Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday Matters (December 31, 2018)

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O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. -Psalm 96:1
 
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.   -Psalm 51:11

You have heard; now see all this; and will you not declare it? From this time forward I make you hear new things, hidden things that you have not known.                 -Isaiah 48:6

 
And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.      -Rev. 21:5
 
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.                   -Isaiah 65:17

But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home. 

           -II Peter 3:1
 
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 
       -II Corin. 5:17

Whenever

It’s one of my favorite words in the Prayer Book. It appears in the promises we make at baptism, when we say that whenever we sin, we will repent and return to the Lord. It doesn’t say if ever. It says whenever. It’s gonna happen.

The word also appears in the prayers at a wedding. As we pray for the couple, we ask that they receive grace whenever they hurt each other. Not if ever. Whenever. It’s gonna happen (as one who has been married 33 years can attest).

So why do I like this word? It champions the premise and promise that there is always a chance for a new start. God does not write us off. God is in the forgiveness business. And just to make sure that we get the point, the Bible is full of stories of folks who screw up and find a new path forward. Moses, a murderer and fugitive, becomes the greatest leader in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jonah is told to go east so he heads west, ends up as lunch for the whale, and proclaims grace to great effect. The prodigal son creeps home filled with shame and receives a party. Peter denies. Thomas doubts. Paul persecutes. You get the idea.

All of which is worth thinking about on the cusp of a new year. What will you do with the new? We often make resolutions, teeth-gritting determinations to be better, to be different, to improve self, to assert power when we may at our core know our selves to be powerless. I saw a billboard on Saturday. Big headline: New Year. New You. It was for a team of plastic surgeons. I may well be a candidate, but I don’t think it gets to the heart of the matter.

The Christian faith, the gospel, approaches all of this in a different way. It goes to the heart. God is in the business of making our hearts new. Jesus told Nicodemus, an old really religious guy, perhaps the Episcopal clergy of the day, that he must be born again, born from above, born anew. Resurrection means to stand again. Paul speaks of the possibility that we can become a new creation. The psalms repeatedly invite us to sing a new song. The Revelation to John envisions a new heaven and a new earth.

You can look at our world, our nation, our church, our own lives and reasonably conclude that old ways are not working. (File by title: Government shutdown.) Perhaps that’s precisely what we need to see in order to invite God to do some new work in our hearts. How might we offer that invitation?

One suggestion: In the church in which I serve, over the next two months, we are going to explore the Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-centered life. These are seven simple (but not necessarily easy) things we can do to live in a new way, proposed and promoted by our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Check it out at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/way-of-love.

One of my favorite prayers in the Prayer Book intercedes for young persons. That’s all of us, isn’t it? Here is the prayer: 

God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world. (I’ll buy that.) Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

Did you catch that part? Failure is not a measure of our worth, but a chance for a new start. You’ve got that chance today, on the last day of 2018. Fact is, you have that chance every morning. That’s good news, worth celebrating. Happy New Year.

-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 (December 24, 2018)

When I was growing up, around this time of year, my mom would play this carol on the piano and my dad would sing. He had a good voice. It was a gift. Here’s the text of the carol:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
all for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender,
sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendor,
all for love’s sake becamest poor.

Thou who art God beyond all praising,
all for love’s sake becamest man;
Stooping so low, but sinners raising,
heavenward by thine eternal plan.
Thou who art God beyond all praising,
all for love’s sake becamest man.

Thou who art love beyond all telling,
savior and king we worship thee.
Emmanuel, within us dwelling,
make us what thou wouldst have us be.
Thou who art love beyond all telling,
savior and king, we worship thee.

-text by Frank Houghton (1894-1972)

Gift 

I’m guessing your day is full so I’ll get to the point. Think about gift. First, think about the ways in which the message of Christmas represents gift to you. What specifically about the story of Jesus strikes you as gift? Not just the manger and shepherds and magi, but the whole story, through miracles, teaching, death, resurrection and ascension. The fact is, religious folk can lose sight of Jesus’ story as gift.

