Monthly Archives: May 2018

Monday Matters (May 28, 2018)


A prayer for heroic service, from the Book of Common 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.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.
An excerpt from the poem “The Fallen” by Laurence Binyon, written in 1914.

Memorial Day

It’s been said that praying shapes believing. So here’s what I’m wondering on this Monday morning, as our weekend has been extended with a holiday to remember those who, over the centuries, gave their lives in service to the country. What does the prayer for heroic service, found in the Book of Common Prayer and included above, say about what we believe, about how we live our lives as people of faith?

Like many Monday holidays, Memorial Day becomes a day of relaxation and celebration, a day for parties and fun. For some, it’s a day with retail enticements. Stores will be crowded. The summer is launched. Finally. That’s good.

But it’s also probably a good idea to grab a few minutes to think about the day’s intent, to say prayers for those we love but see no longer, to focus on courage and sacrifice, to see what we all can do to “study war no more.”

As the prayer calls us to observe the day, it asks us to do four things: to remember, to resist rest, to share benefits, to accept disciplines.

First of all, we remember. We would not have a day called Memorial Day if we weren’t so prone to forgetfulness. There’s a part of the Episcopal liturgy which, during the eucharist, recites the good things God has done for us. It’s got a technical term: anamnesis, which literally means not amnesia. Not forgetting. In our bubbles of time and space, we may well forget the great cost. Today, how can we take moments to remember with gratitude the cost of the promise of our common life?

And today, we consider what it would mean to be restless. One of the great challenges I find in our work with congregations is complacency. The sense that we are done, completed. It can be a spirit of self-satisfaction. It can be a spirit of resignation. We honor those we remember by refusing to rest, striving as they did to ensure a better world, to go deeper, to know that God is never finished with us yet, to include more and more people in the experience of God’s justice and freedom, peace and love. How can we embrace that holy restlessness?

Today, we consider what it would mean to share benefits. When Jesus called his disciples to meet him in the least of our brothers and sisters (see Matthew 25), maybe he was talking about sharing the benefits of our common life, recognizing that we are in this together. As we observe a day in which we remember those whose efforts and offerings were intended to lead us to greatness, we note with thanksgiving the gifts and privileges of our common life. Freedom to vote. Freedom of expression. Freedom to worship. Freedom to protest. Freedom to learn. Fighting for such benefits cost lives over the course of our nation’s history. How can we share those benefits now as widely as possible?

Finally, today, we consider what it would mean to accept disciplines in our common life. We have been graced as a nation. Such grace is not cheap. A life of freedom calls for us to live into that grace, with intention, vigilance, practice, prayer, effort. This prayer calls us to accept those disciplines gladly.

Have a great time today. But also take time today to remember. Reflect on holy restlessness. Make a commitment (even a small one) to share benefits you have received. And prepare to accept disciplines that come with being a disciple.

-Jay Sidebotham


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 21, 2018)


Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is the most important.
-Bill Gates
Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths.
-Psalm 25
And all the children will be taught of the Lord, and great will be the peace of your children.
-Isaiah 54:13
Open my eyes that I may behold the wonders of your law.
-Psalm 119
Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
-John 3:2
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
-John 14:26
 Education: the path from cocky ignorance to miserable uncertainty. 


I was moved by the image of thousands of red t-shirts, worn by teachers walking up Raleigh city streets last week. They gathered from around the state to make the point that these days, we do not sufficiently honor the work teachers do. We fail to recognize the importance of their work.

Yesterday, I participated in a memorial service for a much-loved family member, a person of great gifts who used those gifts for close to 40 years as a teacher. There were other vocations he could have chosen, easier vocations, more lucrative ones. His call was to education, a commitment to raise up the next generation, to draw out the best in young people, a vision of hope, offered with love.

So teachers have been on my mind.

I’ve been made to think about how teachers changed my life. There’s a woman who taught me math in middle school. She taught me about steadfastness, since she taught my father in the same school, probably the same classroom. She sometimes called me by his name. A 27-year-old history teacher taught me in the 9th grade. (I thought he was downright ancient at 27.) He opened my eyes to a broader view of the world, challenging me to think outside the suburban bubble in which I was raised. A college religion professor gave much needed insight into the varied ways we have received the scriptures, deepening my love of text by embracing its complexity and mystery. A gracious (and rigorous) seminary professor, a faithful Christian taught me about grace even as he elevated expectations for more careful thinking and writing.

