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Monday Matters (March 11, 2019)

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‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as yourself?

from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer

Meeting Jesus this Lent

As we come to the first full week of Lent, perhaps you’ve decided to give something up for the season, something challenging or something less so. Maybe it’s something with remarkable specificity. One young person I knew gave up blue m&m’s.

Perhaps as alternative or addition, you have decided to take on a spiritual discipline, a way to grow your faith, since the word “Lent” derives from an old English word for spring. Lent is a season for growth. It’s not too late to add something to your practice this season.

This morning, I wanted to draw your attention to a Lenten lectionary, a list of readings for every day in Lent. You won’t find it in the Prayer Book, but you can find it on lectionarypage.net  (among other places). You might want to use it as a guide. Take five, ten, thirty minutes to read one or all of the readings each day. See what they say about your own spiritual state, your own spiritual journey.

Today’s gospel reading from that lectionary offers a challenging parable from the Gospel of Matthew. Here’s the set up. A king gathers all nations before him, and divides those people as a shepherd would divide sheep from goats. The basis of distinction? How those people treated each other, and especially how they treated those in greatest need. The king speaks of how sheep-like people fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, pastored the sick, visited prisoners. The king said that when those sheep-like folk did that, they were really serving him. Accordingly, they met with commendation.

Flip side, the goats were those who failed to address those needs. Accordingly, those goats met with condemnation.

There’s much that is remarkable about this parable. One of the features that always strikes me is the element of surprise for sheep and goats. The sheep who served those in need are surprised when the king said that their ministry to the marginalized was as if it had been done to him. Sheep are surprised. It’s clear that the sheep were not doing their ministry in order to win favor with the king. Similarly, the goats had no idea they were dissing the king when they dissed those in need.

Truth be told, there is a bit of sheep and goat in each one of us, but take this reading for this Monday in Lent to see how it can help your faith grow. Look for the opportunity to see Christ, to meet the king, in those in greatest need. It’s something that our baptismal covenant encourages us to do. (See the promise included above). And it can be challenging, because Christ often comes very well disguised. Nadia Bolz-Weber, slightly profane evangelist puts it this way: I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset.

This season, guided by scripture, including today’s parable, perhaps you can give up your reticence to reach out to someone in need. Maybe you do that out of fear or sloth or focus on self. Give that up.

And perhaps you can take on some ministry of service. We don’t have to look very far to find someone in need. Maybe just across the dining room table or in the next cubicle. In doing so, it may well be that we meet Christ. You may well find that we are serving the king.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (March 4, 2019)

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If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

-II Corinthians 5:17-6:3

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple, we should take God at His word;
And our lives would be thanksgiving, for the goodness of our Lord.

-A favorite hymn text

Last week, I was coming home late on a Saturday night, eager (okay, anxious) to get back for Sunday morning. Our plane took off from Charlotte. As we approached destination (the Wilmington airport), fog precluded landing. We returned to Charlotte, hoping we might try again. Then that flight was canceled. I took my place on a long line at the customer service desk to see if I could get on another flight that night. Experience told me I’d be on that customer line for a while. I imagined I might be spending the night in the airport. That’s happened before. Fun.

As I stood near the end of that long line, an airline employee approached out of the blue. She asked a few of us to follow her. We passed several gates to arrive at her desk where she managed to get me on a flight home that night. She didn’t need to do that. She was not on duty at customer service desk, the front lines where angry anxiety gets directed at airline employees. She could have minded her own business, kept her head down, not dealt with us cranky passengers like me.

But she didn’t. She chose to be of service, not because I was worthy, or because I had status, or because I was different from anyone else. It was truly a random act of kindness. It was grace. Interesting enough, her grace, mercy and kindness made me a bit more gentle with the other angry, anxious folks in the terminal. And there were a few of them.

