Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday Matters (June 17, 2019)

3-1

Give us strength and courage to love and serve you with gladness and singleness of heart.

from the Post-Communion Prayer, page 365 in the Book of Common Prayer

Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of thy faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well-being of thy Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

A prayer for the Feast of St. Barnabas

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that broke out when Stephen was killed traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, spreading the word only among Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.
News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Acts 11:19-24

Barnabas

It’s become something of an annual event for me. Every year around this time, I think about the biblical character, Barnabas. His feast day was observed last week. If the New Testament book, the Acts of the Apostles, was a movie, he would be supporting actor at best. Cameo perhaps. He maybe gets fifteen minutes of biblical fame.

One of the intriguing things about him was that his community changed his name. Originally named Joseph, his name was changed to Barnabas, which literally means “son of encouragement.” I find myself wondering what it was about him that prompted that change. I wondered about the nature of a community that knew his gifts well enough to change his name to fit those discerned gifts. I wondered how the communities in which I’m involved (family, church, work) would change my name, and whether I’d be happy with the shift.

How did he exhibit compelling encouragement? Think about the heart of that word: courage, a word which pops up in the prayer at the end of the eucharist. The word suggests not only bravery and valor. It suggests heart (as in the French word for heart, coeur). So what was the character of Barnabas’ courage?

A couple things. First of all, it took courage for any of the early Christians to be part of the community, when association with the way of Jesus involved persecution. The blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. That early church growth came at great cost. It took courage for Barnabas to take the lead in broadening the nature of the community, helping facilitate the inclusion of Gentiles who had formerly been excluded. That kind of change has never been easy. He is noted for his generosity, which in a world of scarcity takes courage. And my imagination tells me that it took all kinds of courage to introduce Paul to the church and to accompany him around the Mediterranean rim. Paul had many gifts, but I would think twice about having him as traveling partner. Imagine him going through security at an airport, stuck in traffic, late for a meeting. In short, I bet he was hard to get along with, witness the fact that he often parted ways with companions. For these and other reasons, Barnabas was seen as someone who demonstrated encouragement.

Think about that word today. Who has been an encouraging presence in your life? (I happen to be married to such a person, and she brings along with her a father who might well be Barnabas reincarnated.) Who has helped you move forward with both bravery and heart? Who has treated you with generosity, with an inclusive spirit, with an openness to difference? Lord knows, life throws us all kinds of occasions that summon those qualities. That kind of encouragement can come through the people we know. It can come from those we love but see no longer, the great cloud of witnesses who have been lights in their generations. It can come from those we never knew, whose stories and written reflections travel across the centuries. Where are you finding encouragement? If you’re having trouble answering that, if you’re discouraged, ask God to send encouragement. Apparently, it’s one of the things that the Holy Spirit does best.

Once you’ve identified sources of encouragement in your life, those who may have helped you move forward, think about ways you can be an encouraging presence to someone in your sphere of influence today, this week. It may be a grand and gracious and generous act. It might be a simple smile or expression of gratitude. Maybe it’s just a well-timed compliment. If you’re having trouble thinking of someone to encourage, ask God to show you who that person might be.

As we see Barnabas in others may we be Barnabas for others.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Click here for registration and more info

Monday Matters (June 10, 2019)

3-1

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

Psalm 29:2

On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

Annie Dillard

Worship isn’t God’s show. God is the audience. God’s watching. The congregation, they are the actors in this drama. Worship is their show. And the minister is just reminding the people of their forgotten lines.

Soren Kierkegaard

Worship

A parent recently told me of a conversation with a child on the way to church. The child, who could think of many things he’d rather be doing, was balking at attendance. He said to his parents: “I don’t understand why we have to go to church. It’s just he says stuff and we say stuff and he says stuff and then we say stuff. What’s the point?” I wondered how many children of all ages think that about church.

I recently preached a homily at a service. For a variety of reasons, it was important that the service not go on too long. At the door, a friend, with a wink, congratulated me on my sermon. “Great sermon. Seven minutes, four seconds” I was commended for brevity, not profound theological insight or compelling challenge. Shucks.

