Monday Matters (May 2, 2016)

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Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids– blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.
-John 5

So help me out here.

I’m plenty supportive of the bracelet, WWJD (What would Jesus do?). The world would be a better place if folks paused to ask that question more often. In this political season, I wish our candidates were spending more time on the question. But the fact is, sometimes the Jesus we meet in the gospels doesn’t do or say what I would script.

That’s probably providential. Case in point: yesterday’s gospel (above), Jesus addresses a man who’d been ill for 38 years. Not 38 minutes (that would be enough to do me in.) Not 38 days or months. 38 years. Jesus approaches and asks: Do you want to be made well?

Really, Jesus?

The gospels are full of stories of Jesus healing people. Sometimes he reaches out to people with a healing touch. Sometimes he responds to a persistent request for healing, someone shouting from the sidelines. Sometimes he heals without seeming to know it (a woman in a crowd reaches out to touch the edge of his robe and experiences healing). Sometimes he heals because faithful friends come forward on behalf of someone else. Good friends. (See Mark 2.) In the story we read yesterday, he asks the man impaired for almost four decades whether he wants to be made well.

Is there any other answer but yes?

Taking the passage at face value, apparently there is some question that this man would wish to be made well. We don’t know much about him. I don’t want to turn this into a blame-the-victim story. But I’m wondering if there is a parallel/parable here for us? The particulars of this man aside, how does this question sound to us: Do you wish to be made well?

It may be that the path to wellness signals change. None of us (especially Episcopalians) are big fans of change. As the social critic Dilbert put it: Change is good. You go first. It’s been interesting to discover in the work we do with congregations, work focused on spiritual growth, that people often don’t expect or want much to be different. There’s not much expectation of such a possibility, especially as far as engagement with the church is concerned.

But parish ministry has taught me at least one thing. Everybody has a need for healing. Those needs surface in a variety of ways: healing of body, mind, spirit, relationship, memory. The needs are individual and corporate and if the current dispiriting political discourse is demonstrating anything, it is that there is a need for healing in our common life.

So this Monday morning, making your way through routine, maybe doing things you always do in the way you always do them, perhaps limited or bound by some particular need for healing, take a simple step. Think about whether you are open to something new. Invite Jesus’ power into that place. See what happens. Take up your mat.

-Jay Sidebotham

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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 (April 25, 2016)

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I learned that the cab driver who drove me to the airport had recently moved to the states from Ethiopia. We talked about that for a while, and then he asked what I was doing in Portland, Oregon. I told him I was participating in a conference of Episcopal Communicators. I found my answer required some unpacking, not only because he did not know English well and I did not know his native language at all. I told him I was a priest. I told him I was giving some talks on how we share our news. He asked: “So you’re a missionary?” My knee jerk reaction, offered to someone raised in Africa, a region subject to the often painful collision of imperial and Christian expansion, was simple: “Well, not really.” When those words came out of my mouth, as so often happens, I wished I could have recalled them. I found myself thinking that I should have said something like this: “Yes I am.” Or maybe even: “Aren’t we all?”

In a couple different settings, recent conversations have gotten me thinking about what it means to be a disciple and what it means to be an apostle, where those two overlap, where they differ. If I were king, I might find every place where the word “disciple” appears in the New Testament and, for a season, change it to the word “student.” That may not capture fully the idea of a disciple (one who follows), but it does help us realize that in the journey of faith, we are called to be learners all the time. Wherever we are on the spiritual continuum, there is more.

The word “apostle” suggests something different. It’s about what we do with what we’re learning. It connotes someone who has been sent, someone given a mission. Anyone who answers that call (your mission, should you accept…) could well be called a missionary. I believe that we can all see ourselves in that great company.

When Jesus met with his disciples, after his resurrection and before his return to heaven, he told them: “As the Father has sent me, so send I you.” I’ve reflected on that phrase: “As the Father has sent me.” I found myself thinking of how Jesus was sent to the world: to change it, to bring healing, to say that what the world often considers wretched, Jesus declares to be blessed. (Proper attribution: that’s a phrase I heard in a sermon given by our Presiding Bishop at this conference.) Jesus was sent to help us know and show grace, to reveal what is sometimes hard for us to see or believe, that love is at the center. That’s the way we are sent into the world. To do that kind of thing.

