Monday Matters (November 20, 2017)

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Representing

Last week, I had the privilege of visiting the Diocese of New Jersey. On one of the days, I met with lay leaders from various congregations to talk about spiritual growth. Then I met with clergy to explore the same topic. In some ways, a different audience. On the other hand, I was struck with common purpose.

At both gatherings, I was made mindful of what our tradition says about the ministry of the church. In the Prayer Book (p. 845ff.), there’s a section called “The Outline of the Faith”, a.k.a, the Catechism, FAQs about faith. When it comes to questions about the ministry, the Prayer Book says we are all the ministers of the church: lay people, bishops, priests and deacons. I’m curious whether you think of yourself as a minister.

There are questions about each of those four orders. For each of the four orders (lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons), there’s a job description which begins the same way. Each are called to represent Christ and the church in the world. So what does that look like? How are we Christians, clergy and lay people, doing with that job description? Truth be told, the best that can be said is that we get mixed reviews.

Mahatma Gandhi spent his life in proximity to Christians, many of whom encouraged him to convert. He resisted, mindful of the discrimination he personally experienced from good upstanding, religious folk. Gandhi said: “I like your Christ but not your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

Recent surveys indicate that when people are asked for associations with the word “Christian”, common words that come to mind are judgmental, hypocritical, exclusive. In the first days of the church, people outside the church looked at people inside the church and said, “See how they love one another.” These days, not so much.

Again, there’s nothing new about this. The liturgy for Morning Prayer includes a prayer attributed to St. Chrysostom, an early saint. I say the prayer most mornings. The prayer book fails to note that St. Chrysostom was virulent in anti-semitic preaching. We just celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We don’t always note the hatred spewed by Martin Luther towards Jewish people. When I was in middle-school Sunday School, I remember receiving a youth magazine that included an article written by J. Edgar Hoover in which he attacked Martin Luther King, labeling him an immoral communist. Why were they giving that out in Sunday School? In our own time, ardent Bible-reading Christians proclaim a gospel that, in my humble opinion, seems to have nothing to do with Jesus.

A good look in the mirror lands me solidly in the company of folks who fall short. Resentment, pride, envy, hypocrisy, disdain, indifference, withheld forgiveness often grab hold of my heart. It all challenges my faith, causing me to wonder why my life doesn’t look a bit more redeemed. All of it calls us to rely solely on the mercy of the Lord, which is not just forgiveness, but also power to better represent Christ and Christ’s church.

Take this week to think of folks who represent Christ for you. In my own life, I’m mindful of a woman widowed in her 90’s after 60 years of marriage. She wondered what God was calling her to do with the next chapter of her life. I think of a friend suddenly disabled who navigates that challenge with hope. I think of a family who faithfully supports him. I think of a minister who works with teenagers, and shows them God’s unconditional love in creative and caring ways. I think of a priest in Honduras who, at great personal risk, ministers to people with AIDS when other faith traditions in his country shun those folks. In a week devoted to thanksgiving, I give thanks for those representatives.

Then think about what it might mean for you to represent Christ and his church. Take this Monday morning to think about one way you might grow in this area this week. We are each and all ministers in the church. Representing Christ is what we’re called to do.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
-II Corinthians 5
 
 
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
-Ephesians 5
 
 
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel.
-Psalm 69

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

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

 

Monday Matters (November 13, 2017)

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Angels laughing

I recently heard a story about John Coburn, gentle giant of the Episcopal Church a generation ago. He was involved with a big old national church meeting, with lots of politics, resolutions, serious discussion. One of those places where fun goes to die.

As John Coburn led this conversation, he cited one of my heroes, Karl Barth, great theologian of the 20th century. As far as I can tell, Dr. Barth never had an unexpressed thought. He wrote volumes on just about everything. I often wonder what he would write about the times in which we live. When I studied his work in seminary, it would literally take me about an hour to read a page from his theological tomes. I think it’s why I wear thick glasses. Having said all that, here’s the word from John Coburn that caught my attention:

When the great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, who wrote and published volumes of Dogmatic Theology throughout his professional career, recognized that his life was drawing to a close, he wrote concerning his prodigious theological efforts:

“The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume and each is thicker than the previous one. As they laugh, they say to one another, ‘Look’ Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics.”

