Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday Matters (July 8, 2019)

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I will bear witness that the Lord is righteous; I will praise the Name of the LORD most high.

Psalm 7:18

We hear the word evangelism and think automatically about someone telling somebody something so that they’ll change. But the truth is that evangelism is as much listening as it is sharing. It involves two people actually sharing their lives with each other. They share their stories and a new story gets written. That’s what evangelism is. It helps all of us find our way into a deeper relationship with God. And if there’s a deeper relationship with God, there’s going to be a deeper relationship with each other as well. That’s the bigger picture of evangelism. It’s more than just telling you how to get to heaven.

Michael Curry

Mostly evangelism is not what we tell people, unless what we tell is totally consistent with who we are. It is who we are that is going to make the difference. It is who we are that is going to show the love that brought us all into being, that cares for us all, now, and forever. If we do not have love in our hearts, our words of love with have little meaning. If we do not truly enjoy our faith, nobody is going to catch the fire of enjoyment from us. If our lives are not totally centered on Christ, we will not be Christ-bearers for others, no matter how pious our words.

Madeleine L’Engle

Calling all semi-evangelists

In the course of conversation with members of Episcopal congregations, I ran across a woman who had an interesting reaction when the topic of evangelism came up. You see, our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry talks a lot about evangelism these days, making it a priority for our church. This woman wasn’t sure what to make of all that. She confessed: “I don’t know why we’re talking so much about evangelism.’ She said “Everyone in town who ought to be Episcopalian already is.” In other words, we didn’t need any more folks, thank you very much.

Her comment got me thinking about evangelism: why we do it; whether we should do it; how we might do it well; how respectful we can be; how tasteful we need to be. I suspect we’ve all been on the receiving end of folks we meet on doorstep or airplane or dinner party, folks with religious devotion so deep they are convinced we must see things their way. I remember what Dave Barry asked: Why is it that people who want to tell you about their religion almost never want to hear about yours?

My musing about evangelism led me back to one of my theological guides, Charles Schulz. Charlie Brown approaches Rerun, asking what he’s doing. Rerun says: “I’m with Linus, who is across the street knocking on doors, telling people about the “Great Pumpkin.’  Rerun says; “I’m standing over here so no one will know I’m with him.” Charlie Brown asks: “What kind of evangelist are you?” Rerun replies: “I’m a semi-evangelist.”

Charles Shulz, October 30, 1996
https://peanuts.fandom.com/wiki/October_1996_comic_strips?file=19961030.gif

I may claim that title for myself. And one of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is that evangelism best begins with ourselves. I’m convinced that we also need to evangelize within our own churches, reminding people that the way of love is nothing but good news. Too often church folk are associated with bad news, practicing what one preacher called ‘teeth-gritting Christianity.” Gandhi once said “I would be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.” Too often church folk don’t really seem to believe the good news that love is unconditional, that all are welcome, that we respect the dignity of every human being, that Christ is present in all persons, that grace is true. On some days, when I look at the state of American Christendom, it’s enough to make this priest a none.

A friend told me about a radio interview he heard with a pastor of a mega- church, thousands in attendance. The interviewer wanted to know how over 20 years, the pastor had grown the church. The pastor responded: “It’s simple. I just make one convert each day.” The interviewer pressed him on how to do that. The pastor said; “I am that one convert. Each day, I need to be converted.” In other words, the best evangelism was to tend to one’s own journey, one’s own faith, one’s own spiritual growth, one’s own discipleship, one’s own love of God and neighbor.

As a semi-evangelist, I’ve been exploring different (maybe tepid) ways to be an evangelist. Recently, when walking through airports, I’ve been whistling familiar hymns. It has sparked a number of interesting conversations, even people telling me they needed to hear that. I’m learning from folks at the check out counter at grocery stores and restaurants. Often, in this neck of the woods, they will say, “Have a blessed day.” I’ve been trying to say that, too. Sometimes, I’ll get in a conversation with someone, and they’ll reveal a challenge, and I’ll say: “How can I pray for you?’ Other times, I’ll ask a question like “Where have you seen God at work?” I’m amazed how many people have a story about God in their lives. Those are my recent meager efforts as semi-evangelist. Any other suggestions?