When this cranky priest hears folks complain about services running long, I confess I wonder what would be a better use of one’s time. I wonder about the ways we regard worship as consumer product, something meant to please us (or else). Why do people pull a u-turn in the grocery store aisle when they see me and haven’t been to church in a while? A voice shouts (in my head): I didn’t go to seminary to be a truant officer.

It’s all got me thinking about how we approach worship. I’m a firm believer in worship 24/7, in church and outside of church. Barbara Brown Taylor calls it worshipping at the altar of the world. I’ve also come to realize that folks sometimes regard church attendance with the enthusiasm of a trip to the dentist. Often folks approach worship as if they are doing God a favor by stopping in. Folks sometimes judge church as entertainment, similar to a trip to the theater or movie or concert. If entertainment value is the basis of comparison, church will fall short.

Early in my ministry, a wise mentor told me I needed to do two things in worship:
1. Keep worship to an hour.
2. Leave people more hopeful than when they came.

I’ve worked on both, and I do hope that the worship experience will not be terminally boring, that we can honor people’s busy lives. But I also have had the experience of worship, especially when visiting churches of other traditions, and in other parts of the world when worship went on with a glorious indifference to the clock. In those times, I have often found an encounter with the Holy One that was deeper, richer, more joyous.

As we think about religious observance, why is it that so many folks tolerate church at best, a duty not a joy? Why do they scoot out as early as possible? Why are so many drifting or running away? There are many reasons, and many things we need to work on for sure. 

I confess as a priest that there have been times when I have been bored with liturgy I have been leading. That can only mean that I was boring people as well. As presider, I have taken for granted the awesome privilege, the amazing grace that we can come together to encounter the Holy One. I have often been distracted in worship, running through a to-do list in my head while mouthing words, hardly present to the moment. What would it mean for us to come with expectation that we might actually meet God, and that we might actually be changed in that encounter?

A priest I admire has this routine on Sundays. He gets to church well before the first service. All alone, he spends about an hour in the church in preparation for worship. He goes to the narthex and prays for the ushers. He stands in the pulpit and prays for grace in sermon delivery. He moves to the choir loft and prays for the musicians. In the sacristy, he gives thanks for the altar guild and prays for their work. He sits in the pew and prays for congregants who will offer their prayers and praise. In other words, he is elevating expectation for the encounter in worship.

That’s his approach. What’s yours? We can each find our own way to honor the great gift in being called to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Whether our worship is happy-clappy, rock and roll, ancient Anglican chant, contemplative silence, all provide opportunity to encounter the living God, to pray and praise and then to be sent into the world ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.

Is there a better thing we could be doing with our time?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Click here for registration and more info

Monday Matters (June 3, 2019)

3-1

Oh what peace we often forfeit. Oh what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Jesus prayed for his disciples, and then he said. “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. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

From John 17

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.

Mahatma Gandhi

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.

Soren Kierkegaard

Take it to the Lord in prayer

One Sunday after church, quite a few years ago, my daughter told me that when I stand at the altar, celebrating the eucharist, with arms outstretched, I sometimes look like I’m shrugging my shoulders as if to say: “I don’t know.” Granted, I probably needed to work on that. But at the same time, it felt a bit prophetic. The fact is there are a lot of questions I get asked to which the answer is “I don’t know.”

There are a lot of passages in the Bible that lead to that shrug. While I like to know the answer, one wise parishioner told me in a bible study that she doesn’t worry about those kinds of passages. She says that somewhere in the Middle East, in some yet to be discovered cave, there’s a yet to be discovered clay jar with a yet to be discovered scroll that explains it all. Until that scroll is found, she’s not going to worry. All shall be revealed, in God’s time. She had more faith than I did, for sure.

As we approach Trinity Sunday, the dynamics of the relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit falls in the category of mystery, dynamics crafted in language that can only hint at the real truth. One teacher compared doctrines like the Trinity to buoy markers, floating on the surface of the sea, indicating depths beyond our perception. Those buoy markers are not the reality itself. They are just ways to point us to deep truths that we may proclaim without being able to explain. Life is full of those kinds of truths.