John Coburn continued, with reference to the meetings in which he found himself:

“Well, dear angels of God, here we come now with our little pushcart full of Books, Reports, Memorials and Resolutions, Petitions and Pamphlets. Please keep an eye on us so we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our Mission- Yes, Ourselves- No.”

All of this is to say that church can be terminally serious, but that’s hardly news. What I find remarkable is that some of the church leaders who encountered greatest opposition, endured greatest persecution, given greatest opportunity to harbor resentment, have responded with joy.

You could start with St. Paul who wrote an epistle to the Philippian church from a 1st century prison cell (let your imagination run wild) and filled that letter with the words “rejoice”. St. Francis of Assisi is remembered across the centuries, the most admired and least imitated of the saints. One of his legacies: joy. In our own day, the joyful demeanor of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama all point to a spiritual reality, that joy is a mark of spiritual growth, even for those who face the deepest suffering and combat the greatest human evils. I admire and envy these saints at once.

Along with the joy, comes the appeal of simplicity and humility. Dr. Barth once addressed a group of seminarians. One skeptical snark, aware of the word count in Dr. Barth’s writings, asked if the good doctor could sum up his theology in one sentence. I’m told Dr. Barth responded with a smile and said: I can do that.

He said:

“Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so.”

Well played.

And play is good. Try some playfulness this Monday.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.
-Karl Barth
 
Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
-G.K.Chesterton

 

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4
 
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you. All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.
-Psalm 66

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

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

 

Monday Matters (November 6, 2017)

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I’m exhausted. The New York Marathon demanded presence at 5:30am. Running didn’t start until 10:30am. The course snaked through all five boroughs of the city. The finish line was crossed mid-afternoon. Watching my daughter run the race required effort. Trying to figure out where I could best view her from the sidelines called for a lot, but I prepped well for it. (Point of personal privilege: I’m so proud of her.)

Perhaps it’s a preacher’s occupational hazard. I’m led to consider the ways that scripture compares the spiritual journey to a marathon. Old Testament prophets and New Testament pastors spoke of how the way of faith was like a race. A long one. They spoke of how spiritual disciplines compared to physical training, how spiritual practice prepared for the challenge. Does the analogy apply? Some Monday morning observations from one whose long distance running days are over, in other words, from one who is not particularly well-informed on the subject. But I won’t let that stop me.

First, the spiritual life seems more like a marathon than a sprint. Some of the great cloud of witnesses I know are people who have been at this journey for decades. I often cite one of my mentors, a woman in her nineties who suddenly found herself a widow and wondered aloud what God was calling her to do with the next, new chapter of her life. She never stopped running the race. Who are those wise folks, those saints in your life?

The race requires discipline and takes practice. Very few walk-ons in the marathon. There’s preparation involved. So in the spiritual realm, we practice in the sense that we put faith to practical use. And we practice in the sense that as we do, we grow stronger and get better at it. Prayer and scripture and service equip us for ministry, providing strength, the resources to live the life to which God calls us.

The race calls for endurance and intention. The passage below comes from the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, a letter written to early Christians facing persecution. They may have wondered why they got in the race at all. You may have days like that. Maybe this is one of them. We may hit a wall. We are called to keep going, a day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

It helps to run with other people. That same letter to the Hebrews reminds those folks of a great cloud of witnesses cheering them on (like sidewalk spectators on Manhattan streets). In the marathon, it helps to have people cheering you on, which is why showing up for community life, for worship and study is so important. It’s why the observance of All Saints Day matters, as we considers saints across the generations and around the world who run the race with us, setting the pace, showing us how it’s done.