So calling all evangelists, or semi-evangelists: What’s the good news that is part of the story of Jesus? Where do you hear that good news? How does it touch your heart? And then think of a way to share that good news, in word and action, to listen for that good news in the lives of others.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
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Monday Matters (July 1, 2019)

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You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

Jesus (John 8)

You will know the truth and the truth will make you odd.

Flannery O’Connor

The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.

David Foster Wallace

Dependence starts when we are born and lasts until we die. We accept our dependence as babies and ultimately, with varying degrees of resistance, we accept help when we get to the end of our lives. But in the middle of our lives, we mistakenly fall prey to the myth that successful people are those that help rather than need, and broken people need rather than help. Given enough resources, we can even pay for help and create the mirage that we are completely self-sufficient. But the truth is that no amount of money, influence, resources, or determination will change our physical, emotional, and spiritual dependence on others.

Brené Brown

Dependence Day

Welcome to this week that includes the Fourth of July. For the church, it is observed as the Feast of Independence Day, one of the few national holidays making its way into the liturgical calendar (along with Thanksgiving and Labor Day). So in this week when there will be summer time fun and days off and celebration it’s worth asking what this Independence Day has to do with our lives as people of faith.

I was not able to find the word “independence” in scripture. But the word “freedom” comes up a lot. That may because the notion of independence may make us think of the freedom to do whatever we damn well please. It may suggest autonomy or even license, things often pursued in our culture.

But as usual, Jesus comes with slightly annoying reversal of the ways we think about things. Jesus said that you will know the truth and the truth will make you free (interesting enough, those words are carved in stone over the entrance to the CIA building in D.C.) And what is the truth Jesus taught? For me, it is a call to discover freedom not so much in our independence but rather in our dependence on God and our dependence on each other.

Augustine picked up on that and talked about faithful discipleship as a matter of service to the one in whose service is perfect freedom. In the 19th century, theologian Freidrich Schleiermacher described faith as a matter of absolute dependence. Paul Tillich built on that to see faith simply as the acceptance of being accepted. In our own time, many people discover that is only in recognition of a higher power that they find freedom from powers that otherwise control them, even captivate them. A favorite rendering of the first of the beatitudes puts it this way: Blessed are those who know their need of God. As a church, we affirm our dependence every time we offer the baptismal covenant and say that we will fulfill its promises with God’s help.

From that place, we recognize our dependence on others and their dependence on us. Aka, community. That’s why in Jesus’ economy love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable. One day, Jesus discovered his disciples jockeying for position, trying to figure out who would get platinum status, who would nab corner office in heavenly corporate headquarters. Maybe they were imagining a life of powerful independence, reflective of their own magnificence. After all, they had been with Jesus from the start. They had bet on the right horse. Soon they would be in charge. Independent. Free agents.

Jesus spoke instead of the greatness that comes to those who serve. Yesterday’s reading from the letter to the Galatians put it this way: 

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another.

None of this is to detract or distract from this week’s celebration of the blessings of freedom that has made our nation great, freedoms to be cherished and protected and practiced now more than ever.

But in this week, as in every week, we are to celebrate the freedom that comes when we grow to depend on the life of the Spirit, and then to let that freedom find expression in service to others. How might you do that today?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

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Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
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Monday Matters (June 24, 2019)

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Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A prayer for the Feast of John the Baptist, June 24

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.

A reading from the Gospel of Luke (chapter one)

In the early 16 th century, Matthias Grunewald painted an altarpiece for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, Germany.  The monks of the monastery cared for plague sufferers, treating their skin diseases. In the center of that painting, the image of the crucified Christ is pitted with plague sores, showing patients that Jesus shared their afflictions. Google it. It’s grim. A graphic illustration of compassion, which literally means to suffer with. Imagine its impact in a hospital filled with folks suffering in inexplicable ways.

