Monday Matters (February 12, 2018)

3-1


Welcome to the Good Book Club. 

Our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has invited Episcopalians (and anyone else, of course) to read the Gospel of Luke in Lent, and the Acts of the Apostles in Easter. It will be interesting to see what happens when we all engage with the same story. In this Monday message, in weeks ahead, I will share readings that have been assigned for each week, and reflect on something in that passage. If you want to know more about this effort led by Forward Movement:  www.goodbookclub.org.

You can get an app which gives you the reading each day, and the readings in Forward Day by Day will guide you through these two important biblical books.

This week, you’re invited to start reading the Gospel of Luke, beginning at the beginning (smart) and reading through the end of Chapter 4. Next week, we’ll invite you to read Luke 5-8.

Today’s focus:  Luke 4:1-13:

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.'”

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written,
‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.'” 

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,
‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’
and
‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.'” 

Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

When have you been in the wilderness?

As a young adult, I drove across country, something everyone should do once but need not do twice, in my humble opinion. I remember driving some back road in the middle of Nevada, in a less than reliable vehicle, seeing a sign for a next gas station, like 256 miles away. The lunar landscape scared me in that pre-cell phone, pre-GPS world, any comfort station far from view. I felt small and a bit lost.

I remember standing still in the middle of Grand Central Station, just a few years after graduating from college. I was looking for a job, not sure what I wanted to do or where to go or which way to go, surrounded by purposeful people headed somewhere in a hurry. Though in a crowd, I look back on it as one of the loneliest moments in my life.

In my work, as I meet with Episcopalians in different places, I learn from asking questions about their own spiritual growth. First, when were times of spiritual growth? What was that about? Second, when were times of spiritual challenge or inertia? What was that about?

In both cases (and this is anecdotal data), the most common answer to what caused growth and what got in the way is the same. It was something akin to a wilderness experience, a time of crisis or challenge, when those things which numb us to the pain of life are stripped away and we are called to look with clarity at our own life and think about how in hell we can move forward.

So as we begin a season of Lent, compared in many ways to a wilderness, and as we read the first chapters of the Gospel of Luke as part of the Good Book Club, and as this coming Sunday we travel with Jesus to the wilderness (Mark 1:9-15), it seems to me that this Monday morning we’re asked to think about what we do with the wilderness that is part of everyone’s experience.

The wilderness is a persistent image in scripture. Moses spent 40 years in that place, prince of Egypt demoted to shepherd until a burning bush spoke to him and clarified mission. He then led the children of Israel, without Garmin, for forty years in the wilderness. It was a time of challenge, but it was also a time of formation. When Elijah fled to the wilderness because Jezebel, the queen of mean, wanted to kill him, a still small voice in the wilderness transformed his fears into vocation. And at the start of his ministry, Jesus goes into the wilderness for forty days, where in hunger and isolation he was tempted with the things that would make his life easy, and make him think that he was in charge.

If you’re not in the wilderness this morning, how might you express gratitude for that? If you find yourself in the wilderness this morning, what resources can you draw on in that experience? (Note that when Jesus was in the wilderness, the resources on which he relied were his scriptures.) If you have been in the wilderness in the past, what did you learn from that time and place? If you see wilderness on the horizon (I believe it comes to each one of us. A mentor has said: Suffering is the only promise life keeps), what will help you see that as a time with the potential for formation as well as challenge?

I’m looking forward to the next weeks, the seasons of Lent and Easter, as we read our way through Luke’s writings. For me, as I reflect on my own passages through wilderness, the stories of the Bible have often carried me through. I hope you will find that true as well.

-Jay Sidebotham


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 (February 5, 2018)

3-1

The Good Book Club

Ever since I served in a church named St. Luke’s, I’ve had a special interest in what St. Luke had to say. He is credited with authorship of the third gospel, as well as the book which describes the start of the early church, the Acts of the Apostles. As author of those two books, he is responsible for ¼ of the New Testament. Just by virtue of word count, he merits our attention.

Luke was a Gentile, an outsider as far as the early Christian community was concerned. Tradition holds that he was a physician, which may explain his connection with healing ministries. He had a heart for the poor, those pushed to the margins. A remarkable story teller, he includes the parable of the Prodigal Son and the parable of the Good Samaritan in his gospel. Our tradition would be diminished without those stories of grace and forgiveness.