Whether you’re running a road race or competing in the rat race, let us run with endurance the race God has set before us, knowing that we don’t go it alone, knowing that we don’t run in our own strength, but as Hebrews says, we run looking to Jesus, the author and finisher, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
-Hebrews 12:1

 

The God who has girded me with strength has opened wide my path.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.
– 2 Samuel 22:33-34

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to people of understanding, nor yet favor to people of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
-Ecclesiastes 9:11

Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will fall. But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
-Isaiah 40:29-31

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
– 2 Timothy 4:7

When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble.
– Proverbs 4:12

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize.
-Philippians 3:13

Every athlete exercises discipline in every way.
-1 Corinthians 9:25

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.
-Psalm 119:32


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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 (October 30, 2017)

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Monday, October 30, 2017

We’re here to help, with suggestions for a Halloween costume if you haven’t yet figured that out. Dress up like Martin Luther. Bet you hadn’t thought of that one.

Tomorrow, October 31, is the 500th anniversary of the day Martin Luther took a hammer to cathedral door, posting 95 Theses that within two weeks had gone viral, 16th century style. The anniversary is widely hailed as the beginning of the Reformation, though like all historical movements, a convergence of forces, political, social, scientific, theological had been at work for a while.

To help you live into the role of Martin Luther, a few Monday morning thoughts on some key contributions (and varied quotable quotes in the left-hand column), offered in the conviction that as individuals and as a church we always need renewal, refinement, repentance, revival, restoration and, yes, reformation.

Luther was about grace. Early in life, he tried hard to be a religious A+ student, to get it all right all the time, in that unattractive way that religious people focus on being holier than thou. It did not make him happy. As he read Paul’s letter to the Romans, he realized that he would be justified not by how many hours in prayer he spent, or how exhaustively he confessed every sin. He embraced grace, as he recognized what Rob Bell has said: There is nothing we can do to make God love us less. Grace his fears relieved. He talked about justification by faith. The word justification really means being set in right relationship, with God.

He was about scripture, known for his phrase sola scriptura. Scripture, the ancient text, the old, old story of Jesus and his love would be his guide. The church had lost that compass and he sought to return to that source, which is often the way renewal happens. He was no biblical literalist, not a fundamentalist. For instance, he was not sold on every book of the Bible (He called the Letter of James an epistle of straw.) And he saw God’s word coming to us in many ways.

He was saint and sinner at once. When he staked everything on grace, it allowed him to move beyond pursuit of perfection. Luther amply demonstrated ways he fell short of the glory of God (one way of describing sin) with his anti-semitic writing, which were extensive and which contributed to the vile and violent history of war against the Jews in western culture. (Read Jim Carroll’s book, Constantine’s Sword, for a powerful and disturbing portrait of what the church must confess.) Part of what he shows is that, in a way that can deeply challenge faith, religious people, even religious heroes often betray their loving Lord in the ways they treat each other, specifically in the area of social jusitce. We see that in the persistent racism in our own nation, where Sunday morning at 11am is still the most segregated hour of the week. That’s not a news flash, but it should keep us humble and ready for repentance and reformation, and open to reconciliation.

He prayed a lot. Apparently, the guy prayed about 3 hours a day. Someone asked how he had time for that, when he had this job to do, i.e., reforming Europe. Was that the best use of his time? He responded that he was too busy not to pray that much. As we contend with decline in many of our churches, we could do worse than follow his example, and take it to the Lord in prayer.

Take this week to give thanks for the ministry of Martin Luther, saint and sinner. Honor his day by beginning some process of renewal and reformation in your own life.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

 Quotable quotes from Martin Luther:
 
The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.
 
God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.
 
Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.
 
I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.
 
The fewer the words, the better the prayer.
 
Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly.
 
God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.
 
One learns more of Christ in being married and rearing children than in several lifetimes spent in study in a monastery.
 
The Christian shoemaker does his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.
  
I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailer and hangman of my poor soul.
 
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.
 
The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.
 