Grunewald_Isenheim1.jpg
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-masterpiece-born-of-saint-anthonys-fire-57103499/

The altarpiece conveys the violence of the crucifixion. The suffering Christ is set in the middle, Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother to his right, and John the Baptist to his left. John the Baptist stands with arm extended, index finger pointing to Christ. For Barth, John the Baptist was key to interpreting Grünewald’s piece. “John the Baptist can only point” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, 125). The painting is not about John the Baptist. It is about Jesus. For Barth, witnessing means “pointing in a specific direction beyond the self and on to another” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, 111).

Karl Barth kept this picture of John the Baptist over his desk where he worked incessantly, writing theology about everything, day in and day out. Apparently the man never had an unexpressed written thought. Every morning Karl Barth would wake up, read the newspaper, and stare at this painting by Grunewald. Before he would teach theology or write, Barth would meditate on this painting, particularly on John the Baptist. He said that, as Christians (whether a theologian, pastor, teacher, mother, doctor, store keeper, etc.), our job is to be the pointing finger of John the Baptist. The only thing we should do, the only thing we can do is point to Jesus. Barth said that this scene painted by Grunewald is the sum of all history, from creation in the past to eternity. He said that we are that pointed index finger. He said that within that finger rests the weight of salvation.

Today is the Feast of John the Baptist, as eccentric character as can be found in scripture, and that’s saying a lot. At one point, Jesus said that there was no one greater born of woman than this guy. So what was the key to his greatness, a timely question in a world where we debate what makes us great? I think it has to do with this sense that he knew how to point. He had obvious gifts. He had a whole ton of followers. And he knew he was not the messiah.

In light of that, he becomes a model for us, teaching us how to make it through this week in late June. It has to do with remembering that we are called to point to Jesus. We are called to point to love breaking into the world. We are called to notice compassion, identifying with the suffering from which none of us can escape.

So how will you honor June 24, the Feast of John the Baptist? It seems to me that it will come with our creative response to this call, to figure out what it means for each one of us to point to Christ. We live in a world where grace and love are in dangerously short supply. We can point to Jesus in ways great and small. An act of kindness can point to Jesus. A blessing, spoken or enacted, can point to Jesus. A prayer of hope can point to Jesus. An identification with the pain of the world can point to Jesus. You get the idea. Go for it.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

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Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
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Monday Matters (June 17, 2019)

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Give us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.

from the Post-Communion Prayer, page 365 in the Book of Common Prayer

Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of thy faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of thy Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

A prayer for the Feast of St. Barnabas

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Acts 11:19-24

Barnabas

It’s become something of an annual event for me. Every year around this time, I think about the biblical character, Barnabas. His feast day was observed last week. If the New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles, was a movie, he would be supporting actor at best. Cameo perhaps. He maybe gets fifteen minutes of biblical fame.

One of the intriguing things about him was that his community changed his name. Originally named Joseph, his name was changed to Barnabas, which literally means “son of encouragement.” I find myself wondering what it was about him that prompted that change. I wondered about the nature of a community that knew his gifts well enough to change his name to fit those discerned gifts. I wondered how the communities in which I’m involved (family, church, work) would change my name, and whether I’d be happy with the shift.

How did he exhibit compelling encouragement? Think about the heart of that word: courage, a word which pops up in the prayer at the end of the eucharist. The word suggests not only bravery and valor. It suggests heart (as in the French word for heart, coeur). So what was the character of Barnabas’ courage?

