Monday Matters (October 24, 2016)


Recent conversations

Recent conversations have called to mind fond memories of ministry with one particularly witty colleague. She got the nickname “The Terminator” because we noticed that in her premarital counseling, a number of couples decided to postpone or cancel wedding plans. She approached the counseling with, how shall we say, a directness that suffused all of her conversations. I remember driving with her past a 10k road race. She remarked to me: I’ll start running when the people who are doing it start looking like they’re having fun.

We could say the same about church. Way too often clergy and the congregations they lead seem to have cornered the market on “more miserable than thou,” living into H.L. Mencken’s definition of a puritan, i.e., someone who is unhappy because someone somewhere is having a good time. In our beloved denomination, the term “frozen chosen” only generates laughter because it reflects some truth. Joy is not always, but too often, in short supply in the church these days. In a world where you attract more with honey than vinegar, the church often serves up vinegar.

The recent conversations I mentioned in the first paragraph had to do with evangelism, not a word often associated with Episcopalians, for some good reasons. But it’s a word I’m not ready to surrender, because at the root of evangelism is the Greek word euangel which means good news. And we all need to hear good news.

After watching yesterday’s Sunday news shows, reading the Sunday paper, spending way too much time on news websites, I’m having a hard time identifying the good news. (A personal note: Of course, this does not include the miraculous news that the Cubs are in the World Series.)

The recent conversations included a question posed by Chris Yaw, a great Episcopal priest noted for creativity and innovation. He wrote a wry and witty book called Jesus Was An Episcopalian. He leads a ministry called ChurchNext, which provides wonderful learning opportunities online. Google it. End of commercial. In a presentation last week, Chris posed this question to our group:

How is Jesus saving you right now?

I may be projecting if I say the group would have liked another question. Maybe I was the only one who felt that way. It felt personal. Awkward. A bit threatening. I don’t often enter into discussion of how I am being saved.

Beyond that, often in the current religious climate, we equate being saved with getting a reserved spot on the express bus to the pearly gates, some future event we anticipate. That’s language Episcopalians don’t often use. Chris was asking us to think about how the good news is bringing hope and healing right now. In other words, he was asking: What’s the good news in your life?

If we can’t find a way to think and talk about that good news, evangelism isn’t going to go very far. Chris’ question was hard, maybe even intrusive, as provocative as it was evocative. But maybe we need some hard questions.

It got me thinking about how Jesus has become my teacher. About how brave he was in the face of complacency and unkindness and injustice. About how his power to heal can help me heal places where I’m broken. How on the night before he died, he gave thanks when his closest friends were about to betray, deny and desert him. How he paid attention to those who had been cast aside. How he paid attention to me, with a grace that lets me know that all will be well, that our crazy, broken world will be set right. That’s saving language.

What’s the good news for you this morning? Where are the sources of joy? How are you being called to share those things? How are you being saved this day?

-Jay Sidebotham

Stuff Jesus said:
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
-John 10:10
Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me.
-John 14:1
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
-John 15:10
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light
-Matthew 11:28-30



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (October 17, 2016)



What is it? And, oh, by the way, how can I get some?

In the mornings these days, the lectionary has led me to a place I probably wouldn’t have gone on my own. We’re reading our way through the apocryphal book called Ecclesiasticus. I don’t know much about the book, who wrote it and why. My Protestant upbringing did not include it in the Sunday School song which I was taught as a way to learn the books of the Bible. But the theme of the book so far seems to be wisdom, And I’m feeling, perhaps after watching too much news, that we all could use a little more wisdom.

The theme of wisdom is all over the place in many religious traditions. People everywhere need it. In our tradition, The Book of Proverbs in the Bible tells us that wisdom, a feminine presence, represented the power that created all things. In the gospel of John, Jesus is presented as the logos, or wisdom, of God.

Ecclesiasticus echoes words found in many parts of scripture: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. I don’t know how you hear the word “fear”. Many people have been damaged in the faith journey by the image of a God who can’t wait to hurl lightning bolts when we step out of line. That image of God is included in the list of things I refuse to believe.