Grace stands at the heart of our faith. But I find that when I try to describe grace, theological categories seem thin compared to stories of grace, e.g., an airline parable like I’ve told. Examples. Anecdotes. Maybe that’s why Jesus told parables. The prodigal son. The good Samaritan. The lost sheep. The lost coin. Workers who get paid a full day’s wage even though they worked only five minutes. Maybe that’s why Jesus came to live among us, full of grace and truth. We know grace when we see it.

What are your stories of grace? When have you known grace? When have you shown grace?

We come this week to the season of Lent. I don’t know what words you associate with the season. Often people describe it as forty days to feel more miserable than thou. We are dust. We are worms. We are wretched. We are unworthy. May I suggest an alternative approach? Think about what Lent has to do with grace.

A favorite verse that you may hear on Ash Wednesday comes from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He calls that community to reconciliation. He celebrates the possibility of new creation. And he tells the Corinthians: Don’t accept the grace of God in vain. That verse always catches me up short. A part of me wonders why anyone would take the grace of God in vain. Why would I?

Then I remember a sociology experiment conducted a few years ago on a busy Manhattan corner. A guy got a bunch of $20 bills and tried to hand them out. Just give them away. No condition. No obligation. He was stunned to find out how many people would not accept them. There must be a hitch.

Part of the broken human condition is that there is something inside of us that acts that way. It’s a part that refuses to accept God’s gifts, either because we take it as a sign of weakness, or we can’t believe we’re worth it, or because we’re too busy.

Grace is at the heart of our faith, so it must be at the heart of the season of Lent. As you make this journey over the coming weeks, think about ways you can open your heart to the grace of God. Explore those ways in which you resist it, or take it in vain, or take it for granted. And if you can think about the ways grace has come to you, see how you might show it and share it in a world starved, I mean starved for grace.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 25, 2019)

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Be still and know that I am God.

-Psalm 46:10

Six days a week we seek to dominate the world. On the seventh day we try to dominate the self. The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere…It is a day that ennobles the soul and makes the body wise.

Six evenings a week we pray: “Guide our going out and our coming in.” On the Sabbath evening we pray instead: “Embrace us with a tent of thy peace.” 

All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living; the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience: our awareness of God’s presence in the world.

From THE SABBATH by Abraham Heschel

People now have a painful need to be helped to be still. A church that is too noisy, too caught up in its own busyness, to answer this need is failing deeply.

Insights from Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

God whose strength bears us up as on mighty wings: We rejoice in remembering your athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell, to whom you gave courage and resolution in contest and in captivity; and we pray that we also may run with endurance the race set before us and persevere in patient witness, until we wear that crown of victory won for us by Jesus our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A prayer in thanksgiving for the life and witness of Eric Liddell

Sabbath

One Friday night, walking home from the subway to my apartment, passing a row of brownstones, a man stopped me and asked if I could come in to his apartment to help him. No one had ever asked that before. I agreed, with slight sense that maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Down a long, dark hallway I walked, through a door opened to reveal a family ready to sit down at the table. I realized they were Orthodox Jews. They needed me to turn on the lights in the apartment. They took Sabbath so seriously that they wouldn’t do that bit of work themselves. I was moved by the way they took the commandment to heart: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. I wondered why I took that observance so lightly.

When I was in seminary, wondering whether that course of study would lead to ordination or not, I sought the counsel of a rector of a big church. I asked him how he managed his life, what he thought was important. It’s been a few decades, but I remember his advice. He said he was rigorous about taking a day off. He did that so that on a weekly basis, he would remember who he was. He would remember that he was not his work. It was a spiritual practice focused on identity, not only who he was but also who God is. In retrospect, I wondered if I shouldn’t have tried harder to take his advice throughout my ministry.

In our church, we just finished a series in which we looked at the seven practices described in The Way of Love. (The Way of Love is suggested by our Presiding Bishop as a series of practices that move us toward a Jesus-centered life.) The last in this series is the practice of rest, a practice taking its cue from the first chapters of the Bible. After six days of creative work, the Lord God rested, hallowing that seventh day, instituting the religious observance of Sabbath. If the Lord God took that time, I wondered if I shouldn’t be more intentional about holy time management.

