Monday Matters (September 14, 2020)

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The Collect for the Feast of the Holy Cross

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Mark 8:34

Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” 
 

Readings chosen for this feast day:

Philippians 2:5ff

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.

John 12:31-36a

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. The crowd answered him, “We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” Jesus said to them, “The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.”

Take up your cross

The historian Eusebius (you all remember him, right?), in his Life of Constantine, tells how the emperor ordered the building of a complex in Jerusalem “on a scale of imperial magnificence,” to set forth as “an object of attraction and veneration to all, the blessed place of our Savior’s resurrection.” Constantine’s shrine included a large basilica for the Liturgy of the Word and a circular church, known as “The Resurrection” for the Liturgy of the Table. Toward one side of the courtyard separating the two buildings, through which worshippers had to pass on their way from Word to Sacrament, the top of Calvary’s hill was visible. In that courtyard, the solemn veneration of the cross took place on Good Friday. The dedication of the buildings was completed on September 14, 335. 1,685 years later, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Cross on this day, with prayers and scripture readings taking us to the foot of the cross.

In the Collect for the day (see above), we ask for grace to take up our cross. I’m wondering this Monday morning what that means to you. People often talk about crosses they have to bear, sometimes revealing an unattractive teeth-gritting Christianity tinged with victimhood. Their crosses? A crabby relative, an irascible co-worker, any number of challenging life circumstances. We all have these forces in our lives, as suffering is the promise life always keeps. But I have a sense that taking up one’s cross means something different.

As often happens when I puzzle about a phrase that may be familiar but elusive in depth of meaning, I turn to wiser colleagues. In this case I found a homily by Sam Candler, Dean of St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta. A great priest and preacher (and accomplished jazz musician), he preached a few years ago on this phrase “Take up your cross.” Here’s an excerpt:

Are we supposed to follow Jesus so literally that we give up our lives, willingly, to the religious and political authorities of our day, who will then put us to death by execution? That’s what Jesus did. Are we supposed to carry an instrument of torture on our backs to the place of our suffering? Again, that’s what Jesus did.

What was Jesus doing during his last days, that we might be called to follow? One way to consider “the cross” is as a sign of weakness. When Jesus took up his cross, he was acknowledging vulnerability. He was admitting weakness, submitting to power that would take away his life. The cross, for Jesus, represented his exposure to pain and suffering. The cross was his vulnerability.

If so, I suggest that “taking up our cross”means picking up and acknowledging our vulnerability. Most of us spend our lives doing just the opposite. We prepare to go out into the world by building up our strengths. We train and go to school and make money and surround ourselves with good company. We even do good and great things in the world with the strengths that we have worked at.

To “take up our cross,” however, means to lay our strengths aside. It means to lay our “ego strength” aside…Something quite powerful occurs when we do this. Jesus said it like this: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”(Mark 8:35).

In spiritual circles, we often talk about this as surrender, a word I admit I have resisted. It can make me think I am called to be a doormat for Christ. It can tap into that heretical religious tradition that denigrates our worth as children of God. But there is a life giving aspect to this dynamic of surrender. Once, while I was struggling with what it means to surrender, I providentially opened a book by Thomas Merton. He wrote: “Our real journey in life is interior: it is a matter of growth, deepening, and of an ever greater surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts.”

What does that surrender look like? It unfolds in ways great and small. Wearing a mask in time of pandemic, uncomfortable and annoying as they might be. Setting aside our own agenda, even when we have really important things to do. Honoring another family member, beginning each day asking how I can be of service. Taking a costly stand for justice and peace in a season when injustice is there for all to see. Giving sacrificially to meet the needs of our neighbors.

On this feast day, and in days that follow, might we think about taking up the cross as doing whatever it takes to surrender to the creative action of love and grace in our hearts, and to find new life, resurrected life in the process.

-Jay Sidebotham

 

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Jay Sidebotham

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

 

 


RenewalWorks: Connect
 
What happens after RenewalWorks?
We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.
 
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Join us via Zoom video conference
 

Monday Matters (September 7, 2020)

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The Collect for Labor Day
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

 

A Reading from the First Letter to the Corinthians
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.

 

A reading from the Gospel of Matthew
Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Labor Day

Labor Day is one of the few secular holidays finding its way into the liturgical calendar (along with Independence Day and Thanksgiving). Prayers and readings have been chosen to help us think about our labor, our efforts, our work, our ministry in the place to which God has brought us.

