Monday Matters (April 14th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, April 14, 2014

Praying shapes believing

That’s one of the things we say about our tradition. The ways we pray, our requests and thanksgivings, our praise and confession, they shape our convictions and commitments, our beliefs and practices. We become what we desire. Or as Jesus said (always good to quote Jesus): Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. So what do we pray this Holy Week? Take a minute of silence (if need be, set the timer on your phone) and read the collect for the Monday in Holy Week at the bottom.

Then note what we affirm in this prayer, that God’s son suffered pain before joy. The mystery of suffering has been on my mind in preparation for Holy Week. It surfaces in great variety in the passion narrative: betrayal, isolation, indifference, expediency, questioning, violence prompted by religion and politics. Nothing new under the sun.

I’ve also been thinking about the subject of suffering since I read a N.Y. Times column last Monday. David Brooks contrasts the experience of suffering with our culture’s focus on happiness. (He wrote that in one three month period last year, more than 1000 books on the subject of happiness were released on Amazon.) Brooks notes that while happiness is a good thing (Just watch the Youtbue of Pharrel Williams’ Happy ), people feel formed through suffering. While he sees nothing intrinsically ennobling about suffering (i.e., we don’t need to go looking for it), people can be ennobled by it. Suffering, he says, sets people on a distinct course, “dragging them deeper into themselves, finding new resources, discovering they are not who they believed themselves to be.” As suffering gives a sense of our limits, insight into what we can control and what we can’t control, Brooks believes that such insight can lead to a sense of call, “a sense that people are at a deeper level than the level of happiness and individual utility. They don’t say, “Well, I’m feeling a lot of pain over the loss of my child. I should try to balance my hedonic account by going to a lot of parties and whooping it up.” The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness.”

How many times have you heard the word holiness raised in a major newspaper, of anywhere in the media, or anywhere besides church? And it come just in time for Holy Week, a week set apart to explore the mystery of God’s suffering.

We all know suffering. None of us go looking for it. All of us occasionally cause it in the lives of others. Each of us have to navigate our way through it. We worship a God who came among us to show us the way. That way has to do with love and grace. Pray your way through Holy Week, as we look suffering straight on, affirming the mystery that God’s son himself suffered. God is well acquainted with the topic, and in some way, in the economy of faith, that mystery leads to a miracle, a way of life and peace. Let your prayer shape your believing this Holy Week, bringing confidence in the hope that will arise next Sunday.

- Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for Monday in Holy Week:Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

PRAYING
A poem by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be the blue iris.
It could be weeds in a vacant lot,
Or a few small stones;
Just pay attention, 
Then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate.
This isn’t a contest
but the doorway into thanks.
And a silence in which another voice may speak. 

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (April 7th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, April 7, 2014

It’s a joy to travel to meet interesting people in interesting places in this new work I’m doing. It’s also a joy to come home, the experience enriched by the unfettered, exuberant greeting which I get from our dogs when I walk in the door. Their excitement makes me feel swell. (Truth be told, I get just about the same reaction whether I’m gone for a week or if I just run out to the grocery store for a quart of milk. Dogs may be high on the ladder of spiritual evolution, but they lack a sense of time, which in this case, works to my favor.) On occasions when I’ve been asked to cite examples of unconditional love, I have noted the reaction of my dogs. I may have to rethink that.

Last week, I attended a conference with a variety of interesting speakers who spoke on the theme of our identity, specifically our identity as Christians. Woven throughout these conversations, a mosaic of perspectives, atheists and believers exploring the challenge of being a person of faith these days, was the persistent call to discover our identity in the unconditional love of God. In other words, it was a conference about the meaning of grace. As one speaker stated, that grace is the solid rock on which we stand and all other ground is sinking sand.

One of the speakers was church historian, Dr. Ashley Null. He said something which made me perk up my ears (not unlike my dogs) and perhaps unleashed a new way of thinking about grace. He said that there is a difference between unconditional love and unconditional affirmation. He said we get unconditional affirmation from dogs. In my case, they extend that affirmation without the slightest knowledge of the inner workings of my heart, soul and mind, the good thoughts and the petty ones and the ones that are even more unseemly. That affirmation feels good, for sure. In that respect, it’s a good thing. But it is not the same as unconditional love. And it may not be enough.