I’m old enough to remember ways in which the culture helped with all that. On the Sundays of my childhood, nobody went to work. No travel soccer. No trips to stores or movie theaters. No technology allowing for work 24/7. For younger folks, that culture may be unimaginable. I have no illusion that we would or could or should go back to that time. But if we sense any value in weekly fallow time, we now need to be more creative about making that happen.

It can come in small doses. Perhaps daily times when we simply unplug. It can come in 24 hour periods, as is the design of the creator. It can come in a commitment to retreats. Impending Lent can be a good time to experiment with these kinds of practices, a good time to ask: What’s a way to practice rest?

The prayer above is offered in thanks for the life, ministry and witness of Eric Liddell, celebrated in the movie Chariots of Fire. He is remembered each year in the church on February 25. Find and watch the movie if you’ve never seen it. He was a gifted athlete who refused to compete on Sunday mornings. Who knows what he would do today? He stands as a reminder that we can still strive to observe Sabbath. In that same column, find quotes from Abraham Heschel’s book THE SABBATH. A mentor directed my attention to it, and it provides a powerful vision of the ways in which our observance of a practice of rest reflects our identity, and God’s. It might be great Lenten reading for you.

The times in which we live, the busy lives we lead can get in the way of our spiritual growth. God knew this from the beginning of creation. That’s why we’re invited, encouraged, challenged to practice rest. Give it a go this week.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 18, 2019)

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Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
-Philippians 2:3
 
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
-Exodus 3:11
 
Jesus called them (the disciples) to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
-Matthew 20:25-28
 
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
-Acts 20:18
 
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
-John 10:11
 
(Solomon prayed,) “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.
-II Chronicles 1:10-12

Presidents’ Day: The Leader’s Heart

Today’s holiday honoring presidents triggers a variety of thoughts about leadership. In the work we do with RenewalWorks, one of our strongest findings is that much depends on the leader’s heart.

Politics (mostly) aside, the theme of leadership caused me to remember a wonderful group in my former parish, led by wise members of the community. The group met monthly, under the title of Faith@Work. They facilitated conversations about the intersection between Sunday and the rest of the week, discussions led by leaders from various fields, speakers from our parish and our denomination. The group’s leaders also made it a point to learn from those outside the Episco-bubble. I told you they were wise.

One of the guest speakers who made an impression on me was Harry Kraemer who wrote a book entitled From Values to Action, a book describing principles of leadership. He was head of a really big company in Chicago. A devoted Roman Catholic, he worked hard to bring his values to his work. He spoke about a daily practice which I envy. It included morning reflection on how he might live into his values for the coming day, and an evening review of how successful he had been in putting those values into action. I admired his rule of life. I’m pretty good at the morning thing, but I tend to nod off when I try evening reflection.

In his book, he identified four essential principles of leadership which he shared with our group. I’m guessing that Monday readers are leaders in one way or another, leaders in households, schools, churches, places of business. So see if these four principles speak to you.

Self-reflection: The ability to reflect and identify what you stand for, what your values are and what matters most. For me, a big part of this has to do with mindfulness, awareness, which often comes with intentional quiet time. Where in your life do you find this quiet time?

Balance and perspective: The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives, including differing viewpoints to give a holistic understanding. For me, this principle is reflected in the baptismal covenant which asks us to seek Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self. Where might you take a wider view in your own life? What perspectives are you not including? What unexpected person might be your teacher?

True self-confidence: Enabling you to accept yourself as you are, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and focusing on continuing improvement. For me, this principle has everything to do with an embrace of grace, the confidence that comes from the belief that we don’t have to prove our worth, our value. In God’s economy, that has already been established. How can you celebrate that spirit of acceptance in your own life today?

