Monday Matters (January 19th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 19, 2015

In one of his several amazing books about the Civil Rights movement, Taylor Branch describes a pivotal moment in the ministry of Martin Luther King. The phone at Dr. King’s home had been ringing with messages of threat and terror, implying peril not only for him but his family. King sat alone after his family had gone to bed. Taylor Branch writes:

King buried his face in his hands at the kitchen table. He admitted to himself that he was afraid, that he had nothing left, that the people would falter if they looked to him for strength. Then he said as much out loud. He spoke the name of no deity, but his doubts spilled out as a prayer, ending, “I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” As he spoke these words, the fears suddenly began to melt away. He became intensely aware of what he called an “inner voice” telling him to do what he thought was right. Such simplicity worked miracles, bringing a shudder of relief and the courage to face anything. It was for King the first transcendent religious experience of his life. . . . For King, the moment awakened and confirmed his belief that the essence of religion was not a grand metaphysical idea but something personal, grounded in experience — something that opened up mysteriously beyond the predicaments of human beings in their frailest and noblest moments.” (from Parting the Waters, by Taylor Branch, Simon & Schuster, 1988)

This Monday matters because as a nation we honor this prophet, a prophet in the sense of a seer who has a dream about the future, but also a prophet in the sense of one who has courage to speak truth to power.

This Monday matters because as a church we celebrate this saint as one of the great cloud of witnesses who models what discipleship means, what it means to put faith to work in the world. For the feast day of Martin Luther King, we read about the call of Moses, noting comparisons between the prince of Egypt and Dr. King. We read from Exodus 3 (below), the story of the call of Moses to take on the enslaving, oppressive Pharaoh, to be God’s instrument in the world because God had heard the suffering of God’s people. Moses turns aside to see the burning bush and says the three most dangerous words in the Bible: “Here am I.’ In response, God describes the task ahead. “Tell old Pharaoh to let my people go.” In response, Moses moves from “Here am I!” to “Who am I?” Specifically, he asks, “Who am I to do this job, to change what can’t be changed, to face a problem that cannot be overcome, to counter evil that is too strong?” And what is the divine answer to Moses’ question: “Who am I?”

God says to Moses: “I will be with you.”

The Monday matters because we face problems that defy our cleverness and reveal the limits of our competence. There is still too much work of justice and peace to be done. Perhaps we’ve come some distance since Dr. King’s day but today’s news reveals that it is not enough. Injustices and inequity, violence and treachery persist. They can overwhelm. Our tradition tells us that God not only hears the suffering of God’s people, but also calls us to address that suffering. Who me? Who am I? How will we do that when the problems seem so big?

Once when I was whining with doubts about my effectiveness, a mentor asked me to name the one thing (or more) that I knew I simply could not do without God’s help. She said to pray about that particular thing. She predicted that would be the place where God would work, echoing that translation of the beatitudes: Blessed are those who know their need of God. This Monday morning, the news of the day from around the globe, the challenges of our lives as we face another week, may overwhelm. Who are we to tackle them? If that question is bothering you, I wonder if you can hear God’s response: “I will be with you.”

- Jay Sidebotham

Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you.” -Exodus 3 

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame will not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour. -Isaiah 43 

Fear not I am with thee
O be not dismayed
For I am thy God
I will still give thee aid
I’ll strengthen thee
Help thee and cause thee to stand
Upheld by the mighty omnipotent hand.
-“How firm a foundation”

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (January 12th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 12, 2015

I raked in at Christmas. Now that we’ve moved from the season of Christmas to the season of Epiphany, I’m mindful of many wonderful gifts I received, some of them found under the tree, some of them bits of good new. (Not to be mysterious: my wonderful son announced his engagement to a wonderful young woman, all of which is wonderful.)