More from this speaker, who said: unconditional affirmation never challenges your right to see yourself as the center of the universe. Unconditional love is different. It calls us into relationship, calls us to surrender at least some of our illusory autonomy for the sake of knowing and being known by God, by neighbor. It accepts us where we are, but invites us to a new place. As Dr. Null said, grace is the power of God’s Spirit wooing us homeward. It is an alluring not a compelling force, triggering a synergy by which the divine graceful love inspires gracious human love. It causes us to change. It causes us to grow.

I believe that for the healing and wholeness of our souls (another way of describing salvation), for the healing and wholeness of our world, we need unconditional love, not just unconditional affirmation. (Sorry, pups.) The upcoming week which we call “holy” celebrates the urgency of that deep human need. Its narrative, sorrow and love mingled, is offered as annual reminder that we are on the receiving end of unconditional love. The week describes God’s persistent, alluring outreach to us, stretching out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into saving embrace. Unconditional affirmation may come our way. But unconditional love provides the foundation for our identity.

As you prepare for Holy Week, give thanks for the love that surrounds us, depicted in the hymn text in the column on the left. That love meets us where we are, without condition, and calls us to a new place. Let that love be the strong foundation on which you walk this week. And see how you can share it.

- Jay Sidebotham

My song is love unknown, my saviour’s love to me. Love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be. O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die. 

He came from his blest throne salvation to bestow, but men made strange and none the longed for Christ would know. But, O my friend, my friend indeed, who at my need his life did spend. 

Sometimes they strew his way, and his sweet praises sing, resounding all the day Hosannas to their king. Then crucify is all their breath, and for his death they thirst and cry.

Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, he gave the blind their sight. Sweet injuries! Yet they at these themselves displease and ‘gainst him rise.

They rise and needs will have my dear Lord made away. A murderer they save, the Prince of Life they slay. Yet cheerful he to suffering goes, that he his foes from thence might free.

Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine. Never was love, dear King! Never was grief like thine. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.

-Hymn 458

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 31st, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, March 31, 2014

Lessons from the coast

It’s only a temporary housing solution for us, but for a season, my wife and I (accompanied by the blessed dogs) are enjoying living about two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean. Not a bad interim solution. A great privilege, in fact. As long as this arrangement lasts, I’ve committed to checking out the beach each day I’m in town. Sometimes it’s a long walk. Sometimes it’s a glance, just to make sure it’s still there. It can be an experience with spiritual implications (perhaps an occupational hazard). I’m not becoming one of those spiritual-not-religious folks who replaces church with worship of God in nature. But I can see how that happens, especially when I read about the failures of the church, and from time to time, see those failures in the mirror (NB: material for another Monday message.) Let’s just say that having the beach in the neighborhood for a few months is a gift and it’s teaching me lessons about the life of the spirit.

Lesson One: It’s great.

Annie Lamott recently wrote a book that said prayer can be boiled down to three words: Thanks, help and wow. I confess that on a daily basis there is a wow factor for me as I make my way up the dunes and discover, again, the Atlantic Ocean unfolding before me. It’s so big, so mysterious, so beautiful, and new every morning. On many days, as I catch the first view of that expanse, I find myself by myself audibly saying “Thank you”, an expression which is probably more praise than gratitude (There is a difference). I almost can’t help doing it, which is probably the way praise is meant to happen. On some days, the water is peaceful and calming. On some days, the power of the waves is awesome (in the true sense of the word) and every now and then fearsome. I’m wondering where you find the wow factor as you look around you. Take a moment today for praise. See how it shifts your day.

Lesson Two: It’s always there.