Genuine humility: The ability never to forget who you are, to appreciate the value of each person in the organization and to treat everyone respectfully. For me, this goes back to the baptismal promise which calls us to respect the dignity of every human being, those across the dining room table, those in the next cubicle, those next to us in the pew, those who happen to watch a different cable channel. What kind of challenge does that represent for you this week

On this President’s Day, I suspect we all have thoughts about how these principles might go to work in our nation in the interesting times in which we live. Say a prayer for all those in positions of power on this holiday.

While we may or may not be able to affect any of that, we can take a few moments on this day off to see how Mr. Kraemer’s principles might be woven into our own lives, in whatever way we may lead. That would be cause for celebration. Even worthy of a day off.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 11, 2019)

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Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess, Thou hast given me: I surrender it all to Thee to be disposed of according to Thy will. Give me only Thy love and Thy grace; with these I will be rich enough and will desire nothing more. Amen.
-St. Ignatius of Loyola

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
-Abraham Lincoln
 
At fifteen life had taught me undeniably that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.
 -Maya Angelou
 
Almighty and eternal God, so draw our hearts to thee, so guide our minds, so fill our imaginations, so control our wills, that we may be wholly thine, utterly dedicated unto thee; and then use us, we pray thee, as thou wilt, and always to thy glory and the welfare of thy people; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
-A prayer of self-dedication, from the Book of Common Prayer (p. 832)

Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.

Ephesians 3:16-18


Surrender

“When I realized there was nothing I could do, and when the black cloud reached me I would either live or die, I turned and faced it, summoned every ounce of life within me, and hurled it heavenward, praying, “Take me.” It was both an incredibly terrifying moment and an incredibly liberating moment. I felt that everything that happened after that in terms of being swept up into the incredible witness of people of faith at St. Paul’s, flowed from that moment of total surrender. Thanks be to God.”

I share this witness from Dr. Courtney Cowart, a leader in our church and a friend. Her witness builds on my post last week, as I spoke about how the peace that passes understanding reaches to the most extraordinary moments. I’ve added Courtney’s story to the great cloud of witnesses, her recollection of September 11, 2001, when she gathered church leaders to tape a video about the spiritual journey, a video interrupted by planes slamming into skyscrapers. First told to stay put, then told to run, she spoke of her encounter with the divine in a moment. She let that awful, awesome experience lead her into a healing ministry in lower Manhattan at St. Paul’s Chapel for months to come. After that, with the hard-earned wisdom of that New York experience, she spent years in New Orleans,  helping the rebuilding process after Katrina. She is a saint in our times.

In the witness with which I began, Courtney used the word “surrender,” which when you break it down means “rendering over” or maybe “turning over” or maybe even “letting go.” As a good Episcopalian, and for good reason, I have ambivalence about the term “surrender.” In my own goofy spiritual history, surrendering to God or Christ or the Holy Spirit seemed to suggest diminished self, a denial of original blessing, a weak view of human dignity, a heretical assertion that when God said creation was very good, God didn’t really mean it. There’s a big old tradition that says sinners simply need to raise the white flag. We’re no good. Just give up.

I remember a time when I was puzzling with some Episcopalians about this idea of surrendering our lives to God or Christ. These Episcopalians were not buying it. I could relate to ways they felt ill at ease. There’s a lot in the Christian tradition that stresses, maybe even glories in our status as miserable offenders.

That afternoon conversation gave way to some quiet time in my office, when by the working of the Holy Spirit, I was reading some Thomas Merton. I found a passage in which he wrote that we were called to surrender to the creative power of God’s grace in our lives. I printed out this prayer and posted it prominently in my office.

I found myself thinking that if Thomas Merton could speak of surrender, maybe I should pay attention. I found myself wondering what it would mean to surrender in such a way, to let go of my own agenda (easier said than done when you take a gander at my to-do list). What would it mean to render over, to give over my own illusion of control and mastery, and trust in God’s guidance, providence, creativity, grace?

