Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday Matters (February 24, 2020)

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Psalm 51

1     Have mercy on me, O God, according to your
loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

  2     Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.

  2     For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.

  4     Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.

  5     And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment

  6     Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

  7     For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

  8     Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

  9     Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10     Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.

11     Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.

12     Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13     Give me the joy of your saving help again *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

Lent: A matter of the heart

Copyright © 2020 Church Pension Group Services Corporation

Lent is upon us. How did that happen? Okay, I may be a church geek, but I spent time over the past few days looking at the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, getting ready for the 40 days. Have a look (p. 264 in the Book of Common Prayer). There’s a lot in there to serve as guide for the upcoming season, and for all of life.

There’s an opening invitation to Lent which helps us think about what we might think about for the next 40 days: self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, scripture engagement. There are scriptures that describe the kind of religious observance God seems to find interesting. (Hint: It has a lot to do with helping those in need.) And there’s the challenge put forth by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He said: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Lent asks us to think about what we treasure, where we give our heart, mindful of the desert father who said: Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.

No doubt, there’s a complexity to the season. It’s a lot more than simply an effort to be more miserable than thou. It does indeed call us to repentance, to acknowledge ways we’ve messed up. We are all familiar with these. At the same time, the season celebrates new life. The word Lent I’m told has some kind of connection to an ancient word for Spring. It’s a season for spiritual growth. It’s a season not only of challenge but formation. So in the course of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, after ashes have been administered, the congregation turns to Psalm 51, a psalm which captures the many dimensions of the season of Lent. (see above) Here’s what struck me about that psalm over the past few days.

It has everything to do with the heart. The psalmist recognizes the way he has messed up. Tradition has it that the psalm reflects the regret of David in the wake of his murderous, adulterous, duplicitous interactions. Some hero of the faith! The psalmist understands that God knows all about that. On some level, the psalmist believes that God’s grace is sufficient to rise above all that.

The psalmist asks:  Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me. It’s a reminder, as springtime approaches, of one of the reasons for the season: new life. Wherever we’ve been, whatever we’ve done, whatever secrets we harbor, whatever shame we harbor, needless pain we bear, peace we often forfeit can be brought to this season. It’s a chance for a new start.

The biblical record indicates that it’s never too late to begin again. Abraham and Sarah, who practiced their own deceptions, didn’t start a family until they were in their 90’s. Jacob, chief biblical creep who swindled his brother and tricked his blind father, became father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Moses became a leader after 40 years in exile, prompted by his own murder of an Egyptian. And then there’s David, who despite the mess he’d made, was regarded as the greatest king of Israel.

As Lent begins, do a spiritual check-up on your heart. How is it doing? Where are you giving your heart? Do you need to begin again? That’s God’s work, thank God. And because it’s God’s work, that new heart is always a possibility. Always. Let that new heart, that new start be your prayer for this holy season. And take to heart the final words of the psalm, that at the end of it all, there is the promise of joy, the product of God’s bountiful spirit.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

RenewalWorks for Me is a wonderful resource for a spiritual check-up and guided practices to deepen your faith. Try it as your Lenten practice!

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (February 17, 2020)

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Some wisdom from Abraham Lincoln:

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

My concern is not whether God is on our side, my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.

There are no bad pictures, that just how your face looks sometimes.

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.

I can see how it might be possible for a man to look down upon the earth and be an atheist, but I cannot conceive how a man could look up into the heavens and say there is no God.

No man is poor who has a Godly mother.

I laugh because I must not cry, that is all, that is all.

What would Abraham Lincoln tweet?

We lived in Washington, DC, for a few years when our children were young. During that time, I discovered the Lincoln Memorial, which I came to regard as a thin place (i.e., distance between heaven and earth is thin), a holy place. I wanted to share it with my kids, so I took my young son there. We had to park far away. I had to carry him part of the way. Lots of steps. When we got to the top of the stairs, let’s just say he was not particularly impressed.

