Monday Matters (June 29th, 2015)

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Peter, Paul and Michael

Today, the church calendar calls us to observe the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. If you’re not a church geek, all of this may be TMI, but Peter and Paul are described as apostles, literally someone sent to do something. They were entrepreneurs who got the church off the ground in the first century. Talk about a spiritual start-up. They get a fair amount of air time in the church year. Each have a feast day in January (The Confession of St. Peter, followed a week later by the Conversion of St. Paul). The week in between is called the week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in part because apparently Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. It’s not altogether clear that they liked each other that much. Let’s just say they didn’t vacation together.

The real name of our National Cathedral in D.C. is the Cathedral of St. Peter and St Paul. While they are remembered together in that important institution, the architecture tells a lot about their story. On the façade of the Cathedral at one end you find a depiction of the story of St. Peter. At the other end, about as far as possible, you find the story of St. Paul. The church had to be a big tent to include these two larger than life characters: Peter the disciple who never had an unexpressed thought and Paul, almost obsessive in his frenetic race around the rim of the Mediterranean to share the gospel in the short time he knew he’d been given. I don’t imagine either of them was all that easy to get along with but here’s what I like about them:

They used what they had been given: Peter the fisherman accepts Jesus call to go fishing for people. His open mouth/insert foot approach led him to preach the early church into being. Paul the obsessive persecutor of the church channels that religious fervor, redirecting it to work tirelessly to establish communities of grace in one town after another. The faith affirmed and fulfilled who they were. It didn’t deny or diminish their identity.

They were learners, willing to grow and change:  They were disciples in that particular sense of the word which sees disciple as learner. Thank God they were. Both Peter and Paul first approached the faith with a strong sense of boundaries for the community, a clear sense of who was in and who was out. Each in his own way, they came to realize the expansive power of God’s grace, including folks who had formerly been off limits. We are all the beneficiaries.

They grew in humility:  Neither lacked ego strength, but through encounter with Jesus, they each came to see that he was the one to whom their lives were meant to point. I sense they both struggled with this issue. And they didn’t always agree with each other. The New Testament is clear that they had some run ins. But the disputes, which ultimately came to resolution, indicated that their priority, their mission was to follow Jesus.

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church continues this week. On Saturday, the group in Salt Lake City elected a Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who calls us all to be like Peter and Paul, to be crazy Christians, to follow Jesus with love and joy in our hearts. It’s going to be a great time to be an Episcopalian. Fasten your seat belts. As today we give thanks for Peter and Paul, pray also for our new Presiding Bishop, another amazing apostle. And join Peter, Paul and Michael in figuring out this day how you can share with joy the good news about Jesus.

– Jay Sidebotham

Words of St. Paul, from II Timothy:

 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

A story about St. Peter, from the Gospel of John

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (June 1st, 2015)

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Sincerity and truth

I stood at the kiosk, trying to get my boarding pass. I’d gotten up early, taken the subway to the bus, waited for a while, gotten on the bus which got in traffic, and arrived at the terminal with plenty of time before boarding. It felt like an accomplishment, but now the machine couldn’t locate my reservation. I immediately attributed it to the incompetence of airlines, a favorite theme. Then I took another look at my itinerary. My flight was booked for the next day.

I could not have been more sincere about my intention to fly that day. But no amount of sincerity would compensate for the fact that I had the wrong day. After I composed myself, and recalled that I had recently mocked a friend for doing something similar, I thought of the line from one of Paul’s letters. (This kind of thing happens to preachers.) Paul tells the Corinthian church that we are to keep the feast (i.e., to be spiritually observant) with sincerity and truth. We need both.

What does it mean to be sincere? Its etymology suggests purity (literally, molten metal that is free of wax). Sincerity is about purity of heart, which according to Kierkegaard, is a matter of willing one thing. It is essential, but on its own is probably not enough. We need to figure out the truth piece.

That is risky, because I think people tend to speak with too much conviction about religious truth. It’s not that I doubt such truth exists, but I have little confidence that we can handle it. (Channeling Jack Nicholson’s speech here, from A Few Good Men.) So much of religious truth is beyond our understanding. The Bible says as much. Many religious people use their small slice of insight to exclude others, to beat them up, to gratify ego, or confirm preexisting ideas.

