Monthly Archives: June 2015

Monday Matters (June 29th, 2015)


Peter, Paul and Michael

Today, the church calendar calls us to observe the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. If you’re not a church geek, all of this may be TMI, but Peter and Paul are described as apostles, literally someone sent to do something. They were entrepreneurs who got the church off the ground in the first century. Talk about a spiritual start-up. They get a fair amount of air time in the church year. Each have a feast day in January (The Confession of St. Peter, followed a week later by the Conversion of St. Paul). The week in between is called the week of Prayer for Christian Unity, in part because apparently Peter and Paul did not always see eye to eye. It’s not altogether clear that they liked each other that much. Let’s just say they didn’t vacation together.

The real name of our National Cathedral in D.C. is the Cathedral of St. Peter and St Paul. While they are remembered together in that important institution, the architecture tells a lot about their story. On the façade of the Cathedral at one end you find a depiction of the story of St. Peter. At the other end, about as far as possible, you find the story of St. Paul. The church had to be a big tent to include these two larger than life characters: Peter the disciple who never had an unexpressed thought and Paul, almost obsessive in his frenetic race around the rim of the Mediterranean to share the gospel in the short time he knew he’d been given. I don’t imagine either of them was all that easy to get along with but here’s what I like about them:

They used what they had been given: Peter the fisherman accepts Jesus call to go fishing for people. His open mouth/insert foot approach led him to preach the early church into being. Paul the obsessive persecutor of the church channels that religious fervor, redirecting it to work tirelessly to establish communities of grace in one town after another. The faith affirmed and fulfilled who they were. It didn’t deny or diminish their identity.

They were learners, willing to grow and change:  They were disciples in that particular sense of the word which sees disciple as learner. Thank God they were. Both Peter and Paul first approached the faith with a strong sense of boundaries for the community, a clear sense of who was in and who was out. Each in his own way, they came to realize the expansive power of God’s grace, including folks who had formerly been off limits. We are all the beneficiaries.

They grew in humility:  Neither lacked ego strength, but through encounter with Jesus, they each came to see that he was the one to whom their lives were meant to point. I sense they both struggled with this issue. And they didn’t always agree with each other. The New Testament is clear that they had some run ins. But the disputes, which ultimately came to resolution, indicated that their priority, their mission was to follow Jesus.

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church continues this week. On Saturday, the group in Salt Lake City elected a Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, who calls us all to be like Peter and Paul, to be crazy Christians, to follow Jesus with love and joy in our hearts. It’s going to be a great time to be an Episcopalian. Fasten your seat belts. As today we give thanks for Peter and Paul, pray also for our new Presiding Bishop, another amazing apostle. And join Peter, Paul and Michael in figuring out this day how you can share with joy the good news about Jesus.

– Jay Sidebotham

Words of St. Paul, from II Timothy:

 As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

A story about St. Peter, from the Gospel of John

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”


Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (June 1st, 2015)


Sincerity and truth

I stood at the kiosk, trying to get my boarding pass. I’d gotten up early, taken the subway to the bus, waited for a while, gotten on the bus which got in traffic, and arrived at the terminal with plenty of time before boarding. It felt like an accomplishment, but now the machine couldn’t locate my reservation. I immediately attributed it to the incompetence of airlines, a favorite theme. Then I took another look at my itinerary. My flight was booked for the next day.

I could not have been more sincere about my intention to fly that day. But no amount of sincerity would compensate for the fact that I had the wrong day. After I composed myself, and recalled that I had recently mocked a friend for doing something similar, I thought of the line from one of Paul’s letters. (This kind of thing happens to preachers.) Paul tells the Corinthian church that we are to keep the feast (i.e., to be spiritually observant) with sincerity and truth. We need both.

What does it mean to be sincere? Its etymology suggests purity (literally, molten metal that is free of wax). Sincerity is about purity of heart, which according to Kierkegaard, is a matter of willing one thing. It is essential, but on its own is probably not enough. We need to figure out the truth piece.

That is risky, because I think people tend to speak with too much conviction about religious truth. It’s not that I doubt such truth exists, but I have little confidence that we can handle it. (Channeling Jack Nicholson’s speech here, from A Few Good Men.) So much of religious truth is beyond our understanding. The Bible says as much. Many religious people use their small slice of insight to exclude others, to beat them up, to gratify ego, or confirm preexisting ideas.

But think with me this Monday morning about truth we are called to embrace with sincerity.  How would you articulate it? On her 61st birthday, Annie Lamott wrote a Facebook post on what she knows (see below). Inspired by her, as I often am, here’s what came to mind when I considered the truth I feel called to embrace with sincerity:

  • God exists. Sunrise at the ocean confirms that.
  • God seems to have some interest in relationship with us, for some peculiar reason.
  • God made each one of us with value and dignity and significance, for some peculiar reason. Each one of us. Each one.
  • Jesus shows up in person to demonstrate God’s peculiar interest, just in case we might miss the point.
  • We have a knack for messing up our relationships with God and with each other.
  • God loves us in spite of that propensity. That love has power to heal and get us back on track and create a future.
  • Jesus invites us to follow him into that future, which we do when we focus (with sincerity) on giving instead of receiving, on forgiving instead of being forgiven, on serving instead of being served.

That’s some of what I believe to be true. My faith journey is a matter of trying to embrace all that with sincerity, ever mindful of the counsel of a wise bishop who said that he never met a motive that wasn’t mixed. Newsflash: I could be wrong, as sure as I showed up at the airport on the wrong day. But there’s I’m not going to let that deter me from trying to navigate the spiritual journey, with sincerity and truth. At least I’m going to try this Monday.

How about you? How are you navigating the spiritual journey, with sincerity and truth? What will that look like? What do you know to be true?

– Jay Sidebotham

 Excerpts from Annie Lamott’s Facebook post on the occasion of her 61st birthday. In this post she spoke of what she knows to be true: 

All truth is a paradox. Life is a precious unfathomably beautiful gift; and it is impossible here…It has been a very bad match for those of us who were born extremely sensitive. It is so hard and weird that we wonder if we are being punked. And it is filled with heartbreaking sweetness and beauty, floods and babies and acne and Mozart, all swirled together. 

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.

Everyone is screwed up, broken, clingy, and scared, even the people who seem to have it more or less together. They are much more like you than you would believe. So try not to compare your insides to their outsides.

Families; hard, hard, hard, no matter how cherished and astonishing they may also be. (See #1 again.) 

Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table.

Grace: Spiritual WD-40. Water wings…The movement of grace is what changes us, heals us and our world. To summon grace, say, “Help!” And then buckle up…

Emerson said that the happiest person on earth is the one who learns from nature the lessons of worship. So go outside a lot, and look up.

 Exercise: If you want to have a good life after you have grown a little less young, you must walk almost every day. There is no way around this. If you are in a wheelchair, you must do chair exercises. Every single doctor on earth will tell you this, so don’t go by what I say.


Jay SidebothamContact:

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