One of my favorite stories, told only by Luke, describes disciples on the road to Emmaus, days after Jesus had died. These disciples are joined on the journey by the resurrected Jesus, though they don’t recognize him. The disciples walk for a while with Jesus and when they reach their destination, Jesus acts like he’s going to continue walking. They convince him to stay for dinner. He enters as a guest. He ends up as host. (See the hymn text for “Come Risen Lord” below). As Jesus breaks bread, the disciples recognize him, and realize that their dashed hopes are renewed, resurrected. They see that Jesus is alive. I love that turn of events. We imagine we are inviting God into our lives. Big of us. It turns out he’s been the host all along. Nice.

Stories of resurrection told by Luke lead into the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the narrative of how the early church grew. That book tells us about the power of the Holy Spirit, in evidence on Pentecost. It reminds us that the church expanded because outsiders looked at the church members and said: See how those people love one another. Is that what folks would say about the church today? The Acts of the Apostles tells about Peter and Paul’s efforts to widen the doors of the church, so that in Christ there is neither Gentile or Jew. Again, important stuff. Where would we be without it?

If you haven’t read Luke in a while, I want to invite you to take part in this specific spiritual practice during Lent (and beyond), beginning this coming Sunday, February 11. Be part of the Good Book Club, which is a spiritual experiment/adventure sponsored by Forward Movement, RenewalWorks and the office of our Presiding Bishop. This book club will read the Gospel of Luke in the season of Lent, which starts soon. Then we will read the Acts of the Apostles in the season of Easter, ending late in May. Each day, a short portion of Luke’s writing will be assigned.

The work I do is based on research that shows that reading scripture has a transformative effect on the people who do it regularly. We are wondering what kind of power could be unleashed if a whole denomination read the same biblical material. There is one way to find out. Just do it. If you’re intrigued, tempted to give it a try, go to www.goodbookclub.org which provides all kinds of resources to assist you in this project. You can order a poster, a calendar for each of the two seasons. There are study guides. Forward Day By Day will use readings from Luke’s books as guide for meditation.

And for the next couple months, these Monday messages will reflect something from the passages we’ve read over the week. I hope you’ll join in this journey.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us[k] while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
-Luke 24

Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
nay, let us be thy guests; the feast is thine;
thyself at thine own board make manifest
in thine own Sacrament of Bread and Wine.


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 (January 29, 2018)

3-1

Ethel was a distinctively unhappy person, gifted in sharing that spirit. That spirit was indeed contagious. As she made people around her unhappy, her loneliness deepened. Even her children paid her little mind. (Note: Ethel is not really the name of this woman I knew a few years ago.)

She lived in a residence for folks who were getting on in years. She had given up her car, which added to isolation and limited her freedom. Folks had volunteered to drive her to church, but she declined. Her arthritis meant that it took too long to get ready to go to church on Sunday mornings. She rarely showed up, so I would visit her.

Her residence was near a university. One semester, students from that school volunteered to teach residents how to get on the internet. Ethel, quite bright, was interested and skilled. Before long, she was meeting people online, including Bud from Oklahoma, hundreds of miles away. (I changed Bud’s name too.) I began to hear a lot about Bud, a widower in his 70’s who had a Harley. Soon I learned that Bud was coming to town for a visit.

I was sitting at my desk one morning and looked out the window. A Harley pulled into the driveway. Two figures dressed in shiny white jumpsuits dismounted. Helmets came off and I was introduced to Bud. Ethel told me they were off for a week long motorcycle tour. As Dave Barry says: I’m not making this up. Love had conquered the debilitating arthritis that had so limited Ethel’s life. I was happy for Ethel. Her neighbors were happy for Ethel. Ethel was happy for Ethel.

Last week, I came across a photo of her in that silvery jumpsuit. It reminded me of how debilitating and self-fulfilling loneliness can be. It affirmed the possibility that people can change, that they can be changed. It made me think that if we are to be changed for the better, it will come from the heart. It will be about love. So to channel my inner Tina Turner: What’s love got to do with it?

