Monday Matters (November 17th, 2014)

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


Spiritual nationality

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

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

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

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

- Jay Sidebotham 

 Christians and Pagans: A poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1944

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (November 10th, 2014)

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

Of soldiers and saints.

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

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

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

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

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

- Jay Sidebotham

O judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of  this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. -A prayer for heroic service from the Book of Common Prayer

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (November 3rd, 2014)

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

For a few years, I served at a church in midtown Manhattan. It probably had as much pedestrian traffic as any church on the globe. Only a tiny percentage of the people who passed by the church ever came through our doors, let alone became part of the worshipping community. I’d occasionally meet people who said they walked by the church daily for decades and never ventured in. I often stood at the top of the steps and watch New York go by, people in a grand hurry to wherever. Purposeful New Yorkers, never making eye contact. We wondered how to break through.

One especially warm summer, my colleagues and I decided to hand out glasses of lemonade on the sidewalk, wearing our clerical collars. Many people walked right by. Some were certain there was a catch. Nothing was free. If they took the lemonade, they’d have to give us money, or worse, attend a service. But occasionally, we would engage in conversation. One young woman appreciated the cool drink. She stopped to talk, asking what we were doing, and told me a bit of her story. As she was winding up the conversation, she looked up the steps at the imposing portal and asked: Am I allowed to go in there? I asked what she meant, because I sensed she was not asking if the doors were locked, or what the hours were. She shared that she had not led a particularly puritanical life, that she had not been in a church for a long time, and that the church in her past had not welcomed her. She expected more judgment than mercy. I felt a deep sadness when I really heard her question, a bit of shame as a church professional as I wondered how many other folks were asking the same thing.

Last Monday, I asked people to tell me what in their experience had gotten in the way of spiritual growth. I am grateful for the responses I received (and it’s not too late to offer your own.) Folks talked about the distractions of day-to-day living, the trivia of life that crowds out things of significance. Many looked in the mirror and saw the obstacle, described repeatedly in triune form: Me, myself, and I. The ancient truth of scripture that we try to put ourselves in the place of God emerged once again as a barrier, that old ego, which some tell me is an acronym: Edging God Out.

Too many folks mentioned the church as a barrier. People wrote about the messiness of organized religion, the hypocrisy which caused one person to leave the church for decades, admittedly “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” People described petty competitiveness, jealousies, hierarchical hoops, theological meanderings in the church. Another person noted the church as an institution driven by human nature with its resistance to change: “I struggle to get past the church as the end, to arrive at the church as a means.”

When people tell me that they have bailed on the church because it’s full of hypocrites, I can only say “guilty as charged”. And as a church professional, I often pray this haunting verse from the Psalms: “Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me.” I have experienced woundedness and disappointment from the church. I’ve also caused injury and disillusionment, and for that I ask forgiveness (with fear and trembling).

But in it all, I remain convinced that God wishes to work through the church, that it is indeed a means for God’s presence to be experienced in the world, and in fact that God will do a new thing in the church in days ahead. Later this week, we will observe the Feast of William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during World War II. (Talk about a tough assignment!) He is famously noted for describing the church as the only organization on earth that exists for the sake of those who are not its members. In other words, the church is meant for service to the world. We can all identify ways that it fails to do that, ways in which the church insists rather on being served, a collective expression of ego. The church with its failings is an easy mark.

The more difficult pathway is to be in it and help it to live into its divine intention: to be the body of Christ, or more specifically, to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. How will you live into that vision this week? How will you grow as part of the body of Christ? Pray for the church, in word and action. Ask God to show you how you can be part of the healing of the church, so that the church can be part of the healing of the world.

- Jay Sidebotham

Gracious God, we pray for thy holy Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provided for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

-A prayer for the Church, from the Book of Common Prayer, p. 816

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 27th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 27, 2014

What is spiritual growth?

The work I’m doing these days tries to get people talking about spiritual growth as the priority in congregational life, and in the lives of individuals. As I travel around the church and have conversations with folks (which by the way is really interesting work), I ask questions that sound something like this:

  1. What comes to mind when you think about spiritual growth? How would you define it?
  2. What has helped you grow spiritually?
  3. What has gotten in the way?

