Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday Matters (May 22, 2017)

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Across the border

One of the great privileges of my work: I get to connect with church folk around the country who, in a variety of ways, are exploring what it means to be a person of faith in a world where faith is challenged. They are my teachers, and they give me the strong sense that the Spirit is at work in many ways in many places.

Recently this work led me across our northern border to talk with the Rev. Dawn Davis, rector of a church outside of Toronto. She’s been leading a large, lively congregation for about a decade and is thinking with rigor about how people are formed spiritually. Said another way, she is looking at how people grow in relationship with God and neighbor.

She’s done interesting research on the topic and has come to the conclusion that there are at least three elements required in order for an individual to experience growth in the Christian life. Here they are, and I quote:

  1. A personal encounter and awareness of God nurtured through a private devotional life that is attentive to specific spiritual practices.
  2. A corporate worshipping community that provides relationships to support, model, encourage and reveal the cultural expectation to grow into the fullness of Christ.
  3. A small group or mentor that, through a loving, trusting relationship, models, nurtures and provides opportunity to verbally reflect on the spiritual experience and which facilitate the confident awareness and sharing of that experience.

I share these three as an invitation to think about your own journey, to take stock of your spiritual life, to see if these elements are part of that life, and if there is anything you’d add to her list.

For starters, what is the character of your private devotional life? Is it a matter of study, prayer, silence, journaling, walking? How are those practices animating your ability to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world?

Second, is your engagement with a worshipping community part of your own spiritual development? Is church attendance just one big annoying ought? Or is there some sense that coming together with fellow followers of Jesus on a regular basis helps you grow into the fullness of Christ (what an amazing phrase!), so that together you can be of service in the world?

Third, after you’ve focused on what you do as individual, and what you do in a worshipping community, is there some place in between, where relationships go deeper? This is where Episcopalians sometimes struggle.

We’re often fine on the private spiritual moment. But in my heart, I don’t believe it’s possible to be a Christian alone.

We’re big on worship. But the liturgy is not designed to foster the kind of relationships where we know each other and are known. Way too often I hear folks speak of the loneliness they experience in church. I’ve felt it as clergy. Too often we expect the exchange of the peace or coffee hour to be relationship builders. They can help, but I don’t think that’s the intention behind those rituals. Too infrequently do we get to share the amazing things God does in our lives.

Many churches have discovered the power of small groups, the transformative power of mentorship and spiritual coaching. Many Episcopal churches have not yet discovered that power, so key to growing a relationship with God.

Maybe each one of these three elements is part of your life. Thanks be to God if that is the case. If not, consider ways that you might grow your faith by making a commitment to private devotional practice, to participation in a worshipping community, and to connection with a few folks on some deep level, leading to confident awareness and sharing of your experience.

And then put that all together in a way that helps you participate in God’s healing of a broken world.

-Jay Sidebotham

PS: If you’re interested in knowing more about this research, contact the Rev. Dawn Davis at dawndavis3d@gmail.com

 
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair…
 
The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear.
 
We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.
 
So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service… Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either.
 
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

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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 (May 15, 2017)

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What does God want from us?

Each morning, before I walk the dogs (my spiritual advisors), I spend time with scriptures for the day, listed in the Book of Common Prayer. As the caffeine kicks in, I do my sleepy best to read, mark, inwardly digest those readings. I try to figure out what they have to do with the day ahead. Some days that’s easier than others. But I think about the readings as the blessed dogs and I walk.

Last week, one of my morning walks was focused on a phrase that caught my eye when I read Psalm 50. The Lord says: “Whoever offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving, honors me.” I’ve heard the phrase many times, but I suddenly found it odd to put those words together. Sacrifice and thanksgiving. Then yesterday in church, enjoying the privilege of leading worship, I found myself saying these words over bread and wine: “We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” There it is again. A bit of research indicated that the phrase “sacrifice of praise” or “sacrifice of thanksgiving” shows up a lot in scripture.

Sacrifice, to my simple mind, suggests something diminishing, maybe violent, taking life away. Praise and thanksgiving connote joy and hope and possibility. Sacrifice suggests something that requires effort, or at least a whole lot of intention. It’s work. Praise or thanksgiving seem to flow freely as a response to grace (see Karl Barth’s quote below about grace and gratitude).

