Monday Matters (July 25, 2016)

3-1

Take it to the Lord in prayer

Yesterday’s gospel (below) has me thinking about the disciples’ request to Jesus: Teach us to pray. I found myself wondering what those lessons were like, and in what ways prayer can be taught.

At the same time, I realize that the more I wade into this praying business, the more I find myself on the edge of deep mysteries that can quickly make me feel like I’m in over my head, facing waves of questions about how prayer works. Clearly, I could use a teacher.

So I picked up a short book by a monk and bishop and deeply spiritual guy named Anthony Bloom. A holy man. The book is entitled: Beginning to Pray. He makes the point in the very first paragraph that he is just a beginner at prayer. If this guy, near the end of a life dedicated to the spiritual journey, is just beginning, is there any hope for me?

Then I turned to another respected spiritual guide, Aretha Franklin. I was driving around town, thinking about preaching about prayer. I put in a CD (remember those?), Aretha Franklin singing hymns. I found myself replaying one hymn in particular: What a friend we have in Jesus. I’ve heard that hymn played a lot. I’ve heard it played badly. Let’s just say its melody ain’t Mozart. But as she often does, Aretha brought it to life. The way she sang, her ministry of music made me focus on this bit of the hymn text:

Oh, what peace we often forfeit.
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

I thought of how often I forfeit a sense of peace. I thought of the needless pain I bear worrying about stuff. As I watched the political convention, it did not evoke a sense of peace. As I read the newspaper, I am not filled with a sense of peace. As I think about the state of the church, I am not always filled with peace. So I was grateful for the gospel according to St. Luke, the gospel according to St. Anthony, and the gospel according to St. Aretha, which told me, each in their way, to stop forfeiting peace, and build trust, and take it to the Lord in prayer, acknowledging that I am just a beginner.

It doesn’t mean I don’t have lots of questions about prayer. Maybe you do too. Here are a few of mine:

  • If prayer works, why do bad things happen to good people?
    Does the God of all creation really care if I pray?
  • Should I pray if it sometimes feels like I’m talking to the ceiling?
  • What happens if I don’t pray about something? Will it still happen?
  • Should I pray for a parking space?
  • What happens if people at the Republican Convention and people at the Democratic Convention both pray for success?
  • What happens if Chapel Hill fans and Duke fans pray for victory? Yankees and Red Sox? Cubs and Cardinals?
  • How can I do less talking and more listening in prayer?

No easy answers. Deep mysteries. But maybe we don’t need all the answers to just take one step in the journey of prayer. What would that look like today for you? Maybe just sitting for five minutes of silence. For those who are tired of forfeiting peace, it may be worth a try.

-Jay Sidebotham

Luke 11:1-13
 
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’ He said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.’
 
And he said to them, ‘Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.” And he answers from within, “Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.” I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.
 
‘So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (July 18, 2016)

3-1

Honor

In the mornings, I get ready for the day by spending time with scripture readings suggested by the Book of Common Prayer. Over the course of a two year cycle, the lectionary leads me to read most of the Bible, the parts I get and those I don’t, the parts I like and those I don’t,

We’re presently making our way through Paul’s letter to the Romans, the longest of his letters, one that contains passages that cry out for editor and/or explicator. To my mind the letter can be divided into two parts.

The first 11 chapters represent Paul’s best attempt at describing the grace of God, a free gift from the Holy One that is meant for all. And Paul does seem to mean all. The second part of the letter (chapters 12-16) represents what I call the so-what factor, the implications of amazing grace, what it looks like when people live their lives believing that grace is true. (Frankly, most of us have a hard time believing grace is true. Our lives are spent trying to prove our worth, trying to prove ourselves better than someone else).

Chapter 12 begins with the word “Therefore” Whenever we run across that word in Paul’s letters, we have to ask what the “therefore” is there for. It is there to say that the way we live our lives is a reflection of the grace that Paul has described in the beginning of the letter. These passages cause me to ask: Have I really grasped grace? Does my life show it? Paul describes in these last chapters what that life looks like. When I read portions from the 12th chapter last Friday morning, here is the phrase that jumped out at me:

Outdo one another in showing honor.