He was not quite old enough to take in what moved me so deeply. Not only the history of those steps. In the walls of the memorial are etched the words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a succinct speech offered in the middle of the war between the states. The speech reveals a person of faith, a person who knew his Bible, a humble leader, a man of prayer trying to figure out what faith meant in a time of division, when religion was used to justify diametrically opposed points of view. Sound familiar?

On this President’s Day, I invite you to spend a few minutes with this remarkable address. Google the whole thing. And since I have the microphone, let me share a few choice passages:

Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other…The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.”

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nation.

I wonder what Abraham Lincoln would have to say today? This Monday, imagine our world, our nation, our election process, our workplaces, our homes, our schools, our churches, our hearts as places bearing malice toward none and charity for all. Imagine public discourse that reflects this spirit. We can dream, can’t we? After all, others have dreamed on those Lincoln Memorial steps.

We may feel we have no impact on divisions brought by politicians or pundits or preachers. At times, all I feel we can do is offer the Serenity Prayer, and change what we can for a more perfect union, reflecting our better angels. And we can begin with our own hearts, and with those who cross our paths, and with those we are called to serve. We can ask for the grace to interact with malice toward none and charity for all, so that brokenness can be healed. That would be a great way to observe this holiday.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Resolving to deepen your spiritual life in 2020?

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

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Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bids me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt,
Fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – poor, wretched, blind;
Sight, riches, healing of the mind,
Yea, all I need in Thee to find, O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thou wilt receive,
Wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because Thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – Thy love unknown
Has broken every barrier down;
Now to be Thine, yea, Thine alone,
O Lamb of God, I come!

Just as I am – of that free love
The breadth, length, depth and height to prove,
Here for a season, then above, O Lamb of God, I come!

What does God want from us, part II?

I want to continue to consider the question posed last week: What does God ask of us?

In recent days, our Prayer Book has led us in daily readings to the book of Genesis and the story of Abraham. He’s one of my favorites, flawed in profound ways, yet compelling because scripture tells us that he heard God’s call and left his comfort zone, not knowing where he was going. Have you ever had that experience?

Among the many stories about Abraham, last week we read the chilling account of God’s request for Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. We read that story on Good Friday each year. I’m not sure what to make of it. Best spin I can put on it is that it was God’s dramatic way of saying that child sacrifice was not to be practiced anymore. I’ll let more learned folks figure out its meaning.

But last week, as I read that story in Genesis 22, with all its complications, I was struck with the repetition of the phrase: Here I am. The story begins as God calls to Abraham. Abraham says: Here I am. Later on, Isaac, Abraham’s son, addresses his father, asking how this will all work out. Abraham responds: Here I am. At the pivotal moment, God intervenes to stop the sacrifice. Hearing God’s voice, Abraham answers: Here I am.

It’s not the only time in the Bible that the phrase comes up. Samuel gets repeated calls from God, not sure whose voice he’s really hearing. In response, Samuel says: Speak Lord, your servant is listening, a variation on the phrase: Here I am. Isaiah, the prophet is called by God, and says: Here I am, a person of unclean lips. Mary receives perhaps the most significant call in all of scripture. As Gabriel announces the advent of the Christ child, Mary says: Here am I. The servant of the Lord.

So what’s behind that persistent phrase? What does God ask of us? Perhaps all that God wants is for us to say I’m here.

Here I am. It says take me as I am. What you see is what you get. It’s like the old Baptist hymn: Just as I am. Implicit in those three words? The profound theological claim that we don’t have to prove ourselves or earn God’s love or reach a certain level of religiosity or holiness for God to love us and put us to work. Said another way, God meets us where we are.

Here I am. It says I am living in the moment. Have I mentioned that my wife has me doing yoga? The idea of stepping on the mat has come to mean a lot to this person who can obsess about mistakes of the past (mine and others) and can battle anxiety about the future. Recent encounters with mortality make me aware that life is indeed short and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. It’s a call to live in the moment.