When Jesus was asked about the path to eternal life (i.e., the path to the experience of God’s life that can begin right now and doesn’t end) he said it’s simple but not easy. It’s one thing that is really two. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor. He modeled that for us. We call it grace. We respond with gratitude and generosity. That kind of love is our goal, our highest purpose, the intention behind our creation. It’s why we’re here. When we tap into that love, it changes us, and the relationships around us. It allows us to do things we never thought we could do. If an arthritic woman in her late 70’s can hop on a Harley, love can find a way. Or as Rob Bell says, love wins.

So what does it mean to grow in love of God? If you’re not sure how that happens, maybe begin with the prayer of St. Teresa of Avila: God, I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you. Then practice those things that build love in any other relationship. Spend quality time with that person. Learn about the other person. Give thanks for that person. Imitate what you admire in that person.

If we apply that to a relationship with God, it means we spend time with God, which among other things means prayer, listening as much as talking. It means we learn about the other person, which means among other things that we learn the stories of scripture, stories of mercy. It means we give thanks for that person, never forgetting grace we’ve experienced. Eucharist (which means thanksgiving) is an amazing way to do that. And it means taking on the qualities that we love in that person. As we come to know grace, then we come to show grace.

Then hop on the Harley.

-Jay Sidebotham

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

– I Corinthians 13


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 (January 22, 2018)

3-1

Church geek alert: Today finds us half way through a special week in the church calendar. It’s called the week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It runs from January 18 through January 25 and is bracketed by two feast days.

January 18 is called the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter. It is dedicated to the first ever-recorded example of public opinion polling. Jesus asks his disciples: What’s the buzz? Who do people say that I am? The disciples give a variety of rather detached, risk-free answers. Then Jesus zooms in with laser-like focus, posing one of the most important questions in the New Testament: But who do you say that I am? Peter, always the first to speak, says that Jesus is the Messiah. That’s his confession, a turning point for Peter, and for the church.

January 25 is called the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, when the apostle was knocked off his donkey on the road to Damascus with a vision of Jesus who asks Paul: Why are you persecuting me? Paul responds with his own question, another important question in the New Testament: Who are you Lord? It’s the moment of his conversion, a turning point for St. Paul, and for the church.

Why does any of this matter?

What’s interesting to me as I read the New Testament is that I’m guessing there was no bromance between Peter and Paul. Each with strong ego, they had several run-ins. They saw ministry from different perspectives. They agreed that their work would not be done side by side. But they each made remarkable contributions to the growth of the church, to the spread of the news about Jesus. We’re indebted to them, beneficiaries of their ministries.

Their stories indicate that the church is not a place where we will always agree. In the church, we may bump up against people who are different, people we may not like all that much. From the first days of the church, there has been conflict. It’s been true since. Which is why this week matters.

The week says to me, first of all, that we are to pray for unity. We are to recognize that when it happens in our world, it comes as gift. Our inclination is to focus on self. We need help if we are to experience unity, not only in the church, but in families, offices and, Lord knows, in our politics. Where do you need that grace this morning?

It says to me that we pray this week as Christians, as a group of people trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. We need some help with that too. Neitzsche once said: Jesus’ disciples will need to look more saved if I am to believe in their savior. Those of us whose journey unfolds in the Christian tradition (there are some readers whose journeys unfold in other traditions) commit to that pathway of grace, compassion and service exhibited by Jesus, a pathway haltingly traveled by his followers. How might we follow his example today?

It says to me that we are praying for unity, not uniformity, homogeneity, agreement, or even orthodoxy. Too often Christian communities of all kind, progressive and conservative, add conditions to the gospel of grace. (Something that made St Paul angry, and that’s not a pretty sight). The most persistent image for the church in the New Testament is the body of Christ, an image of unity comprised of diverse parts. We get another image in the architecture of the National Cathedral. It is really called the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. The two stories highlighted this morning are depicted on the front exterior, but notably as far away from each other as possible. How can you see yourself as part of the body of Christ, unity out of diversity?

Pray this week for unity, in the church, for sure, but also in any place where human relationships are broken, dividing walls are built, where disregard is trumping confidence in the dignity of every human being. Let your prayer be offered not only with your lips but in your life. Somehow.

