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“Prepare the way of the Lord.”

That’s the word from John the Baptist in the wilderness. It’s the thing we’re meant to do in Advent. But I’m wondering what that really looks like. It’s different for each one of us. We each prepare the way in our own way.

Case in point: a priest I recently met who told me about his Sunday morning routine. He leads worship at 8am, as takes place in many Episcopal churches. So he arrives at 6am to get ready. He goes into the church by himself, sits in the chair from which he will later preside at the liturgy and prays for a while for the church and for the grace to lead the church. Then he begins to move around the church, in a private procession, stopping at stations along the way where ministry will unfold later that morning.

He goes to the narthex (a.k.a., lobby) where he prays for the ushers and greeters, and their ministry of hospitality. He goes to the choir loft and prays for the musicians who will help people worship, in full knowledge that the person who sings prays twice. He goes to the sacristy to pray for the ministry of the altar guild, as they prepare to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. He prays at the lectern for those who will read scripture. He stands in the pulpit and prays for the preaching that will take place. Then he returns to his seat, says final prayers, preparing the way for the encounter with God in worship.

I’ve had my own routine in preparation for Sunday, but let’s just say it’s not quite that prayerful. It’s been about checking on coffee and bulletins and sound system and lights and signage. The fact is, the way I often have come to church is less like this priest I admire and more about crossing out items on my to-do list. Sometimes it’s more like going to a movie or a concert, hoping that I’ll be entertained or entertaining, that I’ll be pleased or pleasing. Sometimes it’s just what I always do, a mindless/mindful mix, intention drifting into habit. There must be a better way to prepare the way.

How do we set intention for an encounter with God, with Jesus, with the Holy Spirit, with the Holy One? How do we prepare the way? One church I know posts tasteful signs around the nave. The signs read: Deep Silence Observed Before Worship. That may not be right for every community, but anyone could tell that the place was preparing the way. Another church I know provides prayers for congregants to say at home, prayers for Friday night, Saturday morning, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning before going to church. Again, it’s about preparing the way.

Preparing the way has to do with more than Sunday, for sure. And thanks be to God, it’s not just clergy that do this work. As Verna Dozier, great lay leader in our church, said: “What happens on Sunday morning is not half so important as what happens on Monday morning. In fact, what happens on Sunday morning is judged by what happens on Monday morning.” In many ways, Monday through Saturday we are preparing for Sunday. Our words and actions, day in and day out, constitute that preparation.

On this Monday morning in Advent, listen for the voice in the wilderness, John the Baptist saying prepare the way. His loud voice reaches across centuries and continents to you and me, with a reminder that we each can prepare the way of the Lord, getting ready for Christ to come into the world, into our neighborhood, into our church, into our hearts.

-Jay Sidebotham

A favorite Advent hymn:
 
Prepare the Way, O Zion 
Words by Frans Mikael Franzen (1772-1847)
 
Prepare the way, O Zion; your Christ is drawing near! Let ev’ry hill and valley a level way appear.
Greet One who comes in glory, fore told in sacred story. Oh, blest is Christ that came in God’s most holy name.
 
He brings God’s rule, O Zion; he comes from heav’n above. His rule is peace and freedom, and justice, peace, and love. Lift high your praise resounding, for grace and joy abounding. Oh, blest is Christ that came in God’s most holy name.
 
Fling wide your gates, O Zion; your Saviour’s rule embrace. His tidings of salvation proclaim in ev’ry place.
All lands will bow before him, their voices will adore him. Oh, blest is Christ that came in God’s most holy name.
 

 

A favorite New Yorker cartoon:
"Get me the heck out of the wilderness!"

“Get me the heck out of the wilderness!”

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

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

Monday Matters (November 28, 2016)

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As I work on my own spiritual life (note: miles to go), and as I talk with congregations about their work in this regard, I’m spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a disciple. What are authentic contemporary expressions of discipleship? What does it look like these days?

The word “disciple” means different things to different people. For some, it seems to be a high calling, a holy aspiration. For others, it seems like a way-too-high bar, something that doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, an unattainable ought that implies that we’re not quite good enough. What do you make of the word?

