Monday Matters (April 20th, 2015)

3-1

MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, April 20, 2015

Be open

The rector was out of town. I was in charge of the parish on that hot August day in Manhattan. Walking across the parish hall, the lights went out. I blamed a faulty electrical system in an aging building. I stepped onto the busy city street and noticed people pouring out of office buildings. Must be our block. Then we began to get phone calls from other parts of the city and suburbs telling us that the blackout was a bit bigger than we thought. Lots of folks would not be using the subways or trains, so on this hot August day, we would make the church available to any one who needed a place to stay. “Let me run upstairs and print out signs (in preferred typeface) to welcome folks into the formerly air-conditioned but still cool space. Oh, right. No computer. No printer. No copier.” I found big pieces of newsprint, grabbed a marker and, as if publicizing a high school dance, made simple signs to post all over the place. They message was succinct: The church is open. Many Manhattanites were surprised by that. For whatever reason, they didn’t expect the church to be open. Some confessed that they had always wondered whether they were allowed to go in (which broke my heart). I saved one of the signs as sacramental, outward, visible evidence pointing to inner aspiration for the church: Openness. What does it mean for the church to be open? More precisely, what does it mean for the church to be opened? How does that happen? Zoom in: What does it mean for me to be open? How have I been opened? How does that happen?

This Monday finds us several weeks into the Easter season, a period of 50 days offering ample opportunity to share accounts of the resurrection. With four gospels each proclaiming that death could not keep Jesus down, there are many ways the story is told, many ways that folks realize Jesus is alive. Again and again, gospels speak of how the disciples had hearts and minds opened to understand the news that Jesus is alive. Mary comes to the tomb, her heart and mind closed to any future until Jesus speaks her name and she is opened to a new possibility. Disciples are closed behind barred doors when Jesus appears. As they recognize the resurrection happened, their lives are changed. Their eyes were opened. Discouraged disciples on the way to Emmaus have eyes opened when the risen Jesus joins them for dinner and breaks bread. Their discouragement, their sense of defeat had closed them to Jesus’ lively presence until he opens their eyes.

The prayer offered in church yesterday asked that our eyes would be opened to see Jesus’ grace at work in our lives. It makes me inquire, O Monday morning reader: How in your own journey of faith have you been opened to faith, perhaps more specifically, to the news of Jesus’ relevance and liveliness? How did that happen? Asked another way, how have you come to see that Jesus is alive in your life, that God has a future for you, that grace happens?

It can often come through other people. On a personal note, today is my 30th wedding anniversary. I’m made mindful of how my forbearing and graceful spouse has opened her heart and mind to me and in so doing has opened me to God’s gracious activity. With deep and abiding love, she has been companion, role model, teacher, coach, counselor, friend and advocate, not to mention yoga teacher. I am blessed.

Allow me a few more questions: Where do you see a greater need for openness in your life? How are you closed off from God’s work ? Pray today to be opened.

And if you can bear one more question: How might you grow in your openness to the activity of the risen Christ in your life? How might you be open to showing and sharing grace to those who need it, offering forgiveness, learning from others who might know something you don’t?

On a good day, the church is open. When that happens, it is God at work. We as individuals are called to be open to the creative and graceful activity of God in our own lives. If we don’t feel it, we’re called to ask for it. With that openness, we’re then called to let an open spirit be an outward and visible sign of grace, in a world that is way too often closed to that possibility.

- Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Third Sunday in Easter:

O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (April 13th, 2015)

3-1

MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, April 13, 2015

Charles Shultz, one of my heroes, has said that cartooning is preaching. One of his finest homiletic moments came in a cartoon which was handed to me when I was in seminary. It has traveled with me everywhere I’ve been since. It has been my devotional reading, not to mention an occasional spiritual course correction. Here’s the set up: Snoopy sits on the top of his doghouse hammering away on a typewriter. Charlie Brown approaches, asking what he’s writing. Snoopy replies that he is writing a book on theology. Charlie Brown says: You need the right title if you’re going to write a book like that. Snoopy says he has the perfect title. Here’s the title: Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?