There were teachers met out of school. A child who asked me in church whether heaven was a place or a feeling. A 95-year-old widow who asked, after her husband’s death, what God was calling her to do with the next chapter of her life.

Each teacher, in his or her way, made a difference in my life. I am grateful.

With teachers on my mind, I invite you this morning to think about your teachers. Who have been your teachers, in school, church, family or workplace? If there is a way to be in touch with them, express your thanks to them. If not, let God know of your gratitude, and maybe the Holy Spirit will pass on the gratitude in some way.

Then think about this: Who are your teachers right now, this Monday morning? How are you still learning? I believe it might be helpful to change the word “disciple” in the New Testament. If I were in charge (apparently I’m not) I think we would do well to replace the word “disciple” with the word “student” or “learner”, at least for a while. I believe that would get across the notion that in the spiritual journey, there is always more for us to learn. We are never done.

And the good news? In that journey, we have a teacher. Jesus is described as such 45 times in the gospels. We have access to his teaching through the gospels which we bring to the center of our community every time we worship. I think specifically of the Sermon on the Mount, a teaching tool for the likes of Leo Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. This teaching changed the world for the better. Lord knows, we could use the teaching of that sermon these days.

And if you are wondering where to find Jesus’ classroom these days, remember that we celebrated the feast of Pentecost yesterday. Readings for that big day indicate that God sent the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth, which sounds a whole lot to me like the goal of education. Marvel of marvels, that same Holy Spirit uses people around us to be our guides, our teachers.

Join me in giving thanks for teachers, especially those we love but see no longer. Find ways to honor them. And continue the process of learning in your own life. God is not finished with us yet.

-Jay Sidebotham


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 14, 2018)


 Acts 28: The closing verses of the Acts of the Apostles, as Paul makes his way to Rome.
Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him.

The Final Acts: There’s no place like Rome

In college, I spent a semester in Rome, ostensibly studying art history, or Italian, or something. As I recall the most popular course was wine-tasting. I did happen to make some life-long friends, an extraordinary gift that keeps on giving. And I discovered that the moniker “eternal city” developed for a reason. There’s something about the light of Bella Roma. I reflected on those days as I looked at this week’s readings from the Book of Acts, which take us on a trip to Rome.

This week, we conclude our journey through this book, as we’ve been invited by the Presiding Bishop over the Easter season to read Luke’s story of the start of the church. In the final chapters, we read about shy and retiring Paul speaking in front of all kinds of political authorities. We hear about conspiracies to put him to death, with quick thinking youth helping Paul escape. We read about shipwrecks and snake handling (sounds like the makings of a pretty good movie) and finally about his arrival in Rome where the indefatigable apostle finds a way to continue his ministry.

Paul had long hoped to get to Rome, to use it as a launching pad for a westward expansion of his ministry, specifically to Spain. He had it all figured out. I imagine him crafting strategic plan, mission statement, articulation of vision, communications strategies, goals, objectives, metrics, indices, power point presentations, social media, who knows, maybe bumper stickers and coffee mugs.

He had one kind of trip to Rome in mind. The Holy Spirit had another.

As is often the case, life happened instead of what he planned. Yet even under restrictions of imprisonment, the book of Acts tells us he found his way to Rome. He found a way to build community, to preach the kingdom of God. Scripture tells us he did so with confidence. After a long career repeatedly met with resistance, we are told that no one was forbidding him. That must have been a great joy.

I suspect we each and all spend our lives making plans. We may think we have it figured out. If you’re like me, we imagine we can clue God in on what really needs to happen, as if the Holy One were a bit out of touch. Sweet but somewhat clueless. In need of our guidance.

And then we find ourselves in a totally new situation. We face new challenges, for which we may not be prepared or equipped. That’s where God shows up, as we find that we have not been left alone, as we hear a call to trust that next steps will be revealed, as we have opportunity to test whether we really believe that all will be well and all manner of things will be well, to test whether we believe that love wins.

