Monthly Archives: April 2017

Monday Matters (April 24, 2017)


Good news

Aren’t you ready for some good news? What would it sound like?

Tomorrow the church observes the feast of St. Mark the Evangelist, credited with authorship of the earliest and shortest of the four gospels. I’m thinking Mark would have loved Twitter. He has no time to waste. No flowery text. No over-verbalizing. Every other word in the gospel is “immediately.”

He gets right to the point as he begins his gospel: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” He’s telling reader where the story is headed. The gospel ends with Jesus instructing his disciples to go out and spread good news. In other words, Mark is living into the wisdom of teachers in many fields. He tells you what he is going to tell you. He then tells you. After that, he tells you what he told you.

He writes a gospel. The word “gospel” really means good news. He is called an evangelist. The root of that word, evangel, means good news.

Are we getting the point? If the story of Jesus is about anything, it is about good news. The urgency in Mark’s style reminds us that we live in a world literally and figuratively dying for good news. Given that context, if our faith is not about good news, why bother?

But in poll after poll, when people outside the church are asked for association with the word “Christian”, the news is not good. What apparently comes to mind are words like self-righteous, hypocritical, bigoted, boring. Does that surprise you? In the first century, people outside the church observed the church and said “See how they love one another.” Today, folks might say: “See how they judge one another.” Or maybe: “See how the church is the place where fun goes to die.”

We need to get back to the good news. Think of a time when you heard really good news. When my son was born in a New York hospital, I was sent home to fetch stuff, a walk of a number of long city blocks. At every corner, waiting for the light to change, I told perfect strangers that I was now a father, and in fact, that the most adorable baby ever born had just arrived at St. Vincent’s Hospital. The irrepressible good news was new life. I confess I’ve never been that effusive about my spiritual life. It’s private, personal and after all, I’m Episcopalian.

One preacher made the point that we have no problem telling other people about a great book, restaurant, or movie we have discovered. But when it comes to the good news of the Spirit, we often go silent.

Sure, there is good reason for that. We all know evangelism gone amok, evangelism that does more harm than good, evangelism that is really bad news. Maybe even fake news.

But that doesn’t remove the question: How would we describe the good news of our faith? What language would we borrow? For me, the good news sounds something like this. We are loved, as is. We are blessed. We are in this together. We are forgiven. Our mistakes and sins don’t define us. There is always a way back. Life is shot through with beauty and meaning. Life is found when we give it away. Healing happens. There is hope. We are not alone. God, for some mysterious reason, chooses to use us. Love wins. Or as we might say at Easter, a dead end becomes a threshold, a tomb bursts with life. Heaven happens. It will be a place of healing, especially of those relationships I messed up and never resolved.

So what is the good news for you? This Monday morning, I invite and maybe challenge you to think about how you would articulate the good news of your faith. Because we live in a world that really needs to hear some good news.

-Jay Sidebotham

Suggested spiritual exercise for this week: Take an hour in a quiet corner and read the whole gospel of Mark. Read it in one sitting. When you’re done, ask yourself: What’s the good news here?

The collect for the Feast of St. Mark the Evangelist:
Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news.
                  -Isaiah 52
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: `Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.'”
-Mark 1
Jesus said to the apostles, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.
-Mark 16


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 (April 17, 2017)


Alleluia already

So I made it through Lent without this particular liturgical lapse. I never said the A-word in church. That has not always been the case in years past.

Our tradition asks us to put the word “Alleluia” away for the season, to go through Lent without saying the Hebrew word which means “God be praised.” There’s good reason for that. The somber, penitential, occasionally more-miserable-than-thou season stands in contrast to the joy and celebration of Easter, the season of resurrection when we say the “Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.”

Having noted all that, had I been consulted when the design team got together to create liturgical customs (good thing I wasn’t), I might have said that we need to say “Alleluia” all year long. Perhaps we especially need the A-word when we’re mindful of the brokenness of our world and of our own spirits, the mindfulness that accompanies Lent.