But think with me this Monday morning about truth we are called to embrace with sincerity.  How would you articulate it? On her 61st birthday, Annie Lamott wrote a Facebook post on what she knows (see below). Inspired by her, as I often am, here’s what came to mind when I considered the truth I feel called to embrace with sincerity:

  • God exists. Sunrise at the ocean confirms that.
  • God seems to have some interest in relationship with us, for some peculiar reason.
  • God made each one of us with value and dignity and significance, for some peculiar reason. Each one of us. Each one.
  • Jesus shows up in person to demonstrate God’s peculiar interest, just in case we might miss the point.
  • We have a knack for messing up our relationships with God and with each other.
  • God loves us in spite of that propensity. That love has power to heal and get us back on track and create a future.
  • Jesus invites us to follow him into that future, which we do when we focus (with sincerity) on giving instead of receiving, on forgiving instead of being forgiven, on serving instead of being served.

That’s some of what I believe to be true. My faith journey is a matter of trying to embrace all that with sincerity, ever mindful of the counsel of a wise bishop who said that he never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Newsflash: I could be wrong, as sure as I showed up at the airport on the wrong day. But there’s I’m not going to let that deter me from trying to navigate the spiritual journey, with sincerity and truth. At least I’m going to try this Monday.

How about you? How are you navigating the spiritual journey, with sincerity and truth? What will that look like? What do you know to be true?

– Jay Sidebotham

 Excerpts from Annie Lamott’s Facebook post on the occasion of her 61st birthday. In this post she spoke of what she knows to be true: 

All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here…It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. 

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides.

Families; hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. (See #1 again.) 

Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table.

Grace: Spiritual WD-40. Water wings…The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and our world. To summon grace, say, “Help!” And then buckle up…

Emerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot, and look up.

 Exercise: If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this. If you are in a wheelchair, you must do chair exercises. Every single doctor on earth will tell you this, so don’t go by what I say.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 25th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 25, 2015

A way to pray on Memorial Day

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
 
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

These are the third and fourth stanzas of a poem 
written by Robert Laurence Binyon in 1914. He sat on cliffs overlooking the English Channel, reflecting on the casualties of the British Expeditionary Force which had suffered severe losses at the Battle of Mons and the Battle of the Marne in the opening phase of the war on the Western Front. Over time, these stanzas have been claimed as a tribute to all casualties of war. They are shared on this Monday morning, when many people have opportunity to take a day off. Amidst relaxation and revelry, take some quiet time on this Memorial Day to remember those who over the years have lost their lives, those known to us, those unknown soldiers.

Pray for the repose of their souls, in the confidence that in death life is changed not ended, that as our Prayer Book says, they still go from strength to strength in service in God’s perfect kingdom. In the mystery of our Easter faith, their stories are not over.

Then pray for those who feel their loss most deeply, even over the decades. I remember visiting my grandmother in the hospital room where she spent her last days in her late eighties. What she wanted to talk about in her final hours was the young son who died at the age of 5, well over 50 years earlier. The sense of loss is rarely lost.

Then pray for those whose lives are at risk this Monday morning around the world, soldiers and civilians. Many of us will be enjoying the privileges, the blessings of our way of life, even as around the world conflict rages. Way too often , it is conflict offered in the name of God. Pray for those in harm’s way.

Then pray for our enemies, for those who would threaten to undo us. That’s not an easy one. But as followers of Jesus we do it because he told us to. If you have trouble finding the words, let the Prayer Book help with this prayer for our enemies. It makes the point that like it or not, we’re in this together. Here’s the prayer:  O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then pray for peace. Our big, beautiful, broken world needs those prayers big time. Those prayers can be quiet offerings. They can be active, as together we work for justice and peace in the world.

Then have a great day off, having taken a few minutes to remember.

– Jay Sidebotham

 A prayer for heroic service, from the Book of Common Prayer, page 839

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.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 18th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 18, 2015

What do we do now?