Whoever drinks beer, he is quick to sleep; whoever sleeps long, does not sin; whoever does not sin, enters Heaven! Thus, let us drink beer.

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

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

 

Monday Matters (October 23, 2017)

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Last night, I gave a talk at St. James’ Church in Manhattan. Tomorrow night, I start a Bible Study on the Letter of James in North Carolina. I am privileged to serve as an Associate on the staff of St. James’ in Wilmington, N.C. And today is the Feast of St. James. So I guess someone is telling me it’s time to write about St. James.

The brief letter attributed to James comes near the end of the Bible. It has staked out a unique place in the collection of books of the Bible. Martin Luther is getting a lot of attention these days as we near the 500th anniversary of the day he nailed 95 Theses to the cathedral door, sparking a reforming movement. Luther was big on scripture, but he wasn’t sure James’ letter was up to snuff. He described it as an epistle of straw. His beef with the letter was that it seemed to pile on virtuous acts/good works to the notion that we’re saved by grace.

If the scripture is like a symphony, we hear many voices for sure, sometimes wonderfully dissonant. And we need them all, including the voice of the Letter of James. It articulates what I call the so-what factor. What does the gospel look like when it goes to work in real life? Why does the gospel make a difference?

So I’m going to go all-directive on you this morning and suggest that you read the Letter of James. There are five chapters. Perhaps you might read one a day. It won’t take long. Ask yourself what it has to say to you in your journey of faith. There are many gems in the letter, but here’s one that sticks out for me. It’s one of the few places in the scripture where the word religion is used. It reads like this:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 2:27)

Three thoughts on this verse:

Religion: It’s a word that’s not always in good favor these days. What do you make of the word? Many prefer to speak of being spiritual rather than religious. If someone asks you if you are religious, what does that mean? Pious? Puritanical? Hanging out in some place where fun goes to die? Break the word down and it means to bind again (re-ligio), maybe even to put back together. Granted, you don’t have to look far to find ways that religion has messed up, ways it is defiled and impure. At the same time, we sure could use some ways of bringing things together in a time when the center does not seem to hold.

Care for widows and orphans: It’s a commitment to help all those who need help, those pushed to the margins, those without defenders, those without resources, those who seem to be increasingly under attack. That kind of care is a mark of religion. Such attention binds us together. It’s hopefully helpful for those who are served. It’s transformative for those who serve, seeing that we are all in this together.

Keep oneself unstained by the world: Again, this may sound priggish, but we live in a world where, for instance, it would seem ludicrous to some to help those who are helpless. We live in a world that often says that to win, someone else has to lose. We live in a world that often thinks of scarcity rather than abundance, of merit over grace, a world that tilts toward resentment and covetousness, a world where others as seen as objects.

Read the Letter of James. Find a gem in your reading. Let it help you put faith to work in the world this week.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

A prayer for the Feast of St. James, which happens to be today:
 
Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Amen.
 
 
Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you to will and to do of his good pleasure.
-Philippians 2
 
 
God does not need your good works, but your neighbor does.
-Martin Luther
 
 
St. James’ Epistle is really an epistle of straw, for it has nothing of the nature of the Gospel about it.
       – Martin Luther
 
After reading it, do you agree? 

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

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

 

Monday Matters (October 16, 2017)

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Thoughts and prayers

A few years ago, when I was serving in a big urban church, a parishioner who was also a screenwriter explored the possibility of producing a television drama about a church. She interviewed the staff and wisely decided one of two things. Either the show would be really boring or no one would believe what goes on. Maybe her angle was wrong. Perhaps it should have been a comedy. As an aspiring cartoonist who does a lot of drawings about the church, I note no shortage of material.

As an example, the small non-Episcopal Church in which I grew up provided grist for such a show. Our family lore has preserved this story. It has to do with an older woman in the parish, influential in our small community, a bit eccentric. (It’s church, after all.) She was glad to let everyone know the depths of her piety. On one occasion, she was speaking with a friend at coffee hour. A third woman approached to share concern about some personal struggle. This older woman, let’s call her Jane, said “Oh, I pray for you every day!” As the third woman departed, moving out of earshot, Jane turned to her friend and asked, “Who was that?”