That idea of mission, that apostolic vision surrounds us in the Christian community. If it’s your tradition to refer to the eucharist as a mass, know that the word mass (in Latin, missa) really has to do with this idea of mission, of being sent. For those reasons, some have argued that the most important part of the eucharist is the dismissal (Note again the root of that word: missa) when we are sent into the world to love and serve the Lord. Many churches have put this sign over the exit: “The worship is over. The service begins.”

I don’t think we can be too expansive about this. Anyone made in the image of God (i.e., everyone) has the potential to reflect that likeness, and to go into the world to share and show grace. Everyone can engage in that apostolic ministry. Everyone can be a missionary. I know the term has baggage, with coercive connotations. Maybe you can simply see yourself as part of the Jesus movement, listening as much as talking, finding out what God is up to in the neighborhood, bringing with you news of grace.

With all that in mind, how might you be an apostle this Monday?

-Jay Sidebotham

Lord, you give the great commission:
“Heal the sick and preach the word.”
Lest the Church neglect its mission
and the Gospel go unheard, help us witness to your purpose with renewed integrity;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
 
Lord, you call us to your service: “In my name baptize and teach.” That the world may trust your promise, life abundant meant for each, give us all new fervor, draw us closer in community;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
 
Lord, you make the common holy:
“This my body, this my blood.” Let your priests, for earth’s true glory, daily lift life heavenward,
asking that world around us share your children’s liberty;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
 
Lord, you show us love’s true measure:
“Father, what they do, forgive.”
Yet we hoard as private treasure all that you so freely give. May your care and mercy lead us
to a just society;
with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.
 
Lord, you bless with words assuring:
“I am with you to the end.” Faith and hope and love restoring, may we serve as you intend,
and, amid the cares that claim us, hold in mind eternity; with the Spirit’s gifts empower us for the work of ministry.

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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 (April 18, 2016)

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Jesus told his disciples: Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.
-John 20:21

This past weekend, I attended a conference called Missional Voices. It was great. It was ably organized by a group of seminarians, and it left me with great hope for the future, as we explored new ways of thinking about church. I learned a lot, as we talked about the mission of God. I wonder what you think that mission might be.

One priest serving in a southern city told a story about his community. One of the members of the congregation made his home on the streets, sleeping near a bridge in the downtown area. The priest had noticed that this guy was missing from the church for a number of weeks. When the guy showed up again for worship, and they came to the exchange of the peace, the priest greeted him and asked where he had been. The man explained that one night, two guys had thrown him over the edge of the bridge and taken all his stuff. He had been in the hospital recovering from the fall. The priest inquired more about the incident. In the course of the conversation, the man said that the two guys who had thrown him over the edge of the bridge were actually attending the service that night. He wouldn’t tell the priest who they were. He thought the priest would make the two guys leave. The homeless gentleman explained that those two guys needed to stay. They needed Jesus. The priest told us the story to report that he learned something that night, something important about Jesus, something important about the mission of God.

According to the Prayer Book, the mission of the church has to do with reconciliation. Specifically, we are told that the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and others. But the point of this conference was that this reconciling work is primarily God’s mission in the world, ours by extension, our as instruments of God’s work. Story after story reminded me that God’s mission can be fulfilled in many ways. It can be the work of the church, occasionally even the clergy. Who knew? It can be fulfilled by people in the church who are not the leaders in the church. It can be fulfilled by people who have nothing to do with the church. Each one of us created in the image of God, each one of us with a God-shaped space inside us, can do this work. Ultimately, it is God’s work, God’s mission.

Jesus knew this, and taught about it in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In that story, the person who carries out the mission of God (i.e., healing a man who had been attacked and was then ignored by the really religious people of the day) is the Samaritan. He was the outsider, the guy who knew nothing of liturgical tradition, had never been confirmed, had never been to seminary, was not a pledging member of any parish, didn’t know the creed. You get the point.

I come away from this conference mindful of the ways I am called to participate in the mission of God, how I might be a reconciling influence, bringing wholeness where there is brokenness. Lord knows, there’s a sufficiency of brokenness surrounding us. I come away with a sense of commission. How on this Monday morning might I participate in reconciling work?