Advent, a season which began yesterday, is a season that can help us think about discipleship. I’m grateful to find myself reading a book called Being Disciples by Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury. It came at a good time for me. (The older I get, the less I believe in coincidence.) As he writes about discipleship, his language echoes Advent themes.

Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, is a whole lot more than counting the shopping days left. It is a season of preparation for sure, but so much more than fulfilling a gift list or getting holiday cards in the mail. Advent is meant to be a contemplative season, a season of mindfulness, an invitation/exhortation to pay attention, to stay awake, to get ready, to expect something to happen. For those who take the season to heart, it’s swimming against the stream, a counter-cultural movement. I generally find I need some help to maintain focus on the reason for the season.

Which is why I was glad to run across Rowan Williams’ thoughts on what it means to be a disciple. So I’ll shut up and let you listen to him. He writes:

Disciples are expectant in the sense that they take it for granted that there is always something about to break through from the Master, the Teacher, something about to burst through the ordinary and uncover a new light on the landscape.

So let me ask, as Advent begins, are you expecting anything new, or will it be same old/same old? Do you have a sense that in the coming of Christ, the goal of the season, God will have something new to teach you? Are you ready for it? Are you open to it?

Disciples watch; they remain alert, attentive, watching for symbolic acts as well as listening for instructive words, watching the actions that give the clue to how reality is being reorganized around Jesus.

So let me ask, as Advent begins, can you imagine that reality is being reorganized around Jesus? What do you think that would look like? Would you know it if you saw it? Are you watching?

A disciple is simply a learner, and this is what the disciple learns: how to be a place in the world where the act of God can come alive.

So let me ask, as Advent begins, can you think of yourself as a disciple who is always a learner? Are you open to the idea that you might just be a place where the act of God can come alive? In the second century, a Christian named Irenaeus said that the glory of God is a human being fully alive. Can you expect that kind of revival in your own life? Disciples apparently expect that to happen. Let this season of Advent be a time to focus on your discipleship, and see what happens.

-Jay Sidebotham

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
 
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart. 
 
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
 
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne
-Charles Wesley
 
 

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

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

Monday Matters (November 21, 2016)

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“If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.”

That was just one of the gems offered by our shy and retiring Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry last Friday in his peripatetic preaching. (Pity the poor cameraman trying to follow him.) I was privileged to hear him in Dallas, at a conference called Evangelism Matters. The perhaps preposterous premise of the gathering was that Episcopalians and evangelism go together. Said another way, as Michael Curry demonstrated, an Episcopal evangelist is not an oxymoron.

If you wish to arrive at that point of view, however, you have to suspend prejudice about the word “evangelist”, expunge the vision of Elmer Gantry and contemporary descendants (of which there are plenty), and think about the etymology of the word evangelist. It comes from the Greek word for good news. The church over the years, up to current times, has too often proclaimed bad news, manipulative news, self-serving news, exclusive news. Michael Curry called us to another way. The way of Jesus.

Evangelism has nothing to do with a bigger church, he said. It has to do with a better world. He spoke with energy and eloquence about evangelism, part of God’s work of reconciliation in the world. He spoke about the dream of God, which is that each one of us would live in loving relationship with God and neighbor. Anything else is nightmare. He spoke about finding our way home.

So wrap your mind around the idea that as a follower of Jesus, or at least someone mildly interested in Jesus, you are an evangelist. Said another way, you are called to share good news.

In order to do that, you have to hold some good news in your heart. Not a bad thing to think about in this week marked by a national holiday dedicated to Thanksgiving. Note: This day became an official national holiday during the War between the States, a political season when it was really hard to find any good news. Thanksgiving may not have been top of mind in those days, sometimes referred to as the recent unpleasantness.

At the heart of our religious practice is a service of eucharist, which means thanksgiving. I’m always struck with the narrative of that liturgy, Jesus instituting the ritual meal of bread and wine on the night before he died. I would have been on the first bus out of town. Instead, he gathered with his friends to say thanks, knowing full well what was ahead of him.