We often say that praying shapes our believing. What we pray molds our attitudes. Prayers also guide our actions. In this time of considerable coincident crises, contending with threats to health, a depleted economy and urgent racial reckoning, the collect for Labor Day, included above, has a lot to say. We ask for guidance in the work we do. We ask to be made mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers and to arouse our concern for those who are out of work. It says we’re in this together.

A political season can trigger (heated) debate about best ways to respond to the challenges we face. But the fact that Labor Day is a feast of the church, finding its place in the liturgical calendar, means that this is not simply a matter of politics. It’s something we do as part of the Jesus movement, part of the way of love. It’s something we do as people of faith, as disciples. That prompts a few questions to think about in the spare time provided on this holiday (not to mention time provided by sheltering in place).

First, the prayer notes that our lives are linked one with another. Whatever work we’re given to do, for pay or as volunteers, is meant for the common good. So let me ask: In what way do you see your life linked to all those who might be struggling these days, with issues of health or economics or race relations? Spend some quiet time asking God to show you that linkage. How will your efforts be dedicated to the common good?

Second, on this day, we hear a portion of a letter from St. Paul (again included above), writing to the Corinthian church. He compares their lives, as individuals and as a community, to a construction project. He talks about their labor in building. He asks them to think about the foundation on which they build. So let me ask: As you think about the life you are building, what’s the foundation? What does it mean to you to build on the foundation that is Jesus Christ? What about Jesus is foundational for you?

Finally, on this day, we’re invited to read an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount (again, see above). Jesus challenges his listeners to think about what they value, what they treasure. In words that always make me stop and think, words we hear on Ash Wednesday, he tells them: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. That verse prompted one of the desert fathers to issue this related challenge: Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart. So let me ask: Where are you giving your heart these days? In the quiet of this Labor Day, think about what it is you treasure. What are the ways that we can treasure, we can value and honor the common good, the whole human family?

The times in which we live can drive us into isolated corners. The politics of the day encourage tribalism and division. It’s often hard to see the common good. Jesus calls us to another way, the way of love. How do you hear that call on this holiday, this holy day?

-Jay Sidebotham

 

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Jay Sidebotham

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

 

 


RenewalWorks: Connect
 
What happens after RenewalWorks?
We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.
 
Next call:  Wednesday, September 9, 7pm EDT
Join us via Zoom video conference
 

Monday Matters (August 31, 2020)

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To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept. Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously and discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.
-Henri Nouwen
There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something.
-J.R.R.Tolkien
Leadership is energizing a community of people toward their own transformation in order to accomplish a shared mission in the face of a changing world.
-Tod Bolsinger

Listening & Looking

It wouldn’t have happened without Zoom. Earlier this month, I joined a conversation with clergy gathered from places as far-flung as Hawaii and Scotland and North Carolina. Our conversation focused on how we do church these days, given coincident crises, especially a health crisis that precludes the kind of church gatherings that have been going on for centuries. In prep for the call, we read a short book by Tod Bolsinger entitled: Leadership For A Time Of Pandemic. Good stuff. You may or may not think of yourselves as a leader, spiritual or otherwise, but there are lessons for all of us as we think about how we navigate extraordinary times.

The springboard for this latest work is a book he wrote a few years ago called Canoeing the Mountains. That book takes as guiding metaphor the search of Lewis and Clark for a northwest passage. They followed the Missouri River to its source and assumed an easy connection with a river that would then empty into the Pacific. Excellent plan. Except when they got to the end of the Missouri, they encountered hundreds of miles of mountains. Canoeing skills were not going to help. They needed to think differently about the next steps.

Sound familiar? The pandemic presents a similar challenge. The advent of the fall season marked by social distancing, going back to school, new ways to work, many unable to work, churches and other organizations trying to begin again, making it up as they go along, all indicate a new normal. Old ways may never come back. They may no longer be helpful.

It’s easy to get bummed out about what we’ve lost. Tod Bolsinger says that people don’t resist change. They resist loss. Too many are grieving these days, as we approach 200,000 dead from this virus in our nation, yet another black man killed by police, economic security dissipating. We long for days when we can gather in church or school or our favorite crowded restaurant. As we confront all that longing and loss, matters great and small, can we imagine a new thing unfolding, a new thing God has for us?

Tod Bolsinger invites two practices for leaders. I include all of you in that group, if only that you are leading your own life this Monday. I hope the practices might be helpful. The two practices: listening and looking. (Alliteration strikes again.)