-Jay Sidebotham

From Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s recent Georgia Revival Sermon:

Jesus said love your neighbor. You don’t have to like everybody. Like is a personal preference. Love is a commitment. That’s the way of love we get from Jesus.
(See his whole sermon here on Facebook beginning at 30:00 min)

The story of the Confession of St. Peter

When Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

-Matthew 16

The story of the Conversion of St. Paul

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors. But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me.

-Galatians 1:11-24


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 (January 15, 2018)

3-1

An Inescapable Network of Mutuality

For many reasons, it is meet and right this morning to recall the words from Dr. King included below, part of a letter written from a Birmingham jail. The past week of 24/7 news has left me wondering whether Dr. King was right, whether the way we now live is the way God’s universe is really made. Was Dr. King dreaming?

I recently participated in a group in my town, different folks from different walks of life gathered to think about how we address challenges facing our community, a reflection of wider challenges facing our nation. The fine facilitator tried to bring focus to our discussions. He led us in creation of a list of the issues our group could address. We knew we couldn’t do everything. Maybe we could not even do much. But we believed we could do something.

We quickly came up with a list of issues to address: poverty, discrimination, incarceration, education, income inequality, housing, homelessness, health care, child care, elder care. I bet you could come up with a very long list in very short order.

There were many voices, so I didn’t add to the list, but on the drive home, this issue came to mind. How might it be possible for us to see that in our communities, we are connected? How can we build a culture in which we share and bear responsibility for each other, built on the conviction that we are meant to be in community, that we are meant for communion?

Maybe there was a time when that sense was prevalent. Maybe not. Forgive me if I’m repeating this story about Mayor LaGuardia, as told by Brennan Manning in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel. In the middle of the Great Depression, the mayor turned up at a night court in the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself. An old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. Her daughter’s husband had left. Her daughter was sick. Her grandchildren were hungry. The shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop charges. “It’s a bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people a lesson.” LaGuardia said to the woman: “I’ve got to punish you. Ten dollars or ten days in jail.”

As the mayor pronounced sentence, he was reaching into his pocket. He tossed a bill into his hat, saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit. Furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.” $47.50 was turned over to the woman. Fifty cents (a big hit in those days) was contributed by the grocery store owner himself, while petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.

All I know is that almost 50 years after Martin Luther King lost his life, gave his life, our country seems to lack that sense that we are in this together, that whatever affects one affects all. Our culture is gripped by division, leaders making things worse, as we are plagued by discourse undermining the dream of a single garment of destiny.

Jesus prayed on the night before he died for his disciples that we all may be one. I’m praying he is praying for us now.

-Jay Sidebotham

We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Jesus prayed: ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
-John 17

From the Baptismal Covenant:

Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will with God’s help.


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 (January 8, 2018)

3-1

I recently heard New Year’s resolutions described as a to-do list for the first week of January. I’m wondering on this Monday morning, one week into 2018, how you are doing on your own resolutions?

A wise friend pointed me to an op-ed piece The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions, by David DeSteno, N.Y. Times, 12.29). The article talked about resolutions, how and why and whether they make a difference. The statistics aren’t great. By January 8, 25% of resolutions have “fallen by the wayside.” By end of year, less than 10% have been fully kept.

I’ve always regarded New Year’s resolutions with some suspicion. Same for Lenten disciplines, or commitments to change my life upon milestone birthdays (the ones with zeroes on the end). A resolution can become one big, looming ought, another piece of evidence (as if needed) that I fall short. They become obligations. They are more about rules, and less about grace.

Spiritually speaking, they can become what one preacher called ‘teeth-gritting Christianity.” I will be a better person. I will be a more loving person. It’s my duty. It’s what good people do. It’s what clergy do. The problem with making resolutions is two-fold for me. First, it’s apparently not all that effective. Second, it’s not very graceful.

So I found this op-ed piece illuminating. It wasn’t written by a preacher. It was written by a professor of psychology at Northeastern University. A great deal of the article has to do with self-control. That caught my eye, because in the work we do charting spiritual growth with RenewalWorks, we note that one of the important virtues for folks in the spiritual continuum is self-control. St. Paul lists it as one of the fruits of the spirit. Too often in my own experience, and as this columnist notes, self-control is a matter of rational analysis and will power. It becomes a kind of law. Too often I fall short. I miss the mark, which is how a friend, a rabbi has described sin.

