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Monday Matters (April 29, 2019)

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

John 13:35

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

I John 4:20

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

I John 4:11

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

William Wilberforce

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

Billy Sunday

Real Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

SAVE THE DATE

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

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

Monday Matters (April 22, 2019)

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

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

For those who have never heard the word of salvation

For those who have lost their faith

For those hardened by sin or indifference

For the contemptuous and the scornful

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

For those who in the name of Christ have persecuted others

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

We’ve got Easter work to do

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (April 15, 2019)

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

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

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

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

Which way?

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

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

Jesus himself said: “I am the way.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (April 8, 2019)

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Pray these prayers as you prepare for Holy Week

A preface for the Eucharistic prayer in Lent:
You bid your faithful people cleanse their hearts, and prepare with joy for the Paschal feast (i.e., Easter); that, fervent in prayer and in works of mercy, and renewed by your Word and Sacraments, they may come to the fullness of grace which you have prepared for those who love you.
A Prayer for Monday in Holy Week:
Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Prayer for Tuesday in Holy Week:
O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Prayer for Wednesday in Holy Week:
Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

What makes holy week holy? 

In just a few days, we’ll begin our journey through the week at the heart of the Christian faith. We call this week holy, and the question I want to pose this morning: What makes it so?

We talk about holy places, thin spaces where the distance between heaven and earth diminishes. That can often be churches, or particular corners of churches. A yoga mat can prove to be sacred, set apart. A walk in the woods or on the beach can be holy. A certain chair in a home may be holy.

There are public places that convey holiness. For me, the Lincoln Memorial is one of those, as the gracious, wise, healing words of Lincoln’s second inaugural address are carved into stone. My recent visit to the motel/museum where Martin Luther King lost his life filled me with a sense of holiness. As visitors filed by the small motel room, conversation stopped. We were on holy ground.

We talk about holy times. Next week, for instance. In my experience, that sense of holiness only comes as I pay attention to it, which includes preparing for it. I grew up in a tradition that made a big deal about Easter, but didn’t do a whole lot to observe the days leading up to Easter. My migration to the Episcopal Church taught me that the Easter experience, the power of the message of resurrection, is deepened by observance of the week that precedes. I get glimmers of why that week gets set apart, why it’s holy.

During that week, it’s not like everything else stops (thought that’s a tempting approach). It means that on some level, varying from year to year, I attend to the reason for the season, attend to the message of the various liturgies that unfold during this rich week, in ways great and small.

There’s Palm Sunday, with the spiritual whiplash that begins with the grand Jerusalem parade echoing with hosannas. That grand procession turns quickly to Jesus’ arrest and trial, torture and execution, a reminder that public opinion can shift pretty quickly. We are nothing if not fickle.

There are the first three days of the week, each with their thematic contribution to the story. Check out those stories we read each year. Why do you think we read them?

There is Maundy Thursday, with takes its name from the commandment (mandatum) to show love, to be of service, reflected in the institution of the eucharist and the washing of the disciples’ feet. What does that holy night teach us about putting faith to work in the world? There is Good Friday, which always poses the question of why we call this Friday good. There is Holy Saturday, a day to note that grief often calls simply for silence. All of that gets us ready for Easter beginning with the Great Vigil of Easter, arguably the most awesome liturgy in our Prayer Book (IMHO). All of it can be holy, set apart.

And all of it offers a window into the wholly holy mystery of God’s love at work in the world, God’s love overcoming the worst that the world can dish out. All of it points to the mystery that in the face of human denial, betrayal, violence, abuse, duplicity, cowardice, callousness, in the face of all of that (a gracious plenty), love wins.

That’s what we celebrate in Holy Week. So how might you and I prepare for this week? I can’t say what that will be for you. I’m not sure this year what it will be for me. But God knows. So maybe we can use this last week of Lent to ask God to help us each to experience this holy week as holy.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (April 1, 2019)

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The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14
(New Revised Standard Version)

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish.