What does it mean to practice listening? Henri Nouwen, uber-pastor, described listening as the highest form of hospitality. Mr. Bolsinger describes it as paying attention to the longing and losses of people in our care, again, noting that we all deal with the kinds of loss that trigger resistance to growth and change. Anxious voices can keep us from hearing longing and losses. In light of that, we are called to be attuned to two things at once: to the pain of the world and to the longing and losses of our people.

And we listen to God. Scripture gives us ways to do that. Abraham was called to a land he would be shown. He listened and left home (Genesis 12). Moses paid attention to a burning bush bringing liberation (Exodus 3). Elijah heard a still small voice (I Kings 19). More Bolsinger wisdom: Such listening leads to a new way of acting. We are surrounded by so much noise it’s hard to hear God. That’s where spiritual disciplines can help. It may be creating a daily quiet time. It may be time in nature. It may be meditation on a piece of scripture. It may be reading scripture with others. In this political season, Tod Bolsinger’s advises the practice of communal meals, captured in the slogan:  “Making America Dinner Again”

The second practice is looking. Again, that calls for doing two things at once. First, it involves looking at the current moment from a bit of a distance. Tod Bolsinger describes it as getting up on the balcony, where one can gain perspective lost once we’re on the dance floor. We need to not only see what’s happening in the moment (i.e., on the dance floor). We need to take the broader view, the longer view. Both are important. We need to be in the game. We have to get some distance, as we seek a broader view, a longer view. Maybe that’s what hope is all about.

Again, scripture gives us ways to do that.  From the moment of creation, there was light. The psalmist prays: Open my eyes that I may behold the wonders of your law. Jesus came to be the light of the world. So many of his miracles involved healing of blindness. As God regards us with unconditional love, so we are to look that same way at the world and at all our neighbors. And there’s always the practice of God-sightings, noticing each day where you’ve seen God at work.

Blessings in this new season. As you begin, how will you listen and look this Monday, this week? Lead on.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

 

 


RenewalWorks: Connect
 
What happens after RenewalWorks?
We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.
 
—> we’re changing days! RW:Connect will now be on the 1st Wednesday of the month
Next call:  Wednesday, September 9, 7pm EDT
Join us via Zoom video conference
 

Monday Matters (August 24, 2020)

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Singing a song of the saints of God
There are hundreds of thousands still; The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church or in trains or in shops or at tea; For the Saints of God are just folk like me and I mean to be one too.

 

John 1:43-51
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
 
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 
 
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. 
 
“Come and see,” said Philip.
 
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
 
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
 
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
 
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

St. Bartholomew

For a number of years, I served at a church named St. Bartholomew’s. I’m reminded of that church today, the Feast of St. Bartholomew. Some churches make a big deal about the saint for which the church is named. At St. Bart’s, we didn’t make much of the observance. Partly because it fell at the end of August when many of our folks (including clergy) were on vacation. We also downplayed the day, because the truth is we don’t know a lot about this saint.

There’s a hymn created for use on saint’s days. It has an intro and closing stanza, but then some stanzas pertinent to any  number of saints. You can plug in that stanza for your feast day. Customized hymn. Great idea. Here’s the stanza for St. Bartholomew:

Praise for the blest Nathaniel, surnamed Bartholomew;
We know not his achievements but know that he was true,
For he at the Ascension was an apostle still
May we discern your presence and seek, like him, your will.

I always get a chuckle out of this stanza, not only because the writer found a rhyme for Bartholomew. It essentially says that we don’t know anything about this guy, but because he gets mentioned in the gospels, we assume he was a pretty good guy. Apart from the rather gruesome way that he was martyred (I’m going to let you look that up on your own), we find almost no other information about Bartholomew in scripture.

As the hymn suggests (and some scholars doubt) Bartholomew and a character named Nathaniel may be one and the same. What we know about Nathaniel comes from the first chapter of John’s gospel (see column on the left). Jesus calls his first disciples and in the process, has an exchange with Nathaniel. Nathaniel’s friend, Philip, is all excited about meeting Jesus, the one promised by Moses and the prophets. He tells Nathaniel about Jesus of Nazareth. Nathaniel responds: Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Jesus soon meets Nathaniel and commends him for being a straight shooter.

Kudos to Nathaniel for his freedom to ask questions, bordering on impertinence. In that regard, he reminds me of many Episcopalians. I love that his story is preserved in scripture. He models honest, holy conversations. And he discovered what we all must learn: God can handle our hard questions, our skepticism. We need not try to hide or disguise them, as if God didn’t know we had them.

