Category Archives: Uncategorized

Monday Matters (February 19, 2024)

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Psalm 25:1-9

1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; my God, I put my trust in you;
let me not be humiliated, nor let my enemies triumph over me.
2 Let none who look to you be put to shame;
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.
3 Show me your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths.
4 Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.
5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.
6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.
7 Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.
8 He guides the humble in doing right and teaches his way to the lowly.
9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Remember me?

How often do you think about how you will be remembered?

A friend tells me about a fellow who leads his bible study. He begins with this prayer: “Good morning, God. This is Bob. Remember me?” It’s a far cry from Cranmer, and not the way I choose to approach the throne of the almighty creator of the universe. But Bob is on to something, the same thing that the author of the psalm read in church yesterday explores (see above).

The psalmist asks about what God will remember. When I run across this psalm, I’m struck by that concept that God in divine freedom has options about how we are remembered.

If, as we affirm in our tradition, God knows the secrets of our hearts, maybe knows us better than we know ourselves, it matters a great deal what God remembers about us. It’s unnerving for me to think that God has that kind of window into my soul with all its dark and unattractive corners.

We also affirm in our tradition that God regards us, warts and all, with grace and mercy, one of the great themes of the Lenten season. The psalmist appeals to that tradition, asking God to continue to regard us with compassion and love. The psalmist asks God not to focus on the goofy (or worse) things we did in our youth (or in our advanced age), but rather to regard us through the lens of unconditional love.

What difference does that make in our life?

It means we begin with belovedness. Our foundation is God’s mercy, a gift not to be taken for granted. For that, we offer thanks, with an attitude of gratitude that animates our worship. On the basis of that grace, our lives are meant to unfold in keeping with God’s covenant (Psalm 25:9).

It means that we are called to regard our neighbors and ourselves in a new, graceful light. Let’s start with ourselves. If God practices holy amnesia (a.k.a., mercy and forgiveness) towards things we’ve done wrong in the past, we can let those things go as well, hopefully learning from them, hopefully steering away from them in the future. It’s a matter for forgiving ourselves, sometimes hard to do. In fact, we sometimes shape our identity around the recollection of things we’ve done wrong.

Then as part of our expression of gratitude to God, we are called to holy remembering and holy forgetting towards those around us. We have the choice to spend our lives remembering bad things others have done to us, polishing resentments like trophies kept in a place of prominence and high visibility. Or we can regard each other with compassion and kindness, forgiving as we have been forgiven.

This week in Lent, enjoy your forgiveness (a tagline created for a local church, written by a friend who was a successful ad guy). As a Lenten discipline, think about how you might regard others with kindness, compassion, mercy, love and forgiveness. Consider what holy remembering means for you, as you look in the spiritual rear-view mirror to see how God has acted in your life.

But also consider holy forgetting, letting go of resentment, forgiving yourself and others, knowing that, as the psalmist says, God is full of compassion and mercy. As far as the east is from the west, so has God removed our sins from us (Psalm 103:8,12).

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (January 22, 2024)

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Psalm 62:6-14

For God alone my soul in silence waits; truly, my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken.
In God is my safety and my honor; God is my strong rock and my refuge.
Put your trust in him always, O people, pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
Those of high degree are but a fleeting breath, even those of low estate cannot be trusted.
On the scales they are lighter than a breath, all of them together.
Put no trust in extortion; in robbery take no empty pride; though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
God has spoken once, twice have I heard it, that power belongs to God.
Steadfast love is yours, O Lord, for you repay everyone according to his deeds.

This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church on the day before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

Trust

My parents divorced when I was a teenager. My mother then took on a role she neither wanted nor expected. She became a single parent of four siblings, which required some courage. Each member of our family navigated the changes as best we knew how. In retrospect, there are probably lots of things each one of us would have done differently, done better. But we were a bit at sea. Ground had definitely shifted.

Perhaps looking for resources to move forward herself, my mother expanded her role as spiritual leader in the family. She looked for ways to guide us faithfully through uncharted waters. One of the things she did was invite us (no, that’s not a strong enough word), she caused us to memorize the hymn text which begins:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in his excellent word.

