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

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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

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What’s the core problem? Damon Linker is on to a piece of it: “It amounts to a refusal on the part of lots of Americans to think in terms of the social whole – of what’s best for the community, of the common or public good. Each of us thinks we know what’s best for ourselves.”
-from David Brooks’ column in the NYTimes last Friday. A good read.
 
Selections from readings chosen for the observance of Independence Day
 
The Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and widow, who loves the stranger, providing them food and clothing.
-Deuteronomy 10:17,18
 
The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down. The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
-Psalm 145:15-17
 
All of these died in faith without having received the promises…but as it is they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one.
-Hebrews 11:13,14
 
Jesus said…Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
-Matthew 5:43

We’re in this together

 

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.                        

-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The story is told of Mayor Laguardia (airport namesake…not necessarily an honor, but that’s another column). He showed up at a night-time courtroom in 1935. An older woman was on trial for stealing a loaf of bread. The Mayor had taken the place of the judge, as mayors were permitted to do. The woman explained that she stole the food because her unemployed daughter (a single mother) and children were hungry, presumably victims of the Great Depression. The woman admitted her guilt. The Mayor sentenced her to a $10 fine or 10 days in prison. The woman noted that if she had $10 she wouldn’t have stolen bread. She agreed to be imprisoned, but wondered who would care for her family. The Mayor pulled out $10 and paid the fine. Then he addressed the whole group gathered in the courtroom. He said that he was charging everyone in the room 50 cents for living in a city where an old woman has to steal bread to feed her family. They collected almost $500 and gave it to the woman.

These days, I’m feeling like someone in that courtroom. That may be why I love this story, so much so that I’ve probably included it in this column before. Scanning the internet, some doubt its veracity. I’ll simply say that if it’s not true it ought to be. If nothing else, it’s a parable shedding light on what systemic challenges are all about.

This story came to mind as I thought about the community in which I now reside. A wonderful place. In the middle of the night last week, without fanfare, protest, or violence, several Confederate memorials were taken down by the city. They weren’t destroyed. It’s yet to be decided where they’ll be placed (A museum? A cemetery?), but for me, it showed wisdom, courage and initiative from our civic leaders. In the very same week, three policemen in our city made national news, caught on tape making vile, racist comments about violent intentions toward local African-Americans. I’ve been thinking of how, as citizen of this fine town, I’m part of both these developments.

We’ve just celebrated Independence Day. We give thanks for exceptional freedoms many have enjoyed over the years. The day is one of few secular/national holidays (Labor Day and Thanksgiving are the others) that have made it into the church calendar, with readings and prayers to inform our celebration. It is a holy day, set apart to recognize that our common life is both gift and responsibility. It’s interesting to me that the word “independence” does not appear in the Bible but the word “freedom” is all over the place. And that freedom has a purpose. It is meant for service, for life in community. St. Augustine spoke about this responsibility by talking about the God in whose service is perfect freedom.

In the news, there’s debate about whether challenges we face are systemic or just the result of individual, rogue actors. It’s convenient to attribute the brokenness to a few bad apples. It’s more challenging to ask: What’s my part?

Our baptismal covenant calls us each to strive for justice and peace. That’s a call to connect with our community, to recognize our participation or complicity or indifference to systems that are not just, to seize opportunity to change those systems. We see injustice in those systems: our courts, workplaces, families, schools, neighborhoods, churches.

We are called to work for a world marked by respect for the dignity of every human being. We are the body of Christ, connected to all God’s children. Maybe this week, we’ll find opportunity to grow in that, to pastor the community, to see what God is up to in the neighborhood, to share good news in word and action, even if it’s just a small step. Maybe.

                                           -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, July 9, 8pm EDT

We welcome the Rt. Rev. Rob Hirschfeld (Bishop of New Hampshire) and Ms. Tina Pickering, Canon for Congregations in New Hampshire to be our presenters.

