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Monday Matters (March 12, 2018)

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

My dog ate my English muffin.

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

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

Where do you see yourself in the story?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:


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

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

Monday Matters (March 5, 2018)

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

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

Do Not Worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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


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

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

Monday Matters (February 26, 2018)

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Welcome to the Good Book Club. 

Luke 10:25-37

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

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


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

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

Monday Matters (February 19, 2018)

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Welcome to the Good Book Club. 

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

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

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

Today’s focus:  Luke 4:1-13:

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

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

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

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

Is my call a wrong number?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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


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

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

Monday Matters (February 12, 2018)

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Welcome to the Good Book Club. 

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

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

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

Today’s focus:  Luke 4:1-13:

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

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

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

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

When have you been in the wilderness?

As a young adult, I drove across country, something everyone should do once but need not do twice, in my humble opinion. I remember driving some back road in the middle of Nevada, in a less than reliable vehicle, seeing a sign for a next gas station, like 256 miles away. The lunar landscape scared me in that pre-cell phone, pre-GPS world, any comfort station far from view. I felt small and a bit lost.

I remember standing still in the middle of Grand Central Station, just a few years after graduating from college. I was looking for a job, not sure what I wanted to do or where to go or which way to go, surrounded by purposeful people headed somewhere in a hurry. Though in a crowd, I look back on it as one of the loneliest moments in my life.

In my work, as I meet with Episcopalians in different places, I learn from asking questions about their own spiritual growth. First, when were times of spiritual growth? What was that about? Second, when were times of spiritual challenge or inertia? What was that about?

In both cases (and this is anecdotal data), the most common answer to what caused growth and what got in the way is the same. It was something akin to a wilderness experience, a time of crisis or challenge, when those things which numb us to the pain of life are stripped away and we are called to look with clarity at our own life and think about how in hell we can move forward.

So as we begin a season of Lent, compared in many ways to a wilderness, and as we read the first chapters of the Gospel of Luke as part of the Good Book Club, and as this coming Sunday we travel with Jesus to the wilderness (Mark 1:9-15), it seems to me that this Monday morning we’re asked to think about what we do with the wilderness that is part of everyone’s experience.

The wilderness is a persistent image in scripture. Moses spent 40 years in that place, prince of Egypt demoted to shepherd until a burning bush spoke to him and clarified mission. He then led the children of Israel, without Garmin, for forty years in the wilderness. It was a time of challenge, but it was also a time of formation. When Elijah fled to the wilderness because Jezebel, the queen of mean, wanted to kill him, a still small voice in the wilderness transformed his fears into vocation. And at the start of his ministry, Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days, where in hunger and isolation he was tempted with the things that would make his life easy, and make him think that he was in charge.

If you’re not in the wilderness this morning, how might you express gratitude for that? If you find yourself in the wilderness this morning, what resources can you draw on in that experience? (Note that when Jesus was in the wilderness, the resources on which he relied were his scriptures.) If you have been in the wilderness in the past, what did you learn from that time and place? If you see wilderness on the horizon (I believe it comes to each one of us. A mentor has said: Suffering is the only promise life keeps), what will help you see that as a time with the potential for formation as well as challenge?

I’m looking forward to the next weeks, the seasons of Lent and Easter, as we read our way through Luke’s writings. For me, as I reflect on my own passages through wilderness, the stories of the Bible have often carried me through. I hope you will find that true as well.

-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 (February 5, 2018)

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The Good Book Club

Ever since I served in a church named St. Luke’s, I’ve had a special interest in what St. Luke had to say. He is credited with authorship of the third gospel, as well as the book which describes the start of the early church, the Acts of the Apostles. As author of those two books, he is responsible for ¼ of the New Testament. Just by virtue of word count, he merits our attention.

Luke was a Gentile, an outsider as far as the early Christian community was concerned. Tradition holds that he was a physician, which may explain his connection with healing ministries. He had a heart for the poor, those pushed to the margins. A remarkable story teller, he includes the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan in his gospel. Our tradition would be diminished without those stories of grace and forgiveness.

One of my favorite stories, told only by Luke, describes disciples on the road to Emmaus, days after Jesus had died. These disciples are joined on the journey by the resurrected Jesus, though they don’t recognize him. The disciples walk for a while with Jesus and when they reach their destination, Jesus acts like he’s going to continue walking. They convince him to stay for dinner. He enters as a guest. He ends up as host. (See the hymn text for “Come Risen Lord” below). As Jesus breaks bread, the disciples recognize him, and realize that their dashed hopes are renewed, resurrected. They see that Jesus is alive. I love that turn of events. We imagine we are inviting God into our lives. Big of us. It turns out he’s been the host all along. Nice.