She understood that each member of our family had experienced some shaking of the foundations. I thought of that hymn when I reflected on the psalm chosen for yesterday’s liturgies (see above). It suggests imagery that appears throughout the psalms, referring to God as rock, refuge, stronghold, firm foundation. I suspect each reader of this column has had some experience in which foundations were shaken, when sure footing seemed elusive. What was that experience for you? How did you find footing? Perhaps you’re in such a quicksandic moment this morning.

We don’t know the circumstances faced by the psalmist(s) who repeatedly refer to God as this solid footing, a shelter. But in each of these psalms, we hear a call to have trust. That need for trust has been part of the human experience ever since those psalms were written. In my moments of evening reflection, guided by meditations written by Howard Thurman, I recently came across this bit of wisdom about trust, about finding that holy support. Thurman wrote:

Teach me, O God, the simple lesson of trust. Bring into my sorely pressed spirit the sure confidence of birds floating in the sky with nothing to support them but the automatic trust of wings, or the sure confidence of fish that keeps them from drowning with nothing to save but the automatic use of their gills.

What can we learn from the birds of the air, or the fish of the sea? For that matter, what can we learn from the psalmist who claims that God is refuge and strength, that God is rock and salvation?

There are all kinds of reasons to think that such trust makes no sense, no more sense than the ability of a bird to soar. But that is the adventure of our faith. This week, carry with you the words of that familiar hymn. Here are a few more stanzas to take with you. Reflect on them. See if they apply to your life. (You’d make my mother happy, may she rest in peace.)

Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed!
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
for I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
and sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.
The soul that to Jesus hath fled for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
that soul, though all hell shall endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake.

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (November 13, 2023)

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The Collect for Sunday November 12

O God, whose blessed Son came into the world that he might destroy the works of the devil and make us children of God and heirs of eternal life: Grant that, having this hope, we may purify ourselves as he is pure; that, when he comes again with power and great glory, we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Speaking of the Devil

Margaret Mead was an active Episcopalian. She walked around New York City, short of stature but clearly in charge, wearing a long cloak (not unlike a cope) and brandishing a long walking stick (not unlike a crozier). One might have even mistaken her for a bishop.

She played a key role in the shaping of the service of Holy Baptism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer book. She was initially invited to offer a guest consultation with the committee working on the liturgy. She ended up in charge of the committee and brought her own wit and wisdom to the proceedings.

I’m told that when they came to the part in the service when the renunciation of evil was framed in a series of questions, she argued for preservation of language about Satan. Some in her group said that modern people didn’t believe in Satan any more. Dr. Mead disagreed, informed not by her theological training as much as by her work as anthropologist. She insisted on the inclusion of this question: Do you renounce Satan and the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?

Granted popular culture has made discussion of the devil into something slightly comical, large red elf with barbed tail, pointy ears, pitchfork in hand, perhaps marketing hot sauce. Easy to dismiss. New Yorker cartoons which depict businessmen checking in at the front desk of Hades don’t help. But our Prayer Book, in the baptismal liturgy and in the collect we heard yesterday in church (see above), as well as our scripture, call us to take seriously the works of the devil, to recognize that we live in a world with devils filled that threaten to undo us, to borrow language from Martin Luther.

Dismissing cinematic or cartoonish renderings of the devil, we might want to note that the scripture sometimes refers to this destructive presence as an angel of light. The gospels tell us that Jesus came into the world to meet and beat that destructive presence. Jesus’ ministry couldn’t get off the ground until he had encountered this presence himself. In the wilderness, when Jesus was hungry and tired, the devil came offering food and power and worship, all good things. Jesus resisted, and began a ministry that sought to overcome the forces that would do us in, forces he met with arms stretched out on the cross, forces vanquished on Easter morning.