Take some time on this Monday morning to think about those things for which you are thankful, those places where good news has touched your life. I know that every one of us is touched by challenge and tragedy and brokenness. I also know that every one of us has something for which we can be thankful. Including the amazing, confounding premise of our faith that God’s love is something from which we can never be separated, that there is no one who is beyond the reach of God’s love, that God’s presence dwells in each one of us.

Once you’ve gotten that thanksgiving in mind, think about how you might share that joy with someone you know this week. That would be such good news. Maybe it’s something you could share over Thanksgiving Dinner. I sense it would be much more edifying than a discussion of current politics. And would probably be better for the digestion.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jesus said… I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’
-John 13:31-35
I was taught that [evangelism] meant converting people to the one true religion, namely, my own. Now I believe evangelism means inviting people into heart-to-heart communion and collaboration with God and neighbors in the great work of healing the earth, of building the beloved community, of seeking first the kingdom of God and God’s justice for all.
-Brian McLaren,
in his new book,
The Spiritual Migration
People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.
-Dave Barry

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

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

Monday Matters (November 14, 2016)

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When I started in ministry, a mentor told me: “Jay, you only have to do two things when it comes to Sunday worship. One, keep it to an hour. And two, leave people more hopeful than when they came.” Over the years, I’ve had varying degrees of success with the first one. We clergy do go on.

And I’ve aspired to the second goal, because everybody needs hope. Which brings me to current events:

When I preached on the Sunday before election, I issued a call to gentleness and compassion, because I said that after Tuesday, November 8, half of us would be filled with hope and half of us would tend to despair. It’s dangerous to preach. I didn’t imagine I’d be in the latter segment. Perhaps pride does come before the fall.

Yesterday, I went to church not only because it’s my job. I was also looking to get a dose of hope myself. Here in a state which went red, reaction to election results were mixed between high fives and kleenex. I suspect that’s true in many regions in this close election. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was in the group going through boxes of kleenex, occasionally uttering expletives to be deleted, for reasons I’m glad to discuss off line. I’ve been shaken. I’ve wondered about how to move forward. So yesterday, I went to church. For my job. For my spirit.

I preached yesterday on the collect, printed below, which speaks about scripture. It calls us to go deeper in scripture, in that marvelous progression that asks us to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words from the Bible. This is one of my favorite collects, surfacing once a year. It reminds us that the point of reading scripture is not to be biblically literate, or to be good at religious stuff, or to be holier than thou, or to use scripture as bludgeon on people who disagree with us. The point of reading scripture is to hold on to hope.

Over and over, the transformative, powerful stories of scripture aim to leave us ever more hopeful. The hope of Abraham and Sarah who wandered and wondered if there would even be a next generation. The hope of Moses’ mother who put her infant child in a basket in the river, trusting him to God’s care. The hope of Israelites enslaved in Egypt. The yearnings of the psalms. The hope of exiles longing for home from Babylonian captivity. Yesterday, we read a passage from Malachi, who spoke of the hope that came with the one risen with healing in his wings, a line included in a Christmas carol. (Hark, the herald angels…) It’s the hope of St. Paul writing from prison where every other word is a call to rejoice. The hope that at times in our lives, it may in fact feel like Good Friday but Sunday is coming.

Hope kept showing up. At one service, a small choir sang an anthem which has sustained me at critical passages in my life. The text: “Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in him and not be afraid.” At another service, we concluded with Hymn 665: All my hope in God is founded. It’s a beautiful text, set to a tune composed by Herbert Howells. The tune is called Michael, dedicated to the memory of Howells’ son who died at the age of nine. (The first two stanzas are printed below.) As I sang the hymn, I thought, if this guy can hang on to hope, I guess I can too.

I’m grateful for a day when prayers, hymns and scripture bolstered my heart, offering comfort and perspective and community. I consider it all to be a gift of the spirit by which I was left more hopeful than when I started the day.

On this Monday morning, I’m hoping that the Spirit is leading you in paths marked by hope, so that by the end of the day, you will be more hopeful than when November 14th began. No matter how you voted.

And in case you’re wondering, yesterday, worship was done in under an hour.

