Monday Matters (August 24th, 2015)

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There’s a painful privilege that comes with being a pastor. It’s the opportunity to walk with people through the waning moments of life. In those moments, over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to witness remarkable trust and courage, love and hope. Those moments are often quite private. But not always. The world was welcomed into one of those moments when former President Jimmy Carter held a news conference to talk about his diagnosis and prognosis, which could hardly be called good news. I could write a lot about him and what he had to say. In the coarse conversation of our current political climate, he provides a different model of public persona, thanks be to God.

But this morning I want to focus on his answer when asked about his regrets. He spoke about the failed hostage rescue and how he subsequently lost reelection. I’ve read enough of his biography to know that the failure to secure a second term was a great disappointment. The days after he left the White House were depleting and depressing. But in his news conference, he said that if he had won a second term, if he had been a success in the ways most people regard success, he would not have started the Carter Center, which has had a great healing impact on the world. From behind that news conference desk, he acknowledged that in hindsight, he would prefer the path of the Carter Center to the path of a second term in the White House. The loss opened the way to something better. But I’d bet he wouldn’t have known that the morning after the election in 1980.

Think of the biblical character Joseph, of technicolor raincoat fame. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, then imprisoned under false accusation in Egypt. There were any number of moments when disappointment and betrayal would spell defeat. And he had started out with such a bright future. It was not until years later that he could take a look in the spiritual rearview mirror and see providence. In the poignant scene when he meets his brothers who had treated him with cruel intention, he is able to say to them: “You meant it to me for evil. God meant it for good.” In the way that President Carter has led efforts to bring health care to parts of the world that never had it, Joseph’s circuitous journey meant the salvation of his own people, and other nations, from starvation. Who knew?

I’m not saying this happens all the time. But it happens enough to make us think about the possibilities that might unfold, the good that might just come out of the challenges we face. It may be that this Monday morning, you face a challenge or defeat or failure that seems definitive. Maybe you feel like you made a bad choice, even a stupid one, and you can’t forgive yourself. If so, offer that challenge or defeat or failure to the one we call redeemer.

It may be that this Monday morning you can take a look in that spiritual rearview mirror and see that providence was at work. If so, offer thanks for the ways that transformation has happened. Maybe even share that with some one, by way of encouragement.

Below, find a favorite quote from Phillips Brooks, a great Episcopal preacher (no, that is not an oxymoron). You may have heard it from me on a previous Monday, but it bears repeating. It talks about how God uses all of our experiences, indeed redeems them. Maybe you already know that to be true. Maybe in the thick of it, you need a reminder that God is in the business of redemption.  I’ve seen it happen. Dead ends can become thresholds.

– Jay Sidebotham

You must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing. -Phillips Brooks

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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 17th, 2015)

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Saints serve.

For a number of years, I was privileged to travel with a group of pilgrims to Honduras for an annual August mission trip. We traveled to work on one of several clinics run by a holy ministry called Siempre Unidos. This Episcopal effort aids people with AIDS in a country where the stigma is strong, treatment is rare, diagnosis is devastating. We learned a lot. We received more than we gave. But that’s how the gospel works. The members of our motley group had many gifts, but construction skills were not at the top of the list, in most cases. So we honored the Hippocratic Oath and pledged to do no harm. We worked hard. We tried to leave the place better than we found it. We also knew that the Honduran workmen laboring alongside of us would repair (or redo) the work we did each night after we left. We realized through a translator that they regarded our fumbling work with both mystery and mirth. They taught us about grace.

Our mission group made our best offering, despite limited skills. We traveled in the name of Jesus. We began each day with Morning Prayer. And because we went the same week each year, we remembered a series of saints who show up in this particular week in mid-August. Year after year, the same saints would teach us about the spiritual growth that comes with service. So even though I am on hiatus from these Honduran adventures (They will resume!), I think of our group of pilgrims when mid-August rolls around. (You know who you are!) And I think of the following saints, another motley group whose feast days appear in the week ending today. They include:

  • Laurence the Deacon, who was martyred on August 10, 258. As archdeacon of the church, he was ordered by persecuting authorities to hand over the treasures of the church. He pointed to the poor and needy served by the church. He said that they were the treasure of the church. That didn’t sit so well with the emperor, who in short order had him killed.
  • Clare of Assisi died on August 11, 1253.  At age 18, she heard St. Francis preach and asked him to help her live out the gospel. She renounced the resources of her wealthy family and established a monastic order, devoting her life to holy service to the poor.
  • Florence Nightingale was a nurse and social reformer who died on August 13, 1910. She was an Anglican who saw the gospel as a healing ministry, who took that healing ministry to care for soldiers in the Crimean War and then returned to England to establish the profession of nursing.
  • Jonathan Myrick Daniels was a young seminarian who left Boston and headed south to serve in the civil rights movement. He was martyred exactly fifty years ago on August 14, 1965 as he took a stand between a young black woman and the angry white man who had aimed a shotgun at her.

These saints helped guide us in the work we did in Honduras. They come from different times and places. They embraced varied ministries that addressed the needs they encountered. They used the gifts, the resources they’d been given. They did it because in some way they each knew and followed Jesus.