But there is a sense in which the fear of the Lord points us to a relationship with a God greater than ourselves, even beyond our understanding. Synonyms I would suggest are wonder, humility, reverence, and that word calling out for proper usage in our culture: Awesome. Wisdom begins with recognizing our own limits. Ecclesiasticus puts it this way: Do not meddle in what is beyond your tasks, for matters too great for human understanding have been shown you.

This reflection on wisdom began a few days ago when I read this line:

If you desire wisdom, keep the commandments, and the Lord will supply it for you. For the fear of the Lord is wisdom and instruction.

Three things occurred to me in reflection on these words:

First, I do indeed desire wisdom, for myself, for our church and for our nation in this election season. In my soul and in our common life, wisdom seems to be in short supply, as we seem to battle a wisdom deficit.

Second, the text tells me wisdom is available, accessible, as we keep the commandments. That may sound like wisdom comes from obeying a bunch of rules. But what if it means listening for teaching from a source greater than ourselves? What if it means letting our lives be guided by the commandments given by Jesus, the one we follow, the one to whom we look for wisdom? Jesus said the commandments are summed up in love of God and love of neighbor. What if I directed my life, this Monday, to walking in the way of those commandments, seeking that wisdom?

Third, the text tells us that wisdom is a gift. What if I came to see that the wisdom I desire, for myself and others, is a bit of grace itself. Am I open to receiving it? Will I ask for it, as Solomon did (see text below)? Am I ready to be taught?

Think about wisdom today. Who do you know who shows it? Ask that person how wisdom came to them?

Think about whether you desire wisdom. Are you and I open to its power in our lives?

Think about whether you might take a step today toward wisdom, in fear or reverence or recognition of the awesome God who calls us to this particularly wise way of life: Love of God and love of neighbor.

-Jay Sidebotham

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
-I Kings 3:5-12
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (October 10,2016)


The daily reading on Saturday told the story of Jesus calming the storm, rebuking wind and raging waves (Luke 8:22-25). As I read this passage, and thought and prayed about the impact of the hurricane on Haiti and Cuba and other hard-hit places, I wondered how the story would be heard there.

Monday morning greetings from North Carolina where we watched Hurricane Matthew creep its way up the coast over the past week. As we charted the progress, prayers have ascended. I’m grateful for friends who have held us and our community in prayer and inquired about our well-being.

We personally were spared what could have been a big mess, or worse. Some cleaning up to do for sure. But we are grateful. I’ve noted on social media, as the storm passed town after town, that many people mentioned that they had been praying for all those in harm’s way all along the eastern seaboard, and joined in expressing gratitude that the storm wasn’t worse for them.

It points to the mystery of prayer, for a number of folks who lost their lives in coastal states did not have prayers for them answered. Many lost possessions in the devastating wind and waves and rain and floods. To the number of those in this country are added hundreds, perhaps into the thousands, of brothers and sisters in Haiti and other Caribbean islands, who lost their lives. Hundreds of thousands who lost homes and all they owned. Prayers answered? Prayers not heard?

Luke’s gospel tells us that Jesus was always going off to pray, yet even his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane was not answered the way he would have liked. St. Paul advised early Christians to pray without ceasing, but he himself prayed repeatedly for a thorn in the flesh to be removed. It wasn’t. We all know people who have been the focus of prayers for cure who have succumbed to illness, maybe experience a kind of healing, but not cured.

So what can we say about prayer? One thing for starters: it’s probably better to spend more time listening in prayer than talking. In that quiet space, leaving room for God to speak, it is possible to align one’s own will with the will of God.

And if we then feel a need to move into words, consider the simple prayer offered by Annie Lamott who said you only need three words to pray: Thanks. Help. Wow.

Or draw, as millions have, on the power of the Serenity Prayer, which recognizes the mystery that our lives are marked by things we can shape (co-create) and things beyond our control (a hurricane.)

Or use the other prayer below which comes from the Healing Service in the Prayer Book. It recognizes the variety of conditions we face on any given day. In a beautiful turn of phrase, it invites us to handle them gallantly.

