Monthly Archives: November 2017

Monday Matters (November 27, 2017)


I’ve been told that the preacher should always have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Some days that’s harder than others. Last week, there was no avoiding the intersection when I read a column in the New York Times which spoke about idolatry and heresy, of all things.

In this column entitled “When Politics Becomes Your Idol” (Oct. 30), David Brooks wrote about today’s political climate, making use of terminology not often found in the secular media. Even in church circles, talk of idolatry and heresy can seem antiquated and exclusive, hierarchical and judgmental. And here those terms show up with my morning coffee.

I’ve been watching Mr. Brooks with interest for a while. He seems increasingly interested in the power of religion and the spirit in our common life, the importance of values and character, the forces of grace and sin. Maybe that evolution prompted last week’s lament over hyper-partisan discourse in our time. He observes that these days people “often use partisan identity to fill the void left when their other attachments wither away – religious, ethnic, communal and familial.’ He wonders if political affiliation is now being used as a cure for spiritual and social loneliness. He notes that people on the left and on the right now use politics to find moral meaning, turning politics into an idol, idolatry defined as giving allegiance to something that should be serving only an intermediate purpose. Good definition.

Again, I’ve noted Mr. Brooks’ spiritual evolution over the years. A sign of that evolution is his willingness to listen to a range of voices. In this recent column, he cites insights from Andy Crouch, editor of Christianity Today. Mr. Crouch has written a book called Playing God, noting that idolatry is seductive because at first it seems to work: “The first sip of the martini tastes great. A new smartphone seems to give power and control. Status from a new burst of success seems really sensational. But then idols fail. And what seemed to offer more control begins to control you. Idols fail to deliver on their original promises. They ask for more and more and give less and less.”

All of that prompts Mr. Brooks to note that we need to put politics in its place. It needs to be displaced by more important dependencies: family, friendship, neighborhood, community, faith, basic life creed. And if we’re going to get these kind of priorities straight, maybe a good place to start is to think about what Jesus might say on the subject, or more to the point, where he might lead us, or even more to the point, whether we are inclined to follow where he leads. As G.K Chesterton said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” One of the desert fathers morphed that teaching as follows: “Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.” Jesus calls our hearts to love of God and neighbor. There ain’t enough, ain’t much of that floating around in today’s politics.

With the help of Mr. Brooks writing about the idolatry of our current political climate, the heresy that it will be fulfilling, I wonder about the idols we worship. I wonder about where we give our hearts. Today’s idols are not carved out of wood or stone. But we give them power, as we seek to fill the God-shaped space inside of us.

Pray this week for grace to give our hearts to that which will satisfy our hearts.

-Jay Sidebotham

 Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.
-Exodus 20
Because here’s something else that’s weird but true: in the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship-be it JC or Allah, be it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles-is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. On one level, we all know this stuff already. It’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, epigrams, parables; the skeleton of every great story. The whole trick is keeping the truth up front in daily consciousness.
-David Foster Wallace
Beware of any work for God that causes or allows you to avoid concentrating on Him. A great number of Christian workers worship their work. The only concern of Christian workers should be their concentration on God.
-Oswald Chambers
My Utmost for His Highest
We must overturn so many idols, the idol of self first of all, so that we can be humble, and only from our humility can learn to be redeemers, can learn to work together in the way the world really needs.
-Oscar A. Romero
The Violence of Love
Don’t raise me up, I am but a messenger.
-Jimi Hendrix


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 (November 20, 2017)



Last week, I had the privilege of visiting the Diocese of New Jersey. On one of the days, I met with lay leaders from various congregations to talk about spiritual growth. Then I met with clergy to explore the same topic. In some ways, a different audience. On the other hand, I was struck with common purpose.

At both gatherings, I was made mindful of what our tradition says about the ministry of the church. In the Prayer Book (p. 845ff.), there’s a section called “The Outline of the Faith”, a.k.a, the Catechism, FAQs about faith. When it comes to questions about the ministry, the Prayer Book says we are all the ministers of the church: lay people, bishops, priests and deacons. I’m curious whether you think of yourself as a minister.