On this mid-August Monday morning, look for opportunities to be of service. How will you respond to the needs you encounter? Thank God for the models of servanthood you’ve been given. Who are those people? Then think of how you can be a model of service for those around you, because saints serve.

– Jay Sidebotham

So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ – Mark 10 

Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. Martin Luther King Jr.

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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 10th, 2015)

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“What happens on Sunday morning is not half so important as what happens on Monday morning. In fact, what happens on Sunday morning is judged by what happens on Monday morning.”

Last week, I came across this quote from Verna Dozier, teacher and theologian and biblical scholar. She died in 2006 at the age of 88. I hadn’t thought much about her in recent years, but I was taken with the words about the Sunday-Monday connection because that’s what I try to explore in this weekly email. She said that what we did from Monday to Saturday was most important, so that we come to our Sunday experience to be refueled. In a world where people increasingly ask about the point of going to church on Sunday, this makes sense to me.

I never had the privilege of meeting Verna Dozier. I did get to hear her speak once in Washington, D.C. She wrote with such great authority that I confess I was surprised by her diminutive stature. She was about four foot nothing and when I saw her at the National Cathedral, she looked to me to be about a million years old. She climbed the steps to the pulpit in that great sacred space, a place where giants like Martin Luther King had held forth. I thought she’d be swallowed up by that enormous piece of church furniture, but she took the helm with strong witness to the mission of her life, to proclaim and teach and challenge us to realize that we are all ministers in the church (not just those who wear clerical collars), that each one of us is called to be part of the fulfillment of God’s dream for the world. She was an ardent advocate for spiritual growth. She elevated expectations, calling every member of the church to a sense of responsibility for their own spiritual journey. She spoke about equipping the saints for ministry. As an African American growing up in segregated Washington, she argued convincingly, knowingly that spiritual leaders too often ignore social justice in their focus on spirituality. She advocated contemporary discipleship, claiming that God wanted people to follow Jesus, not merely worship him. One friend wrote: “She challenged people to accept the authority they received in baptism, and to live out their faith in their homes and offices.”

One of her great contributions was to emphasize engagement with scripture. When she was in junior high, she got a Bible as a Christmas present. She read it cover to cover twice, but didn’t get much out of it. That led to her conviction that a disciplined program of study was key to understanding the Bible. Just dipping into one part or another could make you think that the Bible is just a “grim recital of do’s and don’ts, a diatribe against women, or a polemic for the status quo.”  She challenged Episcopalians to go deeper. And she developed ways to approach the scriptures, specifically a way to study the Bible in small groups without clergy or biblical scholars or experts. She said you could ask three questions of any biblical text:

  • What does it say? (i.e., What is going on in the story we’re reading)
  • What do you think it meant to the people for whom it was written?
  • What does it say to us as we read it in our own context?

I came to appreciate this method because it called for taking the scripture seriously, if not literally, an engagement which is critical for spiritual growth. And it includes the “so-what” factor, a vision of how the text informs our life of faith, not just on Sunday but Monday through Saturday as well.

I went back to read her obituary in the Washington Post. It’s a moving tribute, concluding with a brief sentence, standing in a paragraph all alone. “She had no immediate survivors.” I beg to differ. I am not alone as inheriting a deeper faith through her witness. And I’m wondering what thoughts she spurs for you as you consider your Monday through Saturday ministry.

– Jay Sidebotham

Samplings of the wisdom of Verna Dozier:

Faith always includes the possibility that we could at any given moment be wrong, and that is why it requires courage. Kingdom of God thinking calls us to risk. We always see through a glass darkly, and that is what faith is about. I will live by the best I can discern today. Tomorrow I may find out I was wrong. Since I do not live by being right, I am not destroyed by being wrong. The God revealed in Jesus whom I call the Christ is a God whose forgiveness goes ahead of me, and whose love sustains me and the whole created world.

It is important that we understand the Bible as model for how we live our lives, not as a rule book. The issue that the Bible raises is, in light of what God has done in history, what kind of response do I make in my daily life?

Back when I first started talking about ministry, it was seen as something the ordained did. Lay people had no ministry at all except as they participated in the work of the institution. If you taught in the Christian education program, you had a ministry. If you taught in the public schools, you ‘did time’ five days a week until you could get to your ministry. When I began my second career, people would say, ‘You taught school for thirty-two years; then you began your ministry.’ In my unredeemed way, I would steel myself and reply through clenched teeth, ‘No, I continued my ministry.’

The important question to ask is not, ‘What do you believe?’ but ‘What difference does it make that you believe?’

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (July 27th, 2015)

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Aloha

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (July 20th, 2015)

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The Honor Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

From Romans 12:

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (July 14th, 2015)

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Monday, July 13, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

From the Sermon on Mount, Matthew 5-7: 

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

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

From Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (June 29th, 2015)

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Peter, Paul and Michael

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

Words of St. Paul, from II Timothy:

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (June 1st, 2015)

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Sincerity and truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 25th, 2015)

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

A way to pray on Memorial Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (May 18th, 2015)

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

What do we do now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jay Sidebotham

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

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

-Acts 1

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Jay SidebothamContact:

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