That old, old story can get hijacked by a sense of obligation, so that religious observance becomes a duty, or a set of rules, or a weapon against people of different traditions, or heaven forfend, it can become boring routine. It can become an ought, shaping what one friend called, teeth-gritting Christianity. For some church attendance at Christmas can be a speed bump on the way to more festive celebrations. Attendance can become a transaction with a relative (spouse, parent, child) who bargains for your attendance at Christmas liturgies. We can lose sight of gift. With that in mind, take a bit of quiet time today (we could all use some quiet time,) to think about how this familiar story suggests gift. John’s gospel says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Literally, the Word pitched a tent with us. That Word made flesh was full of grace and truth, a winning combo. As Paul wrote to Titus, in his succinct, six word description of the gift of Christmas: The grace of God has appeared. What do you know of grace? That’s Christmas. Second, think about the gifts you will give today and tomorrow and in coming days (Christmas is a season, not just a day). Why are you doing that? There can be obligation that comes with that as well. Perhaps there’s fear you’ll receive something and not have something to give back. 

Take time to think about the people to whom you give gifts tonight or tomorrow. What makes you thankful for that person?  What do you love about that person? As you give those gifts, focus on how that person might be a gift to you. I know, it’s harder to do with some than others. Offer them your blessing. Third, think about gifts you offer to God this Christmas. Romans 12:1-2 calls us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice, not putting something to death but bringing something to life, out of thanksgiving, as a gift. Today and tomorrow, carry with you the final stanza of the hymn “In the bleak mid-winter”
What can I give him, poor as I am.
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part
Yet what I have I give him, give my heart. 

Give your heart this Christmas. Best gift ever. 

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 (December 17, 2018)

From Luke 3:
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Memorable Sermons

I confess that I rarely remember sermons, even my own. What did I preach on last Sunday? Give me a minute. I know I can pull it up.

So it’s striking to me that I remember a sermon given in Advent over 30 years ago. It was a sermon drawn from the gospel we read yesterday in church, delivered in a church filled with people in powerful positions. (That passage is included above. Read it before you read the rest of this column so I can share why the sermon from the late 1980’s meant something to me.)

But before we get to that, let’s talk about memorable sermons. Did you notice in the passage that John the Baptist had a distinctive (and memorable) preaching style? When I start a sermon, I sometimes begin with a winsome joke or squishy story I got off the internet. Warm up the crowd, you know.

Not John the Baptist. He looks out on the crowd that made a big effort to hear him in the desert. They had passed up a lot of pulpits along the way. And what does he do but greet them as a brood of vipers. A career killer for most preachers. But the more John does that kind of thing (hardly the stuff of a Dale Carnegie course or Toastmasters), the more people came to hear him. I think the reason is because people knew, as I know about myself, that there’s a bit of the snake inside each one of us. We mask it pretty well, especially in the Episcopal Church where we savor salvation by good taste. But John issued a rigorous assessment, and the people buy it, because they know on some level it’s true. On some level, I imagine they want to change.

So they are prompted to ask: Well then, what are we supposed to do? That question at the end of a sermon is the mark of a good sermon. John’s answer was clear, simple, practical, again a key to a memorable sermon.

Folks in the crowd asked what they should do. He told them that if they had two coats, they should share with someone who didn’t. Same with food in their pantry. If they had more than they needed, they should share it. I don’t think there has been a moment in my privileged life when I didn’t have more than I needed. That’s a blessing for which I give thanks. But it’s also a spiritual challenge, as my ability to hoard suggests there may be some viper in me.

Tax collectors asked what they should do. I might have expected John to tell tax collectors that they had to give up that vile profession by which they collaborated with oppressor and ripped off neighbors. Instead, John the Baptist tells them: “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” In other words, stay where God has put you. Bloom where you are planted. Bring the values of God’s life to your life. Bring the values of the Jesus Movement to the movement of your own spiritual journey. The impact of honesty in a profession marked by extortion will be a great witness.