That can be true in our individual lives. How many of us are living the life we would have scripted from the beginning? On what resources can we rely when course changes, when as Garmin says, we have to recalculate?

That can be true for our congregations. We are not gathering in the church in which our parents gathered. Our children will not gather in the church in which we gather. How will we discover an agile faith for a common life that is both new and faithful and pertinent?

That can be true for the wider church. How can we enter into God’s mission for the world, a world that is changing quickly, a world where the church may not command as much attention or influence as in previous generations? (We can start by inviting the Presiding Bishop to preach at a royal wedding. How awesome is that?)

Tradition has it that Paul was martyred in Rome. I’m pretty sure that was not what he’d planned. But the word martyr really means witness. His remarkable witness has changed us all, as he shared the message of grace offered without condition, the message of love from which we can never be separated. That message offers power to move forward amid the changes and chances of life, even and especially when life throws curve balls.

-Jay Sidebotham

Last week of readings for the Good Book Club :


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 7, 2018)


Acts 17:22-31
Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

God in my life?

The parishioner showed up in my office with an assignment. She was a force, a quite successful lawyer, who wondered about her co-workers who were highly ethical and had no religious affiliation. She was deeply involved in the church. They were not. She was curious about that. So she decided to invite a dozen of these folks to dinner, an invitation with condition. The conversation over dinner would address this question: God in my life? She decided I would be there to help moderate the conversation. I thought it was brave of her to do this. I thought it was brave of me to go. Except that I’m not sure I had a choice.

The table was full, invitations with condition accepted. As I dined with this group of strangers from several faith traditions, mostly non-observant at the time, I was struck with the fact that everyone at the table had something to say. Everyone had a spiritual story. Discussion was lively and enlightening. The group continued to meet once a month for a number of years.

One of my mentors, Dwight Zscheile, writes about the call for followers of Jesus in today’s culture. His book, People of the Way, describes an authentic discipleship in the Episcopal Church these days. He writes that one of the marks of faithful disciples is that they see what God is already up to in the neighborhood. They are not bringing God to the neighborhood. God is already there. That’s a healthy corrective to ways that many religious folks have looked at mission and evangelism. We’re talking about a call to be a listener and a learner. It’s a call to a more humble stance.

It may not be your impression of the guy, but St. Paul knew all about this. As he moved from city to city, he first took the pulse of the place, as he does in one of the readings for this week in our journey through the book of Acts. In chapter 17, he goes to Athens, intellectual center of his day. He seeks a way to connect with the people there. (Find an excerpt of that story above.) He goes to the Areopagus, close to the Parthenon and notes the many statues to the many gods revered in that culture. He notes one in particular, a statue to the unknown God. It strikes me as a kind of blank check/CYA deity, erected just in case the Athenians forgot someone, not to make anyone mad. Paul sees that as opportunity to share what he has learned about the God revealed in Jesus. But it began by his attentiveness to what people already knew and experienced spiritually.

Our Service of Holy Baptism asks a couple pertinent and outrageous questions. It asks us to seek and serve Christ in all persons. It asks us to respect the dignity of every human being. Christ is already in each person, in some way. Every person has God-given dignity. It is the conviction that prompted my parishioner to invite co-workers to share stories of “God in my life.” It is the conviction I’ve come to after a few years in ministry, that everyone has a God-shaped space inside, that everyone is restless until that space is filled. If we can help each other in filling that space, whether we are inside the church or outside the church, it will probably begin with talking less and listening more, sensing the contours of that interior space, sensing where that space hurts, where it indicates brokenness, where that space might be filled.

Think about that dinner conversation. How would you respond to the question: “God in my life?” And then think about how you might listen to someone else this week. Pray for God’s Spirit to lead you to that person. Hear that person’s story. Pray for that person. Learn from that person. Discover something new about God from that person.

-Jay Sidebotham

Good Book Club readings this week:

(Take the Easter season to read the Acts of the Apostles, bit by bit each day. We’ll link the assignments for each day each 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.