I hear a variety of answers, and I have my own, which I’ll share shortly. But before you read any further, take a moment to think about those questions. Take three minutes of quiet (a minute per question) and think about how you would answer those questions this Monday morning. If this is not a good time, like you’re reading this on your smartphone while you’re hang-gliding, or multitasking in a meeting when everybody thinks you’re paying attention to the power point presentation, or otherwise distracted, try this exercise later. Give it some time, and if you feel so inclined, send me an email with your thoughts.

(3 minute pause in reading to answer the questions)

Time’s up. I continue…

There are lots of ways to think about the mystery of spiritual growth, none of them exhaustive. As Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3, when talking about the life of the Spirit: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” At its heart, I think spiritual growth is a relational dynamic, a deepening love of God and love of neighbor. This growth is about conversation, listening, seeking, questioning, giving, receiving. It’s about an open heart and spirit, coming to know someone better. It’s about practice, dedication of time and energy to the relationship. It’s about love.

So I channel my inner Tina Turner and ask: What’s love got to do with it? I defer to the gospel reading we heard yesterday in church, from the gospel of Matthew, a story that appears in three of the four gospels. Jesus is put to the test. He is asked what it means to live the spiritual life. Which one of the commandments is the greatest? He responds that the greatest commandment is two-fold, yet inseparable. It has to do with loving God and neighbor. It’s about the practice of shifting the focus from self to the other. That kind of growth comes with spending time. It comes with going through hard times together. It comes with intentionality, or as some call it, discipleship. And it matters.

I spent last week on the road, attending gatherings in both Texas and New York City, both places where the distressing Ebola crisis has been brought home, dominating the news and triggering fears, some more rational than others. That travel involved time in several airports, which have become monuments to insecurity. It made me realize just how fear-based we have all become, given the many challenges we face together, as a global community, as a nation, as a church, in our individual lives. And I thought of the passage from the New Testament which says that perfect love casts out fear, fear and love set in opposition

Our commitment to spiritual growth, deepening of love of God and neighbor, is not something we pursue just to be good religious folk or nice people. It is a way to respond to the fears the threaten to undo us. It works if we work it. So think about your own spiritual path, past moments of discovery and inertia. Ask the Spirit to guide you into deeper growth, as you practice the love to which Jesus calls us, love that casts out fear, love of God, love of neighbor. Find a specific way to grow today.

- Jay Sidebotham

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 20th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 20, 2014

Signs of the times

“Am I open to God’s surprises? Am I at a standstill, or am I on a journey?” These questions surfaced in a homily preached last week (October 14) by Pope Francis, who reflected on Jesus’ interaction with contemporary religious leaders. The pope said in this sermon that these leaders failed to understand that the law (doctrine, teaching, ritual, liturgy) which they “guarded and loved was a pedagogy towards Jesus Christ.” He said: “If the law does not lead to Jesus Christ, if it does not bring us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead.” Jesus rebuked these leaders for their “closure, for not being able to read the signs of the time, for not being open to the God of surprises.”

This Monday morning, we are called to read the signs of the times. It can be tough reading. These signs include not only any number of bleak global crises of seemingly unprecedented threat. They also include dramatic shifts in attitudes toward religious institutions. (I take it that if you are reading this email you have some interest in that shift.) Last week, the Barna Group, researchers on contemporary religious observance, explored the question of why fewer Americans are attending church. Their study noted five trends stated here in a few words, with some editorial comment from me:

  • A rise of secularization: Nearly half of millenials (48%) qualify as post-Christian compared with Gen-xers (40%), boomers (35%), and elders (28%). Get the trend?
  • Less openness to the idea of church: Receptivity to an invitation to church among people who don’t presently attend has dropped from 65% to 47% over the last 20 years. Thanks but no thanks.
  • Churchgoing is no longer mainstream: In the 1990’s, one in seven unchurched adults had never experienced regular church attendance. Now it’s one in four. Never.
  • Expectations of church involvement have changed: There’s been a dramatic increase among those who say they’d rather do something else than attend services on Sunday morning. As one person said, why bother?
  • Growing skepticism about church’s contribution to society:  Almost half of those who don’t attend church couldn’t identify a single favorable impact of the Christian community on the culture. Ouch.