Join us via Zoom video conference

Monday Matters (June 22, 2020)

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To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?
-Katharine Graham
 
I will try not to panic, to keep my standard of living modest and to work steadily, even shyly, in the spirit of those medieval carvers who so fondly sculpted the undersides of choir seats.
-John Updike
 
Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.
-Henri Nouwen
 
There can be no joy in living without joy in work.
-Thomas Aquinas
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me, and bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling. That I may go to the altar of God, to the God of my joy and gladness; and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.
-Psalm 43:3,4
 
I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
             -Jeremiah 23:4
 
Do not let those who hope in you be put to shame because of me, O Lord God of hosts;
-Psalm 69:6

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Later this week, I’ll observe the 30th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. How did that happen? It’s been an interesting journey, some smooth sailing, some doldrums, some choppy waters, lots of fun rides with the wind of the Holy Spirit at my back. I’ve met so many great people. I’ve had many wonderful teachers. Some of them have even been clergy!

Any anniversary like this prompts a look in the rear-view mirror (mixed metaphor alert!). And in this season of corona-cloister, I’ve been going through old files, stuff I hadn’t looked at in a while.

I came across a letter, written in response to my request for advice. As a new priest, less than one year in, I asked a few people for counsel. I was looking for guidance and I wrote a priest I’d heard a lot about and had had the privilege of meeting one time. At that time, the Rev. Carol Anderson was early in her long-tenured ministry as rector of All Saints Beverly Hills, where she went on to serve for more than 20 years. Many people told me she knew stuff, so I asked if she would share wisdom. She wrote a letter which until recently was in one of many boxes that had moved with me from town to town with being opened.

She was a mentor then. She’s a mentor now. She’s filled that role for so many in our church. I won’t copy the whole letter but she had three bits of advice. In honor of this anniversary, I thought I’d share them. They don’t just apply to clueless clergy like me. They’re good guidelines for anyone trying to figure out what on earth it means to be a person of faith, a disciple, a learner these days.

Her first bit of advice she described as theological (or biblical or doctrinal). She advised me to make every effort to stay grounded in the basic gospel, and as simply as possible. She said it was a matter of knowing Christ, preaching Christ, trusting Christ and his kingdom. She notes that people are spiritually starving because they have not been introduced to a relationship with Christ.

So let me ask: How would you take that advice? If someone asked you for a brief articulation of the gospel, how would you answer? What’s the core for you? What’s the good news? What distracts you, deters you from embracing that core? How have you been introduced to a relationship with Christ? What does that even mean to you? What does it mean to us these days, to connect with Christ the healer in our time of pandemic, to connect with Christ who fed multitudes in our time of economic stress, to connect with Christ who welcomed the outsider in our time of glaring racial injustice?

Second, she advised spending time both being with God and listening to what God wants to do in my life. She confessed that often she was spinning her wheels. She cites Jeremiah 23 as helpful. It talks about shepherds who lead faithfully and those who don’t.

So let me ask: How would take that advice? Does your calendar, your daily or weekly routine, allow time for this kind of connection with the Holy One? How can you work that into your routine?

Finally, she said she needed to accept the charism of leadership and authority that comes with her office, priest and rector. It’s not a matter of being authoritarian but a matter of having authority, grounded in an understanding that we are all instruments of God’s word and life. She included in that profile: being a visionary.

So let me ask: How would you take that advice? What are the gifts you’ve been given, the calling you’ve received? Can you live into that vocation, whatever it may be, a vocation in your family, in your workplace, in your church, in our broken nation?

It’s been a great run. So far. It’s been privilege to do this work. As far as I can tell, it ain’t over. I’m excited about what the next chapter might be, and in the same way that I tried to digest Carol’s advice 30 years ago, I take it to heart right now. I hope it’s of use to you this Monday morning. Let me say as I’ve said before: Thank you, Carol.                                                                   

-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

 

 

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 (June 15, 2020)

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Choice comments from Evelyn Underhill:
 
If God were small enough to be understood, God would not be big enough to be worshipped.
 
As the genuine religious impulse becomes dominant, adoration more and more takes charge. “I come to seek God because I need Him,” may be an adequate formula for prayer. “I come to adore His splendor and fling myself and all that I have at His feet,” is the only possible formula for worship. 
 
For a lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us everyday
 
The spiritual life of individuals has to be extended both vertically to God and horizontally to other souls; and the more it grows in both directions, the less merely individual and therefore more truly personal it will become. 
 
Every minute you are thinking of evil, you might have been thinking of good instead. Refuse to pander to a morbid interest in your misdeeds. Pick yourself up, be sorry, shake yourself, and go on again.
 