Our collect tells us that such a victory means the world to us. It means we can be children of God, heirs of eternal life, that we may be made like him. We need to hang on to that promise in our world with devils filled. The daily news shows how around the world forces of death and destruction fueled by greed and fear are breaking hearts, are breaking lives. We can see those forces at work not only far away, but also close to home and in our hearts. When G.K.Chesterton was asked in an interview what he thought was the problem with the world, he said: I am.

The victory we claim in Jesus is clearly not yet fully realized, which is why we are a people of hope. There’s a lot we have to hope for. A lot we have to wait for. But in our own encounter with forces that would threaten to undo us, we can claim the power of Jesus that can transform our hearts, that can heal our relationships, that can move us toward being a reconciling presence in our world. As the collect says, we can indeed become more like Christ. What might that look like for you this week?

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (July 10, 2023)

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The Collect read in church on July 9

O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Getting religion right

Press pause this morning and ask yourself: What is religion all about? Is it about rules? Ritual? Being right in word and action? I almost have the alliteration out of my system. But let me suggest that it’s about relationship, an insight prompted by the collect we heard yesterday in church (see above).

For starters, let’s unpack what we think it means to be righteous, which folks often equate with being religious. Warning: the idea of being righteous easily slides over to being self-righteous, a downfall to which clergy are particularly susceptible. For some, being righteous means being right in one’s thinking, which in the world of religious thought often means somebody else must be wrong. For others, it means doing the right thing, because God is just waiting for us to veer offtrack, lightning bolt in hand.

St. Paul uses the term righteousness a lot, especially in his amazing letter to the Romans. I’ve been told that for him it suggested relationship. It was about being rightly related to God and to each other. It involved God’s gracious work in setting us in those right relationships, noting that, left to our own devices, we probably won’t get there.

Jesus apparently agreed with St. Paul (Isn’t that convenient?). When Jesus was put to the test, asked about how to inherit eternal life, he said that it’s simple, if not easy. It’s one thing, but really two. It’s about love of God and love of neighbor. In other words, it’s about relationship.

That is an echo of the central prayer of the Hebrew Scripture, the shema, which was to be repeated twice daily, affirming the worship of the one God by answering the call to love God and neighbor as described in the book of Deuteronomy.

In our liturgy, we note the centrality of relationship in the course of the Confession, when we admit we have not loved God with whole heart, body, mind. We have not loved neighbor as self. Those kinds of admissions are true every day of my life. We fall short. The vision of whole and holy relationship is a life goal. Maybe heaven is that place where we will actually, finally love in that kind of way.

I’m off today at a conference convened by the Presiding Bishop. You know, the guy who says that if it’s not about love, it’s not about God. The conference is entitled “It’s All About Love.” It will provide an exploration of the three key goals of Michael Curry’s tenure. We will reflect on racial reconciliation, creation care and evangelism, each of which has to do with relationships.

Michael Curry has helped us all recognize the inherent joy in a religion that seeks to build loving relationships. Clearly in our broken world, we have work to do in building those kind of relationships. Which is why we offer a prayer like we did yesterday in church. We ask for grace to love God more fully. We ask for grace to be united to one another in pure affection.

As you ask for that grace this week, how can you grow in seeing your life of faith as about relationship? What steps can you take, by God’s grace, to live more fully into those healed and holy relationships?

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (May 22, 2023)

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The Collect for the seventh Sunday of Easter

O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: Do not leave us comfortless, but send us your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to that place where our Savior Christ has gone before; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.


These days, Monday Matters offers reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Never alone

Her extended battle with cancer, lasting over a couple years, did not diminish her poise or grace or strength. A bit of a steel magnolia, she navigated the illness and treatments with calm equanimity. On one of my visits as her rector, I mustered the courage to ask her how she did it. She smiled and looked at me as if to say: “O you poor clueless clergyman.” She was too kind to say that, but here’s what she did say: “You know, God never promised me wealth or health or even that I would be happy. But God did promise that I’d never be left alone.”

We talked about how she was experiencing God’s presence. Some of it had to do with the ways her faith community attended to her. She spoke of the support of spouse and other family members. And she spoke of her faith. She did not explicitly name the Holy Spirit. She didn’t need to.