A couple things. First of all, it took courage for any of the early Christians to be part of the community, when association with the way of Jesus involved persecution. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. That early church growth came at great cost. It took courage for Barnabas to take the lead in broadening the nature of the community, helping facilitate the inclusion of Gentiles who had formerly been excluded. That kind of change has never been easy. He is noted for his generosity, which in a world of scarcity takes courage. And my imagination tells me that it took all kinds of courage to introduce Paul to the church and to accompany him around the Mediterranean rim. Paul had many gifts, but I would think twice about having him as traveling partner. Imagine him going through security at an airport, stuck in traffic, late for a meeting. In short, I bet he was hard to get along with, witness the fact that he often parted ways with companions. For these and other reasons, Barnabas was seen as someone who demonstrated encouragement.

Think about that word today. Who has been an encouraging presence in your life? (I happen to be married to such a person, and she brings along with her a father who might well be Barnabas reincarnated.) Who has helped you move forward with both bravery and heart? Who has treated you with generosity, with an inclusive spirit, with an openness to difference? Lord knows, life throws us all kinds of occasions that summon those qualities. That kind of encouragement can come through the people we know. It can come from those we love but see no longer, the great cloud of witnesses who have been lights in their generations. It can come from those we never knew, whose stories and written reflections travel across the centuries. Where are you finding encouragement? If you’re having trouble answering that, if you’re discouraged, ask God to send encouragement. Apparently, it’s one of the things that the Holy Spirit does best.

Once you’ve identified sources of encouragement in your life, those who may have helped you move forward, think about ways you can be an encouraging presence to someone in your sphere of influence today, this week. It may be a grand and gracious and generous act. It might be a simple smile or expression of gratitude. Maybe it’s just a well-timed compliment. If you’re having trouble thinking of someone to encourage, ask God to show you who that person might be.

As we see Barnabas in others may we be Barnabas for others.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Click here for registration and more info

Monday Matters (June 10, 2019)

3-1

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

Psalm 29:2

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

Annie Dillard

Worship isn’t God’s show. God is the audience. God’s watching. The congregation, they are the actors in this drama. Worship is their show. And the minister is just reminding the people of their forgotten lines.

Soren Kierkegaard

Worship

A parent recently told me of a conversation with a child on the way to church. The child, who could think of many things he’d rather be doing, was balking at attendance. He said to his parents: “I don’t understand why we have to go to church. It’s just he says stuff and we say stuff and he says stuff and then we say stuff. What’s the point?” I wondered how many children of all ages think that about church.

I recently preached a homily at a service. For a variety of reasons, it was important that the service not go on too long. At the door, a friend, with a wink, congratulated me on my sermon. “Great sermon. Seven minutes, four seconds” I was commended for brevity, not profound theological insight or compelling challenge. Shucks.

When this cranky priest hears folks complain about services running long, I confess I wonder what would be a better use of one’s time. I wonder about the ways we regard worship as consumer product, something meant to please us (or else). Why do people pull a u-turn in the grocery store aisle when they see me and haven’t been to church in a while? A voice shouts (in my head): I didn’t go to seminary to be a truant officer.

It’s all got me thinking about how we approach worship. I’m a firm believer in worship 24/7, in church and outside of church. Barbara Brown Taylor calls it worshipping at the altar of the world. I’ve also come to realize that folks sometimes regard church attendance with the enthusiasm of a trip to the dentist. Often folks approach worship as if they are doing God a favor by stopping in. Folks sometimes judge church as entertainment, similar to a trip to the theater or movie or concert. If entertainment value is the basis of comparison, church will fall short.

Early in my ministry, a wise mentor told me I needed to do two things in worship:
1. Keep worship to an hour.
2. Leave people more hopeful than when they came.

I’ve worked on both, and I do hope that the worship experience will not be terminally boring, that we can honor people’s busy lives. But I also have had the experience of worship, especially when visiting churches of other traditions, and in other parts of the world when worship went on with a glorious indifference to the clock. In those times, I have often found an encounter with the Holy One that was deeper, richer, more joyous.

As we think about religious observance, why is it that so many folks tolerate church at best, a duty not a joy? Why do they scoot out as early as possible? Why are so many drifting or running away? There are many reasons, and many things we need to work on for sure. 