So what does God want from us? Maybe nothing more or less than gratitude for grace received. A friend and I were talking on the phone last week, sharing stories of challenges faced by people we knew and loved. We ended the phone call by noting that we both felt ridiculously blessed. That is not to say that challenges won’t surface for us. But in the moment, for the moment, we felt called to offer a sacrifice of praise.

Maybe the point of the phrase is that in the mystery of God’s way in the world, a sacrifice can be life giving. It need not be diminishing or destructive. But it does require intention, letting go, discovering life by giving it away. In olden days, maybe the sacrifice was an animal or first fruits from the harvest. These days, what might be a sacrifice of thanksgiving?

Perhaps it is sacrificing a sense of entitlement or privilege, like the world owes me something, in order to focus on gratitude for ridiculous blessings received.

Perhaps it is sacrificing delicious resentment or hesitation to forgive, in order to focus on gratitude for forgiveness shown to us.

Perhaps it is sacrificing the ambition to outdo somebody else, in order to focus on gratitude for the gifts other people have, gifts we might lack.

Perhaps it is sacrificing an anxious sense of scarcity, the fear there will never be enough, in order to focus on gratitude for what we know in our lives as a “gracious plenty” or a “sufficiency”, to borrow local terminology.

Perhaps it is letting someone cut in front of us in traffic, or go ahead of us in line at the grocery store, some small act of kindness, in order to focus on gratitude for unmerited kindnesses we’ve experienced.

Perhaps it is taking a break from righteous indignation, fueled by deep conviction we are right, in order to focus on gratitude for what we have to learn in genuine conversation.

You get the idea. Life is filled with opportunities to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, time, talent, treasure, heart. Life is more fully enjoyed when we do. It’s the mystery of God’s way in the world. Live into that mystery today. I could be wrong, but I think it’s what God wants from us.

-Jay Sidebotham

Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me.

-Psalm 50:23
 
 
This is the ritual of the sacrifice of the offering of well-being that one may offer to the Lord. If you offer it for thanksgiving, you shall offer with the thank-offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour well soaked in oil.
-Leviticus 7:11, 12
 
 
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
-Psalm 116:17
 
 
Let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
-Hebrews 13:15
 
 
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Gratitude evokes grace like the voice and echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.
-Karl Barth

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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 (May 8, 2017)

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Both/And

In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea. I found myself participating in a Facebook debate about religion. Facebook is a good forum for many things, but it too easily turns to online road rage, providing more heat than light. I’m not sure that anyone ever changed their thinking on politics or religion by participating in one of these exchanges.

The discussion was prompted by an interesting blogpost by a pastor named Chad Bird. Its title: Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus.

A red flag goes up for me whenever a sentence starts like that. Whenever someone says with such conviction what Christianity is or is not, I appeal to the words of the old hymn which speaks of the mysterious wideness of God’s mercy. That hymn includes this hopeful, humbling line: The love of God is broader than the measure of the mind.

But it all got me thinking about whether the Christian faith is an individual matter or a communal event. With dogmatic fervor and certainty rivaling rabid fundamentalists who claim the faith is all about accepting Jesus as personal savior, folks were arguing that Christianity is only and all about community, that a focus on a personal relationship misreads scripture, nurtures narcissism, and reflects an excessively private faith, celebrating a rugged, rigid individualism.

The Anglican in me found me posting: Does this need to be a choice? Someone asked me to explain. That’s when I signed off. It wasn’t the right forum. But here’s my best attempt at an explanation, based on insights from the baptismal service, of all places, a liturgy that says a lot about our identity, as it blends individual and communal spiritual experience.

Notice the progression in the baptismal service. As candidates for baptism are presented, responses are all in the first person, the voice of an individual. I do desire to be baptized. I do renounce evil. I do turn to Jesus and accept him as savior. I do put my trust in his grace and love. I do promise to follow him as Lord. (Side note: Doesn’t that language sound strikingly evangelical, perhaps even describing a personal relationship?)

But of course the service doesn’t end there. It widens in scope so that the next question asks the whole community to support this person. They respond: We will. The baptismal covenant follows, with affirmation of what we (not I) believe, what we (not I) promise to do, with God’s help. Those promises make the point that we can’t do it alone. We don’t do it for self alone. The covenant calls us to the vision of Archbishop William Temple who said that the church is the only organization on earth that exists for the sake of those who are not its members.