Paul is telling the Roman audience (and us) how to live in community. They are to honor each other. It almost sounds like a competition. See how much honoring you can do. And when you’re done with that, do some more.

So what do you make of that word, honor? I’ve written about it before. It calls for reclamation, as often we reduce its holy meaning to talk about honoring a credit card or coupons. It can mean a virtue to which we aspire, like bravery or courtesy. But here it suggests action.

The word honor, a bit old-fashioned perhaps, appears in the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage. At the exchange of rings, the couple says: With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you. It gives an indication of what the word honor means. It’s relational, not contractual. It says that I seek the best for you, for the other person, in a world that says “me first” or asks “What’s in it for me?” I often tell couples that if they remember nothing else from their wedding liturgy (which sometimes seems like a speed bump on the way to reception and honeymoon), they should hold on to the word honor. Make it a screen saver. Put it on the bathroom mirror. Post it near the door when you leave in the morning. Better yet, post it on the outside of the door, when you’re coming home after a long day.

What does it mean to seek the best for the other? Jesus, the one who came to serve, not to be served, seemed to have a pretty good handle on it. It can come down to the most practical things. Listening before speaking. Forgiving before accusing. Assuming the best in another person, not the worst. Lowering defenses, raising hopes for the other. Blessing, not cursing. Looking at life from the other person’s point of view. Hearing the other person’s story. Imagining what that story feels like.

Carry the word honor with you today, as a response to the grace God has shown you and me. God has honored each one of us. How might we pass that on?

-Jay Sidebotham

Romans 12:1-13
 
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect. 
 
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. 
 
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (July 11, 2016)

3-1

In the late 1990’s, Desmond Tutu invited members of the Order of the Holy Cross in America to come to South Africa. I’m told he made the request because his country, in the wake of apartheid, needed models of life in community. Tutu believed the presence of a Benedictine monastery could help.

The brothers found a place near Grahamstown, a beautiful part of a beautiful country. They went, not knowing what they would do except to say their prayers, trusting vocation would emerge. Vocation did emerge, in the founding of a school for some of the poorest children in the region. The brothers committed to providing as fine an education as the most expensive schools In South Africa. The brothers came. They prayed together. They did indeed bring community.

After the events of last week, the hunger for community is deep. Funerals in Baton Rouge and Minnesota and Dallas are outward and visible signs of our broken world. What will it take for us to live together, as we retreat into partisan enclaves, imagining walls, breaking alliances? Difficult questions for sure, but they are hardly new.

The questions were top of mind in the 6th century. The Roman empire was falling apart. Fear and deprivation gripped the people. A monk named Benedict retreated to a cave to live out his religious life in peace. He was identified as a spirit-person, and perhaps reluctantly (I picture a raging introvert…that’s partly why I like the guy) was drawn to form communities, shaping pathways for the challenging task of life together, articulated in what is known as his Rule.

Today, July 11, is the feast of St. Benedict. We know a bit about his biography, but just a bit. We celebrate him mostly because of the Rule he established. It offered a way for people to live together, a model of community. People still read the Rule, study it, apply it, inwardly digest it, perhaps more in the last generation than in preceding periods. If you haven’t read it, let me suggest it for summer reading.

The questions which prompted Benedict to write about community are questions asked today. How can we live in community, in a world that doesn’t seem safe, in a world where political and religious institutions seem to fall apart? It’s been my great privilege not only to experience some of the life of a monastery, thin places where distance between heaven and earth diminishes. In parishes, I’ve known groups that meet weekly to study Benedict’s Rule. Out of such study, convening around common text like the spokes of a wagon wheel, new community emerges.

On the one hand, the Rule is mundane. First reading might say there’s no contemporary application. But the Spirit has something else in mind. The call to live in community shines through, though there’s no illusion that it’s easy. So it has to do with intentionality. The prologue opens with this line: Listen with the ear of your heart. That call to listening signals spiritual purposefulness. In our parlance, we might call it mindfulness. It calls us to be learners. It calls us to be guided by the heart, to follow what we love, or more to the point, to follow who we love.

