Category Archives: Monday Matters

Monday Matters (September 20, 2021)

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Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ.
-II Cor. 1:3-5
Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.
-William Shakespeare, Macbeth
In sorrow we must go, but not in despair. Behold! we are not bound for ever to the circles of the world, and beyond them is more than memory.

-J.R.R.Tolkien

Though lovers be lost, love shall not; And death shall have no dominion.
-Dylan Thomas

Blessed are those who mourn

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.
-Matthew 5:4

Near the end of her life, I visited my grandmother in the hospital. I still picture her diminished state, that small body in such a big hospital bed. We talked about her life. Although she was in her mid-80’s, what she wanted to talk about was her son who died when he was five years old, when she was a young mother. She didn’t talk about the other three sons she raised so well, their vibrant lives. In her closing days, she remembered that particular loss. I realized that she had been in mourning over all those decades. It explained for me a bit of the sweet sadness I always saw in her eyes.

When I watched the 9/11 memorial service last week in lower Manhattan, and felt the heaviness of heart in recollection of my time in New York in those days, I listened to several thousand names being read, interrupted by brief tributes from relatives. Again and again, those relatives spoke of their lost loved ones and said, after 20 years: “We think about you every day.”

I suspect there are few who do not know what it means to mourn. We all know what it means to suffer loss. It’s a pain widely experienced, one that lingers. In his sermon, Jesus promises comfort. It’s a fitting follow-up to the promise of blessing for those who are poor in spirit, because mourning is really a matter of addressing a hole left by loss. It may defy understanding, but in the midst of it, Jesus promises blessed comfort.

What kind of comfort did he have in mind? Perhaps it was the comfort St. Paul speaks about at the beginning of a letter to the Corinthian church (See excerpt above). The psalmist speaks of the God who is present as refuge and strength. A favorite hymn speaks of Jesus who is all compassion, which literally means suffering along side. God, the Holy Spirit, is also described as the comforter, the one who comes along side. There is a promise of holy comfort, which is a blessing.

And God places us in community so that we can be present to comfort each other, so that as St. Paul says, we may comfort those around us with the comfort we have come to know in God’s gracious presence. Many times, when I’m trying to offer comfort to someone, I recall what was helpful to me when I was comforted. We pass it on. As we know comfort, we show comfort.

And the mourning Jesus focuses on may not simply be about the losses we feel in our own lives. It may also be about the losses that surround us, mourning for the state of the world, feeling its pain, the pain of refugees and asylum seekers, of victims of COVID, of those who care for them, the pain of victims of hurricanes and earthquakes, the pain of those subjected to racial hatred.

Where have you experienced mourning? Maybe you’re in the thick of that valley right now. How will you navigate that this week? How can you invite God, the holy comforter into that experience?

And then take a look around. Who do you know who carries such a weight? Can you be an instrument of blessedness that offers comfort? If you’re not sure how to do that, ask God to show you the way. It’s something disciples are called to do. And while you’re at it, say a prayer for those folks.

It will be a blessing. You will be a blessing.

-Jay Sidebotham


Ready to help your congregation refocus on their spiritual journeys?  Join our fall cohort of RenewalWorks participants…

The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.

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Monday Matters (September 6, 2021)

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The renewal of the Church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time people banded together to do this.

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

For some reason, the most vocal Christians among us never mention the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). But, often with tears in their eyes, they demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in public buildings. And of course, that’s Moses, not Jesus. I haven’t heard one of them demand that the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, be posted anywhere.
-Kurt Vonnegut
I shall not be overcome; God is with me. My awareness of God’s Presence may sound like magic. It may seem to some to be the merest childlike superstition, but it meets my need and is at once the source of my comfort and the heart of my peace.
-Howard Thurman
For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.
-Psalm 36:9
And now, what is my hope? O Lord, my hope is in you.
-Psalm 39:8

Prayer

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.
-Matthew 5:1,2

Over the summer, I posted something on social media about prayer. In response, a person I don’t know offered an edgy description of his own spiritual journey. He said that he used to pray to God. He gave up on that because sometimes he got answers, and sometimes he didn’t. He decided to stop praying to God and instead he started praying to Joe Pesci. He said he got exactly the same results. That led him to conclude that prayer was over-rated, and most certainly not efficacious.

I’ve thought about his comments for several reasons. For one, I did appreciate his clear if pointed take on the spiritual life. I don’t agree with it and it’s not my experience of prayer. But it shows he takes it seriously. I prefer that to the point of view that regards spiritual practice as something sweet, regarded with complacency, hardly transformational, maybe a quaint social custom, hobby or extracurricular activity, or a box to be checked.