We had been standing in the ICU, gathered at the bedside of the parishioner who had lived into his nineties, husband of more than sixty years. As monitors indicated life on earth quietly coming to a close, we stood in silence. After a while, we moved through the curtain to the hallway. The brand new widow turned to me and asked: What do I do now? It was a question asked on a number of levels. Will someone drive me to my apartment? Do I need to talk with somebody at the hospital? Do we go right to the funeral home? But I heard it, I believe she meant it on a deeper level, a question about what comes next, and how she would start her new life.

It’s the question of Ascension Day, observed last Thursday and yesterday at church. Ascension Day recounts the mystery of Jesus’ return to heaven, the dawning of a new chapter for disciples who I imagine looked at each other and said in Greek or Aramaic: “What’s next?” At one church, when I told this story to preschoolers, I took them outside to the courtyard, equipped with a helium balloon,  a drawing of Jesus attached to the end of a long ribbon. In a decidedly eco-unfriendly sermon illustration, I let it go. With necks craned we watched Jesus disappear into the crystal blue sky. We watched for a very long time. Everyone was silent until one young student broke that mood with the question: What do we do now?

The Pew Research study of religion broke last week, with dispiriting news about religious observance in our nation since the last survey. A big drop, especially among Catholics and mainline Christians. For those of us who do this organized religion thing for a living, for all who give their heart to the church, the report can be a bummer, one more indication that we are entering a new chapter. It should make us all ask: What do we do now?

Though I find it a perplexing feast, I thank God for Ascension Day. As Jesus leaves his disciples, he challenges them to be his hands and feet in the world. He promises to provide the resources, the Spirit they need to do that. I believe we are called to express our confidence in that promise by doing and being what God calls us to do and be. It’s a wake up call for the church, for sure. But as I go around the church, I see all kinds of signs that the changes in our culture are providing an opportunity for people to think in new ways.

Here’s one in particular: I’m honored to have added my name to a memorial. (A memorial is a fancy Anglican term for a document, this to be submitted to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church which will meet in late June. You can see this document online.) It was crafted by a fine group of creative, courageous and faithful disciples. It is a call to renewed focus on what is at the heart of our faith and its practice. If you want to read it, go to www.episcopalresurrection.org. You can sign it too. In the midst of challenges, in the face of an uncertain future, Episcopalians are making a commitment to move forward in faith, confident that God will not give up on the church. Sure, we are aware that we may have lost members. Sure, we are aware that we may have lost focus. Sure, we know that the church “has issues”. But we are also eager to follow Jesus’ commandments which are simple if not easy. They are to love God and love neighbor and in so doing to change the world.

Ascension Day is about hanging on to hope, when it might seemed to have vanished in the clouds. Now more than ever, our world needs that hope. Our world needs to know the love of Christ. Our world needs to know grace. Our church needs to show grace. You can be part of that effort. One way is to spend a few minutes looking at this website focused on Episcopal resurrection (the word resurrection means “to stand again”). Another way is to pray for the living, risen, ascended Jesus to put you to work in your world. Pray for the wider church. Pray for your local church. Pray that you will be led in new ways as disciple as you answer the question: What do we do now?

– Jay Sidebotham

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away. When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying, Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of* James. All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.

-Acts 1

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 11th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 11, 2015

There is a crack in everything God has made.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ever since I first ran across this quote, I’ve used it to convey the truth I’ve learned as I served in congregations, i.e., that everyone has some area that calls for healing, an area of brokenness, imperfection or incompletion, a growth opportunity. The recognition of that opening for God’s light to shine through is a critical part of the proclamation of the gospel. So I’ve used the quote often, maybe excessively. I used it in a sermon recently, when I was guest preacher at another congregation. After the sermon a gentleman approached me at the church door. He told me how much he liked the sermon. As often is the case, I sensed there was more coming. He added that he had been a student of Ralph Waldo Emerson for 35 years and had never run across that quote. He didn’t say: “Where did you find that?” or  “I’m curious about that citation.” He said: “That’s not Ralph Waldo Emerson. It’s Leonard Cohen.’ I felt corrected. Chastised. Embarrassed. Busted. A light had been shone on my fraudulence, which I work hard to keep hidden. The fact is, I don’t really remember where I first heard the quote. I don’t know much about Ralph Waldo Emerson (or poetry for that matter). And I admit that I like to thrown in great quotes from noted writers to impress the congregation, and perhaps make them think that I am smarter than I am. If any number of other folks had said the same thing (Geraldo Rivera? Jerry Falwell?), I don’t know that I would have included the quote.