Stories of resurrection told by Luke lead into the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the narrative of how the early church grew. That book tells us about the power of the Holy Spirit, in evidence on Pentecost. It reminds us that the church expanded because outsiders looked at the church members and said: See how those people love one another. Is that what folks would say about the church today? The Acts of the Apostles tells about Peter and Paul’s efforts to widen the doors of the church, so that in Christ there is neither Gentile or Jew. Again, important stuff. Where would we be without it?

If you haven’t read Luke in a while, I want to invite you to take part in this specific spiritual practice during Lent (and beyond), beginning this coming Sunday, February 11. Be part of the Good Book Club, which is a spiritual experiment/adventure sponsored by Forward Movement, RenewalWorks and the office of our Presiding Bishop. This book club will read the Gospel of Luke in the season of Lent, which starts soon. Then we will read the Acts of the Apostles in the season of Easter, ending late in May. Each day, a short portion of Luke’s writing will be assigned.

The work I do is based on research that shows that reading scripture has a transformative effect on the people who do it regularly. We are wondering what kind of power could be unleashed if a whole denomination read the same biblical material. There is one way to find out. Just do it. If you’re intrigued, tempted to give it a try, go to www.goodbookclub.org which provides all kinds of resources to assist you in this project. You can order a poster, a calendar for each of the two seasons. There are study guides. Forward Day By Day will use readings from Luke’s books as guide for meditation.

And for the next couple months, these Monday messages will reflect something from the passages we’ve read over the week. I hope you’ll join in this journey.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[k] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
-Luke 24

Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine;
thyself at thine own board make manifest
in thine own Sacrament of Bread and Wine.


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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 (January 29, 2018)

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Ethel was a distinctively unhappy person, gifted in sharing that spirit. That spirit was indeed contagious. As she made people around her unhappy, her loneliness deepened. Even her children paid her little mind. (Note: Ethel is not really the name of this woman I knew a few years ago.)

She lived in a residence for folks who were getting on in years. She had given up her car, which added to isolation and limited her freedom. Folks had volunteered to drive her to church, but she declined. Her arthritis meant that it took too long to get ready to go to church on Sunday mornings. She rarely showed up, so I would visit her.

Her residence was near a university. One semester, students from that school volunteered to teach residents how to get on the internet. Ethel, quite bright, was interested and skilled. Before long, she was meeting people online, including Bud from Oklahoma, hundreds of miles away. (I changed Bud’s name too.) I began to hear a lot about Bud, a widower in his 70’s who had a Harley. Soon I learned that Bud was coming to town for a visit.

I was sitting at my desk one morning and looked out the window. A Harley pulled into the driveway. Two figures dressed in shiny white jumpsuits dismounted. Helmets came off and I was introduced to Bud. Ethel told me they were off for a week long motorcycle tour. As Dave Barry says: I’m not making this up. Love had conquered the debilitating arthritis that had so limited Ethel’s life. I was happy for Ethel. Her neighbors were happy for Ethel. Ethel was happy for Ethel.

Last week, I came across a photo of her in that silvery jumpsuit. It reminded me of how debilitating and self-fulfilling loneliness can be. It affirmed the possibility that people can change, that they can be changed. It made me think that if we are to be changed for the better, it will come from the heart. It will be about love. So to channel my inner Tina Turner: What’s love got to do with it?

When Jesus was asked about the path to eternal life (i.e., the path to the experience of God’s life that can begin right now and doesn’t end) he said it’s simple but not easy. It’s one thing that is really two. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor. He modeled that for us. We call it grace. We respond with gratitude and generosity. That kind of love is our goal, our highest purpose, the intention behind our creation. It’s why we’re here. When we tap into that love, it changes us, and the relationships around us. It allows us to do things we never thought we could do. If an arthritic woman in her late 70’s can hop on a Harley, love can find a way. Or as Rob Bell says, love wins.

So what does it mean to grow in love of God? If you’re not sure how that happens, maybe begin with the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila: God, I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you. Then practice those things that build love in any other relationship. Spend quality time with that person. Learn about the other person. Give thanks for that person. Imitate what you admire in that person.