Jesus said that if we lose our lives we will find them. Meanwhile, we grasp and hoard, gripping tightly. We practice teeth-gritting religion. May God give us grace this week to surrender to God’s creative power of grace in our lives. 

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 4, 2019)

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How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said, who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?
 
Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.
 
When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of sorrow shall not overflow; for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless, and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
 
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
 
The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
that soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!

Ephesians 3:16-18


Two Questions

When I am afraid, I will trust in you, in God whose word I praise.

Psalm 56:3,4

Over this past weekend, it was my privilege to gather with a group of clergy and lay leaders to talk about spiritual growth. On Friday night, our gathering began with a couple questions posed by the host. We were each asked to name a time when we were scared and to name a time marked by joy. As we went around the circle of about 30 people, everyone had a story. Everyone knew moments marked by fear.

One person told about the time when as a teenager, he was wedged in an elevator shaft at his workplace, as malfunctioning machinery almost crushed his body. He was delivered, and eventually healed from great injury. But in the moments when that outcome was not at all certain, in those moments when he thought his young life was over, he remembered saying to a holy presence: This is it. I am no more. I am yours. He said he was not talking to himself but to an enveloping light presence, a calming effect, the real peace that passes understanding.

A colleague tells of a parishioner on the fated flight that landed in the Hudson River, geese debilitating the engine of the plane. As he was told to prepare to crash, as he considered he might be living the last few moments of his time on earth, he told of a peace that passes understanding. He attributed that peace to the practice of the spiritual life experienced in his church. He knew a holy presence as the plane descended.

Friday night, everyone had a story of fear. That’s in the Bible. So many times in the Bible we hear the words: Fear not. Celestial messengers approach Mary, Joseph, shepherds and it sounds like those folks were all tempted to run for cover. I get it. But I also get the consistent message, conveyed through biblical characters and through more contemporary characters, that we have not been left alone. There is something to this peace which passes understanding.

Which is not unrelated to the second question as we went around the circle on Friday night. When have you experienced joy? For many folks, the joy was related to the fear. A toddler that wandered away from child care was found. A gravely ill person recovered. Everyone had a story about an experience of joy, which were often stories of deliverance, of healing, or said another way, stories of salvation. They were not only stories of salvation. They were stories of relationship. No one told a story about getting a good grade, or getting a promotion, or getting a nice car. But among the 30 folks there, stories of births of children or grandchildren, stories of weddings, stories of love emerged. And if our Presiding Bishop is right, if these are stories about love, then they are stories about God, present with us in joy and fear.

Take a moment to think about when you’ve been scared, and about when joy has come your way. Maybe you’ll have opportunity to share those stories with someone, around the dinner table, over coffee, at church. How did you navigate those times? Where was God in the mix? And as you reflect on those stories, how might that help you make it through this first week in February?

Wishing for you the peace that passes understanding, blessings in your day from Jay Sidebotham

AN INVITE:
As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks. It started on January 9, but it’s not too late to dive in!
Time: Wednesdays at 8pm EST Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (January 28, 2019)

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I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the 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 3:16-18

Q: Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
A: I will with God’s help.

From the Baptismal Covenant

Spiritual practice is not just sitting and meditation. Practice is looking, thinking, touching, drinking, eating and talking. Every act, every breath, and every step can be practice and can help us to become more ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh

For the rest of your life to be as meaningful as possible, engage in spiritual practice if you can. It is nothing more than acting out of concern for others. If you practice sincerely and with persistence, little by little, step by step you will gradually reorder your habits and attitudes so as to think less about your own narrow concerns and more about others’ – and thereby find peace and happiness yourself.

The Dalai Lama

What happens on Sunday morning is not half so important as what happens on Monday morning. In fact, what happens on Sunday morning is judged by what happens on Monday morning.