On every level of life, from housework to heights of prayer, in all judgment and efforts to get things done, hurry and impatience are sure marks of the amateur.
 
The spiritual life is not a special career, involving abstraction from the world of things. It is a part of every man’s life; and until he has realized it he is not a complete human being, has not entered into possession of all his powers.

Feast of Evelyn Underhill

Back in the day, I used to do a lot of traveling to meet with congregations and clergy groups. It’s been a big part of my work and I miss it. When I make these trips, I have a few questions I ask. One has to do with spiritual growth. I invite folks to take a look in their own spiritual rear-view mirror and remember a time in life marked by spiritual growth. With that time in mind, I then ask them to think about what was happening in that time, why the growth happened, what were that catalysts. What would you say?

The results I want to report are anecdotal. Hear them with that in mind, but invariably the most common answer I get is that growth came through some kind of crisis or challenge, hardship or suffering. In that crucible, folks got a clearer idea of what mattered, about how resources of faith could help them through tough times.

Our nation now faces three major crises at the same time. Any one of them could have thrown us for a collective loop, crises of health, economics, race relations and justice. So I’m thinking, this may be a time for real spiritual growth. I actually see some of that happening. The hunger for community deepens. Prayer life is enriched. Stories of scripture (many having to do with crisis) speak with more meaning. People of faith take action for equity. Reliance on the power of the Holy One becomes a necessity, as people recognize a need for God. In many ways, the season draws us back to the center, to the basics, to the heart of the matter.

Today is the feast day of Evelyn Underhill, who lived in England (and France) in the first half of the 20th century. She probably got most attention during the 1930’s, a time of striking economic and political challenges. As an aside, it was also during the 1930’s that Forward Movement started, in response to economic and spiritual depression, a movement focused on spiritual growth.

But back to Evelyn. A mystic, she was a person who seemed to know not only about God. She seemed to know God. That connection has drawn people of faith to her ever since. I talk about her a lot because early in my work with RenewalWorks, a colleague shared a letter Ms. Underhill wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1930’s, with her observations of the challenges facing the Church of England in her day. Her pointed comments are aimed squarely at the clergy. In my humble opinion, she could have written it last week to all of us, clergy or not.

In that letter, she said that we look to the church to give us an experience of God, mystery, holiness and prayer. We look to clergy to help and direct our spiritual growth. To put it mildly, she confessed disappointment with what was being offered. She said: “In public worship they often fail to evoke the spirit of adoration because they do not possess it themselves. Hence the dreary character of many church services and the result in the increasing alienation of the laity from institutional forms.” Ouch. She goes on to remind the Archbishop (why did he need reminding?) that God is the interesting thing about religion, and that people are hungry for God. In her mind, care for the interior spirit is the first duty of every priest. (Substitute: every person of faith).

You can read the whole letter yourself–it would be worth your while. Here’s a link to it. In a time of crisis, she saw opportunity for spiritual growth, and it had everything to do with a return to basics. I don’t know about you, but sheltering in place has helped me realize with greater clarity what is important and what is not. I sense these crises are prompting such realizations for our churches. May we never forget that God is the interesting thing about religion, and that people are hungry for God. So hungry.

What would Evelyn Underhill have to say about your spiritual life, and mine? How can the crises with which we all contend prompt our own spiritual growth? What are you learning? How are you growing? What lessons might unfold 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

 

 

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 (June 8, 2020)

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On this day the Lord has acted. We will rejoice and be glad in it.

-Psalm 118:24 

Glory Days

Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
I’m gonna drink till I get my fill.
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it,
But I probably will.
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
A little of the glory of, well time slips away
And leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of…

Glory days, well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days.

-Bruce

 

The heart may freeze or it can burn.
The pain will ease if I can learn.

There is no future.
There is no past.
I live each moment as my last.

There’s only us.
There’s only this.
Forget regret– or life is yours to miss.
No other road.
No other way.
No day but today.

-From the musical Rent

 

What is done under the sun was grievous to me, for all is vanity and a chasing after wind. I hated all my toil in which I had toiled under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to those who come after me and who knows whether they will be wise or foolish…this also is vanity.