On days that are full, I often walk to the end of the street after I pull into the driveway, to see what I can see of the sea after the sun has set. On nights when the moon doesn’t shine, it can be really dark. Not much to look at. Then it’s a matter of just listening. Interestingly enough, the waves break all night, whether I’m paying attention or not. That movement is constant, as it has been for thousands upon thousands of years. That constancy reveals something to me about the nature of God, always there, whether I acknowledge that holy presence and power or not. The life of the spirit is not contingent on my attentiveness to it. (Thank goodness for that, because I’m spiritually ADD.) Maybe that’s what the trinity is about, the idea that community, that relationship, that love is always there. We are graciously invited into that relationship. Take a moment today to consider the abiding divine presence, there whether you pay attention to it, that wherever you are and whatever you go through, you have not been left alone.

Lesson Three: It’s a mystery.

There is so much about the ocean that has to do with not knowing. (That’s probably what made “Jaws” so scary.) What’s just under the surface? There’s a depth beyond our understanding. One seminary professor taught about the doctrines, the dogmas of the church, the ways we put the mystery of God into words and concepts and images. He said they are like buoys that float on the surface of the water. They are not the reality themselves, but they point us, they mark for us the depths beyond our vision or understanding. As such pointers, they tell us how to move forward. And the affirmation of our faith, perhaps the greatest mystery of all, is that at the heart of the mystery, there is relationship. There is community. There is love. Take a moment today to recognize the holy mystery in which we live, and the ways that love has been revealed, especially in the person of Jesus, the one we follow in this season of Lent, the one who shows us what the mystery looks like in real life.

For what it’s worth, those are lessons I’m learning from where I’m living. As you move through final weeks of Lent, as we move to Holy Week, take a moment today to the lessons the world is teaching you. Praise God for those lessons.

- Jay Sidebotham

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.

Yonder is the great and wide sea with its living things too many to number, creatures both great and small.

There move the ships, and there is that Leviathan, which you have made for the sport of it.

All of them look to you to give them their food in due season.

You give it to them; they gather it; you open your hand, and they are filled with good things. 

You hide your face, and they are terrified; you take away their breath, and they die and return to the dust.

You send forth your Spirit, and they are created, and so you renew the face of the earth. 

May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in all his works.

-Psalm 104:25-32

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 24th, 2014)

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

Rear view mirror

As I think about my own spiritual journey, as I’ve had the privilege of talking with others about their spiritual journeys, I’ve come to believe that sometimes the best way to make sense of the present and to move forward into a future is by looking in the spiritual rear-view mirror, seeing where we’ve been, how we’ve been led, how God has acted. The power of that perspective came to mind this past week, prompted by readings suggested for each day in the Book of Common Prayer. That lectionary takes us these days to the book of Genesis, and the story of Joseph, a novella found in chapters 37-50. This is Joseph of amazing technicolor dream coat fame. Indeed his story is so engaging that it provided fodder for an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. If you’ve never done so, take the time to read Joseph’s story. It’s a roller coaster journey for sure.

It’s been said that the Bible is just a story of sibling rivalry. There are many examples of how that is true, beginning earlier in the book of Genesis with the struggle between Cain and Abel. It’s definitely true of Joseph and his brothers. As a boy, Joseph the dreamer annoyingly, cloyingly paraded his favorite-son status in front of his 11 siblings. It made them want to kill him. Instead, they sold him into slavery in Egypt. A low point. Joseph rose as a slave to a position of prominence. Joseph ascendant. But then was falsely accused of a crime and thrown in prison. Joseph on the skids. In prison, his gifts as interpreter of dreams caught the attention of the Pharoah. Joseph back in the game. He was elevated to become C.O.O. of the nation, wisely guiding the country through a time of famine. Then his brothers show up, asking for help because their nation was in the grip of famine. They don’t recognize their brother. Joseph knows who they are, and has it in his power to exact revenge. Instead, he rescues his family from starvation. At the end of the story (sorry if I’m ruining it for you), Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers. They freak. Will he treat them as they treated him? Joseph takes a look back at his own journey, how the twists and turns have brought him to this moment and says to his brothers: “You meant it to me for evil, but God meant it to me for good.” A crazy journey marked by head-spinning highs and lows, which Joseph would not have chosen, which no one could have predicted, but which gave meaning to his life, with all its challenges. It led to new life.

