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Monday Matters (May 21, 2018)

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Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.
-Bill Gates
Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
-Psalm 25
 
And all the children will be taught of the Lord, and great will be the peace of your children.
-Isaiah 54:13
 
Open my eyes that I may behold the wonders of your law.
-Psalm 119
 
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
-John 3:2
 
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
-John 14:26
 
 Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty. 

Teachers

I was moved by the image of thousands of red t-shirts, worn by teachers walking up Raleigh city streets last week. They gathered from around the state to make the point that these days, we do not sufficiently honor the work teachers do. We fail to recognize the importance of their work.

Yesterday, I participated in a memorial service for a much-loved family member, a person of great gifts who used those gifts for close to 40 years as a teacher. There were other vocations he could have chosen, easier vocations, more lucrative ones. His call was to education, a commitment to raise up the next generation, to draw out the best in young people, a vision of hope, offered with love.

So teachers have been on my mind.

I’ve been made to think about how teachers changed my life. There’s a woman who taught me math in middle school. She taught me about steadfastness, since she taught my father in the same school, probably the same classroom. She sometimes called me by his name. A 27-year-old history teacher taught me in the 9th grade. (I thought he was downright ancient at 27.) He opened my eyes to a broader view of the world, challenging me to think outside the suburban bubble in which I was raised. A college religion professor gave much needed insight into the varied ways we have received the scriptures, deepening my love of text by embracing its complexity and mystery. A gracious (and rigorous) seminary professor, a faithful Christian taught me about grace even as he elevated expectations for more careful thinking and writing.

There were teachers met out of school. A child who asked me in church whether heaven was a place or a feeling. A 95-year-old widow who asked, after her husband’s death, what God was calling her to do with the next chapter of her life.

Each teacher, in his or her way, made a difference in my life. I am grateful.

With teachers on my mind, I invite you this morning to think about your teachers. Who have been your teachers, in school, church, family or workplace? If there is a way to be in touch with them, express your thanks to them. If not, let God know of your gratitude, and maybe the Holy Spirit will pass on the gratitude in some way.

Then think about this: Who are your teachers right now, this Monday morning? How are you still learning? I believe it might be helpful to change the word “disciple” in the New Testament. If I were in charge (apparently I’m not) I think we would do well to replace the word “disciple” with the word “student” or “learner”, at least for a while. I believe that would get across the notion that in the spiritual journey, there is always more for us to learn. We are never done.

And the good news? In that journey, we have a teacher. Jesus is described as such 45 times in the gospels. We have access to his teaching through the gospels which we bring to the center of our community every time we worship. I think specifically of the Sermon on the Mount, a teaching tool for the likes of Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. This teaching changed the world for the better. Lord knows, we could use the teaching of that sermon these days.

And if you are wondering where to find Jesus’ classroom these days, remember that we celebrated the feast of Pentecost yesterday. Readings for that big day indicate that God sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, which sounds a whole lot to me like the goal of education. Marvel of marvels, that same Holy Spirit uses people around us to be our guides, our teachers.

Join me in giving thanks for teachers, especially those we love but see no longer. Find ways to honor them. And continue the process of learning in your own life. God is not finished with us yet.

-Jay Sidebotham

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

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

Monday Matters (May 14, 2018)

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 Acts 28: The closing verses of the Acts of the Apostles, as Paul makes his way to Rome.
 
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.
 

The Final Acts: There’s no place like Rome

In college, I spent a semester in Rome, ostensibly studying art history, or Italian, or something. As I recall the most popular course was wine-tasting. I did happen to make some life-long friends, an extraordinary gift that keeps on giving. And I discovered that the moniker “eternal city” developed for a reason. There’s something about the light of Bella Roma. I reflected on those days as I looked at this week’s readings from the Book of Acts, which take us on a trip to Rome.

This week, we conclude our journey through this book, as we’ve been invited by the Presiding Bishop over the Easter season to read Luke’s story of the start of the church. In the final chapters, we read about shy and retiring Paul speaking in front of all kinds of political authorities. We hear about conspiracies to put him to death, with quick thinking youth helping Paul escape. We read about shipwrecks and snake handling (sounds like the makings of a pretty good movie) and finally about his arrival in Rome where the indefatigable apostle finds a way to continue his ministry.

Paul had long hoped to get to Rome, to use it as a launching pad for a westward expansion of his ministry, specifically to Spain. He had it all figured out. I imagine him crafting strategic plan, mission statement, articulation of vision, communications strategies, goals, objectives, metrics, indices, power point presentations, social media, who knows, maybe bumper stickers and coffee mugs.