Dr. Denota argues that authentic self-control comes not from force of will, but from social emotions like gratitude and compassion. In his studies, he has found these emotions incline people toward patience and perseverance, qualities needed to fulfill resolutions. “When you are experiencing these emotions, self-control is no longer a battle, for they work not by squashing our desires for pleasure in the moment but by increasing how much we value the future.” Theologians (and others) might refer to that as hope, or maybe faith, or maybe love, or maybe all three.

The article goes on to say that the key to self-control is putting something else ahead of our own immediate desires and interests, responding not to the cost-benefit analysis of being generous, but rather responding with these social emotions, i.e., gratitude and compassion. That sounds to me a lot like Jesus.

The author concludes by inviting readers to cultivate these emotions: “Reflect on what you’re grateful to have been given. Allow your mind to step into the shoes of those in need and feel for them. Take pride in the small achievements on the path to your goals.” Perhaps that’s a plan for the coming year. It’s not too late to embrace these as resolutions for 2018.

So a week into a new year, if the good professor is right, 25% of your resolutions may have slipped away. Not to worry. Tap into that social emotion of compassion and have compassion on yourself. Continue your way through this new year with expressions of gratitude and a compassionate perspective, key elements to the patient perseverance needed to fulfill resolutions.

-Jay Sidebotham

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?    -Micah 6

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.    -II Corinthians 5

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.
And next year’s words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.    -T.S.Eliot

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.    – G.K. Chesterton


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 (January 1, 2018)

3-1

Who moved my drishti?

Time for a review of last year. Among my last year’s resolutions: to show up at yoga classes more often, for a variety of reasons. One good reason: to learn from my wife, the yoga instructor, and to know more about her work. She’s a good teacher, on many levels. Another goal: to work on my own sense of balance, in a variety of ways. In its most literal sense, this goal involves gravity defying/denying stances, made all the more challenging by the graceful ease of folks on neighboring mats.

Some days I have found that my balance is just fine. Other days, not so much. Just like life. But one of the things I learned is that it’s important to have a focal point, which in Sanskrit is called a drishti.

I learned this one day when I was practicing, doing a gravity experiment, focused on a water bottle that was placed by my neighbor’s mat. And then he moved it. And then I fell over. Gravity experiment concluded. Since then, I’ve learned to try to focus on something immovable. Steady. Trustworthy. (Not a bad life lesson, related to the wisdom of the desert fathers: Do not give your heart to that which can not satisfy your heart.)

As I look forward to 2018, I resolve to learn more about balance, in all the ways that balance presents itself as a challenge. A lot of that has to do with focus. In the words of the civil rights movement, it’s about keeping eyes on the prize. In the changes and chances of life (a phrase swiped from the Prayer Book), in our ADD culture where much seems out of balance, is there a path marked by constancy?

A lack of focus can be a seasonal disorder. (Liturgical purists will note we are still in the Christmas season, and many of you may not be reading this at 9am on New Year’s Day, since you just went to sleep.) Viewed objectively, the demands of the holidays can seem ludicrous. How did such a beautiful feast day, begun in humble simplicity, get so crazily complicated? Is that why Jesus came into the world? How do we maintain balance, with focus on the reason for the season?

Yuletide seasonal disorder can carry over into the rest of the year. In my work with clergy, especially folks who’ve been in the church a while, I too often find they have lost touch with their first love, with why they got into ordained ministry in the first place. Demands of bulletins and buildings, concerns about pledging units and parishioner critique can knock them off balance and take away the power of the initial call, which is after all a matter of the heart. When did they lose their drishti? Who moved it?

That can be true for all who serve in the church, those who may feel that the call to life in a faith community now feels like a wrong number. There’s a marked increase in the number of “nones” and “dones’ in our culture, those whose religious affiliation is listed as none, or whose experience with the church causes them to be done. There are many explanations for that, but somebody, something moved their drishti.

On this the first day of the year, it’s a good time to ask: where’s the focus? Can we maintain balance by setting an intention for the year ahead? If that seems daunting, how about an intention for just the next few days, perhaps leading up to the observance of Epiphany, on January 6. Do we see a star, even if far off? Can that star set a stable course as it points to the word made flesh, full of grace and truth.