The collect we heard in church yesterday (see above) is read on the Sunday after the Ascension Day. It references that mysterious moment when the risen Christ is taken up to heaven. My mind is too small to figure out the physics, logistics, or optics, but the upshot is that the disciples could have felt like they had been left alone, abandoned, that they were on their own. I feel like these are questions that would have been on the minds of the disciples, posed by Jesus’ ascension: What happens now? What’s next? Where do we go from here? Who will go with us? These are questions disciples still ask. I ask them a lot.

Jesus’ final words to his disciples, as told in the Gospel of Matthew, include the promise that he will be with them to the end of the ages. That promise is made to us as well. If someone asked you to describe the way that you sense that presence, what would you say? Do you have a sense of that presence?

These days, I can forget what I did or said yesterday, but I remember a series of talks given by Dr. James Kay, of Princeton Theological Seminary more than 30 years ago. He explored the variety of ways that people experience Christ’s presence, an interesting take on the various branches of the Jesus movement.

For some, perhaps in the Protestant tradition, Christ is present in the scripture, the word preached and heard. For others, Christ is present in the sacrament of bread and wine. And so we sing: “Come risen Lord and deign to be our guest. Nay, let us be thy guest. The feast is thine.” (Hymn 306) For some in Eastern traditions, Christ’s presence is experienced in iconography, just one of the ways that beauty mediates Christ’s presence in all of the arts, and especially in the beauty of creation, which we’re told is Christ’s artwork. For others, Christ’s presence is felt in the striving for justice and peace, in the work of liberation, as we hear Jesus’ words from the Gospel of Matthew: “As you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.” Mystics may experience Christ’s presence in times of prayerful silence.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it does indicate the richness of the experience of Christ’s risen presence, as one we love but see no longer.

So folks, we’ve still got a few more days in the Easter season, given to remind us that our lives unfold in the presence of a risen savior who is still active in our lives, and who promised to never leave us alone. There are many ways to experience that liveliness. How are you experiencing it these days? In what ways might you wish to experience it more deeply? Pray towards that end this week.

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (January 30, 2023)

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The Collect for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Almighty and everlasting God, you govern all things both in heaven and on earth: Mercifully hear the supplications of your people, and in our time grant us your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Governance

O Lord our governor, how exalted is your name in all the world. Psalm 8:1

People have a variety of daily spiritual practices. For me, the day begins with my own version of Morning Prayer. I start with reflection on opening sentences that fit the season. I then move to the Confession. After that, the psalms and readings for the day, followed by prayers for people on my heart, prayers for our broken world.

But back to the confession. Of late, I’ve found myself pausing on the first three words: Most merciful God. I take those words as, first of all, a bold statement of faith. They indicate that on some level, I believe there is someone out there to whom I am appealing.

Those words provide a much-needed reminder that my day is going to unfold in the presence of that someone. I ask God to help me remember that. Truth be told, I can live out my day, I can complete my tasks, I can tick things off the to-do list, I can even do a lot of church work without really thinking that what I do (in thought, word, and deed) unfolds in some way under the governance of God. At times, I describe this dynamic as being a functional atheist. That may sound severe, but apparently, this boy needs a daily reminder that my life unfolds in the presence of the Holy One, in relationship to the God of creation, known in Jesus, present in the Spirit. How easily I forget.

It can call for a leap of faith. I’m thinking of a good friend, a faithful woman, a spiritual teacher, who was not always a church person. She was a successful and driven lawyer, working on big cases, whose personal life seemed to be falling apart. A husband suddenly stricken with illness, a child in the grips of addiction. At that point in her life, she would not, nor could not believe in God. She thought: Even I could do a better job running the universe. Have you ever read the newspaper and thought the same thing? Like, really. Who’s in charge here?

Her life changed when in the grips of several crises, a church community surrounded her in the thick of the adversity she faced and showed her grace, lifting her up. It was through that experience that she actually came to believe in the reality of a God who governs heaven and earth.