Case in Point: Yesterday in church, we read an excerpt from John 17, a chapter that is really a prayer offered by Jesus. I find myself wondering about the mystery of prayer. The more I pray, the more I sense depths beyond my understanding. Here are some of the questions that occur to me: Why did Jesus pray so much? Was he really talking to himself? What did he need to pray for? And why didn’t his prayers always get answered the way he wanted, as in the time he prayed in the garden of Gethsemane asking that the cup be removed from him? Does prayer change God’s mind? Or does prayer change us? Do we regard prayer more like a steering wheel, guiding us along the journey, or like a spare tire, something we pull out when we’re in a ditch?

Take time this week to read John 17. On the night before he is arrested Jesus prays. He prays for himself, for strength. He prays for the disciples with him. And he prays for those who will come to faith through the disciples. That’s you and me, folks. John 17 is just one of the places where we read about Jesus praying. The fact is, especially in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is always going off by himself to pray.

I’m not sure why that is, but my best guess is that Jesus understood that his life on earth was meant to unfold in ongoing, active loving relationship with the Holy One who he referred to as Father, as Abba, a familiar way of talking about a parent. Prayer was the way that the relationship was sustained, even when Jesus admits that he is not given to know everything.

When the New Testament calls us to pray without ceasing, I don’t think it means 24/7 kneeling in a pew or by your bedside. Rather, it is to see all of life as a way to live in relationship with God, as mysterious as that may be. In thanksgiving, intercession, confession, adoration, meditation, silence. It’s a call to pray not only with our lips but with our lives. (One woman who worked in a kitchen at a school talked about cooking as prayer.)

There’s deep mystery in the dynamics of prayer. There’s so much beyond our understanding. But that need not keep us from making prayer a way of life, as we seek a deeper relationships with God. How might you do that this week?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Click here for registration and more info

Monday Matters (May 27, 2019)

3-1

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

from the Book of Common Prayer

For the Fallen
Excerpts from a poem by Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), published in The Times newspaper on 21 September 1914.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Don’t forget

In the journey of faith, we need not so much to be instructed as to be reminded. That’s based on a quote from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), but it’s truth is older than the 18th century. The Hebrew scriptures are filled with reminders, as the people of Israel were told to remember their own journey, their father and mother, Abraham and Sarah, wandering Arameans. Children are to be told the story of Exodus. Don’t forget.

Fast forward to the last supper. Jesus institutes the meal we now call eucharist, with the call to do this in remembrance of him. In our own liturgy, there’s a portion of the eucharistic prayer that recounts the ways that God acted on our behalf, bringing wholeness, deliverance, salvation. It recounts the healing that came in the life and death of Jesus, grace at great cost. The part of that prayer (listen for it next time you’re in church) is called anamnesis, which literally means “not amnesia.” Don’t forget.

All of this is a way of saying that part of our own journey is remembering, taking a look in the spiritual rear-view mirror to recall the ways God has acted in your life, the blessings that have come, all as a way of moving forward into an uncertain future. Don’t forget.

Which brings us to Memorial Day. For many, the day ahead of us is a holiday, the start of summer, a time for relaxation and revelry. All good stuff. But take a few minutes on Memorial Day to remember grace at great cost. For all of the chaos that Fox and MSNBC outline for us 24/7, many of us gather with great blessings, in many ways unprecedented in world history. We are called to give thanks for those blessings.

We are also called on this Memorial Day to do some remembering. The internet will tell all kinds of stories about where this holiday came from. It seems to have found its origin in the midst or aftermath of the war between the states, when hundreds of thousands of people died, brother fighting brother. The holiday expanded to offer memory of those who gave their lives in other battles, to remember the great cost that came to those who died, the cost to those who loved those who died. If helpful, use the prayer for heroic service, included above, to remember them. Take a moment, or two today to commend those persons to God’s loving care.

And then add a moment or two to pray for those around the world who are now engaged in armed conflict, and for those who love them.

And then add a moment or two to pray that we can figure out some way to live on this fragile earth, our island home, without harming each other, how we can work for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being.

Amid all the relaxation and revelry, practice anamnesis. Don’t forget.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Click here for registration and more info

Monday Matters (May 20, 2019)

3-1

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.
Amen.