If we apply that to a relationship with God, it means we spend time with God, which among other things means prayer, listening as much as talking. It means we learn about the other person, which means among other things that we learn the stories of scripture, stories of mercy. It means we give thanks for that person, never forgetting grace we’ve experienced. Eucharist (which means thanksgiving) is an amazing way to do that. And it means taking on the qualities that we love in that person. As we come to know grace, then we come to show grace.

Then hop on the Harley.

-Jay Sidebotham

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

– I Corinthians 13


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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 (January 22, 2018)

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Church geek alert: Today finds us half way through a special week in the church calendar. It’s called the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It runs from January 18 through January 25 and is bracketed by two feast days.

January 18 is called the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter. It is dedicated to the first ever-recorded example of public opinion polling. Jesus asks his disciples: What’s the buzz? Who do people say that I am? The disciples give a variety of rather detached, risk-free answers. Then Jesus zooms in with laser-like focus, posing one of the most important questions in the New Testament: But who do you say that I am? Peter, always the first to speak, says that Jesus is the Messiah. That’s his confession, a turning point for Peter, and for the church.

January 25 is called the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, when the apostle was knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus with a vision of Jesus who asks Paul: Why are you persecuting me? Paul responds with his own question, another important question in the New Testament: Who are you Lord? It’s the moment of his conversion, a turning point for St. Paul, and for the church.

Why does any of this matter?

What’s interesting to me as I read the New Testament is that I’m guessing there was no bromance between Peter and Paul. Each with strong ego, they had several run-ins. They saw ministry from different perspectives. They agreed that their work would not be done side by side. But they each made remarkable contributions to the growth of the church, to the spread of the news about Jesus. We’re indebted to them, beneficiaries of their ministries.

Their stories indicate that the church is not a place where we will always agree. In the church, we may bump up against people who are different, people we may not like all that much. From the first days of the church, there has been conflict. It’s been true since. Which is why this week matters.

The week says to me, first of all, that we are to pray for unity. We are to recognize that when it happens in our world, it comes as gift. Our inclination is to focus on self. We need help if we are to experience unity, not only in the church, but in families, offices and, Lord knows, in our politics. Where do you need that grace this morning?

It says to me that we pray this week as Christians, as a group of people trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. We need some help with that too. Neitzsche once said: Jesus’ disciples will need to look more saved if I am to believe in their savior. Those of us whose journey unfolds in the Christian tradition (there are some readers whose journeys unfold in other traditions) commit to that pathway of grace, compassion and service exhibited by Jesus, a pathway haltingly traveled by his followers. How might we follow his example today?

It says to me that we are praying for unity, not uniformity, homogeneity, agreement, or even orthodoxy. Too often Christian communities of all kind, progressive and conservative, add conditions to the gospel of grace. (Something that made St Paul angry, and that’s not a pretty sight). The most persistent image for the church in the New Testament is the body of Christ, an image of unity comprised of diverse parts. We get another image in the architecture of the National Cathedral. It is really called the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. The two stories highlighted this morning are depicted on the front exterior, but notably as far away from each other as possible. How can you see yourself as part of the body of Christ, unity out of diversity?

Pray this week for unity, in the church, for sure, but also in any place where human relationships are broken, dividing walls are built, where disregard is trumping confidence in the dignity of every human being. Let your prayer be offered not only with your lips but in your life. Somehow.

-Jay Sidebotham

From Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s recent Georgia Revival Sermon:

Jesus said love your neighbor. You don’t have to like everybody. Like is a personal preference. Love is a commitment. That’s the way of love we get from Jesus.
(See his whole sermon here on Facebook beginning at 30:00 min)

The story of the Confession of St. Peter

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

-Matthew 16

The story of the Conversion of St. Paul

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me.

-Galatians 1:11-24


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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 (January 15, 2018)

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An Inescapable Network of Mutuality

For many reasons, it is meet and right this morning to recall the words from Dr. King included below, part of a letter written from a Birmingham jail. The past week of 24/7 news has left me wondering whether Dr. King was right, whether the way we now live is the way God’s universe is really made. Was Dr. King dreaming?

I recently participated in a group in my town, different folks from different walks of life gathered to think about how we address challenges facing our community, a reflection of wider challenges facing our nation. The fine facilitator tried to bring focus to our discussions. He led us in creation of a list of the issues our group could address. We knew we couldn’t do everything. Maybe we could not even do much. But we believed we could do something.

We quickly came up with a list of issues to address: poverty, discrimination, incarceration, education, income inequality, housing, homelessness, health care, child care, elder care. I bet you could come up with a very long list in very short order.