Verna Dozier


Practice

Shortly after we moved to Chicago, I received one of those wonderful spousal Christmas gifts, an offering subtly (or not) suggesting area of improvement. I was signed up at the local gym. I began to show up daily, religiously, when the doors opened before dawn. I was joined by other religious folks who also showed up every day for exercise. Some were buff. Why did they need to exercise? For some, like me, it was clear why exercise would be a good idea. But we all showed up, regardless of proficiency. As we did, a community was forged.

Since moving to North Carolina, my current pre-dawn routine involves a daily yoga class. The same folks show up every day, religiously. It’s like an 8am service in an Episcopal church. We park our mats in the same place. We know who puts their mat where. Newcomers beware of unwittingly altering the arrangement. We rarely speak beyond good morning and have a good day. We say Namaste to each other in the same way 8 o’clockers exchange the peace. A community is forged through this practice.

One member of our early morning yogic community is really good at yoga, as far as I can tell. (I know. One is not supposed to compare.) He’s in really good shape. All muscle. He can defy gravity in his poses without breaking a sweat. I recently learned that he is a yoga teacher. I’m intrigued with the fact that as a teacher he practices each day with the rest of us. Why does he need to practice, especially before the sun comes up?

A friend who teaches at a seminary said that one of his colleagues did a study of main-line clergy. A large percentage of those clergy have no daily practice of prayer or engaging with scripture. If those spiritual practices are done, it is only in preparation for Sunday worship. I found it a sad commentary that spiritual leaders don’t feel like they need to continue to practice, that they don’t need to engage in spiritual exercise, that they are not being nourished and strengthened and challenged in that way.

It brings to mind Pablo Casals, the great cellist who died in 1973. He would practice for hours each day, even into his nineties. Somebody asked him why he needed to do that, since he was arguably the best cellist in the universe. He answered that he practiced because he got better. He understood that his engagement with music was not about destination. It was about that open-ended opportunity for discovering new horizons.

The spiritual life is sort of like that. (A rector I admire describes his church as a spiritual gym.) For each of us, for all of us, it takes practice. First, practice in the sense of practicality, putting muscles to work, continuing to learn and grow. Second, practice in the sense of getting better at it, deepening, dare I say, improving. Practice in the sense of growing in our love of God and love of neighbor. We get in spiritual trouble when we imagine we don’t really need to do that anymore.

The practices can come in great variety. Beware those who get too prescriptive about what those practices might be. But also beware of those who think the practices don’t matter. Take this week to think about your own spiritual practice. How are you being intentional, mindful about it? If you’re looking for a practice, consider the Way of Love, proposed by the Presiding Bishop www.episcopalchurch.way-of-love.org Or shape your own way of love. It works if you work it.

-Jay Sidebotham

AN INVITE:
As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks. It started on January 9, but it’s not too late to dive in!
Time: Wednesdays at 8pm EST Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (January 21, 2019)

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Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A prayer for the day we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jesus said: But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Luke 6:27-36, chosen for the day we remember Dr. King


MLK

We set aside today to remember the life and ministry and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King. In a season when our nation seems more divided than ever, here are thoughts about how to navigate division, wherever it turns up: at home, in a workplace, at church, in our country, on our globe. Like Mahatma Gandhi and Leo Tolstoy, Dr. King shaped his strategy with an eye on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s a great example of how important scriptural engagement can be. A selection from that sermon (Luke’s version) is printed above. In that sermon, Jesus offers a counter-intuitive call to love enemies.

Here’s how Dr. King spoke of Jesus’ teaching:

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.

It is in fact a spiritual practice, and I come back to Dr. King, who offered specific guidelines for those who would join him in non-violent resistance. Dr. King, often compared to Moses, came up with his own ten commandments for those who would choose to be part of his movement. Here they are:

  • Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus
  • Remember always that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation-not victory.
  • Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love.
  • Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free.
  • Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free.
  • Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  • Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world.
  • Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
  • Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  • Follow the directions of the movement and of the captain on a demonstration.

