Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday Matters (April 8, 2019)

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Pray these prayers as you prepare for Holy Week

A preface for the Eucharistic prayer in Lent:
You bid your faithful people cleanse their hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast (i.e., Easter); that, fervent in prayer and in works of mercy, and renewed by your Word and Sacraments, they may come to the fullness of grace which you have prepared for those who love you.
A Prayer for Monday in Holy Week:
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Prayer for Tuesday in Holy Week:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Prayer for Wednesday in Holy Week:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What makes holy week holy? 

In just a few days, we’ll begin our journey through the week at the heart of the Christian faith. We call this week holy, and the question I want to pose this morning: What makes it so?

We talk about holy places, thin spaces where the distance between heaven and earth diminishes. That can often be churches, or particular corners of churches. A yoga mat can prove to be sacred, set apart. A walk in the woods or on the beach can be holy. A certain chair in a home may be holy.

There are public places that convey holiness. For me, the Lincoln Memorial is one of those, as the gracious, wise, healing words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address are carved into stone. My recent visit to the motel/museum where Martin Luther King lost his life filled me with a sense of holiness. As visitors filed by the small motel room, conversation stopped. We were on holy ground.

We talk about holy times. Next week, for instance. In my experience, that sense of holiness only comes as I pay attention to it, which includes preparing for it. I grew up in a tradition that made a big deal about Easter, but didn’t do a whole lot to observe the days leading up to Easter. My migration to the Episcopal Church taught me that the Easter experience, the power of the message of resurrection, is deepened by observance of the week that precedes. I get glimmers of why that week gets set apart, why it’s holy.

During that week, it’s not like everything else stops (thought that’s a tempting approach). It means that on some level, varying from year to year, I attend to the reason for the season, attend to the message of the various liturgies that unfold during this rich week, in ways great and small.

There’s Palm Sunday, with the spiritual whiplash that begins with the grand Jerusalem parade echoing with hosannas. That grand procession turns quickly to Jesus’ arrest and trial, torture and execution, a reminder that public opinion can shift pretty quickly. We are nothing if not fickle.

There are the first three days of the week, each with their thematic contribution to the story. Check out those stories we read each year. Why do you think we read them?

There is Maundy Thursday, with takes its name from the commandment (mandatum) to show love, to be of service, reflected in the institution of the eucharist and the washing of the disciples’ feet. What does that holy night teach us about putting faith to work in the world? There is Good Friday, which always poses the question of why we call this Friday good. There is Holy Saturday, a day to note that grief often calls simply for silence. All of that gets us ready for Easter beginning with the Great Vigil of Easter, arguably the most awesome liturgy in our Prayer Book (IMHO). All of it can be holy, set apart.

And all of it offers a window into the wholly holy mystery of God’s love at work in the world, God’s love overcoming the worst that the world can dish out. All of it points to the mystery that in the face of human denial, betrayal, violence, abuse, duplicity, cowardice, callousness, in the face of all of that (a gracious plenty), love wins.

That’s what we celebrate in Holy Week. So how might you and I prepare for this week? I can’t say what that will be for you. I’m not sure this year what it will be for me. But God knows. So maybe we can use this last week of Lent to ask God to help us each to experience this holy week as holy.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (April 1, 2019)

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14
(New Revised Standard Version)

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

John 1:14 
(The Message) 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11
(New Revised Standard Version)

Other Worlds

My Lenten journey this year took me to Hawaii. Tough assignment but I was willing to answer the call. That’s the kind of guy I am. On a cloudless day we flew for hours over the Pacific to get to the islands, tiny specks of land in a vast expanse. As I looked out the window of the plane, I wondered what was going on below all that blue surface. It was a mystery, another world, and it led me to think of other other-worlds.

I’m a news hound, with my own political perspective, reinforced by 24/7 news sources that ratify my opinions. I recognize in our partisan culture that there are other news sources supporting other points of view marked by equal intensity. There is another world out there, one that views the world from a wholly different point of view than mine. 

I grew up in a tight church community, part of a denomination that represented about .0001% of Christians in the world. It was all consuming, in some respects inspiring, in some respects toxic. (I suspect that’s true of many religious traditions.) In that culture, we believed we had the answers. Nobody else really did, bless their hearts. My own faith journey has been a matter of discovering other worlds found in other expressions of Christianity and other faith traditions. As I reflect on the intensity of the religious culture of my youth, I wonder about other intense religious cultures. I may never know what it is like to swim in those streams. They may never know what it is like to swim in mine.

As I reflect on my privileged life, I know there are billions of people who live in communities that have been denied the kind of privilege I take for granted. I can’t pretend to know what that is like. I think of the older woman we saw several times in Hawaii, pushing a stroller with all her earthly possessions held in garbage bags, moving along the shoulder of the highway in the hot sun. Appearances indicated she had no home except maybe the woods. I wondered about her story, as daughter, as sibling, perhaps as parent, perhaps as spouse, not to mention, as beloved child of God. I wondered what it was like to live in her world. It was hard to imagine.

