Monday Matters (February 23rd, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, February 23, 2015

Renew a right spirit within me.

Let’s just say that it’s getting to the point where I’ve been through a few Ash Wednesday liturgies. That fact brings the occupational hazard that it becomes familiar, occasionally even rote. I’m not proud of that, but I suspect good Episcopalians shaped by liturgy polished over centuries, know what I’m talking about.

So last Wednesday, when I participated in the liturgy that begins this holy season of Lent, I was interested that these words leapt out at me. From Psalm 51, I was struck that the call of the season of Lent is the prayer that God will renew a right spirit with in us. I’ve read it many times, but this year I was particularly interested in the psalmist’s choice of the word renew. What synonyms might have been used? Revive? Reboot? Resurrect? Reinvigorate? Resuscitate?

But the word that is chosen is renew, and maybe because I work for an organization called RenewalWorks, my ears perked up. So this Monday, at the beginning of the season of Lent, I want to consider with you what that word might suggest. It says that we are doing something again, not creating something that hasn’t previously existed, but coming home, returning to something that already existed, but somehow got lost. Who knows? Maybe it’s a faith, a spirituality that had lots of energy, the joy of discovery, a first love. Maybe it has gone away, or gone flat. So we need to renew.

And what do we renew in Lent? It’s probably different for each one of us, but I’m guessing it begins with the notion of original blessing (preceding original sin). The thing that is being renewed is the awareness of the goodness of God’s creation in each one of us. In the first pages of the book of Genesis, the creator takes a gander at the human creation and say “This is very good.” Everything else God had made, moon, sun, water, earth, shark, rhinoceros, ferret was simply good. Humanity (a.k.a., you and me) was different. It was very good. I heard it stated by some preacher who didn’t let poor grammar stand in the way of proclamation of the gospel: God don’t make no junk.

The call to renewal, indeed the call to a holy Lent, says that we need to be brought back to that original blessing, that in fact we have gotten off course. Admittedly, that work is above and beyond us. It calls for grace. We all have some experience of being lost. We need to be found. We are called, invited, asked to cooperate in that process, to open ourselves to it. We pray as we did on Ash Wednesday: Renew in us a right spirit.

That ancient prayer from the psalmist, traditionally attributed to King David after he had royally screwed up (a few double entendres there if you didn’t catch them), notes that the renewal is not of his own doing. It is God’s work. For sure, in some mysterious way, we have been given the amazing (and scary) freedom to stand in the way of the renewing process. But when the renewing process happens, it is not because of our own spiritual magnificence. Rather, it is because God has been at work, doing creative work, characteristic of the divine energy. By some miracle, often in spite of ourselves, we have opened ourselves to it.

This Lent, where do you need to be renewed? What spiritual fatigue, inertia, ennui, stagnation, confusion, detour do you face? Pray with the psalmist a prayer for renewal. Open your heart to it.

- Jay Sidebotham

From Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.

From Eucharistic Prayer C in the Book of Common Prayer:

Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: Open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us. Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (February 9th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, February 9, 2015

All things to all people

There are a bunch of sayings that people think are in the Bible that actually aren’t there. For instance, “God helps those who help themselves.” Appealing social policy to some, but not in scripture. Or “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t tell us so. There are also phrases that may not mean what we think. “An eye for an eye” may sound like permission for retribution, even vengeance, but what if it’s about limits not license? Then there’s a phrase that Paul used in the first letter to the Corinthians, as he talked about his ministry. It turned up yesterday in the lectionary, and caught my eye (see below). He said he had become all things to all people. In our culture, that suggests pandering, leaders lacking conviction, losing identity and integrity for the sake of expediency, comfort or popularity. Not for Paul. It was the work of the gospel.

It was my privilege last week to interview some church leaders about discipleship. In a phone conversation with Dr. Dwight Zscheile, I was struck again by his gift for talking about what it means to bring God’s good news into the contemporary world. (Plug: Read his book People of the Way and also his new book The Agile Church. Good stuff.) In People of the Way, he describes how Episcopalians are called to live in our world as disciples. One of the chapters talks about the importance of finding out what God is up to in the neighborhood, not assuming we know, but rather listening, and experiencing what others experience. He talks about what it means to accept the hospitality of the world (as commanded by Jesus in Luke 10, a portion of which you can find in the column on the left), to meet people where they are, to let them be our teachers, getting ego out of the way, so that we can be all things to all people.

Speaking of ego (which a wise counselor to whom I happen to be married tells me is an acronym for edging God out), I commend to you David Brooks’ column from last Friday, entitled Ego and Conflict. He discusses the way he navigates conflict and criticism that comes his way. Here’s how he starts the column, with echoes of the Sermon on the Mount: “If you read the online versions of newspaper columns you can click over to the reader comments, which are often critical, vituperative and insulting. I’ve found that I can only deal with these comments by following the adage, “Love your enemy.” He talks about how easy it is to get offended, to engage in righteous indignation, to wonder how anyone could treat me this way, as he encounters expressions of ego especially unappealing in religious folks. What Paul was talking about, being all things to all people, was finding a way to get the ego out of it, to do the challenging work of loving enemy, way easier said than done.

Which leads to this thought this Monday morning. This kind of expression of love, the commitment to be all things to all people is really nothing more or less than a commitment to be of service. It is not about getting people to recognize how good or right or smart or compassionate we are. It’s about opening a way for them to see the goodness of God, the meaning of grace in their lives, wherever they may be. Wherever they/we may be, they/we need to know about acceptance, about compassion, about love. How will you be of service in that way this Monday morning? Who has God put in your path that provides that spiritual growth opportunity? What do you think it means to be all things to all people? Will you take a stand for that?