I confess as a priest that there have been times when I have been bored with liturgy I have been leading. That can only mean that I was boring people as well. As presider, I have taken for granted the awesome privilege, the amazing grace that we can come together to encounter the Holy One. I have often been distracted in worship, running through a to-do list in my head while mouthing words, hardly present to the moment. What would it mean for us to come with expectation that we might actually meet God, and that we might actually be changed in that encounter?

A priest I admire has this routine on Sundays. He gets to church well before the first service. All alone, he spends about an hour in the church in preparation for worship. He goes to the narthex and prays for the ushers. He stands in the pulpit and prays for grace in sermon delivery. He moves to the choir loft and prays for the musicians. In the sacristy, he gives thanks for the altar guild and prays for their work. He sits in the pew and prays for congregants who will offer their prayers and praise. In other words, he is elevating expectation for the encounter in worship.

That’s his approach. What’s yours? We can each find our own way to honor the great gift in being called to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Whether our worship is happy-clappy, rock and roll, ancient Anglican chant, contemplative silence, all provide opportunity to encounter the living God, to pray and praise and then to be sent into the world ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.

Is there a better thing we could be doing with our time?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Click here for registration and more info

Monday Matters (June 3, 2019)

3-1

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

Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

From John 17

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

Mahatma Gandhi

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

Soren Kierkegaard

Take it to the Lord in prayer

One Sunday after church, quite a few years ago, my daughter told me that when I stand at the altar, celebrating the eucharist, with arms outstretched, I sometimes look like I’m shrugging my shoulders as if to say: “I don’t know.” Granted, I probably needed to work on that. But at the same time, it felt a bit prophetic. The fact is there are a lot of questions I get asked to which the answer is “I don’t know.”

There are a lot of passages in the Bible that lead to that shrug. While I like to know the answer, one wise parishioner told me in a bible study that she doesn’t worry about those kinds of passages. She says that somewhere in the Middle East, in some yet to be discovered cave, there’s a yet to be discovered clay jar with a yet to be discovered scroll that explains it all. Until that scroll is found, she’s not going to worry. All shall be revealed, in God’s time. She had more faith than I did, for sure.

As we approach Trinity Sunday, the dynamics of the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit falls in the category of mystery, dynamics crafted in language that can only hint at the real truth. One teacher compared doctrines like the Trinity to buoy markers, floating on the surface of the sea, indicating depths beyond our perception. Those buoy markers are not the reality itself. They are just ways to point us to deep truths that we may proclaim without being able to explain. Life is full of those kinds of truths.

Case in Point: Yesterday in church, we read an excerpt from John 17, a chapter that is really a prayer offered by Jesus. I find myself wondering about the mystery of prayer. The more I pray, the more I sense depths beyond my understanding. Here are some of the questions that occur to me: Why did Jesus pray so much? Was he really talking to himself? What did he need to pray for? And why didn’t his prayers always get answered the way he wanted, as in the time he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane asking that the cup be removed from him? Does prayer change God’s mind? Or does prayer change us? Do we regard prayer more like a steering wheel, guiding us along the journey, or like a spare tire, something we pull out when we’re in a ditch?

Take time this week to read John 17. On the night before he is arrested Jesus prays. He prays for himself, for strength. He prays for the disciples with him. And he prays for those who will come to faith through the disciples. That’s you and me, folks. John 17 is just one of the places where we read about Jesus praying. The fact is, especially in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is always going off by himself to pray.

I’m not sure why that is, but my best guess is that Jesus understood that his life on earth was meant to unfold in ongoing, active loving relationship with the Holy One who he referred to as Father, as Abba, a familiar way of talking about a parent. Prayer was the way that the relationship was sustained, even when Jesus admits that he is not given to know everything.

When the New Testament calls us to pray without ceasing, I don’t think it means 24/7 kneeling in a pew or by your bedside. Rather, it is to see all of life as a way to live in relationship with God, as mysterious as that may be. In thanksgiving, intercession, confession, adoration, meditation, silence. It’s a call to pray not only with our lips but with our lives. (One woman who worked in a kitchen at a school talked about cooking as prayer.)

