Monthly Archives: February 2017

Monday Matters (February 27, 2017)


Continuing education

Among the many things for which I’m grateful these days is the chance to roam around the church (courtesy of American Airlines) and learn. Learning is what disciples are supposed to do, I think. I’m learning that learning never stops.

I had the chance to learn from Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford, England, who preached at the National Cathedral last Thursday night. With impeccable timing of finest comedians (Colbert, Stewart, Fallon watch out!), he spoke about evangelism. He highlighted something I’d never noticed, which is that at the heart of the word “evangelism” (a word which makes many Episcopalians nervous) is the word “angel”. The word “angel” really means messenger.

He shared stories of evangelism, times when he was a messenger, including a moment sharing his faith while ordering coffee. His clerical collar gave him away as he waited in line. Another caffeine-deprived consumer asked about his vocation. After she had done some quizzing about what had caused him to become a priest, she offered her own take on church people. From her point of view (i.e., millennial outside the church), they could be divided into two groups:

The first kind of Christian, she observed, treated Christianity like a hobby, like gardening or bridge or macramé. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing transformational, either. Nothing that seemed to make a huge difference in life. “Why bother?” might be an appropriate response.

The second kind of Christian holds faith so tightly that it scares off anyone nearby. It’s that vociferous, occasionally angry, annoying, self-righteous embrace of faith. I suspect you know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, you are blessed. To my mind, if that’s the good news (which is what “evangel” really means), I’d hate to hear the bad news. I have a friend who said she’d start jogging when people who were jogging looked like they were having fun. Perhaps the same could be true of religious folks, who often specialize in being more miserable than thou.

In response to his coffee companion, this winning bishop posited a third way (thanks be to God). He described it as the way of Jesus, the way of justice, peace, and joy. Standing in line, waiting for his latte, he told this young woman about a way that breaks down barriers, and tears down walls in a world that seems bent on building them. He spoke of a way that brings a sense of the abundance of life that Jesus showed and shared.

And he gave this young woman this piece of advice: Go to your local church and find out what it is to be fully human. Go and find out what it means to live life as God intended life to be, life shown to us in Jesus Christ. Does your church help you do that? Can you help your church help to do that?

It was a moment of evangelism. Maybe the bishop was the angel, the messenger. Maybe she was. It doesn’t really matter, because good news was shared. It began with the bishop listening to this woman he just met, valuing her insights, honoring the truth she knew, learning from her. That listening is key to evangelism.

He moved then with courage to proclaim that the gospel is good news, that it can help us become all that God intends. He presented the gospel as news that God’s greatest joy is to help us realize our original blessing. Too often church fails to do that. But in my travels, I’m learning that it can happen. That’s been a great lesson.

Today is February 27. The day is a gift. How will you be an evangelist, a listener, a proclaimer of good news, a messenger, an angel? And how would you like your coffee?

-Jay Sidebotham

The glory of God is the human person fully alive.
-St. Irenaeus
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
-Jesus (John 10:10)
An oldie but a goodie:
I love to tell the story of unseen things above, of Jesus and His glory, of Jesus and His love; I love to tell the story, because I know ’tis true. It satisfies my longings as nothing else would do.
I love to tell the story,
‘Twill be my theme in glory, to tell the old, old story of Jesus and His love.
I love to tell the story, more wonderful it seems than all the golden fancies of all our golden dreams;
I love to tell the story, it did so much for me,
And that is just the reason I tell it now to thee.
I love to tell the story, for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest; And when in scenes of glory I sing the new, new song, ’twill be the old, old story that I have loved so long.
“I Love to Tell the Story,” Words: A. Katherine Hankey (1831-1911)


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 20, 2017)



Back in my ad agency days, one of the principals of the company was also chief copywriter. I recall one meeting when a young assistant, an aspiring writer, suggested an edit on copy the principal had written. The executive responded: “I tend to love what I write.” It was a response not unlike Pilate’s: “I have written what I have written.” The young assistant learned to keep future suggestions to himself.

