Monday Matters (September 15th, 2014)

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

Day by day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Jay Sidebotham

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

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

Psalm 100:

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 8th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, September 8, 2014

A family friend raising two young boys used to send them off to school each morning with this advice: Be a distinctive Christian today. Implicit in that challenge: It was up to them to figure out what that meant that day.  St. Augustine, when celebrating the eucharist in North Africa in the 4th century, held up the bread and wine and told his congregation: See who you are. Be who you are. He left it to that congregation, convening at a time when the world was falling apart, to figure out what it meant to be the body of Christ. In baptism, perhaps my favorite goose-bump moment occurs when the priest makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the candidate, using oil blessed by the bishop. The oil immediately seeps into the skin, invisible but indissoluble. In that moment, a new identity emerges, as the priest says: You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. Each baptized person is then and thus called to go into the world figuring out what it means to bear that new identity.

What are the marks of identity in your life indicating the faith you embrace? Or as one preacher noted: If you were arrested for being a Christian, if you were arrested for being a person of faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you? These questions are meant as challenge not judgment. I want to raise them this Monday morning because if our faith shapes the way we live, that’s worth nothing. If it doesn’t shape the way we live, if it doesn’t in some way call us to a new way of life, then why bother?

I want to raise them because as I’ve been doing reading about why religious observance is dwindling, I hear consistent comments from those identified as “nones”, those who claim no religious observance. When these folks are asked to describe Christians, they often refer to people who are self-righteous, hypocritical, judgmental, boring, and often, by the way, constitutionally averse to having a good time. Ouch. Too often, in our culture, being a Christian has become identified with taking a particular point of view on one particular social issue, insisting on everyone’s agreement, claiming to be in the right, which has a way of creating division, making somebody else wrong. Way too often, Christians have been on the wrong side of history in terms of issues of justice and peace.

The Acts of the Apostles paints another picture. It tells us that the early church grew exponentially because outsiders looked in at the community of faith, and said: See how they love one another. It grew because people who had been disposable in that culture, children and widows and slaves and aliens were included, were cared for. The doors of welcome and inclusion were surprisingly wide open. What would outsiders conclude from looking at your community of faith, or mine? I confess that I may be the most conflict averse person on the globe, so I hear the challenge from N.T. Wright and G.K. Chesterton (below). We are called to make a difference, even if it stirs things up. And as Christ’s followers, as Christ’s own, we are called to do so in a spirit of love, practicing forgiveness and compassion and kindness and joy. What might that look like today?

- Jay Sidebotham

 Let your light so shine before others, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. -Matthew 5:16

Jesus promised his disciples three things-that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble. -G.K.Chesterton 

Everywhere St. Paul went, there was a riot. Everywhere I go, they serve tea. You have to ask, are we doing something wrong?” -N.T. Wright

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 1st, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, September 1, 2014

It’s been said that praying shapes believing. What we pray for, what we ask for molds our hearts and directs our affections. Prayer is not about the ways we can change God (as much as I often treat God in my prayers like celestial valet). Prayer is about the change that happens in us as we offer joys and concerns to a power greater than ourselves. With that in mind, on this Labor Day morning, I share a prayer crafted by our church in honor of Labor Day (see below). Labor Day, along with Thanksgiving and Independence Day, is one of the few national holidays included in the church calendar, with appropriate prayers and scripture readings appointed for the day. That says to me that our faith cares a lot about the ways that we regard our work and the work of others.

So let’s unpack this prayer a bit to see how it shapes belief. I don’t know a whole lot about the history behind it, but I’m imagining it was written well before Thomas Friedman pointed out that the world is flat, his way of describing globalization. With prescience, in this collect, we note that our lives are linked one with another. All we do affects, for good or ill, the lives of others. It’s the notion that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Japan affects the weather in Brazil. It’s the experience I have when I’m changing airline reservations or asking a question about my banking statement and discover I’m talking to someone in Manila or Bangalore. Our faith notes our connection with each other. We’re in this together, workers among workers. We depend on each other.

We pray today to be guided in the work we do. What would it mean to offer that prayer each Monday morning, perhaps each morning. One way to put faith to work in the world is to take it a day at a time, to ask that God’s spirit guide, given that we don’t know what a day will bring.