We can take a broad view of what it means to love enemies. We all have them. They turn up in many places, in many ways, evoking varying degrees of intensity and complication. It takes practice to relate to them in the transforming way Dr. King describes. 

You may not feel able to embrace all of his commandments, tackling them all at once. So do what you can today. Because this day, honoring Dr.King’s birth, and this week, and this new year all offer opportunity to hear these commandments, and set them to work in a world that sure could use them.

-Jay Sidebotham

AN INVITE:
As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks. It started on January 9, but it’s not too late to dive in!
Time: Wednesdays at 8pm EST Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (January 14, 2019)

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Seek the Lord and his strength. Continually seek his face.

-Psalm 105:4

The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning.

-M. Scott Peck

Working life has extended so much in the last fifty years that it exceeds life expectancy of even the most successful businesses. Very few businesses are successful for more than 25 or 30 years. And yet most educated people who go to work in their early twenties will keep working until they are 70. And so they had better be prepared for a second career whether it’s in another organization where they are doing what they have been doing or in a new line of work. They must be prepared to learn again. They must be prepared to position themselves. They must be prepared to want to learn- to see it not as something they need to do, but as something they enjoy doing. They will have to learn how to learn.

-Peter Drucker


Disciples Are Learners

If I were ruler of the universe, I might lose the word “disciple” for a while. Just for a while. I’d replace it for a season with the word “student” or “learner.” There is no limit to the reasons why it’s a good thing I’m not ruler of the universe. Just ask my family.

But here’s one paradoxical thing I’ve learned about being a learner. Times of deep learning came for me when I was asked to be a teacher about something I may not have been entirely comfortable teaching, times when I had to be a learner in order to be a teacher.  We’re talking stretch goal.

This has happened for me recently as I have been asked to teach a couple classes that feel like the deep end of the pool for me. Fun but not always easy. I was asked to speak at a day on discernment, a day about figuring out what God is calling us to do and be. I feel like I’ve been in discernment my whole life. The more I’m at it, the less sure I am how much I really know about it. 

So when I got this assignment, I was grateful to have a guide, a book about discernment entitled Decision Making And Spiritual Discernment: The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way, written by Nancy L. Bieber. This wise author identified three aspects to discernment, not necessarily a sequence as much as a braid, interwoven dynamics that strengthen the process of figuring out what God calls us to do and be.

The first of these elements is willingness. What does it mean to say yes? To God? To life? Prophets in the Bible put it this way: “Here I am.” Dag Hammarskjold described his own moment of assent: “I don’t know Who or – What – put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone –  or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.” To what degree do we meet God’s invitation to new life with willingness?

The second element is attentiveness. Are we paying attention, or are we asleep? The question surfaces in other traditions as a matter of mindfulness. Of all the problems that the disciples had, as described in the gospels, insomnia was not one of them. At critical moments (the Transfiguration, the Garden of Gethsemane), they snore. That strikes me as both recognition and caution. We too often sleepwalk through life. And if we’re not asleep, we’re often distracted. What do we miss because of it? To what degree do we meet God’s invitation to new life with attentiveness?

The third element is responsiveness, which is all about showing up, putting faith into action. It’s about taking a step, like Abraham leaving homeland for a new land, not knowing where he was going. It’s Peter seeing Jesus walking on the water, and then putting one foot over the gunwale, then the next, stepping out in the confidence (a bit fleeting) that he could too walk on water. To what degree do we meet God’s invitation to new life with responsiveness?

The author promotes these three strands of discernment, interwoven, interdependent. She makes no claim that they promise success from the culture’s point of view. Neither did Jesus. In terms of the times in which he lived, he was not such a great success. But according to the author, these strands do provide a foundation for living. So does Jesus.