Lent, this season of self-examination, is a time for the retrospective view. It’s an occasion to do what the children of Israel do throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, which is to remember how God acted on their behalf. It’s a season to do what we do every time we gather for eucharist (a word which means thanksgiving), thinking about the grace and goodness we have received because Christ came to live among us and gave himself for us. The retrospection is not nostalgia, harping back to good old days. It’s not resentment, feeling again the slights that have come our way. Instead, it reminds us of who God is and how God acts, when the changes and chances of life sometimes cause us to forget that. In other words, it helps us move forward.

The present moment can seem perplexing. Perhaps that’s how you feel this Monday morning. The future can seem uncertain. We have no idea what will happen in the next five minutes. In order to move forward in the journey with strength and courage, with love in our hearts, we need to be reminded of the ways God has acted with grace and generosity in our lives. Take some time to look in that rear-view mirror, to write your spiritual autobiography. (Bullet points are fine.) Has God been at work in your life, in your choices, in the things others have done to you, for good or ill? How so? Have you been led? What (or who) were the instruments of that guidance? Can you identify even the slightest divine intervention? I’m guessing it’s been there. Give thanks for these moments. Let the experience of those moments provide the energy and the guidance you need to move forward faithfully today.

And check out the story of Joseph. It’s a good read.

- Jay Sidebotham

 But Joseph said to his brothers, Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them. So Joseph remained in Egypt, he and his father’s household; and Joseph lived for one hundred and ten years. 

-Genesis 50:19-21

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 17th, 2014)

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

What I’m working on

This Lent (and hopefully beyond), my spiritual practice is to focus on three things. Emphasis is on practice because I need to get better at each one of these. The longer I’m on this spiritual journey, the more distance I realize I need to cover, the more work there is to be done, the more learning lies out there, the more room there is to grow.

These three tools help me focus my ADD soul, my monkey mind. I share them selfishly, because if I put them in writing and send them out to a bunch of people, I automatically get some accountability about trying to live them out. And maybe there will be some resonance with the challenges and opportunities of your spiritual journey this Monday morning.

Here they are, slightly alliteratively presented:

1. Say thanks: 

Approach the day noting with gratitude the gifts that surround me. I can all too quickly focus on the reasons why things aren’t the way I may have imagined or hoped, stuck in a loop of regret or resentment (literally “feeling again). So I’ll try each morning to name at least five things for which I am grateful. The intentionality shifts the thinking, and just maybe changes the course of the day. As biblical warrant, hear what the Spirit is saying through scripture:

Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me. (Psalm 50:23a)

2. Savor the day:

Realize that today, March 17, 2014, is the only March 17, 2014 I’ll ever have. How will I use it? How will I make the most of it? The answer does not necessarily connote activity or accomplishment, though it might. It does call for mindfulness of the gift of time, the present that is the present. It might be that the best use of the day would be to sit in silence the whole time I’m awake. That probably ain’t gonna happen (After all, it is St. Patrick’s Day!) but the point is, it’s as much about being as doing. As biblical warrant, hear what the Spirit is saying through scripture:

This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)

3. Serve somebody somehow: 

Ask each morning for the Holy Spirit to lead in a path of service, eyes open to opportunities to think less about how others can be useful to me, and more about how I can be useful, helpful, healing to somebody else. It may be somebody I know. It may be somebody I’m meeting for the first time. It may be some Mother Teresa/Pope Francis noble act of charity, touching the untouchable. It may be a simple act of courtesy, allowing someone to cut in line in traffic, thanking the person at the supermarket checkout, complimenting the barista, being kinder to someone in my family. As biblical warrant, hear what the Spirit is saying through scripture:

Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble. (Psalm 41:1)

That’s what I’m working on this Lent, my practice,  a work in progress, a life-long pilot project. How about you?