There’s deep mystery in the dynamics of prayer. There’s so much beyond our understanding. But that need not keep us from making prayer a way of life, as we seek a deeper relationships with God. How might you do that this week?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Click here for registration and more info

Monday Matters (May 27, 2019)

3-1

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

from the Book of Common Prayer

For the Fallen
Excerpts from a poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), published in The Times newspaper on 21 September 1914.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Don’t forget

In the journey of faith, we need not so much to be instructed as to be reminded. That’s based on a quote from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), but it’s truth is older than the 18th century. The Hebrew scriptures are filled with reminders, as the people of Israel were told to remember their own journey, their father and mother, Abraham and Sarah, wandering Arameans. Children are to be told the story of Exodus. Don’t forget.

Fast forward to the last supper. Jesus institutes the meal we now call eucharist, with the call to do this in remembrance of him. In our own liturgy, there’s a portion of the eucharistic prayer that recounts the ways that God acted on our behalf, bringing wholeness, deliverance, salvation. It recounts the healing that came in the life and death of Jesus, grace at great cost. The part of that prayer (listen for it next time you’re in church) is called anamnesis, which literally means “not amnesia.” Don’t forget.

All of this is a way of saying that part of our own journey is remembering, taking a look in the spiritual rear-view mirror to recall the ways God has acted in your life, the blessings that have come, all as a way of moving forward into an uncertain future. Don’t forget.

Which brings us to Memorial Day. For many, the day ahead of us is a holiday, the start of summer, a time for relaxation and revelry. All good stuff. But take a few minutes on Memorial Day to remember grace at great cost. For all of the chaos that Fox and MSNBC outline for us 24/7, many of us gather with great blessings, in many ways unprecedented in world history. We are called to give thanks for those blessings.

We are also called on this Memorial Day to do some remembering. The internet will tell all kinds of stories about where this holiday came from. It seems to have found its origin in the midst or aftermath of the war between the states, when hundreds of thousands of people died, brother fighting brother. The holiday expanded to offer memory of those who gave their lives in other battles, to remember the great cost that came to those who died, the cost to those who loved those who died. If helpful, use the prayer for heroic service, included above, to remember them. Take a moment, or two today to commend those persons to God’s loving care.

And then add a moment or two to pray for those around the world who are now engaged in armed conflict, and for those who love them.

And then add a moment or two to pray that we can figure out some way to live on this fragile earth, our island home, without harming each other, how we can work for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.

Amid all the relaxation and revelry, practice anamnesis. Don’t forget.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

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Monday Matters (May 20, 2019)

3-1

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.
Amen.

Jesus said: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:8-11

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

Shield the joyous

The other night, our group completed the day with the Service of Compline. That liturgy includes the prayer included above (Keep watch, etc.). In short order, that prayer covers a wide variety of human experiences, but that night one phrase struck me in particular. After the brief liturgy, I turned to the guy next to me and asked: What do you think it means to shield the joyous? He shrugged. Me too.

I get the other petitions, but why does joy need to be shielded? I can imagine that in our culture, in our political system, in our churches, joy may seem to be in short supply. Remember H.L.Mencken’s definition of a puritan? He said a puritan was someone who is unhappy because someone somewhere is having a good time. So maybe we do need to pray that wherever joy tries to raise its head, it will be shielded, protected, nurtured, preserved.

Think with me this morning about joy. In an op-ed column on May 7, David Brooks compared joy and happiness. He wrote:

Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.

If joy is indeed a transcendence of self, in our self-centered world, maybe that’s why we need to shield it. Jesus talked about joy at the Last Supper, hardly a laugh riot. He spent his last hours, aware of what was coming on Good Friday, instructing his friends on how to navigate times ahead. In John 15, a portion of which is also included above, he spoke about his desire that his followers know the fullest kind of joy. That was, in fact, why he bothered to show up.