Here I am. It says I am open to what God is calling me to do. I may, like Abraham, not know what that entails or where it’s headed. I may, like Mary, have no idea how any of this can work. I may, like Isaiah, feel ill equipped. But on some level, it’s about saying yes to God, regardless of where we’ve been or what we’ve done or how adequate we feel.

There’s a lot in those three words.

Which brings me to Moses. He’d been out in the desert for 40 years, watching sheep, a demotion from life as prince of Egypt. Minding his own business, Moses turned aside to check out a bush that seemed to be burning but was not consumed.  Weird. Hold on. It gets weirder. God speaks out of that bush. On hearing the voice, Moses says: Here I am. God tells Moses about the job before him: Go face down Pharaoh. Moses then says: Who am I? Who am I to do this job? God’s answer: I will be with you.

As you find a way to say: Here I am, to the Holy One, maybe today or this week, or some time in days ahead, take comfort from the promise that wherever that response leads, you won’t go it alone.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Resolving to deepen your spiritual life in 2020?

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (February 3, 2020)

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If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and pay your vows to the Most High.

-Psalm 50:12-14

I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people,

-Psalm 116:17-18

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind.
And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy.

-Psalm 107:21, 22

We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection and ascension, we offer you these gifts.

-from Eucharistic Prayer A in the Book of Common Prayer

What does God want from us?

That question gets asked in a variety of ways in the Bible, and in life. What does the Lord require of you? (Micah 6:8) What must I do to inherit eternal life? (Matthew 19:16) What must I do to be saved? (Acts 16:30)  One friend offered this variation of the question with a bumper sticker on his bulletin board: How much sinning can I do and still go to heaven? One way or another, we all may wonder what’s expected of us.

There are several places in the psalms where it seems that what God wants from us is referred to as a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Check out a few examples included above. I ran across that phrase last week. I’ve been puzzling about those two words put together.

I get the thanksgiving piece. It’s a growth opportunity for me, to deepen in gratitude. I try to be intentional about it, whether it’s giving thanks for 5 things a day or 100. I know that such a frame of mind is a good way to live. I’m working on living into that knowledge. Blessings surround us. When we recognize them as gifts, we are led in healthy pathways.

But in what sense is thanksgiving a sacrifice? What comes to mind when you think of sacrifice? Is it about offering? Is it about suffering or deprivation? Is it putting your agenda on back burner? Is it putting something to death? It can easily shift into teeth-gritting Christianity, that un-attractive way of being that says: “Look, O Lord, at all that I have done for you! Look at how much better I am than the rest of the losers around me! How lucky you are to have me on the team!”

When I think of thanksgiving as sacrifice, I wonder if it’s a matter of surrendering the notion that it’s all up to us. Maybe the sacrifice is a recognition that we are who we are because of grace, lest anyone should boast. Maybe the sacrifice of thanksgiving is giving God praise (a.k.a., credit), letting go of the illusion that we merit the goodness we’ve received, by virtue of our virtue, as if it’s a reflection on our particular magnificence. (Such an attitude is not only unattractive. It also separates us from each other.) My wife and spiritual advisor reminds me that ego is really an acronym: edging God out. When we sacrifice the notion that God owes us something, as tempting as that may be, when we simply give thanks, maybe that’s what God wants from us.

Here’s another way to think about. (In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I haven’t figured this out.) Maybe it’s biblical irony, noting that thanksgiving is anything but sacrifice. That’s just another way of saying that all is grace. Maybe a framework that looks at all of life with thankful heart puts to death the idea of sacrifice. God has no interest in our efforts to be more miserable than thou. Jesus came to break that news to us.  God is about bringing things to life, not putting things to death.

One of the places that the language of sacrifice of thanksgiving emerges is in the eucharist, in the prayer we say over bread and wine. When we come to worship, when we come to remember what God has done for us, that is the offering God desires. That memory portion of the eucharistic prayer has a technical, Greek name: anamnesis. Not amnesia. Not forgetting. Maybe all God wants from us is to not forget that we have been blessed and are being blessed and will ultimately be blessed forever and that there will be enough blessings to share them with others.