Then join me in thinking about that question: Can anything good come from Nazareth? How do you translate that question into your own context?  I suspect we all find it easy to put people into categories, to help us make sense of the world. We all have preconceived notions of how God can work, or what kind of people God can use. We are tempted to limit that group. We may be totally surprised by who might be our teachers, our guides. I’ve had Episcopalians look down their noses at folks from other denominations, even those that are clearly attracting many people. I’ve had evangelicals tell me that Episcopalians don’t love Jesus as much as they do. We may be inclined to look in the mirror and wonder: Can anything good come out of me, out of my life? Can God work in my shambles of a life?

Let’s let Jesus answer. He said that children could be our teachers. He noted that a hated Roman centurion had more faith than anyone he had met in Israel. He indicated that the most educated religious scholars of his day were blind guides. He commended a foreign woman for audacious faith. He held up despised lepers as models of gratitude. He told a thief on the cross that he would join him in paradise.

And then there’s this quiet, unsung saint, Bartholomew or Nathaniel or whoever he was. He teaches us that God’s saving work for all people for all time can begin in podunk, backwater towns. It can happen through the most unlikely people.

Even you and me. Celebrate that this Monday. Live into it.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

 

 


RenewalWorks: Connect
 
What happens after RenewalWorks?
We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.
 
Next call:  Wednesday, September 9, 7pm EDT
Join us via Zoom video conference
 

Monday Matters (August 17, 2020)

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Genesis 45
Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay…Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
 
Romans 8:28
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 

Respect

It’s all good

I was enjoying lunch a week or two ago with a good and wise friend. As we were winding up, he said: Let me ask you a question. I had a sense I should fasten my seatbelt. He asks good questions. This was what he wanted to discuss: Does God have a plan for our lives? He spoke of friends who are crystal clear that God has mapped it all out. It’s all scripted. We just need to play our part, act out the role. As an Episcopalian, more qualified, uncertain answers went through my mind as he asked about God as strategic planner. I thought of responses like: It depends. It’s complicated. It’s a mystery. I’m not sure.

I’m pretty clear in my own belief that there is not just one course our lives can take and if we screw that up, God gives up on us. I’m not certain God has it all planned out, as if we’re chess pieces or automatons or actors in a drama with a foregone conclusion. It’s a mystery for sure, God’s knowledge (omniscience) and power (omnipotence) intersecting with our agency. I’m oddly comforted to know that theologians have debated this for centuries.

But I do hold this creed. I do believe that in all things, God has intention for good, for each of us, for all of creation. God intends healing, wholeness, deliverance, salvation, peace. And if we are working towards any of that, we are in the zone.

Yesterday in church, the lectionary gave us the option of reading one of the final scenes of the story of Joseph, of amazing technicolor dream-coat fame. It’s one of my favorite stories. If you’re looking for a good summer read, catch the whole saga in the book of Genesis, chapters 37-50.

It’s one of those stories that makes people regard the Bible as just one big story of sibling rivalry. (Maybe that’s the story of human history.) To review, Joseph, favored son of Jacob whose sons represent the 12 tribes of Israel, didn’t seem to mind playing favored son status with his siblings. It didn’t go over well. So they planned to kill him. They threw him in a hole in the ground to figure out what to do with him. They decided to sell him as a slave. He ended up in Egypt. He was a smart, capable boy and he rose in position in Egypt until he was falsely accused of a crime. Thrown into prison, he languished there until his gift for interpreting dreams put him in a place of power. As model administrator, paragon of wisdom, he governed Egypt, making preparations for a global famine. Before long, his brothers made their way to Egypt to get food. They appeal to Joseph for help, though it’s been a while and they don’t recognize him.

The passage read in church yesterday (included above) describes the moment when Joseph’s identity is revealed to his brothers. They worry he will exact revenge. But Joseph speaks of God’s good intention. His brothers meant to do him evil. Joseph says God meant it for good. All of it resulted in the rescue, the deliverance, the salvation not only of Joseph but of his brothers, and thus, the people of Israel. One could argue that if this story hadn’t happened, the story of the Bible might not have gone any further.