It’s probably dangerous, perhaps unseemly and possibly ungrateful to highlight gifts which are among my favorites, but I’ll go out on a limb here. As I write, I’m looking across the top of my laptop at a small necklace, one of four that my daughter purchased for each member of our family, a small gold chain with a simple medallion. On each of the medallions is engraved the same citation: Joshua 1:9. If your trip down Sunday School memory lane doesn’t bring the text of that verse to mind (below). Our family has encouraged each other over the years, in times of adventure and adversity, with this call to courage. We are bound to each other by that call, which is why we each got that same necklace.

That verse from the book of Joshua was given to the children of Israel as they were facing new challenges, forging a new community, ready for the new thing God had for them to do. That call bound them together.

A variation of the verse occurs in several places in the psalms, that book which is really a guide to liturgy. Episcopalians may note that the call to courage surfaces in our own liturgy. The prayer we say after communion, as we are sent into the world, asks that we will have “strength and courage to love and serve with gladness and singleness of heart”. The call to courage has for centuries found its way into worship. Who knew that worship was meant to give us courage? It binds us together to face the world.

Think with me this Monday morning about the word courage. It connotes bravery, the willingness to face fears and failure. Brene Brown writes powerfully about the call to be courageous, noting how responding to the call with vulnerability can bind communities together. Her book Daring Greatly was prompted by a speech given by Teddy Roosevelt, especially this excerpt: “It is not the critic who counts…the credit belongs to the [man] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming…at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.” A call to courage.

But perhaps more than bravery, the power of the word comes from its link to the French word for heart (coeur), which is to say that on some level, the courage to which are called, the courage binding us together and provides a way to move forward, is a matter of heart. As we note in the work we do focused on spiritual growth, that movement is really about the deepening of love of God and neighbor. So if we are called to be of good courage, we are called to deeper love. As Brene Brown says: “Our communities need love and a sense of belonging. In their absence, there is always suffering. We all need to be seen and loved. We all need to belong. We all need to be brave.”

As a hack, amateur cartoonist, I’ve been so saddened by what unfolded in Paris last week. The events have caused me to think about who “je suis”. My thoughts have been led to the ministry of Karen Armstrong, former nun, now prominent religious scholar with a vocation to think about how the world’s religions can possibly get along, how we can have courage for the facing of this hour. We need her now more than ever. She has devoted time, talent and treasure to presenting compassion as the highest common value among the great faith traditions. Consider her insight: “Religious people often prefer to be right rather than compassionate. Often, they don’t want to give up their egotism. They want their religion to endorse their ego, their identity.”

Her call to compassion seems to me to be a lot like the call to courage. That call to be compassionate (literally, compassion means suffering with) seems currently compelling. Will you join me with strength and courage to consider what a more compassionate world might look like, daring to shift the focus from self to the other, praying for those like the people of Paris now called to courage? Will you join in the challenge of considering courageous ways to be more compassionate this Monday, January 12, with the people you’ll see in the next moments: family, friends, co-workers. This is hard work. Jesus knew how to do it. He teaches how to do it. I wonder if we will learn.

- Jay Sidebotham

 I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. -Joshua 1:9

 Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage. Wait for the Lord. -Psalm 27:14

Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. -Psalm 31:24

Grant us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart; through Christ our Lord. -The Book of Common Prayer page 365

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (January 5th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 5, 2015

It’s become a habit, maybe on a good day a spiritual discipline, always a gift. I hop in the car, dogs in tow, and drive a few miles down to the beach to watch the sun break the horizon. It means a lot to me. It’s quiet. It’s stunningly beautiful. It’s awesome, in the true sense of the word. It puts me in my place. It offers perspective. It’s different every morning. It’s a place to focus on the things for which I’m grateful, to offer the intercessions on my heart, to focus on how I may be of service in the next 24 hours. As a discipline, it’s given me time to be mindful that each day is a gift and to challenge myself to use the days wisely. On most days, I’m pretty much alone, perhaps one or two folks in sight as I look up and down miles of beach.