Jesus said: By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

John 15:8-11

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

Shield the joyous

The other night, our group completed the day with the Service of Compline. That liturgy includes the prayer included above (Keep watch, etc.). In short order, that prayer covers a wide variety of human experiences, but that night one phrase struck me in particular. After the brief liturgy, I turned to the guy next to me and asked: What do you think it means to shield the joyous? He shrugged. Me too.

I get the other petitions, but why does joy need to be shielded? I can imagine that in our culture, in our political system, in our churches, joy may seem to be in short supply. Remember H.L.Mencken’s definition of a puritan? He said a puritan was someone who is unhappy because someone somewhere is having a good time. So maybe we do need to pray that wherever joy tries to raise its head, it will be shielded, protected, nurtured, preserved.

Think with me this morning about joy. In an op-ed column on May 7, David Brooks compared joy and happiness. He wrote:

Happiness usually involves a victory for the self. Joy tends to involve the transcendence of self. Happiness comes from accomplishments. Joy comes when your heart is in another. Joy comes after years of changing diapers, driving to practice, worrying at night, dancing in the kitchen, playing in the yard and just sitting quietly together watching TV. Joy is the present that life gives you as you give away your gifts.

If joy is indeed a transcendence of self, in our self-centered world, maybe that’s why we need to shield it. Jesus talked about joy at the Last Supper, hardly a laugh riot. He spent his last hours, aware of what was coming on Good Friday, instructing his friends on how to navigate times ahead. In John 15, a portion of which is also included above, he spoke about his desire that his followers know the fullest kind of joy. That was, in fact, why he bothered to show up.

In another stirring summons to joy, St. Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians, sent from a first century prison cell. Stop for a minute and let your imagination picture that cell. I’m sure it was grim, Yet every other word in Paul’s letter is rejoice or joy. (The letter is just four chapters long. If you haven’t read it in a while, take time this week to do so.) The call to joy suggests both transcendence of self and harsh conditions.

More recently, we’ve been treated to a conversation between Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, a record of a week they spent together, captured in The Book of Joy. As I read this book, enjoying their joy, I was mindful of the extraordinary hardship each of these men experienced, how they were so deeply sensitive to the pain of the world, how they were objects of the greatest cruelties human beings and political systems can inflict, how they could easily have been dominated by fear or resentment or rage. Yet as givers, they were able to transcend all that and find a way to joy. 

So this Monday morning, a couple questions:

Where are you now finding joy in your life? The birth of a child? The beauty of creation? The love of friends and family?

And from what does that joy need to be shielded? Anger? Regret? Resentment? Anxiety? Shame? Fear? Busy schedules? Fatigue? Indifference?

I hope that joy is part of your life this Monday morning. Give thanks if that is the case. By God’s grace, may it be shielded, for you and for those whose lives you touch.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

SAVE THE DATE

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Registration and more info coming soon!

Monday Matters (May 13, 2019)

3-1

Before being Christians or Jews or Muslims, before being Americans or Russians or Africans, before begin generals or priests, rabbis or imams, before having visible or invisible disabilities, we are all human beings with hearts capable of loving.

Jean Vanier

Jesus said: I have come to bring them life and to bring it abundantly.

John 10:10

Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?

from the Service of Holy Baptism

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you-you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Matthew 6:28-34

“We have gotten rusty at being people.”

Dr. Eric Frazer, from Yale University Medical Center, has written a book that includes discussion of mindfulness. He’s the one who said this thing about getting rusty. That’s been on my mind since I heard him make the comment in an interview last week.

He prescribes a cure. He writes about the health-giving benefits of mindfulness. For me, viewing from a faith perspective, he was describing the power of taking time on a daily basis to remember who we are and whose we are.

Last week, I was giving a talk that included discussion of the importance of spiritual practices. A woman in the crowd spoke up, challenging me as she described her heartfelt challenge of finding quiet time as she managed her job, her kids, her parents, her spouse, her life. It was not the season in her life when she had loads of free time for long periods of meditation. There were no long walks in the woods, no hours seated in contemplation over a cup of tea. Nice idea, but that was not in the cards. So what was she to do?

