Monthly Archives: March 2018

Monday Matters (March 26, 2018)


You will be found.
No one deserves to be forgotten.
No one deserves to fade away.
No one should come and go and have no one know he was ever even here.
No one deserves to disappear.
To disappear.
-From the musical , “Dear Evan Hansen”
Luke 23
One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Just as I am

Some years ago, while visiting a nursing home, a staff member commented on one resident as we passed her room. Her advanced years meant she outlived friends and family. She was pretty much alone in the world. But from time to time, she would call up the local florist and send herself flowers, her way of communicating to the staff that she had advocates out there, someone who cared for her. She wanted them to know that she was not alone. She was not forgotten.

I never had the privilege of meeting this woman. From afar, I admired her moxie, her resourcefulness, her valor. She had wit. She had wisdom. She had flowers. She reminds me that we all want to be remembered. We fear being forgotten. We wonder if we will disappear.

Hundreds of thousands of young people gathered on Saturday to march for their lives. One audacious, courageous young woman insisted on six-plus minutes of silence (on network TV) to make sure fallen friends were remembered, were not forgotten, did not disappear.

Our journey through the Gospel of Luke this Lent (see readings assigned for this week below) leads us to the core of the gospel, the Passion Narrative, Jesus’ final days. Luke, unique among the gospel authors, offers a memorable exchange between the two thieves on the cross and Jesus. There’s that one thief who makes this beautiful request: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” His story resonates because we all want to be remembered. We fear being forgotten. We wonder if we will disappear.

The thief’s request was hardly transactional. He had nothing to offer Jesus except his failure and imminent demise. I do mean nothing. On the cross, no place for a wallet. No credit cards. No resume. No theology degree. No record of social action. No pedigree. No family connections. No generous pledge derived from a flush portfolio. You get the idea. He just opened himself up to mercy. All he offered was his need, that inner, unfilled God-shaped space.

And maybe that thief teaches us about how we’re supposed to approach Holy Week. As I thought about this thief on the cross (and as I thought about this lady in the nursing home surreptitiously calling FTD) the words of the hymn made famous by Billy Graham, and well situated in our hymnal, came to mind:

Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me. And that thou biddest me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.

I have no idea how you will navigate this Holy Week. I don’t know what your faith community presents as options for observance. But I hope you will take full advantage of those opportunities in this week at the heart of our faith. And I wonder what you and I can learn from this thief. I’m thankful Luke included him in his gospel. He becomes our teacher as he models how to ask without condition or commendation: “Jesus, remember me.”

Note that the word “remember” looms large in Holy Week. It turns up at the Last Supper, as Jesus gives his disciples this feast of bread and wine to be shared in remembrance of him. Hear it as you join disciples on the road to Emmaus, as they remember what Jesus told them about his own fate. But most of all, remember how Jesus answers when that thief who had no standing, no status, asks to be remembered. Jesus says: “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus could have said: “You loser, are you kidding?” He could have said: “Where were you when I needed you?” He could have said: “You deserve what you’re getting.” Instead, he stretched out arms of love on the hard wood of the cross to draw this thief into his saving embrace. He draws you and me into that same saving and loving embrace. Thanks be to God, that’s what we celebrate this week. It’s not about transaction. It’s about grace.

On some mysterious, miraculous level, that holds the promise of paradise.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

(The readings listed above represent the assignments according to the Lenten Good Book Club. Never too late to join in! And we’re not done. Starting on Easter, we read the book of Acts.)


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 (March 19, 2018)


Luke 22
A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.
Mark 9
Jesus and disciples came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve: and he said to them,”If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” 

In a recent political campaign, red baseball caps invited us to think about greatness. Those hats triggered conversation about what makes a nation great, explicit and implicit exploration resulting in insights that vary widely and wildly (to say the least).

Providentially, along comes Holy Week, with opportunity to consider what Jesus had to say about greatness. And as we continue our journey through the Gospel of Luke, reading it in this season of Lent (see this week’s assignments below), this coming Saturday we’ll read from the 22nd chapter. We’ll eavesdrop on conversation at the Last Supper, on the night before Jesus was arrested, tortured and executed. Jesus met with his disciples who were apparently playing politics, debating which one of them would be considered the greatest.