The spirit led me in this ritual last Thursday, a.k.a., New Year’s Day. I had gone to bed pretty early the night before (a huge surprise to those who know me) so it was not a big deal to get up early. I expected to be alone, revelers still recovering. But as I drove down towards the beach in the moments before sunrise, cars sped by me. When I got to “my” parking lot, there were no spaces left. I had to find a new place to park That was annoying. I’m an Episcopalian, and we don’t like liturgy interrupted.

As I walked on to the beach, I realized I was not the only one on this first day of 2015 to think about starting it by watching the sun come up. The place was crowded. There were groups of young folks who had clearly not gone to bed yet, or sobered up yet, still very much in a party mood. There were couples who sat looking over the expanse of water, blankets wrapping them in a huddle. Individuals stood or sat, some with cameras, waiting and watching until the blaze broke the surface of the sea and another day began. With that new light, 2014 was behind us, not an altogether bad thing, since it’s been a rough year for many. We were all there together, a congregation celebrating the gift of a new day, a new year, with new challenge, new opportunity.

That this one sunrise marks a new year is arbitrary, I suppose. The sun is just doing what the sun has been doing for a while. The earth is spinning just like it always does. Thosee waves roll in, indifferent to whether I was watching or not. But that community of strangers on that beach on that morning at 7:12am EST was expecting something new.

On New Year’s Eve, one of the readings for the day, assigned by the lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer came from the Second Letter to the Corinthian church. It’s a reading (below) that also surfaces on Ash Wednesday, another season that has renewal as its intention. It’s a reading about God’s habit, God’s spiritual discipline, God’s ritual of making things new. St. Paul speaks of God’s ministry of reconciliation. He invites his readers (including you and me this Monday morning) to be ministers of that reconciliation. He calls us ambassadors of that work. Ambassadors for Christ. Who knew?

So as the sun rises on your new year, how will you carry out that ministry? How will you represent God’s new work in the world? How will you participate in it? How will you open yourself so that it can happen in your life, in your heart, in this day which the Lord has made, in the coming year which will be filled with challenge, opportunity and surprises.

- Jay Sidebotham

 

A Collect for Grace:

Lord God, Almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 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. -II Corinthians 5:17-20

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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 22nd, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, December 22, 2014 

Doubting Thomas, a gift at Christmas

Before we arrive at Bethlehem on Thursday, today the church pauses to observe the feast of St. Thomas, disciple of doubting fame. Thomas steps forward and gives voice to what we all probably think at some point: “Hold your horses. I’ve some questions about this faith business.” I’ve long thought that Thomas should be the patron saint of Episcopalians. When Frederick Buechner described doubt as the “ants in the pants of faith”, perhaps he had Anglicans in mind. We like to live the questions, which can lead to doubt and cause us to dwell in skepticism. I often hear folks brag on the Episcopal Church as a place where one does not have to check one’s brain at the door. (That often has a hubristic tone, as if Christians who live out their faith in other ways aren’t quite as smart as Episcopalians. Perhaps a topic for another Monday.) But we love to love Thomas. He gives us a chance to talk about doubt and questions. Reflect with me this Monday morning about the doubts he had. They might have been questions asked in modernity: Can people really rise from the dead? Do laws of physics matter? Are we surrendering intellectual integrity? Are we giving in to nostalgia or wishful thinking, projection or transference?

Thomas may be the saint of choice for skeptics and doubters, Bill Maher fans. I might also call him the patron saint of the “dones”. You may have heard about the “nones”, the growing number of folks in our culture who claim no religious affiliation. The “dones” are a different group. As I read Thomas’ story (printed in the column on the left), I think he may be one of them. The “dones’ came to my attention in a post by a guy named Thom Schultz, who has written a book called “Why People Don’t Go To Church Anymore.” He describes the “dones’ as the de-churched, folks who had at one point been the most dedicated, active members of their congregations. But they’re tired. Tired of being lectured to. Tired of the Sunday routine: Plop, Pray and Pay. Schulz calls pastors to pay attention to this group, to help them start anew, to ask questions like why they are part of the church, what keeps them in church, whether they have thought of stepping away, how they would describe their relationship with God, how it has changed over the years, what would need to change to help them grow. Pastors need to call these folks (and themselves) back to their first love.