He had one kind of trip to Rome in mind. The Holy Spirit had another.

As is often the case, life happened instead of what he planned. Yet even under restrictions of imprisonment, the book of Acts tells us he found his way to Rome. He found a way to build community, to preach the kingdom of God. Scripture tells us he did so with confidence. After a long career repeatedly met with resistance, we are told that no one was forbidding him. That must have been a great joy.

I suspect we each and all spend our lives making plans. We may think we have it figured out. If you’re like me, we imagine we can clue God in on what really needs to happen, as if the Holy One were a bit out of touch. Sweet but somewhat clueless. In need of our guidance.

And then we find ourselves in a totally new situation. We face new challenges, for which we may not be prepared or equipped. That’s where God shows up, as we find that we have not been left alone, as we hear a call to trust that next steps will be revealed, as we have opportunity to test whether we really believe that all will be well and all manner of things will be well, to test whether we believe that love wins.

That can be true in our individual lives. How many of us are living the life we would have scripted from the beginning? On what resources can we rely when course changes, when as Garmin says, we have to recalculate?

That can be true for our congregations. We are not gathering in the church in which our parents gathered. Our children will not gather in the church in which we gather. How will we discover an agile faith for a common life that is both new and faithful and pertinent?

That can be true for the wider church. How can we enter into God’s mission for the world, a world that is changing quickly, a world where the church may not command as much attention or influence as in previous generations? (We can start by inviting the Presiding Bishop to preach at a royal wedding. How awesome is that?)

Tradition has it that Paul was martyred in Rome. I’m pretty sure that was not what he’d planned. But the word martyr really means witness. His remarkable witness has changed us all, as he shared the message of grace offered without condition, the message of love from which we can never be separated. That message offers power to move forward amid the changes and chances of life, even and especially when life throws curve balls.

-Jay Sidebotham

Last week of readings for the Good Book Club :

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

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

 

Monday Matters (May 7, 2018)

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Acts 17:22-31
 
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
 

God in my life?

The parishioner showed up in my office with an assignment. She was a force, a quite successful lawyer, who wondered about her co-workers who were highly ethical and had no religious affiliation. She was deeply involved in the church. They were not. She was curious about that. So she decided to invite a dozen of these folks to dinner, an invitation with condition. The conversation over dinner would address this question: God in my life? She decided I would be there to help moderate the conversation. I thought it was brave of her to do this. I thought it was brave of me to go. Except that I’m not sure I had a choice.

The table was full, invitations with condition accepted. As I dined with this group of strangers from several faith traditions, mostly non-observant at the time, I was struck with the fact that everyone at the table had something to say. Everyone had a spiritual story. Discussion was lively and enlightening. The group continued to meet once a month for a number of years.

One of my mentors, Dwight Zscheile, writes about the call for followers of Jesus in today’s culture. His book, People of the Way, describes an authentic discipleship in the Episcopal Church these days. He writes that one of the marks of faithful disciples is that they see what God is already up to in the neighborhood. They are not bringing God to the neighborhood. God is already there. That’s a healthy corrective to ways that many religious folks have looked at mission and evangelism. We’re talking about a call to be a listener and a learner. It’s a call to a more humble stance.

It may not be your impression of the guy, but St. Paul knew all about this. As he moved from city to city, he first took the pulse of the place, as he does in one of the readings for this week in our journey through the book of Acts. In chapter 17, he goes to Athens, intellectual center of his day. He seeks a way to connect with the people there. (Find an excerpt of that story above.) He goes to the Areopagus, close to the Parthenon and notes the many statues to the many gods revered in that culture. He notes one in particular, a statue to the unknown God. It strikes me as a kind of blank check/CYA deity, erected just in case the Athenians forgot someone, not to make anyone mad. Paul sees that as opportunity to share what he has learned about the God revealed in Jesus. But it began by his attentiveness to what people already knew and experienced spiritually.

Our Service of Holy Baptism asks a couple pertinent and outrageous questions. It asks us to seek and serve Christ in all persons. It asks us to respect the dignity of every human being. Christ is already in each person, in some way. Every person has God-given dignity. It is the conviction that prompted my parishioner to invite co-workers to share stories of “God in my life.” It is the conviction I’ve come to after a few years in ministry, that everyone has a God-shaped space inside, that everyone is restless until that space is filled. If we can help each other in filling that space, whether we are inside the church or outside the church, it will probably begin with talking less and listening more, sensing the contours of that interior space, sensing where that space hurts, where it indicates brokenness, where that space might be filled.