One can only imagine criteria they had in mind. Who was the greatest fisherman? Apparently none of them were very talented in this regard. Who was the best evangelist? Who did the most to fill the pews or increase number of pledging units? Who was the best speaker? Maybe Peter, who may not have been the best speaker but was certainly the most speaker. Who was the greatest critical thinker? Thomas of doubting fame? Who was the most spiritual, the best theologian? John, the beloved disciple? Who handled money best? Judas, perhaps? The dispute makes disciples look a bit silly, except that these kinds of conversation still happen all the time, in families, workplaces, churches, between denominations, among the religions of the world. “I’m holier than thou.” “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite.”

When Jesus gets wind of this dispute, he takes the opportunity to offer his distinctive vision of greatness. As told in John’s Gospel, at this point, he gets up from the table and washes the disciples’ feet. Here in Luke’s gospel (in the passage above), he simply says to his disciples that if they are at all interested in discovery of greatness, it will come with service. Jesus speaks of the witness of the youngest among us, which led me to think of the compelling witnesses I saw on TV last week. I was moved by articulate young people standing in front of the nation’s capitol, the locus of greatness in many folks’ opinion, calling us all to address the moral challenges of our day.

Millenia after Jesus tried to knock some sense into his disciples, Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected on greatness. On April 4, we mark the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Thanks be to God, his grace and wisdom did not end that day. He speaks to us still. At one point, he addressed a group of students, folks with an open future. He offered this pathway to greatness. He said:

Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.

Everybody can serve. So everybody can be great. Maybe I’ll put that on a baseball cap. How will you live into that kind of greatness this week? Ask God to show you an opportunity to be of service. Our broken world presents plenty of those. Our broken world needs it.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:


  • 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 (March 12, 2018)


Life appears to me too short to be spent in nursing animosity or registering wrongs.
-Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre
To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.
I’ve known for years that resentments don’t hurt the person we resent, but they do hurt us.
-Anne Lamott
Luke 15:26-32:
Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.

My dog ate my English muffin.

I had placed my breakfast plate on the coffee table to watch the morning news. I turned to switch on the light and in a nano-second, the dog jumped up, grabbed the muffin, ran into the other room. I was mad. I was looking forward to that English muffin. After all I had done for him, this is how he treats me? For the rest of the day, I didn’t talk to the dog. No treats. Nothing. In the evening, it occurred to me: I was actually harboring a resentment against a dog. While the dog of course was oblivious, I was holding on to my annoyance at the ungrateful cur. I knew that I had been pretty gifted at holding on to resentments, but this rose to a new level.

Today’s reading in the Gospel of Luke (for those following the schedule of the Good Book Club) features the story of the Prodigal Son. This rich parable has three main characters. There’s the younger son who goes away, messes up and sheepishly makes his way home to find a welcome home party waiting for him. There’s the father who welcomes that son home before the kid can even open his mouth in explanation or self-defense or apology. And there’s the elder brother, who apparently feels unappreciated, annoyed and you guessed it, resentful.

Where do you see yourself in the story?

If you are interested in an answer, a recommendation for Lenten reading. Henri Nouwen wrote a book called The Return of the Prodigal Son, based on a painting by Rembrandt hanging in the Hermitage, a painting on which Nouwen meditated for a while. In the book, Nouwen asks the reader to identify with each of the three characters. With resentment on my mind, in the wake of the stolen English muffin (a real-life parable for one of my deeper spiritual struggles, and possibly yours), I focused on the older brother.

Note what this brother says to his father when he realizes the grace lavished on the younger ne-er-do-well: “All these years, I worked as a slave for you.” He goes on to complain about the party being given for “this son of yours”, failing to acknowledge his brotherhood. My guess is this guy has been harboring resentment for a while. He had in mind that if he worked hard enough, he could earn his Father’s love, that he in fact needed to earn that love, with the suspicion that all he had done would never be quite enough. So tragically, he confused sonship with slavery, love with duty. That world-view blinds him to good news, the celebration of the return of his brother, once lost, now found. It prevents him from celebrating grace which had surrounded him the whole time.

Parables are not allegories. The older brother does not symbolize just one type of person. But as I read the parable as a kind of mirror, for me he represents really religious people, maybe clergy. Have you ever met any resentful folks in church? Maybe we’re talking about people who work really hard in churches, people who feel like all that activity hasn’t touched their hearts, people whose defining life principle may be the way they’ve been under-appreciated, people who may have drifted from the foundation of a relationship with God: the willingness to open one’s heart to God’s grace and love.