As I read the story of Thomas, it seems to me he was done, perhaps for different reasons than those noted by Mr. Schultz. His doubts were not primarily a matter of the head, but of the heart. His heart had been broken. He had been all in with Jesus, even promising to follow him to his death. He was, like folks mentioned above, among the most dedicated, active of the disciples. He had been disappointed. He had been wounded. He wasn’t going to get hurt again. He had cause to wonder if he’d made a big mistake in his own journey. He was tired of the challenge of discipleship. As I think about the “dones” I have met in my time in the church, I’m mindful of those who have given their hearts to the ministry and mission of the church and have been hurt or disappointed or spent in the process. Maybe you know folks like that. Maybe you are one of them. It’s happened to me. One of my fears is that I’ve caused it to happen to others. Lord have mercy on us all.

And thanks be to God, mercy is what we find this week. The good news of our faith, the good news of the Thomas story, an Easter story told on the cusp of Christmas, is that Jesus just keeps showing up. Herod and “No vacancy” signs and tombs and locked doors and fears and disappointment can’t keep him away. His name, Immanuel, means God with us, and that presence can be transformative, even to a person like Thomas or you or me who may at times feel “done”. This feast we celebrate at the end of the week is about God meeting us where we are. There is a way forward. There is more.

So pray this prayer this week, and give thanks to Thomas for making the Christmas encounter a richer experience:

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray. 
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. 
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell. 
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord, Immanuel.

- Jay Sidebotham

Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with the other disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

-John 20:24-29

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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 15th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, December 15, 2014 

Things are looking up

I spent this past weekend with about two hundred teenagers from the Diocese of North Carolina, an annual event called Bishop’s Ball, marked by tons of energy and thoughtful planning by the teenagers. The theme for the gathering: Look up. I was invited to talk to the group a couple times. As often happens when I give a talk, after all was said and done, I figured out what I should say to them. It had to do with the many ways we use the phrase “Look up”. So, herewith, four examples of what it means to look up. It means…

To inquire (as in to look up something in the library or on the internet.)

If I was asked to translate the New Testament (nobody asked), I would (at least for a while) change every reference to the word “disciple”. Instead of referring to a disciple, I would speak about a learner. Again and again, I’m reminded in the work I’m doing with churches that in the spiritual journey, we don’t know what we don’t know. The promise of Advent is that something new is on the way. How can we seek it out? How can we make sure we never stop learning?

To re-wire (as in to look up someone with whom you have lost contact.)

Whether due to some rift or drift, where do you need to reconnect with someone important in your life? Where does healing need to take place? What may need to change? One of the refrains in the season of Advent is the call to repent, which really means to change direction, to live life in a different way, in a new way. So much of that call has to do with the relationships in our lives. They get broken all the time. They don’t need to stay that way. Is God calling you to take the initiative, to look up?

To admire (as in to look up to somebody, finding inspiration in qualities or actions worthy of emulation.)

Over the weekend, there was lots of conversation about people we look up to, people who call us to a fuller life of faith. Many people spoke about family members, interestingly enough, about grandparents. Many spoke about saints over centuries who have acted with courage, noting that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. A few spoke about Bible characters. We concluded that God provides examples for us to remind us that while not one of us is perfect, we nevertheless are graced by people who model the walk of faith. Who might that be in your life? Give thanks for them. How by God’s grace might you serve as a model, a witness, an exemplar for somebody else?

To aspire (as in to hold on to hope.)

