Monday Matters (October 27th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 27, 2014

What is spiritual growth?

The work I’m doing these days tries to get people talking about spiritual growth as the priority in congregational life, and in the lives of individuals. As I travel around the church and have conversations with folks (which by the way is really interesting work), I ask questions that sound something like this:

  1. What comes to mind when you think about spiritual growth? How would you define it?
  2. What has helped you grow spiritually?
  3. What has gotten in the way?

I hear a variety of answers, and I have my own, which I’ll share shortly. But before you read any further, take a moment to think about those questions. Take three minutes of quiet (a minute per question) and think about how you would answer those questions this Monday morning. If this is not a good time, like you’re reading this on your smartphone while you’re hang-gliding, or multitasking in a meeting when everybody thinks you’re paying attention to the power point presentation, or otherwise distracted, try this exercise later. Give it some time, and if you feel so inclined, send me an email with your thoughts.

(3 minute pause in reading to answer the questions)

Time’s up. I continue…

There are lots of ways to think about the mystery of spiritual growth, none of them exhaustive. As Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3, when talking about the life of the Spirit: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” At its heart, I think spiritual growth is a relational dynamic, a deepening love of God and love of neighbor. This growth is about conversation, listening, seeking, questioning, giving, receiving. It’s about an open heart and spirit, coming to know someone better. It’s about practice, dedication of time and energy to the relationship. It’s about love.

So I channel my inner Tina Turner and ask: What’s love got to do with it? I defer to the gospel reading we heard yesterday in church, from the gospel of Matthew, a story that appears in three of the four gospels. Jesus is put to the test. He is asked what it means to live the spiritual life. Which one of the commandments is the greatest? He responds that the greatest commandment is two-fold, yet inseparable. It has to do with loving God and neighbor. It’s about the practice of shifting the focus from self to the other. That kind of growth comes with spending time. It comes with going through hard times together. It comes with intentionality, or as some call it, discipleship. And it matters.

I spent last week on the road, attending gatherings in both Texas and New York City, both places where the distressing Ebola crisis has been brought home, dominating the news and triggering fears, some more rational than others. That travel involved time in several airports, which have become monuments to insecurity. It made me realize just how fear-based we have all become, given the many challenges we face together, as a global community, as a nation, as a church, in our individual lives. And I thought of the passage from the New Testament which says that perfect love casts out fear, fear and love set in opposition

Our commitment to spiritual growth, deepening of love of God and neighbor, is not something we pursue just to be good religious folk or nice people. It is a way to respond to the fears the threaten to undo us. It works if we work it. So think about your own spiritual path, past moments of discovery and inertia. Ask the Spirit to guide you into deeper growth, as you practice the love to which Jesus calls us, love that casts out fear, love of God, love of neighbor. Find a specific way to grow today.

- Jay Sidebotham

When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “`You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

Matthew 22:34

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 20th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 20, 2014

Signs of the times

“Am I open to God’s surprises? Am I at a standstill, or am I on a journey?” These questions surfaced in a homily preached last week (October 14) by Pope Francis, who reflected on Jesus’ interaction with contemporary religious leaders. The pope said in this sermon that these leaders failed to understand that the law (doctrine, teaching, ritual, liturgy) which they “guarded and loved was a pedagogy towards Jesus Christ.” He said: “If the law does not lead to Jesus Christ, if it does not bring us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead.” Jesus rebuked these leaders for their “closure, for not being able to read the signs of the time, for not being open to the God of surprises.”

This Monday morning, we are called to read the signs of the times. It can be tough reading. These signs include not only any number of bleak global crises of seemingly unprecedented threat. They also include dramatic shifts in attitudes toward religious institutions. (I take it that if you are reading this email you have some interest in that shift.) Last week, the Barna Group, researchers on contemporary religious observance, explored the question of why fewer Americans are attending church. Their study noted five trends stated here in a few words, with some editorial comment from me:

  • A rise of secularization: Nearly half of millenials (48%) qualify as post-Christian compared with Gen-xers (40%), boomers (35%), and elders (28%). Get the trend?
  • Less openness to the idea of church: Receptivity to an invitation to church among people who don’t presently attend has dropped from 65% to 47% over the last 20 years. Thanks but no thanks.
  • Churchgoing is no longer mainstream: In the 1990’s, one in seven unchurched adults had never experienced regular church attendance. Now it’s one in four. Never.
  • Expectations of church involvement have changed: There’s been a dramatic increase among those who say they’d rather do something else than attend services on Sunday morning. As one person said, why bother?
  • Growing skepticism about church’s contribution to society:  Almost half of those who don’t attend church couldn’t identify a single favorable impact of the Christian community on the culture. Ouch.