Let that grace be our drishti. Set an intention, a resolution this week. Focus on grace, on the love shared and celebrated in the (ongoing) Christmas season, expressed in Christina Rossetti’s poem below. It is love that comes with simplicity and generosity, free of condition. It is love freely given, love to be freely shared, not just at this time of year, but all year long.

-Jay Sidebotham

Since it’s still the Christmas season, a favorite Christmas poem by Christina Rossetti:Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.Worship we the Godhead,
Love Incarnate, Love Divine,
Worship we our Jesus,
But wherewith for sacred sign?

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

St. Paul’s Drishti,
from his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.


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 (December 25, 2017)

3-1

A few years back, as I was working on the Rector’s Christmas Sermon, it suddenly began to rhyme. This morning, I share that seasonal doggerel, based on Luke’s gospel, with apologies to real poets everywhere. The poem/sermon is based on Luke 2:1-14 included below.

Room for Joy

If I could meet the innkeeper,
The thing I’d want to know
Is why he pointed to the barn
Two thousand years ago.

We don’t know much about him.
St. Luke’s account is thin
It’s up to us to speculate.
Could he have let them in?

Perhaps he acted out of spite:
“There’s no space here,” he said,
as if he were some ancient Scrooge.
What’s going through his head?

It could be he’d just had enough.
The day had left him harried.
This couple was the final straw.
And were they even married?

Perhaps it seemed too troublesome
To welcome as a guest
This pregnant child. Her presence
Might deny him beauty rest.

Or was he snidely mocking them?
“A room? Tonight? From me?
What’s the matter?
Can’t you read that sign: NO VACANCY?”

“No wait. There is one open room.
I’ll book you right this minute.
You’ll like it. Lots of nice fresh air.
May I place you in it?”

“No chocolate on the pillows though.
No pillows there at all.
And by the way, you’ll share your suite.
You’re bunking in the stall.”

It may be that he saw a chance
In Joseph’s anxious gaze
To make a couple extra bucks
By renting out that place.

“I wonder if they’ll go for it”
He ponders at the door
“They must be pretty desperate.
Perhaps I should charge more?”

But maybe there’s another way
to think about this guy.
Perhaps he really hoped to help
There’s one more thing to try.

It may be true he had no room.
But could he just say no?
These homeless folks in need of help.
He could not let them go.

“This may sound stupid, Joseph.
I know it might not please.
But I’ve got one small space that’s free.
Do you have allergies?”

The innkeep’s wife would chide him.
“I know that life is hard.
I’m glad to help the homeless,
But not in my backyard.”

We don’t know why he sent them there
What moved him, we’re not sure.
His choice reflects the ways we choose
with motives rarely pure.

It could have been expedience,
Indifference or pity.
But maybe it was grace that moved him
in that crowded city.

For when he pointed to the barn
That night, it’s clear to see.
He made a tiny place for joy
And that made history.

What room do you and I have?
What space for joy, I mean.
It need not be so fancy
It need not be so clean.

We each have got a God-shaped space
(Augustine’s line, not mine)
We’re restless till it’s filled by joy.
That’s how we’ve been designed.

We need not offer up that place
With motives that are best.
We only need to offer it.
Joy sees to the rest.

We’re not unlike that innkeeper
With lives preoccupied.
We may think there’s no room for joy.
Here are some reasons why:

We may think we’re too busy.
Joy will have to wait
It may seem inconvenient.
Please, joy, I’m running late.

I really should make room for joy.
Some time to just be merry
Perhaps a week from Tuesday.
I’ll look in my blackberry.

This busy season crowds out joy
I bet some still are hoping
To make a few more purchases
Is the mall still open?

And what if I receive a gift
And I have none in kind?
What if they spent a whole lot more?
Can joy survive that bind?

Family tensions crowd out joy:
Will siblings start in fighting?
Will parents push my buttons
old arguments igniting?

The fact is, sometimes space concerns
are deepest felt inside.
There’s no room left within closed hearts.
A fact we try to hide.

For many, night is just too dark.
The pain keeps joy at bay.
That’s why this story matters most.
It says: Joy finds a way.

Let every heart prepare a room.
Let heav’n and nature sing.
Joy to the world. Our leap of faith.
The message angels bring.

It’s message of the gospels,
Echoing Isaiah.
Good news to hapless shepherds:
Joy will find a way.