Why do the pronouns matter? It’s a total both/and. It’s all about relationship. An individual relationship with God in Christ, whatever that looks like, leads to a richer, healthier communal life. That communal relationship in turn supports the individual, because with the exception of a few really holy hermit types, we can’t be a Christian alone. Together, we participate in a movement aimed at healing a broken world.

So this Monday morning, how do you think about your relationship with God in Christ? (I added some comments from Marcus Borg and Martin Buber below for your consideration.) Are you part of a community that is helping you go deeper in that relationship? Are you bringing the amazing gift of your relationship to the community, so you can reach out to a world in need?

-Jay Sidebotham

Thoughts on relationship:

 
Jesus said: My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.
-John 10
 
 
Through the Thou a person becomes I.
-Martin Buber
 
 
The only possible relationship with God is to address him and to be addressed by him, here and now.
-Martin Buber
 
 
God loves us already and has from our very beginning. The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can be saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true that God loves us already and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God.
-Marcus Borg
 
 
The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.
-Marcus Borg

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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 (May 1, 2017)

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Just wondering

Open my eyes so that I may see the wonders of your law. -Psalm 119:18

This verse from the longest psalm has been on my mind this Easter season. Fun fact (which gives you an idea of what clergy consider to be fun): Every one of the 176 verses in Psalm 119 includes a reference to the law, or teaching, or commandments, or statutes of God. It might be easy to hear those repeated references as promoting rule-based, grace-deprived theology.

But there’s another way to look at it. The references to law or teaching or statutes are really about God’s best intention for us, the way we are designed to walk and talk. This psalm offers a prayer that we will be able to see that, that we will appreciate its wonder. So think with me about that prayer to have eyes opened, a prayer for vision, for a new way of seeing, for a new set of lenses, for a new sense of wonder.

The Easter season is filled with stories of folks who have eyes opened with wonder. The four gospels present varied accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, but there is this recurrent theme: Folks don’t immediately see the miracle. They need to have eyes opened.

In her grief, Mary goes to the tomb on Easter morning (John 20), finds it empty, runs into Jesus, tears clouding vision, thinks he’s the gardener. It’s only when he says her name that her eyes are opened and sorrow turns to joy.

Thomas of doubting fame refuses to believe that Jesus is alive (John 20). It’s only when Jesus shows his wounds that Thomas’ eyes are opened. Doubt turns to worship, as Thomas says “My Lord and my God.”

Yesterday in church, we read about disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Jesus joins them as they walk for miles. As they walk and talk, Jesus gives them a tutorial in the Hebrew Scriptures. They have no idea who he is. It’s only when he blesses and breaks bread that they have eyes opened and run to share good news.

Peter pushes his fishing boat off shore (John 21) catches nothing all night (I find it amusing that the gospel never records disciples, who were professional fishermen, catching a fish without Jesus’ help, a subject for another email.) Peter sees a stranger on the shore. It’s only when there’s a miraculous catch of fish that his eyes open to recognize the stranger as Jesus.

So what would it take for us to have eyes opened to God’s wondrous ways? Taking cues from the stories in the gospels, it begins by recognizing that God’s presence, Christ’s liveliness is closer than we might think. In the gospel accounts, grief or disappointment or anxiety or fear kept disciples behind locked doors, unable to realize that Christ was present and very much alive. And then their eyes were opened.

That can happen to us as well. Are we looking for where Christ is coming? Can our eyes be opened to see the wonder of God’s way in the world? Part of that new way of seeing has to do with our willingness to see what God is already up to in the neighborhood, to steal a phrase from Dr. Dwight Zscheile in his wonderful book, People of the Way. In the same way that disciples failed to recognize the risen Christ, so we often forget that Christ is present in each person, that God is active in all of creation, and in the whole world.

So join the psalmist and pray for that miracle to happen. Pray today for a sense of wonder, and for eyes opened to see God’s gracious ways in our world.

-Jay Sidebotham

Suggested spiritual exercise for this week:
Read Psalm 119 in one sitting.

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein
 
Sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return. It seems, on the face of things, like a decent deal.
– Anne Lamott
 
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
– C. S. Lewis
 
The Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter
 
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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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 24, 2017)

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Good news

Aren’t you ready for some good news? What would it sound like?

Tomorrow the church observes the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, credited with authorship of the earliest and shortest of the four gospels. I’m thinking Mark would have loved Twitter. He has no time to waste. No flowery text. No over-verbalizing. Every other word in the gospel is “immediately.”

