Monthly Archives: February 2016

Monday Matters (February 29, 2016)


A Collect for Grace
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your  mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome  by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The gift of today

I’m not sure I’ve ever written one of these messages on February 29, but it gives opportunity to reflect on the gift and challenge of an extra day. What will we do with the only February 29, 2016 we’ll ever be given? Note that it falls in the season of Lent, a season for self-examination. With that in mind, what would it mean to use this bonus day for spiritual audit, a chance to look at what we’re doing and being in light of what we’re called to do and be?

I don’t know about you, but the Lenten call to self-examination can sound like a downer, an invitation to be hard on myself, to think solely about what I’ve done that I ought not to have done, what I’ve left undone that I ought to have done. There’s plenty of material there for sure. But in the same way that original blessing precedes original sin, maybe healthy and holy self-examination starts with an attitude of gratitude, remembering the ways blessings have come.

In the time of quiet that gets my day going, I try to name, often enumerate things for which I am thankful. Some days the expressions of gratitude are cosmic in scope. Some days they are mundane. Some days they come easy. On others, it can take practice, even work. It can call for special intention, even willfulness.

Then based on those daily reminders of grace, it’s possible to look at the day ahead with a focus on what I might want to become, just for that day. It’s not about the to-do list as much as it is about a sense of vocation. Can I go through the day remembering blessings? Can I go through the day with greater focus on how to be of service, and less focus on how I am going to be served? Can I go through the day with a sense of vision and embrace of goal?

And from those daily reminders of grace, it’s possible to face challenges that might come. And come they will. One mentor puts it this way: Suffering is the promise that life always keeps. The prayer above, A Collect for Grace (often said in the Service of Morning Prayer), addresses the prospect that challenge will be part of the daily narrative, as sure as the sun rises. What will it take to navigate those challenges? And what obstacles do I put in the way?

That brings me to the prayer printed below. I first ran across this prayer, early in my ministry, when I was invited to officiate at an ecumenical service in a nursing home. Our sanctuary was far from fancy. Fluorescent lights in a small activity room. But it was a holy place. The rather small congregation included saints who walked into the chapel without assistance, others who came with walkers or canes, those who came in wheelchairs, those lying on gurneys. Some congregants actively participated. Some were taken to another place by deep dementia. Some slept. I was unable to tell how much of my stirring homily was sinking in. But as able, we always concluded by offering the prayer you find below.

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.

On this February 29, I invite you to take the leap of offering this prayer for yourself, giving thanks for the gift of this day, for the gift of all the days that follow. May you be blessed with the spirit of Jesus on this bonus day, and in all the days that follow.

-Jay Sidebotham

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.
-Psalm 90
This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
-Psalm 118



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 (February 22, 2016)


“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

Jesus said it. We read it at the beginning of Lent.

He puts the challenge about treasure and heart to each of us this season. As we heard on Ash Wednesday, it’s a season marked by a call to devotion. That means that Lent is really about what we love, about where we give our hearts. The flip side of Jesus’ statement was posed in the first centuries of the church by Abba Poemem, a desert father, who said: “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.”

So where do you give your heart? What are indicators of the things you treasure? Calendars and credit card statements are often a good place to start to get a read on those questions. Where are precious, scarce resources of time and money going?

Where do you give your heart? Said another way, what gives you joy and deep gladness?

The season of Lent, also intended as a period of self-examination, invites us to answer these questions. The Confession in our Prayer Book notes that we always have growth opportunity, that we have not loved God with whole heart, soul, and mind. We have not loved neighbor as self. That is all that is required of us, but in my own life, there’s not a day when I don’t fall short. The commandment is simple, if not necessarily easy.

In the work we do with congregations, we seek to make spiritual growth the focus of congregational life. We describe spiritual growth as a matter of love, the increase in love of God and neighbor. It’s all about devotion. So to channel my inner Tina Turner, what’s love got to do with it?

Conventional wisdom would suggest that you either love or you don’t. You feel or you don’t. Maybe that’s true. Maybe not. For one thing, it seems to me that this kind of growth can only unfold in the conviction that love precedes and undergirds and surrounds. Love was from the beginning. Love remains at the center. As the psalmist says: The earth is filled with your love. Instruct me in your statutes. Or as the New Testament puts it: God is love. We love God because God first loved us. By grace we have been saved.

And then I come to the writings of Howard Thurman, which have been my focus this Lent. In the book I’m reading, Disciplines of the Spirit, he quotes Oswald W.S. McCall:

Be under no illusion, you shall gather to yourself the images you love. As you go, he shapes, the lights, the shadows of the things you have preferred will come to you, yes inveterately, inevitably as bees to their hives…As year adds to year, that face of yours, which once lay smooth in your baby crib, like an unwritten page, will take to itself lines, and still more lines, as the parchment of an old historian who jealously sets down all the story. And there, more deep than acids etch the steel, will your heart, your sense of conscience, your response to duty, what you think of your God and of your fellowmen and of yourself. It will all be there. For men become like that which they love, and the name thereof is written on their brows.