Last week, I wrote a Monday message which I thought was pretty good. It was based on my recollection of a political event, the meeting of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat, which I credited to Jimmy Carter. One of the readers kindly pointed out that that was fake news, perhaps alternative fact, since it was Bill Clinton who welcomed those two to the White House lawn. I felt slightly stung for being wrong, for being found out, fearing readers will think less of me, embarrassed for carelessness or cluelessness or both.

A person near and dear to my heart gave me a refrigerator magnet which reads: “I am silently checking your grammar.” That person does indeed remind me on a regular basis that when I write stuff, I’m inclined to not always navigate my grammar that good. When I get these corrections, there’s a part of me that defaults to defensive mode.

My point in this Monday morning confessional is simply to indicate that even though I embrace the gospel articulated by St. Paul, i.e., all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, I hang onto the pride of being right, or at least more right than others. I feel called to embrace the title of one pretty smart theologian, James Alison, who wrote a beautiful book about new ways to think about the doctrine of original sin. The book bears a hopeful title: The Joy of Being Wrong.

I have some distance to go in answering that call and discovering that joy.

Early in my ministry, a parishioner came to me to speak about the spiritual journey. He had Ivy League degrees in philosophy, one of the smartest people I had ever met. Over time, he came to embrace the Christian faith, and one day stopped into my office and said: “I finally get it. The gospel sounds like this: I’m not okay. You’re not okay. But that’s okay. ”

I wanted to unpack that a bit with him, to speak of original blessing, but he was on to a basic truth, which is the good news that God’s blessing comes to us by grace, with forgiveness and mercy, and not because we always have our act together. And even though I signed on to this gospel and pledged to try to follow Jesus years ago, there’s still part of me that wants to cling to being right, and wants God to be reminded of how lucky God is to have me on the team.

Whenever I participate in a service of Holy Baptism, I’m struck with the wording of the second promise in the Baptismal Covenant (p. 304 in the Book of Common Prayer). “Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you sin, repent?” Note that it doesn’t say “if ever.” It says “whenever,” which is to say that we will fall short, as sure as the sun rises. It’s going to happen today, February 20, to each one of us. The hope of our faith is not that we will arrive at the place where we will never fall short. The hope of our faith is that whenever that happens, we have a way home, the possibility of a new start, which is what resurrection is about.

And the hope of our faith is also that we can be gentle with each other. (See Ephesians reading below.) When Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount that we are not to judge each other, he says we should pay more attention to the 2 X 4 in our own eye before we critique the speck of sawdust in neighbor’s eye. In touch with our own shortcomings, grateful for grace that looks beyond those foibles, we are called to share that gratitude in kindness and forbearance toward others and their inevitable shortcomings, lapses, failures.

How will you be gentle with yourself and with those around you this week?

-Jay Sidebotham

A reading from the letter to the Ephesians (4:31-32):

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
And to add to that reading from scripture, a favorite cartoon which I’ve shared here before but which bears repeating:


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 13, 2017)


I’m not watching as much news as I used to, but it’s been a life-long interest (okay, addiction). Prompted by news I am watching, combined with our recent journey through the Sermon on the Mount on Sundays, I’ve been thinking of an image from decades ago, when Jimmy Carter brought Yasir Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin together on the White House lawn to broker a peace deal.

It was a brief season when the phrase “Blessed are the peacemakers” seemed like it could be true. Here’s what I remember: the pained expression on Mr. Rabin’s face as he reluctantly shook hands with Mr. Arafat. Rabin went on to say that you don’t make peace with your friends. You make peace with your enemies. It is work.

So we come to the persistent biblical injunction to love your enemies. Okay, it’s not everywhere in the Bible (there’s a gracious plenty of revenge), but it comes up enough to make us pay attention. Hear the first verses of Psalm 109: Hold not your tongue, O God of my praise; for the mouth of the wicked, the mouth of the deceitful, is opened against me. They speak to me with a lying tongue; they encompass me with hateful words and fight against me without a cause. Despite my love, they accuse me; but as for me, I pray for them.

Did you catch that? The psalmist says this about enemies: As for me, I pray for them.