I also have thought about his comments because from time to time, I can find myself wondering if any of this could possibly true. Do I really believe that all of my life unfolds in the presence of the Holy One? All of it? That when I pray, a great personal cosmic force listens? I suspect I’m not the only one who has prayed fervently for something and not gotten the answer I wanted, or any answer at all. Do I really believe that love is at the center of everything? After I read the newspaper? Do I really believe that the creator of the universe became a person who walked this earth? Do I hold onto faith for nostalgia’s sake, wishing it were so but recognizing that evidence can point in the opposite direction, most especially when I look at the ways Christians treat other people?

Am I alone in these wonderings?

I could be wrong but in the end, I actually do believe that grace is the word. Not only that it is true, but that it is our hope. Maybe our only hope. If we give up on grace, we’re sunk. I hold on to Jurgen Moltmann’s question: Where would we stand if we did not take our stand on hope? So maybe I don’t believe 100% of the time, maybe sometimes I’m a functional atheist, but I join the prayer of the guy in Mark 9 who said “Lord I believe. Help my unbelief.” I fall back on a favored, savored Emily Dickinson quote: “We believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour. It makes the faith nimble.”

My summer break from writing each week gave time to think about how amazing grace really is. I was blessed with the help of authors like William Stringfellow, Richard Rohr, Howard Thurman, Alexander Schmemann, Stephanie Spellers, and, God love him, Trevor Noah. I was renewed in my interest in what it means to be part of the Jesus movement. So what I propose to do for the coming weeks is to take a close look at what Jesus taught, hopefully with fresh eyes. Specifically, for the next bit of time, I want to use the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) as a window into what Jesus had in mind. Even more specifically, I want to focus on what Jesus intended for disciples, since according to Matthew, that was the audience for this sermon. And when he talked to them, he talks to us.

I don’t presume original insight. I’m no biblical scholar. I simply want to take these teachings, a bit at a time, offer my reflections as invitation for you to offer yours, and then to think about those insights as you make your way through a week. Tune in if that sounds interesting. Feel free to tune out if it doesn’t. That’s why God made unsubscribe.

We begin today with the first two verses of Matthew, chapter 5. We read that Jesus gathers disciples on a mountaintop for teaching (an echo of Moses providing teaching from Mt. Sinai). As we make our way through the next weeks, let Jesus be the teacher. See what it’s like to be his student, a learner, which after all, is what being a disciple is all about.

I don’t know about you, but these days, I need Jesus to be my teacher.

-Jay Sidebotham


Ready to help the folks in your congregation refocus on their spiritual journeys?  Join our fall cohort of RenewalWorks participants…

The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.

RenewalWorks – Digital Catalog

Monday Matters (June 21, 2021)

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Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
Amen.
-Richard of Chichester

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
-Thomas Merton

Follow me

At a gathering last week, I was given opportunity to reflect on the spiritual path, and specifically on what it means to try to navigate that path as a follower of Jesus. That led me to think of how many times Jesus meets someone and says: “Follow me.” A bit of research indicated that there are 22 occasions described in the gospels where that happens. I can’t think of anything Jesus says more often. That means it’s probably worth paying attention to.

Jesus called the first disciples saying: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Note that the gospels never record the disciples catching any fish without Jesus’ help. In this call to follow, Jesus seems to say: “I’ll take who you are and what you do, even if you’re not that great at it.” He puts those disciples to work for the Jesus movement, transforming their vocation to serve the way of love.

Jesus called Matthew the tax collector, simply saying: “Follow me.” Right after that, Jesus went to the local pub with Matthew’s creepy, seedy, duplicitous friends. The clergy of the day passed a resolution condemning such consorting. But when Jesus called Matthew, Jesus seems to say: “I’ll take you where you are, no matter what you’ve done. I’ll meet you with grace.”

Jesus called an unnamed person, saying “Follow me.” The person responded by saying: “I’ll get right on it, but I have some other things I need to attend to first.” (e.g., burying a family member.) It may sound harsh, but Jesus seems to say: “Don’t let the stuff of life get in the way of following me, even the good stuff.” That’s probably something for good church folk to pay attention to, as we fill up schedules with lots of really important and noble things and find we’ve not got time or energy for the relationship of discipleship.

Jesus called a rich young ruler, saying “Follow me.” This young man had done everything right. He was deeply religious. Jesus seemed to like the guy. He commended him for his faithfulness. But Jesus also noted that there was one missing element. The young man had to give up his possessions. Apparently, that was a bridge too far. The young man went away sad, and Jesus seemed sad too. I wonder what happened to the guy.

Most of these stories come early on in the gospels, as Jesus is putting his team together. One of the stories comes at the end of the gospel of John. It’s the story of Jesus’ encounter with Peter. A mirror image of Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus, Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him. Peter affirms that he does love Jesus. He is then commissioned to care for Jesus’ sheep. The episode ends with Jesus saying: “Follow me.” It’s the way that Peter steps into a future that may be unclear. Maybe that’s the way we’re meant to step into the future as well.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that we do not know what the future holds. Aspects of the pandemic and coincident crises of economic challenge and racial reckoning may not, could not have been anticipated. As we daily step into an unknown future (Who knows what will happen as soon as you stop reading this?), maybe the best thing for us to do is to hear Jesus’ call to us. He simply says: “Follow me.”