It calls us to look to Christ. One of St. Benedict’s lines that grabs me: Let Christ be the chain that binds you. Esther De Waal, in her book on Benedict’s rule entitled Seeking God says it this way:

St. Benedict points to Christ. Christ is the beginning, the way and the end. The Rule continually points beyond itself to Christ himself, and in this it has allowed, and will continue to allow, men and women in every age to find in what it says depths and levels relevant to their needs and their understanding at any stage on their journey, provided that they are truly seeking God.

And if ever we needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now. Thank you, Benedict.

-Jay Sidebotham

Almighty God, by whose grace St. Benedict, kindled with the fire of your love, became a burning and a shining light in the church: inflame us with the same spirit of discipline and love, that we may walk before you as children of light; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-A prayer offered by Esther deWaal
 
Come my children; listen to me: And I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
-Psalm 34:10
 
Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.
-St. Benedict
 
All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35).
-St. Benedict

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (July 4, 2016)

3-1

Happy Fourth of July. This is a day for thanksgiving, as we stop to consider the many rights, privileges, and joys that come with our national life. We are blessed in many ways. But I find that the biblical injunction to give thanks in all things is put to the test for me these days, given current political discourse. So here’s how I’m responding to that test:

I am unexpectedly thankful for the current campaign as it calls us to debate this question: What makes for the greatness of a nation? We get answers, for sure, from the candidates. Do what you will with those.

But are there any answers which come from scripture? Did Jesus have anything to say on the matter? This holiday gives us opportunity to think about these questions. Independence Day is one of the national holidays that has found its way into the liturgical calendar. July 4 is a feast of the church, with prayers and readings selected to offer a faithful vision of common life.

So on this day, we are asked to consider a reading from the book of Deuteronomy, as the Lord tells the people of Israel what it will mean to be a great nation, as they enter the promised land: “The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” We might suggest this passage to the platform committees of both parties.

And on Independence Day, we are asked to consider an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus tells his disciples: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” How would such teaching find its way into the political debate? How would MSNBC and Fox exegete such a passage?

Our church asserts that these passages inform our common life on this national holiday. You may or may not agree. But as we hear a call to greatness, I’ve been thinking about what Jesus said when his disciples were getting all political on him, shamelessly jockeying for positions of prominence in the kingdom that Jesus would usher in. (See Mark 10.) “Let me be VP.” “Let me be chief of staff.” “Give me a corner office.” Jesus called the disciples together, called them on the carpet and said the following:

“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

As citizens of this nation who are also followers of Jesus, a call to greatness has something to do with service. The quote from Martin Luther King in the column on the left makes that point. Greatness is accessible to all. Dostoevsky said that the greatness of a society can be seen in the way it treats its prisoners. Mahatma Gandhi said it could be seen in the way it treats animals. What would you say?

On this national holiday, can we pause to offer thanksgivings, and dare to dream that a holy greatness will be the mark not only of individuals but it will also be the mark of our communities, our towns, our schools, our workplaces, our churches, our cities, our nation.

-Jay Sidebotham

A prayer for Independence Day
Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A word from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
If you’re interested in reading scripture passages assigned for today, see:
Deuteronomy 10:17-21; Hebrews 11:8-16; Matthew 5:43-48; Psalm 145, or consider psalms and lessons “For the Nation” on page 930 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Not a bad way to observe the holiday, looking up these passages and giving them some thought.
Happy Fourth!

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (June 27, 2016)

3-1

I’ve been told that in the journey of faith, we don’t need so much to be instructed as we need to be reminded.

This morning, I’m reminded of the life and ministry and witness of John the Baptist. Last Friday, June 24, the church celebrated his birthday, employing Episco-speak to observe the feast of his nativity. It is also the anniversary of my ordination, so I always pay attention to the guy, and year after year try to let him be my teacher, my reminder. Let’s just say, I’m a slow learner.

On one occasion, Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest person ever born of a woman. I don’t get the sense that Jesus threw around those kinds of compliments unadvisedly or lightly. What made John the Baptist so exceptional in Jesus’ eyes?