What is written on your brow? Where are you giving your heart? How is that offering shaping your character? How does your praying shape your believing? These are questions of Lent, a season of challenge, but also a season of formation that leads to new life.

So we end where we began: Where are you giving your heart this day?

-Jay Sidebotham

Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
First and last stanza of a favorite Holy Week hymn:
My song is love unknown, my Savior’s love to me,
love to the loveless shown that they might lovely be.
O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take flesh and die?

Here might I stay and sing, no story so divine: never was love, dear King,
never was grief like thine. This is my friend, in whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend.



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 (February 15, 2016)


The particulars of our lives

Among the many blessings I’ve received in ministry: gifted predecessors who served with grace, insight and faithfulness. They made my own ministry easier, as I lived into wisdom they imparted to the congregation I would serve. One of these folks, a great guy, now a bishop (Okay, it’s Alan Gates, Bishop of Massachusetts) left a legacy of the following observation of human nature:

“I’ve never met a motive that wasn’t mixed.”

I’ve relied on that wisdom, adding the aphorism to my list of things that aren’t in the Bible but oughta be. It comes to mind often, but seems especially appropriate as we launch into Lent, a season that is a many-splendored thing. It’s a season of penitence and preparation. It’s a season that notes our wretchedness but speaks of grace and points to love. The word itself derives from an ancient word for Spring, while even here in North Carolina, it’s sub freezing.

Part of my Lenten discipline this year is to read (slowly) reflections by Howard Thurman, Dean of Howard University and Boston University, spiritual mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, mystic, poet, preacher. He opens his book entitled Temptations of Jesus with this meditation, a reflection on the complexity and contradictions of our souls:

We bring into the quietness of Thy presence, our Father, all the particulars of our lives. We would not hold back from Thy scrutiny any facet of ourselves: The things of which we are ashamed and by which our spirits are embarrassed; the good things which we have done and the good impulses of which we are aware; those whom we recognize by ties of kinship, but with whom we have no fellowship; those who we recognize by ties of kinship and with whom we have deep and abiding fellowship; those whom we love as best we can; those whom we have not yet learned how to want to love; the quiet satisfaction of some part of us that is found in the strength of hostility and the reinforcement of bitterness of heart.

There’s more, but that’s enough to chew on this first Monday in Lent, as we subject the particulars of our lives to a season that calls us to self-examination. Part of that process is intended as reminder that we have left undone those things that we ought to have done. We have not loved God with all our heart and soul and mind. We have not loved neighbor as self. There is not a day in my life when that is not true.

But in all of that, we all can look inside and find Christ’s presence in each one of us. Okay, we may occasionally feel like Woody Allen, who said that he wouldn’t want to be part of a club that would have him as a member. But given that, and granted that we approach all of life with mixed motives, there is the fact of original blessing. We are made in God’s image. On some fundamental level, it’s all good.

The particulars of our lives may be complicated and contradictory. Lent is a season to recognize that, embracing the wisdom of Martin Luther who said we are saints and sinners at once. Having recognized that complexity, we take steps to journey in Lent towards love and compassion, away from hostility and bitterness, a journey which will take us to Good Friday, where arms of love stretch out on a cross to draw us into saving embrace.

-Jay Sidebotham

Psalm 51, read at the Liturgy for Ash Wednesday

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I  sinned, and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. 
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. 
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. 
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. 
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. 
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. 
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. 



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 (February 8, 2016)


Progress not perfection

Apart from Jesus, can you think of any biblical character free of flaw? It would have been easy for editors to delete the dirt, spin the story, pretty up descriptions in order to idealize the great cloud of witnesses. That didn’t happen. So in holy writ we read unsavory details about heroes of the faith like Abraham and Sarah, Jacob and his mother Rebekah, Moses, David, to name a few.

That’s especially true of Peter, lead disciple, the rock on which the church would be built. One heck of a rock. Yesterday, we encountered him in church, in the story of the Transfiguration. Jesus appears on a mountain in glory accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Peter, known for his ability to open mouth and insert foot, suggests they fix the moment in time, maybe build a visitors’ center or theme park atop the mountain. That idea is a non-starter, as a voice from heaven breaks in, speaking of belovedness and grace. The disciples head down the mountain.