I’m not alone in thinking this. Ten days ago, my wife and I heard Anne Lamott speak. One of my spiritual guides, she has come out with a new book entitled Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy. The title is taken from a gospel song by Candi Stanton, which according to Ms. Lamott says that “in spite of it all, there is love, there is singing, nature, laughing, mercy…As Father Ed Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently and we are blessed in return…The good news is that God has such low standards and reaches out to those of us who are often not lovable and offers us a chance to come back in from the storm of drama and toxic thoughts.” That good news causes us to say hallelujah anyway.

Two other spiritual guides, Joan Chittister and Rowan Williams touched on the same theme when they wrote a book together a few years ago. It’s called Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia For All That Is. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams often says that, no matter what, the proper stance of the Christian in the world is one of gratitude. No matter what. Joan Chittister introduces the book by saying that she and the Archbishop agreed on this: “Life itself is an exercise in learning to sing alleluia here in order to recognize the face of God hidden in the recesses of time. To deal with the meaning of alleluias in life means to deal with moments that do not feel like alleluia moments at all. But how is it possible to say alleluia to the parts of life that weigh us down, that drain our spirits dry, that seem to deserve anything but praise?” Good questions. Good answers in their book.

Finally, wisdom from one more spiritual guide, Elie Wiesel, survivor of concentration camps. Here’s part of what he said when he received the Nobel Prize for his writing: “No one is as capable of gratitude as one who has emerged from the kingdom of night. We know that every moment is a moment of grace, every hour an offering: not to share them means to betray them. Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” Mr. Wiesel teaches that an attitude of gratitude, which sees every moment as a moment of grace, has power to change the world, and of course reminds us that we say “alleluia” not only with our lips but with our lives, not only in good times but in bad.

So on this first Monday in the Easter season, whatever it is you face, joy and challenge, cost and promise, make it your practice to say hallelujah anyway. Alleluia for all that is. Recognize every moment as a moment of grace. Alleluia already.

-Jay Sidebotham

Praise the Lord,
O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
-Psalm 146:1
How good it is to sing praises to our God! How pleasant it is to honor him with praise!
-Psalm 147:1
Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights.
-Psalm 148:1
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing his praise in the congregation of the faithful.
-Psalm 149:1
Praise God in his holy temple; praise him in the firmament of his power!
-Psalm 150:1
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Hallelujah!
-Psalm 150:6


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 (April 10, 2017)


A few years ago, a colleague went to see the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. The next morning he showed up at church to recount his experience. He had been seated in the second row of the mezzanine. Right in front of him sat a family with children of middle school age. As the musical unfolded, they followed closely in the program. It apparently was totally new material for all of them, parent and child alike. So who is this Pilate guy? Whose side is Judas on? And Herod? Are they good guys or bad guys? What did Jesus do that made everyone so mad? And why does Mary Magdalene sing that sweet, sad song?

Somewhat smugly, the group of church folks sat around a conference table clucking about the signs of the times. The old, old story we knew so well was, well, not well known in many quarters. For many, it may not be an old story at all. Perhaps that’s a failure, with blame to be assigned any number of places. Perhaps it’s an opportunity.

As we begin this week, try this. Join that family in the front row of the mezzanine. Imagine you’ve never heard the story of Holy Week before. With a nod to Marcus J. Borg, quoted below, hear the story, read the Bible, meet Jesus again, walk through Holy Week as if for the first time. There are a couple ways to do that.

To begin, read the story. Set aside time with the gospel passage assigned for each day of Holy Week. If you’re not sure where to find those readings, go here. You’ll find readings for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, insights into events that lead to stories told on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Day. These include the last supper, Jesus’ prayers in the garden, Jesus’ arrest and execution, his burial and finally the good news of Easter. Try this act of imagination. Wonder what it would be like to read this material for the first time. Ask God to give you new eyes.

Second, get to church. Make a commitment to walk through the week by participating in liturgies offered each day. Imagine you’d never been to those services before. What do you notice? What is perplexing? What touches your heart? They have been polished over centuries. As they tell the story, they build on each other to dramatic effect. The experience of Easter will be richer for having joined other pilgrims on the week-long journey. Discover something new, something you haven’t seen before. If you’re not part of a faith community that offers these services, find one. As the prayer for today (below) indicates, that journey may well help you find the way of life and peace.