The history of Western Christian art depicts John the Baptist pointing beyond himself, often extending arm index finger indicating Christ on the cross. The great theologian, Karl Barth, wrote volumes in a study in his home. (I’m not sure Dr. Barth ever had an unexpressed written thought. He once said that even he had not read everything he had written.) As he wrote and wrote and wrote at his small desk, Barth had a picture of John the Baptist hanging over the workspace, a small reproduction of the Grunewald Altarpiece, reminding him that his impressive efforts only had meaning as they pointed beyond himself to Christ. Maybe we could all use such a reminder in the work we do. How does the work we do point to Christ?

We celebrate the birth of John the Baptist near the summer solstice, when days are longest. I don’t want to dampen summer fun, but the fact is the days have already started to decrease in length, until we come to the winter solstice, near Christmas, the feast of Jesus’ birth. I mention this because the liturgical calendar preaches to us. The timing of Jesus’ birthday and the timing of John’s birthday fulfill what John said when asked whether he was the one people should follow. John said of Jesus: “He must increase but I must decrease.” The days after John’s birthday decrease in length. The days after Jesus’ birthday increase in length. He pointed to Christ.

Make no mistake. John was no shrinking violet. He preached to the elite of the day, and opened sermons by addressing his congregation as a brood of vipers. Try that in stewardship season. He spoke truth to power, calling out the king for scandalous behavior. He lost his head over that one. He was strong in his sense of who he was, with all his eccentricity, all his counter cultural ways. He not only knew who he was. He knew who Jesus was, and found in Jesus the direction for his life.

I need to be taught how to do that. I need to be pointed in the right direction. I need to be reminded of that, day after day, year after year. The longer I am a priest, the more I need the reminder. Maybe you share that sense. If so, take this day to think about the life and ministry and witness of John the Baptist. Then ask: To what does my life point? What would it take to get ego out of the way, to point beyond self, with all our eccentricities, to the one who stretches out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into his saving embrace? What would that look like this Monday?

-Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist
 
Almighty God, by whose providence your servant John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Savior by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his teaching and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and, following his example, constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
 
A reading from the prophet Isaiah:
 
A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (June 20, 2016)

3-1

If this story isn’t true, it ought to be. I ran across this urban legend in one of Brennan Manning’s books. He’s a favorite author who writes with singular focus on the gift of grace, and how grace goes to work in the world. In this troubled time in our world, this story which he told came to mind:

During the Great Depression, on a cold night in New York, Fiorello LaGuardia went to a night court serving one of the poorest parts of town. He sent the sitting judge home and took the judge’s place, apparently something mayors can do. An elderly woman was brought before the bench, accused of stealing food from a local store. She explained that her daughter was sick, her son-in-law had abandoned them, and there was no food in the house to feed the grandchildren, no money to buy food. Despite this compelling story, the store owner insisted on prosecution. He couldn’t afford leniency because there were so many people in so much need. He’d be overrun. The mayor agreed, and told the woman that she had to either pay a fine of ten dollars, or spend ten days in jail.

Then he reached in his pocket and found ten dollars, paying the fine. And he spoke to the group gathered in the courtroom. He said, “I am fining each one of you 50 cents for living in a city where a woman needs to steal bread to feed her family.” Policemen, court officials, those present for traffic violations, even the shop owner paid the fine. The woman ended up with $47.50, a lot in those days. The mayor had made the point that the whole community bore responsibility. Justice and mercy were on display that evening. The story captures my imagination with the mayor’s sense that we are all connected, all responsible and even complicit in the brokenness of our world. What’s our part in it?

Our scripture poses that question, perhaps most famously when St. Paul addresses the religious and the not-so-religious and says that all have fallen short of the glory of God. We’re all in this together. Our liturgy poses that question, when at the beginning of Holy Week, in another courtroom scene, we read the Passion Narrative and the congregation cries “Crucify”. I know parishioners who skip that Sunday, claiming they would never have been part of the crowd, never part of a process that would put love to death. “Never. Not me. I’m not part of it.”

Facebook now echoes with images that say “I am Orlando.” just as a while ago we heard “Je suis Hebdo.” There is sad empathy there. But perhaps also a challenging message to think of our connection and our responsibility to address the brokenness of our world, to work for justice and peace. What part do we play in it? What we can do about it? Speak? Pray? Learn? Listen? Vote? Advocate? Serve? Be present? Pastor the community?