What is this thing called joy, you ask
I’d really like to try some
Can I put it on my credit card?
Is that the way to buy some?

Some suspect that joy is found in
toys that we obtain
Children of all ages look
That way to ease the pain

Is joy found in a fancy car?
Or in the Dow’s expansion?
Is joy found in a zip code
Or in a new macmansion?

Joy can trump our circumstance
For folks who have it all
Can seem, of all, most miserable
How paradoxical!

But joy is not the stuff we own.
It’s not a pedigree.
It’s not a corner office.
It’s not theology.

Joy arrives in person
In this dark world of sin.
Joy shows up in that small boy
Can we let him in?

This holy child of Bethlehem
(the joy for which we pray)
casts out our sin and enters in
Is born in us today.

And when joy grows within our lives
with new life from above,
It brings the news in person,
who tells us: God is love.

It’s not too late to meet him.
He’s met in neighbors now.
And when we offer thanks to God
Joy breaks through somehow.

Joy comes in bleak midwinter.
Joy comes in silent night.
Joy comes in land of darkness deep.
Joy comes with dazzling light.

The innkeeper turns out his lamp.
He’s finished washing dishes
It’s been a busy weekend.
For quitting time he wishes.

He wonders what is going on
With that young couple there.
Maybe he should take a look.
He’s way too tired to care.

But wait, he’s hearing footsteps.
And many happy voices.
A flock of sheep in his backyard
A company rejoices.

As he goes to check it out.
The cry comes: “It’s a boy!”
His barn now a delivery room
A room made just for joy.

“With God all things are possible.”
To Mary, message sounds.
She’s smiling broadly, pondering
Could joy know any bounds?

It’s getting weirder, there’s no doubt.
The innkeeper is nervous.
The gath’ring in his stable’s
looking like a worship service.

The sign that says “NO VACANCY”
Still flashes in the night.
But it seems much, much dimmer now
There is a brighter light.

He simply cannot help himself.
He smiles to see that boy.
Surprised by what he learned that night.
“There’s always room for joy.”

We learn the same thing as we meet
and honor Christmas Day.
For with sweet little Jesus boy
Joy will find a way.

-Jay Sidebotham

 Luke 2:1-14

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see-I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’


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 (December 18, 2017)

3-1

Bearing witness

If you’ve been hanging around church this December, you couldn’t help but run into John the Baptist. He gets star billing in Advent. He has a lot to say. Jesus spoke about his greatness. That greatness is underscored by the fact that each gospel gives him plenty of air time and that the church calendar tells his story many times throughout the year. So what is it about this guy?

If he came to my church, I’d be more inclined to call security than to invite him into the pulpit. A Dale Carnegie drop out, he opened up sermons calling his congregation a brood of vipers. (Sort of the anti-Joel Osteen.) Flannery O’Connor once said: You shall know the truth and the truth will make you odd. She might have been thinking of John the Baptist.

Yesterday in church, we read about him, as described in the prologue to John’s Gospel, an overture to the grand themes of that soaring gospel. The fact that John the Baptist finds his way into those opening verses suggests his significance. The prologue is included below–it contains this line: John came to bear witness (or testify) to the light. He was not the light but came to bear witness (or testify) to the light.

I have a feeling that’s the key to his significance, and why he has something to teach us. He knew how to bear witness. In the passage from John’s gospel, John is repeatedly asked “Who are you?” He’s not the Messiah. He’s not Elijah. He’s not a prophet. He’s a voice crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord. John the Baptist knew who he was, knew who the Messiah was, and knew they weren’t the same person. Many leaders, religious and otherwise, haven’t gotten that memo. I suspect that many of us, in secret corners of our hearts, conflate the two.

In his book, Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr talks about John the Baptist’s brand of wisdom. He writes: Religions should be understood as only the fingers that point to the moon, not the moon itself. Often in western Christian art, John the Baptist is shown with arm extended, index finger pointing beyond himself. He points to Christ on the cross. In the artist’s eye, John is bearing witness. Would we be depicted that way?

Episcopalians often find language of witness to be foreign, something other traditions do, but not for polite company. Episcopalians often rightly and sometimes reactively resist tendencies of religious folks who seek to confirm they are right by pointing out where others are wrong, by compelling agreement or coercing conversion.