So before I went to lunch, while people waited, I dashed up to the apartment where I was staying, went on line, googled the quote and found that, yes, indeed. Ralph Waldo Emerson had said this. I was not a fraud. At least not in this regard. Perhaps more important, I was right. This smarmy sermon critic was not. Advantage: Sidebotham. I went off to lunch self-satisfied.

It was so delicious to be right. It was annoying to be questioned. It was threatening to feel like a fraud (and studies show that a whole bunch of people in all walks of life fear that they will be found out). So often, the religious journey seems to be about being right, so that someone else will be wrong. What would it be if we focused not so much on being right, but being righteous? By righteous, I mean that word in the sense that St. Paul uses it in his letters. It is not about political or theological correctness (and folks across the spectrum subscribe to respective correctness). Righteous is a relational term. It means being set in right relationship. That right relationship begins with accepting that we are accepted (a quote from Paul Tillich, another smart guy, and I bet your impressed that I worked him into this message, aren’t you?) In our tradition, that right relationship begins with receiving grace, knowing that our worth is not established by how many poets we can quote (with proper attribution). On the basis of that acceptance, we can engage with others in a spirit of openness, a recognition that we all have growth opportunities, and the kind of deep joy that cares little whether we got the quote right or not.

In marriage, in famlies, among siblings, with parents and children, at the workplace, in the pews, we spend way too much time worrying about who is right. What would it take to focus more on being in right relationship, which includes seeking the best for the other, giving and receiving forgiveness?

There is a crack in everything God has made, including a crack in my efforts to use that Emerson quote to impress folks. A mentor used to say that he never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Thanks be to God, we have a God who loves us, and chuckles over our jockeying, a God who keeps teaching us and loving us. Is there a place in today’s schedule to focus less on being right and more on being in rlght relationship?

– Jay Sidebotham

St. Paul, writing to the Phiippians, chapter 3:

I, too, have reason for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. 

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 4th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, May 4, 2015

Two days ago, it was my privilege to officiate at the wedding of my wonderful niece and godchild. She is remarkable, and she has been graced with a wonderful, remarkable life partner. Their outdoor wedding was a holy occasion, held in a beautiful Southern garden under sunny skies. It has rained the past two weekends. In fact it poured on Friday, and the forecast for next weekend is not good. They threaded the needle, meteorologically speaking. I started my homily confessing that I’m not a huge believer in weather prayers, or sports prayers for that matter.

This year, March Madness elicited several prayer requests for teams that faced each other as the bracket unfolded. What’s a cleric to do? Pray for both teams? A young middle-schooler I admire asked me to pray that his team would win. I gave voice to the prayer that was clearly on his heart. But when that team suffered an upset defeat, I wondered what this young Christian would think of prayer and priests.

When people ask me to pray for a good day for their event, I usual draw on the old joke that as clergy, I’m in sales not management. With the apparent unraveling going on in our cities and around the world, I am not always comfortable asking God to orchestrate things that seem less urgent. I think the holy one has plenty of other things to do. I feel funny praying for the easing of traffic or the opening of a parking space or the timely arrival of a flight so I can make a connection, even though I admit I have prayed for all these things. I did pray for good weather for my sweet niece. And I sent up prayers of heartfelt gratitude for the beauty of the day.

The weather last Saturday was just one way that I’ve been asked to think about the mystery of prayer. Do I treat God as valet? As holy executive assistant? As super-Uber? In a conversation over lunch last week, a friend asked what I think about praying for outcome. She had been in discussion with another person about whether it isn’t better to pray for acceptance rather than outcome. One of my spiritual guides was going through a challenging time. I asked how I could pray for him. He said he didn’t think so much about praying for a particular resolution to his issues, but asked for the grace to navigate them. So the discussion goes, round and round.