Was it God’s plan for all these bad things to happen to Joseph? That’s hard to understand and embrace. Just as it is hard to understand and embrace the mystery of why bad things happen to good people. But what does seem to come through is that God has ability to work in any situation and bring good out of it. Case in point: the cruelty of the cross. We call it redemption and it occurs to me that in the coincidental crises we face right now, and in the personal crises that come to each of us, we could use some redemption. We each have to find ways to look forward, to hold on to hope, to trust in one whose intention toward us is goodness. How is that as a challenge for you this Monday morning?

As I was mulling this mystery, I heard a fine sermon preached by a friend in which she quoted Phillips Brooks, great Episcopal preacher (no, that’s not an oxymoron) and Rector of Trinity Church in Boston in the 19th century. Check out this quote: You must learn, you must let God teach you, that the only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it. God will waste nothing.

It’s all good.

-Jay Sidebotham

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Jay Sidebotham

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

 

 

Monday Matters (August 10, 2020)

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I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
-John 17:20-23
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
-Ephesians 4:1-6
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
-Galatians 3:27-28

Respect

From the Baptismal Covenant: Will you strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being?

Every human being? Really?

When I was 17, I traveled to India on a student exchange program, where I encountered a depth and breadth of poverty I had not witnessed before as a sheltered, suburban kid. That was a few years ago, but one indelible memory lingers, a moment as I passed through a crowded train station. A boy about my age was lying face down on a dolly with four wheels, pulling his way along the platform at breakneck speed, asking for money. His misshapen legs were nothing but bones, clearly unable to support his body. I wondered about his journey. I found myself thinking about our connection, our brotherhood. Why were his circumstances so different from mine? As you can tell, I still think about that.

Years later, I accompanied my daughter as she began work at a school in Tanzania. It was a five hour drive from the airport to the school, a trip through desolate terrain. As we bumped along a rugged two-lane road in the desert, I saw a herd of sheep led by a young boy, maybe ten years old. He was out in the middle of nowhere. No village, no parent in sight. Why wasn’t he in school? Did God have his eye on this young man as much as God had his eye on my own son?

Last Thursday, an editorial appeared in the N.Y.Times written by Elizabeth Bruenig, discussing ways that the American Catholic church is responding to the current crisis in race relations. The column quoted Gloria Purvis, who hosts a popular Catholic radio show. Her show recently featured episodes devoted to saints who resisted racism, and the reality of systemic racism itself. Her comments set off a wave of recrimination from indignant listeners. Those attacks caused her to say: Racism makes a liar of God. It says not everyone is made in his image. What a horrible lie from the pit of hell.

Nkose Johnson died of AIDS at age 12 in South Africa. Before he died, he spoke to an AIDS conference of thousands, sharing the wisdom of John Wesley who said: Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are. The experience of this young boy was chronicled in a book by journalist Jim Wooten. The title of the book: We Are All The Same.

I’m not sure why all these images came to me this past week. I’m not entirely clear on the message behind them.  But we are experiencing so much division in our world. Tribalism of the worst sort. The church at its best hears words of scripture that we are in this together. We are all the same, if for no other reason than the one articulated by St. Paul: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The gospel invites us to another way, reflected in biblical passages above.

Our Prayer Book speaks of the bonds of our common humanity. In the baptismal covenant, we not only promise to respect the dignity of every human being. We also claim to see Christ in all persons, reflecting Gloria Purvis’ creed that says everyone is made in God’s image. Everyone. We are all the same. Or as Dr. King said, we are “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality” and “tied together in the single garment of destiny.”

Think about the expansiveness of that vision this week. In your mind, and in your practice, how do you see the dignity born by every human being? Is it hard to believe? Is there anyone outside of that window? Is it someone in your family, your church, your workplace? Is it someone with a different religious or political point of view? Is it someone who looks different than you? How might you grow just a bit this week in respecting the dignity of every human being? Every one.

I guess what I want to share this morning is that it’s a growth edge for me. Maybe it is for you, too.

-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

 

 

Illustration of path

RenewalWorks: Connect
What happens after RenewalWorks?

 

We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.

Next call:  Thursday, August 13, 8pm EDT

Join us via Zoom video conference.  Register here

Monday Matters (August 3, 2020)

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A reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (Chapter 3)

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.

May the seeds of peace be scattered, birthing trees whose shade gives us rest.
-from the song “All is not lost” by The Brilliance

Do no harm

Years ago, in the first years of my ministry, I attended an orientation session for Sunday school teachers, led by a wise mentor. He spoke with the teachers as they began a year of classes, and offered this simple instruction, borrowed from another healing profession. He told the teachers: “Do no harm.”