If we can live with that sense of blessing, offering that sacrifice of thanksgiving, we are free to experience all that God has intended for us from the time of creation when God looked at the creation of humankind and said: This is all very good.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Resolving to deepen your spiritual life in 2020?

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (January 27, 2020)

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A prayer from the third chapter of Ephesians 

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

Galatians 5:22-23: The fruits of the Spirit

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things

Rooted and Restless

The conference I attended in Atlanta last week was awesome. It made me (and others) think about what it means to be rooted, specifically rooted in Jesus. I was reminded of my arrival at my church in Chicago in 2004, greeted with the description of that parish as rooted and restless. I liked that. When I heard the description, I assumed that the rooted and restless was a 50/50 split. Not exactly the case. I found the church to be way more rooted than restless, which I mention because the same is true of many congregations, true of many people.

Since that time, I’ve come to realize that there are many ways to be rooted. Some are great. Others, not so much. Rooted in tradition. Rooted in dogma. Rooted in conflict. Rooted in correctness. Rooted in ideology or political point of view. Rooted in the ways things have always been done. Rooted in the culture of the community. Rooted in financial security. Sometimes, such rootedness might make us wish for uprootedness.

Thanks be to God, the Atlanta conference charted another way. It spoke of being rooted in Jesus. Think with me this morning about what that means.

In a workshop I led, I confessed that my latest favorite book of the Bible is the letter to the Ephesians. It paints a vision of church as miracle, God’s work of grace, as opportunity for the love of God to shine in the world. Is that your impression of your local church? If not, we can dream, can’t we?

In the third chapter of Ephesians, there’s a beautiful prayer for the church. I’ve printed that prayer in the column on the left. I am particularly interested in the way it speaks of the hope that the community can be rooted and grounded in love. That is the way that the community will grow, and live into its God-given restlessness. What might it mean to be so rooted and grounded in love? It has everything to do with Jesus.

It means first that all we are, all we do, all the fruit we bear, all the shade we offer wearied travelers, all the hospitality we offer to the birds of the air, finds grace at the base. Mr. Shyness, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry tells us that if it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God. We find our foundation in the love of God from which we can never be separated, love that knows no limit, love that meets us where we are, love that reaches out with intention to those most hurt by life, love with the power to transform, love that frees us from having to prove ourselves (Hallelujah!). We’ve got that love. Nothing can take it away. So I’m wondering: How can I put my roots down deeper into that well of love? How might you do that today?

It also means that as we know that love, we are called to show that love. It’s the kind of tree we are. Jim Forbes told us in seminary that we need to focus on the fruits as well as the roots, to see what fruits of the spirit emerge from rootedness in love. (See verse about fruits of the Spirit in the column on the left.) Those fruits emerge naturally, effortlessly out of the strength drawn from roots, out of our identity as beloved children of God.

All of which makes me ask a question I often ask parishioners: What is nourishing you these days? What sources of strength can you draw on, can you rely on in your life? Where are you rooted? Various kinds of rootedness can sustain for a while, but I don’t know that they go the distance. For me, the hope for my own spiritual journey, and the hope for our communities of faith, is to be rooted in Jesus, by which we mean rooted in grace and compassion and forgiveness, following his teaching of loving kindness, recognizing how those gifts have come to us and sharing them wherever we can.

-Jay Sidebotham

The Gospel Of John | Epiphany 2020

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Resolving to deepen your spiritual life in 2020?

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (January 20, 2020)

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Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

-Martin Luther King

Luke 6:27-36 
(a reading chosen for the feast day celebrating Dr. King, April 4.)

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.

If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

A collect for the Feast Day, remembering Dr. King

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Dr. King

Later this morning, I’ll be making my way to Atlanta for the “Rooted in Jesus” Conference. At least 1,000 folks will convene to think about what it means to follow Jesus in our world today. Good stuff. Say a prayer for this gathering.