I might be wrong, but I imagine that St. Thomas of doubting fame would have appreciated the cartoon. Yesterday, we heard about Thomas in church (If you missed it, read John 20:19-31). The fact is, every year, on the Sunday after Easter Day, his story is front and center. In the afterglow of the festivities, the trumpets, the lilies, the return of suppressed alleluias, the church wants us to talk about someone who doubted. And while he is the focus of post-resurrection skepticism, he is not alone, joined by many biblical characters who after the resurrection were confused, mystified, left wondering, left doubting. I have always taken that particular thread in the Easter stories as good news, validation of the call to question, encouragement of the kinds of questions that often occur to folks like me. If Thomas were around today, I bet he’d be an Episcopalian.

That is, however, not to confuse doubt with destination. As Anselm said centuries ago, the spiritual journey is a matter of faith seeking understanding. So doubt can be the pathway to deeper discipleship. Thomas, at the end of the story, after all, ends with one of the great affirmations of worship in the gospels. As Frederick Buechner said: Doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. The expressions of doubts and questions, the hospitality of faith communities to those expressions are key to spiritual vitality. It gets people moving. How so?

Back to Snoopy. That dog teaches us to allow humility to guide the spiritual journey. Smart dog. If it occurs to us that we might be wrong, if we’re willing to admit that we know in part (to swipe a phrase from St. Paul in I Corinthians 13), then we are more inclined to listen and learn, which is really what it means to be a disciple. We are more able to grow. One of the great bits of spiritual wisdom I’ve heard in recent years: We don’t know what we don’t know. And again, that’s not the end of the story. Going back to Snoopy, we need to hammer on the typewriter. In other words, we need to do the spiritual work, to not only express our doubts, but to take ownership of the journey, and explore these issues, especially those issues that are most vexing.

So as you make your way through this Easter season, as you make your way through this week, as you navigate this day, ask God to show you the pathway to deeper growth. Live the questions, and let them guide you as you write your own theology book, as you come to know something new about the God we worship.

- Jay Sidebotham

Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope and love abide, these three, and the greatest of these is love. -I Corinthians 13

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (April 6th, 2015)

3-1

MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, April 6, 2015

This Joyful Eastertide

That’s one of the several wonderful hymns we sang yesterday. It provides perhaps a balance to “Jesus Christ is risen today” or “Welcome happy morning”, beautiful hymns which make the point that Easter Day (i.e., yesterday) is big, maybe the biggest day for those who try to follow Jesus. The hymn about Eastertide affirms that Easter is more than one day. It’s a season lasting for seven weeks plus. Join with me this Monday morning in reflection on the character of that season, the character of Eastertide. Join with me in deciding on ways to observe this season.

I suspect we’re familiar with the character of Lent, which just came to an end. That season is penitential and preparatory, serious and somber. For some, it’s a more-miserable-than-thou kind of experience. It may be tailor-made for introverts like me, as themes of self-examination, repentance, meditation on scripture call for much-needed focus on the interior life. But the character of Eastertide? We may have a lesser sense of Easter as season. We may not have a clear idea of how to observe it. The hymn describes the season as “joyful”? What is the nature of that joy? Where might that come from? How can I get some of that?

I know one congregation, a church that shaped me as a priest in profound ways, that tried to be as intentional in observance of the Easter season as it was observant of Lent. In contrast to the Lenten focus on the interior life, that congregation used the Easter season to focus on outreach. It took its cue from the lectionary, which invites us to read on Sundays from the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, the story of how the church got started, the story of what the disciples did after they got it through their thick heads that Jesus was alive. The disciples went out into the world sharing good news. They proclaimed by word and example the good news of God in Christ. Through deepening love of God and neighbor, they changed the world. They built communities that cared for those in need, so much so that the church grew exponentially. Outsiders said “Look how those people love one another.’ The church grew because it adopted an outward focus.

The congregation I have in mind decided that in the season of Easter, in Eastertide, they would find their joy by figuring out how to be of service. They understood that service in Christ’s name, service as Christ’s hands and feet, was the pathway to spiritual growth. They embraced what Archbishop William Temple said almost 100 years ago: “The church is the only organization on the face of the earth that exists for the sake of those who are not its members.” As they had fasted in Lent, this congregation feasted in the Easter season on ways to be of service in the world, and invited individual and collective commitment.

