Monthly Archives: June 2017

Monday Matters (June 26, 2017)


I recently got a new car, with lots of features to master. I keep trying to turn the car off by pressing the fan for the defroster, a button strikingly close to the ignition.

Shortly after acquisition, I was driving home at night, turning left into our neighborhood across two lanes of busy traffic. The maneuver required moving to a center lane designated for turns, waiting for a break in oncoming cars. I sat there for a while. A car very much like mine pulled into the center lane from the opposite side of the road, facing me from only a few yards away, also wanting to cross oncoming traffic. Get this. The guy had his blinding brights on, shining directly in my face.

Alone in the car, I allowed a tepid version of road rage to surface. The word “idiot” may have been heard. Maybe an expletive or two. (There are no tapes.) With bright light shining in my face, it was hard for me to assess oncoming traffic. What a jerk.

Then I looked at the relatively complicated dashboard on my new car. I realized that I had had my brights on all along. I switched them off. He switched off his. I was guilty of the thing that made me so mad in the other guy. Go figure. Blinded with my own indignation, I failed to notice my part in it.

Maybe that’s what Jesus had in mind when he said that with the judgment you judge, you shall be judged.

A week ago I led a men’s retreat, at the request of a fine group of Episcopalians who wished to explore ways to faithfully navigate the turbulent times in which we live, how to be in community with people with whom we disagree. I accepted the invitation with hesitation, because I haven’t figured it out for myself. But I thought it would be good for me to give it thought.

As I thought and prayed about how to guide the group, I realized I had to look inward. I had to contend with my own road rage. (Mr. Trump is not the only one who yells at the TV.) I had to face my judgmental tendencies. I was led to the promises in the baptismal covenant, which describe what it means to be a Christian, not what it means to become one, but what it means to be one.

The first promise asks if we will continue in the teaching and fellowship and prayers of the church. In a nutshell, it’s asking if we will start by doing our own spiritual work in community.

The second promise asks if we’ll persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we sin, repent. I am up for the resisting part. The challenge comes with the word whenever. Not if ever. Whenever. Again, we’ve got work to do. Before I prescribe everyone else’s course correction, I should consider my own.

The third promise asks us to proclaim good news, in what we say and do. It doesn’t say convince or compel or coerce. It says proclaim. Trust the results to God.

Honestly, I find the fourth promise annoying. It says we seek and serve Christ in all persons. Christ is there, even if well disguised. I could wish that promise wasn’t included. I savor a long list of exceptions. But the message is clear: Christ is somewhere in all persons. (Can the Prayer Book really mean that?)

The fifth promise calls us to strive for justice and peace, demanding active advocacy in a world where the neediest are being thrown under the bus in oh so many ways. That is balanced by another irritating call: to respect the dignity of every human being, even the driver with brights on, even the family member or congregant or co-worker or politician who in our humble opinion needs to see the light, and may in fact be a jerk.

Don’t get me wrong. There is plenty of reason for indignation these days, plenty to resist. But to break the cycle, maybe we need to recognize our own part, figure out ways we fail to work for justice and peace, ways we fail to seek Christ in others, ways we fail to respect each other, ways we allow a judgmental attitude be our default.

In other words, maybe we each have to check our own spiritual dashboard.

-Jay Sidebotham

The Five Promises in the Baptismal Covenant: A spiritual dashboard?
Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?


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 (June 19, 2017)


What’s in a name?

If the New Testament book of Acts was a movie up for Oscars, Barnabas might get a Best Supporting Actor nomination. Maybe. He has fifteen minutes of biblical fame, and there’s tons we don’t know about him. But he had a feast day last week and he’s one of my favorite biblical characters, perhaps because we know little about him. (If we knew more about him, chances are he’d be less impressive. Funny how that works.)

Here’s what we know. He was there at the beginning of the church, the blossoming of the Jesus Movement, in that remarkable time before Christians were called Christians. (They were first known as people of the way, which is a title worth reclaiming, but that’s for another Monday).

St. Barnabas was committed to helping people in need. He was called to help St. Paul get incorporated into the church, when many people were suspicious of the recent convert who had so vigorously persecuted Christians. He began to travel with Paul around the rim of the Mediterranean. I think anyone who could be St. Paul’s traveling companion deserves kudos. It couldn’t have been easy. Paul and Barnabas moved from church to church, raising funds for those suffering famine in Judea, setting the precedent that part of the mission of a global church has to do with caring for our brothers and sisters around the world (a first century version of Episcopal Relief and Development).