Along with the challenge is hope, perhaps conveyed in St. Paul’s image that we are all part of the body of Christ. All that we do is related to the rest of the body. We need each other. Below, find a message from Martin Luther King to the clergy of his day, well-meaning main-line Christian ministers who remained dangerously silent as Dr. King led the charge. He gave them an image of interconnectedness that speaks to all who would follow Jesus, who would be his hands and feet in the world.

This Monday morning, is there a way that God is calling you to pastor the community, to work for justice and peace, to participate in the healing of a hurting world? Can you see yourself as part of an inescapable network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny? Ask God to show you that way.

-Jay Sidebotham

In a real sense, all life is inter-related. All [men] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an excerpt from his letter from a Birmingham Jail

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (June 13, 2016)

3-1

Maybe I shouldn’t write anything this morning when a hate crime rends our hearts. If you think so, stop reading and say a prayer for the victims, and for those who loved the victims, and for all of us.

If you choose to keep reading, a story (which may be worth telling today…I’m not entirely sure) about a walk in Central Park last week, a sunny, breezy day. Everyone was out. I enjoyed the beautiful scenery. The diversity of the crowd was energizing, everyone doing their own thing. But I texted as I walked, apparently not a good idea. I stepped in a small pothole, twisted my ankle and conducted a dramatic gravity experiment, sprawled all over the sidewalk. One young urbanite on his phone was literally about five feet away, walking toward me. I fell in his path. And nothing. He didn’t even look at me, let alone say anything. Not “Are you okay?” or “Should I call for help” or “Are you inebriated?” or “Get the heck out of my way.” Nothing.

So in addition to a sore ankle and wounded pride, I was unsettled with the lack of human connection. My gravity experiment became a social experiment. It made me think about what has become of us all. This story may sound judgy about New Yorkers. As a New Yorker, that’s not my intention. It may sound judgy about this young man. That’s not my intention (well, okay, a little bit) .

But it got me thinking about how we see each other. To the extent that I am judging the guy, I’m inclined to wonder how he is like me (Usually the ways I judge other people end up having something to do with my own growth opportunities. Funny how that works.) It made me think about the ways I regard other people. Or don’t. Who is invisible in my scope?

I saw a video which described a recent study held in Europe, as people of that region grapple with the influx of refugees from Syria and other places. In this experiment, refugees were asked to sit in a chair facing a German citizen, also seated in a chair. In many ways, there was a huge chasm between those two folding chairs. They were told to stare in each other’s eyes for four minutes without saying a word. The study indicated that the silent engagement opened up deeper levels of understanding and compassion and relationship. After the silence, deep conversation started. People were changed when they really saw each other.

I don’t know if one can scale that kind of experiment, or if it has to say anything to us today but we could sure use something like it. It made me wonder how I might apply the principle on this day marked by collective grief. It might begin by recognizing that certain people may well be invisible to me. They may be strangers on the street, those without homes or food, and I just walk on by. They may be folks who differ from me on politics or religion. (How dare they?) They may be people of another religion. They may be people who work to add to my convenience and ease: waiters, grocery check out, flight attendants, folks on the other side of the globe staffing the phones for customer service. They may be people near by, with whom I work. They could be relatives. What would it mean to see people the way Jesus saw people? What happens to us, to our spirits when they are invisible to us, when they are dispensable?

Try this spiritual experiment. See someone today. See life from that person’s perspective. Look at the world from their point of view. Do so with the eyes of Christ. Maybe you’ll even notice someone who has fallen down.

And if you have read this far on this grim morning, now pray for the people of Orlando, those who died because of hate, those who mourn unspeakable loss, those now filled with deeper fear, those tempted to meet hate with hate.

-Jay Sidebotham

And who is my neighbour? Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity.

-Luke 10

Ubuntu:
I am what I am because of who we all are.

Namaste:
The Divine light in me acknowledges the Divine light in you.

The Baptismal Covenant:
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self?

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (June 6, 2016)

3-1

I was thinking this week about a friend, a rector, who in the middle of summer has his congregation sing “Joy to the world” as a reminder that the good news of Jesus’ birth is good news all year long. It often throws people a bit. He likes that.