Did I mention Hawaii? I was honored to offer a presentation at the annual diocesan convention. Honored with just one hitch. I gave a talk at 11am on a Saturday morning. I looked at the schedule and realized that at 10am, a certain Michael Curry was speaking. I wondered if I was having an anxiety dream, like taking a test for a course I never attended. I felt like changing the title of my talk to this: “And now for something completely different.”

But it was a grand gift to hear him. A part of his gift: he always speaks of love. I’ve heard him talk a few times, but this question was new for me. He asked: Do you know what the opposite of love is? I’ve heard that the opposite of love is hate. That the opposite is fear. He said that the opposite of love was self-centeredness. It’s exemplified, when someone shows me a group photo, one in which I am included. Guess who I look for first?

As I pondered that big blue ocean, its surface hinting at another world, I thought of Jesus as one who entered another world. I thought of Jesus as one who listened to the Samaritan woman at the well, who invited himself to lunch with scoundrel Zacchaeus, who called Matthew, the hated tax collector to be one of his followers, who ate with Pharisees and prostitutes. I thought of Jesus who calls us to go into the world, not to make everyone just like us, but to serve, to share, to show grace, which may well begin with wondering, listening and learning.

The sin of self-centeredness refuses that adventure. (After all, ego is an acronym. It stands for edging God out.) It’s the pride that claims a corner on the truth, that claims with complacency that there is nothing more to learn. It’s the hubris of refusing conversation. It fails to admit we don’t know what we don’t know.

Jesus points to another way, and in the end, to another world. The entry point? Love, compassion, listening, learning. Step into that other world this week. It may be a small step, just putting your toe in. Or you might want to jump right in, taking the plunge.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (March 25, 2019)

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Exodus 3

Yes

This morning, I’m thinking of a wonderful elderly parishioner, member of a church in which I served early in my ministry. A wordsmith, her wise insights were made all the more engaging because they were delivered with a beautiful Virginia accent. That woman could stretch out a simple word into a rich, melodic series of syllables. We talked often about liturgy and literature, but what I remember most was what she would say at the communion rail as she received the wafer in outstretched hands. Instead of saying “Amen” as many do, she simply said “Yes.” But that sweet yes went on for a long time. “Yay-yeh-esssss” or something like that.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. We celebrate today the Feast of the Annunciation, recalling the story of the angel who visited the young girl who would become the mother of our Lord, theotokos, God bearer. The story from Luke’s gospel is included above. While I rarely remember sermons (including my own), I do remember a sermon preached on the fourth Sunday of Advent years ago. The preacher posited that maybe the angel visited a few other Galilean homes, approached a few other Nazareth girls with invitation to participate in the special work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe those other young ladies said “No thanks” or “Not me” or “This call is definitely a wrong number” or “I don’t see this as my career path.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. It was not without posing the most logical of questions: “How can this be?” Yet in short order, Mary responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” In other words, she said yes. With that answer she changed history. She changed your life and mine.

Yesterday, on the third Sunday of Lent, we read about the call that came to Moses via the burning bush. Along with the story of the Annunciation, this story seems to be a key point in scripture, perhaps in the narrative of human history. Moses in the wilderness (We all know about wilderness, don’t we?) is tending his flock, minding his business, when the call comes to him through that burning bush. Scripture tells us that Moses said “I must turn aside and see what this is all about.” That turning aside is huge. What if Moses saw this thing and said: “What was in that soup I had?” or “Have I been out in the sun too long?” or “I need to consult a doctor or a therapist”or “I can’t be bothered.” Instead, Moses approaches that holy presence and says “Here am I.” With that answer he changed history. He changed your life and mine.

Again and again in scripture, God calls ordinary human beings who often say: “This call must be a wrong number.” Often they seem to try to clue God in on why the Holy One is a terrible recruiter: “I’m too young. I’m no public speaker. I’m a sinful human being.” By way of contrast, each in his or her way, Moses and Mary say yes, again to great consequence.

We each have vocation. God calls each one of us. Think today about where and how the call might be coming to you. Are we listening for that call? Are we listening to it? Do we need to turn aside, or do we just keep going? Do we ask “How can this be?” and let it end there? Or are we willing to say yes?

The yes can be a simple action. It may make no discernible shift in world history. It could be a turning aside from daily routine to share God’s love. It could be outstretched hands at the communion rail. It could be the prayer: “Be it unto me according to your will.” It could have consequence we’ll never see in our lifetime.

But it begins with yes, to the God who in Christ says yes to us. Let this Lent be about saying yes.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (March 11, 2019)

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

-Matthew 25

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

from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer

Meeting Jesus this Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (March 4, 2019)

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

-II Corinthians 5:17-6:3

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

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

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

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

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

-A favorite hymn text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 25, 2019)

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Be still and know that I am God.

-Psalm 46:10

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

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

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

From THE SABBATH by Abraham Heschel

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

Insights from Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

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

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

Sabbath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 18, 2019)

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

Presidents’ Day: The Leader’s Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 11, 2019)

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

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

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

Ephesians 3:16-18


Surrender

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (February 4, 2019)

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

Ephesians 3:16-18


Two Questions

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

Psalm 56:3,4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (January 28, 2019)

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I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:16-18

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

From the Baptismal Covenant

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

Thich Nhat Hanh

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

The Dalai Lama

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

Verna Dozier


Practice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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

4
Jay Sidebotham

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