Soldiers asked what they should do. “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.” Again, I might have imagined John telling the soldiers they needed to go AWOL. Instead, he tells them to stay put, to navigate their lives with integrity and honesty, or as Michael Curry has been saying of late, to focus more on the power of love than the love of power.

The point of the sermon I remember from years ago was the same as John the Baptist’s teaching. We are called to let our transformed lives transform the places where we are right now. If we want to live as followers of Jesus, we can do that right now in the place God has placed us. Faith unfolds in real time, in real life. The point I remember? The preacher told us: Live your life, in your home, in your office, in traffic, in church, as a citizen, with integrity, with honesty, with charity, with humility, with kindness. If we have been given any power, let it be guided by love. Let your light shine. 

I heard that message from that sermon long ago. I still think about it. I’m still working on it.

-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 (December 10, 2018)

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Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.
– Karl Barth
 
The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.
– Thomas Merton
 
Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.
– Karl Barth
 
Life is this simple: we are living in a world that is absolutely transparent and the divine is shining through it all the time. This is not just a nice story or a fable, it is true.
-Thomas Merton
 
Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.
-Karl Barth
 
Peace demands the most heroic labor and the most difficult sacrifice. It demands greater heroism than war. It demands greater fidelity to the truth and a much more perfect purity of conscience.
– Thomas Merton
 
To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.
-Karl Barth
 
The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds.
-Thomas Merton
 
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.
-Karl Barth
 
To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name.
-Thomas Merton
 
I haven’t even read everything I wrote.
– Karl Barth
 

Fifty years ago today

How’s this for holy coincidence? On this day, December 10 in 1968, two spiritual heroes died. Karl Barth and Thomas Merton both transitioned to eternal life on the same day in that tumultuous year. They were different from each other. I don’t know if they ever met. They came from different Christian traditions. They died on different sides of the globe. But for different reasons, I was formed by their writing, which reflected their faith and witness. Maybe we all were. We talk in the church about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. These guys were cumulonimbus. Giants.

Karl Barth’s theology was shaped by the horrors witnessed in World War I. Years later, with Hitler’s rise to power, Barth joined the Confessing Church and he was chiefly responsible for the writing of the Barmen Declaration (1934), one of its foundational documents. In that document, Barth claimed that the Church’s allegiance to God in Christ gave it the moral imperative to challenge the rule and violence of Hitler. Barth was forced to resign his professorship at Bonn due to his refusal to swear an oath to Hitler. In two world wars, Karl Barth saw sin at work. That shaped his theology. But he also believed deeply in grace, the love of God from which we cannot be separated.

In 1941, Thomas Mentor entered the Order of Cistercians, the Trappists, at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. His gifts as a writer were encouraged by the abbot. In addition to lots of translation work, Merton corresponded with people around the world, offering spiritual direction, showing affection for friends outside the community, and demonstrating ability to be fully engaged in the world even though he lived a cloistered life. Merton shaped a generation of faithful folks who sought connection between the contemplative life and action for justice and peace. He came to be a force for peace in a time when our nation was deeply divided by war. He explored pathways to engagement with other faith traditions, part of that work for peace.

Both Barth and Merton, each in his way, helped me see what grace is all about, and that it is all about grace. Even though one was cloistered in academia and the other in a monastery, both taught that a vision of grace does not remove a person from the world, but calls for deeper engagement to work for justice and peace.

Today, we give thanks for their lives, their witnesses, their ministries. We are challenged by their examples to bring the gospel of grace to a broken world. So celebrate their remarkable lives by reading some of what they’ve written (samples included above to pique your interest). Celebrate their lives by asking this question: How does our relationship with Christ shape your response to the needs of the world?

Karl Barth, who apparently never had an unexpressed written thought, did most of his writingImage result for John the Baptist from Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpieceat a small desk in his study in his Swiss home. Probably billions of words. Maybe trillions. Over the desk, he hung a print  of John the Baptist from Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece. That piece of art guided his writing. John (that great Advent figure) stands with arm extended, pointing beyond himself to Christ on the cross, where in the words of the hymn, love and sorrow flow mingled down. That was Karl Barth’s work: to point beyond self to Christ. I sense it was Thomas Merton’s vocation as well. How will you and I do that? May that be our work, our vocation this week.

-Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (December 3, 2018)

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A prayer for the season:
 
O blessed Lord Jesus, give us thankful hearts today for thee, our choicest gift, our dearest guest. Let not our souls be busy inns that have no room for thee and thine, but quiet homes of prayer and praise where Thou mayest find fit company, where the needful cares of life are wisely ordered and put away and wide sweet spaces kept for Thee, where holy thoughts pass up and down and fervent longings watch and wait thy coming. So when thou comest again, O blessed one, mayest thou find all things ready and thy servants waiting for no new master but for one long loved and known. Even so come Lord Jesus. Amen.

The Advent Adventure

So we begin the season of Advent, a new year in the life of the church, a counter-cultural season that invites us to slow down and be quiet. That’s easier said than done when the list of things to do lengthens and social commitments increase. I remember the reaction of one colleague at a church where I served. When I’d go around saying how we were supposed to slow down and be quiet in this season, she gave me this “Yeah, right” look, major eye-roll, and whipped out a button that read: “Jesus is coming. Look busy.”

At the start of Advent 2018, I was thinking about the relationship between the word “advent” and the word “adventure.” An etymology dictionary indicates that the word “adventure” originally suggested that which happens by chance or fortune or luck. Later, the word came to mean that which is about to happen. It had an element of risk or danger or perilous undertaking, softened by a sense of a novel or exciting incident. An adventure was a remarkable occurrence, maybe even a wonder, a miracle suggesting marvelous things.

Does any of that jibe with your experience? Does it sound like your own spiritual journey, your religious life? What will your version of an Advent adventure look like this year?

Is there an element of expectation about what is coming, as far as your spiritual journey is concerned? Do you have any sense that God might do something new in your life? In the work we do with congregations around spiritual growth (a.k.a., change), I have heard a few Episcopalians say that they don’t expect anything to happen in their spiritual lives, or in their engagement with church. They can’t imagine change in their lives attributable to their faith. They are not against it. They just don’t see it happening. Faith is there as comfort, maybe even ratification of what they’re already doing. But in their minds it’s not about transformation. The Advent adventure invites us to think in a new way, to think that things might change, that we actually might grow.

Is there an element of risk in your spiritual journey? Where does courage come in? Advent is filled with people who take risks. The starring role goes to John the Baptist, who risked speaking truth to power, and lost his head over it, as a party favor no less. He did anything but play it safe. Jesus called him the greatest person ever born. Just think about what both Mary and Joseph risked. What risks do you take for the sake of your faith? A risk for many of us over-programmed types would be to savor silence, to set aside quiet time, maybe just unplug for a bit. Maybe a risk is to take even a small stand for justice and peace, to give to help those in need. The Advent adventure calls us to step out in faith.

Is there any sense of wonder connected with your spiritual journey? What causes you to wonder? If an adventure is indeed a remarkable occurrence, a wonder, a miracle suggesting marvelous things, then Christmas fills that bill. Can we take this time to keep focus on the reason for the season, which is to celebrate the miracle of the word made flesh, God present with us, born into humble surroundings, born into our hearts. Grace has appeared. The Advent adventure calls us to focus on that miracle, mindful of what Albert Einstein said: “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

Take this holy season to ask: In what way can you describe your spiritual journey as an adventure? And then discover your own version of an Advent adventure.

-Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (November 26, 2018)

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 Psalm 109:1-3
 
Hold not your tongue, O God of my praise, for the mouth of the wicked, the mouth of the deceitful is opened against me.
They speak to me with a lying tongue, they encompass me with hateful words.
Despite my love, they accuse me. But as for me, I pray for them.
 