How annoying is that? To be asked to pray for one’s enemies. Jesus said we should do it, and he modeled it when they were torturing him to death, praying that God would forgive those who hurt him. The first martyr of the church, Stephen, prayed the same thing, a tip off that that is what disciples are meant to do. I’ve tried praying for enemies. I confess that my evil twin sometimes would like to pray they’ll get hit by a truck. I don’t think that’s Jesus’ point.

There is something transformative about prayers for enemies. I don’t know how it works, but I know it does. It changes the relationship, softens the heart, drains the poison. It has power to affect relations of nations, the political system, our workplaces, schools, our households. Maybe even our churches.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not good at it. I can hang on to resentments with the best of them. So don’t listen to me. But do listen to great spiritual heroes have shown that this matters:

Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, “Love your enemies.” It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.
– Martin Luther King Jr.

It is easy enough to be friendly to one’s friends. But to befriend the one who regards himself as your enemy is the quintessence of true religion. The other is mere business.
-Mahatma Gandhi

Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.
-The Dalai Lama

This Monday morning, is there someone you can pray for in the spirit of these spiritual leaders, in the spirit of Jesus?

-Jay Sidebotham


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 6, 2017)


Religious, not spiritual

Building on what I wrote last week, a few reflections on words recently heard from Nadia Bolz Webber. She described herself as being religious, but not particularly spiritual. She suggested that she often practiced her faith as a habit, even though she often didn’t really feel all that spiritual, all that holy.

It’s the opposite of what we hear often in a culture filled with nones and dones. (Nones are those who claim no religious affiliation. Dones are those who have given up on organized religion.) Increasingly, religious observance is regarded as quaint, outdated, irrelevant, boring, mindless, offensive, oppressive, and if nothing else, optional. Spirituality is embraced. Religion, not so much.

I have a feeling that, like it or not, we are all religious people. We gather regularly for liturgies of all kinds, upholding traditions which engage our spirits (We’ve just come off one of the largest religious events in our culture, an annual liturgy with Falcons and Patriots in procession, Lady Gaga offering anthems in there somewhere.) So the word “religion” could probably stand some exploration, maybe even redemption.

Accounts vary regarding its etymology. According to Cicero, the word “religion” means to choose again (re + lego), to go over carefully. I’ve liked the sense of the word attributed to Augustine (and Joseph Campbell) by which religion literally means “to bind together again.’ Re: again, Ligio: bind, as in ligaments. We could all stand to be brought together again. Can religion do that? Can it help the center hold?

My take on it: Religion without spirituality can, without a doubt feel empty, routine, soulless. Spirituality without religion can lose its way, veering off into individual experience. Religion, with all its foibles, reminds us that we need to show up. We need each other. We need to be in community with people who will be our teachers. That invariably calls for structure and organization, institutions and habits. Tradition matters. Truth be told, even the most non-traditional folks among us gravitate toward tradition.

But neither religion nor spirituality are ends in themselves. They are instruments, vehicles, channels that by amazing grace, allow us to know something of the God who knows us intimately, to love in some way the God from whose love we can never be separated, to serve, even haltingly, the God who came among us as servant.

With that in mind, religion and spirituality and scriptural engagement and social action and polished liturgy and sacred music and fine architecture and compelling preaching and regular church attendance and generous pledging and successful church growth strategies are not the destination. They are meant to draw us into loving and healed relationship with God and with each other. Religion on a good day does that. Sadly, too often, religion trips over itself. It gets in the way.

It’s interesting to me that the word “religion” is hardly ever used in the Bible. But equally interesting is to note the way that religion is described when it does appear in the New Testament. It’s not about institution or tradition or bureaucracy or rules. It’s about engagement of the heart, showing love to people who need to know love–the least of these. (See biblical citations below.) These days, they seem more threatened than ever.

So whether you are spiritual or religious or some combination of the two, ask today why one should bother with any of it. And try this answer on for size: practice spirit-filled religion that discovers its true nature in serving those in greatest need. There’s no shortage of opportunity to do that.

-Jay Sidebotham

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 1:26, 27
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice,to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free,and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.
-Isaiah 58
Jesus said: “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
Matthew 6:1-4


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.