Last week, Jim Naughton reported these findings in his blog Episcopal Café and concluded with a question: How will our church leaders read the signs of the times? To which I add: How will readers of this Monday message read the signs of the times?

For me, a religious professional, results like those indicated by the Barna Group could be depressing and dispiriting. (I hear that the local Starbucks is hiring.) Then I hear words from the Pope about the God of surprises, and recall that we follow a Lord who was resurrected, knowing that resurrection literally means “to stand again.” I suspect that the God of surprises can and will bring new life to the church, and to each of our lives, as we remember that the things we do in church, our religion, our spiritual practices, our acts of charity and service are not ends in themselves. They are intended to lead to Jesus Christ, intended to bring us closer to Christ. That can mean different things to different people. But we each are asked by scripture this question from Jesus: Who do you say that I am? In that question, I hear a call to follow Jesus who helps me know and to show grace more, to receive and give forgiveness more, to serve following his example of service. What do you hear?

I have a feeling that the God of surprises might actually work powerfully through the dramatic (and perhaps depressing) statistics about religious observance, opening a way for us to focus with greater singularity on the center, on the goal. If that happened, it will make the point that new life comes not because of our activity but because of what God does, not because of what we believe, but because God believes in us.

I could be wrong, but I believe that the Pope who speaks of the God of surprises is on to something, as a Pope who continues to surprise us all. Pope Francis gives us a chance to consider resurrection possibilities. This morning, what would it mean to open yourself to the God of surprises?

- Jay Sidebotham

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new. -II Corinthians 5

But the Lord said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness….for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” -II Corinthians 12

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” -Matthew 16

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 13th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 13, 2014

We do not lose heart. 

His name was Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, a name almost as distinctive as his biography. He was born in 1831, to a Jewish family in Lithuania, and was preparing to be a rabbi. He went to study in England in his twenties where he ran across a copy of the New Testament. He was taken with the story of Jesus. He converted to Christianity and joined a Baptist congregation. A one-man ecumenical movement, after a while he became a Presbyterian and went to the United States where he enrolled at a seminary in Alleghany, Pennsylvania. After two years doing that, he was led to the Episcopal Church, and studied at General Theological Seminary in New York. Upon graduation, he was sent by his bishop to Japan, and then to China, where he felt called to translate sacred Christian texts into the language of the people he served in Asia. He began by translating the Psalms. Then the Book of Common Prayer. Then the New Testament. Finally the Hebrew Bible. The last years of his life were spent in infirmity. Confined to a wheelchair, mostly paralyzed and unable to speak, he sat at his desk day after day, typing a translation of the Bible using two fingers. He did not lose heart.

I spoke to a friend over the weekend who has been facing health challenges beyond my imagination. Weeks in the hospital and a long, arduous road to recovery. He spoke to me about a sense of gratitude, and how God had much more in store for him. We spoke of mindfulness, and the powerful witness of Thich nhat hahn, who most famously said: “No mud. No lotus.” I love my friend a lot. He is a good friend, and a very good man. I asked how I could help him. He asked for a cartoon. I can do that. I asked how I could pray for him. He responded with a request for prayers for peace, and he again spoke of gratitude, the confidence that God had more in store.

How is that we see the gift of each day, even when the challenges seem overwhelming, like feeling compelled to translate the Bible when you only have use of two fingers? How can we grow in mindfulness? How can we preserve gratitude in the attitude, especially when life seems perilously unscripted? We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, maybe like  Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, or Malala Yousafzai, or brave medical folks attending to the needs of the sick in West Africa, running towards the danger, not away. I’m sure you know others who endure, who persist, who show courage, who do not lose heart, or in the language of St. Paul selected for tomorrow’s feast, who see today’s “slight momentary affliction” as preparation for an eternal weight of glory.

I’ve known a few, like the friend I mentioned. I thank God for the witness of those people in my life. They give me encouragement, which is to say that they give me courage. Is there someone in your life who does that for you? Thank God. Might you be that encouragement  for someone today, even in a small way?

- Jay Sidebotham

O God, in your providence you called Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of the Church, and sent him to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the Holy Scriptures into languages of that land. Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. -Collect for Joseph Schereschewsky’s Feast

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. -II Corinthians 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 (October 6th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 6, 2014

Mission, Part II

It’s an honor to spend time each week writing about the ways we put faith to work in the world, about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus these days. (I’m sure you all realize that often the preacher is preaching to himself.)  It’s a greater honor that there are people who actually read the weekly message. And it’s an even greater honor that people write in response. I learn a lot from those comments, and I’m working on being a better learner.