We pray that our work will be guided in a specific way: that it won’t be for self alone but for the common good. Of course, work has a component of self-fulfillment, the realization and stewardship of our gifts which can bring great joy in work. As Frederick Buechner famously noted in his description of vocation, we work best when our work responds to our deep gladness. But it becomes true and authentic vocation when that deep gladness intersects with the world’s deep hunger. How do your labors, your energies work for the common good? How do they realize that intersection?

What kind of work are we talking about? It can be work for pay. It can be work as a volunteer. It can be work set before us in our household, our neighborhood, our church. And on those occasions when work seems boring or pointless, a focus on others can bring meaning to menial tasks. A focus on service can inspire and animate.

We pray that as we seek a proper return for our labor, whatever that may be, we will be mindful of the rightful aspirations of others, again seeing ourselves as part of something greater than ourselves. We are called to be mindful of those who are out of work, who often slip into invisibility, calling us as people of faith to work for a common life filled with wider opportunity and meaningful engagement for all.

Today, we honor the work we have been given to do. We thank God for it. We ask God to bless it. But as in so many dimensions of our faith, as we think about our work, we are called to think about others. As we focus on ourselves, our own journeys, we find meaning in those journeys when we look beyond ourselves, and wrap our minds around the common good. Find a way to do that on this holiday.

- Jay Sidebotham

 The Collect for Labor Day

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is. -Sigmund Freud

Therefore, my beloved…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. -Philippians 2:12-13

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Jay SidebothamContact:

 

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

Monday Matters (August 25th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, August 25, 2014

Guided by the Daily Lectionary found in the back of the Book of Common Prayer, I’m reading my way through the Book of Job, that book of the Bible which addresses a mystery we all know too well, the perplexing question posed by Rabbi Kushner: Why do bad things happen to good people (or any people, for that matter)? The ancient book, a poem in many respects, wins the kind of attention suggested in the quotes in the side column. Its artistry is distinctive, for sure. It also continues to win attention because every one of us knows at least a little bit about what it is like to feel like Job. Maybe you identify with him this morning, or know and love someone who does. In my own ministry, I’ve often commented to people in all kinds of predicaments: You must be feeling like Job. Biblical literacy may be waning in our culture, but people know right away what I’m talking about.

As I’m reading, I’m struck by the ways that Job navigates the challenges he faces. When urged to curse God, prompted by family and friends, he says things like this: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

That response has prompted this question this morning: How do we navigate those experiences? I’m impressed not only with the way Job navigates the suffering. It has also brought to mind the ways that modern equivalents handle suffering faithfully.

I have in mind the witness of Jim Foley who while held as captive in Libya turned to prayer. He told a group of students: “I began to pray the rosary. It was what my mother and grandmother would have prayed. I said 10 Hail Marys between each Our Father. It took a long time, almost an hour to count 100 Hail Marys off on knuckles and it helped to keep my mind focused.” It is the witness of his family, captured in comments offered by Jim’s mother: “Faith has been part of family life, but this has deepened my faith because there is our hope. Our hope is that God will take care of Jim.”

I have in mind the witness of people in Ferguson, Missouri, who gathered a week ago Sunday afternoon for a service of prayer, offered in the midst of their pain over the death of Michael Brown in their community, and all it revealed about our broken communities. Amidst the prayer prompted by pain, there was praise.

I have in mind the pain of Brandi Murry, mother of Antonio, a 9 year old shot in Chicago. She said: “He just didn’t make it. I’m praying for the whole city right now. I don’t want no other parent to every go through this. I feel your pain. It’s bad, and it hurts so much.”

I have in mind a friend, a fine preacher, who suffered a stroke that among other things affected his ability to speak, an inexplicable loss for an eloquent and compelling preacher of the gospel. He offered a reflection on his experience called “The upside of being knocked on your backside”. How do people focus on that upside?

I have in mind the witness of St. Paul, who contended with his own inexplicable, unidentified “thorn in the flesh”, and wrote in Romans 8:18: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”

The record of scripture is clear. Suffering comes to each one of us. Maybe it’s acutely felt by you this morning. How do we navigate these passages? A mentor told me that when we can’t understand, we withstand. When we can’t explain, we proclaim, offering praise and thanks, expressing hope even when that seems senseless. It’s not easy. I don’t know if I can do it. But we are, by grace, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who show the way.