There are questions about each of those four orders. For each of the four orders (lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons), there’s a job description which begins the same way. Each are called to represent Christ and the church in the world. So what does that look like? How are we Christians, clergy and lay people, doing with that job description? Truth be told, the best that can be said is that we get mixed reviews.

Mahatma Gandhi spent his life in proximity to Christians, many of whom encouraged him to convert. He resisted, mindful of the discrimination he personally experienced from good upstanding, religious folk. Gandhi said: “I like your Christ but not your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

Recent surveys indicate that when people are asked for associations with the word “Christian”, common words that come to mind are judgmental, hypocritical, exclusive. In the first days of the church, people outside the church looked at people inside the church and said, “See how they love one another.” These days, not so much.

Again, there’s nothing new about this. The liturgy for Morning Prayer includes a prayer attributed to St. Chrysostom, an early saint. I say the prayer most mornings. The prayer book fails to note that St. Chrysostom was virulent in anti-semitic preaching. We just celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. We don’t always note the hatred spewed by Martin Luther towards Jewish people. When I was in middle-school Sunday School, I remember receiving a youth magazine that included an article written by J. Edgar Hoover in which he attacked Martin Luther King, labeling him an immoral communist. Why were they giving that out in Sunday School? In our own time, ardent Bible-reading Christians proclaim a gospel that, in my humble opinion, seems to have nothing to do with Jesus.

A good look in the mirror lands me solidly in the company of folks who fall short. Resentment, pride, envy, hypocrisy, disdain, indifference, withheld forgiveness often grab hold of my heart. It all challenges my faith, causing me to wonder why my life doesn’t look a bit more redeemed. All of it calls us to rely solely on the mercy of the Lord, which is not just forgiveness, but also power to better represent Christ and Christ’s church.

Take this week to think of folks who represent Christ for you. In my own life, I’m mindful of a woman widowed in her 90’s after 60 years of marriage. She wondered what God was calling her to do with the next chapter of her life. I think of a friend suddenly disabled who navigates that challenge with hope. I think of a family who faithfully supports him. I think of a minister who works with teenagers, and shows them God’s unconditional love in creative and caring ways. I think of a priest in Honduras who, at great personal risk, ministers to people with AIDS when other faith traditions in his country shun those folks. In a week devoted to thanksgiving, I give thanks for those representatives.

Then think about what it might mean for you to represent Christ and his church. Take this Monday morning to think about one way you might grow in this area this week. We are each and all ministers in the church. Representing Christ is what we’re called to do.

-Jay Sidebotham


Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
-II Corinthians 5
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
-Ephesians 5
Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me, Lord God of hosts; let not those who seek you be disgraced because of me, O God of Israel.
-Psalm 69


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 (November 13, 2017)


Angels laughing

I recently heard a story about John Coburn, gentle giant of the Episcopal Church a generation ago. He was involved with a big old national church meeting, with lots of politics, resolutions, serious discussion. One of those places where fun goes to die.

As John Coburn led this conversation, he cited one of my heroes, Karl Barth, great theologian of the 20th century. As far as I can tell, Dr. Barth never had an unexpressed thought. He wrote volumes on just about everything. I often wonder what he would write about the times in which we live. When I studied his work in seminary, it would literally take me about an hour to read a page from his theological tomes. I think it’s why I wear thick glasses. Having said all that, here’s the word from John Coburn that caught my attention:

When the great Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, who wrote and published volumes of Dogmatic Theology throughout his professional career, recognized that his life was drawing to a close, he wrote concerning his prodigious theological efforts:

“The angels laugh at old Karl. They laugh at him because he tries to grasp the truth about God in a book of Dogmatics. They laugh at the fact that volume follows volume and each is thicker than the previous one. As they laugh, they say to one another, ‘Look’ Here he comes now with his little pushcart full of volumes of the Dogmatics.”

John Coburn continued, with reference to the meetings in which he found himself:

“Well, dear angels of God, here we come now with our little pushcart full of Books, Reports, Memorials and Resolutions, Petitions and Pamphlets. Please keep an eye on us so we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our Mission- Yes, Ourselves- No.”