And don’t stop praying for the people of Haiti and all those whose lives were most harshly affected by the storm, nearby and far away. Recent appalling news from the presidential campaign bumped publicity about the conditions in the Caribbean. We need to hold these folks in our hearts. We can pray, not only with our lips, but with our lives for some of the poorest communities on the globe. (May I suggest the Episcopal Relief and Development Hurricane Matthew Relief Fund?

May we never stop asking that Jesus will calm the storm, whatever that storm may be in our lives or in the lives of others, literal or figurative tempests. Maybe we can even be used by Jesus in that calming, healing process.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thanks. Help. Wow.
  -Anne LaMott
The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
  -Reinhold Niebuhr
This is another day, O Lord.  I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.  And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen.
  -From the Book of Common Prayer



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (October 3, 2016)


For most of my ministry, people have been wringing their hands about the decline of mainline churches. From my first days of service as a priest, I heard people say that we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The image prompted a cartoon in six frames: As the ship disappears into icy waters, one could hear words from the top deck, one word per frame: We’ve… never… done…it… that…way.

I’ve wondered about the decline. Does it have to do with style of music or liturgy? Is it due to a lousy spirit of welcome? Is it about formality among the frozen chosen? Does it have to do with divisions on social or political issues? Or with indisputable hypocrisy, with shortcomings and abuses by church leaders, too many to number.

Last week, I read about a new study of the religiously unaffiliated conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. It said the real reason for the decline is that people “no longer believe in religious teaching.” That squares with what we’ve learned in our own research. Religious beliefs are often held pretty loosely, if at all.

A while ago, a friend shared a column from the Wall Street Journal. The author interviewed a teenager at her youth group in Missouri. She told the author: “I love being Episcopalian. You don’t have to believe anything.” It was great this young person felt welcomed. But it made me think about what I might say to her if she was in my youth group. It made me think about what it means to believe, to trust. It got me thinking about where I give my heart. Are there things I would hope she would embrace? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Creation is good. Very good, in fact, according to the book of Genesis.. All of creation is a gift, the work of a loving God who declares it all to be originally blessed. It prompts an attitude of gratitude. If we’re not waking up and walking around with a whole lot of wonder, we’re missing the point.
  • God is about relationship. Maybe that’s why the doctrine of the Trinity matters. God is by nature a community of love (an idea stolen from Augustine), a community into which we’re invited.
  • There is someone listening when we pray.
  • Grace is true. Contrary to Gary Larson’s cartoon, God is not sitting at the keyboard waiting to press the “smite” button. smiteLove is at the heart of creation. We are called to accept that we are accepted (an idea stolen from Paul Tillich).
  • We need help: Evil is real (an idea stolen from the daily newspaper). We mess up. We need power greater than ourselves to embrace love freely given. We need to know and show forgiveness.
  • Jesus is worth following. It’s not always easy to do, but he opens the way to God’s life.
  • The Bible tells a story we need to know. Not as literal instruction manual, or bludgeon to prove our point, but as chronicle of God’s relationship with us. It sheds light on our path (An idea stolen from the psalms).
  • The Eucharist sustains us, bread for the journey nourishing us on the spiritual journey.
  • We are designed for service. We find life by giving it away. The greatest among us is the servant.
  • Transformation happens.

That’s my list, at least so far. What’s yours? Spend time thinking today about beliefs and teaching that matter to you, that engage your heart. Give your heart to them.

-Jay Sidebotham

Some of what Jesus taught, from Luke 6:

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

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

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (September 26, 2016)


Setting intention

In conversation with one of the presenters at the conference we’re hosting next month, a conference about discipleship, that presenter asked a question. Do we have a working definition of the word “discipleship”? The truth is, I had not felt called to arrive at just one understanding, either out of trust that folks would bring their own vision, or out of poor planning, or out of sloth.

What does the word mean to you?

As we talked, I shared how a mentor had linked discipleship with intentionality. I’ve thought that it might be good, for a season, to replace the word “discipleship” with the word “intentionality.” The old church song which begins “I have decided to follow Jesus” came to mind.

Intentionality as spiritual activity shows up in many religious traditions. Around the globe, people speak of being awake. People speak of mindfulness. On the yoga mat, one sets an intention for the practice. (For me, that is often the intention to make it to the end of the class.) Thomas Keating wrote: “In centering prayer, the sacred word is not the object of the attention but rather the expression of the intention of the will.” When we counsel with a couple contemplating marriage, we ask them to sign a declaration of intention, a key milestone in the spiritual journey. Intentionality is key to the spiritual journey.

