Monthly Archives: August 2017

Monday Matters (August 28, 2017)


Angels help us to adore him

16th century saint, Teresa of Avila, was a live wire, reflected in her request: “God save us from gloomy saints.” Legend has it that while she was traveling to visit monasteries, her cart overturned and she ended up sitting in a mud puddle. With fist raised toward heaven, she addressed the Almighty: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few of them.”

Offered in the same feisty, faithful spirit, she prayed: “God, I don’t love you. I don’t want to love you. But I want to want to love you.” That prayer gives me strange comfort, as I’m aware of the limits of my love for God. I’m not always sure what it means to love God. But I gather it’s pretty important.

I’m reading my way through the gospel of Mark and came upon a passage last week that made me remember Teresa’s prayer. After a series of testy encounters with opponents trying to trip him up, Jesus is approached by a scribe who asks: What is the greatest commandment? Maybe it’s a trick question. Maybe it’s a trap. Maybe it’s a sincere wondering. It sounds to me like the scribe is telling Jesus, after a lot of discussion and dispute about religious rules: “Cut to the chase. Tell me what’s expected, what’s important, what matters.”

Jesus reaches back into his tradition, and recites the summary of the law. (The encounter is printed below.) The greatest commandment is simple, if not easy. It is one thing, except it’s two: love of God and love of neighbor. A succinct answer indicates limitless engagement: Love with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. The scribe agrees with Jesus, and Jesus commends his questioner with words I’d like to hear: “You are not far from the kingdom of heaven.” Often I feel pretty far. I’d like to be closer.

Apparently Jesus thinks that the fulfillment of the greatest commandment is not about right doctrine, not about right political point of view, not about right understanding of the liturgy, not about right advocacy or activism, not about right understanding of scripture. Teresa of Avila put it this way: “The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which stirs you to love.”

In other words, it’s about right relationship. All that Jesus wants from us is love, to be in loving relationship with God and neighbor. Jesus doesn’t seem to want us to know about God. Jesus wants us to know God. Jesus doesn’t seem to want us to love our understanding of God. Jesus wants us to love God.

Sometimes when Episcopalians hear this kind of talk, they balk at phrases that suggest a “personal relationship with God” or “a relationship with Jesus.” Sometimes they say: “That’s not how we talk.” The old hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus” does not show up in our 1982 Hymnal. I know well the pitfalls of boasting of relationship with God. That old ego can creep in anywhere, especially into religious observance. Case in point, as I’ve mentioned before, my beloved younger sister once gave me this tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker: “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.”

But I think we need to reclaim language of relationship, as a way to enter into the mystery of figuring out what it means to love God. It’s why we sing: “Angels help us to adore him.” We need help to grow in this way. Scripture offers assistance, as it claims that love of God can’t be separated from love of neighbor. One of the letters to John at the end of the New Testament pointedly asks: “How can you say you love God who you can’t see when you fail to love your neighbor who you can see.” Maybe that means if we’re struggling to figure out what it means to love God, a place to start is by showing love to those around us.

Think about what it means to love God, how that love is demonstrated, how it grows and how goes to work in your world this Monday.

-Jay Sidebotham

Note: Just happened to run across this article which talks about actor Andrew Garfield and how preparation for the movie “Silence” caused him to fall in love with Jesus, much to his surprise.

If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.

-Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked Jesus, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbor as oneself”,-this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
 -Mark 12


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 (August 21, 2017)


Monday, August 14, 2017

On vacation a few years ago, my wife and I stayed in a hotel overlooking the water. Each room had a balcony, with enough privacy so you didn’t see neighbors, but not so much that it cut off views, enough to see that each balcony had the identical birdfeeder hanging over the rail. As I looked right and left, I noticed that some feeders were apparently quite popular, birds on every perch. Others could have hung a big old vacancy sign over them. The difference? The birdfeeders that got attention were the ones with birdseed in them. The empty ones? No birds. The birds went where they were fed.

Because as a preacher, I’m like a shark, always feeding, always looking for material (Be warned!), I immediately compared this line of birdfeeders to churches. I know it’s not a perfect analogy, but it got me thinking about why some churches are filled with folks and others not?