He gets right to the point as he begins his gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He’s telling reader where the story is headed. The gospel ends with Jesus instructing his disciples to go out and spread good news. In other words, Mark is living into the wisdom of teachers in many fields. He tells you what he is going to tell you. He then tells you. After that, he tells you what he told you.

He writes a gospel. The word “gospel” really means good news. He is called an evangelist. The root of that word, evangel, means good news.

Are we getting the point? If the story of Jesus is about anything, it is about good news. The urgency in Mark’s style reminds us that we live in a world literally and figuratively dying for good news. Given that context, if our faith is not about good news, why bother?

But in poll after poll, when people outside the church are asked for association with the word “Christian”, the news is not good. What apparently comes to mind are words like self-righteous, hypocritical, bigoted, boring. Does that surprise you? In the first century, people outside the church observed the church and said “See how they love one another.” Today, folks might say: “See how they judge one another.” Or maybe: “See how the church is the place where fun goes to die.”

We need to get back to the good news. Think of a time when you heard really good news. When my son was born in a New York hospital, I was sent home to fetch stuff, a walk of a number of long city blocks. At every corner, waiting for the light to change, I told perfect strangers that I was now a father, and in fact, that the most adorable baby ever born had just arrived at St. Vincent’s Hospital. The irrepressible good news was new life. I confess I’ve never been that effusive about my spiritual life. It’s private, personal and after all, I’m Episcopalian.

One preacher made the point that we have no problem telling other people about a great book, restaurant, or movie we have discovered. But when it comes to the good news of the Spirit, we often go silent.

Sure, there is good reason for that. We all know evangelism gone amok, evangelism that does more harm than good, evangelism that is really bad news. Maybe even fake news.

But that doesn’t remove the question: How would we describe the good news of our faith? What language would we borrow? For me, the good news sounds something like this. We are loved, as is. We are blessed. We are in this together. We are forgiven. Our mistakes and sins don’t define us. There is always a way back. Life is shot through with beauty and meaning. Life is found when we give it away. Healing happens. There is hope. We are not alone. God, for some mysterious reason, chooses to use us. Love wins. Or as we might say at Easter, a dead end becomes a threshold, a tomb bursts with life. Heaven happens. It will be a place of healing, especially of those relationships I messed up and never resolved.

So what is the good news for you? This Monday morning, I invite and maybe challenge you to think about how you would articulate the good news of your faith. Because we live in a world that really needs to hear some good news.

-Jay Sidebotham

Suggested spiritual exercise for this week: Take an hour in a quiet corner and read the whole gospel of Mark. Read it in one sitting. When you’re done, ask yourself: What’s the good news here?

The collect for the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist:
 
Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
 
 
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news.
                  -Isaiah 52
 
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: `Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.'”
-Mark 1
 
Jesus said to the apostles, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
-Mark 16

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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 17, 2017)

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Alleluia already

So I made it through Lent without this particular liturgical lapse. I never said the A-word in church. That has not always been the case in years past.

Our tradition asks us to put the word “Alleluia” away for the season, to go through Lent without saying the Hebrew word which means “God be praised.” There’s good reason for that. The somber, penitential, occasionally more-miserable-than-thou season stands in contrast to the joy and celebration of Easter, the season of resurrection when we say the “Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”

Having noted all that, had I been consulted when the design team got together to create liturgical customs (good thing I wasn’t), I might have said that we need to say “Alleluia” all year long. Perhaps we especially need the A-word when we’re mindful of the brokenness of our world and of our own spirits, the mindfulness that accompanies Lent.

I’m not alone in thinking this. Ten days ago, my wife and I heard Anne Lamott speak. One of my spiritual guides, she has come out with a new book entitled Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. The title is taken from a gospel song by Candi Stanton, which according to Ms. Lamott says that “in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, mercy…As Father Ed Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently and we are blessed in return…The good news is that God has such low standards and reaches out to those of us who are often not lovable and offers us a chance to come back in from the storm of drama and toxic thoughts.” That good news causes us to say hallelujah anyway.