Consider these witnesses:

In the 18th century, Anglican priest William Law wrote about the early church in his book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life: “It was the general intention to please God in all things that made the primitive Christians such eminent instances of piety.”

In that same century, William Wilberforce published a piece called A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians in the Higher and Middle Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. Great title, huh? Wilberforce, whose intentionality led to the abolition of slavery in England, knew about the call and cost of discipleship. He noted discrepancy between religious observance in his day and a call to a deeper intentionality.

More recently, G. K. Chesterton said that Christianity has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and not tried.

Gandhi, who observed the way Christianity was practiced in Great Britain, noted that if only Christians would live according to their belief in the teachings of Jesus, “we would all become Christians.’ From outside the Christian tradition, he noted a lack of intentionality.

You get the idea. This kind of intentionality has, for most of Christian history, been a growth opportunity. It remains so, at least in my life. So let me make this Monday morning suggestion:

Set your intention, just for this day. Imagine how this day might be a day of following Jesus a bit more closely, in some way. And if at the end of the day, upon review, you feel it has made a difference, then try it the next day. And the day after that.

-Jay Sidebotham

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside. He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
-Albert Schweitzer
Many of these thoughts on intentionality (including this quote from Dr. Schweitzer) were brought to mind as I read an essay called “Transformation of the Mind” by Dallas Willard. It first appeared in the Spring 2003 Arbor University Journal



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (September 19, 2016)


Grace and mercy

Last week, I showed up at the rental car counter, traveling to give a talk about RenewalWorks. I could tell that the woman behind the counter had had a long day. I was sporting my clerical collar, and when she figured out I was clergy, cranky demeanor gave way to a smile. (Sometimes the reverse happens.) She told me she was from a long line of preachers, that she had a degree in divinity, that this job was interim, that she was looking forward to a ministry in the pulpit.

She asked if I was off to preach the word. I said I was, that I would do so as best I could. (Okay, I confess I kind of hoped that based on my answer she might give me a discount, or upgrade me to a black Saab convertible. Didn’t happen.)

Then she asked: And what’s the word you will preach? I gave the answer that popped into my head: grace. I thought it was pretty good that I could come up with something to respond to an unexpected question. But she decided to correct me. She said the word she preferred was mercy.

It got me thinking about mercy and grace, how those two things are alike and how they differ. One commentator said that grace is a matter of receiving what we have not deserved. Mercy is not receiving what we may have deserved. Grace as gift, unmerited favor. Mercy as forgiveness. They’re in the same neighborhood for sure, but not quite the same.

On Wednesday this week, we observe the feast of St. Matthew, tax collector shown mercy by Jesus. He answers Jesus’ call: “Follow me.” (The story of his call is below.) After he answers Jesus’ call, Matthew and Jesus hang out, socialize, fraternize with a bad crowd. Jesus gets criticized by good church folk for doing this. Imagine! He responds to those folks by taking a page from the Hebrew scriptures (Hosea 6:6) saying that what God desires is mercy not sacrifice.

So what does it mean to show mercy and what does it mean to show grace? If we see ourselves in Matthew’s story, if we hear a call to follow Jesus, then part of what we are called to do is to do what Jesus did. To show grace. To show mercy.

Even my dogs know about the fairness index. They get put out of sorts if one of them gets more than the other. When Jesus calls for mercy and grace, it seems to me he’s saying that we need to abandon fixation on the fairness index as guide for our interactions. What is important is grace. What is important is mercy. The woman at the rental car place and I can disagree about which is more significant, but we probably each have a lot of growth opportunity, a lot of room, a lot of space to offer both.

Grace can be a random act of kindness. An over-generous tip. A word of thanks to somebody who never gets recognized.

Mercy can be a moment of compassion. A decision to walk in someone else’s shoes. A determination to listen and understand before speaking and critiquing. Basically cutting someone some slack.

This Monday, where will God open the door for you to show mercy, to show grace?