-Ecclesiastes 2:17-19

Puzzling

It’s come to this. I’m doing jigsaw puzzles. I’ve never been that interested. I didn’t get the point. But sheltering in place has brought change. I’ve been presented with challenging puzzles, lots of pieces looking exactly the same. And I’m hooked. I just have to find one more piece. Just one more. One reason I’ve never done these puzzles is that you spend all this time and end up with some beautiful picture and then you rip it up and put it back in the box. Done.

Reminds me of the book of Ecclesiastes, which we’ve been reading on a daily basis lately. The key word: vanity. You work hard all life and then it’s done and who knows what happens to the work you did. Some jerk follows who undoes it, does it a different way, doesn’t get what you’ve done, doesn’t care. If I was in charge of the final edit, I’m not sure I would have included Ecclesiastes in the Bible. But thanks be to God, no one appointed me editor. There it is and here we are, taking in its sometimes puzzling message, which actually may have a word for us this morning.

I grew up the child of an ad-guy, okay a mad man (as in Madison Avenue). My memories were that my father and colleagues were enviably fun and successful, witty and attractive, not to mention well-compensated. Glory days. As decades have passed, as my father has passed, many of those colleagues have ended their lives in isolation, often debilitated, sometimes broke in all kinds of ways that humans break, festive life an ancient memory. Maybe you know similar stories. As I visit nursing homes, I always want to know the stories of men and women who live there. Too often those stories are forgotten. They can’t remember. They can no longer speak of them. The stuff of Ecclesiastes.

When I’m leading worship, the blessing I often offer at the end begins: “Life is short, and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us.” Many people use and love this blessing. It touches people unlike others. I think it’s because we all know that life is indeed short. Just blink. The prayer invites us to use the time we’ve been given for good. The advent of Covid and the tragic death of George Floyd sharpen our attention with pain and urgency. The times in which we live pose this stewardship question: What do we do with the gift of the time we’ve been given? This day?

Let me tell you about Neva, who came to our 7:30 service every Sunday. She was in her nineties. Nothing could get in the way of attendance. I believe if an earthquake was followed by a blizzard by a blackout by a tornado by a bomb scare by a pandemic, she would still be in church. On the few occasions she wasn’t there, I’d phone her. There aren’t many parishioners I could do that with in a culture where regular church attendance no longer means weekly. Every Sunday, as she left the church, she would remind me: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”

Thanks be to God, in the symphony of scripture, in the choir of biblical voices some of which are dissonant, Ecclesiastes is not the only message. A message of hope in God’s future is at the core of scripture, for sure. But let’s just listen this morning to Ecclesiastes and ask: What will we do with the gift of this day?

Start by giving thanks for the gift of today, the present. Then maybe ask how to be of service in this day, a day marked by health crisis, economic challenge, racial injustice. Ask how to love God and neighbor more deeply. How to live into values held dear just that one day. Maybe at the end of that day, check-in and see if you were able to live into those values. In our own lives, in our families, in our churches, in our denomination, in our nation, we can give thanks for good things in the past. But we need not focus on former glory days, but on what God asks of us now. As St. Paul said, now is the accepted time. Now is the day of salvation.

Okay, back to the puzzle.

-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

 

 

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 (June 1, 2020)

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Psalm 113
How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
 
Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,

and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
 
But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise, for he has been good to me.
 
* * *
 
God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.
-Jurgen Moltmann
 
Sometimes you have to go outside and yell your prayers.
-The Rev. Stephanie Spellers, on participating in a march this weekend
 
 
* * * 
 

Here’s another way to think of what goes into a psalm of lament:

  • Protest: Tell God what is wrong.
  • Petition: Tell God what you want God to do about it.
  • Praise: An expression of trust in God today, based in His character and His action in the past, even if you can’t yet see…

Lament

How to remember and honor all those who have died from this virus? 100,000+ names on a wall? Where would you build something so big? 100,000+ stones forming an altar of remembrance? A skyscraper? 100,000+ names read annually? It would take a long time. 100,000+ trees planted to be a forest of new life? I like this idea.

Wiser folks have called for this day to be a day of mourning and lament. On this day, June 1 in 1865, another national day of mourning and lament was declared. The specific focus was response to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. That one act of violence reflected a deeper brokenness in millions of racist acts. The designated day responded to the wounded character of a divided nation, the great loss of life brought with that struggle.