Matthew 5:44: From Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
 
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
 
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.
– G.K.Chesterton
 
Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.
– Mahatma Gandhi
 

A blessed CyberMonday

I guess this is the day I’m supposed to shop online. So don’t tell my family, but I found a site that has some cheery season’s greetings on t-shirts, gifts that may well appear under the tree at my house. Again, mum’s the word. Herewith a sample of t-shirt messages that caught my eye:

My wife says I only have two faults: I don’t listen and something else.

I’m not arguing. I’m simply explaining why I’m right.

People say I’m condescending (that means I talk down to people)

I’m particularly taken with that last one about condescension. I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase occasionally heard in my neck of the woods. Often people make some snarky observation about somebody. Then they punctuate cutting, critical comments with the ever-popular “Bless their hearts” as if to soften the blow. It doesn’t.

All of which has led me, in turn, to think about what it means to bless other people. I’m thinking of something beyond gesundheit. How do we bless? And why? A friend recently came to me with a question, a quandary. This person was powerless over her own judgmental spirit against someone in her life. She had no illusion that this other person would change. She needed counsel about how to manage her own feelings. What would you have said to her?

I told her I’d pray about it, which is sort of a way of stalling because I didn’t really know how to answer. You see, it’s a spiritual growth edge for me as well.

As I reflected on her heartfelt question, her desire to be more loving, more like Jesus, the answer that came to me (later) had to do with blessing. What would it mean to pray God’s blessing on the person who triggered judgment? What would it mean to pray God’s blessing on people who have done you wrong? Not in a condescending way, but in a way that wished that person well, that recognized that God loved that person without condition, a person made in God’s image.

I’ve heard for years that a way to navigate ill feeling, hurt, resentment toward another person (justified or not) is to pray for that person. That is not some new, power-of-positive thinking idea. It’s not a gimmick, but it can become a spiritual practice. Every time I read Psalm 109, I’m struck with the wisdom of the author who contended with enemies.  The psalmist admits: Despite my love, my enemies accuse me, but as for me, I pray for them.

Jesus may have had that psalm in mind when he preached the Sermon on the Mount. He told his disciples to pray for enemies. I have a feeling that advice was meant more for the person who was called to prayer, and not so much for the enemy. I suspect, in the final analysis, we can’t do much to change attitudes or actions of others, people we know from work, neighborhoods, relatives, political or religious leaders. That kind of change is God’s work.

But we can come to a new place in our own hearts, in the ways we regard them. It usually begins with some awareness that we have been blessed, graced, forgiven ourselves. Jesus came preaching and practicing forgiveness to show us a new freedom. He came to invite us to a place of blessing, not in some condescending way, but wishing the best, wishing healing and wholeness for those who push our buttons, speaking goodness into their lives, maybe recognizing our own part in broken relationships.

Bless you in your day. Bless you in this holy season. May you and I be a blessing this week. And may all those in our lives, those we love and those who drive us nuts, be blessed.

-Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (November 19, 2018)

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The collect for Thanksgiving Day
 
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
 
Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time.
-Corrie Ten Boom
 
Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.
-C.H.Spurgeon
 
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.
-Amit Ray 
Om Chanting and Meditation
 
There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.
-Henry David Thoreau
 
All I have needed, thy hand has provided. Great is they faithfulness, Lord unto me.
 

Did you catch the recent interview on the talk show “Faith in Focus“? Stephen Colbert spoke of his shift from atheism to Christian faith. It happened when he was in his early 20’s, working in Chicago. On a cold night someone on the street handed him a Bible, one with an index suggesting particular verses for particular situations. Colbert was at the time dealing with anxiety, so he looked up the verse to address that challenge. He was directed to a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Oddly enough, that passage happens to be the gospel chosen for this coming Thursday, the Feast of Thanksgiving, one of the few secular holidays that has made its way into the church calendar. Here’s the passage:

Jesus says: Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear….Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.

For Colbert, reading that passage was transformational. He stood on that cold street corner and read the entire sermon. He said he felt lightened. He said his life has never been the same. He now never goes anywhere without a Bible.