In another stirring summons to joy, St. Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians, sent from a first century prison cell. Stop for a minute and let your imagination picture that cell. I’m sure it was grim, Yet every other word in Paul’s letter is rejoice or joy. (The letter is just four chapters long. If you haven’t read it in a while, take time this week to do so.) The call to joy suggests both transcendence of self and harsh conditions.

More recently, we’ve been treated to a conversation between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, a record of a week they spent together, captured in The Book of Joy. As I read this book, enjoying their joy, I was mindful of the extraordinary hardship each of these men experienced, how they were so deeply sensitive to the pain of the world, how they were objects of the greatest cruelties human beings and political systems can inflict, how they could easily have been dominated by fear or resentment or rage. Yet as givers, they were able to transcend all that and find a way to joy. 

So this Monday morning, a couple questions:

Where are you now finding joy in your life? The birth of a child? The beauty of creation? The love of friends and family?

And from what does that joy need to be shielded? Anger? Regret? Resentment? Anxiety? Shame? Fear? Busy schedules? Fatigue? Indifference?

I hope that joy is part of your life this Monday morning. Give thanks if that is the case. By God’s grace, may it be shielded, for you and for those whose lives you touch.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

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who have worked with RenewalWorks

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Monday Matters (May 13, 2019)

3-1

Before being Christians or Jews or Muslims, before being Americans or Russians or Africans, before begin generals or priests, rabbis or imams, before having visible or invisible disabilities, we are all human beings with hearts capable of loving.

Jean Vanier

Jesus said: I have come to bring them life and to bring it abundantly.

John 10:10

Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?

from the Service of Holy Baptism

Consider the lilies of the field, 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, will he not much more clothe you-you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:28-34

“We have gotten rusty at being people.”

Dr. Eric Frazer, from Yale University Medical Center, has written a book that includes discussion of mindfulness. He’s the one who said this thing about getting rusty. That’s been on my mind since I heard him make the comment in an interview last week.

He prescribes a cure. He writes about the health-giving benefits of mindfulness. For me, viewing from a faith perspective, he was describing the power of taking time on a daily basis to remember who we are and whose we are.

Last week, I was giving a talk that included discussion of the importance of spiritual practices. A woman in the crowd spoke up, challenging me as she described her heartfelt challenge of finding quiet time as she managed her job, her kids, her parents, her spouse, her life. It was not the season in her life when she had loads of free time for long periods of meditation. There were no long walks in the woods, no hours seated in contemplation over a cup of tea. Nice idea, but that was not in the cards. So what was she to do?

I’m told (and I believe) that one of the impediments to spiritual growth is the busy nature of our lives. How do we fit even the most minimal mindfulness into our routines? In days marked by rancorous partisanship, fueled by unfiltered comments on social media, how do we get less rusty at being people?

Herewith a random assortment of suggestions:

  • Start small. Do what you can, not what you can’t. Be gentle with yourself. There, there.
  • Set your smart phone for a minute of silence in the morning. Or go out on a limb: maybe three times a day. If that works, gradually expand the amount of time. Hint: There’s an app for that.
  • Give thanks for five things each day.
  • Each morning, pick a person you want to pray for throughout that day. Extra credit: Select someone who drives you nuts, pushes your buttons, needs your forgiveness, or watches a different news channel than you do.
  • Write a random, out-of-the-blue daily thank you note to somebody who has had impact on your life.
  • Set an intention for each day, centered on a word. Gratitude. Hope. Service. Kindness, Grace.
  • Look for God-sightings. Where do you see God at work in the people around you?
  • At the end of the day, take two minutes to ask if you have lived into your values.Look for folks who model mindfulness, folks like Jean Vanier, who died this past week, and who is quoted above. In his life singularly dedicated to the dignity of people with severe disabilities, he was someone who was not rusty. Take time today to read his obituary. See how his light can shine light on our lives.