I’m told (and I believe) that one of the impediments to spiritual growth is the busy nature of our lives. How do we fit even the most minimal mindfulness into our routines? In days marked by rancorous partisanship, fueled by unfiltered comments on social media, how do we get less rusty at being people?

Herewith a random assortment of suggestions:

  • Start small. Do what you can, not what you can’t. Be gentle with yourself. There, there.
  • Set your smart phone for a minute of silence in the morning. Or go out on a limb: maybe three times a day. If that works, gradually expand the amount of time. Hint: There’s an app for that.
  • Give thanks for five things each day.
  • Each morning, pick a person you want to pray for throughout that day. Extra credit: Select someone who drives you nuts, pushes your buttons, needs your forgiveness, or watches a different news channel than you do.
  • Write a random, out-of-the-blue daily thank you note to somebody who has had impact on your life.
  • Set an intention for each day, centered on a word. Gratitude. Hope. Service. Kindness, Grace.
  • Look for God-sightings. Where do you see God at work in the people around you?
  • At the end of the day, take two minutes to ask if you have lived into your values.Look for folks who model mindfulness, folks like Jean Vanier, who died this past week, and who is quoted above. In his life singularly dedicated to the dignity of people with severe disabilities, he was someone who was not rusty. Take time today to read his obituary. See how his light can shine light on our lives.

All of which, of course, brings me to Jesus. Was there ever another person who had  a longer to-do list? I mean: Being Messiah? Saving the world? All in three years? Talk about a full plate. Yet the gospels indicate that at key moments, he sought silence and prayer. He sat and talked at length with Nicodemus and the woman at the well, among others. He didn’t seem to be in a hurry, and on occasion, folks wanted him to speed it up.  I’m imagining that a key to his non-anxious presence was that mindfulness of who he was and whose he was. 

May God give us grace this day to follow in his pathway. Because, frankly, we’re kind of rusty at that.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

SAVE THE DATE

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Registration and more info coming soon!

Monday Matters (May 6, 2019)

3-1

Cartooning is preaching. And I think we have a right to do some preaching. I hate shallow humor. I hate shallow religious humor, I hate shallow sports humor, I hate shallowness of any kind.

Charles M. Schulz

People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Isaiah 30:19-21

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

I Corinthians 13:12-13

The Gospel According to Snoopy

Last week, I was asked to give a presentation on how my goofy cartoons and my faith intersect. It’s fun for me to think about, and I’ve given a talk like this a few times, always being led back to my hero, Charles Schulz, to whom is attributed the above quote about cartooning as preaching.

I had always admired him, but he won my heart in seminary when a colleague gave me one of his cartoons that has been placed prominently in my various offices over the years. Here’s the setup: Snoopy on top of his doghouse at his typewriter. (How did Schulz come up with this?) Charlie Brown approaches, saying “I hear you’re writing a book on theology. You need a good title for a book like that.” Snoopy’s thought bubble, as he smiles smugly: “I have the perfect title. The title: Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong.”

Can you tell why, as preacher and teacher and Christian, I like this cartoon? Think about that question: Has it ever occurred to you that you might be wrong? It’s an invitation to the virtue of humility for sure. It’s an admission that we all fall short at some point. We are each limited, much as we hate to admit it. It’s a call to compassion, an invitation to be gentle with each other. It’s a challenge to be a learner (another word for disciple) recognizing that we don’t know what we don’t know. It provides motive to offer and ask for forgiveness. It gives opportunity to express transparency and vulnerability, which can be the most effective community builders. All of which could be helpful in our current political and religious climate. All of which might be a welcome dynamic in households, churches, neighborhoods, conversations about the news.

It makes me think about how we humans have been mistaken about so much over the course of history, how we have operated for centuries while being wrong. The folks who wrote the book of Genesis imagined that the sky above was really like a big dome, with the waters of chaos above as well as below. Scientists were punished for positing the earth might not be the center of the universe. Explorers thought the world was flat. Lewis and Clark we’re convinced that they could follow the Missouri River to the Pacific, so they ended up canoeing the mountains. (I commend a book called Canoeing the Mountains, by Tod Bolsinger. It’s a book about discipleship, actually.)