It’s easy to say we pray. We’ve heard a lot in recent days about thoughts and prayers. Tragedies striking our common life (shootings in Las Vegas, fires in Northern California, storms in Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas) have been on our minds and in our prayers. I suspect we all have personal storms, private turbulence that weighs on our hearts, minds and spirits. We know those struggles in the lives of people we love. As we’ve heard people express their concern, offering thoughts and prayers, the question has been raised: Is that enough? Is that too easy? Is it a dodge? A bromide? A dismissal?

All of this points to the connection of prayer and action. How do we pray not only with our lips but with our lives?

All of this leads me to think about the mystery of prayer, which is more about changing us than it is about changing God. It calls me to draw on the wisdom of spiritual heroes who knew no separation between contemplation and action in the world, people like Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day and Richard Rohr.

And the brothers at Holy Cross Monastery folks. Decades ago, a few of them made their way to South Africa as apartheid was unraveling. Church leaders there invited the brothers to come to the country to model life in community, since the violence of the previous regime had left people without those skills. A few of them went, like many characters in the Bible, not knowing where they were going or what they would find or what they would do when they got there. As they describe that time, they say they went and simply said their prayers, observing the monastic hours throughout the day.

They began with prayer, waiting for God to show them what it is they were called to do. Before long, the tragic death of an unattended child on train tracks bordering the monastery’s property revealed the mission. It would be about caring for the poorest in this town, tending to children too often left alone for too long. It would be about starting a school, providing quality education equal to the best schools in the country. It began with thoughts and prayers, which were indispensable. But it didn’t end there. They’ve done something beautiful for God.

These days, our thoughts and prayers are with victims of a mad shooter, victims of nature’s fury, victims of abuse by people in power, victims of indifference, victims in a world with devils filled that threaten to undo us. The thoughts and prayers, contemplative acts, are the beginning of a response. They lead us as baptized persons to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being. What specifically can we do towards that end?

If you’re not sure, pray not only for those who suffer. Join me in prayer, asking God to show us how to respond, how to help, how to heal, what to do.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

 Heard yesterday in church:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, 
whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
-From Paul’s letter to the Philippians


Action and contemplation are very close companions; they live together in one house on equal terms. Mary and Martha are sisters.
-Bernard of Clairvaux
 
 
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
-from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6)
 

Discipleship Matters Conference 2017

Oct. 16-18, 2017

The conference will explore Christian formation for discipleship, scripture engagement, habits of daily prayer, serving the poor, and sharing the Good News.
Registration is now open! Find more information and the link to register online at

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

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

 

Monday Matters (October 9, 2017)

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Have you ever changed your mind? How did that happen?

As is often the case, converging thoughts from separate sources have made me reflect on my own state of mind, what led me in the past to change my mind, how resistant I am to that kind of change.

It started with a friend who reported he was taking a break from social media, convinced that Facebook was comparable to a pulpit, i.e., that piece of furniture that stands six feet above contradiction. My friend wondered: Has anyone ever really changed their political or religious point of view because of something they saw posted on Facebook? We could say the same thing about cable news, where viewers gravitate to punditry that confirms what they already believe.

In my work focused on spiritual growth, I often ask about what has helped people change or grow. Most often I hear that such as an experience has to do with challenge, crisis, or suffering. Often, it has to do with a relational experience, sitting down with someone who has something to teach us, breaking out of the bubble.

The chaotic state of our world right now indicates that we could benefit from that kind of conversation. That same chaos also suggests that we can’t keep doing what we’re doing, that we need among other things, a new mindfulness, a change of mind.

But what does that change look like? Is it change for change’s sake? Change in what way? What’s our compass?