Advent is about hopefulness. Despite gloom and doom statistics about declining mainline denominations, my weekend with these teenagers was inspiring. It was a privilege to be with them, a group clearly committed to an articulation of their faith in word and action. It gave me hope for what lies ahead. While the news about the state of the nation and the world can seem grim, I am inspired by the depth of commitment of people of faith to racial reconciliation, to peace and justice, to healing, to ministry to the poor. Lord knows we need that commitment. Can you identify signs of hope today? It’s an Advent thing to do.

Look up in these last days of Advent. How is God calling you to inquire, to re-wire, to admire, to aspire?

- Jay Sidebotham

God brought Abram outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then God said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. -Genesis 15:5,6

They look-ed up and saw a star, shining in the east beyond them far. And to the earth it gave great light, and so they continued both day and night. -From the First Nowell

When Jesus looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” -John 6:5

And taking the five loaves and the two fish, Jesus looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd, and all ate and were filled. -Luke 9:16

Very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us form the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. -Mark 16:3,4

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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 8th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, December 8, 2014 

What people read and need most 

Amazon recently released data indicating the most highlighted passage on Kindle ebooks. Guess which book contains that most highlighted passage? It is indeed that perennial bestseller, the Bible, which may or may not surprise you. Let’s take it up a notch with the next question: Can you guess which passage from the Bible has gotten all that attention? The Ten Commandments? The Beatitudes? John 3:16? The racy story of David and Bathsheba, or the love poems in the Song of Solomon? (Pause to imagine the Jeopardy music playing as you come to your response.)

According to the data, the most highlighted passage is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (text provided below). It’s a passage about anxiety, and what to do about it. No sugar coating. This is not Bobby McFerrin singing “Don’t worry. Be happy!” The passage recognizes that anxiety is part of life. It also recognizes that we are not left alone, not left without resources to respond. Perhaps the popularity of the passage arises from the fact that the passage actually suggests ways to navigate the anxiety. There are indeed pathways.

First, we are called to prayer and petition in the midst of the anxiety. We are asked to ask for help. That is a huge theological, creedal, pastoral faith statement. It says a lot about who we think God is, and how we see ourselves. It indicates that we can’t do this on our own. It calls for that self-understanding, a dose of humility. It indicates a confidence that there is someone listening, some presence, power, person attentive to the prayers and petitions, and that that someone is capable of response in some way. That’s a huge statement. Who can believe it?

Next, we are to pray in a spirit of gratitude, again a big statement of faith, calling us to remember how we have been blessed, to look in the spiritual rear view mirror and to recount the stories of how we have come this far. It reminds us that we are on the receiving end of grace. It calls us to set our anxiety in that context.

Third, we are invited into the peace of God which transcends understanding. Picture this. Paul is writing all this stuff from a first century prison cell. Imagine what such a place was like. He had plenty of reason for anxiety. Yet every other word in this letter (read the whole thing today if you have the time) seems to be about joy and rejoicing. That spirit had little to do with circumstances, with Paul’s situation, the external experiences. Don’t we all know folks who seem to have all the toys and prizes of life but are still totally unhappy? Haven’t you met people who face extraordinary challenges who rise above those obstacles with hope and joy. A woman wrote me last week about anxiety she experienced as a close family member went through surgery. There was a lot that was unknown. There was potential for dire consequences. In the midst of it, she reported being overcome with a sense of peace, even before she knew that the surgery indicated good outcome. Peace beyond understanding.

In this season of Advent, which calls us to the virtue of hope, may this surprisingly popular passage provide pathways to that kind of peace.