I wrote last week about the mission of the church, and the mission of my life as a follower of Christ. I got interesting comments back. One person wrote with reflection on the state of the church these days, and the challenge of denominational identification. This person wrote: “We are all on the same team or should be but church dogma and focusing on who’s right not what’s right gets in the way.” He went on to say: “I’m not Episcopalian. I’m a flawed Christ follower who happens to hang at an Episcopal church. I know “leaders” of the Episcopal franchise have a duty to extend and preserve their unique tradition, but I’m not sure how that gets them or me closer to living like Jesus.” Challenging words to Episcopal clergy. I take it that the mission for my correspondent was a matter of getting closer to living like Jesus, not a bad mission statement. He sees, as I happen to believe, that the church is an instrument meant to bring God’s kingdom, meant to serve and heal, not an end in itself. He also notes that the church often falls short. He reminds me that it’s all about discipleship of Jesus. I’m grateful that he shared his perspective.

His is not the only point of view. As we’ve done work with parishes around the country through this new ministry with which I’m involved, we’ve recognized that people come to the Episcopal Church for all kinds of reasons. The culture of our denomination makes room for a variety of points of view, a variety of hopes and aspirations and needs. The work we do focused on spiritual vitality in congregations is largely concerned with generating conversation with congregants about their own spiritual journeys, their understanding of membership in a church, their understanding of a relationship with Christ, their take on discipleship. One person, in conversation about this work said: “I’ve been a member of this parish for 30 years, but I don’t self-identify as Christian.” Another said: “I don’t expect much to happen to me at church.” I find comments like these challenging, but helpful to hear, because as we think about the mission of the church, it’s important to recognize a variety of perspectives, all of which raises questions.

They are similar to the questions that appear in the introduction to a book that I think is really important. It is entitled People of the Way written by Dr. Dwight Zscheile, a quite bright young scholar who presently is helping the Episcopal Church reimagine the pathway forward. He gave a wonderful presentation at a town meeting at the National Cathedral last week, a great survey about what is distinctive about the Episcopal Church these days, about its distinctive call. In the introduction to his book, Dr. Zscheile captures the issue in these questions: What does it mean to be a disciple in today’s world? What does it mean to be a church member? Are they the same thing?

As you consider your own faith journey, does it unfold in the context of a faith community? Do you consider yourself a member of that community? How do you see that intersecting with your call as a follower of Jesus, a disciple? Are they the same thing? Where do they diverge? There are many ways to answer those questions. What will your answers be?

- Jay Sidebotham

 Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

-Prayer for a missionary, page 247 in the Book of Common Prayer.

Lord, you give the great commission: “Heal the sick and preach the word.” Lest the Church neglect its mission and the gospel go unheard, help us witness to your purpose with renewed integrity; with the Spirit’s gifts empower us, for the work of ministry.

Stanza One from the text of Hymn 528 by Jeffery Rowthorn.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 29th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, September 29, 2014

Mission

We began our day with reflection on scripture, meeting last Tuesday in the chapel at Willow Creek Community Church in the suburbs of Chicago. They call it the chapel, and it is indeed their smaller worship space. It probably only seats seven or eight hundred, which means that this chapel is larger than most Episcopal churches. That space is in fact dwarfed by the main worship space which seats 8,000 or so, and is often filled on Sundays. The sections of that larger space each seat about 250 people. People are encouraged to sit in the same section each week, as a way to get to know each other, as a way to build community, small congregations within a larger one. Any one of those sections is larger than most Episcopal Churches.

I visited Willow Creek as part of a gathering of about 50 Episcopal clergy and lay leaders. It was an honor to be in the presence of these fine, wise and inquisitive Anglicans, gathered in a spirit of learning, which is after all, what a disciple does. It was an honor to experience the hospitality of this large church, and to engage in conversation with Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, who shared with us what Willow Creek has learned about leadership. For oh so many reasons, I realized on the visit that we had moved from the Episcopalian culture to another. But along with those who joined me, we were eager to discover lessons for us in the work we do.