Last week, Jim Naughton reported these findings in his blog Episcopal Café and concluded with a question: How will our church leaders read the signs of the times? To which I add: How will readers of this Monday message read the signs of the times?

For me, a religious professional, results like those indicated by the Barna Group could be depressing and dispiriting. (I hear that the local Starbucks is hiring.) Then I hear words from the Pope about the God of surprises, and recall that we follow a Lord who was resurrected, knowing that resurrection literally means “to stand again.” I suspect that the God of surprises can and will bring new life to the church, and to each of our lives, as we remember that the things we do in church, our religion, our spiritual practices, our acts of charity and service are not ends in themselves. They are intended to lead to Jesus Christ, intended to bring us closer to Christ. That can mean different things to different people. But we each are asked by scripture this question from Jesus: Who do you say that I am? In that question, I hear a call to follow Jesus who helps me know and to show grace more, to receive and give forgiveness more, to serve following his example of service. What do you hear?

I have a feeling that the God of surprises might actually work powerfully through the dramatic (and perhaps depressing) statistics about religious observance, opening a way for us to focus with greater singularity on the center, on the goal. If that happened, it will make the point that new life comes not because of our activity but because of what God does, not because of what we believe, but because God believes in us.

I could be wrong, but I believe that the Pope who speaks of the God of surprises is on to something, as a Pope who continues to surprise us all. Pope Francis gives us a chance to consider resurrection possibilities. This morning, what would it mean to open yourself to the God of surprises?

- Jay Sidebotham

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; everything old has passed away. See, everything has become new. -II Corinthians 5

But the Lord said to me: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness….for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.” -II Corinthians 12

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” -Matthew 16

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 13th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 13, 2014

We do not lose heart. 

His name was Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, a name almost as distinctive as his biography. He was born in 1831, to a Jewish family in Lithuania, and was preparing to be a rabbi. He went to study in England in his twenties where he ran across a copy of the New Testament. He was taken with the story of Jesus. He converted to Christianity and joined a Baptist congregation. A one-man ecumenical movement, after a while he became a Presbyterian and went to the United States where he enrolled at a seminary in Alleghany, Pennsylvania. After two years doing that, he was led to the Episcopal Church, and studied at General Theological Seminary in New York. Upon graduation, he was sent by his bishop to Japan, and then to China, where he felt called to translate sacred Christian texts into the language of the people he served in Asia. He began by translating the Psalms. Then the Book of Common Prayer. Then the New Testament. Finally the Hebrew Bible. The last years of his life were spent in infirmity. Confined to a wheelchair, mostly paralyzed and unable to speak, he sat at his desk day after day, typing a translation of the Bible using two fingers. He did not lose heart.

I spoke to a friend over the weekend who has been facing health challenges beyond my imagination. Weeks in the hospital and a long, arduous road to recovery. He spoke to me about a sense of gratitude, and how God had much more in store for him. We spoke of mindfulness, and the powerful witness of Thich nhat hahn, who most famously said: “No mud. No lotus.” I love my friend a lot. He is a good friend, and a very good man. I asked how I could help him. He asked for a cartoon. I can do that. I asked how I could pray for him. He responded with a request for prayers for peace, and he again spoke of gratitude, the confidence that God had more in store.

How is that we see the gift of each day, even when the challenges seem overwhelming, like feeling compelled to translate the Bible when you only have use of two fingers? How can we grow in mindfulness? How can we preserve gratitude in the attitude, especially when life seems perilously unscripted? We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, maybe like  Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky, or Malala Yousafzai, or brave medical folks attending to the needs of the sick in West Africa, running towards the danger, not away. I’m sure you know others who endure, who persist, who show courage, who do not lose heart, or in the language of St. Paul selected for tomorrow’s feast, who see today’s “slight momentary affliction” as preparation for an eternal weight of glory.

I’ve known a few, like the friend I mentioned. I thank God for the witness of those people in my life. They give me encouragement, which is to say that they give me courage. Is there someone in your life who does that for you? Thank God. Might you be that encouragement  for someone today, even in a small way?

- Jay Sidebotham

O God, in your providence you called Joseph Schereschewsky from his home in Eastern Europe to the ministry of the Church, and sent him to China, upholding him in his infirmity, that he might translate the Holy Scriptures into languages of that land. Lead us, we pray, to commit our lives and talents to you, in the confidence that when you give your servants any work to do, you also supply the strength to do it; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. -Collect for Joseph Schereschewsky’s Feast

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. -II Corinthians 4

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 6th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, October 6, 2014

Mission, Part II

It’s an honor to spend time each week writing about the ways we put faith to work in the world, about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus these days. (I’m sure you all realize that often the preacher is preaching to himself.)  It’s a greater honor that there are people who actually read the weekly message. And it’s an even greater honor that people write in response. I learn a lot from those comments, and I’m working on being a better learner.

