Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts; do not let those who seek you be dishonored because of me, O God of Israel.

Psalm 69:6


The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

Mark 1:1-3

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:13-21

Walls and ramps

What’s your must see TV? For me, it used to be the Muppets, and not just when I was a child. Of late, it’s the segment of the PBS Newshour on Friday, when Judy Woodruff moderates a conversation between Mark Shields and David Brooks. I appreciate her spirit and wisdom. I wish she would give tutorials to every other journalist. And I really appreciate the way these two gentlemen converse, often disagreeing with each other (and of course, with me) and still showing respect, civility, kindness and humor. We need more of that. Lots more. And that has made me particularly interested in David Brooks’ book The Second Mountain. In that book, he describes his unusual spiritual journey. He grew up in a Jewish family in New York and attended an Episcopal school and an Episcopal summer camp. Friends from that camp experience remain among his best and longest lasting. It was fun for me to read because the school he identifies was located in lower Manhattan at the church where I met my bride. And the camp he identifies was a place we would go regularly for retreat. All of which is to say that he has found spiritual home in both Judaism and Christianity. I don’t know many people who’ve done that in the way he describes. As he talks about his own journey of faith, there’s an interesting passage in which he identifies both walls that blocked further spiritual development and ramps that made movement forward possible. Here are the four walls he identifies. First, he notes that religious people often have a siege mentality, a sense of “collective victimhood that moves them from a humble faith to a fighting brigade.” I suspect that’s where the notion of crusades comes from. I bet we’ve all seen it. Second, he notes that religious people are often really bad listeners, failing to meet people where they are, improvising “off-the-shelf maxims and bumper sticker sayings.” It reminds me of my favorite Dave Barry question: “Why is it that people who want to tell you about their religion never want to hear about yours?” Third, he talks about how people often use religious concern to practice invasive care, using the cover of faith to get in other people’s business. And finally, he accuses religious folks of settling for intellectual mediocrity, checking God-given brains at the door. These are walls he has experienced, blocking spiritual growth. I wonder this morning if you identify with any of these or if there are other walls that have stood in the way of your own faith development. Thanks be to God, David Brooks also identifies four ramps that have helped him access a deeper spiritual life. The first for him, perhaps reflecting time hanging around the Episcopal Church, has to do with the power of ritual, the “collective enactments of moral order and sacred story.” Second, he celebrates an unabashed faith, a faith unafraid to express itself. This is something our Presiding Bishop teaches us.  Third, he talks about prayer, admitting that he doesn’t feel very good at prayer, confessing that prayer can often be used to deliver a message to folks we’re with. In our house we call it horizontal praying: “Dear God, help my sibling not to be such a jerk.” But David Brooks understands prayer as an encounter and conversation with God, suggesting the central thought that what we are talking about is relationship. Finally, an on-ramp for him is a deepening spiritual consciousness, a counter-cultural recognition that not everything in life is a matter of material success. I wonder this morning if you identify with these or if you would name other ramps that have furthered your own faith development. Ask yourself this week: What have been the walls and the ramps in my own spiritual journey? Such reflection may call for forgiveness and gratitude. Then think about how you may have functioned as a wall or ramp in someone else’s life. You may need to make some amends on that one. How has your faith community been wall or ramp? And then forgetting what’s behind, take this week as a chance to serve as a ramp to someone in your life. Ask the Holy Spirit what that might be. Opportunities abound.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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


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