Monthly Archives: June 2018

Monday Matters (June 25, 2018)



How will you observe the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, a.k.a. his birthday?

Bake a locust and honey cake. I hear it’s delicious. John the Baptist thought so.

Go to work dressed like John the Baptist. Camel’s hair may not be summer attire, but it will be sure to spur conversation.

Read the scriptures chosen for his feast day. Here they are:

  • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • Acts 13:14b-26
  • Psalm 85
  • Luke 1:57-80

Give thanks for someone in your life who points to Christ, to grace and love breaking into the world.

Think about how this day you will point beyond yourself to Christ in the world.

What’s your point?

Today, June 25th, the church observes the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, one of the most eccentric characters in the Bible. And that’s saying something because there are a lot of eccentric characters in the Bible. Happy birthday, John!

We celebrate his birthday right near the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. In contrast, we celebrate the birth of Jesus when days are the shortest. I’ve been told that is not accidental. It’s a way for the calendar to preach, reflecting a story told in the Gospel of John. This may only be of interest to church geeks, but here’s the story:

People came to John the Baptist and asked about his relationship with Jesus. There’s some sense that people wondered if John was the one they should follow. Maybe John was the long awaited messiah. In response to the question, John does what he always does. He points beyond himself to Christ. He has this to say about Jesus: He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30)

The calendar acts that out in this simple way. The days that follow John’s birth shorten in length, while the days which follow Jesus’ birth lengthen. I can’t vouch that this is true. They did not consult me in calendar composition. But if it isn’t true, it ought to be. And it makes it worth our while to consider what John’s example means for us this Monday morning.

At one point in the gospels, Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest person ever born. He doesn’t say that kind of thing about many people. Most of the disciples were quite often knuckleheads. So I’ve wondered what was so great about John the Baptist.

Let me venture this answer. John, a person of remarkable gifts and magnetism, knew who he was and knew who Jesus was. And he knew those two things should not be confused. He was no shrinking violet and he had a powerful ministry. A lot of ego strength for sure, willing to take on the political and religious authorities. It eventually cost him his head.

But he also knew that there was a power, a presence greater than himself. He chose to have his ministry be one of witness and service, preparing the way of Lord, pointing beyond himself to Jesus, to God present among us, and especially present in the suffering of the world.

In the history of Christian art, John the Baptist is often depicted with arm extended, index finger pointing towards Christ, often to Christ on the cross. With that depiction, John the Baptist becomes spiritual coach for each one of us, inviting us to figure out how to do the same. How will our lives point beyond ourselves to God’s presence in the world, meeting the suffering of the world? Asked another way: What’s our point?

Use John the Baptist’s birthday to reflect on your own life. To what does your life point? What might you do this Monday that would direct someone’s attention, maybe someone’s affection towards Christ? Asked another way, where can you point to grace breaking into the world?

-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 (June 18, 2018)


Jesus said: 
You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf.
-John 5:39 
(New Revised Standard Version)
Jesus said: You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me!
-John 5:39 
(The Message)
What makes the church, your congregation and mine, different, utterly essential, without equal, unique? Let me venture a response:
A congregation is Christian to the degree that it is confronted by and attempts to form its life in response to the Word of God.
-Will Willimon
Shaped by the Bible

What does God want from us?

What’s our lens?

Years ago, I officiated at the wedding of a wonderful young couple. The groom-to-be was a child of folks in my church. The bride, a confirmed atheist, with no church background, gracefully agreed to a church wedding as concession to her beloved. They were bright, engaging and interested in lots of conversation before their wedding. Our pre-marital counseling sessions led to lively discussions about religion, probing questions aimed in my direction about how faith made sense in today’s world, especially given the hypocrisy of the church (to which, by the way, I could only reply: Guilty as charged).

After the wedding, the couple gave me a gift to remind me of those conversations. It was a book entitled: “The Bible Tells Me So: The Use and Abuse of Scripture.” You can get the point of the book from the Table of Contents. A sampling of chapter titles:

How scripture was used to endorse slavery
How scripture was used to endorse the abolitionist movement
How scripture was used to deny ordination to women
How scripture was used to promote ordination of women
How scripture was used to challenge the environmental movement
How scripture was used to support the environmental movement.