It feels significant to be driving to Atlanta on the holiday, the holy day dedicated to the remembrance of Martin Luther King. I’ve been to his memorials in Washington and Memphis, but not to places of remembrance in Atlanta. Here I go. And as I go, I give thanks for Dr. King’s life and ministry and witness, so very rooted in Jesus.

I do a lot of traveling around the country these days. I’ve noticed that many, if not most, if not all, cities of any size now have Martin Luther King Boulevards. Even those cities where he was most unwelcome in his lifetime. I wonder what he would now think of all those streets named after him.

And if he were given the opportunity to see those street signs, I wonder how much he’d think things had changed. I wonder because I’m aware how racist thoughts pop up in my inner thoughts. I’m politically correct enough/ashamed enough not to share them, but they are there. I’m aware of how people I love and admire do and say racist things. I’m aware of how our churches participate in racism, institutional and otherwise. Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in American culture. I fear for our country, increasingly divided along racial lines, with leaders adding fuel to that fire.

I am old enough to remember how Dr. King was received in his lifetime. One of my earliest (and most pivotal) memories of church life was a youth magazine I received in Sunday School when I was about 12 or 13. One of the articles was written by J. Edgar Hoover. He attacked Martin Luther King, linking him to communism. I was a kid. I didn’t know much. But I knew that I’d find a better teacher in Dr. King than in Mr. Hoover. I knew on some level, at that early stage, that I would need to find another community, another place to express my discipleship, another place to bring my baptism.

Thanks be to God, I’ve found it in a community now led by our Presiding Bishop. Not that the Episcopal Church has figured it all out. Not that we always do what we are called to do. But we are led by a guy who repeatedly emerges from his shy, introverted self to call us to the way of love. Michael Curry reminds us that if it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God. Martin Luther King sang the same song. He called us to non-violence (a.k.a., ahimsa), to pray for enemies, to stand for justice, to walk the way of love. He reminded us that greatness is not to be found in academic or economic or intellectual accomplishment. Greatness will be found in service, in a heart full of love. Like the rest of us, he was not perfect. But he was rooted in Jesus. His work grew out of that rootedness.

So perhaps to celebrate this holiday, I can find a way to step into that greatness, a way to be of service, a way to tear down walls instead of build them, rooted in Jesus who told his followers (you and me) that the best response to enemies is the way of love.

-Jay Sidebotham

The Gospel Of John | Epiphany 2020

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Resolving to deepen your spiritual life in 2020?

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (January 13, 2020)

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Matthew 3:13-17

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 

 All I want to say to you is, “You are the beloved, and all that I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – “You are the beloved.”

If it is true that we not only are the Beloved, but also have to become the Beloved; if it is true that we not only are children of God, but also have to become children of God; if it is true that we not only are brothers and sisters, but also have to become brothers and sisters…if all that is true, how then can we get a grip on this process of becoming? If the spiritual life is not simply a way of being, but also a way of becoming, what then is the nature of this becoming?

-from “The Life of the Beloved” by Henri Nouwen

Beloved

A key learning from RenewalWorks has to do with reading the Bible. We’ve learned that as folks engage with scripture, as they make it part of their lives, then spiritual vitality deepens. As congregations embed scripture in all that they do, spiritual vitality increases. When I say such a thing, many folks assume we are pitching fundamentalism, something that feels foreign to the Episcopal world. Not so.

Shout out to a friend and teacher, the Rev. Gary Jones. He writes guides to help with reflection on the gospel passage read on Sundays. These reflections include insightful background info on the given passage, followed by a series of thoughtful questions. These guides are used by small groups in his church (St. Stephen’s, Richmond, VA.) but with their availability online, they reach way beyond his parish bounds. They might just be a helpful resource for you in your own spiritual journey. Preachers, they might just help in preparing sermons for Sunday. Check them out.