-Jay Sidebotham

The Collect read in church yesterday:
 
Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
 
God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in times of trouble.
Psalm 46:1
 
Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another. Before the mountains were brought forth, and the earth was born, from age to age you are God.
Psalm 90:1,2
 
Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in him and not be afraid.
Isaiah 12:2
 
All my hope on God is founded, he doth still my trust renew, me through change and chance he guideth, only good, and only true. God unknown, he alone, calls my heart to be his won.
 
Mortal pride and earthly glory, sword and crown betray our trust; though with care and toil we build them, tower and temple fall to dust. But God’s power, hour by hour, is my temple and my tower.
 
Stanzas 1 and 2 of Herbert Howells hymn, text by Robert Seymour Bridges.

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

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

Monday Matters (November 7, 2016)

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Take it to the Lord in prayer

Instead of reading my ramblings this morning, take some quiet time to offer these prayers. I’ve found that when I’m not sure what to say, it’s good to pray.

For an Election
Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the Human Family
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.

For our Country
Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will. Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth. In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the President-elect of the United States wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Fill our leaders with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in your fear; through Jesus
Christ our Lord Amen.

For our Enemies
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.

In times like these, I give thanks to God for the treasures in our Prayer Book. These and other petitions polished over time can be found in the Book of Common Prayer, beginning at page 814.

-Jay Sidebotham

Luke 6:20-31, read yesterday at many churches in observance of All Saints’ Day
Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
 
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.  Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
 
But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

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

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

Monday Matters (October 31, 2016)

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Seeing and being seen

Yesterday in church, Zacchaeus showed up. (If you missed it, or want a refresher, read his story below.) I preached a homily about him, and I heard an even better homily from my colleague, Tim Meyers. We were channeling the same spiritual muse, focusing on who Zacchaeus seeks, and who is seeking him.

The nineteenth chapter of Luke is Zacchaues’ fifteen minutes of fame. We don’t hear from him again. Sunday School grads may know the cute song about a wee little man who climbed up in the sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. It makes him sound adorable, a biblical leprechaun. But it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that the guy was kind of a jerk.

I’ve been familiar with the story for a long time, but I tried to see it in a new way. Luke tells us Zacchaeus was “trying to see Jesus.” I suspect that’s true for a lot of us. This story describes that desire to see Jesus, and makes us think about things that keep that from happening.

For Zacchaeus, climbing that tree, there were plenty of obstructions, starting with his physical stature. He was short. Nothing he could do about that, a random fact of life that nevertheless presented challenges. Maybe we’ve experienced fateful circumstances that block spiritual vision.

Then there was the fact that he was in a profession that made him unpopular, that choices he made may have set him apart from the crowd. Maybe there are choices we’ve made that get in the way of our spiritual perspective.

He was rich, and Luke reminds us again and again that while wealth can be used well, but it can also be a spiritual distraction, even a trap.

And there was his history of ripping people off. Maybe there are things we’ve done that we ought not to have done. The need to be forgiven and the need to forgive may act like blinders, may block our vision.

Again, Zacchaeus gets just a cameo role, which invites us to bring our imagination to his story. As I meet with people around the church, I often ask what is getting in the way of deeper life with God, discipleship of Jesus, the power of the Spirit. Often, the obstruction is a crisis, random challenges that block a vision of God’s grace, things over which we have no power. Sometimes it’s the things we have done, the inability to extend mercy to ourselves or others. Sometimes it’s the disappointment in what others have done, especially failures of the church. It can start to feel hopeless. Except for this fun fact:

The story of Zacchaeus is about his intention to see Jesus, to conquer obstacles getting in his way. But that’s not the whole story. The real transformation in his life happens because Jesus sees Zacchaeus. As the parade moves down the crowded street, Jesus brings it to a halt under that sycamore tree. He looks up to see Zacchaeus in that place of secluded inquiry. (Could Zacchaeus have been an Episcopalian?) Jesus invites himself over to lunch at Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Perhaps he should have been careful what he asked for.