- Jay Sidebotham

 In honor of the Feast of St. Patrick, and as a resource for the challenges of our spiritual practice, a portion of a poem attributed to St. Patrick:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, 
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 10th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, March 10, 2014

Reading other people’s mail

It’s bad form, but you can learn stuff by reading other people’s mail. A while ago, a colleague gave me a copy of a letter written in the 1930′s by Evelyn Underhill to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Gordon Lang. (Is that a cool name for an archbishop or what?) You may or may not know Evelyn Underhill. You might know Archbishop Lang  because he’s the guy who shows up to do weddings at Downton Abbey. For my money, the more interesting of the two is Evelyn Underhill, writer, mystic, pacifist, Christian who thought a lot about spiritual practices. She wrote the Archbishop to express concern about the state of the church in her day. Focus had been lost. The church stood in need of renewal. She longed for a renewal of the “great Christian tradition of the inner life”, a renewal that would take place among both clergy and lay people.

As I read this letter, I imagined the voice of Maggie Smith reading this hard hitting letter to the Archbishop, which begins with the words “May it please your grace”, and perhaps a classic, withering Maggie Smith eye-roll. One line in the letter in particular leapt out at me. She wrote:

God is the interesting thing about religion and people are hungry for God.

She went on to say that the real hunger among the laity is not for halting attempts to reconcile theology and physical science, but for the deep things of the Spirit. It was so simple, so obvious, so bald, so bold. God is the interesting thing about religion. Did it even need to be said? Apparently so. Apparently the Archbishop, presumably an authority on things religious, needed to hear it. Maybe I do too, because the fact is that I spend a lot of life as a functional atheist, forgetting that God is there, that God is love, acting as if I’m in charge. Evelyn, write me a letter.

Welcome to this first Monday in the season of Lent. It’s an opportunity to go deep in the life of the Spirit. Amid all the distractions, how might we return to the basics, to the understated recollection that God is the interesting thing about religion, that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God? What will you do to address that hunger? It’s not too late in the season to adopt a spiritual practice, practice in the sense of committing to practical action, practice in the sense of getting better, going deeper as you do.

Don’t think badly of me, but here’s another impactful letter I read that was not addressed to me. It is St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians, a letter that talks about the spiritual journey and how we can go deeper in that journey.  In it, Paul expresses this aspiration: I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

This morning, what would you say is the interesting thing about religion?

- Jay Sidebotham

PS: A reading of Evelyn Underhill’s letter in its entirety is well worth your time. Google “Evelyn Underhill letter to Archbishop” or some such and you should find it pretty easily. Let me know what you think. 

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you;

my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. 

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. 

Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.

So I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands and call on your name.  

My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast, and my mouth praises you with joyful lips 

When I think of you on my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; 

For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. 

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.  

-Psalm 63:1-8

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 3rd, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, March 3, 2014

Do all you can with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are.

These words were spoken by a 11 year old, Nkosi Johnson, when he was invited to be the keynote speaker at the 13th International AIDS Conference, held in South Africa in 2000. The speech was given shortly before Nkosi died. Born with HIV/AIDS, he was an advocate for those suffering from this disease. His speech, given before thousands, ended with this compelling call to compassion: “Care for us and accept us. We are all human beings. We are normal. We have hands. We have feet. We can walk. We can talk. We have needs just like everyone else. We are all the same.”  The journalist Jim Wooten wrote the story of Nkosi in a book entitled We Are All The Same. In twelve years, Nkosi sure seemed to do all he could what he’d been given.

The church calendar made me recall Nkosi’s remarkable stewardship of the brief time he was given. His words, “Do all you can…” are a variation on words spoken by another saint, from another century, John Wesley whose feast day is observed today. Here is what Wesley said:

Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as you ever can.