I found his reflections for yesterday’s readings to be particularly helpful. In case you missed it, yesterday in church we read the story of Jesus’s baptism, a story appearing in each of the gospels, a tip-off that the story merits our attention. We read that story, in one version or another, every year on this Sunday. I’m not alone in wondering exactly why Jesus was baptized, a question commentators have struggled with for quite a while. In his invitation to reflect on this story, Gary quotes Will Willimon, teacher and preacher, who had this to say about baptism:

In baptism, the church is not saying that someone is not a child of God until he or she is baptized… The coronation of Queen Elizabeth did not “make” Elizabeth a queen. A coronation can only make someone a queen if that person is already royalty. The nation said publicly at the coronation, “This woman is royalty; put a crown on her head.” At baptism the church says publicly, “This person is royalty; baptize her.”

I’m wondering what your take might be on Willimon’s take on baptism. I’m wondering how you think of baptism as related to coronation, regardless of what Harry or Meghan are up to, or how the royal summit proceeds later today. (Maybe we should all say a prayer for that meeting, but I digress.) Willimon’s vision was, for me, quite interesting. It certainly does not cover all the traditions, symbols, images, interpretation of baptism that have evolved over centuries. But it does set Jesus’s baptism in the context of grace, always a good place to land.

The story of Jesus’s baptism, told in each of the four gospels, always includes a voice from heaven that speaks of Jesus’s belovedness. That belovedness, that grace preceded Jesus’s visit to John the Baptist at the muddy River Jordan. That belovedness was a statement of Jesus’s timeless royalty. And as Henri Nouwen points out in his really awesome book, Life of the Beloved, that heavenly voice affirming belovedness comes not only to Jesus. It comes to us.

So this Monday morning, as you launch out on whatever your week will bring, think about the ways your life can be shaped by a heavenly voice saying that you are beloved. As you listen for that voice, allow it to animate your week. Relax in it. Enjoy it. Savor it. Give thanks for it, and then share that sense of belovedness with all the children of God you meet.

We live in a world where way too many people walk around feeling like they are not enough. Too many people cannot buy the fact that they are beloved. The gospel says that we are each and all royalty, because we are each and all embraced by God. Scripture tells us that, in a variety of ways. Dare we believe it? And if we believe it, how does it change that way we face this Monday?

-Jay Sidebotham

Another great way to engage in scripture….

The Gospel Of John | Epiphany 2020

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Resolving to deepen your spiritual life in 2020?

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (January 6, 2020)

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Sing to the Lord a new song.

-Psalm 96:1

Behold, I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

-Isaiah 43:19

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. Everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new.

-II Corinthians 5:17

 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going.

-Hebrews 11:8

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

-Revelation 21:5

 Change is good. You go first.

-Dilbert

They left for their own country by another road.

Or as King James puts it, the magi went home by another way. And isn’t that just what life is like?

On this Monday, which also happens also to be the Feast of the Epiphany, we read the story of the magi who came from the east in search of the Christ child. Once they had encountered him, they returned to their homes, though apparently not by the route they had originally intended. Their story brings us to the conclusion of the season of Christmas, 12 days preceded by the season of Advent, seasons filled with stories of people of faith whose spiritual journeys involved course correction, or recalculating to use the language of GPS.

Zechariah and Elizabeth, seriously senior citizens, all of a sudden had to find room in their house for a nursery. Is there a senior’s discount for Lamaze classes? Mary got the unexpected news that she was expecting. Joseph has numerous encounters with angels that make him the guy who exemplifies the saying: Life is what happens instead of what we plan. Shepherds and innkeeper and even Herod find holy interruption in their plans, courtesy of Christmas story. And then these magi, traveling from afar, following yonder star, find that after they meet Jesus, it was time to find another way home.

Epiphany coincides with the beginning of a new year, replete with opportunity for resolutions, intentions about how things might be different, how things might be made new. Maybe you’ve already made and broken new year’s resolutions.