- Jay Sidebotham

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:6-7, (New Revised Standard Version) 

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. -Philippians 4:6,7 (The Message)

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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 1st, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, December 1, 2014 

Some thoughts on preaching

Pity the preacher whose gospel text concludes with the words: “Keep awake” as if boredom or even slumber will be the response of the congregation. Such was the plight of this preacher (and countless others) yesterday on the First Sunday of Advent, when the reading came from the 13th chapter of the gospel of Mark (see below). Preaching is challenging enough, as the preacher scales pulpit steps to hold forth “six feet above contradiction.” As Harvey Cox has noted: “The sermon is one of the last places in public discourse where it is culturally forbidden to talk back” (though he made that comment in the days before Twitter). It therefore easily becomes an opportunity for people to tune out. In my own preaching, I strive to apply the wisdom of Mark Twain who said that no sinner was saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon. George Burns described a good sermon as having a strong beginning and a strong conclusion and not much in between. I’m personally guided by the wisdom of Charles Schulz who described cartooning as preaching. A favorite poem by George Herbert is called The Preacher. It compares the homilist to a stained glass window, and begins by asking: “How can a man preach God’s word? He is a brittle crazy glass.” On many Sunday mornings, that is how I feel.

This Monday morning, the first Monday in Advent, the call from Jesus to disciples is to keep awake, to be alert. That can be difficult on Sunday morning in a pew, when sleep deprivation or rambling sermonic thoughts or list of things to do can detract or distract. But keeping alert and staying awake can be even more difficult on Monday morning when routine, whatever it may be, sets us on autopilot. We may wonder if anything could ever be different in our lives, in our world. Mindful of that challenge, many faith traditions call us to mindfulness. In the wisdom of the Anglican tradition, that call gets expressed in the countercultural season we know as Advent. As the secular sector tells us to crank up activity, to get a lot of things done, our church dares us to slow down and be quiet, to be expectant about what God might actually do in our lives.

What would it mean to stay spiritually awake, to be alert to that possibility? It has to do with remembering who we are, and to whom we belong. Worship at its best helps with that. It has to do with paying attention to where we see God at work in the world. A good sermon can help that happen. It has to do with expecting God to do something new. That spirit of expectancy is a responsibility for each one of us. I recently spoke at the convention of the Diocese of North Carolina, led by Bishop Michael Curry, a great Episcopal preacher (No, that is not an oxymoron). His sermon to the most recent General Convention called us to be “Crazy Christians”, which is the title of a book he has written. Perhaps that craziness might come in intentional observance of Advent, in a commitment to slow down and be quiet. Bishop Curry has presented the following vision to his diocese. They are to be disciples making a difference. They are to expect something new. They are to be awake to that possibility.

Don’t think it can happen? Don’t think your life can be different? Don’t think the church, your faith, the scripture can be more relevant? Don’t think that the intractable problems we see around the world can shift? Jesus calls us (his disciples) to be crazy enough to believe that all of that is possible. He challenges us to stay alert, to keep awake for the new thing God will do, to expect something to happen.

Bishop Curry, at the convention last week, reminded us of a sermon given by Billy Sunday, one of the great preachers of the last century, who in 1919 said this: “If the Episcopal Church ever wakes up, look out Satan.” He said: “That moment is near. That moment is here.” Upon hearing Billy Sunday’s sermon, Dr. Ernest Stires, Rector of St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue said: “The church is awake. The church holds a position of power and influence. It must use its power to meet these needs, for the suffering, the wrong of the past is still here today, crying out to us. Children are still being slain by cruel Herods.”  Jesus is calling us, the world is counting on us to keep awake. How will you do that?

- Jay Sidebotham

 Jesus said: ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake-for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 

And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’ 

-Mark 13:34-37

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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 24th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, November 24, 2014

Grace and gratitude

The theologian Karl Barth apparently never had an unexpressed thought, as attested by extensive volumes of theological reflection. Who knows? Perhaps he got paid by the word. He was also wonderfully able to cut to the chase, as attested by an encounter in the early 60’s with a group of Chicago seminarians. Mindful of his propensity for writing at length on almost any subject (I wish he was around now to reflect on contemporary issues), these students basically taunted him to sum up his theology in a sentence. Perhaps if they were asking today, the request would be to sum up his theology in a tweet. Could he do it? Dr. Barth indicated he could provide such a summation. It went like this: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

