw on TV last week. I was moved by articulate young people standing in front of the nation’s capitol, the locus of greatness in many folks’ opinion, calling us all to address the moral challenges of our day.

Millenia after Jesus tried to knock some sense into his disciples, Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected on greatness. On April 4, we mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Thanks be to God, his grace and wisdom did not end that day. He speaks to us still. At one point, he addressed a group of students, folks with an open future. He offered this pathway to greatness. He said:

Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

Everybody can serve. So everybody can be great. Maybe I’ll put that on a baseball cap. How will you live into that kind of greatness this week? Ask God to show you an opportunity to be of service. Our broken world presents plenty of those. Our broken world needs it.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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  • Jay SidebothamContact:
    Rev. Jay Sidebotham
    jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
    RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
    www.renewalworks.org
  • If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (March 12, 2018)

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Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.
-Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
 
To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.
-Confucius
 
I’ve known for years that resentments don’t hurt the person we resent, but they do hurt us.
-Anne Lamott
 
Luke 15:26-32:
Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.

My dog ate my English muffin.

I had placed my breakfast plate on the coffee table to watch the morning news. I turned to switch on the light and in a nano-second, the dog jumped up, grabbed the muffin, ran into the other room. I was mad. I was looking forward to that English muffin. After all I had done for him, this is how he treats me? For the rest of the day, I didn’t talk to the dog. No treats. Nothing. In the evening, it occurred to me: I was actually harboring a resentment against a dog. While the dog of course was oblivious, I was holding on to my annoyance at the ungrateful cur. I knew that I had been pretty gifted at holding on to resentments, but this rose to a new level.

Today’s reading in the Gospel of Luke (for those following the schedule of the Good Book Club) features the story of the Prodigal Son. This rich parable has three main characters. There’s the younger son who goes away, messes up and sheepishly makes his way home to find a welcome home party waiting for him. There’s the father who welcomes that son home before the kid can even open his mouth in explanation or self-defense or apology. And there’s the elder brother, who apparently feels unappreciated, annoyed and you guessed it, resentful.

Where do you see yourself in the story?

If you are interested in an answer, a recommendation for Lenten reading. Henri Nouwen wrote a book called The Return of the Prodigal Son, based on a painting by Rembrandt hanging in the Hermitage, a painting on which Nouwen meditated for a while. In the book, Nouwen asks the reader to identify with each of the three characters. With resentment on my mind, in the wake of the stolen English muffin (a real-life parable for one of my deeper spiritual struggles, and possibly yours), I focused on the older brother.

Note what this brother says to his father when he realizes the grace lavished on the younger ne-er-do-well: “All these years, I worked as a slave for you.” He goes on to complain about the party being given for “this son of yours”, failing to acknowledge his brotherhood. My guess is this guy has been harboring resentment for a while. He had in mind that if he worked hard enough, he could earn his Father’s love, that he in fact needed to earn that love, with the suspicion that all he had done would never be quite enough. So tragically, he confused sonship with slavery, love with duty. That world-view blinds him to good news, the celebration of the return of his brother, once lost, now found. It prevents him from celebrating grace which had surrounded him the whole time.

Parables are not allegories. The older brother does not symbolize just one type of person. But as I read the parable as a kind of mirror, for me he represents really religious people, maybe clergy. Have you ever met any resentful folks in church? Maybe we’re talking about people who work really hard in churches, people who feel like all that activity hasn’t touched their hearts, people whose defining life principle may be the way they’ve been under-appreciated, people who may have drifted from the foundation of a relationship with God: the willingness to open one’s heart to God’s grace and love.

I was told years ago that the Bible is just a story of sibling rivalry. It starts with Cain and Abel (who fight over worship of all things), moves through Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers up to the parable before us. Our conviction that love is a scarce commodity provides fertile ground for resentment in families, in the whole human family.

So maybe prompted by the story we read today, we can simply think about letting resentments go. Maybe we can practice (and it takes practice) forgiveness. Maybe we can send those ancient hurts down the river. Yes, they happened. But forgiveness is giving up the hope of a better past. Maybe we can hear again the reading from II Corinthians which we heard on Ash Wednesday, as it cautioned: “Do not accept the grace of God in vain.” Maybe, just maybe, we can apply this wise counsel from Henri Nouwen:

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.

And in case you’re wondering, my dog and I are now on speaking terms.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:


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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (March 5, 2018)

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Oh, what peace we often forfeit. 
Oh, what needless pain we bear. 
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.
 

Luke 12:
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you-you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Do Not Worry

Well, that was an interesting afternoon. I was on a plane last week and halfway through the flight, the pilot announced we were turning around. We’d be making an emergency landing at an airport with a really big runway because there was some problem with steering. Knowing nothing about aviation, I thought: “Well, a problem with steering sounds better to me than a problem with brakes. Maybe.”

We had about 20 minutes left in the flight, which ended with a smooth landing, welcomed by a few fire trucks. While the flight attendants did demonstrate how we should brace for impact, for whatever reason, I sensed this was just a matter of the airline being extra careful. Most folks on the flight seemed pretty chill. But it did give me a glimmer of what it might be like to face serious problems on a plane. What would I think about? How might I react if I really believed as I often say in a blessing, “Life is short.” It made me think of stories I’ve heard from folks who survived greater emergencies and found in those moments the peace that passes understanding.