I realized (and not for the first time) that I have my own impressions, perhaps prejudices about churches like Willow Creek, and the people who lead them. I suspect the Willow Creek crowd has impressions of Episcopalians. Those didn’t matter much last Tuesday. Our day in conference was filled with lessons, including the reminder of how very hospitable the Willow Creek community was to our group, and how important that is. It was Christ-like. I was impressed in our time with Bill Hybels with how we need to renew our understanding of what it means to be a disciple. We need to do that as a denomination, and as congregations. I need to do it in my own life. We need to do that in a way that is authentically Anglican, balancing scripture, tradition, reason and experience. We need to do it honoring the sacraments at the heart of our tradition, each of which are intended to draw us closer to Christ. We need to do it with Episcopalian hospitality, a message of welcome to people to come as they are, and a special openness to those who have experienced rejection. We need an ear for the questions people bring. And while it was relatively easy to note all the ways that the Episcopal Church is different from Willow Creek, it was also important to notice how we share a common goal, helping people to grow in love of God and neighbor, helping people to know God better, to follow Christ more closely, to do so not in our own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Willow Creek has grown in part because it has rigorously adhered over decades to its mission: To help irreligious people be formed into disciples of Christ. You may or may not embrace that mission statement. But one of the things I realized in the wake of this trip is that I personally need more clarity and rigor about mission, about purpose. Many of our churches need that. Our denomination needs that. But let me repeat. The most important thing: I need that clarity and rigor.

So on this Monday morning, I’m wondering how you would articulate your own sense of mission, your sense of what you have been sent to do and be in the world. What are you called to do and be as a disciple? Do you know what the mission statement of your faith community happens to be? Do you sense that community is living into that mission? I’ll just put it out there. Often mainline denominations are adrift, with little rigor, clarity in articulation of mission. Drilling down a bit more, I’m often a adrift in that way. Pray today for clarity. And if it helps, consider the mission of the church as described in our prayer book. It’s printed on the side column. Does it sound like a mission you can embrace? Can you act on it today?

- Jay Sidebotham

 

Q: What is the mission of the Church?

A: The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q: How does the Church pursue its mission?

A: The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love.

Q: Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

A: The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 22nd, 2014)

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

Follow me

Once upon a time, long, in a diocese far away, at a time before we relied on Google or Mapquest or GPS to find our way in the world, I served at a church in Washington D.C. I was called on to preside at the funeral of a prominent lawyer, a good and accomplished man, with somewhat tangential relationship to the church. The sanctuary was packed (I confess I found myself calculating the billable hours in the room). At the end of the service, the hearse was to lead a procession to the cemetery, located in northern Virginia, about 45 minutes drive on a day without traffic. I was to preside at that graveside service. To add to the transit time, the family wished for the procession to drive by several important Washington places that had meant a lot to the deceased. For a variety of reasons (including introversion), I chose to drive my own car. I found myself about halfway through the line-up of the procession of who knows how many cars as we began to snake our way through the city.

We were in downtown Washington. when for some reason, the car directly in front of me stopped at a red light, though custom was for the procession to keep going. We watched the rest of the procession disappear into city traffic. I feverishly looked for the map, the name of the cemetery, and realized I had gathered that information and left it on my desk. At least I still had this driver in front of me. He would know where to go. I could follow him.

Then I noticed he had put on his directional signal. He was bailing from the procession. I was on my own, not knowing where to go, detached from the procession. As he moved through the intersection, obviously headed in a different direction, I found myself in hot pursuit. I pulled up next to him at the next stop light, pointed at my collar, motioned for him to roll down his window and said: “You can’t leave the procession. I’m following you and I’m officiating at the graveside.” He saw my predicament. He had the information regarding the site for the burial. He kindly changed his mind, leading me through D.C. traffic to a tardy arrival for the committal. Any number of lessons were learned by this young priest that day, a number of them rendered moot by technology which has emerged since that day. But the moral to the story: It matters who you follow.

Today is the feast of St. Matthew, tax collector working hard at his desk. Matthew suddenly finds Jesus standing across his spreadsheets and calculators. Jesus says to him: “Follow me.” Matthew does it. On the spot, his life changed forever. He follows Jesus on a new adventure, not knowing where he was going, with no illusion that it would be easy or even safe. We remember him for his faithfulness and his courage, to discern that Jesus was worth following, that he could be trusted.