165 years later, religious and political leaders set aside today as another national day of mourning and lament. It was offered as a response to the milestone reached last week: 100,000 brothers and sisters who died of the coronavirus. Along with that deep wound, we’ve been reminded of the great racial divide, brought to our attention by video filmed in Minnesota.

It makes us think about the long tradition of lament, a spiritual practice which I’m sure precedes the psalms, some of them perhaps 3,000 years old. But the psalms (the only book of the Bible found in its entirety in the Book of Common Prayer) guide us in this ancient spiritual practice. Lord knows, we need it now.

Consider with me this Monday what it means to lament. There is individual lament, something we can all recognize because suffering is the promise life always keeps, as one of my mentors says. There is communal lament, perhaps the focus for today. Taking psalms as a guide , a prayer of lament consists of four parts, which I offer for your consideration and reflection on this holy day.

Lament begins by addressing God, on some level recognizing a higher power and purpose. Lament, no matter how angry or sad, confused or disheartened, involves a statement of faith, the amazing grace that we often take for granted. When we call, God is listening. So where do you see God in these moments? Can you believe God is listening?

Then claiming God’s attention, a prayer of lament articulates a complaint, a grievance, which says a lot about prayer. It says God can handle our anger or grief, our confusion and despair, our pain. I suspect that our feelings are not a surprise to the Holy One. We need not hold back. The Bible tells us so. Read the psalms. Read the book of Job. Hear the words of Jesus on the cross: My God, why have you forsaken me? What would be the complaint, the concern, the pain you bring to your prayers this week? Put it into words today, silently or aloud. And as you ask that question, note that sometimes lament is simply our reflection in a mirror. It includes confession, a complaint of complicity, recognition of our part in the problem, through sins of commission or omission, through our actions or our inaction, through our misguided passions and our stultifying indifference. As Pogo said: We have seen the enemy and the enemy is us. What if anything is your part and mine? Confess that this day.

A prayer of lament involves a request: What do we ask God to do in the midst of this all? What would we hope for? How would you articulate a prayer in these days of pandemic, simultaneously marked by the wound of racism and injustice? How might God use you in fulfilling that request?

Finally, a prayer of lament hangs on to hope, even if it makes little sense. As Jurgen Moltmann said: To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness. It is no accident that above the entrance to Dante’s hell is the inscription: “Leave behind all hope, you who enter here.” Jim Wallis said: Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change. With all that in mind, I’m wondering where you can find a glimmer of hope, in your individual and communal prayers of lament? What kind of better world can you imagine?

-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

 

 

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 (May 25, 2020)

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I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

     -Ephesians 3:16-19

Busily working for the church does not necessarily mean we are being nourished by the life-empowering feast of faith. Being actively involved in the church does not automatically mean we are spiritually growing. Our church work is a loving response of stewardship to serve God’s kingdom as a follower of Jesus. The work, however, can become so overwhelming that we miss the most precious gift the church has to offer. A relationship with God, framed by Jesus’ teachings, is the most transformative gift the church can give our long-serving, dedicated servants of Christ.

-The Rev. Dr. Dawn Davis from the introduction to the Revive curriculum

Relationship

“Christianity is not about following rules, it is about having a relationship with Jesus.”

I might imagine this quote coming from evangelical brothers and sisters who speak often about having a personal relationship with Jesus. The quote actually comes from Pope Frances. In a homily preached on May 15, he went on to say that such relationship is not a matter of ‘things to do’ – ‘If I do this, you give me that.” He noted: Such a relationship would be “commercial” while Jesus gives everything, including his life, gratuitously.

Grace.

The theme of relationship is embedded in the service of Holy Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer. The candidate is asked: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Do you promise to follow him and obey him as Lord? Sounds like relationship to me.

I’ve been thinking about how we go about building that relationship. I compared it last week to a car trip, whether God is in on the side of the road, at the service station, in the car with us or maybe behind the steering wheel. That analogy, with its limits, triggered other parables from readers.