I carried that wisdom with me throughout ministry. It’s been important over the years as I have come to hear too many stories of folks wounded by organized religion (or disorganized religion in the case of the Episcopal Church). Maybe you are one of them. If so, I pray you will know healing and blessing.

As a representative of organized religion (i.e., clergy), I am haunted by this verse in the psalms: Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me. (Psalm 69:7) I confess that I’ve done that.

“Do no harm.” In subsequent years, I would apply that wisdom with teenagers when we participated in work trips. Small groups of teenagers would be sent to do home repairs. Very few had construction experience. Many had short attention spans. Some were more interested in, how shall I say, social life. There was no way I was qualified to serve as foreman. So as we would begin our work, I prayed with fear and trembling for the safety of our young people. I prayed for the well-being of the residents. I implored the teenagers, as we were given opportunity to enter these residents’ lives, to work on their homes: “Do no harm.”

Over the years, that didn’t seem quite enough. I added a related bit of guidance. I offered a simple challenge for our efforts: “Let’s leave the place better than we found it.” It was reassuring to me when I heard that same instruction from a wise guide, Cookie Cantwell, who does amazing work with young people at our church. Again and again, as she gathers, leads and inspires our youth, she teaches them that they don’t have to do anything super-human. They simply have to take a step toward something better. They are called to make a difference, even if it’s a small one.

That challenge applies to our own journeys of faith, in our homes and churches, in our culture. As we have celebrated the life, ministry and witness of John Lewis, I came across words he addressed to a group of young people: “We must use our time and our space on this little planet that we call Earth to make a lasting contribution, to leave it a little better than we found it, and now that need is greater than ever before.” Leave it a little better than we found it. John Lewis did that. In the face of daunting challenges, this wisdom provides accessible steps forward. You don’t have to do everything. But you can do something. Progress not perfection.

It’s wisdom expressed by St. Paul in the letter to the Philippians, an excerpt printed above. Paul reflected on his own spiritual journey. There were things about his past that he regretted, ways he had done damage. He had fallen short. But giving up the hope of a better past, he instead strained forward to what lies ahead, keeping his eyes on the prize. For us, it’s the same, keeping our eyes on the prize, language from the New Testament that animated the movement for civil rights in this nation. It can help us take the next steps in our own journey.

I don’t know if you’re feeling this way, but as I think about our broken world, about the considerable coincidental crises we face, crises of health, economics and race relations, the enormity of these challenges seems daunting. That’s precisely the moment to ask the Holy Spirit to guide us this week to maybe just that one thing, perhaps a very small thing, that we can do to make things better, more healthy, more holy, more whole.

-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

 

 

Illustration of path

RenewalWorks: Connect
What happens after RenewalWorks?

 

We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.

Next call:  Thursday, August 13, 8pm EDT

Join us via Zoom video conference.  Register here

Monday Matters (July 27, 2020)

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Philippians 2:5-11
 
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.
 
 
Chapter 53: The Rule of St. Benedict
 
All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt. 25:35). Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal. 6:10) and to pilgrims. Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace, but prayer must always precede a kiss of peace because of the delusions of the devil. All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them. After the guests have been received, they should be invited to pray; then the superior or an appointed brother will sit with them. The divine law is read to the guest for his instruction, and after that every kindness is shown to him. The superior may break his fast for the sake of a guest, unless it is a day of special fast which cannot be broken. The brothers, however, observe the usual fast. The abbot shall pour water on the hands of the guests and the abbot with the entire community shall wash their feet. After the washing they will recite this verse: God, we have received your mercy in the midst of your temple (Ps. 47 [48}:10). Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect. 

Welcome

Back in the day, I did a fair amount of traveling for RenewalWorks, often meeting in churches in towns I’d never visited before. I loved the adventure, the exploration, the learning. With the help of Google, I’d find my way, but I was always glad to see signs that confirmed I was on the right track. The signs read: The Episcopal Church welcomes you. I could spot them a mile away. I’m grateful for them. Good branding. As far as it goes.

In recent days, I’ve had occasion to think about what it means to be welcoming. Our church is putting together a parish profile. I’m reminded that every profile I ever read describes the church as welcoming. My experience of church visits can suggest otherwise. The folks who craft those profiles are usually folks at the core of those communities, folks who feel the welcome, which is wonderful. I contrast that with the young woman I met on the steps of a church in a big city. She looked up at the imposing façade and asked: Am I allowed to go in there?

