Monthly Archives: October 2016

Monday Matters (October 31, 2016)


Seeing and being seen

Yesterday in church, Zacchaeus showed up. (If you missed it, or want a refresher, read his story below.) I preached a homily about him, and I heard an even better homily from my colleague, Tim Meyers. We were channeling the same spiritual muse, focusing on who Zacchaeus seeks, and who is seeking him.

The nineteenth chapter of Luke is Zacchaues’ fifteen minutes of fame. We don’t hear from him again. Sunday School grads may know the cute song about a wee little man who climbed up in the sycamore tree, for the Lord he wanted to see. It makes him sound adorable, a biblical leprechaun. But it doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that the guy was kind of a jerk.

I’ve been familiar with the story for a long time, but I tried to see it in a new way. Luke tells us Zacchaeus was “trying to see Jesus.” I suspect that’s true for a lot of us. This story describes that desire to see Jesus, and makes us think about things that keep that from happening.

For Zacchaeus, climbing that tree, there were plenty of obstructions, starting with his physical stature. He was short. Nothing he could do about that, a random fact of life that nevertheless presented challenges. Maybe we’ve experienced fateful circumstances that block spiritual vision.

Then there was the fact that he was in a profession that made him unpopular, that choices he made may have set him apart from the crowd. Maybe there are choices we’ve made that get in the way of our spiritual perspective.

He was rich, and Luke reminds us again and again that while wealth can be used well, but it can also be a spiritual distraction, even a trap.

And there was his history of ripping people off. Maybe there are things we’ve done that we ought not to have done. The need to be forgiven and the need to forgive may act like blinders, may block our vision.

Again, Zacchaeus gets just a cameo role, which invites us to bring our imagination to his story. As I meet with people around the church, I often ask what is getting in the way of deeper life with God, discipleship of Jesus, the power of the Spirit. Often, the obstruction is a crisis, random challenges that block a vision of God’s grace, things over which we have no power. Sometimes it’s the things we have done, the inability to extend mercy to ourselves or others. Sometimes it’s the disappointment in what others have done, especially failures of the church. It can start to feel hopeless. Except for this fun fact:

The story of Zacchaeus is about his intention to see Jesus, to conquer obstacles getting in his way. But that’s not the whole story. The real transformation in his life happens because Jesus sees Zacchaeus. As the parade moves down the crowded street, Jesus brings it to a halt under that sycamore tree. He looks up to see Zacchaeus in that place of secluded inquiry. (Could Zacchaeus have been an Episcopalian?) Jesus invites himself over to lunch at Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. Perhaps he should have been careful what he asked for.

By the time dessert rolls around, Zaccheus is a new man, promising to change his life, gladly giving up a bunch of money, making amends, healing broken relationships, beginning a new chapter. What does Jesus see in him: Not a rip-off artist. Not a pariah. Jesus sees in Zacchaeus a child of Abraham, a child of promise.

To whatever extent we wish to overcome obstacles that keep us from clearer spiritual vision, the fact is that Jesus has already got his eyes on us. He sees what we can be. He sees us as children of promise. If he can see us that way, regardless of our limits and failures, maybe we can see ourselves in a new light as well. Try that perspective this Monday morning.

-Jay Sidebotham

Luke 19:1-10
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”



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 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.