And finally, be of service. Make this Holy Week holier in this way: Ask God each morning to place before you an opportunity to reflect the love of God at the heart of this week. As hymnody tells us, this week is about asking the question: What wondrous love is this? It is about surveying a wondrous cross where love and sorrow flow mingled down. It is about singing a song of love unknown. It is about coming to know that love in some new way. In the mystery of our faith, the mystery of this week, we come to know that love when we show that love.

I offer these Monday Matters each week in the confidence that Monday is the day we get to put faith to work in the world. This Monday matters more than most, as it begins our most Holy Week. Join me in praying that for each of us and all of us it will be an occasion to experience grace and mercy in some new way, to find that the way of the cross is actually the way of life and peace.

-Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for Monday in Holy Week

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace. Amen.

The gospel of Jesus – the good news of Jesus’ own message- is that there is a way of being that moves beyond both secular and religious conventional wisdom. The path of transformation of which Jesus spoke leads from a life of requirements and measuring up (whether to culture or to God) to a life of relationship with God. It leads from a life of anxiety to a life of peace and trust. It leads from the bondage of self-preoccupation to the freedom of self-forgetfulness. It leads from life centered in culture to life centered in God.
-Marcus J. Borg,
Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time

Rather, the way of Jesus is the way of death and resurrection – the path of transition and transformation from an old way of being to a new way of being.
– Marcus J. Borg,



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 (April 3, 2017)



Last Wednesday, I joined parishioners for our Wednesday Lenten Program. It began with the liturgy for Evening Prayer, Rite I. (Not a place I visit often. I go more often to Rite II. ) That liturgy includes one of my favorite prayers, the General Thanksgiving (included below).

From my perspective, that prayer sums up the faith. It says that everything we do should be motivated by gratitude for grace, that we worship not only with our lips but with our lives. I’ve often thought that the prayer should be said along side the creed, maybe occasionally in place of it. The prayer includes many a great phrase, for instance, the call to be unfeignedly thankful. Love that. And then there is this reference (in Rite II language) to God’s immeasurable love.

Here’s what caught my eye last Wednesday. In Rite I, the word immeasurable is rendered inestimable. I began to think about what inestimable love means. I wondered what estimable love would look like. So I let Webster help. Here’s the definition of estimable:

1. capable of being estimated, as in “an estimable amount”
2. valuable (archaic)
3. worthy of esteem, as in “an estimable adversary”

I’m focusing on the first definition, i.e., something that can be estimated. Which means something that can be measured. Which means something limited. Working with that definition, I suspect we all know about estimable love.

We know estimable love because we all give and receive conditional, transactional love. That kind of love can be seen at work and in school, where our worth is defined by productivity or grades. It shows up in relationships. How many times have people said that they hadn’t earned approval of parents (or sometimes children). Advertisers know about estimable love and play on our fears that we won’t measure up. Do we look the part? Conditional love shows up in the Bible. The children of Israel, wander in the wilderness and worship God as long as things are going swell. As soon as they hit a challenge, they’re ready to bail asking “What have you done for me lately?’ Conditional love shows up in church life. Clergy know it, judged by best recent sermon, weekly attendance, number of pledging units, seamlessness of the liturgy. What are the trends? Is flat the new up? One slightly tired bishop counseled me early in my ministry: You dance. They clap.

The scriptures tell us that the love of God is different. In the letter to the Ephesians, the author offers this prayer: I pray that you may have power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3)

Even in situations when the love of God is hard to see (For instance, last week, a bus filled with Baptist senior citizens crashing on a Texas highway), by faith we affirm its inestimable, immeasurable character. We need to affirm it. It’s sometimes the only way to move forward. In his letter to the Romans, in a passage often read at funerals, Paul puts it this way: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword…No, in all those things we are more than conquerors through him who love us, for I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8).

As we move into Holy Week, we have opportunity to focus on our central narrative, which is a story of inestimable love. We’ll sing a song of love unknown. We’ll ask: What wondrous love is this? We’ll survey the wondrous cross, where sorrow and love flow mingled down. We’ll remember, we’ll celebrate inestimable, immeasurable love, love which makes a difference in the ways we live our lives, maybe even making a difference this Monday morning.

-Jay Sidebotham

The General Thanksgiving
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, world without end.     Amen.


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.