John 1:14 
(The Message) 

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

Philippians 2:5-11
(New Revised Standard Version)

Other Worlds

My Lenten journey this year took me to Hawaii. Tough assignment but I was willing to answer the call. That’s the kind of guy I am. On a cloudless day we flew for hours over the Pacific to get to the islands, tiny specks of land in a vast expanse. As I looked out the window of the plane, I wondered what was going on below all that blue surface. It was a mystery, another world, and it led me to think of other other-worlds.

I’m a news hound, with my own political perspective, reinforced by 24/7 news sources that ratify my opinions. I recognize in our partisan culture that there are other news sources supporting other points of view marked by equal intensity. There is another world out there, one that views the world from a wholly different point of view than mine. 

I grew up in a tight church community, part of a denomination that represented about .0001% of Christians in the world. It was all consuming, in some respects inspiring, in some respects toxic. (I suspect that’s true of many religious traditions.) In that culture, we believed we had the answers. Nobody else really did, bless their hearts. My own faith journey has been a matter of discovering other worlds found in other expressions of Christianity and other faith traditions. As I reflect on the intensity of the religious culture of my youth, I wonder about other intense religious cultures. I may never know what it is like to swim in those streams. They may never know what it is like to swim in mine.

As I reflect on my privileged life, I know there are billions of people who live in communities that have been denied the kind of privilege I take for granted. I can’t pretend to know what that is like. I think of the older woman we saw several times in Hawaii, pushing a stroller with all her earthly possessions held in garbage bags, moving along the shoulder of the highway in the hot sun. Appearances indicated she had no home except maybe the woods. I wondered about her story, as daughter, as sibling, perhaps as parent, perhaps as spouse, not to mention, as beloved child of God. I wondered what it was like to live in her world. It was hard to imagine.

Did I mention Hawaii? I was honored to offer a presentation at the annual diocesan convention. Honored with just one hitch. I gave a talk at 11am on a Saturday morning. I looked at the schedule and realized that at 10am, a certain Michael Curry was speaking. I wondered if I was having an anxiety dream, like taking a test for a course I never attended. I felt like changing the title of my talk to this: “And now for something completely different.”

But it was a grand gift to hear him. A part of his gift: he always speaks of love. I’ve heard him talk a few times, but this question was new for me. He asked: Do you know what the opposite of love is? I’ve heard that the opposite of love is hate. That the opposite is fear. He said that the opposite of love was self-centeredness. It’s exemplified, when someone shows me a group photo, one in which I am included. Guess who I look for first?

As I pondered that big blue ocean, its surface hinting at another world, I thought of Jesus as one who entered another world. I thought of Jesus as one who listened to the Samaritan woman at the well, who invited himself to lunch with scoundrel Zacchaeus, who called Matthew, the hated tax collector to be one of his followers, who ate with Pharisees and prostitutes. I thought of Jesus who calls us to go into the world, not to make everyone just like us, but to serve, to share, to show grace, which may well begin with wondering, listening and learning.

The sin of self-centeredness refuses that adventure. (After all, ego is an acronym. It stands for edging God out.) It’s the pride that claims a corner on the truth, that claims with complacency that there is nothing more to learn. It’s the hubris of refusing conversation. It fails to admit we don’t know what we don’t know.

Jesus points to another way, and in the end, to another world. The entry point? Love, compassion, listening, learning. Step into that other world this week. It may be a small step, just putting your toe in. Or you might want to jump right in, taking the plunge.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (March 25, 2019)