So maybe since yesterday, you’ve resumed your relationship with coffee or chocolate or pinot grigio or facebook or whatever you gave up for Lent. How about considering observance of the Easter season, not by giving something up, but by taking on some specific commitment to be of service? Where do you see the need of the world? Does it surface on your city’s streets, in the news you hear from around the globe, in your workplace, school? Across the dining room table? Can you see a way to serve and meet that need? In the mystery of our faith, it may turn out to be the pathway to the deepest kind of joy.

- Jay Sidebotham

 Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, ‘Christ is risen,’ but ‘I shall rise.’ -Phillips Brooks

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 30th, 2015)

3-1

MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, March 30, 2015

What makes holy week holy?

As the sun cracked the horizon this morning, I’m pretty sure it had no sense that this day differs from any other. The gulls on the beach, my dogs on the morning walk don’t know one day from another. This morning’s news may be unusual, bleak, distressing, but the reports do not seem to indicate that there’s anything particularly special about this week. More and more in our culture, people will set out this morning for school and jobs without a sense that this Monday is distinctive or peculiar.

But for those whose spiritual journey unfolds in the Christian tradition, for those who reckon themselves followers of Jesus, following closely, or at a distance, this Monday begins Holy Week. What makes holy week holy? I don’t know what association you have with the word “holy”. It may conjure images of pious (and unappealing) people. You might not say it, but you may well think of them: I don’t want to be one of those folks, a.k.a., holier than thou. But the word suggests something that is set apart, and so this Monday matters to followers of Christ because it’s our most special week. To start the week, ask yourself why it’s special, why it’s set apart.

The week tells a story. The journey that began with Ash Wednesday now nears its destination, as Jesus arrives in Jerusalem. (Did you enjoy singing those hosannas yesterday?) Throughout the week, the story of Jesus unfolds: his final hours with his disciples, his encounter with religious and political authorities, his challenge of their institutional life, his suffering at the hands of good people, the desertion of disciples who deny and betray, the loneliness of the suffering, the pain, physical and otherwise, the end of life. We walk that way with Jesus this week. Or perhaps we don’t, treating it like any other week.

It matters that we walk through this week, this annual observance which serves as much as reminder as instructor. A friend, a priest I admire, posted this note on Facebook a couple days ago, as he considered his several homiletic opportunities: “Preaching in Holy Week forces you to really decide what you believe about Jesus and the Kingdom of God. I am thankful for the responsibility every year.” The gift of that responsibility is certainly true for all those privileged and challenged to mount the stairs of a pulpit this week. But it’s true for all who are called to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ. In other words, it’s true for all of us.

This week is special. Theologians sometimes speak about the “scandal of particularity”, how God remarkably, mysteriously chooses to use special times and spaces and people to further divine purposes, holy purposes. This one week set aside each year, one out of 52, may well be a case of this holy “scandal”.

This week is special. Use it to decide, or at least to explore what you believe about Jesus and the kingdom of God. Let the several liturgies guide you in that process. Take in as many as you can. Carve out quiet time. Make this Monday in Holy Week matter by claiming that this day, this week is indeed different. This day is not just another day. It begins a journey that will end with Easter joy, when the sun breaking the horizon signaled new life, resurrected life.

- 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 your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 23rd, 2015)

3-1

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

In the course of recent travels, I had the opportunity to have lunch with two motor-cycle riding French priests, Roman Catholics serving in a vital congregation marked by daring and creative ministry in the suburbs of Paris. Their description of their community ran counter to my stereotypes of religious observance in Europe, which I have assumed for years to be post-post-post-Christian. My impressions were first formed on Sundays during a semester abroad in Italy decades ago, when I’d visit a church in Italy and find swarms of tourists circling the periphery of the nave during mass, while just a very few worshippers participated in the liturgy. I could only imagine that spiritual engagement had declined.

Enter these French priests, who spoke of lively, youthful congregations, engaging and challenging preaching and teaching, daring ministry to the most marginalized in the city, offered in the spirit of Jesus. As I inquired as to the secret of the vitality of their ministry, they described a willingness to learn from unlikely sources, case in point, a recent trip they had taken. Twenty of them had traveled from France to Southern California to study non-denominational mega-churches, to see what they could learn. The visual of a busload of French priests, clad in long brown robes, navigating L.A., meeting pastors in flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts, it all made me smile. And wonder. So I asked what they learned. They said that the churches they saw did three things. They extended welcome. They expressed promise. They expected commitment. I surveyed my own experience with religious communities over the years. A few of them did none of those things. Some of them did one or two. Few managed to do all three. Those that did seemed to exhibit vitality. Reflect on the faith communities with which you have associated, those that have sustained you, those which you have helped to sustain. How did they do these three things? And since congregations are basically aggregates of individual members, think this morning about how you are personally engaged in these three practices.

