Monthly Archives: May 2017

Monday Matters (May 29, 2017)


We will remember them

The summer season starts this weekend in a big way. The beach will be packed. Waterways gridlocked. Barbecues blaze. Lots of festivities, a welcomed break.

But like many of our holidays, the reason for the celebration can get forgotten, ironic for a holiday meant for memorial. This morning, I commend to you one of the thanksgivings from the Book of Common Prayer, mindful that our praying shapes our believing. It’s called a prayer for heroic service (The Book of Common Prayer, page 839). I invite you to offer this prayer in a few quiet moments today. Maybe say it as a grace before you dive into a Memorial Day feast. Maybe offer it to complete the day. Here’s the prayer:

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The prayer calls us to remember with gratitude. It’s been said in the journey of faith that we don’t need so much to be instructed as we need to be reminded. So much of our faith, so much of our scripture is about looking in the rear view mirror and seeing how God has acted, and also seeing how much has been offered in the past, and how much loss has been endured.

The prayer asks us to imagine ourselves in the day of decision. We remember today countless lives lost, many of whom were young people with so much future ahead of them. Pause to remember their courage, captured in the poem in the left hand column which comes to us from another country that experienced great loss of its own.

In an understated way, the prayer talks about how those who we remember ventured much for the liberties we enjoy. I’m reminded of what Jesus said about finding your life by losing it. That seems to be a deep spiritual principle, if not an easy one. Let this day be a day to honor those ventures, not only with our recollection but with our action.

Which leads to a call to cherish liberties. Across the political spectrum these days, there is fear that liberties are endangered, one way or another. We are for sure divided, but today we pause to celebrate the greatness of a nation that has blessed its people with exceptional freedoms, not to be taken for granted, freedoms in need of vigorous defense.

Finally, this prayer calls us to action, to recognize that there are still those who don’t enjoy the benefits of true freedom. It calls us to gladly accept disciplines that come with freedom. What would you say are those disciplines? What would it mean for you to accept them?

Enjoy the gift of this day. Make the enjoyment richer by including in this day some moments to remember the fallen, with the help of these words from the poet Laurence Binyon,

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

-Jay Sidebotham

For the Fallen
Composed by Robert Laurence Binyon in 1914, as he reflected on the losses of World War I
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.


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 (May 22, 2017)


Across the border

One of the great privileges of my work: I get to connect with church folk around the country who, in a variety of ways, are exploring what it means to be a person of faith in a world where faith is challenged. They are my teachers, and they give me the strong sense that the Spirit is at work in many ways in many places.

Recently this work led me across our northern border to talk with the Rev. Dawn Davis, rector of a church outside of Toronto. She’s been leading a large, lively congregation for about a decade and is thinking with rigor about how people are formed spiritually. Said another way, she is looking at how people grow in relationship with God and neighbor.

She’s done interesting research on the topic and has come to the conclusion that there are at least three elements required in order for an individual to experience growth in the Christian life. Here they are, and I quote:

  1. A personal encounter and awareness of God nurtured through a private devotional life that is attentive to specific spiritual practices.
  2. A corporate worshipping community that provides relationships to support, model, encourage and reveal the cultural expectation to grow into the fullness of Christ.
  3. A small group or mentor that, through a loving, trusting relationship, models, nurtures and provides opportunity to verbally reflect on the spiritual experience and which facilitate the confident awareness and sharing of that experience.

I share these three as an invitation to think about your own journey, to take stock of your spiritual life, to see if these elements are part of that life, and if there is anything you’d add to her list.

For starters, what is the character of your private devotional life? Is it a matter of study, prayer, silence, journaling, walking? How are those practices animating your ability to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world?

Second, is your engagement with a worshipping community part of your own spiritual development? Is church attendance just one big annoying ought? Or is there some sense that coming together with fellow followers of Jesus on a regular basis helps you grow into the fullness of Christ (what an amazing phrase!), so that together you can be of service in the world?

Third, after you’ve focused on what you do as individual, and what you do in a worshipping community, is there some place in between, where relationships go deeper? This is where Episcopalians sometimes struggle.

We’re often fine on the private spiritual moment. But in my heart, I don’t believe it’s possible to be a Christian alone.

We’re big on worship. But the liturgy is not designed to foster the kind of relationships where we know each other and are known. Way too often I hear folks speak of the loneliness they experience in church. I’ve felt it as clergy. Too often we expect the exchange of the peace or coffee hour to be relationship builders. They can help, but I don’t think that’s the intention behind those rituals. Too infrequently do we get to share the amazing things God does in our lives.

Many churches have discovered the power of small groups, the transformative power of mentorship and spiritual coaching. Many Episcopal churches have not yet discovered that power, so key to growing a relationship with God.

Maybe each one of these three elements is part of your life. Thanks be to God if that is the case. If not, consider ways that you might grow your faith by making a commitment to private devotional practice, to participation in a worshipping community, and to connection with a few folks on some deep level, leading to confident awareness and sharing of your experience.

And then put that all together in a way that helps you participate in God’s healing of a broken world.