I come away from the conference mindful of the ways that the church (its members, including clergy like me) often work at cross-purposes with the mission of God, building walls that divide instead of opening doors, setting up barriers to healing and wholeness instead of tearing them down, focusing on judgment more than mercy, on being right more than being righteous. Let’s just call this a growth opportunity.

Mostly, I come away interested in the ways that I might learn from unlikely teachers like this homeless guy tossed over the edge of the bridge. His story teaches about grace and forgiveness. He makes me hopeful that in moments when I find meaning and identity in resentment, I can remember his forgiving spirit, and in some small struggling way fulfill the mission of God.

-Jay Sidebotham

Notes from the Missional Voices Conference:
 
One of the highlights for me was a talk by Christian Kassoff, who leads a congregation in California that focuses on a ministry called Laundrylove. That ministry carries out the mission of God, building community by helping people in need realize the simple (but for some elusive) dignity of having clean clothes. 
 
He told the story of his own conversion, as he moved from a life challenged by substance abuse and a criminal record to leadership in his church. Here’s how he described it:
I used to be a hopeless dope fiend. Now I’m a dopeless hope fiend.
Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change.
-Richard Rohr
Authentic spirituality is always about changing you. It’s not about trying to change
someone else.
-Richard Rohr

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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 (April 11, 2016)

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Play ball

Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball, and precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often – those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players. I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.
-Francis T. Vincent, Jr., Commissioner of Baseball

Maybe this is why baseball is so popular among clergy. It’s helpful to recognize that errors are part of the game, on field or off. The idea is central to our faith. St. Paul put it this way: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. For me, it finds expression in the promise made at baptism. We promise that whenever we sin, we will repent and turn to the Lord. It doesn’t say “if ever.” It says “whenever.” Maybe that’s why both Navajo and Persian weavers always include at least one mistake when creating their rugs.

How exactly is that good news? For starters, our tradition holds that there is always a way back. So when my favorite editor finds grammatical errors in this weekly message (which she often does), that’s okay. When a reader writes me about last week’s post, indicating the Paul McCartney didn’t write “Let it be” about the Blessed Virgin, but about his own mother, that’s okay. I can learn from that. It’s about progress, not perfection. We embrace the rigorous truth that we won’t always get it right. And how might that be helpful this Monday morning?

First, maybe we can lighten up and recognize that God is not sitting at the divine laptop, waiting for us to mess up, ready to press the “smite” button (an image stolen from a Gary Larson cartoon). Recent reflections at church on forgiveness highlighted the point that often forgiveness begins with forgiving ourselves, letting the hot air out of the hubris balloon that imagines we can always get it right. (Clergy often gravitate toward those balloons.)

Second, it might help us give each other a break. So if someone lets us down, or does us wrong, or cuts us off in traffic, or wittingly or unwittingly breaks our heart, we can work at forgiveness. It is work. Spiritual work. It is not a matter of denying the hurt, or sanctioning the offense, but admitting that we are all just trying to figure out how to play ball.

Third, it may help us focus on how absolutely dependent we are on grace, on the premise and promise that ultimately we are accepted. That is not because we have it all together or always get it right. It’s certainly not a reflection of our ability to bat a spiritual 1000. We are accepted because of the goodness of God’s creation, of which we are a dearly beloved part. We are accepted because God loves us. That love is at the heart of creation.

I’m working at accepting that. Some days, I do better than others. Maybe I’m batting 300. But we can still swing for the fences. Or as St. Paul put it, as he reflected on his own spiritual journey, which had it’s up and downs: Beloved…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

So today, play ball.

-Jay Sidebotham

Wisdom from Brené Brown:
You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.
 
Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.
 
Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.

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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 (April 4, 2016)

3-1Let it be

It happened this year, and apparently it won’t happen again until the year 2157.

That’s the next time that the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25) and Good Friday coincide. It’s rare that the story of Mary visited by the angel Gabriel occurs on the same day when the story of Jesus’ death is told. Both stories need air-time, so in the wisdom of people in charge of calendar stuff, the observance of the Feast of the Annunciation was transferred to today, April 4.