First, how do you extend hospitality and express welcome? In some ways, it’s the central Christian virtue. I find it expressed in the story of the Road to Emmaus (Read it in Luke 24). It’s a post-Easter story (sorry if I’ve gone a little rogue on the church calendar, since it’s still Lent). In this story, Jesus is invited by two disciples to have dinner. He accepts their hospitality, and in short order ends up sitting at the head of the table. He becomes the host, breaking and blessing bread. And because they invited him into their home, they see who he is. What will be the opportunity today to express welcome, hospitality, inclusion, grace today? Who knows, you might just see something of Jesus.

Second, what promise guides you on your journey? Do you have a sense of the possibility that life could be different, that it could be transformed by God’s spirit, God’s power? Are you on that search, or have you given up hope? From its earliest pages, the Bible holds out promise: the promise of the blessings of descendants, the promise of a new home or a return from exile, the promise that Christ will come, and that Christ will come again. Have you heard a promise in your own journey of faith? Do you expect God will do something new in your life? As Jurgen Moltmann said: Where would we stand if we did not take our stand on hope.

Third, how would you describe your commitment to your faith journey? What is being called forth from you in your life? Where in your life do encounter the cost of discipleship? Is the cost worth it? A wise counselor once said to me, at a crossroads, in a moment of discernment, that in the journey of faith there is always cost and promise. Do we have the commitment to the journey that will see us through to the promise? We come to the closing days of Lent, a season rich with meanings. Take some time in this fifth week of Lent for the discipline of self-examination. How are you expressing welcome? Where do you see the promise? What is the character of your commitment to the faith journey?

If you think those are excessively tough questions, don’t blame me. Take it up with these two French priests.

- Jay Sidebotham

Welcome: Welcome one another just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. -Romans 15

Promise: Now you, my friends, are children of the promise. -Galatians 4

Commitment: If any one would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. -Mark 8

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 16th, 2015)

3-1

MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, March 16, 2015

Persistence

I recently learned that the Dawn spacecraft had reached the Ceres asteroid, located somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. It took seven and a half years for the spacecraft to get there. I found myself wondering about the person who at NASA was watching that progress, day in, day out for the last seven plus years. A lot of days marked by not much to report. A picture of faithfulness.

I recently heard that Lady Gaga worked with a voice coach every day for six months in preparation for her “Sound of Music” medley at the Oscars. For what it’s worth, I thought it was an impressive performance (though Stephen Sondheim disagreed). I was most impressed with the intentionality behind the preparation, the perseverance, the persistence.

I’m told that Pablo Casals, arguably the best cellist on the globe, practiced every day well into his nineties. When asked why he practiced, he said: “Because I get better.” A witness to the truth that in the journey, we are never done. So we keep on keeping on.

I’ve heard that Martin Luther prayed four hours a day. When someone asked how he had time in his busy schedule to do such, he said something like this: “I’m too busy not to.”

These random events sound like a set up for a bad joke: Lady Gaga, Pablo Casals, and Martin Luther walk into a bar…. (If you have the punchline, send it to me.) These witnesses (Okay. I admit. I never expected to write about Lady Gaga) are evoked by the season. I’m at the point in Lent, and coincidentally at the point in winter, when I’m done. Enough already of acknowledging my wretchedness, my manifold wickedness, to swipe phrases from the Book of Common Prayer. Enough of gray skies and cold weather. I’m ready for something new.

But the forty days of Lent indicate a persistent theme about the journey of faith. That persistent theme has to do with persistence. It has to do with endurance. On a good day, I can see that endurance is a key Christian virtue. It has to do with hope, that essential human quality that calls us to plant seeds for trees whose shade we may never enjoy.