-Jay Sidebotham

PS: If you’re interested in knowing more about this research, contact the Rev. Dawn Davis at

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair…
The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear.
We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.
So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service… Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either.
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community


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 (May 15, 2017)


What does God want from us?

Each morning, before I walk the dogs (my spiritual advisors), I spend time with scriptures for the day, listed in the Book of Common Prayer. As the caffeine kicks in, I do my sleepy best to read, mark, inwardly digest those readings. I try to figure out what they have to do with the day ahead. Some days that’s easier than others. But I think about the readings as the blessed dogs and I walk.

Last week, one of my morning walks was focused on a phrase that caught my eye when I read Psalm 50. The Lord says: “Whoever offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving, honors me.” I’ve heard the phrase many times, but I suddenly found it odd to put those words together. Sacrifice and thanksgiving. Then yesterday in church, enjoying the privilege of leading worship, I found myself saying these words over bread and wine: “We celebrate the memorial of our redemption, O Father, in this sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” There it is again. A bit of research indicated that the phrase “sacrifice of praise” or “sacrifice of thanksgiving” shows up a lot in scripture.

Sacrifice, to my simple mind, suggests something diminishing, maybe violent, taking life away. Praise and thanksgiving connote joy and hope and possibility. Sacrifice suggests something that requires effort, or at least a whole lot of intention. It’s work. Praise or thanksgiving seem to flow freely as a response to grace (see Karl Barth’s quote below about grace and gratitude).

So what does God want from us? Maybe nothing more or less than gratitude for grace received. A friend and I were talking on the phone last week, sharing stories of challenges faced by people we knew and loved. We ended the phone call by noting that we both felt ridiculously blessed. That is not to say that challenges won’t surface for us. But in the moment, for the moment, we felt called to offer a sacrifice of praise.

Maybe the point of the phrase is that in the mystery of God’s way in the world, a sacrifice can be life giving. It need not be diminishing or destructive. But it does require intention, letting go, discovering life by giving it away. In olden days, maybe the sacrifice was an animal or first fruits from the harvest. These days, what might be a sacrifice of thanksgiving?

Perhaps it is sacrificing a sense of entitlement or privilege, like the world owes me something, in order to focus on gratitude for ridiculous blessings received.

Perhaps it is sacrificing delicious resentment or hesitation to forgive, in order to focus on gratitude for forgiveness shown to us.

Perhaps it is sacrificing the ambition to outdo somebody else, in order to focus on gratitude for the gifts other people have, gifts we might lack.

Perhaps it is sacrificing an anxious sense of scarcity, the fear there will never be enough, in order to focus on gratitude for what we know in our lives as a “gracious plenty” or a “sufficiency”, to borrow local terminology.

Perhaps it is letting someone cut in front of us in traffic, or go ahead of us in line at the grocery store, some small act of kindness, in order to focus on gratitude for unmerited kindnesses we’ve experienced.

Perhaps it is taking a break from righteous indignation, fueled by deep conviction we are right, in order to focus on gratitude for what we have to learn in genuine conversation.

You get the idea. Life is filled with opportunities to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, time, talent, treasure, heart. Life is more fully enjoyed when we do. It’s the mystery of God’s way in the world. Live into that mystery today. I could be wrong, but I think it’s what God wants from us.

-Jay Sidebotham

Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me.

-Psalm 50:23
This is the ritual of the sacrifice of the offering of well-being that one may offer to the Lord. If you offer it for thanksgiving, you shall offer with the thank-offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour well soaked in oil.
-Leviticus 7:11, 12
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord.
-Psalm 116:17
Let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.
-Hebrews 13:15
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth. Gratitude evokes grace like the voice and echo. Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightning.
-Karl Barth


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 (May 8, 2017)



In retrospect, it was probably a bad idea. I found myself participating in a Facebook debate about religion. Facebook is a good forum for many things, but it too easily turns to online road rage, providing more heat than light. I’m not sure that anyone ever changed their thinking on politics or religion by participating in one of these exchanges.

The discussion was prompted by an interesting blogpost by a pastor named Chad Bird. Its title: Christianity is not about a personal relationship with Jesus.

A red flag goes up for me whenever a sentence starts like that. Whenever someone says with such conviction what Christianity is or is not, I appeal to the words of the old hymn which speaks of the mysterious wideness of God’s mercy. That hymn includes this hopeful, humbling line: The love of God is broader than the measure of the mind.

But it all got me thinking about whether the Christian faith is an individual matter or a communal event. With dogmatic fervor and certainty rivaling rabid fundamentalists who claim the faith is all about accepting Jesus as personal savior, folks were arguing that Christianity is only and all about community, that a focus on a personal relationship misreads scripture, nurtures narcissism, and reflects an excessively private faith, celebrating a rugged, rigid individualism.

The Anglican in me found me posting: Does this need to be a choice? Someone asked me to explain. That’s when I signed off. It wasn’t the right forum. But here’s my best attempt at an explanation, based on insights from the baptismal service, of all places, a liturgy that says a lot about our identity, as it blends individual and communal spiritual experience.