We’ve been wrong about stuff that has caused great suffering. Looking in the collective rear-view mirror, we now see that we have been wrong about slavery, about gender roles, about other religions, about identity and orientation, all of which has had tragic implications, inflicting injury on people who differ in all kinds of ways. It makes me wonder what we’re wrong about now, and how future generations will look back on us and think: How could we have possibly thought that? How could we have acted that way? Or not acted.

On the same day I gave the talk on cartooning, I gave a homily at a service observing the feast of St. Philip and St. James’. One of the readings from the day came from Isaiah 30. (Included above) It suggests that in the journey of faith, we may not really know what we’re doing or where we are headed, but it is a call to trust. The Lord says to the faithful: Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Later in the Bible, in St. Paul’s famous hymn about love, the apostle notes that we now see through a glass darkly, that we know in part. In other words, we could be wrong.

All of this is to say that righteousness is not about being right. How could it be when we’re wrong so much of the time? Rather, it is about being rightly related to a God who invites us into deeper relationship, and who speaks over our shoulder saying: This is the way, walk in it. This week, how might we explore that life of humility, vulnerability, transparency? How might we open ourselves so that we might be learners, mindful that we don’t know what we don’t know?

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

SAVE THE DATE

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Registration and more info coming soon!

Monday Matters (April 29, 2019)

3-1

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:35

Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.

I John 4:20

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

I John 4:11

It makes no sense to take the name of Christian and not cling to Christ. Jesus is not some magic charm to wear like a piece of jewelry we think will give us good luck. He is the Lord. His name is to be written on our hearts in such a powerful way that it creates within us a profound experience of His peace and a heart that is filled with His praise.

William Wilberforce

Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile.

Billy Sunday

Real Christians

I keep seeing a billboard that reads: Real Christians Follow Jesus’ Teaching. I’m taken with the phrase and wonder who sponsored the ad. I also wonder whether the sponsors would think I was a real Christian.

I’ve had a couple opportunities to think about this lately. The candidacy of Mayor Pete Buttigieg has raised the issue of what makes a real Christian. One commentator (Erick Erickson) who I’m guessing won’t vote for the mayor, has questioned the mayor’s faith, especially his reading of the Bible. The commentator notes that because Mayor Pete is an Episcopalian, he might not actually “understand Christianity more than superficially. Episcopalians are shallow Christians.”

Mr. Erickson may be right as I look at my own heart, and am struck by the depth of my own shallowness. But it’s been my privilege to know so many Episcopalians who know God and follow Jesus and are filled with the Spirit. I wish Mr. Erickson could know them.

Looking at the question from another angle, I recall conversations with one woman who responded to the RenewalWorks inventory. She bristled at some of the questions and said she preferred to “self-identify” as Episcopalian, not Christian. A part of me gets her point because the association with Christians in our culture is pretty grim. When people outside the church looked at the church in the first days, they said “See how they love one another.” Now, surveys indicate that people might say “See what hypocrites they are. See how judgmental they are. See how they fight with each other. See how they are captive of a particular political agenda.” Anyone who has hung around church for a while, and especially anyone who has gotten involved in sausage-making governance can probably provide examples. 

At the same time, my own experience of the Episcopal Church is that it offers me an authentic way to be a follower of Jesus, for which I believe I will be eternally grateful. My journey to the Episcopal Church was personally salvific.

So what’s a follower of Jesus to do? For starters, remember that Jesus nowhere uses the term “Christian.” His first followers who met in small communities described themselves as people of the way. I suspect we’d all be better off if we’d stuck with that name. Jesus said to his disciples “By this shall people know that you are my disciples if you have love one for another.” Not by your doctrine or your stand on social issues or the name of your group or how you do liturgy or the way your interpret scripture.

Jesus’ own ministry was marked by harsh judgment primarily directed at religious people. He said “Not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven.” He told the parable of sheep and goats (Matthew 25) and said that those who welcomed the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned would inherit the kingdom. Those who ignored those in need would be excluded.