On the cover of the book, a quote from Shakespeare: “Even the devil can quote scripture,” a reference to the temptation of Jesus where Satan and our Lord joust by citing scripture passages. All of this comes to mind because of the way scripture is being used in the heart-wrenching discussion of separating children from their parents on our southern border, a defining moral crisis for all of us if ever our nation faced one.

It raises questions for me, because I’m convinced that engagement with scripture is key to spiritual vitality in individuals and congregations. So how do we read scripture? How can scripture be cited in support of such opposite positions? I suspect each of us develops our own canon within the canon, our own set of scriptures that ratify what we already think, the way we gravitate towards favorite cable news channel. But the marvelous and mysterious mosaic we call the Bible, this scriptural symphony speaks with many voices. It speaks about revenge and about forgiveness. It speaks about taking up a sword and about turning swords into plowshares. Given all that, how does scripture guide us in times like these?

It’s a challenge of an adult faith. Jesus battled over how to read scripture, not only with the devil, but with leaders who sought to use scripture for their own political advantage. (Nothing new under the sun.) In the Sermon on the Mount, he quoted laws of the Hebrew Scripture this way: You have heard that it was said, but I say to you. He expanded on ancient laws in a way that always tilted towards grace, mercy and love. In one confrontation, he told his opponents “You search the scriptures because in them you think you have life. But they are witnesses to me.”

And what is that witness? You heard it in the famous wedding homily: Love is the way. That’s the lens we need as we read scripture. (John Calvin described the scripture as a set of spectacles.) When in doubt, choose the pathway that leads to grace, love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness? Try out this lens: If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God.

To be clear: For those who use scripture to justify separation of parents from children, the lens seems to me to be tragically obstructed, clouded or cracked. Maybe the lens cap is still on.

The Bible, in all its complexity and contradiction, is a story of grace, God reaching out to us, God reaching out to include those on the margins, persistently, inexorably, so that in the end, love wins.

At a gathering last week over dinner, our group spoke about whether we had ever heard God speak to us. One gentleman talked about his journey of faith. He said he never felt good enough. He recalled at one time offering this simple prayer: “God, I’m not perfect.” He said that as he uttered that prayer, he heard a voice say to him: “It doesn’t matter. I want you.” I find that divine desire throughout the pages of the Bible, said to you and me and all God’s children. All God’s children.

Said another way:
Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.

-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 (June 11, 2018)


Romans 12:1-2  
(The New Revised Standard Version)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12:1-2 
(The Message)
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

What does God want from us?

It’s a question I’ve asked at various times in my life. Maybe you have asked it as well. Jesus got asked the question. In response, he reached back into the scriptures he knew and said it’s simple but not easy. It’s one thing but really two. It’s about love: love of God and love of neighbor. In quiet time last week, I was reading the psalm du jour and this verse struck me. I’ve read it before, but it caught my attention in a new way. Here it is:

Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me. Psalm 50:24

I started kicking around the phrase “sacrifice of thanksgiving.” I remembered that on Sundays, when we offer prayer over bread and wine, we often say that we are offering our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. The more I thought about the phrase, the more paradoxical, perhaps oxymoronic it seemed. How do sacrifice and thanksgiving go together?

Look up sacrifice in the dictionary and it’s not a pretty picture. Verbs and nouns suggest something gets killed. It’s bloody. It’s violent. At best, it’s not a whole lot of fun. Even in baseball, somebody loses so somebody else wins. A dutiful parent or spouse or child speaks of the sacrifice he or she has made. It can at times suggest resentment, a teeth-gritting relationship. Where’s the good news in that?

So think with me about what it means to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving? Your response, opinion, guess is as good as mine, but here are a couple thoughts:

Maybe it’s intended to have an ironic twist, a paradox for those of us who think we have to earn God’s grace or favor or approval. For all of us spiritual over-achievers, what would it means to say that the only thing we have to give is our thanks? That is all God wants from us. As the psalmist says, God doesn’t need us to bring us a bunch of cows. Those cows already belong to God. What God seeks is an attitude of gratitude.

Maybe there actually is a dimension of sacrifice in thanksgiving. Maybe we are called to sacrifice our own ego, as we recognize that all we have is gift. There’s an element of dying in that, offering our selves, the kind of language Paul used in Galatians when he said “I have been crucified with Christ.” or in the passage from Romans included below. It’s the kind of language we use in baptism that says we die to self in order to arrive at new life.

