Monthly Archives: October 2015


 Follow me

A few years ago, to supplement a sermon, I handed out cards the size of a small bumper sticker. On the card were two words from the gospel du jour: Follow Me. I asked folks to carry those signs with them, to put them to work in a place of prominence in their home, office, car. I imagined it was a clever way to foster the intersection of Sunday and Monday. That night, I went to a party at the home of a parishioner. I was greeted at the door by the host, who asked if I’d like a drink. When I said that I would, without a word he held up the sign which I had handed out: Follow Me. I followed him to the bar. Not quite what I had in mind.

What would you do with the two words: Follow me?

This morning, this beach person finds himself in the mountains. I’m part of a conference called “Discipleship Matters.” In the Bible, when people wanted to get clear, they moved to the mountains. Moses, Elijah, Jesus, they all did it. So we’ve come to a beautiful place to get clarity about what discipleship means, what it means to follow Jesus. Part of the work I’ve been doing, part of the reason I write weekly messages is to consider what it means to be a disciple these days, what it means to embrace those words: Follow me.

We’re blessed at the conference with two presenters who have been my teachers. One is the Rev. Carol Anderson, who served as rector of All Saints Beverly Hills for a couple decades. Imagine what the challenges of bringing discipleship to that part of the world must be like. She did it with wit and wisdom, power and conviction, grace and faith and spirit. Over the years, she built a vibrant community with this mission: disciples making disciples. More than any priest I know, she has helped me think about what renewal means in the church and in my own spiritual life. She helped me focus on what it means to meet Jesus. I’m so grateful for that ministry.

The other presenter is Dr. Dwight Zscheile, who I came to know through his book. People of the Way. His book takes its title from first Christians. Before they were called Christians, they were called “people of the way”. I wish we could go back to that name. First, because so many faith traditions in the world speak about the way. Second, the name implies movement, transformation, change. Sometimes the word Christian suggests arrival, destination, club. I’m not all that interested in a faith or religious system that leaves me the same, that doesn’t include the experience of growth, challenge, change, redemption.

I commend Dwight’s book to you (I’ve got to get a new copy because I’ve underlined everything.) In the introduction, he asks questions which stick with me, questions I’d ask you to consider:

  • What does it mean to be a disciple in today’s world?
  • What does it mean to be a church member?
  • Are they the same thing?

How would you answer those questions this Monday morning, as you think about how your church membership/affiliation (or perhaps lack thereof) intersects with your own commitment to following Jesus? Use the question as a chance to reflect honestly on what the heck it means to follow Jesus today.

When you’re done with those questions, consider these questions asked by Dwight:

  • How does the shape of life in the Episcopal Church (or your respective denomination) foster depth and commitment to the way of Christ?
  • How does it undermine it?

The questions don’t assume that hanging around a church, being a member, whatever, will deepen the spiritual life. The questions admit that church can get in the way. Imagine! I’m shocked! But also deeply pleased to be challenged to think about what we do with what we’ve been given. This Monday morning, what will you do with those two words: Follow me?

And if you’re so inclined, say a prayer for our conference in the mountains, that we might increase in clarity. Wish you were here.

– Jay Sidebotham

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
-Matthew 16:24
Again, Jesus spoke to them saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
-John 8:12
The life-and-death question for each of our churches and denominations may boil down to this: Are we a club for the elite who pretend to have arrived or a school for disciples who are still on the way?”
-Brian McLaren

We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of “belonging and believing” instead of a religion of transformation.
-Richard Rohr


Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 19, 2015)


O God, I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you.

It’s a prayer I’ve offered, though not one I composed. I didn’t get it from a skeptical millennial or a burnt out cleric. It didn’t come from a newcomer exploring the church, or from one of the frozen chosen (someone who has been at this mainline, organized, institutional religion stuff for a while). Though in some respects it has a contemporary feel, it comes from Teresa of Avila, saint of the 16th century. I was leading a retreat of young people this past weekend. It was a gift to be with them, to learn from them. With a distinctive mix of love and energy, they were trying to figure out what it means to have a life with God. When asked to give a homily at a eucharist around a campfire, I noted that it was the feast day of St. Teresa. As I launched into the homily, I had one of those “What were you thinking?” moments. I wondered if discussion of a saint from so long ago would put these young people to sleep, all the while confirming their conviction that I was a hopeless church geek. But while Teresa’s life circumstances were, how shall we say, different than those of these young people, she had something to teach them (and me) about loving God.