St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, which to me does not mean 24/7 intercession, though that may be the vocation of a holy few. Rather, it means that there is not a moment in our lives that could not involve some kind of prayer. The monastic pattern of prayer throughout the day, echoed in the Daily Office of the Book of Common Prayer, is a spinoff of this idea of prayer without ceasing. For some, this kind of liturgical practice may work. For others, it may be pausing throughout the day to offer Annie Lamott’s three words: Thanks, help and wow. She claims we need no other words than those in prayer. A more recent saint, Reinhold Neibuhr, found a beautiful way to sum up prayer life in what is now known as the serenity prayer, printed in the column on the left.

All of this is a lead up to make the point that I don’t really understand how prayer works. I know people who have faced extended battles of all kinds, who have had thousands of people pray for them, and the intended result has not happened. That can be confusing and defeating. But if asked whether it’s okay to pray for something, even something silly like a parking space or a break in traffic, I tend to say: Go for it. Let God (however you understand God in your life) know what’s on your heart. And be ready to be transformed in that process. I encourage people to offer the desires on their heart, and then to focus on acceptance, and gratitude, and hope, based on the premise that God’s intention for us is health and wholeness and goodness and love. Some days that’s a whole lot easier to do than others. But if I began to think that there was something off limits for my prayer life, I would probably not know where to draw the line.

It’s been said that prayer is not about changing God. It’s about changing us. When we say thanks, help or wow, we are making a big theological statement. It’s a kind of creed, actually. So let the prayers infiltrate every corner of your life. And see how you grow in response.

– Jay Sidebotham

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. -I Thessalonians 5 

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. -Søren Kierkegaard 

If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough. Meister Eckhart

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (April 27th, 2015)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, April 27, 2015

Make haste to be kind

The text read as follows:

“Hello. I’m a flight attendant with American Airlines. I found your sketch book on my outbound flight today. I will be sending it out in the mail, hopefully on Friday, assuming I can get to the post office. Otherwise I’ll send it on Monday.”

One of my spiritual, centering practices is to carry a small sketch book. I try to do at least one drawing a day. It’s a kind of a journal, a way of paying attention. I started with a fresh sketch book at the beginning of Lent, a discipline that helped me carve out a bit of time each day to be mindful, to notice. Because I’m on airplanes a lot, because those airplanes get delayed a lot, which means I sit at the gate a lot, as do other people who sit relatively still a lot, which makes them really easy to draw, my sketch book is filled with drawings of cranky, bored, sleepy people in airports. Below the drawings are often snarky comments about how poorly the airlines are doing their job. Some of them may even be unkind.

On a flight last week, I left my black sketchbook in the pocket of the seat in front of me. It disappeared into the darkness of the cabin as the plane landed late at night. I had the fear that I had lost this important record for good. The chronicle of my recent travels, on many pages marked by a certain degree of frustration and unhappiness was gone. Just one more way that the airlines had done me wrong.

And then the next morning I got this text from a flight attendant, who in a small act of kindness, found my phone number in the sketchbook and went out of her way to tell me it would be returning. I wrote her in response, thanking her for kindness to strangers, a small unconditional gift, a moment of grace. She wrote back and said she liked the drawings. I probably should have apologized for snarky content.

I’m glad to be getting the sketch book back. But I’m also grateful for this interaction, grateful to be on the receiving end of this considerate act. It makes me think about how I might do the same for someone else (and perhaps also give the airline folks a break).

I have no idea what this day, this week will bring. But I guarantee it already contains the opportunity to offer some small act of kindness, some unanticipated moment of grace. Ask God to show you what that might be. Notice. Be mindful, aware, alert for the chance to lift someone’s spirit, maybe to help them find or recover something they’d lost. Maybe they have lost something like a sketchbook. Maybe they’ve lost more: hope, or relationship, or courage. Help them find it. It’s part of what it means to be a disciple, as the reading from I John suggests (see below). It calls us to love not only in word or speech, but in action and truth.

Live out the blessing we often say in church (also in the column on the left). Be swift to love. Make haste to be kind. We have limited time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.

– Jay Sidebotham

 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.  -I John 3

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (April 20th, 2015)

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

Be open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Third Sunday in Easter:

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (April 13th, 2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (April 6th, 2015)

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

This Joyful Eastertide

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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