About the time my wise friend chimed in with his social media sabbatical, I came across readings for the first Sunday in October, which have been on my mind since, as they talk about a change of mind. One of the readings was about the children of Israel in the wilderness, GPS deprived, challenged but also formed by that experience. They came out a new people, with a new mindset. Their minds were changed.

That same Sunday we eavesdropped on Jesus’ conversation with religious opponents, folks unable to see the new and amazingly gracious thing that Jesus was bringing into the world. The gospel writer says it simply: The professional religious people of the day refused to change their minds. Which makes this professional religious person ask again: How is it that people change their minds? And change to what?

The third reading for the day helped. (It helped so much I included it below) St. Paul writes to the beloved Philippian church about their state of mind. He calls them to be of one mind. (Imagine!) And he invites them to discover a new and different path. He encourages them to have the mind of Christ. Change we can believe in.

What does that change look like? The mind of Christ has to do with an attitude of humility and service, a mindset oriented toward the other. Paul confirms that we can experience that state of mind as well. In another passage from his letters, St. Paul calls his readers not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Romans 12). Said another way, by the changing of their minds. Which comes from following Jesus, as simple and complicated as that may be.

It could be said that Jesus came into the world to change our minds. To make our minds repositories of love and compassion. To give us the power to change, when left to our own devices, we’re stuck.

Thank God he did.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

 From St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians
 
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death- even death on a cross.
 
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name
that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
 
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, 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.
 
Hey readers of Monday Matters. You should come to this conference.  Our conversation will be enhanced by your presence. Sign up now!

Discipleship Matters Conference 2017

Oct. 16-18, 2017

The conference will explore Christian formation for discipleship, scripture engagement, habits of daily prayer, serving the poor, and sharing the Good News.
Registration is now open! Find more information and the link to register online at

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

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

 

Monday Matters (October 2, 2017)

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He has been called the most admired and least imitated of all the saints. On Wednesday, we observe the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. If we ever needed a saint like him, we sure do need him now.

I spent last weekend at a lively church in Connecticut, led by a faithful and fun priest and friend, Peter Walsh. I admire Peter’s congregational leadership. As a former ad guy, he has gifts for communication and vision, offering his congregation specific and clear focus. For this program year, here’s the theme: What the St. Francis? The Shocking Relevance of Francis Today. Here are a few things Francis has to teach us.

He teaches about spiritual growth and change: Accounts vary on Francis’ early life. He grew up with some experience of affluence, on some level savored the good life. Experience in military, as a prisoner of war, and battling illness changed him. He learned. He grew. Are we ready to grow and change?

He teaches about compassion. Far from detached philanthropy, Francis’ call to serve the poor was founded in relationship, seeing up close the experience of those in greatest need. What can we learn about those who suffer greatest need? How can we minister to them in Francis’ week?

He teaches about creation care. Stories of preaching to birds and calming ravenous wolves, hymns in praise of creation seem timely. This week, many churches will offer blessings of the animals, one way of celebrating the goodness of God’s creation. I recall when I served in Manhattan and we held this kind of service on a Sunday evening. I will never forget the surprise when a woman brought a large iguana forward for a blessing. Secure in a Snuggly, she had carried it to church on the subway. After all that effort, I couldn’t say no. I’m not a big big reptile fan, but the goodness of creation was evident that night. How can we care for all of creation in the spirit of St. Francis?

He teaches about effective preaching. He told listeners: “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” He also said: “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today.” What kind of sermon will your life be this week? Will it be a sermon with good news? With hope? With love?

He teaches about joy. Maya Angelou noted that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. I often wonder what it was about Francis that 800 years after his death people still recall his joy. Let’s just say it’s not an attribute found in all religious people. (Note H.L.Mencken’s definition of puritanism, i.e., the haunting fear that someone somewhere is happy.) Joy seems to be the mark of saints, going way deeper than mere happiness. When have you experienced joy? Is there a way you can share some of it this week?

He teaches about hope. Francis offered this encouragement: “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” Where in your life do you need signs of hope? Can you take a starting step, and be ready for what might not seem possible.