By the time dessert rolls around, Zaccheus is a new man, promising to change his life, gladly giving up a bunch of money, making amends, healing broken relationships, beginning a new chapter. What does Jesus see in him: Not a rip-off artist. Not a pariah. Jesus sees in Zacchaeus a child of Abraham, a child of promise.

To whatever extent we wish to overcome obstacles that keep us from clearer spiritual vision, the fact is that Jesus has already got his eyes on us. He sees what we can be. He sees us as children of promise. If he can see us that way, regardless of our limits and failures, maybe we can see ourselves in a new light as well. Try that perspective this Monday morning.

-Jay Sidebotham

Luke 19:1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

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

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

Monday Matters (October 24, 2016)

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Recent conversations

Recent conversations have called to mind fond memories of ministry with one particularly witty colleague. She got the nickname “The Terminator” because we noticed that in her premarital counseling, a number of couples decided to postpone or cancel wedding plans. She approached the counseling with, how shall we say, a directness that suffused all of her conversations. I remember driving with her past a 10k road race. She remarked to me: I’ll start running when the people who are doing it start looking like they’re having fun.

We could say the same about church. Way too often clergy and the congregations they lead seem to have cornered the market on “more miserable than thou,” living into H.L. Mencken’s definition of a puritan, i.e., someone who is unhappy because someone somewhere is having a good time. In our beloved denomination, the term “frozen chosen” only generates laughter because it reflects some truth. Joy is not always, but too often, in short supply in the church these days. In a world where you attract more with honey than vinegar, the church often serves up vinegar.

The recent conversations I mentioned in the first paragraph had to do with evangelism, not a word often associated with Episcopalians, for some good reasons. But it’s a word I’m not ready to surrender, because at the root of evangelism is the Greek word euangel which means good news. And we all need to hear good news.

After watching yesterday’s Sunday news shows, reading the Sunday paper, spending way too much time on news websites, I’m having a hard time identifying the good news. (A personal note: Of course, this does not include the miraculous news that the Cubs are in the World Series.)

The recent conversations included a question posed by Chris Yaw, a great Episcopal priest noted for creativity and innovation. He wrote a wry and witty book called Jesus Was An Episcopalian. He leads a ministry called ChurchNext, which provides wonderful learning opportunities online. Google it. End of commercial. In a presentation last week, Chris posed this question to our group:

How is Jesus saving you right now?

I may be projecting if I say the group would have liked another question. Maybe I was the only one who felt that way. It felt personal. Awkward. A bit threatening. I don’t often enter into discussion of how I am being saved.

Beyond that, often in the current religious climate, we equate being saved with getting a reserved spot on the express bus to the pearly gates, some future event we anticipate. That’s language Episcopalians don’t often use. Chris was asking us to think about how the good news is bringing hope and healing right now. In other words, he was asking: What’s the good news in your life?

If we can’t find a way to think and talk about that good news, evangelism isn’t going to go very far. Chris’ question was hard, maybe even intrusive, as provocative as it was evocative. But maybe we need some hard questions.

It got me thinking about how Jesus has become my teacher. About how brave he was in the face of complacency and unkindness and injustice. About how his power to heal can help me heal places where I’m broken. How on the night before he died, he gave thanks when his closest friends were about to betray, deny and desert him. How he paid attention to those who had been cast aside. How he paid attention to me, with a grace that lets me know that all will be well, that our crazy, broken world will be set right. That’s saving language.

What’s the good news for you this morning? Where are the sources of joy? How are you being called to share those things? How are you being saved this day?

-Jay Sidebotham

Stuff Jesus said:
 
 
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
-John 10:10
 
 
Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.
-John 14:1
 
 
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
-John 15:10
 
 
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light
-Matthew 11:28-30

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

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

Monday Matters (October 17, 2016)

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Wisdom.

What is it? And, oh, by the way, how can I get some?

In the mornings these days, the lectionary has led me to a place I probably wouldn’t have gone on my own. We’re reading our way through the apocryphal book called Ecclesiasticus. I don’t know much about the book, who wrote it and why. My Protestant upbringing did not include it in the Sunday School song which I was taught as a way to learn the books of the Bible. But the theme of the book so far seems to be wisdom, And I’m feeling, perhaps after watching too much news, that we all could use a little more wisdom.