The question is: are we open to the new thing that God has for us in this season, in this coming year? Asked another way, are we ready for that epiphany indicating that our journey home will cause us to travel some other way, maybe some uncharted way?

Maybe it’s a decision to make a radical change, taking a leap of faith, taking a big old risk, leaving something secure for something uncertain. The Bible is filled with stories like that. Sometimes that leap is the only way to live into God’s intention.

Maybe it’s a matter of bringing new attitude to the current situation without making any external changes, geographic or otherwise. Maybe it’s a change of heart.

Maybe it’s a set of circumstances beyond our control that give us little choice but to chart a new path.

One way or another, the feast which we observe today tells us that the encounter with Christ changes us. The news that God breaks into our world in ways we might not expect, tends to shake things up. One way or another, it’s just not same old/same old. The news that we are loved without condition frees us for new possibilities. The news that we are not alone, that God is with us (a.k.a., Immanuel), grants us courage to do and be something new, to chart a new path.

Open your heart this year to the new thing God has in store for you, the new way set out before you. In the spirit of New Year’s resolutions, perhaps make it a daily practice to ask God to show you that way, and to strengthen you for it.

Grace has brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home, perhaps by another way. 

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Resolving to deepen your spiritual life in 2020?

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org


Monday Matters (December 30, 2019)

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Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

-John 1:17

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as, the curse is found.

-Stanza 3, Joy to the World

Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long; beneath the heavenly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong; and warring humankind hears not the tiding which they bring; O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing!

-Stanza 3, It came upon a midnight clear

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan, earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone, snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain; heaven and earth shall flee away, when he comes to reign, in the bleak midwinter a stableplace sufficed the Lord God incarnate, Jesus Christ.

-Stanzas 1 and 2, In the bleak midwinter

Holy Innocents

My first year as a rector was shaped by time spent with an 8 year old. When I met him, he was in the late stages of a battle with a brain tumor. I saw him almost daily for several months until he died on Christmas Eve. His funeral was held on December 28, the Feast of the Holy Innocents, the day when we remember the cruelty of a political system that left mothers grieving over toddlers murdered by King Herod’s forces. Hardly the jolly material we’ve come to associate with Christmas. We observed this feast two days ago, on Saturday. It caused me to remember my young friend, a companion in the journey of faith, in many ways my teacher.

The fact is, I never fail to notice in the Christmas season that while there may be an abundance of desserts, our faith does not sugarcoat the truth about our lives.

On December 21, we observe the Feast of St. Thomas. In the days after Jesus was tortured and killed, we meet dispirited disciples locked behind closed doors for fear of political retribution. In that locked room, Thomas shares doubts born of grief.

On the day after Christmas, we observe the Feast of St. Stephen, the guy who triggered all that singing about good King Wenceslaus. A closer look reminds us that Stephen was the first martyr of the church, victim of brutal execution, responding in a Christ-like fashion, asking forgiveness for those who were killing him.

And then we tell a story about young boys being killed by King Herod.

All of this is to say that the story of Christmas is full not only of grace, but also full of truth. It conveys the truth of the incarnation, the power of Immanuel, which means God with us in the suffering that is part of the deal. That presence is the very definition of compassion. As I’ve mentioned before, one of my mentors repeatedly told his congregants that suffering was the promise life always keeps. A profoundly Christian tenet, but one that is key to Buddhist thinking as well. I’m imagining that Monday Matters readers each know something about that.

I remember the memorial service I did for that eight year old, fumbling for words, recalling that there was no way to make sense of it. I’ve been taught that in the face of such suffering, there may be no words. We are called to withstand when we can’t understand. We are called to proclaim when we can’t explain. And what we proclaim is the good news that in the end, love will win.

In the meantime, we may have no earthly idea how that will be true. We live in that meantime, and so we pray for the holy innocents in our midst, victims of war and terrorism and gun violence, children hiding under desks in schools, refugee children on our borders, detained in cages and separated from loved ones, those who contend each day with poverty and hunger, some in our neighborhoods, in our local schools. I have no words to explain how all this can be. Holy innocents surround us.