Wesley lived out that vision of stewardship, putting faith into action in remarkable ways in the 18th century. He formed small groups marked by personal accountability, discipleship and religious instruction. He traveled far and wide sharing the good news of his faith. Under his leadership, Methodists led on social issues of the day, including abolitionism and prison reform. He took a lot of grief from traditional Anglicans of his day, who thought he’d gone off the spiritual deep end. He was a busy guy, apparently traveling more than 250,000 miles on horseback, giving away 30,000 pounds to people in need and delivering more than 40,000 sermons. Wesley seemed to do all he could with what he’d been given.

You and I are given today, March 3, 2014. It is a unique gift. We’ll never get it back once it’s spent. What will we do with this gift? What new thing does God have for us: what new job, what new encounter, what new relationship, what new challenge, what new opportunity for ministry?  It will be different for each one of us. Can this day be marked by a spirit of gratitude? Can we approach it with a spirit of joy? Can we approach it with courage, with heart? Can we use it to be of service to someone in need?

Today, how will you do all you can with what you have in the time you have, in the place you are?

- Jay Sidebotham

On this day the Lord has acted; we will rejoice and be glad in it. -Psalm 118:24

We urge you not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,
‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!  
-II Corinthians 6:2

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (February 24th, 2014)

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

Calling all Monday morning preachers.

No, it’s not the ecclesiastical equivalent of Monday morning quarterbacks, not a rethinking of whatever sermon you heard yesterday.

By Monday morning preachers I draw on the wisdom of promises made in baptism. Specifically, we promise to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. In other words, we are all preachers, all proclaimers. We are each and all called to put the good news out there in word and action, to preach the gospel at all times and, as St. Francis said, if necessary, to use words. We are each called to do that wherever God has called us, wherever God has placed us this day.

Again, we are all preachers. That means you. That means me. I was reminded of the call to proclaim good news when I noted that later this week we observe the feast of a priest named George Herbert, who died on February 27, 1633. By way of monumental understatement, he had a way with words, mixed with a heart for God. It was a winning combination, for sure. He wrote a poem (one of my favorites) called The Windows. I interpret it as a reflection on his own wonderment that he had been called to ordained ministry, his own amazement that God would and could use him. In the poem, he compares the preacher (himself? you? me?) to a stained glass window. Here’s the first stanza of that poem:

Lord, how can man preach thy eternal word?

    He is a brittle crazy glass;

Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford

    This glorious and transcendent place,

    To be a window, through thy grace.

I love this poem. It sustains me in the work I do, as it claims the foundation of God’s grace. It embraces the mystery, the miracle that God uses any of us in our brittleness, in our craziness. It imagines broken shards somehow marvelously assembled into something beautiful for God when light shines through, light from beyond brittle, crazy selves. Thank God for that light. The poet marvels that we are afforded such a glorious and transcendent place, i.e., to be a window through God’s grace.

So Monday morning preachers (I mean everyone reading this thing), what will be your sermon, your proclamation? How are you going to be a window of grace today?

- Jay Sidebotham

Our God and King, you called your servant George Herbert from the pursuit of worldly honors to be a pastor of souls, a poet, and a priest in your temple: Give us grace, we pray, joyfully to perform the tasks you give us to do knowing that nothing is menial or common that is done for your sake. Amen.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (February 17th, 2014)

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

Power

The storm that swept through North Carolina last week on its way up I-95 left way too many people without electricity. That experience of powerlessness was not only inconvenient, but caused hardship for many. But I’m going to go out on a limb here (if there’s one left) and say that events like this can be growth opportunities, chances to learn as we consider that which we take for granted, moments to focus on gratitude for the people (and their inventions) that make life easier on a daily basis. Such events can be reminders of the fragility, the changes and chances of life, and of our dependence on powers greater than our own.

Around our house, we had a relatively few hours without electricity. It meant dinner by candlelight, kind of romantic. It meant no evening news, which some might count a blessing. It meant regret that I hadn’t charged my iPad. Even small shifts in routine make us appreciate the power that makes our lives simpler and more comfortable.