I suspect that scripture can have that effect on us as well, and maybe especially in this week. Scriptures chosen for Thanksgiving Day point to a way to move beyond anxiety and fear. I’m guessing that these readings were selected because the offering of thanksgiving in some way counters this kind of worry.

I don’t know how you cope with worries, fears, anxieties. They often get the best of me in most unproductive ways. I often fret in the middle of the night about stuff that will happen the next day. Sometimes those concerns never materialize. Sometimes they come out entirely differently than my anxious predictions. Sometimes they make me unpleasant towards spouse and other people I care about. Sometimes they displace things I should probably be worrying about.

I’m taken with the thought that thanksgiving counters anxiety. Such grateful intentionality often begins with a look in the spiritual rear view mirror, seeing where blessings have come in the past. A common practice in many faith traditions is to list a few things for which one is grateful on a daily basis. One rabbi I know told her congregation to list 100 on a daily basis. Just naming those 100 things, when I’ve tried to do it, crowds out space for anxious thought. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot this week. See what emerges for you.

And we don’t need to limit thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November. Our principal act of worship, the eucharist, is really a thanksgiving meal. Eucharist means thanksgiving. Every time we participate, we are focusing our lives by giving thanks.

This attitude of gratitude is not denial. It’s not a refusal to admit good reason for concern. It recognizes that hard things come our way. It doesn’t sugar coat the power of those challenges. But it does offer perspective, as a grateful look in the rear view mirror offers a way to look ahead through a much broader windshield, helping us see more clearly where we are and where we are headed, pointing us in a more loving, liberating, life-giving direction.

Blessings in this week devoted to thanksgiving. One of my 100 thanksgivings this week: the opportunity to connect with you on Monday morning, and any attentiveness you extend to my Monday morning ramblings. Thank you. Thank God.

-Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (November 12, 2018)

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A prayer for heroic service:
O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
 
A prayer for the Feast of St. Martin
Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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

The coincidence has never been lost on me. Our nation observes Veterans’ Day on the same day that the church observes the Feast of St. Martin, a patron saint of France, born about 330 in what is now Hungary. His early years were spent in Italy. After a term of service in the Roman army, he settled in France, in Poitiers, whose bishop, Hilary, he admired.

According to legend, while Martin was preparing from transition from life of a soldier to life as a priest (i.e., as he considered his life as a veteran), he was approached by a poor man asking for alms in the name of Christ. Martin, drawing his sword, cut off part of his military cloak and gave it to the beggar. On the following night, Jesus appeared to Martin, clothed in half a cloak, and said to him, “Martin covered me with this garment.”

Martin was unpopular with many of his colleagues, in part because of his strong opposition to their repression of heresy. He was an avid missionary to the pagan folk of the countryside, always a staunch defender of the poor and the helpless. The symbol of his ministry is a goose, because when he was elected bishop, he wisely tried to hide from those who would put him in this new job, as challenging then as it is now. He hid in a barn among the geese, whose honking gave away his hiding place. Next thing he knew: consecration.

Martin died on November 11, 397. His shrine at Tours became a popular site for pilgrimages, and a sanctuary for those seeking protection and justice. I think of him as we observe Veteran’s Day, mindful of the service given by people in authority. Mindful of that Utah mayor serving in Afghanistan who lost his life last week and who spoke of the need to protect our freedom to vote. Mindful of that policeman who ran into the bar last week in California to save young lives. Mindful of a firefighter who left his own house in flames to go defend other peoples’ homes. We are surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses who show us how to put faith to work in the world, whatever our vocation.

One of my favorite passages in the gospels involves the preaching of John the Baptist, a pretty rigorous spiritual coach. He speaks to the crowd, calling them a brood of vipers, and then charms them into a new way of life. So the crowd answers: What shall we do?