- Jay Sidebotham 

 Tomorrow, if all literature was to be destroyed and it was left to me to retain one work only, I should save Job.” - Victor Hugo

 It is the greatest poem, whether of ancient or modern literature. -Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Book of Job taken as a mere work of literary genius is one of the most wonderful productions of any age or of any language. -Daniel Webster

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (August 18th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, August 18, 2014

Faith at work

I was privileged to attend a Leadership Summit last week, sponsored by Willow Creek. The event was held in Chicagoland, but I watched the gathering on a big old screen, live stream to a church a few miles from here, much easier commute, though I hated to disappoint US Airways. (They’ll get over it.) It was one of the many sites around the globe and the topic of leadership addressed issues that this email tries to explore each week. Questions like this: How do we put faith to work in the world, Monday through Friday, wherever God has placed us in the world? The Summit offered a fine line up of speakers, as I sipped from the firehose of their presentations, offered in quick succession. We heard from the CEO of GE. We heard from Susan Cain, author of Quiet, about the power of introverts in the world. (I savored her presentation as I sat by myself in the back row, empty seats around me, right on the aisle for easy exit if needed.) Tyler Perry, of movie fame, spoke. One session in particular focused on putting faith to work in the workplace, acknowledging the mystery of how to do that.

Mr. Don Flow spoke about how he faithfully tries to lead many thriving car dealerships that he leads in North Carolina and Virginia. How would you go about bringing values of faith into a setting like that? Using language we often throw around in religious circles, he spoke of covenant with customers, community with employees, commitment to common good. (These guys like alliteration. They also like acronyms.) He came up with one that spelled the word “serve”: Show respect; Earn trust; Reach for perfection; Value input; Energize others. He noted that a key element was the time he spends each morning in prayer, committing the day with its work to God’s guidance and provision. If you think it’s tough to put faith to work in a business like selling cars, consider the next speaker.

Ms. Allen Catherine Kagina is Commission General of the Uganda Revenue Authority, the IRS of Uganda. With a background in social work, she was by her own admission, unprepared for work in government bureaucracy. She courageously took on radical reform of a corrupt and inefficient system. She led in transformation of a system that came to be marked by giving and sharing of resources. She entered thinking it would be an impossible task. So she invited God into the process. If you think it’s tough to put faith to work in a government bureaucracy marked by inefficiency and corruption, consider the next speaker.

The Rev. Wilfredo De Jesus, Senior Pastor of the New Life Covenant Church in Chicago, was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2013. He began a church with 120 people. Now it has 17,000 members. He built a church that not only addressed the needs of the homeless, of prostitutes, drug addicts and gang members, but folded them into the life of the community. A seemingly impossible environment to build a church, probably the environment where God can really go to work.

Three different speakers. Three different stories. Each one faced huge obstacles in putting faith to work in their lives. But they did it. A consistent theme from each of the speakers was that prayer is integral. I don’t know if you have ever had the experience that I have had. I set about to accomplish something, plan something, and I get all anxious as I get into it and think it can’t be done. Then I realize somewhere along the line that I haven’t considered that just maybe perhaps I don’t need to freak out about getting it all done. Maybe I can try inviting God into it. Maybe I can “take it to the Lord in prayer.” Maybe I can even relax a little.

As you think about your life this Monday morning, with all that lies before you this week, identify one situation or relationship, one obstacle or opportunity, that seems like intractable, immoveable, impossible. Think of a place that seems highly unlikely as a place where God can go to work with healing, saving power (Examples might include; a car dealership, a bloated bureaucracy, a poverty stricken urban community, a comfortable main line congregation, a contented main line Christian, a broken relationship, a health crisis, a battle with depression, the northern mountains of Iraq, the eastern border of the Ukraine, a St. Louis suburb, Sierra Leone, the southern border of our nation, the list unfortunately goes on). Invite God into that place. See what happens. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

- Jay Sidebotham

Various translations of Ephesians 2:10. Focus on your favorite:

For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. -New Revised Standard Version 

He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. -The Message 

The fact is that what we are we owe to the hand of God upon us. We are born afresh in Christ, and born to do those good deeds which God planned for us to do. -J.B.Phillips 

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. -King James Version 

Porque somos hechura suya, creados en Cristo Jesús para hacer buenas obras, las cuales Dios preparó de antemano para que anduviéramos en ellas. -La biblia de las Americas

Denn wir sind sein Werk, geschaffen in Christo Jesu zu guten Werken, zu welchen Gott uns zuvor bereitet hat, daß wir darin wandeln sollen. -Luther Bible

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (August 11th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, August 11, 2014

Singing a song of the saints of God.