All of which, of course, brings me to Jesus. Was there ever another person who had  a longer to-do list? I mean: Being Messiah? Saving the world? All in three years? Talk about a full plate. Yet the gospels indicate that at key moments, he sought silence and prayer. He sat and talked at length with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, among others. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, and on occasion, folks wanted him to speed it up.  I’m imagining that a key to his non-anxious presence was that mindfulness of who he was and whose he was. 

May God give us grace this day to follow in his pathway. Because, frankly, we’re kind of rusty at that.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

SAVE THE DATE

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Registration and more info coming soon!

Monday Matters (May 6, 2019)

3-1

Cartooning is preaching. And I think we have a right to do some preaching. I hate shallow humor. I hate shallow religious humor, I hate shallow sports humor, I hate shallowness of any kind.

Charles M. Schulz

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:19-21

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13:12-13

The Gospel According to Snoopy

Last week, I was asked to give a presentation on how my goofy cartoons and my faith intersect. It’s fun for me to think about, and I’ve given a talk like this a few times, always being led back to my hero, Charles Schulz, to whom is attributed the above quote about cartooning as preaching.

I had always admired him, but he won my heart in seminary when a colleague gave me one of his cartoons that has been placed prominently in my various offices over the years. Here’s the setup: Snoopy on top of his doghouse at his typewriter. (How did Schulz come up with this?) Charlie Brown approaches, saying “I hear you’re writing a book on theology. You need a good title for a book like that.” Snoopy’s thought bubble, as he smiles smugly: “I have the perfect title. The title: Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong.”

Can you tell why, as preacher and teacher and Christian, I like this cartoon? Think about that question: Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong? It’s an invitation to the virtue of humility for sure. It’s an admission that we all fall short at some point. We are each limited, much as we hate to admit it. It’s a call to compassion, an invitation to be gentle with each other. It’s a challenge to be a learner (another word for disciple) recognizing that we don’t know what we don’t know. It provides motive to offer and ask for forgiveness. It gives opportunity to express transparency and vulnerability, which can be the most effective community builders. All of which could be helpful in our current political and religious climate. All of which might be a welcome dynamic in households, churches, neighborhoods, conversations about the news.

It makes me think about how we humans have been mistaken about so much over the course of history, how we have operated for centuries while being wrong. The folks who wrote the book of Genesis imagined that the sky above was really like a big dome, with the waters of chaos above as well as below. Scientists were punished for positing the earth might not be the center of the universe. Explorers thought the world was flat. Lewis and Clark we’re convinced that they could follow the Missouri River to the Pacific, so they ended up canoeing the mountains. (I commend a book called Canoeing the Mountains, by Tod Bolsinger. It’s a book about discipleship, actually.)

We’ve been wrong about stuff that has caused great suffering. Looking in the collective rear-view mirror, we now see that we have been wrong about slavery, about gender roles, about other religions, about identity and orientation, all of which has had tragic implications, inflicting injury on people who differ in all kinds of ways. It makes me wonder what we’re wrong about now, and how future generations will look back on us and think: How could we have possibly thought that? How could we have acted that way? Or not acted.

On the same day I gave the talk on cartooning, I gave a homily at a service observing the feast of St. Philip and St. James’. One of the readings from the day came from Isaiah 30. (Included above) It suggests that in the journey of faith, we may not really know what we’re doing or where we are headed, but it is a call to trust. The Lord says to the faithful: Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Later in the Bible, in St. Paul’s famous hymn about love, the apostle notes that we now see through a glass darkly, that we know in part. In other words, we could be wrong.

All of this is to say that righteousness is not about being right. How could it be when we’re wrong so much of the time? Rather, it is about being rightly related to a God who invites us into deeper relationship, and who speaks over our shoulder saying: This is the way, walk in it. This week, how might we explore that life of humility, vulnerability, transparency? How might we open ourselves so that we might be learners, mindful that we don’t know what we don’t know?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

SAVE THE DATE

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Registration and more info coming soon!