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Exodus 3

Yes

This morning, I’m thinking of a wonderful elderly parishioner, member of a church in which I served early in my ministry. A wordsmith, her wise insights were made all the more engaging because they were delivered with a beautiful Virginia accent. That woman could stretch out a simple word into a rich, melodic series of syllables. We talked often about liturgy and literature, but what I remember most was what she would say at the communion rail as she received the wafer in outstretched hands. Instead of saying “Amen” as many do, she simply said “Yes.” But that sweet yes went on for a long time. “Yay-yeh-esssss” or something like that.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. We celebrate today the Feast of the Annunciation, recalling the story of the angel who visited the young girl who would become the mother of our Lord, theotokos, God bearer. The story from Luke’s gospel is included above. While I rarely remember sermons (including my own), I do remember a sermon preached on the fourth Sunday of Advent years ago. The preacher posited that maybe the angel visited a few other Galilean homes, approached a few other Nazareth girls with invitation to participate in the special work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe those other young ladies said “No thanks” or “Not me” or “This call is definitely a wrong number” or “I don’t see this as my career path.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. It was not without posing the most logical of questions: “How can this be?” Yet in short order, Mary responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” In other words, she said yes. With that answer she changed history. She changed your life and mine.

Yesterday, on the third Sunday of Lent, we read about the call that came to Moses via the burning bush. Along with the story of the Annunciation, this story seems to be a key point in scripture, perhaps in the narrative of human history. Moses in the wilderness (We all know about wilderness, don’t we?) is tending his flock, minding his business, when the call comes to him through that burning bush. Scripture tells us that Moses said “I must turn aside and see what this is all about.” That turning aside is huge. What if Moses saw this thing and said: “What was in that soup I had?” or “Have I been out in the sun too long?” or “I need to consult a doctor or a therapist”or “I can’t be bothered.” Instead, Moses approaches that holy presence and says “Here am I.” With that answer he changed history. He changed your life and mine.

Again and again in scripture, God calls ordinary human beings who often say: “This call must be a wrong number.” Often they seem to try to clue God in on why the Holy One is a terrible recruiter: “I’m too young. I’m no public speaker. I’m a sinful human being.” By way of contrast, each in his or her way, Moses and Mary say yes, again to great consequence.

We each have vocation. God calls each one of us. Think today about where and how the call might be coming to you. Are we listening for that call? Are we listening to it? Do we need to turn aside, or do we just keep going? Do we ask “How can this be?” and let it end there? Or are we willing to say yes?

The yes can be a simple action. It may make no discernible shift in world history. It could be a turning aside from daily routine to share God’s love. It could be outstretched hands at the communion rail. It could be the prayer: “Be it unto me according to your will.” It could have consequence we’ll never see in our lifetime.

But it begins with yes, to the God who in Christ says yes to us. Let this Lent be about saying yes.

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (March 11, 2019)

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‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as yourself?

from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer

Meeting Jesus this Lent

As we come to the first full week of Lent, perhaps you’ve decided to give something up for the season, something challenging or something less so. Maybe it’s something with remarkable specificity. One young person I knew gave up blue m&m’s.

Perhaps as alternative or addition, you have decided to take on a spiritual discipline, a way to grow your faith, since the word “Lent” derives from an old English word for spring. Lent is a season for growth. It’s not too late to add something to your practice this season.

This morning, I wanted to draw your attention to a Lenten lectionary, a list of readings for every day in Lent. You won’t find it in the Prayer Book, but you can find it on lectionarypage.net  (among other places). You might want to use it as a guide. Take five, ten, thirty minutes to read one or all of the readings each day. See what they say about your own spiritual state, your own spiritual journey.

Today’s gospel reading from that lectionary offers a challenging parable from the Gospel of Matthew. Here’s the set up. A king gathers all nations before him, and divides those people as a shepherd would divide sheep from goats. The basis of distinction? How those people treated each other, and especially how they treated those in greatest need. The king speaks of how sheep-like people fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, pastored the sick, visited prisoners. The king said that when those sheep-like folk did that, they were really serving him. Accordingly, they met with commendation.

Flip side, the goats were those who failed to address those needs. Accordingly, those goats met with condemnation.