The thing I find so intriguing about him has to do with his name change. He was originally known as Joseph. His name was changed to Barnabas. There are other folks in the Bible who have name changes, often a sign that they are noteworthy, a sign that God is doing something new in and through that person. In most cases, God does the renaming. In this case, the apostles, the community changed Joseph’s name to Barnabas. I find that intriguing.

They gave him that name because Barnabas means “son of encouragement,” which is why I’m impressed with the guy. I found myself wondering what the community saw in him. The word “encouragement” is rich. At its heart, we find the word courage, which suggests not only bravery but also heart, courage sharing its root with the French coeur. Clearly, Barnabas had a gift which allowed others to approach life not only with the bravery that it took to be part of this persecuted community, but also to do so in the spirit of love that became the brand of the early church. Outsiders looked in on the church and said “See how they love one another.’ Do you think people would look at the church today and say that? They might well say: “See how they argue with each other about stuff that nobody else cares about.” But I digress.

I know I’ve written about Barnabas before, but he’s been on my mind this week, posing this slightly scary question. If my community was going to change my name, what would they change it to? Would I like the new name? Am I even connected enough to a community that knows me well enough to identify and celebrate my gifts?

Maybe you want to ask that question for yourself.

And if those questions provide no answer, maybe in tumultuous times we could all channel our inner Barnabas and adopt his name. Maybe we could all decide to be, or strive to be children of encouragement. Make a start this morning. Who can you encourage?

-Jay Sidebotham

The Collect for the Feast of St. Barnabas
Grant, O God, that we may follow the example of your faithful servant Barnabas, who, seeking not his own renown but the well­being of your Church, gave generously of his life and substance for the relief of the poor and the spread of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Acts 11
News of this (the growth of the church in Antioch) came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast devotion, for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for an entire year, they met with the church and taught a great many people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called “Christians.”


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 (June 12, 2017)


Diving in

It seems to me there are two kinds of people in the world. Those who stand by river’s edge and take the plunge, diving into even very cold water. And those who dip toe in the water, gradual entry, bit by bit, often a more arduous process. I count myself in that second group, especially when it comes to the spiritual journey.

When as a young adult, I began to explore the Episcopal Church, I waded in slowly. I’d purposely arrive at church a bit late, locate myself behind a column toward the rear of the church, avail myself of easy exit when service was done. My journey at that time was marked by lots of questions and some confusion about the ways Anglicans worshipped. All that book juggling and liturgical aerobics. I heard words like narthex and verger. Even the word eucharist was new to me. I read in the bulletin about something called the Collect, clearly distinct from the Offertory. I thought: These folks are avid fundraisers.

And then there was the Creed. I was struck with how a group of seemingly intelligent folks stood and mouthed the same words, week after week. It often seemed rote. Many seemed bored. I joined in, sort of. I would stand and begin the creed, able to affirm the mystery of a creator. But there were other lines that were perplexing or even unbelievable. Raised a Protestant, I decided I would not say the lines I didn’t particularly like or comprehend.

I observed several things. First, no one seemed to mind, or in fact, notice when I stopped talking. The community let me come at my own pace, as I stepped bit by bit into that stream. That was grace.

And while I indulged in this defiant personal boycott, the creed still got said. The community continued, and in fact, carried on even if I was unsure or uncomfortable. More than that, the community carried me into deeper belief.

You see, over time, I found myself changing, growing, expanding in what I said I believed. For me, it was true that faith is more often caught then taught. It was contagious. I came to say more of the creed, until eventually I joined saints around the world and across the generations in fully making this affirmation of faith. I came to see that the doctrine of the Trinity expressed in the Creed is key, revealing the character of God as mysterious, as relational, as community, as welcoming me into that community, as love.

I came to be moved by the creed, words polished over the century. I was moved by the fact that for centuries, people of faith have gathered and said these words. I was moved by the fact that around the world, on any given Sunday, people were saying these words. I was moved by the fact that in red states and blue states, faith was affirmed. Maybe not fully understood. Maybe not even fully believed. But the words got said.