We can’t show grace and mercy unless we know grace and mercy. Where and when have you experienced grace and mercy? Give thanks and praise this morning for Jesus who comes to us with the grace of unmerited favor and with mercy marked by compassion.

-Jay Sidebotham

And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.
-from the General Thanksgiving in the Book of Common Prayer
Matthew 9:9-13
As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (September 12, 2016)



One day after observance of the 15th anniversary of 9/11, think with me about the meaning of 9/12. The date invites us to consider how we move forward in the wake of things beyond our understanding, to live lives tempered with uncertainty, mystery, loss, sorrow, fear. That’s the challenge of 9/12. My own recollections of Manhattan in the days after 9/11 remind me of that challenge, and remind me specifically of how much we didn’t know.

I remember watching TV at the midtown church where I served. As we saw towers fall, Rabbi Lenny Schoolman, who served on our staff, said that the world would never be the same. Right then, I didn’t really know what he meant.

Several staff members didn’t know where their spouses were all day, didn’t hear from them until late at night. We tiptoed around their not-knowing, because we didn’t know what to say. We didn’t know that it would be fine.

Several days later, a woman called the church to arrange a funeral. She didn’t know what to do because she hadn’t heard from her husband. I told her that we at the church had no precedent for this either. Small comfort, in retrospect.

A man came to my office, the only American employed by a Japanese firm of 15 people. Twelve had died. He survived, and answered the call to represent the families who did not speak English. I was told it was their custom that you could not have a funeral if you did not have a body. We didn’t really know what to do.

We worked around the corner from a fire station which lost nine firemen. Not knowing what to do for them, after Sunday evening service, we had a candlelight vigil to the firehouse. We thanked them. We prayed with them. We gave them home baked cookies.

We did a service for a wealthy businessman. Out of respect to his unchurched family, honoring his agnosticism, the liturgy was shaped to remember someone who was not a person of faith. When we were criticized by “good church folk” for not being religious enough, I didn’t know how to respond.

We did a funeral for two homeless men who had worked in the towers collecting recycling. They were part of a ministry that gave homeless people employment. But we didn’t know how to reach any of their family members. We barely knew their names.

Corporations asked us to provide interfaith services for groups of employees. We had never been asked by a corporation to do any kind of religious service. That was uncharted territory.

We did a service for a policeman whose two young children sat in the front row and looked at me as if I would have an answer because I wore a clerical collar.

Now more than ever, we may not know how to move forward in the face of challenges. They can be private, personal. They can affect all of us. Our tradition, our Prayer Book knows that, so in the Burial Office we read the prayer printed below. We face the challenge of a September 12 world, in which we are called to faithfulness in the wake of all kinds of tragedy, in the wake of dangerously broken relationships. When we can’t understand, we withstand. When we can’t explain, we proclaim. Liturgy, sacrament, tradition, scripture, community sustain in inexplicable, mysterious ways. I’m grateful that is true.

When the Pope says that there is no such thing as a stationary Christian, part of what he may mean is that in all circumstances we are called to move forward, with love in the heart, trusting in the one from whose love we can never be separated. We may not know what the future holds, but we know the one who holds the future.

-Jay Sidebotham

One day, years ago, my daughter told me after church that when I stood at the altar with my hands outstretched, it looked like I was shrugging and saying: “I don’t know.”
Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting. Amen.
-from the Burial Office in the Book of Common Prayer
No, 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.
-Romans 8:37-39
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
-I Corinthians 13



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (September 5, 2016)


Labor Day

Only a few national holidays have found their way into the liturgical calendar. Today is one of them, along with Thanksgiving and Independence Day. Labor Day invites reflection on the ways our faith informs our common life. It has led me to reflect this morning on the intersection of faith and work.

It’s not exactly a new subject, because some years ago, I was privileged to be part of a monthly discussion group called Faith@Work. It was led by a few able parishioners who had spent time reflecting on values they brought to the workplace. I always regarded these leaders as on the front lines, while clergy were somewhat cloistered, sheltered. The group, as it reflected on intersection of Sunday and Monday, invited folks from the wider community who had wrestled with these issues to be our teachers.