Time after time, Peter seems to miss the point. From the moment he was called out of incompetence as a fisherman (Jesus had to tell him what side of the boat to cast his net) to the time when he tried to manage Jesus’ messaging so that it wasn’t such a downer (Jesus rebuked Peter in the harshest terms: Get behind me Satan) to the time when Peter denied Jesus (Was that any different from Judas’ betrayal?), the portrait of Peter is not always pretty, and far from perfect.

And that, my friends, is good news.

In two days, on the other side of a whole bunch of pancakes and other favorite food groups (Did someone say bacon?), we enter the season of Lent, a season marked by self-examination, repentance, self-denial, fasting. It’s a season to place ourselves in this great cloud of witnesses, who have this in common: They all messed up. They are all like us. Nevertheless, God worked in them and through them anyway. Just as God will work in and through us, maybe even on this Monday morning.

Our spiritual growth is a process of going deeper in life with God, so that day by day, we seek to see Christ more clearly, follow more nearly, love more dearly. In the process, we will stumble. The spiritual journey will be marked by bumps in the road, turbulence in the flight, setbacks as we step forward. It will include lapses, failures, mistakes, sins. Oddly, it is often in those moments that our need for God will become most clear.

All of which should make us a little more gentle with ourselves, laden with perfectionist tendencies. All of which should make us a little more gentle with each other. All of which should make us a little more gentle with the church, that flawed institution, that sacred mystery that for some peculiar reason, God has chosen to be his hands and feet in the world. All of which should make us a bit more grateful that grace abounds. All of which should call us to continue on the way, even if we’ve messed up, even if we feel weak or broken or flawed or unqualified.

As you begin observance of Lent this week, however you observe the season (a good thing to think about before Wednesday rolls around), follow the journey of Jesus to Holy Week, maybe, probably, perhaps inevitably stumbling as you go.

Go anyway.

-Jay Sidebotham

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church,
that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
-From the Book of Common Prayer
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
-Leonard Cohen



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 (February 1, 2016)


Oh, what peace we often forfeit.
Oh, what needless pain we bear.
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

I dug out a Mahalia Jackson CD to play while I’m driving around town. The words of this old, familiar hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus’ struck me. Especially the stanza printed above. The text got me thinking about what goes on in prayer.

I’m trying to work on my prayer life with new intention. I’ve got some work to do. Pray for me in this endeavor. The longer I hang around the church, the less I feel I really know about the mystery of prayer: how, why, when it works. I’m thinking about Paul’s injunction to “pray without ceasing,” which I take to mean that there’s never a time when we can’t say thanks, help, or wow. (According to Annie Lamott, those are the only words we need to know in prayer.)

But a lot of the time I stop myself and think: Am I just giving myself a pep talk? Is this just wishful thinking? Do my prayers go higher than the ceiling? And what happens when my ADHD kicks in and I start crafting to-do lists during my prayer time? How does the Lord feel about that? What’s going on here?

I pray for lots of things (including parking spaces, and for the grace to avoid being a jerk when I can’t find one). But in those moments when those prayers begin to sound like a list of things to do, delivered to the Almighty, when the Holy One becomes my personal valet, I realize I may have missed the point.

In the practice of prayer (and by practice I mean that I still haven’t figured it out), I’ve come to realize that it is less about changing God and more about changing me. When I find my way to appeal to a higher power, I rely more fully on the power of grace. As a wonderful byproduct, I can become more graceful towards others. On a good day, I don’t forfeit peace. I don’t bear needless pain.

So as we find ourselves approaching Lent (It’s early this year), a season for course correction, self-examination, reflection, take it to the Lord in prayer. If you’re not sure what to pray or how to pray, take a cue from the disciples and ask Jesus to teach you. The Lord’s Prayer covers a lot of it.

Or take a cue from Annie Lamott and think about those things for which you are thankful, those things which you can’t do without God’s help, those things that make you say “Wow!” at the wonder that surrounds us.

Or better yet, stop talking. Be quiet. Sit in silence. 20 minutes.

Again, take a cue from Jesus. We’re reading the Gospel of Luke this year, and it seems that again and again, Jesus goes off to pray somewhere and amazing things happen. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up calling his group of disciples. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up feeding 5000. He goes off by himself to pray and ends up appearing on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah in a blaze of glory which we’ll read about this Sunday. He goes off by himself to pray in the garden and finds in short order that he’s led through Calvary to Easter morning.

What will happen to you, how will you change and grow when you take it to the Lord in prayer?

-Jay Sidebotham

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
-Mahatma Gandhi

The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.
-Soren Kierkegaard

I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.
-Friedrich Nietzsche

I talk to God but the sky is empty.
-Sylvia Plath

I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.
-Abraham Lincoln

The Simple Path:
Silence is Prayer.
Prayer is Faith.
Faith is Love.
Love is Service.
The Fruit of Service is Peace.
-Mother Teresa



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.