Monday Matters (February 8, 2016)

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Progress not perfection

Apart from Jesus, can you think of any biblical character free of flaw? It would have been easy for editors to delete the dirt, spin the story, pretty up descriptions in order to idealize the great cloud of witnesses. That didn’t happen. So in holy writ we read unsavory details about heroes of the faith like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his mother Rebekah, Moses, David, to name a few.

That’s especially true of Peter, lead disciple, the rock on which the church would be built. One heck of a rock. Yesterday, we encountered him in church, in the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus appears on a mountain in glory accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Peter, known for his ability to open mouth and insert foot, suggests they fix the moment in time, maybe build a visitors’ center or theme park atop the mountain. That idea is a non-starter, as a voice from heaven breaks in, speaking of belovedness and grace. The disciples head down the mountain.

Time after time, Peter seems to miss the point. From the moment he was called out of incompetence as a fisherman (Jesus had to tell him what side of the boat to cast his net) to the time when he tried to manage Jesus’ messaging so that it wasn’t such a downer (Jesus rebuked Peter in the harshest terms: Get behind me Satan) to the time when Peter denied Jesus (Was that any different from Judas’ betrayal?), the portrait of Peter is not always pretty, and far from perfect.

And that, my friends, is good news.

In two days, on the other side of a whole bunch of pancakes and other favorite food groups (Did someone say bacon?), we enter the season of Lent, a season marked by self-examination, repentance, self-denial, fasting. It’s a season to place ourselves in this great cloud of witnesses, who have this in common: They all messed up. They are all like us. Nevertheless, God worked in them and through them anyway. Just as God will work in and through us, maybe even on this Monday morning.

Our spiritual growth is a process of going deeper in life with God, so that day by day, we seek to see Christ more clearly, follow more nearly, love more dearly. In the process, we will stumble. The spiritual journey will be marked by bumps in the road, turbulence in the flight, setbacks as we step forward. It will include lapses, failures, mistakes, sins. Oddly, it is often in those moments that our need for God will become most clear.

All of which should make us a little more gentle with ourselves, laden with perfectionist tendencies. All of which should make us a little more gentle with each other. All of which should make us a little more gentle with the church, that flawed institution, that sacred mystery that for some peculiar reason, God has chosen to be his hands and feet in the world. All of which should make us a bit more grateful that grace abounds. All of which should call us to continue on the way, even if we’ve messed up, even if we feel weak or broken or flawed or unqualified.

As you begin observance of Lent this week, however you observe the season (a good thing to think about before Wednesday rolls around), follow the journey of Jesus to Holy Week, maybe, probably, perhaps inevitably stumbling as you go.

Go anyway.

-Jay Sidebotham

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church,
that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-From the Book of Common Prayer
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen

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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 (February 1, 2016)

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

I dug out a Mahalia Jackson CD to play while I’m driving around town. The words of this old, familiar hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus’ struck me. Especially the stanza printed above. The text got me thinking about what goes on in prayer.

I’m trying to work on my prayer life with new intention. I’ve got some work to do. Pray for me in this endeavor. The longer I hang around the church, the less I feel I really know about the mystery of prayer: how, why, when it works. I’m thinking about Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing,” which I take to mean that there’s never a time when we can’t say thanks, help, or wow. (According to Annie Lamott, those are the only words we need to know in prayer.)

But a lot of the time I stop myself and think: Am I just giving myself a pep talk? Is this just wishful thinking? Do my prayers go higher than the ceiling? And what happens when my ADHD kicks in and I start crafting to-do lists during my prayer time? How does the Lord feel about that? What’s going on here?

I pray for lots of things (including parking spaces, and for the grace to avoid being a jerk when I can’t find one). But in those moments when those prayers begin to sound like a list of things to do, delivered to the Almighty, when the Holy One becomes my personal valet, I realize I may have missed the point.

In the practice of prayer (and by practice I mean that I still haven’t figured it out), I’ve come to realize that it is less about changing God and more about changing me. When I find my way to appeal to a higher power, I rely more fully on the power of grace. As a wonderful byproduct, I can become more graceful towards others. On a good day, I don’t forfeit peace. I don’t bear needless pain.

So as we find ourselves approaching Lent (It’s early this year), a season for course correction, self-examination, reflection, take it to the Lord in prayer. If you’re not sure what to pray or how to pray, take a cue from the disciples and ask Jesus to teach you. The Lord’s Prayer covers a lot of it.

Or take a cue from Annie Lamott and think about those things for which you are thankful, those things which you can’t do without God’s help, those things that make you say “Wow!” at the wonder that surrounds us.

Or better yet, stop talking. Be quiet. Sit in silence. 20 minutes.

Again, take a cue from Jesus. We’re reading the Gospel of Luke this year, and it seems that again and again, Jesus goes off to pray somewhere and amazing things happen. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up calling his group of disciples. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up feeding 5000. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up appearing on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah in a blaze of glory which we’ll read about this Sunday. He goes off by himself to pray in the garden and finds in short order that he’s led through Calvary to Easter morning.

What will happen to you, how will you change and grow when you take it to the Lord in prayer?

-Jay Sidebotham

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
-Mahatma Gandhi

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

I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.
-Friedrich Nietzsche

I talk to God but the sky is empty.
-Sylvia Plath

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
-Abraham Lincoln

The Simple Path:
Silence is Prayer.
Prayer is Faith.
Faith is Love.
Love is Service.
The Fruit of Service is Peace.
-Mother Teresa

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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 (January 25, 2016)

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One

Early in my ministry, I worked at a soup kitchen that offered a meal to scores of homeless people each week. A noble, inspiring, loving, well-run effort. There was a standard menu that always included a tuna salad sandwich. The production of sandwiches involved an assembly line. Volunteers would lay the bread out on the counter. Others would smear mayo. Then a scoop of tuna. It was a process polished over years.