- Jay Sidebotham

For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them… To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people.

-I Corinthians 

After this the Lord appointed 70 others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, “Peace to this house!”And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

-Luke 10:1-9

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (February 2nd, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, February 2, 2015

What are you waiting for?

Anna gets her fifteen minutes of biblical fame in the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. Her story is told each year on the second of February, the Feast of the Presentation. Anna had been married for seven years, a widow after that. She was now 84 years old. Do the math: she’d been a widow for more than 50 years in a culture where widows didn’t count for much. Luke tells us that she had spent those years in the temple, praying, fasting, waiting to see how God’s promise might be fulfilled. When the infant Jesus is brought to the temple for ritual presentation, Anna sees what she has been waiting for. She echoes what has just been said by Simeon: “My eyes have seen the salvation.” What must it have been like to wait all that time? To be faithful. To battle resentment. To keep hope alive.

Her story echoes other biblical stories of faithfulness, persistence, expectancy, hope, maybe even holy stubbornness. Back in the book of Genesis, Sarah had been promised a multitude of children, as many as the stars in the sky. Just one problem. She was 90 years old and had yet to birth a baby. When told by visiting angels that she would have a son, she laughed. When that son arrived, she named him Isaac, which means “to laugh”. What was it like for Sarah to wait, day after day, year after year during which no angel visited? Moses fled Egypt and worked for 40 years watching sheep. I imagine mornings when he wondered where he had gone wrong, how he had squandered opportunity. What was it like for Moses to waken and watch sheep, day after day, year after year, when no burning bush said anything? The people of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years. There were lots of Monday mornings that must have seemed like every other morning, with no sense that promise would ever be realized. What was it like for them to put one foot in front of another, day after day? I think of contemporary witnesses of people of faith who wait. Nelson Mandela, decades in prison when there was so much work to do, day after day constrained by prison bars. Mother Teresa, morning by morning, Monday after Monday, faced waves of overwhelming poverty. When asked how she could keep on keeping on, she answered that God called her to be faithful, not necessarily successful.

On this mid-winter Monday morning, another week begins. Maybe you’re in some valley or on some mountaintop. More likely, you face routine which may leave you wondering when God will act, or what God is up to, or if God is around, or if things could be different. That’s where we live a lot of the time. But we are people of promise. We watch and wait in faith that God is at work. So how do we wait? I had the privilege of hearing Brene Brown speak last week. (If you don’t know who she is, that’s why we have google.) She talked about how she and her family put faith to work in the world. She said that we don’t so much need an attitude of gratitude as we need a practice of gratitude. She and her family begin each meal not only with a prayer of grace. They also go around the table and name things for which they are grateful. I’ve mentioned before a friend, a rabbi, who invites her congregation to list 100 blessings each day. These are ways that some folks navigate the journey of faith, often about faithfulness, persistence, holy stubbornness. And today we remember Anna, who reminds us that God shows up. We give thanks for what we know about her. Not a lot, but enough to help us through this day, enough to help us when it’s hard to wait.

- Jay Sidebotham

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.  -Luke 2 

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. -Henri J.M. Nouwen

We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. -E.M.Forster

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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 26th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, January 26, 2015

Waste

We went to see the movie “Wild”, a story about ways to navigate wilderness, a persistent biblical theme for sure, a theme of powerful pertinence because every one of us, even the most entrenched urbanite, knows about wilderness. Our most crowded cities can feel like the most isolated places. The movie tells the story of two women, a mother and daughter. Each find that the circumstances of life lead them into wilderness, literal, figurative. And while there are tragic challenges faced throughout the narrative, while brokenness abounds, I was struck with the ways that each of the two women discover a pathway marked by gratitude. The mother speaks of gratitude for the difficulties she experienced because she ended up with two children who she loved more than life. The daughter reflects on the painful and destructive ways she screwed things up and hurt people she loved. The journey of her life, with all its wounds, some self-inflicted, led to a new place, a new future. She was able to forgive others and forgive herself. She expresses gratitude for that journey.

I gather the movie is up for Oscars, but the takeaway prize for me? A call to gratitude in the attitude, giving thanks in the wilderness. I thought about that perspective last Friday when our church observed the feast of Phillips Brooks, a great Episcopal preacher (note: not an oxymoron) who served at Trinity Copley Square in Boston and who said the following:

You must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing. 

This Monday morning, perhaps you find yourself in the wilderness. We’ve all been there. I’m wondering how you will regard that experience, how you will think about the circumstances that brought you to this place. I’m wondering if there is a way to regard those experiences, and your life in this moment, with gratitude. To put it mildly, that’s not always easy to do.

But if our faith really is about the promise of transformation, of renewal. It calls us to that leap whereby we claim that God will waste nothing. Sometimes we see that most clearly when we’re in the wild.

- Jay Sidebotham

 Waste by Kay Ryan

Not even waste
is inviolate.
The day misspent,
the love misplaced,
has inside it
the seed of redemption.
Nothing is exempt
from resurrection.
It is tiresome
how the grass
re-ripens, greening
all along the punched and mucked horizon
once the bison
have moved on,
leaning into hunger
and hard luck. 

This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 3

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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 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