If I’m alone in feeling late winter crankiness, indulge me, forgive me, say a prayer for me. But if you’re feeling some of it too, if your life has ever taken on that quality, then consider the fact that the spiritual journey is often simply about putting one foot in front of another, like a marathon runner hitting the wall. Speaking of one marathon runner, Mother Teresa was once asked how she could wake up every morning and address the overwhelming poverty which given its systemic spread, never seemed to change. Mother Teresa said: God calls me to be faithful, not successful. That’s faith. That’s faithfulness.

It’s the faith of Abraham and Sarah, who heard a promise that they would be parents of multitudes but, oh by the way, they were 90 and had no kids. It’s the faith of Moses who hightailed it out of Egypt and spent forty years watching sheep. What a waste of his Ivy League education. It’s the faith of St. Paul who spoke of the connection between endurance and hope. It’s the faith I am privileged to witness at work in the lives and ministries of faithful clergy and parishioners around the church, ministers (ordained or otherwise) who show up and show love. It’s the faith, the faithfulness, that reflects the faith, the faithfulness of God who hangs in there with us.

So this Monday morning, give thanks for God’s faithfulness. Take note of where you have experienced it. And let your life as a person of faith find ways to reflect that faithfulness, in persistence, endurance, patience in the hope that before long, Spring will be here. Persist.

- Jay Sidebotham

Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. -Romans 5

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 9th, 2015)

3-1

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

Discipleship matters

What’s an authentic Episcopal expression of discipleship? That’s a question I’ve been kicking around for a while, and I’m wondering this Monday morning how you would answer that question. I welcome your thoughts. (Note: If you’re not an Episcopalian, answer it from your context, another denomination, another faith tradition, unchurched, none, done, etc.) For me, in order to find an answer, I’ve been talking with folks who seem to know something about it. I wrote a friend, a mentor, a monk, Timothy Jolley, who serves at a monastery in Grahamstown, South Africa. He shared thoughts about discipleship, including this bit of insight from one of his buddies who said: “My problem is not that I fail to understand the gospel. My problem is that I have no intention of doing anything about it.” I can imagine Jesus saying something like “Follow me”, to which I respond: “I’m going to need to get back to you on that.”

Some background, as I understand it: Timothy was called to South Africa a number of years ago, when the system of apartheid was breaking down, when that country desperately needed models of community. Church leaders invited the monks to come, to move to a beautiful spot right outside Grahamstown. Like Abraham from the Hebrew Scriptures, they went without really knowing where they were going, or what they would do, no real game plan or strategic vision. Just faithful following. They went because they were called. So they began their time in South Africa by saying their prayers, observing the rhythm of prayer that is constitutive of monastic life. They did that faithfully. Before long, they found the ministry God had for them, or perhaps more to the point, the ministry found them. It was to connect with the children of poor townships nearby, legacies of years of apartheid. Through a tragic turn of events (the death of a couple children who were unsupervised because their mothers had to work and could not find child care), the monks identified a ministry to serve the local children, God’s children. They founded a school, embracing a vision, a hope, a dream that the poorest children of South Africa would have access to education comparable to that offered in the most elite institutions.

It began with prayer. And as I was recently speaking with Timothy about this subject of discipleship (I sense he knows a lot about what it means), he said that in discipleship the first step is prayer. I quote: “Ministry grows out of a commitment first to prayer and allowing God to change our hearts so that the Holy Spirit can light a desire and a fire for conversion. The first task is to teach prayer.”

For this South African community, the remarkable good work which has emerged began with listening, spiritual attentiveness, a humble and gracious spirit trusting that God will show the way. Take a gander at the work they are doing, lovingly described on their website.  (www.umaria.co.za and if you feel so inclined plan a visit or visit them with some support). It is remarkable work, a work of justice and peace and service, offered in Jesus’ name, impossible to separate from the spiritual exercise of prayer. Too often in our tradition we set contemplation and activism in opposition. To counter that misperception, the Holy Spirit provides witnesses like Timothy, a disciple of Jesus, our Lord whose ministry to those in need was animated by his stubborn habit of going off by himself to pray.

I have a feeling we need to figure out how to do that more, maybe even this Monday morning. How will we let a relationship with the Holy One unfold in the mystery of prayer, animating our lives, animating our ministry in a world in need of Jesus’ healing presence? Stop what you’re doing and pray this morning for the guidance of the Spirit to show you the path of being a disciple. It’s a high calling. It matters.