In Luke 3:10-14, John answers. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” Hated tax collectors asked what they should do. Rather than telling them to quit their jobs, he tells them to do their jobs with integrity. “Collect no more than the amount prescribed to you.” Soldiers come to him and ask what they should do. Rather than telling them to quit their jobs, he tells them to do their jobs without abusing their authority. “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Maybe there’s a Monday message in the witness of St. Martin, in the witness of heroic people in our own time, in the witness of John the Baptist. Maybe the message sounds like this: Do the thing you’ve been given to do today with kindness, integrity, justice, mercy. Bring grace to that place. Work for peace. Open your eyes to those around you in need. Maybe you’ll see Christ.

-Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (November 5, 2018)

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 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

-Matthew 5:16

To be a saint is to be human because we were created to be human. To be a saint is to live with courage and self-restraint. To be a saint is to live not with hands clenched to grasp, to strike, to hold tight to a life that is always slipping away the more tightly we hold it; but it is to live with the hands stretched out both to give and receive with gladness. To be a saint is to work and weep for the broken and suffering of the world, but it is also to be strangely light of heart in the knowledge that there is something greater than the world that mends and renews. Maybe more than anything else, to be a saint is to know joy.
-Frederick Buechner, from The Magnificent Defeat
 

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.
-Frederick Buechner
 
God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.
-Soren Kierkegaard

Vessels of grace/lights of our generation

The last few days provided ample opportunity to think about saints. All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween, a.k.a., sugarfest) led to All Saints’ Day (Thursday), then on Friday, All Souls’ Day, bringing us to Sunday, and one more turn at the Feast of All Saints, observed in church with great fanfare and some of the greatest hymns of our tradition, IMHO.

All of it made me think about what makes a saint, and whether I in fact want to be one too. Religious leaders at the helm of religious institutions are not distinguishing themselves in recent days (Understatement alert). It’s no wonder that “nones” and “dones” are among the fastest growing group of folks in terms of religious affiliation. When people say “I’m no saint,” it may not bespeak humility as much as disclaimer. “Don’t accuse me of being one of those religious types. Don’t link me with that hypocritical or judgmental or puritanical streak.” It brings to mind the wisdom of H.L. Mencken who noted that a puritan is someone who is unhappy because somebody somewhere is having a good time.

Thoughts about saints took me to the Prayer Book and one of the prayers which can be included in the eucharist when we remember a saint. Here’s how the Prayer Book describes a saint, They are vessels of grace and lights in their generations.

So think with me about what it means to be a vessel of grace. Someone at least familiar with grace? Someone who holds or carries grace with them? Someone brimming, maybe overflowing with grace? Who do you know who fills that bill, who lives life in the conviction that all is gift? Give thanks for that person in your life. And then listen to your own life. What kind of vessel are you, am I?

With this image of vessel in mind, sainthood does not come as moral accomplishment, a spiritual A+. Sainthood comes as gift, as grace, as we allow ourselves to be filled with the unconditional love of God, as we remove obstacles to that kind of inspiration. Are we open to being that kind of vessel, being that kind of instrument?

As I toyed with that question, it got me thinking about what kind of vessel I might be. It’s a mixed bag at best. If I’m not a vessel of grace, what else is going on? A vessel for righteous certitude and moral superiority, in terms of theology, ethics, politics, fashion, table manners? A vessel for resentment? A vessel for ego? A vessel for indifference or complacency? The bottom line: I suspect we all are vessels for something. It might as well be grace.

But that’s not all the Prayer Book says about sainthood. It claims that grace is not just for our own enjoyment. A saint is not only a vessel of grace. Saints also serve as lights in their generations. Sainthood is intended to make a difference in the world. The toxicity of discourse in our current political season shows the need for less of that heat and more of saintly light. How do we let that light shine? If I’m not shining a light on my generation, am I adding to the darkness? Am I fogging things up? Do I obscure God’s graceful presence in the world? Sometimes, way too often, I suspect that I do, wittingly and unwittingly.

I end up with a pretty expansive view of sainthood. Sainthood is open to anyone who will be a vessel of grace, and a light in their generation. And that happens Monday by Monday. How will you and I be such a vessel this day, this week? How will you and I be a light to our generation?

-Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (October 29, 2018)

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You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.

Matthew 5:43-45 
an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount
 
 
If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.
-Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
 
 
Excerpts from a recent blogpost from Anne Lamott:
 
Every so often, I mention a book I’ve always thought about writing called  “All The People I Still Hate: A Christian Perspective.”Half the people responding roar with laughter and say “I’d read that.” And half are sort of horrified by either the word “hate” or “Christian.’ …
 
You’re not supposed to hate, because hate is ugly and diminishes the soul of the hater. But if I were to be honest, I’d admit that I could still write the book, about some of our leaders and one really special ex-boyfriend. But I got the miracle. …
 
I believe against all odds, that if we stick together, take care of the poor and the very old, get thirsty people water, including our own worried self-obsessed selves, we can dramatically reduce our viral load. We can be love with skin on. We can be present in barbaric times, and at the same time be nourished by the gorgeous and inspiring things all around us. We can be free.

Loving enemies? Do I have to?

You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
-Anne Lamott

A parable, of sorts. I used to drive a lot in Manhattan when we lived there. It’s probably why I have grey hair and contend with high blood pressure. As I would make my way around town, I remember how frustrated I would be with pedestrians who took their sweet time crossing the avenues. I had important places to go. It was especially challenging if I had my clergy collar on, because I had to conceal my irritation. It’s not a good career move for clergy to roll down the window and cuss. But I confess that behind the wheel, some part of me began to regard pedestrians as obstacles to my forward movement, obstructionists, opponents.

But here’s the interesting thing. I might be driving, fuming about these pedestrians. I would then find a parking space and become a pedestrian myself. As I would cross the street, taking my sweet time because I had right of way, I came to resent drivers. There were too many cars in the city anyway. Why weren’t those dinosaurs using public transportation? Drivers, as a class of human beings, became the opposition as I walked city streets. Road rage became pedestrian rage. It was amazing how quickly the “other” could become the object of disdain. My inner capacity for animosity was stunningly nimble.

Recently I was reading Facebook with commentary on this election season. I came across a post that went something like this: This year, it is not democrat vs. republican. It’s not conservative vs. liberal. It is good vs. evil. Somewhere in the recesses of my unholy mind, savoring my extremely informed political opinions, I thought: You are so right. Until I looked again at who had posted this message. It was someone I knew to be on the absolute opposite of the political spectrum from me. I wondered if that person now regarded me as evil. I’m such a nice guy. How could that be possible?

In recent days, I’ve been praying Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. As a newshound, okay, a news addict, I’ve found my heart sucked into the rancor that seems to dominate discourse. I’ve come to recognize my absolute helplessness in the face of that energy. I’m going to need a new heart, I think, especially if the elections don’t go my way. Especially if I don’t get my way. I’m going to need a new spirit. And dare I say, I’m not alone in that need.

In recent days, I’ve been praying Psalm 37: Put your trust in the Lord and do good. Commit your way to the Lord. Be still before the Lord. Do not fret yourself. It leads only to evil. That psalm is a call to trust that God is in control, that I am not, that goodness will win. That love wins.

In recent days, I’ve been asking Jesus for help, as I consider the things Jesus taught. In his most annoying way, he said love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Turn the other cheek. If someone makes you walk a mile, walk two. He was so clear, which is why it’s so irritating. Truth be told, I’d rather cuss at pedestrians, or smack my umbrella on the hood of the car edging into the crosswalk.

This commandment to love doesn’t mean that we don’t care deeply about issues, about healing the brokenness of our world, about speaking and acting on behalf of those on the margins, about calling out barbaric behavior, about the work for justice and peace mandated by our baptism. It doesn’t keep us from weeping for our brothers and sisters at the Tree of Life Synagogue, or laboring to see that such crimes don’t happen again. It does mean that there should be no place for hate in our hearts.

Simply stated, I’m not there yet. But I believe some day I’ll get there, with God’s help, by God’s grace. Maybe that’s what heaven is about.

-Jay Sidebotham

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