Maybe we need to scrap dictionary definitions and shift our thinking so that sacrifice doesn’t mean deprivation or suffering or hardship or violence. Maybe it doesn’t meant that we have to kill something, but rather that our sacrifice can be life giving, life affirming. It suggests the holiness that comes with saying thanks, the holy life that comes with living in mindfulness of all good gifts around us.

These are just some random Monday morning thoughts prompted by a familiar phrase that struck me as if I’d not seen it before. Take this week as an occasion to continue to play with the phrase, in your mind and heart and spirit. Find what it means for you to make a sacrifice of thanksgiving. Discover what your offering of gratitude might be this week.

-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 (June 4, 2018)


Then Jesus said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
-Mark 2
A Prayer attributed to St. Francis
Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.
A prayer for humanity

May I be a guard for those who need protection,
A guide for those on the path,
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood,
May I be a lamp in the darkness,
A resting place for the weary,
A healing medicine for all who are sick,
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles,
And for the boundless multitudes  of living beings
May I bring sustenance and awakening,
Enduring like the earth and sky,
Until all beings are freed from sorrow
And all are awakened.
Indian Buddhist sage
700 A.D.
(Note: This would not be a bad prayer for religious institutions)


When I started in ordained ministry (clueless young priest as opposed to clueless aging priest), I sought counsel of a rector I respected, asking how to navigate this new life. The advice as I recall had to do not with work but with not working. He said that he was vigilant in making sure he observed Sabbath each week. Obviously, not Sunday, but another day of rest.

He said it was important because on a weekly basis it reminded him that he was not his work. His identity would be found beyond title or job description. I can’t say I heeded his advice very well throughout my career. (Note major eye-rolls from my family as they read this) I was better in some seasons than others. But his advice came to me yesterday when the readings in church focused on the Sabbath.

Observance of the Sabbath is one of the most important religious institutions in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is noted in the opening verses of the Bible, when after God had completed the work of creation, declaring it to be very good, God rested. Apparently, if that kind of down time was good enough for the Holy One, it’s probably good enough for us. The commandment to observe the Sabbath sits near the top of the list of the Ten Commandments. We’re meant to keep it, observe it. How come?

I think it’s because it says something about who we are, and who God is. Maybe that’s true of all religious institutions, customs, liturgies, scriptures, hymnody, clergy. They are not ends in themselves. They are instruments, signs pointing beyond themselves, intended to remind us of God’s identity and our own.

A sign of my age: I remember a time when Sabbath as religious institution had more buy-in in our culture. A day of rest. No shopping. No movies. No soccer practice. (Acolyte scheduling was definitely easier.) No smart phones or lap tops allowing us to work 24/7. Those days are not coming back, but it seems we’ve lost something. Perhaps what we’ve lost is a window into our own identity, a sense of who we are. Perhaps we’ve lost a sense of who God is, a sense discovered when on a regular basis we stop and recognize a higher power. We are reminded that all is grace.

Jesus spent a lot of time challenging religious institutions of his day. On a day when no work was to be done, Jesus performed miracles. He wasn’t supposed to do that. Was he just trying to shake things up? Maybe. But it seems to me he was reminding people what religion and ritual and spiritual practice are all about. They are occasions, woven into the pattern of our lives, to recall something about who God is, and who we are.

More specifically, they are occasions to recall that God is love, and we are called to show that love. All the time. 24/7. In and through and occasionally in spite of the institutions we set up. The Sabbath (like other religious institutions) is meant to serve the cause of God’s mission in the world. Not vice versa.

What Jesus seems to say about God’s identity revealed in the Sabbath is that showing love and working for healing are way more important than following rules or traditions. And as far as our own identity is concerned, we are meant to be ever open to mercy.

This is not to say that the Sabbath is not important. It is to say that it is not an end in itself. It’s an occasion to know God better, as we see something of God’s identity, and our own. If institutions stand in the way of healing and mercy, they become obstacles not instruments. I fear for the obstacles religious people (clergy like me) put in people’s way.

What does your religious observance, your spiritual practice say about who God is, and who you are? What can we do to make our religious communities, our spiritual lives windows of mercy, instruments of peace, conveyors of grace? How can our institutions, our rules and habits, our liturgies reflect what our Presiding Bishop repeats: If it ain’t about love, it ain’t about God?

-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.