Readers of this weekly post may note that I’ve been reading works by a theologian named Andrew Root. He writes about the current state of the church and especially its decline. I’m sure I miss a lot of what he’s presenting. (I find that’s my experience when reading theology.) But what I take away is that the church these days is too often in the grip of what he calls an immanent frame. We have lost confidence in the reality of God’s transcendence. We only think of what we can know or understand or explain or contain. We so want God in a box. We have little appreciation for the mystery of God’s transcendent rule. We have decided that the church is the star of the story, or perhaps that we are the star of the story, when the truth is, God is the star of the story.

The collect we heard in church yesterday (above) is based on the premise that God governs in heaven and earth. That can be hard to believe when we check out the news. But in our prayers, indeed in the very act of praying, in the great faith statement that comes with the address in those few words, most merciful God, we affirm that God is in control. We may not see that fully right now, but it is the foundation of our faith. How will your life unfold this week, mindful of the one who governs heaven and earth and extends mercy to each one of us?

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (January 2, 2023)

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The Collect for the Feast of the Holy Name

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.

Amen.


In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

What’s in a name?

Checked off the bucket list: New Year’s Eve in Times Square. It happened a number of years ago. I went with a group of friends to a Marx Brothers Film Festival then to Times Square to watch the ball drop. It was cold and crowded. I don’t need to do that again. Once was a gracious plenty.

But the turning of the year is always worth marking, with opportunity to reflect on the past year, with its joys and challenges, successes and failures, gratitudes and regrets. It’s also a chance to look forward and commit to hopes and intentions for days ahead.

Yesterday in church, we marked the new year by celebrating the Feast of the Holy Name, always on January 1. The collect for that day appears above. I’m told that the feast began as a way for Christians to mark the new year. The observance has Gallican origin. A church council in 567 set apart the day to counteract pagan festivities connected with the beginning of the new year, perhaps a sixth-century version of New Year’s Eve, sans Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen.

The church’s feast has as its focus the rituals associated with a newborn child, and specifically the name given that child. The prophets in the Hebrew Scriptures, the gospels and other writings in the New Testament all speak of the importance of name of the messiah. So as we begin 2023, we might ask: What’s in a name? Why do we repeatedly read that the name of Jesus matters?

The name literally means “God saves.” More competent scholars can talk about the importance of naming in the culture into which Jesus was born. I have been struck with what that name, “God saves” indicates. These two words say a lot.

For starters, the name says something about God. It says that God is graciously active in our world. While many of us may be locked in what has been called an “immanent frame” which regards divine intervention as a quaint and antiquated idea, the name of Jesus suggests that the transcendent power of God comes to us still and that it has salvific significance. As theologian Andrew Root puts it: God is the star of the story (not us, not the church.) As mystic Evelyn Underhill put it: God is the interesting thing about religion and people are hungry for God. Might we begin 2023 with an expectation that God, by grace, will act in our lives and in our broken world in a saving way? What if we lived our lives in the coming year in awareness that our lives unfold in the presence of the Holy One? What if we lived with daily expectation of holy activity, when sometimes some of us (yours truly included) live as functional atheists?

Second, the name of Jesus says something about us. I’ll put it this way: We need help. We need to be saved. We need a savior. Again, a culture celebrating self-sufficiency and independence may resist that notion. But the fact is when we claim the name of Jesus, we are admitting a need for a power greater than we can muster. Seen in this light, salvation is much more than just a ticket to heaven. I’ve been told that one way to understand the word salvation is to see it as suggesting healing and wholeness. Each one of us knows something of that kind of need, as I believe we each are familiar with some kind of brokenness. We experience it in body, mind, spirit, memory, relationships, not to mention our political and social contexts. Our faith tells us that those experiences need not be the last word about us. They need not define us. Help is on the way.

Finally, the name of Jesus says something about what we are called to do. As Ted Lasso tells us (Sidebar: When do we get the third season?), we are called to believe. We are called to trust that God is active and interested. More to the point, we are called to believe that God is love and that the Holy One’s intention toward us is loving, to place our confidence in that love.