Two other spiritual guides, Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams touched on the same theme when they wrote a book together a few years ago. It’s called Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams often says that, no matter what, the proper stance of the Christian in the world is one of gratitude. No matter what. Joan Chittister introduces the book by saying that she and the Archbishop agreed on this: “Life itself is an exercise in learning to sing alleluia here in order to recognize the face of God hidden in the recesses of time. To deal with the meaning of alleluias in life means to deal with moments that do not feel like alleluia moments at all. But how is it possible to say alleluia to the parts of life that weigh us down, that drain our spirits dry, that seem to deserve anything but praise?” Good questions. Good answers in their book.

Finally, wisdom from one more spiritual guide, Elie Wiesel, survivor of concentration camps. Here’s part of what he said when he received the Nobel Prize for his writing: “No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering: not to share them means to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Mr. Wiesel teaches that an attitude of gratitude, which sees every moment as a moment of grace, has power to change the world, and of course reminds us that we say “alleluia” not only with our lips but with our lives, not only in good times but in bad.

So on this first Monday in the Easter season, whatever it is you face, joy and challenge, cost and promise, make it your practice to say hallelujah anyway. Alleluia for all that is. Recognize every moment as a moment of grace. Alleluia already.

-Jay Sidebotham

Hallelujah!
Praise the Lord,
O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
-Psalm 146:1
Hallelujah!
How good it is to sing praises to our God! How pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
-Psalm 147:1
Hallelujah!
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights.
-Psalm 148:1
Hallelujah!
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
-Psalm 149:1
Hallelujah!
Praise God in his holy temple; praise him in the firmament of his power!
-Psalm 150:1
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Hallelujah!
-Psalm 150:6

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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 10, 2017)

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A few years ago, a colleague went to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. The next morning he showed up at church to recount his experience. He had been seated in the second row of the mezzanine. Right in front of him sat a family with children of middle school age. As the musical unfolded, they followed closely in the program. It apparently was totally new material for all of them, parent and child alike. So who is this Pilate guy? Whose side is Judas on? And Herod? Are they good guys or bad guys? What did Jesus do that made everyone so mad? And why does Mary Magdalene sing that sweet, sad song?

Somewhat smugly, the group of church folks sat around a conference table clucking about the signs of the times. The old, old story we knew so well was, well, not well known in many quarters. For many, it may not be an old story at all. Perhaps that’s a failure, with blame to be assigned any number of places. Perhaps it’s an opportunity.

As we begin this week, try this. Join that family in the front row of the mezzanine. Imagine you’ve never heard the story of Holy Week before. With a nod to Marcus J. Borg, quoted below, hear the story, read the Bible, meet Jesus again, walk through Holy Week as if for the first time. There are a couple ways to do that.

To begin, read the story. Set aside time with the gospel passage assigned for each day of Holy Week. If you’re not sure where to find those readings, go here. You’ll find readings for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, insights into events that lead to stories told on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day. These include the last supper, Jesus’ prayers in the garden, Jesus’ arrest and execution, his burial and finally the good news of Easter. Try this act of imagination. Wonder what it would be like to read this material for the first time. Ask God to give you new eyes.

Second, get to church. Make a commitment to walk through the week by participating in liturgies offered each day. Imagine you’d never been to those services before. What do you notice? What is perplexing? What touches your heart? They have been polished over centuries. As they tell the story, they build on each other to dramatic effect. The experience of Easter will be richer for having joined other pilgrims on the week-long journey. Discover something new, something you haven’t seen before. If you’re not part of a faith community that offers these services, find one. As the prayer for today (below) indicates, that journey may well help you find the way of life and peace.

And finally, be of service. Make this Holy Week holier in this way: Ask God each morning to place before you an opportunity to reflect the love of God at the heart of this week. As hymnody tells us, this week is about asking the question: What wondrous love is this? It is about surveying a wondrous cross where love and sorrow flow mingled down. It is about singing a song of love unknown. It is about coming to know that love in some new way. In the mystery of our faith, the mystery of this week, we come to know that love when we show that love.

I offer these Monday Matters each week in the confidence that Monday is the day we get to put faith to work in the world. This Monday matters more than most, as it begins our most Holy Week. Join me in praying that for each of us and all of us it will be an occasion to experience grace and mercy in some new way, to find that the way of the cross is actually the way of life and peace.

-Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for Monday in Holy Week

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace. Amen.