For one session, Harry Kraemer was invited to speak. Mr. Kraemer is a business leader and teacher of note. I was struck with how seriously he took his faith, how he had developed daily spiritual practices to keep him on track, integrating faith and work. He shared his insights in a book called From Values to Action in which he articulated four principles which I think apply to each one of us, whatever our work situation may be.

1. Self reflection: The ability to reflect and identify what you stand for, what your values are and what matters most.

So let me ask: In what ways do you reflect on the values that matter most to you, your core values, values of the heart? How does such reflection shape your work? Maybe the gift of a day off will afford some time to do that.

2. Balance and perspective: The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives, including differing viewpoints to gain a holistic understanding.

So let me ask: This week, how can you try to look from another point of view or gain a broader view?

3. True self-confidence: Enabling you to accept yourself as you are, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and focusing on continuing improvement.

So let me ask: What’s your vision of self-confidence? Does it include a willingness to accept that you are accepted, giving thanks for gifts while acknowledging growth opportunities?

4. Genuine humility: The ability never to forget who you are, to appreciate the value of each person in the organization and to treat everyone respectfully.

So let me ask: Who in your life gives opportunity this week to express gratitude and appreciation?

Whatever your work in the world, whether you get paid for it or not, whether you are a leader or not, whether you like it or not, consider these four principles. This Labor Day, offer the prayer our church has crafted for the day (below). Notice the themes in that prayer: Our lives are linked to others. Our work is not just for ourselves. We are to be mindful of aspirations of others. We are to remember those who are out of work, the underemployed, those who are in painfully boring jobs, all in keeping with the principles outlined by Mr. Kraemer.

And read the passage from the Sermon on the Mount selected for today, Jesus’ invitation to reflect on what we treasure, what we value. Take time on this holiday to think about where you give your heart, and how your values can be put into action, how they can be put to work.

-Jay Sidebotham

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.
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….No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Matthew 6



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (August 29, 2016)


Sunday School lessons

In a week when presidential candidates focused on racial divides, I joined a study group based on Jim Wallis’ book about racism in America. The book is called America’s Original Sin. As I read and reflected, I came away with the feeling that we’re all implicated in the complex of racial division. Said another way, we all have a story to tell. Jim Wallis invites readers to reflect on those stories. I found that the news of the day, the call of our Presiding Bishop to focus on racial reconciliation, and this challenge by Jim Wallis combined to cause me to reflect on early memories of Sunday School, of all things. No offense to my Sunday School teachers, but there’s not a lot I remember from those classes, except watching the clock. I do remember this:

I was about 12 years old. Each person in our Sunday School class, meeting at a church in a New York suburb, got a magazine, a small aspiring-to-be-hip publication for young teens. I remember one particular issue. It included an article by J. Edgar Hoover of all people. It made such an impact that long before I got into graphic design for a living, and many decades hence, I can still picture the layout of that 2 page spread.

In that article, Hoover wrote to this church audience, which I presume was assumed to be predominantly receptive to his message, about the danger Martin Luther King, Jr. posed to our nation. (This article was published before Dr. King made his fateful trip to Memphis.) I remember the claim, not uniquely held by the former Director of the FBI, that Dr. King was a tool of communists, that his Christianity was a front for something sinister and unpatriotic, that he was a person devoid of moral fiber. I remember the vitriolic tone, which might make current candidates blush (or not).

Even at that young clueless age (as opposed to my present older clueless age), I thought if I had to pick between J. Edgar Hoover and Dr. King, I’d go with Dr. King. I wondered what editorial staff called Hoover and said: We need help with Christian formation. I was confused as to why we were reading this in Sunday School. That article shifted something for me, sending early warning signals that I might not belong in that church. I regard it as a milestone in my migration to another tradition, since that article seemed to have little to do with the Jesus movement (to use a phrase floating around the Episcopal Church these days). As I’ve reflected on that article, and the fact that I remember it after all these years, I thought about what a mentor told me. He said: When working with young people in formation of faith, the first and foremost duty is to fulfill the Hippocratic Oath: Do no harm.