This Monday morning, let’s see what the story of the Annunciation has to tell us to help us through today. It’s been beautifully rendered by artists over the centuries, with vivid imagination of what an angel might look like. Artists have also rendered Mary’s complicated reaction. For insight into that reaction, read the story in Luke 1:26-38. It says that when the angel showed up, Mary was much perplexed and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. No kidding. The angel tells her not to be afraid, a common reaction whenever one of these angels shows up. Easier said than done. Mary asks: “How can this be?” The angel tells her nothing will be impossible with God. And Mary responds with words that have inspired many (including Paul McCartney): “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.”

The story told in Luke’s gospel is one of many call stories in the scriptures. Like many other Bible characters who hear some sort of call, there is a sense that the person receiving the call might wonder whether the call is a wrong number. Moses did his best to weasel out of God’s call to confront Pharaoh, claiming he was no good at public speaking. Nice try. Samuel had to get the call three times before it sunk in. Isaiah said he was a person of unclean lips. Jeremiah said “I’m just a boy.” When called, Peter told Jesus to depart from him because he was a sinful man. You get the idea.

But there’s something about Mary. For all her pondering and perplexity, she says “yes” to God. A friend and fine preacher once offered a sermon in which she speculated on whether the angel visited other Nazareth girls first. She wondered if others said no, and so the angel moved on to the next house. Maybe that is what Mary models for us, amid the perplexity and fear, to say yes.

And make no mistake. Saying yes has its cost. I have two friends who are both professors who toured Europe with their 8 year old daughter. After visiting many churches and museums, the young girl wanted to know why Mary was never smiling. An astute observation, for the Annunciation foreshadows Good Friday. This year’s coincidence is no coincidence. In Luke 2, aged Simeon told young Mary: A sword will pierce your heart. There was cost with the promise.

But isn’t that the way it is in our lives. At all the crossroads, at every fork in the road, whenever we hear a call, or think we hear a call, there is cost and promise. That’s the message of the Annunciation. That’s the message of Good Friday. That’s a word for us this Monday morning. Can we say “yes” to what God is calling us to do and be, whether that’s a big task or, more likely, a small act of kindness, reflective of the grace we have received. Let it be.

-Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Feast of the Annunciation
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Song of Mary: The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.

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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 (March 28, 2016)

 

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Ordinary resurrections

It’s the title of a favorite book by Jonathan Kozol, describing the lives of children living in one of the poorest parts of New York City. It could have been a depressing story. But in fact, it’s a hopeful witness to the ways that new life and possibility can emerge from apparently hopeless situations. Kozol spent a lot of time studying not only the community but especially the ministry of St. Ann’s Church in the South Bronx. This church has taken the call to pastor the community seriously. Through its work and witness, it has provided promise for many children for decades. Resurrections continue to happen, Kozol claims.

This morning, we move into the Easter season. Easter is more than just a day, which in no way diminishes the glory of yesterday when we welcomed the happy morning in celebration of the first Easter when Jesus was resurrected. It is a day when we claim history pivoted. But it’s more than history. Our tradition affirms that the first resurrection unleashes power for more resurrections, even ordinary resurrections to happen. So we observe Easter not only with a season of 50 days, but in all seasons. Every time we gather for eucharist on Sunday is a little Easter, maybe an ordinary resurrection.

St. Paul spoke about the ongoing power of resurrection when he wrote a letter to a complicated church (aren’t they all?) in the city of Corinth. He wrote to folks who were often in conflict with each other. He called them to live in a new way, to celebrate the variety of gifts they had, to treat each other with honor and love. He said that this call to a renewed common life had something, no everything to do with the resurrection. He spoke of the fact that if Christ has not been raised from the dead, we are of all people the most to be pitied.

The letter to the Colossians, attributed to St. Paul puts it this way: If you have been raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is. In other words, the resurrection changes the way we live now. Easter invites us to think about how resurrections might continue to happen among us.

So use this beginning of the Easter season to look for ordinary resurrections. Where might you see them? They can come in great variety. A new start on a relationship, forgiveness paving the way. A faithful response to an inexplicably tragic loss, a response marked by courage. A brave journey of recovery from the grip of an illness or accident. A new attitude toward a vocation which feels like a dead end, maybe an attitude fueled by gratitude. Churches in the area where I live working together to build a Habitat house, a project which offers the prospect of resurrection for a family. A group of people, even a nation, struggling for justice and peace.