There are times we can explain suffering. It sometimes comes as consequence of what we do. It sometimes results from greed or envy or fear or indifference. But there is a whole stream of suffering which seems random and beyond explanation. That’s where Jesus can be our teacher, as we survey the wondrous cross on which the prince of glory died, sorrow and love flow mingled down.

And somehow we still sing “Joy to the World.” (I’ve actually had a few requests for that hymn at funerals.) I go back to the Book of Joy, the chronicle of conversations between the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. The book records the joyful character of their relationship. Laughter looms large. Yet both knew deep suffering at the hands of cruel political systems. They were never in denial about the principalities and powers they battled. Yet in it all, they exude joy. Maybe they know the wisdom of a saying attributed to all kinds of folks: “In the end, all will be well. If all is not well, it’s not the end.”

I recognize this is not the cheeriest holiday message. But I hope that it can be one marked by grace and truth, one marked by joy, as we recognize that Jesus knows what we go through and meets us with compassion.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Resolving to deepen your spiritual life in 2020?

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org

Monday Matters (December 23, 2019)

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When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.

    – The poem “The Work of Christmas” is from Howard Thurman’s
The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations

The so-what factor

A teacher told me years ago that there are a bunch of questions to ask when we study scripture. They include: Who (wrote it)? To whom (was it addressed)? When (was it written)? Why (did anyone bother to write it)? What (does it say)?

All good questions, for sure. But this teacher said the most important question was this: So what? What difference does this text mean? How might it change us? We can ask that question about scripture. We can ask that question about our liturgies. And this week, we can ask it about Christmas. What is this season for? How does it change us? What difference does it make?

I know we’re in the last hours of Advent. I will undoubtedly be accused by the Advent police (a terrifying force) of getting to Christmas too soon. But a few texts have been kicking around in my head of late, all describing the so-what factor of Christmas.

There’s the final stanza from the beautiful hymn “In the bleak mid-winter,” text written by Christina Rossetti.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart. 

It says that Christmas is about what we offer, in worship with our lips and with our lives. So we will gather, singing “Come let us adore him.” And we will be asked to think about where we give our heart, and how that open heart reaches out to the others. Join me in considering those questions this week.

Laurence Housman wrote a beautiful text for a hymn, though not specifically a Christmas Carol. It spoke of how the babe in the manger calls us to think about the world in which we live. Google his story. He was an illustrator who lost his eyesight so turned to writing and social activism, working for peace in a time of war. I’m haunted all year long by the challenge he poses in this last stanza of the hymn. He asks us to think about what we love, where we give our heart. Reflect on this stanza:

How shall we love Thee, holy, hidden Being,
If we love not the world which Thou hast made?
O give us [brother] love for better seeing
Thy word made flesh, and in a manger laid:
Thy kingdom come, O Lord, Thy will be done.

Then of course, there’s the reflection offered by theologian, mystic, activist and prophet, Howard Thurman who wrote about the work of Christmas (included above). It describes our call to live out the implications of Jesus’ precious arrival in our midst. It may be the best articulation of the Christmas so-what factor that I’ve ever seen.

By my accounts, we’ve got a bit more than 24 hours left in the season of Advent, a season of contemplation. As you contemplate this week, when you will sing of joy to the world, as you look for a present for Jesus on his birthday, consider the season’s so-what factor. Consider the ways you can be of service this holiday. As God so loved the world in sending us Jesus, pass that love on to family, especially those who push our buttons, to Christmas dinner partners, especially those who watch different cable channels, to neighbors, especially those who might be alone, to those nearby and far away who have been pushed to the margins, and there are simply too many of those folks.

My hunch is that a commitment to be of service will be a great offering for the Christ child. I believe it will make your Christmas merry.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Introducing:

RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at renewalworks.org