The theme of wisdom is all over the place in many religious traditions. People everywhere need it. In our tradition, The Book of Proverbs in the Bible tells us that wisdom, a feminine presence, represented the power that created all things. In the gospel of John, Jesus is presented as the logos, or wisdom, of God.

Ecclesiasticus echoes words found in many parts of scripture: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I don’t know how you hear the word “fear”. Many people have been damaged in the faith journey by the image of a God who can’t wait to hurl lightning bolts when we step out of line. That image of God is included in the list of things I refuse to believe.

But there is a sense in which the fear of the Lord points us to a relationship with a God greater than ourselves, even beyond our understanding. Synonyms I would suggest are wonder, humility, reverence, and that word calling out for proper usage in our culture: Awesome. Wisdom begins with recognizing our own limits. Ecclesiasticus puts it this way: Do not meddle in what is beyond your tasks, for matters too great for human understanding have been shown you.

This reflection on wisdom began a few days ago when I read this line:

If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and the Lord will supply it for you. For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and instruction.

Three things occurred to me in reflection on these words:

First, I do indeed desire wisdom, for myself, for our church and for our nation in this election season. In my soul and in our common life, wisdom seems to be in short supply, as we seem to battle a wisdom deficit.

Second, the text tells me wisdom is available, accessible, as we keep the commandments. That may sound like wisdom comes from obeying a bunch of rules. But what if it means listening for teaching from a source greater than ourselves? What if it means letting our lives be guided by the commandments given by Jesus, the one we follow, the one to whom we look for wisdom? Jesus said the commandments are summed up in love of God and love of neighbor. What if I directed my life, this Monday, to walking in the way of those commandments, seeking that wisdom?

Third, the text tells us that wisdom is a gift. What if I came to see that the wisdom I desire, for myself and others, is a bit of grace itself. Am I open to receiving it? Will I ask for it, as Solomon did (see text below)? Am I ready to be taught?

Think about wisdom today. Who do you know who shows it? Ask that person how wisdom came to them?

Think about whether you desire wisdom. Are you and I open to its power in our lives?

Think about whether you might take a step today toward wisdom, in fear or reverence or recognition of the awesome God who calls us to this particularly wise way of life: Love of God and love of neighbor.

-Jay Sidebotham

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
-I Kings 3:5-12
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.

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

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

Monday Matters (October 10,2016)

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The daily reading on Saturday told the story of Jesus calming the storm, rebuking wind and raging waves (Luke 8:22-25). As I read this passage, and thought and prayed about the impact of the hurricane on Haiti and Cuba and other hard-hit places, I wondered how the story would be heard there.

Monday morning greetings from North Carolina where we watched Hurricane Matthew creep its way up the coast over the past week. As we charted the progress, prayers have ascended. I’m grateful for friends who have held us and our community in prayer and inquired about our well-being.

We personally were spared what could have been a big mess, or worse. Some cleaning up to do for sure. But we are grateful. I’ve noted on social media, as the storm passed town after town, that many people mentioned that they had been praying for all those in harm’s way all along the eastern seaboard, and joined in expressing gratitude that the storm wasn’t worse for them.

It points to the mystery of prayer, for a number of folks who lost their lives in coastal states did not have prayers for them answered. Many lost possessions in the devastating wind and waves and rain and floods. To the number of those in this country are added hundreds, perhaps into the thousands, of brothers and sisters in Haiti and other Caribbean islands, who lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands who lost homes and all they owned. Prayers answered? Prayers not heard?

Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was always going off to pray, yet even his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was not answered the way he would have liked. St. Paul advised early Christians to pray without ceasing, but he himself prayed repeatedly for a thorn in the flesh to be removed. It wasn’t. We all know people who have been the focus of prayers for cure who have succumbed to illness, maybe experience a kind of healing, but not cured.

So what can we say about prayer? One thing for starters: it’s probably better to spend more time listening in prayer than talking. In that quiet space, leaving room for God to speak, it is possible to align one’s own will with the will of God.