So this Monday we ask: who do we follow? What do we follow? Where do we put our confidence. That’s what discipleship is all about, being a student, a learner, recognizing our own limits, and trusting that there is one who will lead us, as we walk in his footsteps.

- Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Feast of St. Matthew:

We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him. Amen. 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

-Proverbs 3:5,6 

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

-Matthew 9:9-13

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 15th, 2014)

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

Day by day

Got any daily rituals? Bet you do. Let me put a finer point on the question: Do you have a daily spiritual practice? These come in great variety. One pastor I know calls his congregation to the Ten/Ten rule. Ten minutes of bible reading. Ten minutes of prayer or silence. Someone else recommended naming five things for which you are grateful. A particularly spiritually evolved friend, a rabbi, spends 20 minutes in silence in the morning and in the evening. Yoga works for some. Some people read Forward Day by Day. One corporate executive ends his day with quiet reflection on whether in the past 24 hours he had lived true to his values and goals. If not, he resolves to live more fully into those values and goals in the coming 24 hours. I’m here to tell you that a good cup of coffee, savored slowly, can be a deeply spiritual experience.

For years, my daily practice has been a streamlined version of Morning Prayer, including a bit of silence, the confession, the reading of a psalm (or two) and other assigned readings for the day. I conclude with prayers of blessing, thanksgiving and intercession. As part of this practice, I was reading from the Book of Common Prayer last week, and noticed something I hadn’t paid much attention to before. There’s an introduction to the confession I had skipped over, preferring the short version. That longer version, on page 79 of your Prayer Book if you have one of those lying around, offers a wonderful formula for a daily ritual.

It says that we have “come together” for three things. We have set apart intentional time, whether we are alone or not, for the following: to set forth God’s praise; to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and our salvation. Let’s look at those one at a time.

We set forth God’s praise: Some of you may remember the Saturday Night Live Newscast when Chevy Chase was the anchor. He would introduce the newscast by saying: “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not.” Here’s a random association. (Bear with me.) We set forth God’s praise to remember that God is God and we are not. This may be the most important spiritual practice, setting forth God’s praise, a mixture of adoration and gratitude. Annie Lamott has said that one of the most important prayers is simply the word “Wow.” It offers perspective for everything else we do. It shifts the focus away from us, which is in and of itself a pathway to freedom, as we look beyond ourselves.

We hear God’s holy Word: The psalmist says that God’s word is a lantern to our feet, a light along our path. It comes to us as guide, challenging us, leading us, teaching us, reminding us of the story of God’s ongoing relationship with each one of us, reminding us that we are on the receiving end of grace. The church in which I am presently privileged to serve is reading through the Bible as a congregation this year. That involves a fair amount of reading. But daily attentiveness to God’s word can be simple reflection on a few of those words. It can be a matter of chewing on a phrase. Again, it is a matter of looking beyond ourselves.

We ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and our salvation: As in the Lord’s Prayer, when we ask that God give us this day our daily bread, we again express our dependence, our reliance, our trust in God’s providence, not only for ourselves but for others. Not only for those we love, but for those who drive us nuts, push our buttons, undermine our progress, seek us ill, don’t appreciate us as much as they ought. We pray for the needs of our broken world, in such dire need of God’s healing power. Can you recall a time in recent history when that has been more true? Again, it is a matter of looking beyond ourselves.

I don’t know what your daily spiritual practice might be. I don’t presume to prescribe one for others. I’m working on figuring out my own. For sure, one size does not fit all. But from what I’ve observed, life is simply more manageable when you have one, and especially when it is offered in the spirit of reliance on the one who calls us into relationship. If you have a daily spiritual practice, I’d love to hear what it is. If you don’t have one, today is a perfect day to start.

- Jay Sidebotham

“What’s the difference between you and God? God never thinks he’s you.”

-Anne Lamott, from Help Thanks Wow: Three Essential Prayers

Psalm 100:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;*
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

A poem attributed to St. Columba from the 6th century:

My dearest Lord,
Be thou a bright flame before me,
Be thou a guiding star above me,
Be thou a smooth path beneath me,
Be thou a kindly shepherd behind me, Today and evermore.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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