I was told years ago that the Bible is just a story of sibling rivalry. It starts with Cain and Abel (who fight over worship of all things), moves through Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers up to the parable before us. Our conviction that love is a scarce commodity provides fertile ground for resentment in families, in the whole human family.

So maybe prompted by the story we read today, we can simply think about letting resentments go. Maybe we can practice (and it takes practice) forgiveness. Maybe we can send those ancient hurts down the river. Yes, they happened. But forgiveness is giving up the hope of a better past. Maybe we can hear again the reading from II Corinthians which we heard on Ash Wednesday, as it cautioned: “Do not accept the grace of God in vain.” Maybe, just maybe, we can apply this wise counsel from Henri Nouwen:

Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love? These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will bear many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.

And in case you’re wondering, my dog and I are now on speaking terms.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:


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 (March 5, 2018)


Oh, what peace we often forfeit. 
Oh, what needless pain we bear. 
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.

Luke 12:
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you-you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Do Not Worry

Well, that was an interesting afternoon. I was on a plane last week and halfway through the flight, the pilot announced we were turning around. We’d be making an emergency landing at an airport with a really big runway because there was some problem with steering. Knowing nothing about aviation, I thought: “Well, a problem with steering sounds better to me than a problem with brakes. Maybe.”

We had about 20 minutes left in the flight, which ended with a smooth landing, welcomed by a few fire trucks. While the flight attendants did demonstrate how we should brace for impact, for whatever reason, I sensed this was just a matter of the airline being extra careful. Most folks on the flight seemed pretty chill. But it did give me a glimmer of what it might be like to face serious problems on a plane. What would I think about? How might I react if I really believed as I often say in a blessing, “Life is short.” It made me think of stories I’ve heard from folks who survived greater emergencies and found in those moments the peace that passes understanding.

Recently I served on a panel with a gentleman who lived in Hawaii. He told the story of that Saturday morning when the alert went out about an impending missile aimed at Oahu. I had insufficiently considered how scary that must have been. His apartment had a view of Pearl Harbor and he imagined he would be ground zero. He had two daughters. Each responded differently. One hid in the bathroom. The other said: “Dad, let’s go out on the balcony and watch the show.” I was struck with the way he talked about those 38 minutes. While in his place, I might have panicked, I got no senses that that was his experience.

A priest I know has a parishioner who was on the plane Sully landed in the Hudson a few years ago. That parishioner imagined he was living the last minutes of his life. He said he felt deep peace. My friend, the rector, said his goal was to lead a church where members are so deeply formed in faith that they will know such peace in such moments.

Another person I admire dashed to a plane upon learning that a child had had a terrible accident in another part of the country. She did not know what she would find at the hospital after the plane landed. She described being upheld on that plane ride by that sense of deep peace.

Each of these incidents came to mind as I scanned readings from Luke for this week (especially on Tuesday). Jesus teaches his disciples in a variety of ways, inviting them into a new way of life. One of the features of that new life: It will be marked by a sense of peace. In a world marked by fear and scarcity thinking, Jesus invited disciples to trust, following him on a pathway not shielded from suffering, but not undone by suffering. All will be well. All manner of things will be well.

That new way of life is an excellent focus for Lent. Folks often think Lent is a matter of being more miserable than thou, a downer of a season that describes us as wretched, whether we feel wretched or not. The word “Lent” actually comes from an ancient word for Spring. The season asks us to think about how new life might unfold, free (or at least freer) from anxiety.

Jesus says: Don’t worry about your life. Perhaps easier said than done. It’s possible, though, it seems to me, if we can deepen our trust. For followers of Jesus, that means focus, striving first for the Kingdom of God, keeping things in perspective. That, in turn, probably means prayer, which in Anne Lamott’s vision can be as simple as three words: Thanks. Help. Wow. Luke’s gospel has Jesus constantly heading off by himself to pray. I wonder if that was the key to the calm with which he navigated opposition, rejection, ridicule, misunderstanding, betrayal, persecution, torture, suffering. I wonder if that could be an antidote to anxiety for you and me, as we live in anxious times.

The old hymn observes: Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer. Today, this morning, do we needlessly forfeit peace? May you know deep peace today.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

  • Monday, March 5: Luke 12:1-21
  • Tuesday, March 6: Luke 12:22-59
  • Wednesday, March 7: Luke 13:1-21
  • Thursday, March 8: Luke 13:22-35
  • Friday, March 9: Luke 14:1-24
  • Saturday, March 10: Luke 14:25-35
  • Sunday, March 11: Luke 15:1-10


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.