For a number of years, during this particular week in August, my family and I would travel on a mission trip in Honduras, a powerful partnership with people in that now very troubled part of the world. It goes without saying that we received more than we gave. We’d go for a week, and each morning on our mission trip we would gather for Morning Prayer. We would use readings for the saints of the day. It’s one of the few weeks in the year when there is a saint for each day, and it’s quite a collection. By holy coincidence, the saints of this week each have something to teach us about the journey of faith, and especially about service.

Today, we observe the feast of Clare, Abbess of Assisi, who joined St. Francis in his ministry in the 12th century. She reminds us that an integral part of our faith is attending to the needs of the poor, as an instrument of God’s peace. On this day, what might you do to serve those in need, nearby or far away?

Tomorrow, we observe the feast of Florence Nightingale. Did you know she was a saint? A social reformer, a person of deep faith, and founder of modern nursing in the 19th century, she reminds us that an integral part of our faith is being a healer, and that God uses people in a variety of ways for healing ministry. On Tuesday, what might you do to be an instrument of God’s healing power?

On Wednesday, we observe the feast of Jeremy Taylor, a church leader from the 17th century, noted for his skill as spiritual writer, so much so that he was called the “Shakespeare of the Divines”. He wrote a manual for Christian practice called The Rule and Exercises of Holy Living, a guide that is still in use. He reminds us that an integral part of our faith is that thing called practice. What will you do on this day to exercise your faith?

On Thursday, we observe a saint from our own day, Jonathan Myrick Daniels. As a seminarian in the early 1960′s, he participated in the civil rights movement in the south, and was shot and killed in Alabama, when he stepped between a young black woman and a man aiming a gun at her. He reminds us that Christ calls us to work sacrificially for justice and peace. This Thursday, what will you do to work for justice and peace?

And on Friday, we observe the feast of St. Mary the virgin, the mother of our Lord, who challenges us to consider what in means to magnify the Lord. She models discipleship in the way she responds to the angel’s announcement by saying “Here am I.” What will you do to say yes to God’s intentions for you?

This Monday morning, I’m mindful that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who guide us, who help us see what it means to have faith. We give thanks for the life, ministry and witness of Clare, Florience, Jeremy, Jonathan and Mary. Take some time and think about how they call you to grow in your own life of faith this week. Give thanks for their witness and for all the saints in your life. Remember that you can be one too. By grace, you already are.

- Jay Sidebotham 

(You can find tons of information about each of these saints online, but you know that. If you want to know which scripture readings have been selected for these saints, I suggest www.lectionarypage.net)

A new stanza for an old hymn:

I sing a song of the saints of God, 
This week, there is one each day.
They’re quite a crowd
An impressive cloud of witnesses 
showin’ the way:
An abbess, a nurse, seminarian,
A writer, on Friday, the BVM.
Spend some time with these saints
And you’ll find that it’s true
That you get to be one, too.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (August 4th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, August 4, 2014

Compassion

In our gospel reading yesterday, we heard Matthew’s version of the feeding of the five thousand, a miracle about so much more than catering. Jesus goes out into the desert for some down time. He had just heard that his cousin and colleague, John the Baptist, had been executed, basically as entertainment at one of Herod’s parties. Whatever Jesus was seeking when he went out to that quiet place, solace or safety, he was intentional about the trip. Sounds like he needed it. Maybe he even had an agenda. But life happened instead of what Jesus planned and when he crosses the lake in his boat, he finds that crowds had made their way around the lake on foot to meet him, crowds filled with people in need of healing. Jesus could have said “This is my day off.” or “I need some down time.” Or “Could you call somebody else?” But Matthew’s gospel tells us that when Jesus saw the great crowd, he had compassion for them. Mark’s gospel says more. Jesus saw the great crowd and had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