I’m not entirely sure. There are many reasons which many people are studying. It’s easy for this mainline clergyman to get dismissive, even jealous of more popular churches. One may be tempted to think: They just offer spiritual junk food or just tell people what they want to hear or just provide entertainment. After all, we live in a consumerist society, where church can easily become a matter of how enjoyable it is. We may go to a place as long as it is pleasing to us. We gravitate to communities of agreement the way we choose cable news channels. We placate aesthetic or political sensibilities, salvation by good taste.

Whether it’s Bach or Bono or banjo, all can be offered for the glory of God. But there’s probably some part of all churchgoers that do go for entertainment. Preachers, liturgists and musicians all need to watch that the offering is not about us. (After all, ego is an acronym for edging God out.)

I have noted in conversations that something deeper may be going on. It may be about finding a place where people are being fed in the spiritual life, where hunger is met. Being fed is different than being entertained.

I think it’s why Jesus spent so much time at meals with both followers and detractors, as if to note parabolically that he would fill the empty place in each one of us, address the hunger. I think it’s why we find that participating in the eucharist is transformative for folks as they launch on an intentional spiritual journey. It’s about being fed. We live in a world filled with people who are spiritually hungry, on a deep level. How is that God-shaped space inside of us going to be filled?

Where are you being fed in your spiritual life? Early in my ministry, I asked that of a parishioner. She got all teary, which caught me off-guard. She wanted to be fed. It wasn’t happening. When I speak with folks about finding a place to worship (church shopping to be crass about it), I encourage them to go where they are fed, noting that we can be fed by many things: beauty, silence, prayer, music, teaching, hospitality, architecture, outreach, tradition, scripture, preaching, challenge, solace, and of course, bread and wine.

Again, where are you being fed in your spiritual life? What have been sources of spiritual nourishment in the past? Are those still working for you? A feast may be right in front of you, in your community. It may be you have to look further afield. But events in our broken world make it all the more important for us to be fed, sustained, equipped with strength and courage.

We now have a couple birdfeeders at our house. At first, we weren’t getting much business. It turns out the seed I bought would clog the openings. Nobody, not even inventive squirrels, were being fed. Perches were vacant. A few weeks ago, I found seed that apparently works better. I’m proud to report extraordinary popularity. Standing room only. I may get more feeders. I guess the birds now being fed are telling friends that our house is the place to go to be fed.

I’ve seen that happen in churches, too.

-Jay Sidebotham

As evening approached, the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered. “Bring them here to me,” he said. And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

– Matthew 14
He gives food to every living thing. His faithful love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of heaven. His faithful love endures forever.
– Psalm 136
Jesus said: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?
– Matthew 6


Clean and unclean birds, the dove and the raven, are yet in the ark.
– Augustine


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 (August 14, 2017)


Don’t let him know, but I stand in awe of a friend, Jim Stephenson, extraordinarily gifted musician and composer. He has a big heart that complements his big talent. He was so deeply moved by tragic events in Charleston several years ago that he composed a piece of music entitled There Are No Words, a piece offered in the confidence that music heals, or as Hans Christian Anderson put it: “When words fail, music speaks.”

I’m late with Monday Matters this morning. Like many clergy colleagues up late on Saturday night revising sermons in light of events in Charlottesville, I found myself wondering what to say today. I found myself with a heavy heart. I listened to a portion of Jim’s music.

I’m on retreat in the mountains of North Carolina, removed from newspapers and cable channels. Days and dates are not top of mind. This morning, I was on a walk in the woods, with a different Monday Matters message ready to be sent. Then I remembered that today is August 14. In the Episcopal Church it is a day we remember the life and ministry and witness of Jonathan Myrick Daniels.

He grew up in New Hampshire, and as a young adult had a profound conversion on Easter Day, 1962. He entered the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in March 1965, answered a call to travel to Alabama to help secure the right to vote for all citizens. He was jailed for joining a picket line. Then he and his companions were unexpectedly released. Aware that they were in danger, four of them walked to a small store. As sixteen-year-old Ruby Sales reached the top step of the entrance to the store, a man with a gun appeared, cursing her. Jonathan pulled her to one side to shield her from threats. He was killed by a blast from the 12-gauge gun.