Last week, Scott Gunn, Executive Director of Forward Movement, smart guy, faithful disciple, creative Christian, wrote a reflection after nine years as leader of that ministry. He’s done an amazing job, and we are all grateful to him for his leadership. His reflection included comments about the state of the wider church. He explored the quality of our welcome.  He wrote: “We need a new slogan. ‘The Episcopal Church welcomes you,’ sets up a dynamic of a club to which new members of many kinds will be admitted, rather than a mission-focused, outward facing movement in which we seek to make disciples of all nations. It isn’t enough to be nice to people who show up in our churches. We need to get out there and invite people to know the transforming grace of Jesus Christ. We need an active urgent slogan – because we need to be urgently active in the world.”

I’ve played around with supplemental slogans over the years, as I’ve sensed what Scott more ably articulated. Our slogan has been plenty nice. It’s key. But it may not go far enough. Our church in Chicago embraced the following vision: If you come here, you will grow. That helps get at the transforming quality we seek in church, the challenge of the gospel we need in our culture these days. But I’m not sure it says enough about how we connect with the world, or how in the language of RenewalWorks, how we pastor the wider community.

I was thinking about this in morning reflection time last week, as I read from the final chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The passages represent his summing up comments, his so-what factor for this church in a culture not unlike our own. Among other things, he offers this instruction, which might not be a bad slogan: “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you.” (Romans 15)

I like this, because it is rooted not in our own benevolence but in belief about God’s action in Christ, the ways we have been welcomed. It is rooted in a doctrine of grace, of love from which we can never be separated. Think about ways that you in your spiritual journey have been welcomed by Christ. How would you describe that experience? (Maybe you want to journal a bit about that this week.)

Think about how Christ welcomed those he met. By going outside his comfort zone, emptying himself as the letter to the Philippians describes it (included above). By crossing religious, ethnic, social, gender boundaries of his day. By meeting with people he shouldn’t have met with. By offering them a path to transformation, a new way of life. By finding what God was up to in the neighborhood, among Samaritans and other foreigners, criminals, outcasts, scary people possessed by demons, lepers, pariahs, Pharisees, tax collectors, soldiers, rebels, rich people, poor people, and marvel of marvels, good, religiously observant people. Each one of us fits in there somewhere. Each one of us has had grace extended to us. A sign that we really know that grace will be our ability to show that grace to others.

And once we’ve reflected on how we have been welcomed, perhaps we can explore ways to welcome others in that spirit. What would that look like?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for those signs of welcome on street corners. Maybe they just need to say more, something like “The Episcopal Church welcomes you as Christ has welcomed all of us.”

                                           -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

 

 

Illustration of path

RenewalWorks: Connect
What happens after RenewalWorks?

 

We invite you to join us for a new monthly online series to discuss how to continue this work of spiritual growth and to support one another on the way.

Next call:  Thursday, August 13, 8pm EDT

Join us via Zoom video conference.

Monday Matters (July 20, 2020)

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From Psalm 30, an example of orientation, dis-orientation and new orientation:
7 While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.”
8 Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear.
9 I cried to you, O Lord: I pleaded with the Lord, saying,
10 “What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?”
11 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper.”
12 You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.
13 Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.
 
A prayer for the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, observed later this week:
Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and of mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed from all our infirmities and know you in the power of his unending life; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
 
2 Corinthians 5:17,18
So 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.
 
From Psalm 98
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.

 

Summer reading

This summer, I’ve been part of a group studying a book entitled The Spirituality of the Psalms, by Dr. Walter Brueggemann. It’s a great find, a succinct offering (74 pages…we like that) that describes the psalms in their great variety. Dr. Brueggemann identifies psalms of orientation, psalms of disorientation, and psalms of new orientation.

Psalms of orientation celebrate the goodness that surrounds us. They are often filled with praise and gratitude, a key part of the spiritual life. But they can sometimes spill over into self-congratulation and complacency. Isn’t God lucky to have me on the team?

Psalms of dis-orientation seem especially appropriate now, as we contend with coincident crises any one of which would normally send us reeling. They suggest times to discover our need of God, our absolute dependence. They can also be times when we feel overwhelmed by forsakenness and despair.

Psalms of new orientation emerge from that disorientation. They call us to sing a new song, to find a new way of being, perhaps move to the new normal for which we all pine. They do not describe a return to the good old days. Instead they speak of new creation.