I wrote last week about the mission of the church, and the mission of my life as a follower of Christ. I got interesting comments back. One person wrote with reflection on the state of the church these days, and the challenge of denominational identification. This person wrote: “We are all on the same team or should be but church dogma and focusing on who’s right not what’s right gets in the way.” He went on to say: “I’m not Episcopalian. I’m a flawed Christ follower who happens to hang at an Episcopal church. I know “leaders” of the Episcopal franchise have a duty to extend and preserve their unique tradition, but I’m not sure how that gets them or me closer to living like Jesus.” Challenging words to Episcopal clergy. I take it that the mission for my correspondent was a matter of getting closer to living like Jesus, not a bad mission statement. He sees, as I happen to believe, that the church is an instrument meant to bring God’s kingdom, meant to serve and heal, not an end in itself. He also notes that the church often falls short. He reminds me that it’s all about discipleship of Jesus. I’m grateful that he shared his perspective.

His is not the only point of view. As we’ve done work with parishes around the country through this new ministry with which I’m involved, we’ve recognized that people come to the Episcopal Church for all kinds of reasons. The culture of our denomination makes room for a variety of points of view, a variety of hopes and aspirations and needs. The work we do focused on spiritual vitality in congregations is largely concerned with generating conversation with congregants about their own spiritual journeys, their understanding of membership in a church, their understanding of a relationship with Christ, their take on discipleship. One person, in conversation about this work said: “I’ve been a member of this parish for 30 years, but I don’t self-identify as Christian.” Another said: “I don’t expect much to happen to me at church.” I find comments like these challenging, but helpful to hear, because as we think about the mission of the church, it’s important to recognize a variety of perspectives, all of which raises questions.

They are similar to the questions that appear in the introduction to a book that I think is really important. It is entitled People of the Way written by Dr. Dwight Zscheile, a quite bright young scholar who presently is helping the Episcopal Church reimagine the pathway forward. He gave a wonderful presentation at a town meeting at the National Cathedral last week, a great survey about what is distinctive about the Episcopal Church these days, about its distinctive call. In the introduction to his book, Dr. Zscheile captures the issue in these questions: What does it mean to be a disciple in today’s world? What does it mean to be a church member? Are they the same thing?

As you consider your own faith journey, does it unfold in the context of a faith community? Do you consider yourself a member of that community? How do you see that intersecting with your call as a follower of Jesus, a disciple? Are they the same thing? Where do they diverge? There are many ways to answer those questions. What will your answers be?

- Jay Sidebotham

 Almighty God, whose will it is to be glorified in your saints: Shine, we pray, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth your praise, who called us out of darkness into your marvelous light, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

-Prayer for a missionary, page 247 in the Book of Common Prayer.

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.

Stanza One from the text of Hymn 528 by Jeffery Rowthorn.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 29th, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, September 29, 2014

Mission

We began our day with reflection on scripture, meeting last Tuesday in the chapel at Willow Creek Community Church in the suburbs of Chicago. They call it the chapel, and it is indeed their smaller worship space. It probably only seats seven or eight hundred, which means that this chapel is larger than most Episcopal churches. That space is in fact dwarfed by the main worship space which seats 8,000 or so, and is often filled on Sundays. The sections of that larger space each seat about 250 people. People are encouraged to sit in the same section each week, as a way to get to know each other, as a way to build community, small congregations within a larger one. Any one of those sections is larger than most Episcopal Churches.

I visited Willow Creek as part of a gathering of about 50 Episcopal clergy and lay leaders. It was an honor to be in the presence of these fine, wise and inquisitive Anglicans, gathered in a spirit of learning, which is after all, what a disciple does. It was an honor to experience the hospitality of this large church, and to engage in conversation with Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, who shared with us what Willow Creek has learned about leadership. For oh so many reasons, I realized on the visit that we had moved from the Episcopalian culture to another. But along with those who joined me, we were eager to discover lessons for us in the work we do.