I still have moments when certain lines defy understanding. On those days, I say them anyway in the spirit of the New Testament character who said “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

On this Monday after Trinity Sunday, the only Sunday of the year dedicated to a doctrine, take time to think about what we believe, about where we give our hearts, which is what belief is all about. Give thanks that God’s love welcomes us, preceding our assent, exceeding our comprehension.

And dive into that great stream of saints around the world and across the generations. Or dip your toe in the water, taking a small step into the ever rolling stream, a community on the move that will carry us with our questions and our challenges and our injuries, with our gifts and hopes and love.

Come on in, the water’s fine.

-Jay Sidebotham

God as community. Are you ready to join in?
God is not what you think. Visions of an angry, distant, moral scorekeeper or a supernatural Santa Claus handing out cosmic lottery tickets to those who attend the right church or say the right prayer dominate our culture. For many others, God has become irrelevant or simply unbelievable.
-From the introduction to THE DIVINE DANCE by Richard Rohr
Whatever is going on in God is a flow, a radical relatedness, a perfect communion between the Three – a circle dance of love.
-Richard Rohr
We can’t have full knowledge all at once. We must start by believing; then afterwards we may be led on to master the evidence for ourselves. 
-Thomas Aquinas


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 (June 5, 2017)



Some thoughts prompted by the reading for the Feast of Pentecost, which we observed yesterday, thoughts which worked their way into a sermon. Here’s some of what got preached:

Pentecost is sometimes referred to as the birthday of the church, marking that very peculiar day described in the book of Acts when the church began, also described in the gospel of John (chapter 20) when the resurrected Jesus meets the disciples.

Jesus sends the disciples out into the world, breathing on them, a conveyance of his grace and power. As he dismisses the disciples, he says to them: As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.

Here’s what I found myself thinking about this week. How exactly does the Father send the Son into the world? A number of things occur to me, by no means an authoritative or exhaustive list. Feel free to add your own insights.

First, the Father sends the Son into the world in the most understated way, charting a path of humility. The Son is born to a young unmarried teenage girl. The delivery room was a stable, a shelter for animals. His parents were homeless refugees. He appeared not in Rome or Athens, but in the little no-count town of Bethlehem. Paul describes this journey in a beautiful hymn found in his letter to the Philippians (included below). He says that Jesus took on the form of a servant and did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. If that’s how Jesus was sent into the world, as servant, with humility, how are we being sent in a similar way into the world this Monday morning?

Second, the Father sends the Son into the world at a specific time and place. Scholars sometimes call this the scandal of particularity, which captures the outrageous grace that God uses real people, as exasperating as that may be. It brings to mind the phrase: I love humanity. It’s people I can’t stand. As the Father sent the Son into a particular time, as Jesus lived his life in a limited geographic area, so we are sent to particular places, to meet particular people, to be of service there. Not everywhere, but somewhere. What specific somewhere, what specific encounters are you being sent into today?

Third, the Father sends the Son into the world in a spirit of compassion, a word which literally means suffering with, and which connotes the great love that animates the good news of Jesus. Karen Armstrong, scholar of comparative religion, has noted that compassion is the central value of all great faith traditions. Lord knows a cursory reading of the morning paper will let us know that it is in great demand. As the Presiding Bishop repeats, “if it ain’t about love it ain’t about God.” Jesus comes to stretch out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw us into his saving embrace. That’s what he was sent to do. Apparently, that’s what we are sent to do as well. What are the opportunities before you this day to share and show love, give someone a break, cut someone some slack, look at life from that person’s point of view?

Finally, the Feast of Pentecost reminds us that the Father sends the Son into the world with transforming and healing power that calms troubled waters and multiplies snack lunches to feed multitudes and opens blind eyes and opens sealed tombs. The Father sends us into the world with that same resurrection power, which we name and claim, admitting that on our own, we’re capable of little besides ego-centric envy and resentment. This Monday morning, as you are sent out into your world, how can you access this higher power?

Those are my thoughts on how it is the Father sends the Son into the world, and how we are sent into the world. You may have others, but take this day as an occasion to see what God is up to in your neck of the woods. Tap into the power that lets you share God’s grace with someone, somewhere, in a spirit of service and compassion this Monday morning. Because Monday matters.

-Jay Sidebotham

What happens on Sunday morning is not half so important as what happens on Monday morning. In fact, what happens on Sunday morning is judged by what happens on Monday morning.
-Educator and theologian Verna Dozier
Philippians 2:5-13
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.


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.