Category Archives: Monday Matters

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.

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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.