I’m thinking about that word “compassion” this Monday morning. Its etymology suggests “suffering with” or “co-suffering”. While many definitions suggest it is about helping people in need, it is different from philanthropy or pity or charity. It is a movement of the heart that somehow recognizes we’re all in this together. I see it in a recently released photo of an Israeli parent and a Palestinian parent hugging, holding each other up when each of them had lost a child in the current conflict. Compassion as “suffering with.” I see it in Jesus’ story, his heart broken open by the horrific end of John the Baptist’s life, a heart now open to the hunger of this crowd. I see compassion in his arms stretched out on hard wood of the cross to draw us into his saving embrace.

Karen Armstrong, the brilliant religious historian who has been so helpful, so insightful in writing about how the world’s great religions can move forward together, has identified compassion as the great common virtue, the great common aspiration in these traditions. She is not naïve about the ways that the great religions fall short of the call to compassion. She wrote: “Religious people often prefer to be right rather than compassionate. Often, they don’t want to give up their egotism. They want their religion to endorse their ego, their identity.” I’m wondering if you have ever met any religious people like that. I sometimes see that person in the mirror. She sees compassion at the heart of Jesus’ ministry. She wrote: “Jesus did not spend a great deal of time discoursing about the trinity or original sin or the incarnation, which have preoccupied later Christians. He went around doing good and being compassionate.” And she is quite realistic that compassion is a spiritual practice, which means not only that we need to make it practical, but also that we might just get better at it the more we do it. She wrote: “Compassion is a practically acquired knowledge, like dancing. You must do it and practice diligently day by day.” (Apparently, Karen Armstrong practices what she preaches. When she won a $100,000 TED prize, she dedicated those resources to developing a Charter of Compassion seeking a global movement focused on the principle of compassion. There’s lots of information online if you’re interested.)

Give thanks this morning that Jesus regards you and me with compassion. He knew suffering. He knows ours. Pray this morning that God will show you a way to practice compassion to others. You may not have $100,000 prize money to apply to that practice. But like the tiny offering of five loaves and two fishes that fed 5,000, there’s something you and I can offer today. We can practice compassion on Monday, August 4.

- Jay Sidebotham

 When Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. -Matthew 14:14

 As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things. -Mark 6:34

Love Divine, all love excelling,
Joy of heav’n, to earth come down;
Fix in us Thy humble dwelling,
All Thy faithful mercies crown.
Jesus, Thou art all compassion;
Pure, unbounded love Thou art;
Visit us with Thy salvation,
Enter every trembling heart.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (July 28th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, July 28, 2014

The church was big. It could seat over 1500 people. I went there last week for a service of burial, offered in thanksgiving for the life and witness of a friend, someone I admired for many reasons. Apparently, I wasn’t the only friend and admirer. The place was full for this sweet, sad liturgy that affirms the power of resurrection and calls us all to “alleluia” even in the midst of things beyond our understanding.

The homily at the service told the story of a full life, well lived, marked by what the well-heeled crowd would undoubtedly consider notable accomplishment. We honored a man who had a PhD in physics, a Harvard MBA, a remarkable and extended career in management consultant, working at top levels of a major firm. He served the community in many ways, on all kinds of boards. In retirement, he ably led a faith based organization that sought to draw people into deeper relationship with God and touched thousands of lives in North and South America. He had a deep commitment to his wife, who has had a powerful ministry in her own right, her ministry marked by goodness and grace. He had a deep commitment to the rest of his family and his many, many friends. He had a warm and winning personality. He was a skilled and avid golfer, even developed his own golf course. By many measures, he was a success. Out of all these impressive, even enviable accomplishments, here’s the thing that struck me in the homily offered by a wise clergyman. Indeed, this was the point of the sermon. This friend was described by the homilist as someone who for almost his entire adult life was hungry to know God. From what I could tell, the guy knew God pretty well. But the homilist suggested that there was always this desire to go further, to go deeper, to know more. I found myself thinking that would make an amazing epitaph: A person hungry to know God. It caused me to ask: What does it mean to live a life hungry to know God? What would it mean for me to follow that hunger?