The gospel of Jesus – the good news of Jesus’ own message- is that there is a way of being that moves beyond both secular and religious conventional wisdom. The path of transformation of which Jesus spoke leads from a life of requirements and measuring up (whether to culture or to God) to a life of relationship with God. It leads from a life of anxiety to a life of peace and trust. It leads from the bondage of self-preoccupation to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It leads from life centered in culture to life centered in God.
-Marcus J. Borg,
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

Rather, the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection – the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.
– Marcus J. Borg,

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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 3, 2017)

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Estimable/Inestimable

Last Wednesday, I joined parishioners for our Wednesday Lenten Program. It began with the liturgy for Evening Prayer, Rite I. (Not a place I visit often. I go more often to Rite II. ) That liturgy includes one of my favorite prayers, the General Thanksgiving (included below).

From my perspective, that prayer sums up the faith. It says that everything we do should be motivated by gratitude for grace, that we worship not only with our lips but with our lives. I’ve often thought that the prayer should be said along side the creed, maybe occasionally in place of it. The prayer includes many a great phrase, for instance, the call to be unfeignedly thankful. Love that. And then there is this reference (in Rite II language) to God’s immeasurable love.

Here’s what caught my eye last Wednesday. In Rite I, the word immeasurable is rendered inestimable. I began to think about what inestimable love means. I wondered what estimable love would look like. So I let Webster help. Here’s the definition of estimable:

1. capable of being estimated, as in “an estimable amount”
2. valuable (archaic)
3. worthy of esteem, as in “an estimable adversary”

I’m focusing on the first definition, i.e., something that can be estimated. Which means something that can be measured. Which means something limited. Working with that definition, I suspect we all know about estimable love.

We know estimable love because we all give and receive conditional, transactional love. That kind of love can be seen at work and in school, where our worth is defined by productivity or grades. It shows up in relationships. How many times have people said that they hadn’t earned approval of parents (or sometimes children). Advertisers know about estimable love and play on our fears that we won’t measure up. Do we look the part? Conditional love shows up in the Bible. The children of Israel, wander in the wilderness and worship God as long as things are going swell. As soon as they hit a challenge, they’re ready to bail asking “What have you done for me lately?’ Conditional love shows up in church life. Clergy know it, judged by best recent sermon, weekly attendance, number of pledging units, seamlessness of the liturgy. What are the trends? Is flat the new up? One slightly tired bishop counseled me early in my ministry: You dance. They clap.

The scriptures tell us that the love of God is different. In the letter to the Ephesians, the author offers this prayer: I pray that you may have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3)

Even in situations when the love of God is hard to see (For instance, last week, a bus filled with Baptist senior citizens crashing on a Texas highway), by faith we affirm its inestimable, immeasurable character. We need to affirm it. It’s sometimes the only way to move forward. In his letter to the Romans, in a passage often read at funerals, Paul puts it this way: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword…No, in all those things we are more than conquerors through him who love us, for I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8).

As we move into Holy Week, we have opportunity to focus on our central narrative, which is a story of inestimable love. We’ll sing a song of love unknown. We’ll ask: What wondrous love is this? We’ll survey the wondrous cross, where sorrow and love flow mingled down. We’ll remember, we’ll celebrate inestimable, immeasurable love, love which makes a difference in the ways we live our lives, maybe even making a difference this Monday morning.

-Jay Sidebotham

The General Thanksgiving
 
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end.     Amen.

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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 27, 2017)

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“I may not be much but I’m all I ever think about.”

I heard that line for the first time last week. Google reveals it’s been around for a while. I couldn’t find out who first said it, but it triggered a few reflections.

It reminded me of a clip from a movie featuring Bette Midler. She says to some other character, “Enough about me, let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?” It reminded me of what a friend once pointed out: When you look at a group photo, and you happen to be in the group, where do your eyes go first? You look at how you look in the picture. It reminded me of what Frederick Buechner wrote about humility, that illusive virtue that disappears as soon as we become aware of it, bringing that temptation to be proud of how humble we are. Buechner wrote:

Humility is often confused with saying you’re not much of a bridge player when you know perfectly well you are. Conscious or otherwise, this kind of humility is a form of gamesmanship. If you really aren’t much of a bridge player, you’re apt to be rather proud of yourself for admitting it so humbly. This kind of humility is a form of low comedy. True humility doesn’t consist of thinking ill of yourself but of not thinking of yourself much differently from the way you’d be apt to think of anybody else. It is the capacity for being no more and no less pleased when you play your own hand well than when your opponents do.