Think about that dinner conversation. How would you respond to the question: “God in my life?” And then think about how you might listen to someone else this week. Pray for God’s Spirit to lead you to that person. Hear that person’s story. Pray for that person. Learn from that person. Discover something new about God from that person.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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

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

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

 

Monday Matters (April 30, 2018)

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 Jesus promised his disciples three things-that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble.
-William Barclay
The Gospel of Luke
 
I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.
-Jesus (see John 15:11)
 
From Acts 16:
They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. When they had brought them before the magistrates, they said, “These men are disturbing our city; they are Jews and are advocating customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to adopt or observe.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates had them stripped of their clothing and ordered them to be beaten with rods. After they had given them a severe flogging, they threw them into prison and ordered the jailer to keep them securely. Following these instructions, he put them in the innermost cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.
 
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened.

Singing in prison

Here’s a mystery: I’ve known people who from outward appearances have everything life could offer, all measures of success met, yet they seem unhappy. Often that unhappiness is contagious. I’ve known people smitten with major, multiple, coincident life challenges, modern-day Job’s, illustrations of the maxim that life is not fair. Yet they seem to navigate life with equanimity and hope. What’s up with that? Specifically, what leads people who are beset with trials to exude joy?

One of the best books I’ve read recently: The Book of Joy. It chronicles a week in which Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama hung out in Nepal. Wouldn’t you like an invite to that gathering? A journalist noted their exchanges. What comes through loud and clear is that these two spiritual giants enjoy each other’s company. They each have encountered suffering and persecution enough to make me wilt. Through it all, they exude joy. They seem to be having a blast.

I thought about that book when I read a favorite story from the Acts of the Apostles, a book we’re invited to read this Easter season (see assignments for this week below) The story, also included above, tells about Paul and Silas thrown in the slammer, victims of unjust political and religious persecution. Just imagine what a first century prison was like. And how do Paul and Silas handle their time? Luke records that they sing and praise God. The other prisoners listen to them. What was the secret to that kind of joy, which had nothing to do with circumstances?

I came up with these three observations about the roots of joy, based on this book, and based on observing folks I’ve known and admired who seem joyful amid difficulty.

Joy grows from a sense of gratitude. These two spiritual leaders say that gratitude allows us to savor life and recognize that much of our good fortune in life comes from others. They propose a gratitude practice by which at the end of the day, one thinks of three things from the day for which one is grateful, and then one writes about those three things in a journal. Worth a try.

Joy grows from a sense of acceptance. When the Dalai Lama was asked how he coped with decades of exile from beloved homeland, he spoke of acceptance. His practice comes from an ancient Indian teacher who said that when you experience some tragic situation, if there’s no way to overcome the tragedy, there is no use in worrying too much. If something can be done about the situation, what need is there for dejection? The journalist noted: This was not denial of pain and suffering but a shift in perspective. I note, with caution: Easier said than done. But I take seriously the witness of this spiritual leader who has been through the mill and found ways to speak of acceptance. It’s Serenity Prayer mindset.

Joy grows from a sense of hope. In a chapter on despair, Desmond Tutu notes all the good reasons to dispense with hope. He knew them well. He says that one must note positive things happening in the world, bearing a sense of proportion and wider perspective. He says that hope is quite different from optimism, which is superficial and liable to become pessimism when circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper. He says: “I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless…to choose hope is to step firmly forward into the howling wind, baring one’s chest to the elements, knowing that in time, the storm will pass.”

This week, think of someone in your life who exudes joy. It need not be exuberant or flashy. It might be quite quiet. If you have opportunity, ask that person where joy came from, Be your own journalist, crafting your own book of joy.

Then ask God for the gift of joy. St. Paul, often accused of crankiness, actually knew a lot about joy (Read his letter to the Philippians, written from prison, a letter in which every other word seems to be joy or rejoice.) In his letter to the Galatians, he describes joy as a gift of the spirit. Lord knows, our church, our world could use that gift. I could use more of it in my life. How about you?

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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

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

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

Monday Matters (April 23, 2016)

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

The Easter Way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s the Easter way.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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

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

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

Monday Matters (April 16, 2018)

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

Change is good. You go first.
-Dilbert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will that look like for you this week?

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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

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

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

Monday Matters (April 9, 2018)

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

So what was that all about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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

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

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

Monday Matters (April 2, 2018)

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

 

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

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

Who me?

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

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

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

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

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

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

When it comes to being a disciple, ask:

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

When it comes to being an apostle, ask:

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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

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

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

Monday Matters (March 26, 2018)

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

Just as I am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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

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

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

Monday Matters (March 19, 2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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