Our liturgy is there to help. The service of Morning Prayer begins with confession. I consider it daily course correction. Whenever I read this service, I pause on this phrase: We have not loved you (God) with our whole heart. We have not loved our neighbor as ourselves. There is not a day that prayer is not true in my life, even when prayed just moments after waking. On most days, before my feet hit the floor, a word or action or thought has demonstrated that I have room to grow in love of God and/or neighbor.

We see it in the eucharist. As a priest, I was asked this question at my ordination, a question to which I return in moments when I wonder about my peculiar profession. In the ordination service, the bishop asks the would-be priest: Will you nourish God’s people with the riches of God’s grace? When we gather for communion, the bread and the wine, Christ’s presence with us, address that hunger.

Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. That word “righteous” is not so much an indication of right action, following the rules, coloring in the lines, staying in your lane, thinking inside the box. It indicates relationship. To be righteous is to be rightly related to God and neighbor. This Monday morning, consider what it means to you to be hungry to know God? Where do you see that need, that hunger and thirst in your own life? How might you go about meeting that hunger? Give thanks for those you know, like my departed friend, who have helped answer those questions, even in a small way.

- Jay Sidebotham

Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled, and they took up what was left over the of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who are were about 5000 men, besides women nd children.

-Matthew 14:19-21, a sneak preview of this coming Sunday’s gospel.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

-Matthew 5:6

Give us this day our daily bread.

-Matthew 6:11

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (July 21st, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, July 21, 2014

Suffer the little children.

Several years ago, my wife and I had the privilege of visiting Holy Cross Monastery in Grahamstown, South Africa, founded in response to a request in the late 1990′s that the monks come to that divided nation to model community. Several monks answered that call. They went, in the spirit of Abraham and Sarah in the Bible, not knowing where they were going or what they were meant to do once they got there. They went, and did what they knew to do, which was to say their prayers, confident that the Holy Spirit would show them the way.

It was not long after they had arrived that their mission became clear. Three young boys, who lived near the monastery had been left unattended one day, because the mothers had to work and could not afford child care. The boys were playing on railroad tracks nearby the monastery. An oncoming train hit them. Two of them died. The monks not only offered comfort, not only arranged for funeral and burial. They also discerned their call, which had to do with the local children who began to make their way down the long dirt road to the monastery. The monks began a scholarship fund to help these young people go to school. They founded a school on site for the children who lived in the area and in the local impoverished townships. The monks set a goal of providing an education as good as the best private schools in South Africa, making it accessible to people who never dreamed they could afford it. They found their vocation. It was about the children.

My ministry has offered the privilege of traveling to places where God’s love shines through with beauty and grace, even in most desperate and deprived settings. Grahamstown is one for sure. Another is Honduras, where I have traveled a number of times. I haven’t taken groups there in two or three years because we’ve been told it’s too dangerous. On one of my last visits, I visited an AIDS clinic in San Pedro Sula, one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I stepped outside the clinic to take a phone call, just on the sidewalk. The staff urgently pulled me back through the open front door. It was not safe to stand on the sidewalk, even in the middle of the day, just a few feet from the door.  Since that time, the clinic has been robbed several times. Employees have been beaten up. Two have been murdered.

This Monday morning, I’m mindful of those children who have made their way to the southern border of our nation, from places like Honduras and other neighboring countries. I remember the children I met in Honduras, who look so much like that 8 year old boy I saw in a news photo this week, standing in front of U.S. border agent, showing the policeman his birth certificate, the only thing he brought with him besides the clothes he was wearing. 8 years old.

This Monday morning, I’m mindful of four boys playing soccer on the beach in Gaza who lost their lives when a missile ended their game.

This Monday morning, I’m mindful of infants sitting on parents’ laps on a plane shot down over eastern Ukraine. Those infants had nothing to do with the conflict that raged beneath the jet they boarded.