Recently I served on a panel with a gentleman who lived in Hawaii. He told the story of that Saturday morning when the alert went out about an impending missile aimed at Oahu. I had insufficiently considered how scary that must have been. His apartment had a view of Pearl Harbor and he imagined he would be ground zero. He had two daughters. Each responded differently. One hid in the bathroom. The other said: “Dad, let’s go out on the balcony and watch the show.” I was struck with the way he talked about those 38 minutes. While in his place, I might have panicked, I got no senses that that was his experience.

A priest I know has a parishioner who was on the plane Sully landed in the Hudson a few years ago. That parishioner imagined he was living the last minutes of his life. He said he felt deep peace. My friend, the rector, said his goal was to lead a church where members are so deeply formed in faith that they will know such peace in such moments.

Another person I admire dashed to a plane upon learning that a child had had a terrible accident in another part of the country. She did not know what she would find at the hospital after the plane landed. She described being upheld on that plane ride by that sense of deep peace.

Each of these incidents came to mind as I scanned readings from Luke for this week (especially on Tuesday). Jesus teaches his disciples in a variety of ways, inviting them into a new way of life. One of the features of that new life: It will be marked by a sense of peace. In a world marked by fear and scarcity thinking, Jesus invited disciples to trust, following him on a pathway not shielded from suffering, but not undone by suffering. All will be well. All manner of things will be well.

That new way of life is an excellent focus for Lent. Folks often think Lent is a matter of being more miserable than thou, a downer of a season that describes us as wretched, whether we feel wretched or not. The word “Lent” actually comes from an ancient word for Spring. The season asks us to think about how new life might unfold, free (or at least freer) from anxiety.

Jesus says: Don’t worry about your life. Perhaps easier said than done. It’s possible, though, it seems to me, if we can deepen our trust. For followers of Jesus, that means focus, striving first for the Kingdom of God, keeping things in perspective. That, in turn, probably means prayer, which in Anne Lamott’s vision can be as simple as three words: Thanks. Help. Wow. Luke’s gospel has Jesus constantly heading off by himself to pray. I wonder if that was the key to the calm with which he navigated opposition, rejection, ridicule, misunderstanding, betrayal, persecution, torture, suffering. I wonder if that could be an antidote to anxiety for you and me, as we live in anxious times.

The old hymn observes: Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. Today, this morning, do we needlessly forfeit peace? May you know deep peace today.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

  • Monday, March 5: Luke 12:1-21
  • Tuesday, March 6: Luke 12:22-59
  • Wednesday, March 7: Luke 13:1-21
  • Thursday, March 8: Luke 13:22-35
  • Friday, March 9: Luke 14:1-24
  • Saturday, March 10: Luke 14:25-35
  • Sunday, March 11: Luke 15:1-10


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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (February 26, 2018)

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Welcome to the Good Book Club. 

Luke 10:25-37

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

How much sinning can I do and still go to heaven?

That was the bumper sticker a co-worker posted on his bulletin board in his church office years ago. Its creator may have been echoing the lawyer who came to test Jesus, as told in the story in Luke (above). The lawyer was trying to trap Jesus. He begins by asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, a question I suspect we all entertain at some point: “What is asked of me? What am I supposed to do?”

Jesus gets the lawyer to answer the question for himself, to cite the command to love God wholly and to love neighbor as self. Simple, but not easy. One thing, but really two. The lawyer, who wants the last word, gets a follow up question: “And who is my neighbor?”

I could be wrong, but as I hear that question, the lawyer is really asking: “How far do I have to carry this love of neighbor thing?” The lawyer operates out of scarcity thinking: “I have limited capacity for neighborliness.” I confess I’ve felt that way. Have you?

Jesus envisions another way, best captured in a story. That’s usually how we learn about grace. The story is known as the Good Samaritan. (If you’re joining our journey reading the Gospel of Luke this season, you’ll read the story on Friday.) I suspect that even folks deeply unfamiliar with the Christian tradition would have an idea of what a Good Samaritan is.

Did you catch the trick Jesus pulls? The lawyer asks: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the story and then turns the table by asking: “Who behaved like a neighbor?” The question about identifying neighbor morphs into a question about what it means to be a neighbor. It’s not about roping off those folks that don’t qualify. It’s about widening the circle.

I’ve heard a lot of sermons on this passage. The most impactful came from a young and inspiring Muslim teacher, Eboo Patel, one of my heroes who came to my church to lead us in interfaith conversation, at a time when Muslims were being particularly demonized in our culture. It was holy work he did with us thick-headed Episcopalians. He chose to explore the topic by reflecting on this parable, imagining that the hero of the story was an unlikely hero for a Christian text. In his modern day version of the parable, the one who modeled neighborliness was the outsider, a Muslim.

