Monday Matters (July 27th, 2015)

3-1

Aloha

Six months ago, my friend David, one of the finest parish priests I know, called me to say that he was going on a summer pilgrimage. He asked if I could possibly see my way to take his church in Hawaii for two weeks. I said: Let me think about it. Yes. So here I am doing the Lord’s work, a bit sheepish about this hardship duty. The cost of discipleship indeed.

It’s been a gift, a chance to be a learner about a part of the world I’ve never visited. The beauty is overwhelming. And there is a spirit among the people here, captured in the word “Aloha”. For this east coast boy, my associations with the word have probably had more to do with Bette Midler and Hawaii Five-O. I took it lightly. But I’ve been interested to hear about its deeper significance. Folk etymology indicates that it’s a compound word. “Alo” suggests presence, front, face or share. “Ha” means breath of life or essence of life. I’ve been told that the traditional greeting was to have foreheads meet so that breath could be shared.

I’ve learned about another word: “Haole”. That’s folks like me. Professor Fred Beckley describes it this way: “The white people came to be known as ha-ole (without breath) because when they said their prayers, they did not breathe three times as was customary in ancient Hawaii.” One person sharpened the narrative. He said that missionaries who came to bring good news to the islanders refused the ritual of greeting one another by sharing breath, touching foreheads. To them, the tradition was pagan, or perhaps too personal for reserved Protestants (a.k.a., the frozen chosen). I’m no authority. I have no idea if any of this is true. But if it’s not, it ought to be, because it indicates the truth that all faith traditions see the breath of life as key. It’s true of our tradition, as God breathed into a pile of dirt and created Adam, as Jesus breathed on the disciples and created the church.

It’s also a caution to missionaries. How much did missionaries miss? How many did they drive away by a refusal to recognize the truth they already shared? The insistence that the Hawaiians become like them, the confusion of conversion and conformity, a pattern repeated whenever mission work has been done, belies the spirit of Jesus. The Episcopal Church, coming out of its General Convention with a new and dynamic Presiding Bishop has a renewed focus on its missionary call. How can we reclaim and redeem that word, noting that we are indeed sent into the world to share good news, and to be of service? It begins with knowing what God is already up to in the neighborhood. It involves fulfillment of promises made in baptism to respect the dignity of every human being. The spirit of Aloha seems tied to the spirit of namaste, ubuntu, salaam, shalom, peace. It calls us to move outside our comfort zone to meet people where they are, to recognize God’s presence already there.

This is why I am a fan of my friend, David. He teaches me and models for me what it means to lead a parish. Shortly after he moved here, he and his partner Bobby joined the local canoeing club (The Hawaiian canoes with six folks paddling together, with that outrigger for balance.) They just showed up. Before long, he helped a member of that club deal with grief of loss of a parent. This couple joined the church, after being away from religion for 40 years. Before long, David was out on the water, presiding at a burial at sea. And when their canoe tipped and they all went in the water, a story emerged, a bond created. The ministry has grown because, with humility and humor, he began by exploring what God was up to in this neighborhood, new to him.

Too often, Christian folk are without breath, without spirit, circling the wagons, thinking inside the box, insisting on their own way, withholding deeper connection. That’s not the missionary way. This Monday, think about “aloha”. How can you share the breath of life?

– Jay Sidebotham

Breathe on me,
Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what thou dost love,
and do what thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me,
Breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until with thee I will one will,
to do and to endure.

Breathe on me,
Breath of God,
till I am wholly thine,
till all this earthly part of me
glows with thy fire divine.

Breathe on me,
Breath of God,
so shall I never die,
but live with thee the perfect life
of thine eternity.

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (July 20th, 2015)

3-1

The Honor Challenge

I don’t do as many weddings as in days past. So when I officiated this weekend at the wedding of a wonderful young couple, it gave me a chance to reflect anew on the liturgy for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, found in the Book of Common Prayer. It renewed my conviction that perhaps the most important word in this service, capturing the commitment to relationship conveyed in covenant, is the word “honor”.  When I meet with couples in preparation for their wedding (a milestone in the longer and sometimes arduous journey of marriage), I often suggest that they hold that word “honor” at the heart of their life together. I encourage them to put that word “honor” in a place of prominence: on the visor in their car, beside the door so they see it when they leave the house, over the bathroom mirror. Make it a screen saver. It’s an old-fashioned word, and like many of the powerful words of our  tradition, it has been hijacked by a culture which talks about honoring credit cards, coupons or frequent flyer miles. We need to reclaim the word. At its heart, it’s about quality of relationship. At its heart, it’s about showing and sharing love.

In the marriage liturgy, the word “honor” appears when rings are exchanged. The couple says to each other: “With all that I am and with all that I have, I honor you.” What does it mean to honor another person in this remarkable way, especially in the context of a marriage? My best guess is that it means seeking the best for that person, getting beyond ego-centric perspective which persistently asks: What’s in it for me? Have I been treated fairly? It’s a commitment not to a set of rules, guidelines, principles, dogmas, suggestions, commandments. It’s a commitment to a person. One wise priest in a wedding homily charged the couple to be Jesus for each other. That’s one way to talk about honor, as we think of Jesus as the one we follow, Jesus who came not to be served but to serve.

This call to honor is not only applied to married life. The 12th chapter of Romans is one of my favorite passages in the New Testament. It articulates the ways that we respond to God’s grace in relationship with others. I call it the so-what factor. In that chapter, Paul gets downright competitive about all this. As 1st century spiritual coach, he says, among other things: “Outdo one another in showing honor.” I call it the honor challenge.