Her memory lives on for a number of reasons, including a cut-to-the-chase approach to faith. One of my favorite stories about her: She took her show on the road, going from town to town proclaiming the gospel. One day, she was riding a horse or a cart or something (accounts vary). The horse bucked or a wheel of the cart fell off, and she was thrown to the ground, ending up in a mud puddle by the side of the road. She looked to the heavens and said: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.” I’m wondering if you’ve ever joined her in that mud puddle, praying that prayer, maybe even adding expletives. Maybe you’re in that mud puddle this Monday morning.

She is credited with the beautiful prayer that says that we are Christ’s hands and feet in the world now. The prayer is printed in the column on the left, and provides a wonderful way for us to think about what we’re called to do.

But she’s on my mind because she helps me wrestle with the question of what it means to grow in love of God, which is the heart of spiritual growth. I confess that sometimes I wonder if the cynic/comic/commentator Bill Maher is right when he says that people who talk about a relationship with God are really talking about an imaginary friend. Sometimes my prayers seem to go no higher than the ceiling, seem to be little more than wishful thinking. It’s why the story of Teresa of Avila is so important. At a critical moment in her own spiritual journey, she was visited by an angel, who in a vision pierced her heart with a golden burning spear. In that vision, her heart was set on fire with love for God. Sure, there was pain/challenge/difficulty. But it changed her, and paved the way for an answer to her request; I want to want to love you. I could stand to have my heart set on fire for love of God.

In our liturgy, in confession, we admit that we have not loved God with our whole heart or soul or mind, and oh by the way, we have not loved neighbor as self. (The two things apparently go together, though sometimes I feel like the guy who said: “I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand.) Every day I need to focus on that call to deeper love of God and neighbor. I try to start each day with the confession just to establish the point. It reminds me that love of God is the issue, the heart of the matter. Join me this morning in giving thanks for Teresa. Try today to figure a way to open your heart a bit more to the Holy One who created us and from whose love we can never be separated. Never.

– Jay Sidebotham

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing frighten you.
All things pass.
God does not change. Patience achieves everything.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours;
no hands but yours; no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world.

Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good.
Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.

-St. Teresa of Avila


Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 12, 2015)


In 1970, the British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge went to Calcutta to interview Mother Teresa. As he learned about the work she was doing in the slums, he began his interview by asking:

MM: Do you do this every day?
MT: Oh, yes, it is my mission. It is how I serve and love my Lord.
MM: How long have you been doing this? How many months?
MT: Months? Not months, but years. Maybe eighteen years.
MM: Eighteen years! You’ve been working here in these streets for eighteen years?
MT: Yes, it is my privilege to be here. These are my people. These are the ones my Lord has given me to love.
MM: Do you ever get tired? Do you ever feel like quitting and letting someone else take over your ministry? After all, you are beginning to get older.

MM: Oh, no, this is where the Lord wants me, and this is where I am happy to be. I feel young when I am here. The Lord is so good to me. How privileged I am to serve him.

For those of us who have occasionally lost direction or battled burnout, her witness of persistence is remarkable. Of course, since her death in 1997, we have learned that her long life of service was marked by private passages of doubt, discouragement and despair. That is true of many holy people. But at one point in her ministry, she was asked how she could face the overwhelming poverty, when her daily work seemed to make absolutely no dent, no difference. When asked what kept her going, she responded: God calls me to be faithful, not necessarily successful.

Her comment came to mind when I was asked to give a talk at church about the ways we might address global issues, about what works and what might work better. I was honored to talk about the work of Episcopal Relief and Development, which does a stellar job of responding to needs around the world, with hard work and creativity that look a lot like success. I was also struck with the ways we face problems, locally, ecclesiastically, nationally and globally, problems that seem insurmountable. We face them all the time, but right now I’m thinking of challenges like the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe, the racial divide in our own country, the inability to address issues of gun violence. To me, it often looks like there may be no successful solutions, at least none I can help bring about. In spite of all that, we are called to faithfulness.

I think about the church, and the challenges facing those who care about the church, serve in the church, hope for the church. In my travels around the church, I meet heroic people who work with minimal resources, with entrenched resistance to change, with dwindling attendance. It can seem as if efforts may not make a difference. How do we focus on faithfulness when success seems elusive?