There were many voices, so I didn’t add to the list, but on the drive home, this issue came to mind. How might it be possible for us to see that in our communities, we are connected? How can we build a culture in which we share and bear responsibility for each other, built on the conviction that we are meant to be in community, that we are meant for communion?

Maybe there was a time when that sense was prevalent. Maybe not. Forgive me if I’m repeating this story about Mayor LaGuardia, as told by Brennan Manning in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. In the middle of the Great Depression, the mayor turned up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. An old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. Her daughter’s husband had left. Her daughter was sick. Her grandchildren were hungry. The shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people a lesson.” LaGuardia said to the woman: “I’ve got to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.”

As the mayor pronounced sentence, he was reaching into his pocket. He tossed a bill into his hat, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit. Furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” $47.50 was turned over to the woman. Fifty cents (a big hit in those days) was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

All I know is that almost 50 years after Martin Luther King lost his life, gave his life, our country seems to lack that sense that we are in this together, that whatever affects one affects all. Our culture is gripped by division, leaders making things worse, as we are plagued by discourse undermining the dream of a single garment of destiny.

Jesus prayed on the night before he died for his disciples that we all may be one. I’m praying he is praying for us now.

-Jay Sidebotham

We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jesus prayed: ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
-John 17

From the Baptismal Covenant:

Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will with God’s help.


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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 (January 8, 2018)

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I recently heard New Year’s resolutions described as a to-do list for the first week of January. I’m wondering on this Monday morning, one week into 2018, how you are doing on your own resolutions?

A wise friend pointed me to an op-ed piece The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions, by David DeSteno, N.Y. Times, 12.29). The article talked about resolutions, how and why and whether they make a difference. The statistics aren’t great. By January 8, 25% of resolutions have “fallen by the wayside.” By end of year, less than 10% have been fully kept.

I’ve always regarded New Year’s resolutions with some suspicion. Same for Lenten disciplines, or commitments to change my life upon milestone birthdays (the ones with zeroes on the end). A resolution can become one big, looming ought, another piece of evidence (as if needed) that I fall short. They become obligations. They are more about rules, and less about grace.

Spiritually speaking, they can become what one preacher called ‘teeth-gritting Christianity.” I will be a better person. I will be a more loving person. It’s my duty. It’s what good people do. It’s what clergy do. The problem with making resolutions is two-fold for me. First, it’s apparently not all that effective. Second, it’s not very graceful.

So I found this op-ed piece illuminating. It wasn’t written by a preacher. It was written by a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. A great deal of the article has to do with self-control. That caught my eye, because in the work we do charting spiritual growth with RenewalWorks, we note that one of the important virtues for folks in the spiritual continuum is self-control. St. Paul lists it as one of the fruits of the spirit. Too often in my own experience, and as this columnist notes, self-control is a matter of rational analysis and will power. It becomes a kind of law. Too often I fall short. I miss the mark, which is how a friend, a rabbi has described sin.

Dr. Denota argues that authentic self-control comes not from force of will, but from social emotions like gratitude and compassion. In his studies, he has found these emotions incline people toward patience and perseverance, qualities needed to fulfill resolutions. “When you are experiencing these emotions, self-control is no longer a battle, for they work not by squashing our desires for pleasure in the moment but by increasing how much we value the future.” Theologians (and others) might refer to that as hope, or maybe faith, or maybe love, or maybe all three.

The article goes on to say that the key to self-control is putting something else ahead of our own immediate desires and interests, responding not to the cost-benefit analysis of being generous, but rather responding with these social emotions, i.e., gratitude and compassion. That sounds to me a lot like Jesus.

The author concludes by inviting readers to cultivate these emotions: “Reflect on what you’re grateful to have been given. Allow your mind to step into the shoes of those in need and feel for them. Take pride in the small achievements on the path to your goals.” Perhaps that’s a plan for the coming year. It’s not too late to embrace these as resolutions for 2018.

So a week into a new year, if the good professor is right, 25% of your resolutions may have slipped away. Not to worry. Tap into that social emotion of compassion and have compassion on yourself. Continue your way through this new year with expressions of gratitude and a compassionate perspective, key elements to the patient perseverance needed to fulfill resolutions.

-Jay Sidebotham

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?    -Micah 6

So 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.    -II Corinthians 5

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.    -T.S.Eliot

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.    – G.K. Chesterton


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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.