There’s much that is remarkable about this parable. One of the features that always strikes me is the element of surprise for sheep and goats. The sheep who served those in need are surprised when the king said that their ministry to the marginalized was as if it had been done to him. Sheep are surprised. It’s clear that the sheep were not doing their ministry in order to win favor with the king. Similarly, the goats had no idea they were dissing the king when they dissed those in need.

Truth be told, there is a bit of sheep and goat in each one of us, but take this reading for this Monday in Lent to see how it can help your faith grow. Look for the opportunity to see Christ, to meet the king, in those in greatest need. It’s something that our baptismal covenant encourages us to do. (See the promise included above). And it can be challenging, because Christ often comes very well disguised. Nadia Bolz-Weber, slightly profane evangelist puts it this way: I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset.

This season, guided by scripture, including today’s parable, perhaps you can give up your reticence to reach out to someone in need. Maybe you do that out of fear or sloth or focus on self. Give that up.

And perhaps you can take on some ministry of service. We don’t have to look very far to find someone in need. Maybe just across the dining room table or in the next cubicle. In doing so, it may well be that we meet Christ. You may well find that we are serving the king.

-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

Monday Matters (March 4, 2019)

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If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

-II Corinthians 5:17-6:3

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple, we should take God at His word;
And our lives would be thanksgiving, for the goodness of our Lord.

-A favorite hymn text

Last week, I was coming home late on a Saturday night, eager (okay, anxious) to get back for Sunday morning. Our plane took off from Charlotte. As we approached destination (the Wilmington airport), fog precluded landing. We returned to Charlotte, hoping we might try again. Then that flight was canceled. I took my place on a long line at the customer service desk to see if I could get on another flight that night. Experience told me I’d be on that customer line for a while. I imagined I might be spending the night in the airport. That’s happened before. Fun.

As I stood near the end of that long line, an airline employee approached out of the blue. She asked a few of us to follow her. We passed several gates to arrive at her desk where she managed to get me on a flight home that night. She didn’t need to do that. She was not on duty at customer service desk, the front lines where angry anxiety gets directed at airline employees. She could have minded her own business, kept her head down, not dealt with us cranky passengers like me.

But she didn’t. She chose to be of service, not because I was worthy, or because I had status, or because I was different from anyone else. It was truly a random act of kindness. It was grace. Interesting enough, her grace, mercy and kindness made me a bit more gentle with the other angry, anxious folks in the terminal. And there were a few of them.

Grace stands at the heart of our faith. But I find that when I try to describe grace, theological categories seem thin compared to stories of grace, e.g., an airline parable like I’ve told. Examples. Anecdotes. Maybe that’s why Jesus told parables. The prodigal son. The good Samaritan. The lost sheep. The lost coin. Workers who get paid a full day’s wage even though they worked only five minutes. Maybe that’s why Jesus came to live among us, full of grace and truth. We know grace when we see it.

What are your stories of grace? When have you known grace? When have you shown grace?

We come this week to the season of Lent. I don’t know what words you associate with the season. Often people describe it as forty days to feel more miserable than thou. We are dust. We are worms. We are wretched. We are unworthy. May I suggest an alternative approach? Think about what Lent has to do with grace.

A favorite verse that you may hear on Ash Wednesday comes from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He calls that community to reconciliation. He celebrates the possibility of new creation. And he tells the Corinthians: Don’t accept the grace of God in vain. That verse always catches me up short. A part of me wonders why anyone would take the grace of God in vain. Why would I?

Then I remember a sociology experiment conducted a few years ago on a busy Manhattan corner. A guy got a bunch of $20 bills and tried to hand them out. Just give them away. No condition. No obligation. He was stunned to find out how many people would not accept them. There must be a hitch.

Part of the broken human condition is that there is something inside of us that acts that way. It’s a part that refuses to accept God’s gifts, either because we take it as a sign of weakness, or we can’t believe we’re worth it, or because we’re too busy.