I think about each one of our lives, the great variety of ways that people are called, as followers of Jesus, to take up the cross, whatever that cross may look like. I think of quiet endurance, in relationships and situations that are burdensome or broken. I marvel at the ways people keep on keeping on, living faithfully, even if in the world’s terms they are not successful in healing the situation. What is God asking you to do and be this week, in your household, at work? Is there a situation there that seems to defy success? Think about your place in the church, in the community of faith. Think about your call as a global citizen, in a world marked by challenges. We are not promised success in resolving all the challenges that surface in those places. We are called to faithfulness, which sounds a lot like trusting the concerns of our heart to the one from whose love we can never be separated, the one whose character is faithfulness.

Today, think more about what it means to be faithful and worry less about what it means to be successful.

– Jay Sidebotham

Definition of success: the favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals; the attainment of wealth, position, honors, or the like.
Definition of faithful:  strict or thorough in the performance of duty; true to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.; steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant:
Philippians 3:10-14: St. Paul, writing from a prison cell, where by many accounts his ministry would be viewed as failure:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.


Jay SidebothamContact:

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

Monday Matters (October 5, 2015)


Admiration and imitation

“Of all the saints, St. Francis (of Assisi) is the most popular and admired, but probably the least imitated.” So reads the description offered in Lesser Feasts and Fasts, a publication of the church that helps forgetful clergy like me recall why we remember these folks. Yesterday, October 4, is the day our church remembers St. Francis. Churches do that in all kinds of ways, most notably the Blessing of the Animals. This has proven to be a very popular liturgy, one which draws people who won’t otherwise come to church. For instance, I remember the woman who came to church on the subway, with a rather large iguana in a snuggly. At the time, I served as an associate at this church. As she made her way toward the clergy at the time in which we offered blessing, the Rector pointed her in my direction. He told me later that he didn’t do reptiles. My theology of blessing was tested as I laid hands on Fluffy or whatever the creature’s name was. (I don’t think I had ever actually touched an iguana before.) In something of a leap of faith, in my best effort to imitate St. Francis, I declared its goodness, beauty and belovedness. St Francis would have blessed this creature. I gave it my best shot.

For that same service, a limousine pulled up in front of the church. The chauffeur ran around the back of the car, opened the door and three small dogs with bejeweled collars and fur whiter than snow marched up the steps to the church. I could feel the anxiety of the owner who thought her pets would be soiled by our church steps, or by contact with other animals (including people). I was struck with the irony of a feast day for someone committed to the needs of the poor being observed by this city dweller who clearly had an exorbitant  amount of disposable income and wasn’t afraid to put it on grand display. We blessed those three dogs, in imitation of the grace of St. Francis, even though I confess that a part of me was judging the owner for her ridiculous extravagance (as if I was somehow holier than she was).

Francis is popular for sure, in part because his love for all God’s creatures taps into the great affection people have for their animal companions. He is popular for other reasons, witness the visit of the current pope to our neck of the woods, where his own popularity is revealed as he imitates his namesake in dramatic ways. In the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi broke the mold. Born in affluence, he reached outside his bubble to commit to “Lady Poverty”. A devout leader off his own faith tradition, he reached outside his bubble to connect with the Muslim community, and to work for peace. He saw brotherhood and sisterhood not only with other people, not only with animals like the wolf of Gubbio or the birds that listened to him preach, but with the sun and moon and stars and water. He called for the healing of creation. He answered a call to heal the church, to rebuild the church. He did it all with a spirit of joy that is remembered over the years. Admired, indeed. Imitated, not so much.

Join in admiration for St. Francis of Assisi. That is relatively easy to do. Give thanks for his concern for the poor, his commitment to creation, his hope for the church, his outreach to people of other religions, his joy in service to his God, his call to be an instrument of peace.

Then join in imitation, taking his life and ministry and witness as an example. That’s maybe harder. But it would be good work for this Monday morning. What might that look like in your day?

– Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Feast of Francis of Assisi, Friar, who died in 1226

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of Joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

From “Canticle of the Sun” composed by St. Francis

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,To thee be ceaseless praise outpoured,
And blessing without measure.
Let creatures all give thanks to thee
and serve in great humility


Jay SidebothamContact:

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