We can note these varied voices not only in the Psalms, but in other stories in the Bible as well. We see it as communal experience, in the exodus of the children of Israel, the Babylonian exile, the persecution of the early church, as communities of faith ride a roller coaster and come to a new place. It’s the story of individual characters like Joseph, who went from favored son to slave to prisoner to prince of Egypt, a progression which according to the book of Genesis represented the salvation of Israel in a time of global famine.

It’s the story of Mary Magdalene, whose feast we celebrate this week. She was grateful for the ways Jesus delivered her from spirits that  bedeviled her, becoming one of Jesus’s most faithful disciples and ardent supporters. Then she came to the disorientation that took her to the foot of the cross when other disciples fled. In that disorientation, she made her grief-stricken way to the tomb, where she met the risen Lord and became the first witness of Easter faith. Perhaps that’s why one of the readings for her feast day speaks of new creation (See the passage above). In Christ, God makes things new.

We see the progression not only in the psalms, not only in the Bible, but in our own lives. Take a look in your own spiritual rear-view mirror this morning and see if you can identify periods of orientation, dis-orientation and new orientation in your own biography. See if you can identify those stages unfolding in a communal sense.

I’ll go out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that right now we can best be described as living in unprecedented disorientation. We face unsettling threats to our most fundamental concerns: our health, our financial resources, and our relations with each other in a world where too many people are disregarded and marginalized. It’s true of our families, our churches, our nation, our world.

In the thick of all that, we’ve got to hold on to the possibility, the prospect, the hope of new orientation, new creation. I’m pretty sure we’re not going back to the old normal, the old orientation. I’m not sure I want to. But God is faithful. Something new will be created, and we can be part of that new creation. What will you do this week, even in massive disorientation, to be part of that new creation? Let me know your thoughts. I’m all ears.

-Jay Sidebotham

            

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

 

 

Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

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

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

Monday Matters (July 13, 2020)

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Just about every time I say the Confession, I stop at the lines that admit that I have not loved God with whole heart or loved neighbor as self. There’s not a day in my life when that is not true. Some days, I can get discouraged that I don’t make more progress on this front. Other days, I’m relieved that I don’t need to be perfect. I can look at this as something to work on, something to strive for, something to pray about, something of a growth opportunity.
 
This weekly column comes as part of the RenewalWorks ministry, an effort to focus on spiritual growth opportunities, to make those opportunities the priority in our congregations. As that work has unfolded over the past 7 years, we’ve often been asked what we mean by spiritual growth. How would you answer that?
 
Our working answer: spiritual growth is about love, about growing in love of God and neighbor, following Jesus’ instruction that this kind of love is the path to his abundant, endless life. We believe we grow in love by deepening the relationship  with God and neighbor, engaging in spiritual practices that help us know God better, being of service to those around us, spending time in God’s presence, in conversation with God and neighbor. It seems to me those are ways that love grows.
 
So this morning, as preacher preaches to himself, I wanted to share some thoughts about love from sources wiser, deeper, holier, lovelier. Carry these thoughts with you this week, and see if you can discover the ways that loves wins. 

Love wins.

Love wins. But don’t take my word for it. Hear from these folks this Monday morning.

Jesus (in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5)

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.

St. Paul (Romans 8)

In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

St. Augustine

To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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

William Sloane Coffin

May God give you grace never to sell yourself short, grace to risk something big for something good, and grace to remember that the world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry (from his homily at the royal wedding)

The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, and I quote: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way. There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love.”

Presiding Bishop Curry has also famously noted:

If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.

Marian Wright Edelman, President of the Children’s Defense Fund, wrote this prayer

O God, who can turn our worries into wings of joys and our sorrows into songs of thanks, let not our hearts be so troubled by the tragedies of this life’s moment that we lose sight of the eternal life in your kingdom…Strengthen our resolve to replace hatred with love, tension with trust, and selfishness with caring and community. Heal, O God, all our children so that those who hate and those who are hated, those who hurt and those who are hurt, may grow up in an America and in a world of peace, opportunity, and justice. Amen

Rob Bell

Love wins.

Bubba Wallace, Nascar Driver

Never let anybody tell you [you] can’t do something! God put us all here for a reason. Find that reason and be proud of it and work your tails off every day towards it! All the haters are doing is elevating your voice and platform to much greater heights! Last thing, always deal with the hate being thrown at you with LOVE! Love over hate every day. Love should come as naturally as people are TAUGHT to hate. Even when it’s HATE from the POTUS. Love wins.

Jesus (John 13:35)

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

-Jay Sidebotham

4
Jay Sidebotham

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

 

 

Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

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

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