All of this is to say that church can be terminally serious, but that’s hardly news. What I find remarkable is that some of the church leaders who encountered greatest opposition, endured greatest persecution, given greatest opportunity to harbor resentment, have responded with joy.

You could start with St. Paul who wrote an epistle to the Philippian church from a 1st century prison cell (let your imagination run wild) and filled that letter with the words “rejoice”. St. Francis of Assisi is remembered across the centuries, the most admired and least imitated of the saints. One of his legacies: joy. In our own day, the joyful demeanor of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama all point to a spiritual reality, that joy is a mark of spiritual growth, even for those who face the deepest suffering and combat the greatest human evils. I admire and envy these saints at once.

Along with the joy, comes the appeal of simplicity and humility. Dr. Barth once addressed a group of seminarians. One skeptical snark, aware of the word count in Dr. Barth’s writings, asked if the good doctor could sum up his theology in one sentence. I’m told Dr. Barth responded with a smile and said: I can do that.

He said:

“Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so.”

Well played.

And play is good. Try some playfulness this Monday.

-Jay Sidebotham


Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.
-Karl Barth
Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.


Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-Philippians 4
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth; sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise. Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds! Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you. All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.
-Psalm 66


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 (November 6, 2017)


I’m exhausted. The New York Marathon demanded presence at 5:30am. Running didn’t start until 10:30am. The course snaked through all five boroughs of the city. The finish line was crossed mid-afternoon. Watching my daughter run the race required effort. Trying to figure out where I could best view her from the sidelines called for a lot, but I prepped well for it. (Point of personal privilege: I’m so proud of her.)

Perhaps it’s a preacher’s occupational hazard. I’m led to consider the ways that scripture compares the spiritual journey to a marathon. Old Testament prophets and New Testament pastors spoke of how the way of faith was like a race. A long one. They spoke of how spiritual disciplines compared to physical training, how spiritual practice prepared for the challenge. Does the analogy apply? Some Monday morning observations from one whose long distance running days are over, in other words, from one who is not particularly well-informed on the subject. But I won’t let that stop me.

First, the spiritual life seems more like a marathon than a sprint. Some of the great cloud of witnesses I know are people who have been at this journey for decades. I often cite one of my mentors, a woman in her nineties who suddenly found herself a widow and wondered aloud what God was calling her to do with the next, new chapter of her life. She never stopped running the race. Who are those wise folks, those saints in your life?

The race requires discipline and takes practice. Very few walk-ons in the marathon. There’s preparation involved. So in the spiritual realm, we practice in the sense that we put faith to practical use. And we practice in the sense that as we do, we grow stronger and get better at it. Prayer and scripture and service equip us for ministry, providing strength, the resources to live the life to which God calls us.

The race calls for endurance and intention. The passage below comes from the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament, a letter written to early Christians facing persecution. They may have wondered why they got in the race at all. You may have days like that. Maybe this is one of them. We may hit a wall. We are called to keep going, a day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

It helps to run with other people. That same letter to the Hebrews reminds those folks of a great cloud of witnesses cheering them on (like sidewalk spectators on Manhattan streets). In the marathon, it helps to have people cheering you on, which is why showing up for community life, for worship and study is so important. It’s why the observance of All Saints Day matters, as we considers saints across the generations and around the world who run the race with us, setting the pace, showing us how it’s done.

Whether you’re running a road race or competing in the rat race, let us run with endurance the race God has set before us, knowing that we don’t go it alone, knowing that we don’t run in our own strength, but as Hebrews says, we run looking to Jesus, the author and finisher, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

-Jay Sidebotham


Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
-Hebrews 12:1


The God who has girded me with strength has opened wide my path.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.
– 2 Samuel 22:33-34

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to people of understanding, nor yet favor to people of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
-Ecclesiastes 9:11

Even youths will become exhausted, and young men will fall. But those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.
-Isaiah 40:29-31

I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
– 2 Timothy 4:7

When you walk, your step will not be hampered; and if you run, you will not stumble.
– Proverbs 4:12

I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize.
-Philippians 3:13

Every athlete exercises discipline in every way.
-1 Corinthians 9:25

I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.
-Psalm 119:32


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.