Grace is at the heart of our faith, so it must be at the heart of the season of Lent. As you make this journey over the coming weeks, think about ways you can open your heart to the grace of God. Explore those ways in which you resist it, or take it in vain, or take it for granted. And if you can think about the ways grace has come to you, see how you might show it and share it in a world starved, I mean starved for grace.

-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

Monday Matters (February 25, 2019)

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Be still and know that I am God.

-Psalm 46:10

Six days a week we seek to dominate the world. On the seventh day we try to dominate the self. The seventh day is like a palace in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere…It is a day that ennobles the soul and makes the body wise.

Six evenings a week we pray: “Guide our going out and our coming in.” On the Sabbath evening we pray instead: “Embrace us with a tent of thy peace.” 

All our life should be a pilgrimage to the seventh day; the thought and appreciation of what this day may bring to us should be ever present in our minds. For the Sabbath is the counterpoint of living; the melody sustained throughout all agitations and vicissitudes which menace our conscience: our awareness of God’s presence in the world.

From THE SABBATH by Abraham Heschel

People now have a painful need to be helped to be still. A church that is too noisy, too caught up in its own busyness, to answer this need is failing deeply.

Insights from Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury

God whose strength bears us up as on mighty wings: We rejoice in remembering your athlete and missionary, Eric Liddell, to whom you gave courage and resolution in contest and in captivity; and we pray that we also may run with endurance the race set before us and persevere in patient witness, until we wear that crown of victory won for us by Jesus our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A prayer in thanksgiving for the life and witness of Eric Liddell

Sabbath

One Friday night, walking home from the subway to my apartment, passing a row of brownstones, a man stopped me and asked if I could come in to his apartment to help him. No one had ever asked that before. I agreed, with slight sense that maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Down a long, dark hallway I walked, through a door opened to reveal a family ready to sit down at the table. I realized they were Orthodox Jews. They needed me to turn on the lights in the apartment. They took Sabbath so seriously that they wouldn’t do that bit of work themselves. I was moved by the way they took the commandment to heart: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. I wondered why I took that observance so lightly.

When I was in seminary, wondering whether that course of study would lead to ordination or not, I sought the counsel of a rector of a big church. I asked him how he managed his life, what he thought was important. It’s been a few decades, but I remember his advice. He said he was rigorous about taking a day off. He did that so that on a weekly basis, he would remember who he was. He would remember that he was not his work. It was a spiritual practice focused on identity, not only who he was but also who God is. In retrospect, I wondered if I shouldn’t have tried harder to take his advice throughout my ministry.

In our church, we just finished a series in which we looked at the seven practices described in The Way of Love. (The Way of Love is suggested by our Presiding Bishop as a series of practices that move us toward a Jesus-centered life.) The last in this series is the practice of rest, a practice taking its cue from the first chapters of the Bible. After six days of creative work, the Lord God rested, hallowing that seventh day, instituting the religious observance of Sabbath. If the Lord God took that time, I wondered if I shouldn’t be more intentional about holy time management.

I’m old enough to remember ways in which the culture helped with all that. On the Sundays of my childhood, nobody went to work. No travel soccer. No trips to stores or movie theaters. No technology allowing for work 24/7. For younger folks, that culture may be unimaginable. I have no illusion that we would or could or should go back to that time. But if we sense any value in weekly fallow time, we now need to be more creative about making that happen.

It can come in small doses. Perhaps daily times when we simply unplug. It can come in 24 hour periods, as is the design of the creator. It can come in a commitment to retreats. Impending Lent can be a good time to experiment with these kinds of practices, a good time to ask: What’s a way to practice rest?

The prayer above is offered in thanks for the life, ministry and witness of Eric Liddell, celebrated in the movie Chariots of Fire. He is remembered each year in the church on February 25. Find and watch the movie if you’ve never seen it. He was a gifted athlete who refused to compete on Sunday mornings. Who knows what he would do today? He stands as a reminder that we can still strive to observe Sabbath. In that same column, find quotes from Abraham Heschel’s book THE SABBATH. A mentor directed my attention to it, and it provides a powerful vision of the ways in which our observance of a practice of rest reflects our identity, and God’s. It might be great Lenten reading for you.