I realized (and not for the first time) that I have my own impressions, perhaps prejudices about churches like Willow Creek, and the people who lead them. I suspect the Willow Creek crowd has impressions of Episcopalians. Those didn’t matter much last Tuesday. Our day in conference was filled with lessons, including the reminder of how very hospitable the Willow Creek community was to our group, and how important that is. It was Christ-like. I was impressed in our time with Bill Hybels with how we need to renew our understanding of what it means to be a disciple. We need to do that as a denomination, and as congregations. I need to do it in my own life. We need to do that in a way that is authentically Anglican, balancing scripture, tradition, reason and experience. We need to do it honoring the sacraments at the heart of our tradition, each of which are intended to draw us closer to Christ. We need to do it with Episcopalian hospitality, a message of welcome to people to come as they are, and a special openness to those who have experienced rejection. We need an ear for the questions people bring. And while it was relatively easy to note all the ways that the Episcopal Church is different from Willow Creek, it was also important to notice how we share a common goal, helping people to grow in love of God and neighbor, helping people to know God better, to follow Christ more closely, to do so not in our own strength but in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Willow Creek has grown in part because it has rigorously adhered over decades to its mission: To help irreligious people be formed into disciples of Christ. You may or may not embrace that mission statement. But one of the things I realized in the wake of this trip is that I personally need more clarity and rigor about mission, about purpose. Many of our churches need that. Our denomination needs that. But let me repeat. The most important thing: I need that clarity and rigor.

So on this Monday morning, I’m wondering how you would articulate your own sense of mission, your sense of what you have been sent to do and be in the world. What are you called to do and be as a disciple? Do you know what the mission statement of your faith community happens to be? Do you sense that community is living into that mission? I’ll just put it out there. Often mainline denominations are adrift, with little rigor, clarity in articulation of mission. Drilling down a bit more, I’m often a adrift in that way. Pray today for clarity. And if it helps, consider the mission of the church as described in our prayer book. It’s printed on the side column. Does it sound like a mission you can embrace? Can you act on it today?

- Jay Sidebotham

 

Q: What is the mission of the Church?

A: The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Q: How does the Church pursue its mission?

A: The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace and love.

Q: Through whom does the Church carry out its mission?

A: The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 22nd, 2014)

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MONDAY MATTERS
Reflections to start the week
Monday, September 22, 2014

Follow me

Once upon a time, long, in a diocese far away, at a time before we relied on Google or Mapquest or GPS to find our way in the world, I served at a church in Washington D.C. I was called on to preside at the funeral of a prominent lawyer, a good and accomplished man, with somewhat tangential relationship to the church. The sanctuary was packed (I confess I found myself calculating the billable hours in the room). At the end of the service, the hearse was to lead a procession to the cemetery, located in northern Virginia, about 45 minutes drive on a day without traffic. I was to preside at that graveside service. To add to the transit time, the family wished for the procession to drive by several important Washington places that had meant a lot to the deceased. For a variety of reasons (including introversion), I chose to drive my own car. I found myself about halfway through the line-up of the procession of who knows how many cars as we began to snake our way through the city.

We were in downtown Washington. when for some reason, the car directly in front of me stopped at a red light, though custom was for the procession to keep going. We watched the rest of the procession disappear into city traffic. I feverishly looked for the map, the name of the cemetery, and realized I had gathered that information and left it on my desk. At least I still had this driver in front of me. He would know where to go. I could follow him.

Then I noticed he had put on his directional signal. He was bailing from the procession. I was on my own, not knowing where to go, detached from the procession. As he moved through the intersection, obviously headed in a different direction, I found myself in hot pursuit. I pulled up next to him at the next stop light, pointed at my collar, motioned for him to roll down his window and said: “You can’t leave the procession. I’m following you and I’m officiating at the graveside.” He saw my predicament. He had the information regarding the site for the burial. He kindly changed his mind, leading me through D.C. traffic to a tardy arrival for the committal. Any number of lessons were learned by this young priest that day, a number of them rendered moot by technology which has emerged since that day. But the moral to the story: It matters who you follow.

Today is the feast of St. Matthew, tax collector working hard at his desk. Matthew suddenly finds Jesus standing across his spreadsheets and calculators. Jesus says to him: “Follow me.” Matthew does it. On the spot, his life changed forever. He follows Jesus on a new adventure, not knowing where he was going, with no illusion that it would be easy or even safe. We remember him for his faithfulness and his courage, to discern that Jesus was worth following, that he could be trusted.

So this Monday we ask: who do we follow? What do we follow? Where do we put our confidence. That’s what discipleship is all about, being a student, a learner, recognizing our own limits, and trusting that there is one who will lead us, as we walk in his footsteps.

- Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Feast of St. Matthew:

We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of your Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him. Amen. 

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.

-Proverbs 3:5,6 

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

-Matthew 9:9-13

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 15th, 2014)

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

Day by day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Jay Sidebotham

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

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

Psalm 100:

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 8th, 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

- Jay Sidebotham

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (September 1st, 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Jay Sidebotham

 The Collect for Labor Day

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

 

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

Monday Matters (August 25th, 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Jay Sidebotham 

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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