So happy new year. You’re only 24 hours into 2023, still time to make a resolution or two. Maybe one of those might be a commitment to think about what the name of Jesus actually means in your life and mine.

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters: December 26, 2022

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The Collect for the Feast of the Nativity

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever.

Amen.


In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Born again

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.

Mild he lays his glory by, born that men no more may die; Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.

Last week, my laptop went on strike. I started getting messages that I was not allowed to open documents, that I needed permission from who knows who. I didn’t know what to do. I was ready to buy new software. Maybe a new laptop. A new career. A friend gave me the number of a tech guy who asked if I had tried restarting. I did. The problem went away. My laptop just needed a new start. Sometimes I need that too.

A friend, a clergyman, found his seat on the plane. Wearing his clerical collar, the passenger next to him dove into conversation about religion. As the flight continued, my friend was held captive, subject to inquisition. When the passenger found out he was Episcopalian, it was time to check bona fides. So my friend was asked: “Have you been born again?” My friend answered: “I have been born again. And again. And again.” He made the point that renewal is something that happens repeatedly.

Theologian Karl Barth had a similar exchange with an American evangelical. He was challenged to name the exact time and place when he had been born again. The questioner was quite sure the eminent theologian couldn’t do it, which would indicate that Dr. Barth was not really a Christian after all. Dr. Barth answered: “I was born again. At three o’clock on the first Good Friday on a hill outside of Jerusalem.” He made the point that being re-born is God’s work, not our own.

Carols of Christmas make the same point. Two examples are found above.

Admittedly, the notion of being born again carries baggage in our culture. It can be loaded language. For some, it has become a litmus test. The phrase ‘born again” originates in Jesus’ late night conversation with Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, chapter 3 (a.k.a., Nick at Nite). Jesus tells this religious leader, someone on in years, that he must be born again or born from above or born anew. Nicodemus doesn’t get it. His systematic theology did not leave room for this idea that we need to start again, that the Holy One needs to be born in each one of us, again and again and again.

Christmas comes as a season of new life. As carols indicate, it’s all about the moment in time when one particular child was born in Bethlehem. But as the collect printed in the intro indicates, it’s also about the moment in time when we can be born again, or born anew, or born from above. As my friend indicated, that can happen again and again.

As we move through this Christmas season (It’s more than just one day!), what new thing might be born in you? How might you be open to new life, to God’s gracious and creative work? Once we recognize that that work has been done, how will we live into it, growing and deepening a life with God? O holy child of Bethlehem…be born in us today.

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (December 19, 2022)

3-1

The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen


In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Making room

Lord, let not our souls be busy inns that have no room for thee or thine, but quiet homes of prayer and praise, where thou mayest find fit company, where the needful cares of life are wisely ordered and put away, and wide, sweet spaces kept for thee; where holy thoughts pass up and down and fervent longings watch and wait thy coming.

-Julian of Norwich

This Advent season, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to prepare the way of the Lord. Hymns and scripture and liturgy tell us it’s the reason for the season. But what does that actually look like in life? The prayer we heard yesterday in church, and the prayer from Julian of Norwich printed above tell us it’s about making room for Jesus. Again, what does that look like?

Does it call for a spiritual bulldozer? A teardown? Do I need to park a dumpster in my spiritual driveway to get rid of junk? How can I envision my life as a mansion prepared to welcome Christ, when my life often feels like a small studio apartment with no closet space?

One of the ways we might begin to create that space is to enter into the counter-cultural, contemplative call of the season. During Advent, the church invites us to slow down and be quiet when almost every other message we get tells us to hurry up, take in all the noise and do a lot of stuff, fueling the anxiety that we maybe did not do enough. Even in the church, we don’t always get that message right. A friend who worked in a big church used to sport a button around this time of year. The button read: Jesus is coming. Look busy. It got a chuckle but I think it’s the exact opposite of what we’re called to do.

Centuries ago, mystic Julian of Norwich crafted the prayer which helps us think about what it means to get that mansion ready. She recognized that the inner life can be very much like a busy inn, a “No Vacancy” sign prominently displayed. Lots of coming and going. Nothing settled. Does your life ever feel like that? Do you enjoy that feeling?