What examples come to your mind?

Resurrection literally means to stand again. We all know something about being knocked down. By God’s grace, through the power that brought Jesus back to life, we believe that dead ends can be turned into thresholds. We can stand again. Even in the ordinariness of our lives we can experience resurrection. It’s enough to make you say “Alleluia.”

-Jay Sidebotham

Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection, not in books alone, but in every leaf in springtime. 
-Martin Luther
Let every man and woman count himself immortal. Let him catch the revelation of Jesus in his resurrection. Let him say not merely, “Christ is risen,” but “I shall rise.”
-Phillips Brooks
Now let the heavens be joyful, Let earth her song begin: Let the round world keep triumph, And all that is therein; Invisible and visible, Their notes let all things blend, For Christ the Lord is risen Our joy that hath no end.
-Saint John of Damascus

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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 (March 21, 2016)

3-1This particular church cartoonist has only a few tricks up his sleeves. One of the standard scenarios: eavesdropping as people greet the preacher at the end of the service. Sometimes the cartoon fits the theme, “What they say and what they mean”. For example, the parishioner says to the pastor: “Interesting sermon”, which really means, “Where did you come up with that screwball interpretation?” (expletives deleted). Or, “Now that was a good sermon.” which means that the rest of them were dogs. I don’t have to make this stuff up. One Sunday, I preached on a challenging text. A visiting seminarian at the door greeted me with this sermon review: “Nice try.” That was only a decade ago. I’ve worked through it. I really have.

All of which is a rambling introduction to the topic of worship. On this Monday morning of Holy Week, I’d like to invite you to think about how you will approach the worship of this week. In recent years, and in the work I’ve been called to do with congregations, I’ve been led to consider the ways we envision our role in worship.

For much of my ordained ministry, wittingly or unwittingly, I’ve often operated on the premise that a worship service is a drama intended for the approval of the person in the pew. I’ve worked to make the music engaging, the liturgy just the right length, providing occasional yet tasteful tugs on the heart (nothing too manipulative), the sermon wise and witty. I can tell how I’ve done by comments at the door, and by other measures like attendance and pledging units. In this vision, a church service is like other gatherings: a concert, lecture, play, movie, each subject to review, each a consumer product intended for satisfaction of the audience, a group which can often be critical, as in, “Nice try.” I’ve worked through that. (I really have.)

But when I heard a quote attributed to Soren Kierkegaard, I was opened to a shift in thinking. To paraphrase, Kierkegaard said that the liturgy is indeed a drama, with the clergy, musicians and other liturgical leaders as prompters, the congregation as actors. God is the audience. It’s not a perfect metaphor, because it makes the Holy Spirit somewhat passive in the process, but it made this helpful shift for me.

It made me think more about the encounter with the divine. It made me think less about that ego-driven desire for approval (a clergy temptation, and often a downfall). It made me realize that whether I’m leading worship or sitting in the pew, we are all in this together as we make our offering to God: offering our thanks, offering ourselves with our need for forgiveness, offering our praises without restraint, offering service with time, talent and treasure.

Remembering, of course, that all of it comes as response to grace.

This Holy Week provides many opportunities to worship the God known to us in Jesus, who stretches loving arms on the cross to draw us into his saving embrace. If and when you find yourself in a church service this week, try Kierkegaard’s quote on for size. See if it makes any shift in your experience, as you consider the amazing grace that we can with intention enter into the divine presence, along with others seeking to do the same. Use the Holy Week prayers below if that’s a help.

And church isn’t the only place that worship can happen. Our offering to God can be made any day and all day long, with our lips and with our lives. For me, it often comes early when I’m able to see over the dunes to the sun cracking the horizon of a deep ocean that never looks the same two days in a row, whose surface suggests hidden depths of movement and vitality that intimate the mystery of the Holy One. All of that often causes me to say out loud “Thank you.” That is an offering of worship.

-Jay Sidebotham

Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered into glory before he was crucified, mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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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 (March 14, 2016)

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Everybody can be great.

Because anybody can serve.

Early in my ministry, a mentor told me that the preacher should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. That’s true not only for people who climb pulpit stairs. We are each and all called to figure out the intersection of our faith and the world in which we live.