What does that honor challenge look like for you this Monday morning? The promises we make in baptism help us start. We promise to seek Christ in all persons, not just those we like or agree with. Did you notice the word “all”? We promise to respect the dignity of every human being, not just those who we think have earned respect. Did you notice the word “every”? I don’t know about you, but I have spent way too much time in life focusing on how much I have been honored (or not). I have spent way too much time fretting about ways I have been dishonored, dissed, disregarded, treasuring resentments like trophies on a shelf. The disciple of Jesus is called to let that go, to think creatively about how in community, we can outdo one another in showing honor. The disciples of Jesus is called to think about how he or she can be of service.

Take the honor challenge today. Who is invisible in your day? Perhaps it’s people who offer service: the barista trying to keep up with a long line of cranky, Monday morning latte demanders. Perhaps it’s the person behind the ticket counter being blamed because the plane is late. Honor them. Perhaps it’s people you resent or people who resent you, someone withholding forgiveness, someone you can’t forgive. Honor them. Maybe it’s people whose religious or political ideas you think are idiotic. Maybe it’s people closest to you: a life partner, a parent, a child, a colleague, someone you take for granted. How long has it been since you used your imagination to consider ways to honor them, in word and deed? Seek the best for those you meet today. Honor them.

– Jay Sidebotham

From Romans 12:

 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement…

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in  zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient with tribulation, be constant in prayer. 

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (July 14th, 2015)

3-1

Monday, July 13, 2015

A number of years ago, Krista Tippett interviewed Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the course of that conversation, he said: I think… that we have very gravely underestimated the damage that apartheid inflicted on all of us. You know, the damage to our psyches, the damage that has made – I mean, it shocked me. I went to Nigeria when I was working for the World Council of Churches, and I was due to fly to Jos. And so I go to Lagos airport and I get onto the plane and the two pilots in the cockpit are both black. And whee, I just grew inches. You know, it was fantastic because we had been told that blacks can’t do this….And we have a smooth takeoff and then we hit the mother and father of turbulence. I mean, it was quite awful, scary. Do you know, I can’t believe it but the first thought that came to my mind was, “Hey, there’s no white men in that cockpit. Are those blacks going to be able to make it?”And of course, they obviously made it – here I am. But the thing is, I had not known that I was damaged to the extent of thinking that somehow actually what those white people who had kept drumming into us in South Africa about our being inferior, about our being incapable, it had lodged some way in me.

Recent events in Charleston, the tragic loss of life in a bible study/prayer meeting of all places, stunning courtroom expressions of forgiveness by those most deeply injured, a subsequent national conversation about the flag have brought to mind the ways we are all actors in this drama about race. It has occurred to me that it is a matter for Monday matters, which focuses on the ways we put faith to work in the world. If spiritual growth is about greater love of God and neighbor, Lord knows we have growth opportunities.

I confess that a part of me has looked at the debate over the Confederate flag with a measure of smugness, perhaps self-righteousness. Will those people finally get it right? I would never have done that. That’s when I remembered this confession of Desmond Tutu, as he notes the insidious, pervasive effects of racism which infect us all: “It has lodged some way in me.” I recalled leaders of the church of my childhood who knew the Bible better than I ever will whose racist remarks are seared in my memory. I remember my own child, only a couple years old, who asked if you had to be black to be a garbage man. He liked the truck and in the affluent New England town in which we lived, the only time he saw black people was when the truck came by. I think of the elderly, progressive Episcopalian who confessed in 2008 that she simply couldn’t imagine an African American first lady.

In a related dynamic, I think of our beloved Prayer Book which includes the prayer of St. John of Chrysostom. Every time I hear that prayer in the Daily Office, it is tainted for me by the hateful anti-Semitism that was part of St. John’s world view. Martin Luther shaped my thinking about faith and grace in many ways, yet there was little grace in the ways he spoke about Jewish brothers and sisters. It was Martin Luther who noted that we are saints and sinners at the same time. He got that right, though I doubt it’s a 50/50 split. I think of my own attitudes, too shameful to describe in detail in this email, judgmental thoughts that cross my mind. Unattractive, dismissive, even hateful thoughts that seemingly instinctively to surface, aimed at people of different race, class, gender, lifestyle, people of different origin or opinion or political affiliation. Bless you if you live free from these thoughts. Tell me how you got that way.

I don’t pretend to understand fully what original sin means, or how it happens. I’m not convinced traditional presentations of the doctrine have it right. But I do believe we are all caught in powers greater than ourselves, powers that keep us from seeing Christ in all persons, that keep us from respecting the dignity of every human being, powers that have damaged us, powers lodged in each one of us. Heaven help us, we learned last week ,as Harper Lee’s second book is released, that even Atticus Finch was a bigot.

Is help available? As St. Paul asks in Romans 7, who will deliver us? His answer: Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, who came to save us from ourselves, who not only modeled inclusivity and grace, but empowers us to live out those qualities. Jesus, who spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, who made the Good Samaritan the hero of his parable, who called us to love not only friends but enemies and opponents, who gives the kind of grace in evidence in the families of Charleston victims, grace that declares that love wins.

– Jay Sidebotham

From the Sermon on Mount, Matthew 5-7: 

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye?You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

From Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (June 29th, 2015)

3-1

Peter, Paul and Michael

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

Words of St. Paul, from II Timothy:

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

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

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

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (June 1st, 2015)

3-1

Sincerity and truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 25th, 2015)

3-1

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

A way to pray on Memorial Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 18th, 2015)

3-1

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

What do we do now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

-Acts 1

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 11th, 2015)

3-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

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

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 4th, 2015)

3-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

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

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

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (April 27th, 2015)

3-1

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

Make haste to be kind

The text read as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

104

Jay SidebothamContact:

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