In his Dogmatics, he offered a similar simple insight into the faith, a description of our life with God which seems fitting for this week which includes a national holiday promoting gratitude in the attitude. Please note: I love this holiday for many reasons, and I’m so excited to be with our children in a new home. I’m deeply grateful on so many levels. But face it. We observe this holiday in strange ways. We prepare then consume foods we love until we about near explode, thereby inducing a big old nap. We spend a chunk of time enthralled with the most popular liturgy of our culture: football. Many do battle with other consumers in anticipation of Christmas, vigorous competition such that each year the news will report fistfights (and worse) over sales items, all ostensibly in observance of the birth of our Lord, the prince of peace, born in a manger. Go figure.

Given those observances, perhaps we can pause on this Monday, perhaps each day this week, perhaps each day for the rest of our lives, to focus on gratitude, and to use Dr. Barth’s simple vision of the spiritual life. Here it is:

Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.  Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo.  Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning. 

This week, carry this passage with you. Begin by reflecting on a time (or two) in your life when you have experienced grace. Did it come from God? Did it come from someone close to you, God’s instrument of grace? Did you see it in the beauty of creation? If you’re having Thanksgiving Dinner with folks, and looking for a way to avoid arguing about politics (Fox news vs. MSNBC: watch out for flying mashed potatoes), maybe you can start your meal by going around the table, telling about a time when the voice of grace stirred an echo, when lightning flashed. Our youth calls those moments God-sightings. Sharing them can be downright transformative.

And then let gratitude flow from that vision of grace, gratitude that infuses your heart and shapes your behavior. Heaven and earth meeting. Echoes of grace expressed in gratitude, as sure as thunder follows lightning. This past week, I had the privilege of leading a conversation about spiritual growth at the 199th Convention of the Diocese of North Carolina. In that conversation, I asked people to identify things that helped them move forward in their spiritual journeys, and things that got in the way. On that second question, one answer struck me in particular. A woman indicated that her journey was stalled when she forgot to be grateful.

That’s what we aim to avoid this coming Thursday. We take a day off to express our gratitude (even if we do so in idiosyncratic ways). That’s what we aim to do each Sunday when we gather for eucharist, a Greek word for thanksgiving. That liturgy includes in the prayer over the bread and wine a portion that describes the things God has done for us, things for which we are thankful. Liturgists call that section anamnesis, which means literally, not amnesia. Not forgetting. Our expression of gratitude need not wait for a national holiday. It doesn’t need to wait for Sunday. It’s why God made Monday. As William Arthur Ward said: “God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say thank you?”

- Jay Sidebotham

 If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough. -Meister Eckhart

To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference. -Thomas Merton

When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves–that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience. -N.T. Wright

The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive. -Thích Nhất Hạnh

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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 17th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, November 17, 2014


Spiritual nationality

The pope is at it again. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. I pray for this guy because he’s shaking things up, and that’s risky business. In a homily delivered on November 7, he described what he called “pagan Christians.” Offering his spin on the New Testament letter to the Philippians, he reflected on Paul’s challenge to those early Christians. Paul asked: Was their citizenship in heaven or on earth? The new pontiff spoke about religious observance in our own time, those who may attend mass on Sundays but forget about a commitment to the way of Jesus the rest of the week (those for whom Monday may not have mattered in terms of discipleship). He said they were Christians in name only. Pagan Christians. He challenged hearers to think about where they gave their hearts, their allegiance, their loyalty. Asked another way: Where was their citizenship?

The way for someone to check their spiritual nationality, he said, is to ask some questions: “Do I like to brag? Do I like money? Do I like pride?” Alternatively, he said, “Do you try to love God and serve others? If you are meek, if you are humble, if you are a servant of others, then you are on the right path. Your citizenship papers are in order and they are from heaven!”