There is lots to learn from this story. The point I hear this Monday morning is that everyone is capable of neighborliness. Everyone is called to practice neighborliness, to demonstrate mercy. Jesus is not particularly interested in some definition of who is our neighbor. If that was his interest, I’m betting that over time we would each draw the circle of neighbors smaller and smaller. Just you and me, and I’m not so sure about you.

Jesus calls us as disciples to imitate the expansive spirit he modeled. He calls us to mimic the kind of generosity that led him to live among us, to pitch a tent among us, as the Gospel of John puts it, to offer himself for us. He calls us to think less about placing limits on demonstrations of mercy, to think more about the wideness of God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea.

So here’s another bumper sticker that helps us take a step in the right direction. At a recent discussion about the divisions in our society, one parishioner mentioned a bumper sticker she had seen. It read: Be kinder than necessary. She followed that up with a Japanese proverb: One kind word can warm three winter months. It’s the wisdom discovered by Aldous Huxley, who at the end of his life, was asked to describe his deepest learning. He whispered: Be a little kinder. It’s the wisdom of the Dalai Lama who said: My religion is kindness.

All of this moves way beyond simply being nice. It means accepting the spiritual challenge involved in showing mercy, which is not always easy. It means thinking less narrowly about who qualifies as neighbor. It means focusing on the opportunity to be a neighbor, to show mercy broadly.

I’m guessing that the Holy Spirit will give you that opportunity before we get much further into this February Monday. If it helps, carry this blessing with you today: Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love. Make haste to be kind. And the blessing of God be with you.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

  • Monday, February 26:  Luke 8:26-56
  • Tuesday, February 27:  Luke 9:1-27
  • Wednesday, February 28:  Luke 9:28-62
  • Thursday, March 1:  Luke 10:1-20
  • Friday, March 2:  Luke 10:21-42
  • Saturday, March 3:  Luke 11:1-13
  • Sunday, March 4:  Luke 11:14-54


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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (February 19, 2018)

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Welcome to the Good Book Club. 

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has invited Episcopalians (and anyone else, of course) to read the Gospel of Luke in Lent, and the Acts of the Apostles in Easter. It will be interesting to see what happens when we all engage with the same story. In this Monday message, in weeks ahead, I will share readings that have been assigned for each week, and reflect on something in that passage. If you want to know more about this effort led by Forward Movement:  www.goodbookclub.org.

You can get an app which gives you the reading each day, and the readings in Forward Day by Day will guide you through these two important biblical books.

This week, you’re invited to start reading the Gospel of Luke, beginning at the beginning (smart) and reading through the end of Chapter 4. Next week, we’ll invite you to read Luke 5-8.

Today’s focus:  Luke 4:1-13:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” 

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” 

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Is my call a wrong number?

Truth be told, I’ve asked myself that question from time to time, for various reasons. Apparently I’m not alone. Again and again, in the Bible, people are called by God and those same people conclude that God has made a big old mistake. Maybe they were channeling the spirit of Groucho Marx who said that he wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would have him as a member. People say things like “I’m too young” or “I’m too old” or “I’m not a good public speaker” or “I am a person of unclean lips.”

This week’s readings in the gospel of Luke begin with Jesus’ call to disciples. It happens seaside, as Jesus comes across soon-to-be disciples who had been fishing all night. They had caught nothing. The fish were safe. (Notice that these professional fishermen, never catch a fish without Jesus’ help. What’s that about? But I digress.)

Jesus shows up and gives instruction about where to fish. The nets burst with the catch. Peter, overwhelmed with the miracle he’s witnessed, kneels before Jesus and says “Depart from me. I’m too sinful to be of use to you.” Jesus issues this call: “From now on you will be fishing for people.” In other words, from now on, Jesus says: “I will take the work you do and transform it for the sake of the kingdom of God.”

Each one of us has a call. The Prayer Book tells us we are all ministers. So as Lent begins, ask these questions: What are you called to do in the world? How do we discover what that call might be? It’s different for each of us, but for years I have been helped by the definition of vocation from Frederick Buechner:

There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either. Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

Chances are we may well feel incapable of living into God’s call. We may find it hard to believe we have any call at all. If that’s the case, perhaps we’re over- functioning, worrying about how we live into the call. That’s God’s work. And if we feel we are not up to the call, maybe that’s the best kind of opportunity for God to go to work in us and through us and in spite of us.

Years ago, I had the privilege of officiating at a monthly eucharist at a nursing home. Some worshippers walked in under their own steam. Some helped by canes and walkers. Some in wheelchairs. Some wheeled in on a gurney. The service concluded with this prayer, which indicated that everyone, including variously abled folks, had a call. Here’s the prayer. Pray it this Monday:

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.

-Jay Sidebotham

Readings for the Good Book Club this week:
  • Monday, February 19:  Luke 5:1-16
  • Tuesday, February 20:  Luke 5:17-39
  • Wednesday, February 21: Luke 6:1-26
  • Thursday, February 22:  Luke 6:27-49
  • Friday, February 23:  Luke 7:1-35
  • Saturday, February 24:  Luke 7:36-50
  • Sunday, February 25:  Luke 8:26-56


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Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
jsidebotham@renewalworks.org
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
www.renewalworks.org

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.