Sometimes that’s harder to do than others. In this season of distinctively dispiriting (even frightening) political discourse, the news has us thinking about the subject of greatness, a debate waged by candidates in both parties.

Does the Bible have anything to say on the topic. How do we as people of faith think about greatness?

This week, the daily lectionary invites us to read Mark 10, which takes us back a couple millennia to join the disciples on the way to Jerusalem, prior to the first Holy Week. I’m guessing they didn’t realize what was coming. It seems like they imagined they were marching in with a winning political candidate. Since they had been with Jesus from the beginning, they would be rewarded with places of honor, influence, prominence. They would be winners.

As they travel, the disciples discuss which one of them was the greatest, which one of them was the most valuable to Jesus. Maybe they thought Jesus was lucky to have them on the team. Who would get the corner office? Who would be chief of staff? I can imagine them sporting the bumper sticker I received a number of years ago. It read: Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.

James and John sent their (stage) mother in to talk with Jesus and guarantee a prime place. The other disciples get wind of the power play. They’re not happy about it. Jesus, in turn, gets wind of it. He gave them all a lesson in the character of greatness. He said: Whoever would be great among you must be a servant.

One of the implications of this instruction to disciples was the idea that everyone can be great because everyone can serve. I believe that teaching inspired Martin Luther King when he spoke to a group of students. (A portion of that talk is found below.)

Travel this week alongside those disciples, as you get ready for Holy Week. As the newspaper offers one take on what greatness is all about, read Mark 10 and then consider what the Bible reveals about greatness in the passion narrative. A king enters Jerusalem riding a donkey, a symbol of humility. The teacher gets up from the table and washes the feet of disciples, a menial task. The Lord of creation stretches arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into saving embrace. It’s all about service. Saving service.

A church I know posted this sign over the door, for people to see as the liturgy concluded. It read: The worship is over. The service begins. If we see ourselves as part of the Jesus movement, we’re called to learn from the one who said that he came not to be served but to serve, indeed to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). We are called to be like him. We are called to orient our lives towards service.

So start this morning. Pause for a prayer, inviting God to show opportunity to be of service. The opportunities abound. In the mean-spirited season in which we apparently live, the grace of service is in high demand. When we put that grace to work, it will be great.

-Jay Sidebotham

Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
 Martin Luther King, Jr.
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Mahatma Gandhi

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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 (March 7, 2016)

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There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”)
-Acts 4
Encouragement: A matter of the heart

He was named Joseph. When the people in his church saw the way he lived, they changed his name. They started to call him Barnabas, which means “Son of encouragement.” There’s not a lot of detail about what prompted the change, but it’s always filled me with admiration for the guy because I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need encouragement.

We read about Joseph/Barnabas, in the New Testament, in the Acts of the Apostles. If biblical casting awards were given, he’d be a supporting actor at best. Maybe a cameo role. His fifteen minutes of fame have to do with the ministry he shared with St. Paul. He introduced Paul to Christian communities suspicious of the recent convert. Together, Paul and Barnabas traveled from town to town, establishing new congregations. We read about their successes. We don’t read much about the failures, but I’m guessing that their holy sales job would call for lots of encouragement. Truth be told, I don’t think Paul was particularly easy to get along with. Paul and Barnabas ultimately parted ways over a disagreement. (Can you imagine such a thing happening in the church?) We don’t hear much more about Barnabas.

Barnabas came to mind because the word “encouragement” has come up in several different contexts lately, a sign to me from the Spirit that I should pay attention. It has at its core the word “courage”. Our work with congregations is focused on spiritual growth understood as a deepening love of God and neighbor. In other words, spiritual growth is a matter of the heart. And the word “courage” is also really about heart. (Note that the French word for heart is coeur.) To encourage, to be encouraged, is a matter of spiritual growth. It is a matter of the heart. While news headlines and poll results can be disheartening, I am encouraged by what I see as I move around the church.

I just came back from 3 days with 75 teenagers, a retreat/event/happening having to do with growth in love of God and neighbor. I guess I was a leader, but I really was a learner from these young people who led the weekend, and showed great courage, showed great heart. They encouraged each other, and they encouraged me. I came away encouraged about the future of our church. It was beautiful. Inspiring. So I’m wondering in my slightly sleep deprived state: How can we all participate in the process of encouragement?