Notice the progression in the baptismal service. As candidates for baptism are presented, responses are all in the first person, the voice of an individual. I do desire to be baptized. I do renounce evil. I do turn to Jesus and accept him as savior. I do put my trust in his grace and love. I do promise to follow him as Lord. (Side note: Doesn’t that language sound strikingly evangelical, perhaps even describing a personal relationship?)

But of course the service doesn’t end there. It widens in scope so that the next question asks the whole community to support this person. They respond: We will. The baptismal covenant follows, with affirmation of what we (not I) believe, what we (not I) promise to do, with God’s help. Those promises make the point that we can’t do it alone. We don’t do it for self alone. The covenant calls us to the vision of Archbishop William Temple who said that the church is the only organization on earth that exists for the sake of those who are not its members.

Why do the pronouns matter? It’s a total both/and. It’s all about relationship. An individual relationship with God in Christ, whatever that looks like, leads to a richer, healthier communal life. That communal relationship in turn supports the individual, because with the exception of a few really holy hermit types, we can’t be a Christian alone. Together, we participate in a movement aimed at healing a broken world.

So this Monday morning, how do you think about your relationship with God in Christ? (I added some comments from Marcus Borg and Martin Buber below for your consideration.) Are you part of a community that is helping you go deeper in that relationship? Are you bringing the amazing gift of your relationship to the community, so you can reach out to a world in need?

-Jay Sidebotham

Thoughts on relationship:

Jesus said: My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me.
-John 10
Through the Thou a person becomes I.
-Martin Buber
The only possible relationship with God is to address him and to be addressed by him, here and now.
-Martin Buber
God loves us already and has from our very beginning. The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need to believe or do so that we can be saved. Rather, it’s about seeing what is already true that God loves us already and then beginning to live in this relationship. It is about becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God.
-Marcus Borg
The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.
-Marcus 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 (May 1, 2017)


Just wondering

Open my eyes so that I may see the wonders of your law. -Psalm 119:18

This verse from the longest psalm has been on my mind this Easter season. Fun fact (which gives you an idea of what clergy consider to be fun): Every one of the 176 verses in Psalm 119 includes a reference to the law, or teaching, or commandments, or statutes of God. It might be easy to hear those repeated references as promoting rule-based, grace-deprived theology.

But there’s another way to look at it. The references to law or teaching or statutes are really about God’s best intention for us, the way we are designed to walk and talk. This psalm offers a prayer that we will be able to see that, that we will appreciate its wonder. So think with me about that prayer to have eyes opened, a prayer for vision, for a new way of seeing, for a new set of lenses, for a new sense of wonder.

The Easter season is filled with stories of folks who have eyes opened with wonder. The four gospels present varied accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, but there is this recurrent theme: Folks don’t immediately see the miracle. They need to have eyes opened.

In her grief, Mary goes to the tomb on Easter morning (John 20), finds it empty, runs into Jesus, tears clouding vision, thinks he’s the gardener. It’s only when he says her name that her eyes are opened and sorrow turns to joy.

Thomas of doubting fame refuses to believe that Jesus is alive (John 20). It’s only when Jesus shows his wounds that Thomas’ eyes are opened. Doubt turns to worship, as Thomas says “My Lord and my God.”

Yesterday in church, we read about disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). Jesus joins them as they walk for miles. As they walk and talk, Jesus gives them a tutorial in the Hebrew Scriptures. They have no idea who he is. It’s only when he blesses and breaks bread that they have eyes opened and run to share good news.

Peter pushes his fishing boat off shore (John 21) catches nothing all night (I find it amusing that the gospel never records disciples, who were professional fishermen, catching a fish without Jesus’ help, a subject for another email.) Peter sees a stranger on the shore. It’s only when there’s a miraculous catch of fish that his eyes open to recognize the stranger as Jesus.

So what would it take for us to have eyes opened to God’s wondrous ways? Taking cues from the stories in the gospels, it begins by recognizing that God’s presence, Christ’s liveliness is closer than we might think. In the gospel accounts, grief or disappointment or anxiety or fear kept disciples behind locked doors, unable to realize that Christ was present and very much alive. And then their eyes were opened.

That can happen to us as well. Are we looking for where Christ is coming? Can our eyes be opened to see the wonder of God’s way in the world? Part of that new way of seeing has to do with our willingness to see what God is already up to in the neighborhood, to steal a phrase from Dr. Dwight Zscheile in his wonderful book, People of the Way. In the same way that disciples failed to recognize the risen Christ, so we often forget that Christ is present in each person, that God is active in all of creation, and in the whole world.

So join the psalmist and pray for that miracle to happen. Pray today for a sense of wonder, and for eyes opened to see God’s gracious ways in our world.

-Jay Sidebotham

Suggested spiritual exercise for this week:
Read Psalm 119 in one sitting.

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.
– Albert Einstein
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. It seems, on the face of things, like a decent deal.
– Anne Lamott
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
– C. S. Lewis
The Collect for the Third Sunday of Easter
O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. 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.