I’ve been told that as we write the narrative of our own lives, we have options. We can look at ourselves as hero, victim, or learner. Be a learner this week. Discernment is really another word for learning. Seek the path God intends for you, the path into which God invites you. As you tackle that work, do so with an eye on willingness, attentiveness and responsiveness.

-Jay Sidebotham

AN INVITE:
As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks. It started on January 9, but it’s not too late to dive in!
Time: Wednesdays at 8pm EST Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (January 7, 2019)

3-1

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.

-A prayer from Easter Week

Open our eyes that we may behold the wonders of your law.

-from Psalm 119

I heard a story this weekend told by a woman in her 60’s. She remembered her father, now deceased, a military man who was away a lot as she grew up. But when he was home, he would have a pre-dawn breakfast with his daughter. Just the two of them, meeting over bowls of Grape Nuts. And they would each talk about miracles they had seen the day before. Decades after these breakfasts, this woman still remembers the early morning God-sightings. Not a bad spiritual practice. Not a bad way to begin a day. Not a bad way to be family. Not a bad breakfast.


God-sightings

When I was rector in Chicago, it was my privilege and joy to travel with our young people for a mission trip each summer. We boarded busses, headed for communities where people needed minor construction done on their homes. We pledged to leave places better than we found them, which happened most of the time.  I invoked the Hippocratic Oath, which most of the time was fulfilled.

The program was well organized, so that many youth groups came together, with hundreds of teenagers staying for a week in a high school. I’ve had better night’s sleep. (I usually found a remote corner for my sleeping bag which I called “The Rectory.”) The teenagers were divided into work teams, serving along side people from other churches. At the end of each workday, we’d reunite for dinner, fun, games, and worship. Let’s just say that the latter wasn’t Anglican chant. Not particularly contemplative. Lots of lively music, funny skits, teaching and preaching. And the following interesting feature.

At one point in the liturgy, the worship leader would invite young people to come forward and share God-sightings. Open mic testifying. Where had they seen God that day? So picture this. We’re all in a gym, in bleachers. Our group, good Episcopalians, climbed to the absolute back row, a bit skeptical, smugly resistant  to this exuberant worship, suspicious of the theology. The first night or two, our group sat back, with arms folded.

But I remember that night, as I sat with our young people, when one of our young people clomped noisily down the bleachers, making his way to the mic where he shared his God-sighting. Not exactly an Anglican thing to do. But it was simple and beautiful and authentic. In nights that followed, other members of our group did the same. They spoke of small kindnesses, a homeowner who brought a cool glass of lemonade to break the summer heat. Others spoke of the faithful courage with which homeowners navigated poverty and illness.

We returned to the parish. Young people were given opportunity to preach, to talk about work trip. Their sermon text? They offered God-sightings, which launched a new dynamic in the congregation. People began to keep an eye out for God-sightings. Parishioners of all ages, including most reserved and proper pillars of the church, shared the ways that they saw God at work. Unprecedented in my experience. Epiphany began yesterday. It’s a season (a long one this year) when the church talks about God-sightings. We began with the three wise men from the east, ending with the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop. In between those two stories, we find a great variety of God-sightings that show up in the gospel reading in Sunday. Listen for them on upcoming Sundays.

And then look for your own God-sightings. Where do you see God at work in your world? You might see God on a walk in the woods or a ride on the subway. You might have a God-sighting when you have dinner with those who share your household. You might have a God-sighting when you watch the news with stories from the other side of globe. The sightings are there. And there is great, transformative value in living life with an eye open for God-sightings.

The reason for this season? Remarkable epiphanies happened in the story of Jesus. Ordinary epiphanies happen to us all the time. Do we have eyes to see them? Are we expecting them? Can we wake up to them this week? Start each day asking God to help you see them. End each day noting how that happened.

-Jay Sidebotham

AN INVITE:
As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks, starting on January 9, Wednesdays at 8pm EST. Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!

4
Jay Sidebotham

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