But what if bearing witness is simply about sharing what we have seen of God’s grace in our lives, news a grace-starved world is dying to hear? How would you describe that kind of good news in your own life? When and where have you been graced? How would you talk about that gift? Maybe you want to try that over Christmas dinner?

I’m forever indebted to young people I worked with in Chicago who taught me about God-sightings, noting where in the course of the day, they saw God’s activity, talking freely about it. Simply. Authentically.

And what if bearing witness takes place not only with our lips but with our lives. In one of his sermons, John the Baptist talked to soldiers and tax collectors, people in positions of power. He said if you want to bear witness, stay right where you are and do your work with integrity. Do not abuse your power. Practice justice and mercy. Share if you have more than you need. These are all ways of bearing witness.

Prepare for Christmas this week by thinking of a couple ways you could bear witness to Christ coming into the world, full of grace and truth. Point to the light of the moon, so surrounded by darkness.

-Jay Sidebotham

 The Prologue to John’s Gospel 
(Note the second paragraph which speaks of John the Baptist)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
 
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.
 
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

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 (December 11, 2017)

3-1

A recent email reminded me of a favorite book by Will Willimon, Methodist bishop, teacher at Duke Divinity (Sorry, Tarheels), and extraordinarily gifted preacher. When Bishop Willimon lived in Durham, a neighbor asked about church, specifically about what makes the church different from other organizations. The neighbor said his own preacher had asked him to invite folks to church. The neighbor couldn’t figure out a good reason to do that. Why would he invite someone to be part of this? He had nothing against the church, but said he didn’t see anything different or special about what we do on Sunday. “Friendliness? Caring? I get all that at Rotary.”

The neighbor went on to note that the Durham Bulls, the local baseball team, had done more to bring black and white people together than the church ever thought about. “A Saturday evening at the Durham Bulls is more racially inclusive than a Sunday in any church.”

More on Willimon’s book in a minute, but I thought about it when a young, wise friend shared a link to an article that appeared last week in The Atlantic. Its title: “The Consumerist Church of Fitness Classes.” The article notes liturgies involved with gyms and spin classes and yoga studios. These places gather people in community, give rituals to perform, receive tithes. As more and more Americans move away from organized religion (Pew Research tells us that in 2015, 23% of adults identified as religiously unaffiliated, up from 16% in 2007), folks seek “new forms of community building, new ways to seek mental clarity and spiritual experiences.”

The author notes that gyms often mimic the form of traditional religious services. They create community. They create space apart from busy brains. They create a zone, so that fitness is a gateway to a larger, more lasting state of happiness and fulfillment. Gyms offer coaching, elevate expectations and foster accountability, something lacking in many churches. They are transformative.

A parishioner admitted to me recently that she feels more connected with folks in her yoga class than folks in church. Mind you, this is an active member of the congregation. All of it challenges us to think about Will Willimon’s neighbor, to think about what is special about church.

In response to questions asked, Willimon wrote a book called Shaped by the Bible. In the introduction, he says we are left with a question: What makes the church, your congregation and mine, different, utterly essential, without equal, unique?

(Hit pause button before you read his answer: What would you say? Would you have an answer?)

Then consider Willimon’s response: “A congregation is Christian to the degree that it is confronted by and attempts to form its life in response to the Word of God.” He continues: “That does not mean we worship the Bible, or capture God between the pages of the Book. It means that in our life with the Bible, we are confronted by the living Lord.”

For me, the distinctive nature of the church, confronted by the Word, attempting to form its life in response to the Word, has to do with what is in the Word. As Martin Luther said, “The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” The Bible is a story of God’s relationship with us. It is a story of grace. It promises forgiveness, the persistent opportunity to start over. It’s a story about how love wins. Heaven knows, we need that story. You may or may not get all that at the gym or the yoga studio. But if you’re not getting it at church, church doors should close.

We live in a grace-starved world, filled with folks looking for community, accountability, authenticity, growth. As Christmas nears, maybe our communities can offer graceful gatherings in distinctive ways, so that if you and I were thinking of inviting someone to be part of church, we’d have good reason to do so.

-Jay Sidebotham

 A vision for a church I’d want to join:
(courtesy of St. Paul, from the twelfth chapter of his letter to the Romans)
For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

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.