We remember him on this day. In light of the weekend news, it may be a day in which we wonder who we are and how we got here. We may wonder what has changed since the 60’s. It may be a day when words fail.

And then there is music.

You see Mr. Daniel’s willingness to confront danger, part of his work for justice and peace, came in part from an experience of Evening Prayer when he took the words of a song, the Magnificat, to heart: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things.”

Pray this Monday for our nation and our world. Pray for a young woman who lost her life over the weekend, for those who mourn for her, for all who are injured in body, mind and spirit. Pray for faithful and loving leadership. Pray for all whose hearts harbor hate. Pray for those who are indifferent. (That may mean praying for ourselves.) Pray that the Spirit will show us how we can work for justice and peace and healing of our land.

And if words fail, read the words of the Magnificat below. It’s a song with the power to heal.

-Jay Sidebotham

The prayer for the Feast of Jonathan Myrick Daniels

O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Magnificat
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.


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 (August 7, 2017)


Someone near and dear to me gave me a most thoughtful gift. The donor was mindful that I spend time with words, preaching and teaching and writing. The gift is a refrigerator magnet. It reads: I am silently judging your grammar. It’s helpful to have that warning in front of me each morning, though the judgment is not always silent.

Admittedly, I am inclined to make errors that come in great variety, and a variety of folks in my life point them out. Like when I tell a congregation that we will say the psalm in unison, together. (An example of repeating myself redundantly). Or when I say something is very unique. I’m reminded that something either is or is not unique. It can’t be very. Or when I pluralize the word priority. Numerous priorities undermine the meaning of a priority.

Let’s pause to consider that last egregious error. It’s related to something on my mind since we’ve been reading Jesus’ parables this summer on Sundays. These parables, some lengthy, some succinct, describe the mystery of the kingdom of heaven. With transformative power, parables stay with us, having a life of their own. Just when you think you’ve figured out the meaning, they come at us again, asking us to think about them in some new way.

(As an aside, I remember my first New Testament class in seminary. I expected we’d dive into dense theological study. Instead, at the end of the first class, the teacher gave this homework assignment: Go home and write a parable. It was one of the most difficult homework assignments I ever received, triggering ever deeper respect for Jesus as divine teacher, as I produced a pathetic parable. Give it a try this week.)

One parable in particular, recently read on Sunday, has been on my mind. Here it is, in its entirety:

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:45-46)

This parable made me think about my priority. Not my priorities. Okay, I’m not entirely sure that priority needs to be singular, but it has made me think: Is there one great pearl I value above all else? What is it? There are other ways to frame the question: What would I live for? What would I die for? Is there something, one thing, that would lead me to give up everything else?

What is the pearl of great value for the church, its singular priority? As I travel around the church, I’m aware that one of the challenges these days for faith communities is our culture: They don’t really know what they are about. They’re often not entirely clear about purpose, not always clear on where they are headed. Sometimes they appear to be about everything, and so sometimes end up being about not much at all. Mission statements can be at once lengthy and lacking.

On an individual level, what is the pearl of great value for my life and for yours, as far as the spiritual journey is concerned? Is there focus, mission, purpose? Maybe it is a call to be of service. Maybe it is to become more like Christ. Maybe it is to live into the simple but not easy commandment Jesus gave to his followers: to grow in love of God and neighbor.

Once we have identified the priority, for ourselves and our community, how do we live into it? What distractions pull us away? I doubt I’ll ever totally get away from living with a plurality of priorities, numerous vocations sometimes competing with each other, marking my spirit with ADD. I know many distractions, diversions, detours on the spiritual path.

But that should not deter from moving toward single-mindedness. Join me by taking a step in that direction this week. What will that step be? How would you describe your pearl of great value?

-Jay Sidebotham

Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
-Matthew 22
Purity of heart is to will one thing.
-Soren Kierkegaard
But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
-Matthew 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.