The alternative Julian presented was a quiet home of prayer and praise, with company fit for God’s presence. She envisions our cares put aside. Wide, sweet spaces are kept. (I love that phrase: Wide, sweet spaces. I want those spaces.)

We’re just a few days away from Christmas. How will you prepare to welcome Christ into your life in this holiday season, and in the coming new year? How can you create space for that to happen?

It might begin with asking God for help, adding to those prayers an attitude of gratitude, which can often give breathing room. It can also involve a rigorous look at the ways we spend our time. Can we carve out quiet time each day this week, even if it’s only a few minutes, to reflect on the miracle we’re about to celebrate?

It may involve rigorous choices about what we will do and what we decide we won’t do. Take a walk each day to think about all this. Jot down thoughts to clarify your thinking. The church, with its variety of worship opportunities, can help. And one of the key ways to make room for Jesus at any time of year, is to figure out how to be of service, to take a moment to look around at the needs that surround and ask: How can I help?

This week’s prayers suggest that we have agency in all of this. We can choose to make room for the Christ child. What will that look like in your life in these days before Christmas?

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (December 12, 2022)

3-1

The Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.


In coming days, Monday Matters will offer reflections on the prayers we say in church on Sunday, the collect of the day. We do this based on the conviction that praying shapes our believing, that what we pray forms us. We do this hoping that the prayers we say on Sunday will carry us through the week.

Sorely hindered

Often when I meet with groups, I ask people to talk about their own spiritual journeys, specifically their experience of spiritual growth. I like to ask them to think of a time when they have experienced spiritual growth and follow up with a question about what it was that helped them grow. What were the catalysts? What would you say to those questions?

After we get through that, I ask them to think of a time when they were spiritually stuck or stalled. We all have those times. Automotive metaphors are useful, imagining a time when a person ran out of gas, had a flat tire, or ended up in a ditch, spiritually speaking. As follow-up, I ask them to think about what might have caused them to experience that kind of thing as well. How would you answer those questions?

In the language of the collect we heard yesterday (printed in the column on the left), this dynamic of being spiritually stalled may be a matter of being sorely hindered by our sins, by the ways in which we fall short of the mark. When I pose questions to groups about their spiritual journey, I get a lot of answers. Not all of them appear obviously connected to sins. There are all kinds of things that hinder us in our spiritual lives.

A common answer is crisis, some difficult experience. Those kinds of things come to all people. Interestingly enough, a crisis can also be the thing that helps us grow as we recognize our dependence on God. But we can definitely be hindered by such. For example, our collective experience with COVID in recent years has definitely been for some a spiritual hindrance.

I read a study that said that one great impediment to spiritual growth, something that sorely hinders us, is the busy schedules we maintain, the ways we equate busyness with value. Advent as a season can be a good antidote to all of that, with its counter-cultural call to slow down and be quiet.

Speaking specifically of sins, perhaps the root of sin is the disordering of love, loving self more than God or neighbor, imagining a self-centered universe. Our own egos can hinder spiritual growth, mindful that ego can be seen as an acronym: Edging God Out. When we put ourselves at the center of the universe, it makes spiritual growth, a relationship with God, harder to come by. The confession found in our prayer book helps me understand the ways in which I am caught in the power of sin. It reminds me that I have not loved God with my whole heart. I have not loved neighbor as self. That’s true for me, every day.

I suspect we all know those things that can sorely hinder us. The recognition of those things is a first step. (Advent, with its call to slow down and be quiet, can give space for that kind of self-awareness.) Once we recognize things that hinder us, we are then called to recognize that we need help to be liberated from those things. That’s where we get the cry for help captured in the phrase “Stir up your power.” The prayer affirms our belief in the “bountiful grace and mercy” of God. The power is there.

Just maybe the door opens to spiritual growth when we open ourselves to that grace and mercy, forgiving ourselves as much as we forgive others. How might you open that door, even just a crack, this week?

-Jay Sidebotham


Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.