Give thanks for the lessons of St. Francis this week. Honor his life and ministry and witness this week, by putting those lessons to work in your world, serving as an instrument of God’s peace.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

 Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
-Matthew 11 
(one of the readings selected for the Feast of St. Francis)
 
 
The collect for the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi
 
Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
 
A prayer attributed to St. Francis (found in the Book of Common Prayer, page 833)
 
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 
Amen.
 
Hey readers of Monday Matters. You should come to this conference.  Our conversation will be enhanced by your presence. Sign up now!

Discipleship Matters Conference 2017

Oct. 16-18, 2017

The conference will explore Christian formation for discipleship, scripture engagement, habits of daily prayer, serving the poor, and sharing the Good News.
Registration is now open! Find more information and the link to register online at

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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.

 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017 A special edition of Monday Matters

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A special edition of Monday Matters

I’ve been writing these emails for a few years now, a way of checking in each week to explore ways to put faith to work in the world. It’s been good for me. (Preachers really preach to themselves.) The opportunity to connect with you each week has helped me grow. I am honored when anyone reads this Monday message, and grateful when people comment in response.

I’ve tried to keep the focus on faith, what I call the so-what factor. What difference does our faith make during the week? I’ve tried to avoid political rants, advertisements for programs, solicitations of support in these emails. You get enough of those.

But every so often, folks ask what I do when I’m not writing these messages. They also ask what RenewalWorks is all about and how this work is supported. So I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about the work we do, and invite you to help us if you’d like.

I serve as Director of RenewalWorks, a ministry of Forward Movement . We began this work four years. It was a bit of a leap of faith, hoping to help congregations make spiritual growth a priority. The RenewalWorks process includes an online inventory taken by parishioners, which asks about their own spiritual journey, their beliefs and practices. Then a small team in that congregation answers questions, with the help of the data generated by the inventory. They ask: Where are we as a congregation? Where is God calling us to go? Our RenewalWorks staff helps those congregations chart a course forward. We try to help them build cultures of discipleship in their churches. Monday Matters is just one way we do that. You can find out more about this work on our website (www.renewalworks.org).

I love this work, and we’re making headway. In fact, we’re expanding in a number of ways, running conferences like the one described below. We’re launching a new resource called RenewalWorks For Me, an individualized approach to RenewalWorks. (It’s kind of like a spiritual fitbit, creating a spiritual fitness plan for a person to apply.) We’ve got a new ministry called Revive which focuses on spiritual leadership, helping clergy and lay leaders like Vestry members develop a prayer life, engage with scripture, and explore a sense of call.

After four years at this work, I’m convinced there is lots more for us to do, as we seek to support spiritual growth in our churches. And there are ways you can help. Please spread the word about RenewalWorks wherever you worship. Pray for us in our work. (Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it. That’s in the psalms somewhere.) And consider offering financial support to RenewalWorks.

Our ministry has been sustained so far by donors, many of whom I know through this Monday email. I am so thankful for that help. There are also folks who made five year commitments to get this work launched. Again, my gratitude is deep. We’re nearing that five year mark, and so we are looking to fund the next three years. If you’d be willing to help us, you can make a one-time donation at http://renewalworks.org/donate/. You can sign up for monthly contributions. Or you can talk with us about being part of a group that will commit to keep us going for three more years. Feel free to contact me at jsidebotham@renewalworks.org to learn more about our hopes and our needs.

If Monday Matters matters, consider supporting this work, in whatever way you can. As we sometimes say in the Anglican world: All may. None must. Some should. We take on this work, often challenging work, for the sake of our beloved church, and in support of our dedicated clergy, as together we seek to grow in love of God and neighbor, which is what we mean by spiritual growth.

Thank you for your prayerful consideration of this email. Talk to you all next Monday.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

A scripture passage that has guided our work:

 
Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-16
 
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
 
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

 

Hey readers of Monday Matters. You should come to this conference.  Our conversation will be enhanced by your presence. Sign up now!