Then we get to figure out what on earth that means. It becomes a reminder that at the core, our spiritual path as part of the Jesus movement, is the truth that we are not alone. It’s an invitation to a living relationship with the Holy One. Jesus comes to us with truth and grace, truth about who we are and the challenges we face, grace to promise presence with us. That relationship, that act of following is about knowing what he teaches, practicing what he preaches. It’s about embracing his call to service, which helps us see who he is. It’s about a life of prayer, which is really conversation which involves as much listening as talking. It’s a life sustained by bread and wine, holy communion.

It’s true that we do not know what the future holds. But in this journey of faith, we claim to know who holds the future. That Holy One leads us in the way of love. All we need to do is follow.

-Jay Sidebotham


Ready to help the folks in your congregation refocus on their spiritual journeys?  Join our fall cohort of RenewalWorks participants…

The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.

RenewalWorks – Digital Catalog

Monday Matters (May 10, 2021)

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As they were watching, Jesus was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward 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 1:9-14

What next?

Later this week, we will observe the Feast of the Ascension, celebrating the story told by Luke in his gospel and in the book of Acts, the story of Jesus ascending into heaven. The feast falls 40 days after Easter, which means it’s always on a Thursday, one of the reasons it doesn’t get as much notice as Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. I consider this feast to be underrated. Where would we be without it?

It’s important as a feast because it answers questions about what happened to Jesus, and where he is now, and how we should live in light of that. It opens the way for our understanding, our confidence, our hope that Jesus’ story is not just a matter of history. Jesus is is still very much with us and will be with us to the end of the ages. Our faith is more than memory.

No doubt about it, it’s a strange story which may also contribute to its underrated status. How do we make sense of it? It’s possible to get caught up in the logistics. Can modern people really believe that such a thing happened? What were the physics involved? Was gravity suspended?

Someday, maybe they’ll be answers for those logistical questions. For me, maybe the more important question is the one I imagine the disciples asked each other. They realize Jesus is gone, so what do they do now? How do they move forward? There may be times when we ask these kinds of questions.

What are the experiences that have caused you to ask: Where do I go from here? What’s next? Those kinds of questions surface when we’ve come down from a mountaintop experience, in the wake of exciting life changing events. A joyous occasion like a wedding or the birth of a child. A powerful spiritual epiphany. The same questions may come when we emerge from a valley. A relationship ends. You get fired, or experience betrayal. I’ll always remember being with a woman in the ICU as her husband of more than sixty years died. She looked up at me shortly after monitors indicated end of life and said: What do I do now? She was talking about a lot more than contacting hospital staff or funeral home.

Maybe you’re asking some version of these questions this morning. The questions are especially appropriate as we come out of Covid. This may be a season in our common life when we need the message of Ascension Day more than ever, as the feast causes us to ask: Where do we go from here? How do we arrive at a new normal? Like those disciples, we don’t know what lies ahead. It’s a pretty safe bet that our road ahead will take us to new places. New life will emerge but a lot will not be as we remember it. Maybe we’re nostalgic for a past that actually wasn’t as rosy as we wish it was. Maybe, just maybe, the old normal is not a place to which we ought to return.

The disciples heard angels’ instructions. They went back to Jerusalem. They stuck together. They prayed. They waited. They held on to promise. In due time, they experience the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, the powerful presence of the Spirit. Maybe there’s a word in there for us.

As we navigate emergence from COVID:

  • How can we stay together in community, counting on each other for support? What community can you count on these days (even if it’s still on zoom)?
  • How can we hold prayer at the center of our forward movement, recognizing our need for God’s gracious help? What will be your prayer? What will you ask for?
  • How can we express our trust in the living Lord who promises that we will not be left alone? What promise from Jesus sustains you?

If we can do these things in this unusual season, maybe we can celebrate Ascension Day by saying that things are looking up.

-Jay Sidebotham


Our Churches After Covid:  Wednesday, May 12 at 7pm EST

Our monthly conversations resume with a discussion of where we’ve been over the last year and where we might be headed. To help us address those questions, we welcome three gifted clergy leaders:
  • The Rev. Chris Harris, Associate Rector, Christ Church Cranbrook, Bloomfield, Michigan
  • The Rev. Edwin Johnson, Rector, St. Mary’s Church, Dorchester, Massachusetts
  • The Rev. Marissa Rohrbach, Rector, St. Matthew’s Church, Wilton, Connecticut.

We’re grateful for the insights these three will offer, and we’ll make sure to have time for comments and questions.

RenewalWorks: Connect seeks to gather folks who want to continue to explore spiritual growth as priorities in their congregations. All are welcome.

Be sure to receive the Zoom invitation by joining the RenewalWorks: Connect email list. Click here to join.