I was reminded of this as I finished up the 2016 Advent calendar that I create each year with a brilliant collaborator, Susan Elliott. (She’s the brains of the operation. I do the sketches.) This will be our twentieth year producing this piece. Time flies when you’re having fun. But I’ll be the first to admit that it is challenging to wrap my mind around Advent when we’ve just celebrated Pentecost and by the way, the beach beckons.

Thanks be to God, I came across a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, called “God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas.” It’s about Advent, for sure. But it’s about so much more. Bonhoeffer makes this point about that short season:

The Advent season is a season of waiting, but our whole life is an Advent season, that is, a season of waiting for the last Advent, for the time when there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Good stuff. Here’s more:

God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us, whatever [men] may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.

That’s a message for any time of year, for sure. Okay, one more:

Advent creates people, new people.

Each of the liturgical seasons tells a story that is true all the time. In my own spiritual journey, with its joys and challenges, that’s particularly true of Advent. I was grateful to stumble across Bonhoeffer’s vision of God in the manger, reminding me that our whole life is an Advent season, that we are always meant to be looking for where God is coming into the world, expecting that to happen. We are always to be seeking Christ’s arrival, which often comes in other people (as irritating as that may be). We are always ready to be made new, always hopeful that we will see the day of Christ’s arrival, and that we will know it when we see it. Who knows, it may be June 6, 2016 that we see Christ in some new way.

And the seeking, the spirit of Advent goes on all the time, in all the time we’re given. To that point Bonhoeffer offered a reminder that life is a journey, not a destination. He said:

While it is good that we seek to know the Holy One, it is probably not so good to presume that we ever complete the task.

-Jay Sidebotham

If you let people concentrate too much on special times, feasts, services and seasons, they forget it is always now and here when God happens. They stop living in the naked now and wait for Christmas or Easter, Sunday morning or some far off future day of enlightenment.
-Richard Rohr,
 The Naked Now
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says,”At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
-2 Corinthians 6:1,2
Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.
Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring
By thine own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.
-Charles Wesley
10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (May 30, 2016)

3-1

Sunday matters

On this holiday Monday, I’m thinking about Sunday.

I remember when I was a rector, there were times I’d run into a parishioner in the grocery store, or almost run into them. Sometimes they’d see me at the other end of the aisle and pull a 180. Other times, we might have the chance to converse and I would get awkward apologies about why they hadn’t been in church recently. I considered shopping in another town.

I tried to assure people I wasn’t taking attendance. Occasionally, I’d confess to myself that I hadn’t noticed their absence (my bad). I learned that I was not the only one who faced this dynamic. As one of my colleagues said, after he’d had a few of these encounters: “I’m not a truant officer.”

The news tells us that patterns of church attendance are shifting. Regular church attendance today would formerly have been considered sporadic. In previous generations, there was no competition for Sunday morning. Now soccer games, open malls and little if no cultural expectation compete with worship on Sunday. Summer is upon us, a season when church attendance drops, prompting one child to ask: Is God on vacation?

I can imagine any number of reasons why church attendance is in decline. Too often, worship can seem boring or irrelevant. Often clergy (at least this clergyman) and congregants appear to go through the motions, not quite on auto-pilot but closer than I’d like to admit. Often the failures of organized religion (or disorganized religion in the case of the Episcopal Church) drive people away. Often we are answering questions no one is asking. Often we fail to offer challenge, a way to put faith to work in the world. Often we promote our own tribal notions of what worship should be rather than proclaiming good news, telling the story of Jesus and his love. I could go on. The question surfaces: Why go to church?

I got to thinking about that question when I read a newspaper article last week. (Raleigh News and Observer, Health and Fitness section, 5.23.2016.) A new study released in a journal published by the American Medical Association indicates that church attendance is actually good for your health. People who go to church apparently live longer. I thought: There’s got to be some way I could use this information.

But I think we need to shift from focusing only on what we get out of worship, move away from thinking of worship as consumer product, as entertainment, as a presentation subject to our critique, dependent on our approval. Can we move towards a focus on what we bring to the experience, what we offer, how we can be of service, in anticipation of a transformative encounter with the Holy One?