Mr. Buechner challenges us to question the way we think about what’s in our hearts. There aren’t easy answers. This is a spiritual issue. It’s been said that the word “ego” is really an acronym: edging God out. This calls for spiritual work. It’s complicated, because as I’ve said before, quoting a clergyman I admire, I never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Amidst the mixed motives, how do we combat the tendency to think that it’s all about me? (Newsflash: It’s a tendency that is a particular challenge for clergy, among other professions. Just saying.)

For those who try to be Jesus followers, it has to do with having the mind of Christ. See the passage from Philippians below. That passage includes an ancient hymn by which the early church figured out how to put faith to work in the world. It comes with seeing Jesus as a person for others, and deciding to follow him by doing the same: being a person for others. Maybe begin each day with this thought, a kind of prayer: How can I be of service this Monday?

As Lent leads to Holy Week, we have opportunity to put other concerns aside and focus on the spirit of Jesus, who rides humbly into Jerusalem, not in imperial chariot but on a donkey, who kneels to wash disciples feet, who stretches arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into saving embrace, who on Easter morning is mistaken for a gardener and speaks Mary’s name so she can know he is alive. Take this holy season as opportunity to shift the focus from self to other, to think about how to be of service. It’s a way to find out that Jesus is very much alive.

-Jay Sidebotham

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-
even death on a cross.
 
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
 
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
-Philippians 2

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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 20, 2017)

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Setting the Table

For a while, I worked in advertising, before I made the slight career shift to ordained ministry. (Some say I’m still in advertising.) Some have doubted there could be transferable skills from the first career to the second. But I’m grateful for what I learned: the importance of communication, the power of focus on a single idea, the importance of team work. One of my bosses said that there were really only two motivators for consumers: fear and love. That will preach.

The fact is, there are lessons for the spiritual journey that come from all kinds of fields. St. Paul wrote to early Christians and compared the life of discipleship to training in military service, or preparing for a long distance race, or being in the construction business (what foundation will you build on?), or agricultural work (also a favorite of Jesus’).

My gifted cousin and her husband are about to open a wonderful café here in North Carolina. I can’t wait. To guide them in their work, they have turned to a book by restaurateur Danny Meyer. The book is called Setting the Table. It’s a book focused on hospitality, on how we prepare to welcome people. In the past, I’ve used this book to learn about what it means to be church. In that book, Mr. Meyer identifies five core emotional skills which guide his work, and will guide my cousin in her new endeavor:

  • Optimistic warmth: genuine kindness, thoughtfulness and a sense that the glass is always half-full.
  • Intelligence: Not just smarts, but an insatiable curiosity to learn for the sake of learning.
  • Work ethic: A natural tendency to do something as well as it can be done.
  • Empathy: An awareness of, care for, and connection to how others feel and how your actions make others feel.
  • Self-awareness and integrity: An understanding of what makes you tick and a natural inclination to be accountable for doing the right thing with honesty and superb judgment.

Those five skills led to remarkable successful restaurants in New York and around the country. Can those skills be translated into Christian virtues, spiritual practices? Let’s give it a try:

  • Optimistic warmth: Sounds a lot to me like hope.
  • Intelligence: What is a disciple but someone who is always learning, and who knows, especially in the spiritual journey, that we’re never done?
  • Work ethic: A mentor used to tell me that we seek to make worship our most excellent offering. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect or that we become perfectionists. It does mean that we do what we do with care, as an offering to the God we worship for the glory of God. Should we offer less?
  • Empathy: Just another word for love, or perhaps, compassion, the common virtue in all faith traditions.
  • Self-awareness and integrity: it looks a lot like humility to me.
  • Setting the table: That’s what the church is about, getting ready to welcome people to God’s feast. That’s what the individual spiritual journey is about, as we relate to those around us in a world so hungry for a greater sense of authentic hospitality.

This Monday, this Lent, how can we set the table with hope and love, in a spirit of worship and humility, as disciples who are always learning?

-Jay Sidebotham

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples, a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear.
– Isaiah 25:6

 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
– Romans 12:9-13

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
-Hebrews 13:2

Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.
-Henri J.M. Nouwen

True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person. Henri Nouwen has described it as receiving the stranger on his own terms, and asserts that it can be offered only by those who ‘have found the center of their lives in their own hearts’.
-Kathleen Norris 

Hospitality is present when something happens for you. It is absent when something happens to you. Those two simple prepositions – for and to – express it all.
-Danny Meyer

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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.