One week, someone new was put in charge, just for that week. She came up with another system. I wouldn’t say better or worse. Just different. It quickly got ugly. You would have thought she wanted to turn the Nicene Creed into a limerick. She heard, in no uncertain terms, those dreaded church words: “We’ve never done it that way.’ I believe that was her last day at the soup kitchen.

Later in my ministry, I had to negotiate a fight between two groups. One ran a noonday meal for homeless in the neighborhood. The other group ran an overnight shelter for women. Here’s the issue: they had to share a refrigerator. Who used my milk? Who didn’t clean the shelves? It became my pastoral role to resolve the dispute, which ended up in the Rector’s office, reinforcing my sense that most church disputes are about two conflicting good intentions, two good values bumping up against each other.

Today, we conclude the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Maybe it should be a month. Or a year. Maybe we should just pray all the time for a deeper sense of community. It begs for a spirit conveyed in my favorite Peanuts cartoon (Forgive me if I’ve shared before, but it’s worth it). Snoopy hammers away on his typewriter. Charlie Brown approaches and asks what he’s writing. “A book on theology”, Snoopy answers. Charlie Brown cautions that you need a good title. Snoopy claims to have the perfect title: “Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong?”

That sense of humility could go a long distance not only in our churches, our denomination, in the Anglican Communion, but also in our families, our workplaces, and Lord knows, our political discourse. Yesterday in church, we read a portion of Paul’s First Letter (also known as One Corinthians if you’re Donald Trump) in which Paul talks about the church as the body of Christ, many different parts working together, each and all valuable, held together with respect and an acknowledgement of interdependence. St. Paul knew about church fights. The New Testament tells us he got in a few. Which is why right after he talks in this chapter about the marvel of the body of Christ, many spiritual gifts working together, with occasional creative tension, he describes the greatest gift. According to St. Paul, that greatest gift is love.

Take time this morning at the end of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity to read One Corinthians Chapter 13. You may recognize it from weddings, but that’s not why Paul wrote it. He wrote it so that a soup kitchen team can make tuna salad in a slightly different way and live to tell about it. He wrote it so that you and I could reflect to the world the difference made by God’s amazing grace. Reflect that grace today.

-Jay Sidebotham

The love of God creates in us such a “oneing” that when it is truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another person.
In the sight of God, all humans are “oned”, and one person is all people, and all people are in one person
-Julian of Norwich (1342-1416)

 

 
From Jesus’ prayer for his disciples:
I pray that all may be one
-John 17:21

 

 
All peoples comprise a single community and have a single origin created by one and the same Creator God…and one also is their final goal: God
Nostra Aetate, The Second Vatican Council, 1965

 

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

Monday Matters (January 18, 2016)

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Calendar collision

Today, our nation honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader who showed us what it means to apply Jesus’ teaching to the complex realities of our world.

In the church calendar, today is also the feast of the Confession of St. Peter, marking the moment when Peter figured out who Jesus was. This feast launches a week, bracketed at its end by the story of the Conversion of St. Paul. The week between the days honoring St. Peter and St. Paul is called a week of prayer for Christian unity. Lord knows, we could use that prayer, in our congregations, in our denomination, in the Anglican communion, in the interface of Christian traditions, as well as in interfaith conversation.

In my reading of the New Testament, which involves reading between the lines, there was no bromance between Peter and Paul. I’m not sure they liked each other much. Both gifted with strong ego, they jabbed at each other, and had a couple of public clashes. But there is no doubt that they shared common purpose, the spread of the good news of Jesus. So it’s fitting that they delineate a week in which we pray for Christian unity. Not uniformity. Not agreement. Unity.

Which is where the collision of calendars helps, as today we give thanks for the witness of Dr. King today, honored not only with a federal holiday, but with a saint’s day in the church. He had much to say about the need for Christian unity, part of a dream for all God’s children. He shared a vision for this common life when he wrote a challenging letter from a Birmingham prison cell to white clergy who had criticized him: “In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be…This is the inter-related structure of reality.”

Dr. King’s ministry was animated by the teaching of Jesus, expressed in the passage from Luke’s gospel printed in the column on the left, selected for the day we remember him in the church. Dr. King’s embrace of this teaching witnesses to its own intriguing network of mutuality. King was a student of Mahatma Gandhi whose embrace of non-violence was informed by the Sermon on the Mount. Gandhi was a student of Leo Tolstoy whose life was transformed by the Sermon on the Mount. Three very different, strong minded leaders brought together by Jesus’ vision, a vision of a network of mutuality, a single garment of destiny.

Pray for Christian unity this week. In the wake of disappointing discord in the Anglican Communion, consider these words from our new Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry: “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all.” He spoke of his vision for the Anglican Communion, as a “network of relationships that have been built on mission partnerships; relationships that are grounded in a common faith; relationships in companion diocese relationships; relationships with parish to parish across the world; relationships that are profoundly committed to serving and following the way of Jesus of Nazareth by helping the poorest of the poor, and helping this world to be a place where no child goes to bed hungry ever. ”

In this week of Prayer for Christian Unity, offer the prayer below each morning. And may our prayers be offered not only with our lips but with our lives, as we consider opportunities to love those who may be enemies, or opponents, or critics, or simply annoying. This Monday, find a way to practice that love in the spirit of Dr. King, St. Peter, St. Paul, Jesus.

-Jay Sidebotham

A Prayer for Christian Unity, from the Book of Common Prayer:
 
Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 

Luke 6:27-36

Jesus said, “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.”

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