We’ve come distance from the publication of that article. We’ve learned more about Mr. Hoover, now diminished in public perception. We’ve come to regard Martin Luther King as one of the great figures of the last century. Not a perfect human being (who is?) but one worthy of honor, maybe reverence as his work in the world was shaped by the Sermon on the Mount. I’m struck that in most towns of any size around the country, north and south, you now find a Martin Luther King Boulevard, in communities where in another time he might have been arrested for walking on that street. I also recognize as I read this book, and watch the news, and examine my heart, that there is distance to go.

Yesterday, in church, we began our liturgy by praying that we come to know true religion. What do you think true religion is? That prayer is below, along with excerpts from scripture we read yesterday. Those scriptures call us to new ways to think about our life in the world. True to the spirit of Jesus, they comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

I believe we are called as disciples as part of our spiritual practice to pastor the community. That begins with introspection, as we consider where we can grow in love of God and neighbor, those two things inseparable. That becomes a broader view, where we explore the brokenness of our world and ask how we may have participated in it. And then we ask, we hope and we pray about how we might contribute to the healing of the world, and of course, how we might teach our children well. It’s amazing what they will remember.

-Jay Sidebotham

The Collect read in church yesterday:
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. Let marriage be held in honor by all…Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.
From the Gospel of Luke:
Jesus said: For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.

Monday Matters (August 22, 2016)


Being Ananias

I try to read some of the Bible each day. Sometimes I don’t get much out of it. Other times characters come to life and stir my imagination. That happened when I read about Ananias last week.

His name came up in the daily readings as our lectionary makes its way through the New Testament book of the Act of the Apostles. That book tells the story of the early church. If the book were a movie, Ananias would not even be considered for supporting actor. He gets a cameo role at best. He fails to qualify for Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame. You get the idea. But without him, or someone like him, the story of the church would be really different.

Here’s a recap of his story which you can find below. Ananias lived in Damascus, at the end of the road where Saul (henceforth referred to as Paul) had a dramatic conversion experience. On that road, Paul became a penitent former-persecutor of Jesus (which is one definition of a Christian, according to the theologian James Alison). Paul was struck blind in the conversion process and stumbled his way into town, where he starts praying. Ananias hears a call from God to go and bring healing to Paul. Ananias wonders if the call is a wrong number, as is true in many biblical accounts of call stories. Ananias knows of Paul’s reputation as someone out to get Christians. It was not safe to be around Paul. Ananias could not believe Paul could be changed. But God’s voice spoke of Paul’s mission. So when God told Ananias to go, Ananias went. He prays with Paul, helps him regain his sight, baptizes him, welcomes him into the community.

I don’t think we hear about Ananias again. But he’s been on my mind and in my imagination. I sense he has lessons for me this Monday morning. Maybe they’ll resonate with you as well:

Ananias says “Here am I.” Somewhere in his inner being there was a willingness to be of service, even if he has no idea what that would look like. In what sense can I say “Here am I” today?

He listened for God’s voice. Somehow he was paying attention enough to hear God ask him to do something totally counter-intuitive. What would it look like if I was that spiritually attentive today? How can I pay more attention? Some call it mindfulness.

He changed his own mind. At first, he was not open to going, but he was on some level a learner. Where do I find the courage and humility to recognize that a course correction might be in order?

He believed Paul could change, or at least, be changed. Do I deny the possibility that others can change? Or is it just easier for me to slot folks into categories?

He is willing to see possibility, no matter how unlikely that potential was. Do I have the trust and the courage to see a threshold where most people see a dead end?

He welcomes Paul, providing a pathway for Paul’s inclusion in the community. He could have tried to get revenge. He could have savored resentment. It was within his rights. He could have set up litmus tests. He could have stood in the way. But he opened the door. Where am I being called to that kind of ministry?

The fact that we know little about Ananias allows us to wonder, in a way that challenges our faith this morning. His story calls us to think about how we might be useful in someone else’s life, for God’s sake.

Who are the people who have been like Ananias for you?

Is there a way that you can be Ananias for somebody today?

-Jay Sidebotham

From Acts 9:
Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, ‘Ananias.’ He answered, ‘Here I am, Lord.’ The Lord said to him, ‘Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.’ But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.’ But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.



Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

If you’d like to join in this donor-based ministry, donate here.