- Jay Sidebotham

A daily practice of contemplative prayer can help you fall into the Big Truth that we all share, the Big Truth that is God, that is Grace itself, where you are overwhelmed by more than enoughness! The spiritual journey is about living more and more in that abundant place where you don’t have to wrap yourself around your hurts, your defeats, your failures; but you can get practiced in letting go and saying “That’s not me. I don’t need that. I’ve met a better self, a truer self.”

-Richard Rohr

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (March 2nd, 2015)

3-1

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

What is the most important word in the Bible?

Stop before you read any further, find a piece of paper, and jot down your top three candidates. What did you come up with?

At a conference last week, I heard an answer from Sara Miles, wise and witty author. I don’t mind sharing her answer since she got it from Sam Wells, a great English preacher who said that the most important biblical word was “with”.

Sara Miles talked about what that word suggests about the character of God. I’d like to invite her to preach on Trinity Sunday (that sole Sunday devoted to a doctrine of the church when seminarians or guest preachers often get the pulpit). She used the word “with” to make sense of the mysterious, okay confusing, doctrine, a doctrine which I’ve always understood as feeble human attempt to express the reality of God, three persons in one. (Someone once told me that asking human beings to describe the mystery of God is like asking an elephant to play the piano.) The doctrine is the product of biblical allusions that have to do with “with”. In its prologue, John’s gospel makes reference to the word which was with God. The gospel of Luke speaks of Jesus filled with the spirit. Matthew’s gospel proclaims that the name of the child born to Mary would be “Immanuel”: God with us.

If indeed the reality of God is expressed as community, as relationship, a matter of with-ness, Ms. Miles said that we are similarly called to focus on the ways we are with others. Love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable. For most of her life she had not been a churchgoer. One day, she stumbled into a church in California and took communion. Conversion began. She was with others in a new, transformative way. As she hung around that place, she felt called to begin a food pantry, offering free food to anyone who came without condition. No need to prove indigency. No forms to fill out. Just grace. She was with others in a new, transformative way. That ministry continued, deepening her conversion (You can read about it in her book Take This Bread) as a way of being with people, not simply doing for them, but being with them.

I realized that so many of my efforts as good Christian/good citizen have to do with doing something for someone, but not necessarily with. Donating money with the buffer zone of a check, the postal system, paypal. Serving a bowl of soup with the buffer zone of a table between us. Not bad, but in my case, not enough. Not really being with, as I create bubbles and barriers that keep me safely surrounded by the familiar, in the process, losing the relational piece which is at the heart of spiritual growth (i.e., increasing love of God and neighbor). I often resort to that bubble thing with the people closest to me. Why do I do that? Fear? Self-centeredness? Fatigue? Laziness? Distraction? Lent is not a bad time for me to ask that question. (Thanks a lot, Sara Miles.)

Maybe you’re better at with-ness than I am. In our culture it’s an uphill climb. I was in a crowded Starbucks in New York recently, a line of about 20 people in that franchise of a corporation committed to community. Each and every person was deeply engrossed in smartphone, crowded in ways only Manhattan can. But they could not have been more distant from each other. I suspect there are families who gather around the dinner table, each with tablet or phone or laptop, distracted and distant. I’ve been known to send an email to my wife when we’re both in the house at the same time. What would it look like to agree that “with” is the most important word?

I’m reminded of a story of a woman who did a bit of jaywalking in Manhattan a number of years ago. She was struck by a cab, breaking her leg. She remained conscious throughout the ordeal. A woman of intellect, privilege, affluence, influence, she found herself on the pavement facing unprecedented vulnerability, facing a growing crowd looming above her. She spoke not only of the pain and fear but of the isolation. An acquaintance happened by, a person with enough intuition to lay down on the cold asphalt beside her, to be with. It made things better.

Have you ever had anyone do that for you? Maybe God is the one who does that for you. Maybe Jesus does. Maybe the Holy Spirit. Is there a way on this Monday in Lent that you can do that for someone else, stranger or friend or family member? Can you be with that person in a world marked by lots of folks who have been knocked to the pavement?

- Jay Sidebotham

Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand. -“How firm a foundation”

Moses said to God: “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God said, “I will be with you.”  -Exodus 3

Jesus said: “And remember, I am with you always to the end of the age.” -Matthew 28

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (February 23rd, 2015)

3-1

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.

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (February 9th, 2015)

3-1

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

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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