Discipleship Matters Conference 2017

Oct. 16-18, 2017

The conference will explore Christian formation for discipleship, scripture engagement, habits of daily prayer, serving the poor, and sharing the Good News.
Registration is now open! Find more information and the link to register online at

4

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 (September 25, 2017)

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I was glad when the movers finally carried our piano into our living room, but somehow we couldn’t locate the box with sheet music. So I decided I’d go shopping, finding something simple I could play. At the time, I was new in town as I went looking for a music store. I saw a likely spot in a strip mall. I noted as I approached that the place looked kind of dark.

As I walked in, I could immediately tell that I wasn’t going to find Bach Inventions or Chopin Nocturnes. This was really heavy metal. Really heavy. A few unfriendly faces behind the counter gave me the once over. They checked out my clerical collar, and deduced that I was probably not their target audience. The total effect of the place was to make me feel that I didn’t belong. I took a quick tour of the merchandise, feigned interest and made a hasty exit. I ordered music online.

But I have thought about my experience in that store. I wondered if people ever feel like that in church. I wonder if people ever summon the courage to walk through red doors, dare to believe ubiquitous signs: “The Episcopal Church welcomes you”, find themselves in a pew and feel they don’t belong. Maybe they can’t figure out which book to use. Maybe they need a coach in liturgical aerobics. Maybe they feel under-dressed. Maybe they make their way to coffee hour, where a friendly gaggle of congregants talk to each other in friendly huddles as newcomers orbit the periphery, looking at dated bulletin boards, feigning interest in printed materials, checking out clouds in the coffee, the way I faked my way through the music store.

As you may know, I vent by cartoon. One of the cartoons that gets a lot of Episco-response depicts a young couple awaiting an 8am eucharist. They are seated by the aisle, though the church seems pretty empty. A well-dressed elderly woman approaches, perhaps a pillar of the parish. She taps the young man on the shoulder and says: “You look like you’re new. Welcome to our church. Oh by the way, you’re in my pew.”

This cartoon appeared on some Facebook page. A person commented that it was dumb, that the artist was feeding an unfair caricature of the Episcopal Church. The comment: “That would never really happen.” Almost immediately, from all over the country, people responded that they had had exactly that experience. I wondered if that imaginary (or perhaps real) couple felt like I felt in that dark music store.

We sometimes sing in our church this hymn: “All are welcome in this place.” It’s a wonderful biblical aspiration, with roots in ancient Israel instructed to welcome the stranger, all the way to the gospels, where Jesus says: ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”(Matthew 10:40), all the way to the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Fact is, we are all strangers (some stranger than others). We all probably share Woody Allen’s angst, noted in his refusal to attend football games because he was convinced that in the huddle they were talking about him. We all probably have moments, individually and collectively, when we fail to welcome as Christ has welcomed us.

Spiritually vital congregations are able to get people moving in the spiritual journey. That begins with welcome. What are the welcoming opportunities available to you? When this week will you have the chance to practice hospitality, in church or outside of church? What would it mean for us to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us?

-Jay Sidebotham

 

Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for he is going to say, “I came as a guest, and you received me.”

-The Rule of St. Benedict
 
A story said to originate in a Russian Orthodox monastery has an older monk telling a younger one: “I have finally learned to accept people as they are. Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road, and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is it you again?'”
-Kathleen Norris, Dakota
 
For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who … defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.
-Deuteronomy 10:17-18
 
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.
-Philo of Alexandria, quoted in Dan Wakefield, How Do We Know When It’s God?
 
That is our vocation: to convert … the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.
-Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
 
Hey readers of Monday Matters. You should come to this conference.  Our conversation will be enhanced by your presence. Sign up now!

Discipleship Matters Conference 2017

Oct. 16-18, 2017

The conference will explore Christian formation for discipleship, scripture engagement, habits of daily prayer, serving the poor, and sharing the Good News.
Registration is now open! Find more information and the link to register online at

4

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.