And if we then feel a need to move into words, consider the simple prayer offered by Annie Lamott who said you only need three words to pray: Thanks. Help. Wow.

Or draw, as millions have, on the power of the Serenity Prayer, which recognizes the mystery that our lives are marked by things we can shape (co-create) and things beyond our control (a hurricane.)

Or use the other prayer below which comes from the Healing Service in the Prayer Book. It recognizes the variety of conditions we face on any given day. In a beautiful turn of phrase, it invites us to handle them gallantly.

And don’t stop praying for the people of Haiti and all those whose lives were most harshly affected by the storm, nearby and far away. Recent appalling news from the presidential campaign bumped publicity about the conditions in the Caribbean. We need to hold these folks in our hearts. We can pray, not only with our lips, but with our lives for some of the poorest communities on the globe. (May I suggest the Episcopal Relief and Development Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund?  www.episcopalrelief.org)

May we never stop asking that Jesus will calm the storm, whatever that storm may be in our lives or in the lives of others, literal or figurative tempests. Maybe we can even be used by Jesus in that calming, healing process.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thanks. Help. Wow.
  -Anne LaMott
 
 
The Serenity Prayer
 
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
 
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Amen.
  -Reinhold Niebuhr
 
 
This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.
  -From the Book of Common Prayer

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

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

Monday Matters (October 3, 2016)

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For most of my ministry, people have been wringing their hands about the decline of mainline churches. From my first days of service as a priest, I heard people say that we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The image prompted a cartoon in six frames: As the ship disappears into icy waters, one could hear words from the top deck, one word per frame: We’ve… never… done…it… that…way.

I’ve wondered about the decline. Does it have to do with style of music or liturgy? Is it due to a lousy spirit of welcome? Is it about formality among the frozen chosen? Does it have to do with divisions on social or political issues? Or with indisputable hypocrisy, with shortcomings and abuses by church leaders, too many to number.

Last week, I read about a new study of the religiously unaffiliated conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. It said the real reason for the decline is that people “no longer believe in religious teaching.” That squares with what we’ve learned in our own research. Religious beliefs are often held pretty loosely, if at all.

A while ago, a friend shared a column from the Wall Street Journal. The author interviewed a teenager at her youth group in Missouri. She told the author: “I love being Episcopalian. You don’t have to believe anything.” It was great this young person felt welcomed. But it made me think about what I might say to her if she was in my youth group. It made me think about what it means to believe, to trust. It got me thinking about where I give my heart. Are there things I would hope she would embrace? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Creation is good. Very good, in fact, according to the book of Genesis.. All of creation is a gift, the work of a loving God who declares it all to be originally blessed. It prompts an attitude of gratitude. If we’re not waking up and walking around with a whole lot of wonder, we’re missing the point.
  • God is about relationship. Maybe that’s why the doctrine of the Trinity matters. God is by nature a community of love (an idea stolen from Augustine), a community into which we’re invited.
  • There is someone listening when we pray.
  • Grace is true. Contrary to Gary Larson’s cartoon, God is not sitting at the keyboard waiting to press the “smite” button. smiteLove is at the heart of creation. We are called to accept that we are accepted (an idea stolen from Paul Tillich).
  • We need help: Evil is real (an idea stolen from the daily newspaper). We mess up. We need power greater than ourselves to embrace love freely given. We need to know and show forgiveness.
  • Jesus is worth following. It’s not always easy to do, but he opens the way to God’s life.
  • The Bible tells a story we need to know. Not as literal instruction manual, or bludgeon to prove our point, but as chronicle of God’s relationship with us. It sheds light on our path (An idea stolen from the psalms).
  • The Eucharist sustains us, bread for the journey nourishing us on the spiritual journey.
  • We are designed for service. We find life by giving it away. The greatest among us is the servant.
  • Transformation happens.

That’s my list, at least so far. What’s yours? Spend time thinking today about beliefs and teaching that matter to you, that engage your heart. Give your heart to them.

-Jay Sidebotham

Some of what Jesus taught, from Luke 6:

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

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

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