One friend said that church leaders, clergy in particular, often get “too caught up with the splash programming or community draw, forgetting that, as Evelyn Underhill notes, God is the interesting thing about religion.” He said it’s like hosting a basketball game and spending all the time on the concessions stand and lighting of the stadium, but just a smidgeon on the actual game prep.

The Rev. Dr. Dawn Davis said that the difference between knowing about God and being in a relationship with God is like reading a recipe instead of enjoying the meal. You can see more of her comments on relationship with God included above. Good stuff.

I myself often marvel that at museums, the gift shop is the most crowded room. Masterpieces go unnoticed. What’s that about? Instead of just experiencing, enjoying the beauty from a creative hand greater than ourselves, we try to possess it, capture it, maybe even limit it, control it. Is there any parallel with religious experience?

What would it mean to deepen a relationship with God? How do we experience such a thing? Experience is a big part of the journey of faith. Along with reading scripture, learning from our tradition, tapping into God-given reason, measuring it all against the wisdom of the community, some kind of experience of God is key to spiritual growth. Otherwise, why bother?

Sure, like anything, the notion of a relationship with God can go off the rails. It can become overly individualistic. You and me and God, and I’m not so sure about you. As in all things religious, we can use the notion to divide or separate if we so choose. Years ago, my sister jokingly (I think) gave me a bumper sticker that read: Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.  Again, scripture, tradition, reason, community can keep us on track.

All of that comes with practice, in both senses of the word. We practice in the sense that we get better, go deeper, the more we do it. That’s true of any relationship, growing as we attend to it. We also practice in the sense that we make it practical. We act on it, which is why spiritual practices matter. We do that through prayer, not only giving God our wish list, but sitting in God’s presence and listening. We do that as we attend to God’s word. It comes with a regular commitment to worship, letting bread and wine feed us. It comes with generosity, being a giver, being of service which is how we come to know God’s character, how we meet Jesus.

Take this week to think about what it means to have a relationship with the Holy One, the living God, with Jesus. What might you do this week to help that relationship grow?

-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

 

 

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 (May 18, 2020)

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God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and at my departing.

-Hymn 694

 

I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

-John 14:20

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said.

-Acts 17:22-28

God in my life

At the door, parishioner greets the preacher…

“Thank you so much for that powerful sermon. When you began by saying ‘Let us pray,’ that really struck me. It made me think about my need to pray, how amazing it is that God wishes us to pray. It was so impactful. In fact, I didn’t hear anything else you said.”

I was reminded of that story in Morning Prayer last week. We begin that service with the confession, and we begin the confession with three words: “Most merciful God.”  For some reason, after reciting that confession many times. I stopped at that first line, meditating on what those three words mean, how much they convey. In those three words, there’s a world of theology. There’s a creed.

Those three words remind me that I am called to live my life not solely as a free agent, as a matter of my own choosing, my own preferences on what it means to be ethical or good or successful. Those choices have everything to do with life lived in a relationship with a living God who calls me to a particular path, a way of life, who calls me to obedience.

The good news, of course, in that three-word creed is that we pray to a God whose quality it is always to have mercy. That opening line suggests an expansive theology of grace through which, as Rob Bell says, there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. As intro to the confession, it also invites reflection on our actions and attitudes. It challenges us to mindfulness, remembering that our lives unfold in God’s presence, that our lives are meant to move into deeper union with God and neighbor, that we have both freedom and responsibility in that relationship. We confess the ways in which we block growth in that relationship. We confess in order to go deeper in love of God and neighbor.

There’s a similar reminder in the first few words of the Lord’s prayer. It begins: Our Father who art in heaven. There’s a lot of theology in those few words as well. Meditate on all that phrase means. We are called to live our lives, to express our concerns to a transcendent God miraculously engaged in our lives, to a God who exists in that reality we call heaven. Sure, we now see through a glass darkly and don’t know what that celestial reality is like. We get only inklings, but we also claim it as foundational reality for all of life, all our prayers, all our hopes. God, in his heaven, is interested in our daily bread, in our temptations, in our ability to forgive. That’s quite amazing actually.