Finally, Jesus seemed pretty expansive in his understanding of who lies within the range of God’s grace. A Syro-phoenician woman, who apparently expanded Jesus’ vision of his own ministry. The Samaritan woman at the well, who engaged Jesus on the subject of worship. A Roman Centurion who Jesus described as having more faith than anyone he’d met in Israel. A child who understood what the kingdom of heaven is all about when adults were dense. You get the point.

In current discourse about who is a real Christian, columnist Cal Thomas (see column on April 8) denied that Christianity was inclusive. He said Christianity is about exclusion for those who refuse its central message of repentance and conversion. I think he’s doing what we all do, reading scripture selectively, reading it in a way that serves our own purpose and, in this case, is anything but good news. 

Which leads to this insight which Jesus gives: Why get all worked up about the speck in somebody else’s eye when you’ve got a honking timber going through your own? When as a kid I was scrapping with my siblings, my grandmother would say: “Take heed to yourself,” which is somewhere in the Bible. Not a bad word for all of us who wonder who is a real Christian. Maybe we don’t need to worry about that. Maybe we should let God worry about that. While God is sorting that out, maybe we can direct our energy elsewhere, like figuring out what we should do to live into Jesus’ call: “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” We all have some growth edges there.

Our church would be in much better shape if that became our singular focus.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

SAVE THE DATE

Leading for Discipleship:
A conference especially for those
who have worked with RenewalWorks

Sept. 30-Oct. 2
Wilmington, NC
Registration and more info coming soon!

Monday Matters (April 22, 2019)

3-1

The following prayer requests appear in the Good Friday Liturgy (page 279 in the Book of Common Prayer) On this Monday in Easter Week, these requests offer a roadmap for the work of Easter:

Let us pray for all who have not received the Gospel of Christ;

For those who have never heard the word of salvation

For those who have lost their faith

For those hardened by sin or indifference

For the contemptuous and the scornful

For those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and persecutors of his disciples

For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others

That God will open their hearts to the truth and lead them to faith and obedience.

We’ve got Easter work to do

For me, the celebration of Easter was (and remains) awesome. I don’t mean to be Debby Downer, but I’m still thinking about the Good Friday Liturgy. I was struck by a few prayers in that service, included above. In fact, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them, as I consider the state of our church, as I think about how people come to faith, or not. In my heart, I think Easter has something to say about those prayers. They provide some Easter work to do. Let’s look at those petitions one by one:

We pray for those who have never heard the word of salvation: I remember going to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. I sat behind a family, two young teenage children with parents explaining, “That’s Jesus. That’s Judas. That’s Mary.” The kids apparently had no idea about the story. I taught a confirmation class to a bunch of teenagers and on the first day, to gauge level, asked them to name the two parts of the Bible. Crickets. Too often I hear people associate faith with rules, with judgment. How might people associate faith with grace, with inclusion? We have Easter work, teaching in a culture that is increasingly unfamiliar with the old, old story of Jesus and his love.

We pray for those who have lost their faith: A report came out last week that said that the fastest growing group in terms of religious affiliation in our nation are those people with no religious affiliation (atheists, agnostics, those self-describing as spiritual not religious). The percentage of population in this category now equals number of Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, all three groups at 23%. Mainline protestant affiliation continues to plummet, now at 11%. Many of the non-affiliated folks were raised in Catholic churches, in evangelical churches, in mainline congregations. I call them the spiritually wounded. Religious refugees. Often, I totally see why they left. We have Easter work, healing work to do.

We pray for those hardened by sin and indifference: In our research into the spiritual vitality of Episcopal churches (sometimes called the frozen chosen), about a quarter of Episcopal congregations can be described as complacent. One such church, with a wink and a nod, said they were changing their tagline. They would now be called, “St. Swithin’s: Spiritually shallow and fine with that.” We have Easter work to do, work of engagement of the heart.

We pray for the contemptuous and the scornful: I think of how social media has affected our discourse about everything, including religion and politics. People who communicate this way (including yours truly) often write things online with contempt and scorn, things they would never say in person. We have Easter work to do, in how we speak the truth in love to each other, while respecting the dignity of every human being, a thing we pledge to do in baptism.