Perhaps it’s a preacher’s prerogative (or occupational hazard), but I’m pondering the spiritual application, potential parables for our lives which are often marked by fragility, uncertainty, contingency, change beyond our control. We easily forget that those spiritual lives unfold in absolute dependence (Paul Tillich’s phrase, not mine) on a power greater than ourselves. Our spiritual lives function best when we plug into that power. Like my uncharged Ipad, there’s only so long we can function on our own reserves.

Which brings me to the Sermon on the Mount. On Sundays, we are reading through the teaching found in Matthew 5-7. Jesus gathers his disciples to tell them how to live as his followers in the world. The sermon begins with the beatitudes, the first of which is most commonly translated: Blessed are the poor in spirit. I’m not entirely certain what it means to be poor in spirit. I’m not even sure it’s a good thing. Which is why I’ve grown fond of one translation which phrases the opening beatitude this way: Blessed are those who know their need of God. That I get.

After the opening beatitudes, Jesus speaks to his disciples and gives a couple images to help them think about ways to be of service in the world. Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be salt and they are to be light. If they are to be light of the world, where do they find that power? We begin to discover an answer when we recognize our own powerlessness, our own limitations, our own shortcomings. Left to our own resources, the light won’t shine that brightly. It won’t shine for very long. One way or another, we are called to move toward spiritual resources of power, energy, dynamism that will sustain, resources beyond ourselves. What might those resources be in your life? Worship? Service? Prayer? Reflection on scripture? Silence? Gratitude? Generosity? Something else? How can you plug into those resources today? Where will you find your power?

- Jay Sidebotham

 I pray that according to the riches of God’s glory, God may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 3:16-21

Let your let so shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. 

Matthew 5:16

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (February 10th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, February 10, 2014

Grace happens

Where do you see it?

Last Friday, I came out of a day’s worth of meetings, got into my car and turned the key on the ignition. Lights never before seen on my dashboard flashed. I heard strange something-is-not right noises. Rapid fire mechanical diagnosis: I left the headlights on all day. The battery was dead. I envisioned a long wait and a big bill if I called road repair. Then I saw a guy unloading a van nearby and asked if he had cables. Even though he was in the middle of a delivery, he dropped what he was doing, pulled the van over, and got my car going. I offered him money. He wouldn’t take it. Grace happens.

The week before, I was giving a presentation, after which a number of folks lined up to talk about what I had talked about. As those conversations came to a close, I picked up my bag and realized my excessively heavy laptop was not in the bag. It was, in fact, missing. My life was on that thing. I freaked out. I called lost and found, and told them with certainty where I had left it. The head of facilities, a guy with lots more important things to do than look for my laptop, dropped what he was doing. He found it in a totally different place than I had told him. Grace happens.

Later this morning, I will preside at a graveside for the mother of an old friend. My friend’s mother died at age 91. In her youth, this woman had danced with the Ballet Russe. When she moved back home, she shared what she had learned with young people. She offered these lessons to children who could not afford to pay for them, venturing into parts of town that she had no business frequenting. In a time of hardened racial divide, she bridged those divisions for the sake of art, indeed, for the sake of grace in its many splendoured meanings. Grace happens.

I’m not sure that Jesus ever used the word “grace”. But he told stories of where it shows up in life, sometimes in ways that are so unusual that they seem downright irritating. A father welcomes home the errant younger son who had flushed the inheritance down the toilet. The father throws a party for the boy while the older brother looks on, steaming with resentment. Grace happens. An employer pays workers the same whether they worked 8 hours or 8 minutes. Grace happens. A detested outsider shows pity to a crime victim while the insiders, the representatives of institutional religion, perhaps the Episcopal clergy of the day walk on by. The Samaritan is from that point known to be good. Grace happens.

Our world is starved for grace. God extends it to us, and it often gets expressed in the ways we respond to each other. Think of a time, a story, an episode of grace in your life. Give thanks for that gift. Today, let grace happen. Make grace happen.

- Jay Sidebotham 

The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all. -Titus 2:14 

Grace must find expression in life. Otherwise it is not grace. -Karl Barth  

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short, grace to risk something big for something good, and grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love. -William Sloane Coffin 

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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