Maybe all of this sounds basic and obvious. But I know for myself, I often live as a functional atheist, forgetting or ignoring God’s presence. I often refer to a letter that Evelyn Underhill wrote in the 1930’s to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She was concerned about what she observed in the clergy of the day. A key line in that letter: God is the interesting thing about religion and people are hungry for God. I have wondered what compelled her to note that God is the interesting thing about religion. Had the clergy forgotten? I wonder how I might be like those clergy, worrying about to-do lists, about how people perceive and receive me, about temporal measures of success, pushing aside awareness of God’s loving presence, as creator, redeemer, sustainer, forgetting to give thanks for the amazing grace of a most merciful God.

A colleague describes that growing relationship as follows. If our spiritual journey is like a road trip, sometimes we act as if we drive the car all alone. The journey is up to us. Sometimes as we drive, we stop for directions or fuel or snacks, maybe getting a dose of religion to keep us going, but not overdoing it. Maybe God is actually in the car with us in the passenger seat, God as our co-pilot. Or maybe God is actually driving the car and we travel with God leading the way, God at the center. It’s not a perfect analogy, but makes me ask: where is God in my life’s road trip?

A friend once hosted a dinner for co-workers. Most were not religiously observant. She invited them, giving them a heads-up that dinner conversation would be about each guest completing this sentence. God in my life… Much to her surprise, everyone had a story. As you reflect on your life this week, what does it look like to live in the presence of a most merciful God, a Father in heaven? What would you say if you had been invited to that dinner party?

                                                                                    

-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

 

 

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 (May 11, 2020)

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Simeon blessed them and said to Jesus’ mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

-Luke 2:34-35

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

-Matthew 23.37

But kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.

-Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven

To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection

 

So how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead, that it is such a large part of what it means to be human. I’m not sure. That’s my answer: I’m not sure.

-Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

Mother’s Day

I preached (from a distance) yesterday, which was Mother’s Day. It’s never been my practice to preach about mothers on this day, as much as I loved my own mother. I know other clergy do different things, and my practice has been a disappointment to some over the years. I recall one vociferous parishioner who assailed my wife on the way out of church one Mother’s Day because I had not mentioned mothers in my sermon. God bless clergy spouses. They aren’t paid enough.

It’s not because mothers have not been on my mind and in my heart.  Earlier this year, both my mother and my step-mother transitioned to eternal life. They each had long, full lives, for which we give thanks. I’ve been thinking a lot about both of them in recent days, missing them, thinking I should give them a call, ignoring reminders to send them flowers. It made me think about how motherhood, how parenthood, how any relationship marked by love probably always brings some bit of sorrow with it.

In this heavy season of health and economic crisis, with lots of loss, my thoughts and prayers went out to mothers for all kinds of reasons. I think of mothers of those who have lost loved ones to this virus, and those children concerned about their mothers who are isolated, maybe in nursing homes where they can’t be visited. I think of mothers of 20% of the children in our country who don’t have enough to eat. I’m praying for a mother I know whose son ended his life this past week, a loss beyond imagination. I think of mothers who risked everything, covering hundreds of dangerous miles in the hopes of a better future for their children, who were then separated at the borders, now apparently forgotten in the crush of other news. I think of the mother of a young man in Georgia who died jogging while black. Those are the mothers on my heart this morning. Who is on your heart and in your prayers?

None of this goes on a Hallmark card. It may feel like a downer on a Monday morning. But love and suffering seem to go together. That’s in the Bible, in the story of Moses’ mother (Exodus 1) who in a dramatic act of faith, courage and self-sacrifice set her baby in a make-shift boat in the river, letting him go, trusting him to God’s care. I think of Hannah who couldn’t have children until late in life and when her child, Samuel, arrived, she turned him over to a life in the temple, giving him over to God’s care. (I Samuel 3) I think of the words that came to Mary, mother of our Lord, from Simeon in the temple (included above). Simeon says that as a mother, a sword will go through Mary’s heart. It’s central to our faith, with its crucial moment at that place where love and sorrow flow mingled down. We sing as we survey the wondrous cross: Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

All of which is to say that we give thanks for the ministry of mothers, even when on occasion they drive us nuts. (Part of why I hold back on preaching about mothers, is that there are many complicated relationships between parents and children, some healthy, some not so much.) But we also recognize that mothers know better than anyone that when we open our hearts, we let pain in. When it comes to any expression of love, there is cost along with promise. In the midst of it all, we hear story after story about how grace abounds, overcomes, supersedes. With that in mind, maybe preachers don’t need to talk about mothers in sermons. The mothers themselves preach the finest sermons, thank you very much.