The times in which we live, the busy lives we lead can get in the way of our spiritual growth. God knew this from the beginning of creation. That’s why we’re invited, encouraged, challenged to practice rest. Give it a go this week.

-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

Monday Matters (February 18, 2019)

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Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
-Philippians 2:3
 
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
-Exodus 3:11
 
Jesus called them (the disciples) to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
-Matthew 20:25-28
 
Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.
-Acts 20:18
 
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
-John 10:11
 
(Solomon prayed,) “Give me now wisdom and knowledge to go out and come in before this people, for who can rule this great people of yours?” God answered Solomon, “Because this was in your heart, and you have not asked for possessions, wealth, honor, or the life of those who hate you, and have not even asked for long life, but have asked for wisdom and knowledge for yourself that you may rule my people over whom I have made you king, wisdom and knowledge are granted to you. I will also give you riches, possessions, and honor, such as none of the kings had who were before you, and none after you shall have the like.
-II Chronicles 1:10-12

Presidents’ Day: The Leader’s Heart

Today’s holiday honoring presidents triggers a variety of thoughts about leadership. In the work we do with RenewalWorks, one of our strongest findings is that much depends on the leader’s heart.

Politics (mostly) aside, the theme of leadership caused me to remember a wonderful group in my former parish, led by wise members of the community. The group met monthly, under the title of Faith@Work. They facilitated conversations about the intersection between Sunday and the rest of the week, discussions led by leaders from various fields, speakers from our parish and our denomination. The group’s leaders also made it a point to learn from those outside the Episco-bubble. I told you they were wise.

One of the guest speakers who made an impression on me was Harry Kraemer who wrote a book entitled From Values to Action, a book describing principles of leadership. He was head of a really big company in Chicago. A devoted Roman Catholic, he worked hard to bring his values to his work. He spoke about a daily practice which I envy. It included morning reflection on how he might live into his values for the coming day, and an evening review of how successful he had been in putting those values into action. I admired his rule of life. I’m pretty good at the morning thing, but I tend to nod off when I try evening reflection.

In his book, he identified four essential principles of leadership which he shared with our group. I’m guessing that Monday readers are leaders in one way or another, leaders in households, schools, churches, places of business. So see if these four principles speak to you.

Self-reflection: The ability to reflect and identify what you stand for, what your values are and what matters most. For me, a big part of this has to do with mindfulness, awareness, which often comes with intentional quiet time. Where in your life do you find this quiet time?

Balance and perspective: The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives, including differing viewpoints to give a holistic understanding. For me, this principle is reflected in the baptismal covenant which asks us to seek Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self. Where might you take a wider view in your own life? What perspectives are you not including? What unexpected person might be your teacher?

True self-confidence: Enabling you to accept yourself as you are, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and focusing on continuing improvement. For me, this principle has everything to do with an embrace of grace, the confidence that comes from the belief that we don’t have to prove our worth, our value. In God’s economy, that has already been established. How can you celebrate that spirit of acceptance in your own life today?

Genuine humility: The ability never to forget who you are, to appreciate the value of each person in the organization and to treat everyone respectfully. For me, this goes back to the baptismal promise which calls us to respect the dignity of every human being, those across the dining room table, those in the next cubicle, those next to us in the pew, those who happen to watch a different cable channel. What kind of challenge does that represent for you this week

On this President’s Day, I suspect we all have thoughts about how these principles might go to work in our nation in the interesting times in which we live. Say a prayer for all those in positions of power on this holiday.

While we may or may not be able to affect any of that, we can take a few moments on this day off to see how Mr. Kraemer’s principles might be woven into our own lives, in whatever way we may lead. That would be cause for celebration. Even worthy of a day off.

-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