The idea of a weekly gathering goes back to the first days of the church. Christians got together on the first day of the week, for remembrance of resurrection, to be reminded of new life, for eucharist (thanksgiving) recalling grace experienced in the Jesus movement. They gathered for strength to carry on the journey, mindful that one can’t be a Christian alone. They needed to be together in a hostile culture. They gathered so the world could witness a new kind of community marked by compassion. The Book of Acts tells us that outsiders looked at the early church and said “See how they love one another”, with the implication that they soon would join.

With cultural pressure to show up on Sunday dissipating, it’s an opportunity to discover a new call to worship. Communal worship (a.k.a, Common Prayer) alone will not be the key to our spiritual growth, but it is an indispensable element. So ask these questions: What is my spiritual community? What is the commitment, for me and my household, as regards to gathering for worship? Where do I go to find strength for the journey? How can I support others in that journey? What do I bring to the table? What can I offer? How will the community be diminished by my absence? How will it grow with my presence?

-Jay Sidebotham

And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them.
-Acts 20:7
 
 
 
 
And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
-Hebrews 10:24,25
 
 
 
 
Worship is like a drama:
The clergy, ministers and musicians are the prompters;
the people are the actors; 
and God is the audience.
-Søren Kierkegaard

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (May 23, 2016)

3-1

Monday, May 23, 2016

After this the Lord appointed seventy 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

So I’m sitting on the floor of the Phoenix airport, near the gate, waiting to board. It’s crowded. The plane is delayed. Folks are grouchy. I’m wearing jeans and an old shirt so no one knows I’m an Episcopal priest. Incognito, I can be as cranky as I want without impeding the spread of the gospel. I’m focused on my laptop, in my zone. But for some reason I look up to see a guy in a clerical collar. He’s got a big nametag that says chaplain. And then I recognize him. He’s the Bishop of Arizona.

I’m not sure I’d ever met him in person, but he’s well known and well regarded in the wider church. We have some mutual friends. So I yelled to him, “Hey, Bishop.” I introduced myself, told him what I was doing in town (I was leading a Vestry retreat for one of the local parishes) and mentioned the folks we knew in common. Having done with all that, I asked what he was doing.

He told me that he asks each of his clergy to spend time serving as chaplain somewhere in the community, usually one day a month. The venues come in great variety. He said that if he asked his clergy to do that, he should do it too. So he clears the bishop’s calendar (loaded with meetings about meetings about the next meeting) and spends one day a month practicing a ministry of presence in the airline terminal of all places.

As I suspect you know all to well, it’s a place ripe for pastoral care. The harvest is plentiful (see gospel reading above.) The whole system breeds anxiety. In case you forget the anxiety, they insist on reminding you by having you remove your loafers which after all could be incendiary devices that bring down the aircraft. (Have a good day!). The boarding process has become a parable of a grace-starved world, as the human community is divided into an increasing number of categories conveying status. First class. Premium, Platinum. Gold. Silver, Wood. Hay. Stubble.

Often people prepare to board a plane at critical moments in their journeys. Saying goodbye. Reuniting. Responding to a crisis. Moving to a new home. Trying to make a meeting or meet a deadline. Often people are fatigued, worried about travel, fearful of flying. And meaning no offense to the folks who staff the desks, the airlines seem increasingly limited in the ability to provide humane service. Clearly, this place could use a chaplain.

There were many things I loved about what I learned that afternoon. The bishop was providing a good example of the mission of the church. It was not about hoping people would stumble through the red doors of the local parish. (Really, how likely is that these days?) It was not about expecting people to find their ways into our pews, picking up our special, occasionally precious rituals. It was about going out into the neighborhood, doing what Jesus asked his disciples to do (though I’m not certain what they would do in an airport), doing what Jesus himself did. In a world where it seems nothing is free, it came close to being an unconditional offering.

The airport was one place where a chaplain might really come in handy. I can think of others. A workplace. A dining room table. A hospital waiting room. The line for unemployment insurance. This kind of ministry in the world need not be limited to bishops. Each one of us can take the opportunity to think about where God calls us to be of service, to show love without expecting return, meeting the anxiety and fear of the world with a word of grace and kindness. Or maybe no word at all. Just presence.

Will this Monday in May provide that kind of opportunity? I’m guessing it will. Don’t miss it.

Jay Sidebotham

10

4

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

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.