In this season of Lent, marked by a call to self-examination, take this Monday morning to think about encouragement. Give thanks for those who have encouraged you in your journey. Maybe as a Lenten discipline, let those folks know that they have in some way widened your heart and helped you grow.

Think about who you might encourage in the spiritual journey. Maybe there is someone who comes immediately to mind. Maybe not. If the latter is the case, ask God to cause someone to cross your path, someone who could use encouragement. They are all over the place. It may be that our eyes need to be opened to that opportunity.

And as the week begins in this season of repentance, think about a time when have you been discouraged. What caused that to happen? How were you lifted out of that? Did you ever have a discouraging influence on someone? Newsflash: It’s a clergy pitfall. I occasionally run across a prayer in the Psalms that offers this chilling plea: “Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me.” As I consider the number of people I meet who have been wounded by organized religion, I fear for my own participation in hampering the spiritual growth of others. I want to repent of the ways I have missed the opportunity to encourage.

Our service of Holy Eucharist ends each week with a prayer that we will be sent into the world with strength and courage, to love and serve with gladness and singleness of heart. That is a beautiful description of what it means to practice the gift of encouragement. It’s a gift we each have, one that we use sometimes, sometimes not.

How will you put that gift to work today? Let me sharpen the question: How is God calling you to put that gift to work today?

-Jay Sidebotham

May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus.
– Romans 15
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy.
-Philippians 2:1
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
-I Thessalonians 5

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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 29, 2016)

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A Collect for Grace
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your  mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome  by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The gift of today

I’m not sure I’ve ever written one of these messages on February 29, but it gives opportunity to reflect on the gift and challenge of an extra day. What will we do with the only February 29, 2016 we’ll ever be given? Note that it falls in the season of Lent, a season for self-examination. With that in mind, what would it mean to use this bonus day for spiritual audit, a chance to look at what we’re doing and being in light of what we’re called to do and be?

I don’t know about you, but the Lenten call to self-examination can sound like a downer, an invitation to be hard on myself, to think solely about what I’ve done that I ought not to have done, what I’ve left undone that I ought to have done. There’s plenty of material there for sure. But in the same way that original blessing precedes original sin, maybe healthy and holy self-examination starts with an attitude of gratitude, remembering the ways blessings have come.

In the time of quiet that gets my day going, I try to name, often enumerate things for which I am thankful. Some days the expressions of gratitude are cosmic in scope. Some days they are mundane. Some days they come easy. On others, it can take practice, even work. It can call for special intention, even willfulness.

Then based on those daily reminders of grace, it’s possible to look at the day ahead with a focus on what I might want to become, just for that day. It’s not about the to-do list as much as it is about a sense of vocation. Can I go through the day remembering blessings? Can I go through the day with greater focus on how to be of service, and less focus on how I am going to be served? Can I go through the day with a sense of vision and embrace of goal?

And from those daily reminders of grace, it’s possible to face challenges that might come. And come they will. One mentor puts it this way: Suffering is the promise that life always keeps. The prayer above, A Collect for Grace (often said in the Service of Morning Prayer), addresses the prospect that challenge will be part of the daily narrative, as sure as the sun rises. What will it take to navigate those challenges? And what obstacles do I put in the way?

That brings me to the prayer printed below. I first ran across this prayer, early in my ministry, when I was invited to officiate at an ecumenical service in a nursing home. Our sanctuary was far from fancy. Fluorescent lights in a small activity room. But it was a holy place. The rather small congregation included saints who walked into the chapel without assistance, others who came with walkers or canes, those who came in wheelchairs, those lying on gurneys. Some congregants actively participated. Some were taken to another place by deep dementia. Some slept. I was unable to tell how much of my stirring homily was sinking in. But as able, we always concluded by offering the prayer you find below.

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.

On this February 29, I invite you to take the leap of offering this prayer for yourself, giving thanks for the gift of this day, for the gift of all the days that follow. May you be blessed with the spirit of Jesus on this bonus day, and in all the days that follow.

-Jay Sidebotham

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
-Psalm 90
This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
-Psalm 118

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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.