As we give thanks for mothers, as we did this past weekend, perhaps we can be mindful of those whose motherhood bears pain this day, and aim towards a world where that pain can be relieved. Is there anything you can do this week towards that end? Begin with prayer.

-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 (May 4, 2020)

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O day of peace that dimly shines, through all our hopes and prayers and dreams. Guide us to justice, truth and love, delivered from our selfish schemes. May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release, till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

-Hymn 597, Hymnal 1982

It is better to rely on the Lord than to put any trust in flesh. It is better to rely on the Lord than to put any trust in rulers.

-Psalm 118:8,9

Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

-John 16:31-33
 
When you expect the world to end at any moment, you know there is no need to hurry. You take your time, you do your work well.
-Thomas Merton
 
Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
-John Lennon (among others)

Apocalypse now

I was talking with a wise friend last week. She noted that a number of her friends had commented on the beautiful weather we’ve been having here in North Carolina. It has indeed been stunning. But she wondered: Is it distinctively so? Maybe it’s always been this nice. Maybe we just didn’t notice.

That same day, I heard a radio interview with a religious scholar about the times in which we live. He was not a person in the stream of Christian thought, but he referred to apocalypse, a persistent theme in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I don’t know what associations you have with the word. First thing that comes to mind for me is absolute destruction, the end of the world, movies with things blowing up, space ships destroying cities, nuclear devastation, climate reigning terror in floods or hurricanes or fires. That’s obviously a big part of what the word apocalyptic means.

This religious scholar reminded me that the word comes from the Greek apokalyptein, which means to uncover, reveal. Break the word down: apo (off, away from) and kalyptein (to cover, conceal). It’s why the last book of the Bible is referred to as either the Revelation of John or the Apocalypse of John. There’s a sense in which an apocalypse suggests the pulling back of a theater curtain to see something new, to see the action. There’s a whole body of writing in the Bible that is referred to as apocalyptic literature, showing us something we hadn’t seen before, revealing truth that can be scary but can also bring hope for days ahead.

All this may be more than you want to tackle early on a Monday morning, but stay with me. I’ve been thinking of the Easter sermons I’ve heard in recent weeks. As I shelter in place, my inner church-geek surfaces so that I’ve listened to sermons and teachings from all kinds of churches. A few questions have come through repeatedly: How was the resurrected Jesus revealed to folks? What did it mean to see him? What did it mean to recognize him? Were they the same thing? How did folks come to discover that his presence has been with him all along? How was he apocalypsed?

Surely, there is doom and gloom associated with apocalypse. These days, so many in our world face that doom and gloom due to the current health crisis. People near and far are going through hell, experiencing first hand the familiar understanding of the word apocalypse. More lies ahead. Lord, have mercy. We are called to pray for them, with them, in word and action.

But another thing is happening. People are discovering holy presence in new ways, in the midst of the challenge. That presence is being revealed. It is being apocalypsed. I’ve seen it in simple things: Basic kindness in traffic or at grocery stores. We’ve become a lab for love of neighbor. Families dining together, putting down phones and actually conversing. Watching Sunday church together over pancakes. Gardens tended, celebrating beauty. Prayer as one of many spiritual practices bringing sustenance. An admission of a hunger for community. A recognition of love of liturgy.

Casting a broader vision, we see the courage (bravery + heart) of health care workers, retired doctors heroically running towards the epicenter from all over the country, like firemen running towards burning building, reckless generosity of funds. All of it is a revelation of what is important and what is not. I’m wondering what is being revealed to you in this time.

These days, there’s talk of going back to the way things were, to normal, whatever that was. My guess is that will not happen. Perhaps it shouldn’t. Biblical apocalyptic visions speak of a new heaven and a new earth, tears wiped away, lion and lamb living in peaceable kingdom, neither a child nor an old person victim of illness. Perhaps, without knowing exactly what that will look like, we can move towards that new life and find it a place where equity and compassion, service and community, faith and love become more real. Are you ready for that to happen? How might you be part of it this week?

What are you noticing these days? What is being revealed? What are you expecting in these apocalyptic times?

-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