Each of these situations suggests political challenges that defy solution, broken human relationships that defy mending. No one politician or policy will solve them. Apparently, no one knows what to do about them. I have neither inclination or aptitude to weigh in with answers. All I know is this Monday morning, my heart is heavy with the brokenness of the world, and with the realization that children seem to bear the brunt. So maybe this Monday we mimic those monks, and we stop right now and pray for all God’s children, and for what God would have us do. If you’re not sure what to pray, you’re not alone. You could start with the prayer for the human family from our Prayer Book. And perhaps, in some way, prayers can be offered not only with our lips but with our lives 

- Jay Sidebotham

But Jesus said, “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”  -Matthew 19:14 (King James Version)

But Jesus said, Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.” -Matthew 19:14 (New Revised Standard Version)

A prayer for the human family from the Book of Common Prayer, page 815:

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through 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
www.forwardmovement.org

Monday Matters (July 14th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, July 14, 2014

No wonder.

Recent experiences lead this morning to a favorite spiritual growth opportunity: air travel. I’m choosing to regard recent random and unexplained flight cancellations as the work of the Holy Spirit, offering time (actually lots of it) for reflection, affording opportunity to embrace the Serenity Prayer, and calling me to consider the particular liturgy that begins each flight, as the attendant at the head of the aisle showing everyone how to fasten a seat belt as if I could not have figured that out on my own. Youtube has recently featured videos of flight attendants who have taken that liturgy to new heights, witty and whimsical variations on important messages we all need to hear (for the billionth time).  I recommend these videos. They will lift your spirits.

They stand in contrast to my experience on a recent flight, as the attendant at the head of the aisle showed safety cards, seat belt fastening technique, oxygen masks and seat cushions that become life preservers. I ached for this woman who was clearly really unhappy to be doing what she was doing, going through the motions, droning on about how to be saved in emergency. The repetition had gotten to her. I think in the moment, if I was a billionaire, I would have given her enough money to stop doing this job she hated because she was inflicting her unhappiness on a planeload of people who were already feeling like claustrophobic cattle. As we sometimes say in our family, this woman needed the joy of the Lord. Big time. No wonder. She had no sense of wonder. I compared her demeanor to the elderly women in another Youtube video, showing them on a flight for the very first time. Their sense of wonder about the experience was uplifting, as it should be, when you think about that mysterious miracle, all that metal, all that luggage, all those people lifting off the ground, up through clouds to the place where sun shines unobstructed and life is seen from new perspective.

Where am I going with this, you rightly ask? I do have a point.

When I watched the flight attendant droning on in rote misery, inflicting that on others, I thought about how familiar I have become with sacred text in scripture, Prayer Book, hymnal, and in creation that surrounds us, preaching a loving creator. I thought about how I use words like awesome and amazing to describe a cup of coffee. I thought about how perhaps in my own spiritual journey I prattle on mindlessly, self-absorbed, captive of habit and ritual, and really expect little to happen. I thought about how I take grace for granted, all of which stands in contrast to folks in the Bible who meet the Holy One and are overcome with a mix of holy fear and praise. When I was ordained to the priesthood, my sister gave me an illustrated quote, Annie Dillard’s widely circulated critique of the ways we worship. It came to mind when I thought about the flight attendant.

I also thought about a letter that the mystic Evelyn Underhill wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1930′s as she observed clergy of her day and concluded that they had lost a sense of wonder. She wrote: “We look to the church to give us an experience of God, mystery, holiness, and prayer, which though it may not solve the antinomies of the natural world, shall lift us to contact with the supernatural world and minister eternal life. We look to the clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. We are seldom satisfied because with a few noble exceptions they are so lacking in spiritual realism, so ignorant of the laws and experience of the life of prayer.” Ouch. She goes on to say: “God is the interesting thing about religion, and people are hungry for God. But only a priest whose life is soaked in prayer, sacrifice and love, by his own spirit of adoring worship, can help us to apprehend God.”

Her comments about clergy apply to all of us who move with intentionality on the spiritual journey. What would it mean for your life and mine to be soaked in prayer, sacrifice, and love, in a spirit of adoring worship? Look for the holy today. Savor the preposterous idea that in some way we can have divine encounter. Keep an eye out for amazing grace. Get ready to meet an awesome God. Go for wonder.

- Jay Sidebotham

Open my eyes that I may behold the wonders of your law.

-Psalm 119:18 

Why do people in church seem like cheerful, brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute? … Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.

-Annie Dillard

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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