Here’s my experience, based on what the pope said. I have dual citizenship. I’m sometimes a pagan. A pagan Christian but pagan nonetheless. On occasion, on a good day, by God’s grace, I locate my citizenship in heaven. I sometimes trust. I often don’t. Emily Dickinson put it this way: We believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour. She said that it makes the faith nimble. (Nice turn of phrase, Emily.) But as one preacher put it, I’m often a functional atheist, my attitudes and behavior demonstrating that I don’t really believe God is around or involved or active or relevant. I’m not proud of that. I’m not unaware of it either. Saint and sinner at once, to channel Martin Luther. That’s why grace is such a good thing.

So how would you describe your spiritual nationality? Where are you giving your heart this Monday morning? Where is your citizenship? May God grant us the grace to find our home in heaven, starting this Monday morning with a little heaven on earth. By holy coincidence, last week I came across a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (below), shared with me by one of my spiritual guides. Reflect on this poem as it reminds that we are all in this together, all on the receiving end of God’s mercy.

- Jay Sidebotham 

 Christians and Pagans: A poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1944

All go to God in their distress, seek help and pray for bread and happiness, deliverance from pain, guilt and death all do, Christians and others.

All go to God in his distress, find him poor, reviled without shelter or bread, watch him tortured by sin, weakness and death. Christians stand with God in His agony.

 God goes to all in their distress, satisfies body and soul with His bread, dies, crucified for all, Christians and others, and both alike forgiving. 

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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 10th, 2014)

3-1MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, November 10, 2014

Of soldiers and saints.

Tomorrow we observe the feast of St. Martin, coincident with national observance of Veterans’ Day. Chalk it up to holy coincidence, since St. Martin was, among other things, a soldier. In his honor, and in honor of all veterans, begin this morning by joining in a prayer of honor and thanksgiving for Veterans (below).

St. Martin’s Church in Providence, Rhode Island was the place I served right after seminary, under the leadership of the Rev. Dan Burke, one of the kindest and wisest priests I have known. Dan was gentle with me when gaps in my preparation for ministry were on display, which was more often than I care to admit. During my time at St. Martin’s, I came to know a fair amount about this saint from the 4th century. Martin of Tours was a soldier who was traveling one day in a snowstorm, on the highway, when he came upon a beggar. Martin raised his sword and cut his own cape in two and gave half of his cloak to the shivering beggar. Martin apparently did not ask if the beggar was worthy. Martin did not worry that he was enabling the beggar. He did not fret that the beggar was scamming him. He just gave him a coat. I don’t know if I could do that (even though I realize in our recent move that I have enough coats to equip a marching band!) but maybe that’s why Martin gets a feast day. The story continues. That night, Christ appeared to Martin in a dream, commending him for his offering. Legend has it that Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: “Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptized; he has clothed me.”

The gospel for the Feast of St. Martin is the parable of judgment in Matthew 25 (We’ll read it in church on November 26) which declares that we meet Christ in the poor, the hungry, the prisoner. When we minister to them, we minister to Christ. When we ignore them, we ignore Christ. A parable to keep us on our ethical toes. From this passage, we get the baptismal injunction to meet Christ in all persons, even if occasionally Christ comes very well disguised. In honor of Martin today, when you’re out on the highway, out in the world, in whatever turbulence (meteorological or otherwise) be ready to meet Christ in those whose lives are marked by need. They surround us.

One more thing about Martin. His symbol is the goose. Why the goose, you ask. Well after the soldier/beggar encounter, Martin became a monk, such a fine one in fact that he was elected bishop. Like many folks who hear God’s call to the episcopacy, Martin ran in the opposite direction, not wanting the job. He hid in a barn. The honking of the geese gave him away. He went on to have a powerful ministry, so effective that we honor it more than 16 centuries later.

Honor his day in reflection on what God is calling you to do, and especially how God might be calling you to address the needs of a broken world. Who knows, you might meet Jesus in some new way when you do. Wouldn’t that be something? 

- Jay Sidebotham

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 heroic service from the Book of Common Prayer

Truly I tell you, as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. -Matthew 25

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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