We pray for those who are enemies of the cross of Christ and persecutors of his disciples: So we pray this morning for all Christians suffering for the sake of the gospel, especially for all those who on Easter Day 2019 lost their lives or lost their loved ones in Sri Lanka, as we have prayed for those shot at a bible study in a Charleston church, or the young girl who lost her life in Charlottesville standing against hatred, or those churches which were recent targets of arson. We have Easter work to do, supporting those who face persecution.

For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others: The brilliant preacher, author, priest Barbara Brown Taylor was recently interviewed by CNN. She talked about how some Christians depict her as an outcast pastor. She calls them the true believers. “True believers are among the meanest people I’ve ever met.” In my own experience, some of the folks who give the most lip service to grace are the most judgmental people I’ve ever met. We have Easter work to do, letting compassion be our highest value.

The Good Friday prayers conclude with this request:
That God will open their hearts to the truth, and lead them to faith and obedience:  God opening hearts. That is Easter work, God’s work. As the stone was rolled away, the grave opened, so the message of resurrection says that hearts can be changed. We get to participate in that work, which begins with asking how our own hearts need to change before we go to work on anybody else’s.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (April 15, 2019)

3-1

A prayer for Monday in Holy Week (a.k.a., today)

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Philippians 2:5-11 (read in many churches yesterday)

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself  and became obedient to the point of death–  even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name  that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Which way?

The first Christians were not called Christians. They were called people of the way. I wonder if we might not be better off if that name had stuck. No prospect of the frozen chosen with a name like that.

What do I like about the name? It presumes movement, growth and transformation. We hear about it as our Presiding Bishop talks about our church as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. We’re part of a movement, folks. We don’t stay put. Pope Francis preached a sermon in which he said that there was no such thing as a stationary Christian, that a Christian is meant to walk or move. That movement is actually part of our healthy identity. We see it in our liturgy as the gospel, the story of Jesus is moved to the center of the people, and as we are moved to come forward to say yes to the bread and wine.

Jesus himself said: “I am the way.”

So which way do we go? That is in many ways the question of Holy Week. The prayer crafted for the Monday in Holy Week (see above), asks that we may find that the way of the cross is the way of life and peace. Paradox alert. Think with me as we begin this Holy Week about what the way of the cross looks like, and how it could possibly also be the way of life and peace.

The way of the cross includes the journey that went from that raucous Palm Sunday procession, with Jesus’ high approval ratings helping him make his way through Jerusalem streets. As we read yesterday, that festive parade soon becomes a crowd pressing for prosecution and execution. On Maundy Thursday, Jesus makes his way from the head of the table to kneel at the feet of disciples. Jesus washes those feet. A big move. Jesus makes his way to the garden where he prays for deliverance from what is to come. In a lesson for me about my prayers, Jesus finds that his prayer is not answered in the way he might have wanted. He makes his way to the hard wood of the cross, where he hangs between heaven and earth, stretching out arms of love to draw us all into his saving embrace. Do you see how the whole week involves movement, from life to death to life?

So what do we make of the way of the cross? How do we walk in that way? Is it a way of humility? Is it a way of service? Is it a way that moves toward confrontation with religious and political power of the day? Is it a way that knows grief and loss, that does not hide from the pain of the world? Is it a way of compassion and sacrifice? Is it a way that extends forgiveness, even and especially to those who don’t deserve it or even ask for it? Is it a way of life and peace?

However you observe Holy Week (and I urge you to dive into as many liturgies as you can. It’ll just deepen the joy of Easter), think about the way of the cross as a way of life. You do have other choices, the gospels tell us. You can choose the way of Pilate, entitled indifference. You can choose the way of Peter, bluster giving way to cowardly denial. You can choose the way of Judas, grasping at your own agenda. You can choose the way of most of the disciples, and just check out, hopping on the first Greyhound out of Jerusalem.

Or we can ask: What does the way of the cross mean for us in this Holy Week? What does that mean in the weeks that follow? May God’s grace allow us to see it as a way of life and peace. 

Apparently our world stands in need of that kind of way. 

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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