Monthly Archives: July 2018

Monday Matters (July 30, 2018)


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. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.
-Romans 12:1-10

The Honor Challenge

In the mornings, it’s been my practice to start the day with Jay’s stream-lined version of Morning Prayer, which includes prayers, reading and thinking about the scripture passages assigned in a daily lectionary. Sometimes I run across passages that really speak to me. Sometimes I’m befuddled. Sometimes unmoved. Sometimes I run across passages I would have omitted. (Thank goodness no one put me on that committee.)

In recent weeks, we’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, as it celebrates the wideness of God’s mercy, the amazing grace that is far more expansive than any of us religious types like to admit. That letter has been at the heart of renewal in the church over the centuries, precisely because it celebrates the love of God from which we can never be separated.

Its final chapters (12-16) represent what I call the “so-what” factor, implications for living that come as our response to amazing grace. As I read those chapters last week in my early morning fog, one particular line stood out for me. I’ve been thinking about it over the past few days, and I’d like to share it with Monday readers. As Paul speaks to the church, calling them to live out the grace they have received, he issues this challenge: Outdo one another in showing honor. It almost sounds like a competition. Figure out ways to honor each other.

It got me thinking about that old-fashioned word “honor.” It can easily get co-opted, its meaning cheapened in a culture where we talk about honoring a credit card or a coupon. Other traditions often reveal a better handle on the idea. I remember visiting a Native American reservation, and attending a potluck dinner for the community, a long table abundantly spread with great food. After grace was said, I expected the many children in the community to be the first through the line. Much to my surprise, without instruction from anyone, the eldest in the room, some assisted by canes and walkers, went through the line first, an outward and visible sign of a culture that honored its most senior members. Quite a difference from our youth-centered culture which often relegates seniors to the margins. Out of sight, out of mind.

In the liturgy for the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, the word “honor” looms large. It shows up in a couple places, but for me, most significantly in the exchange of rings as the soon-to-be married couple say to each other: “With all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.” It’s not a commitment to a set of rules. It’s not a contract. It’s a commitment to another person. It’s a covenant by which the best is sought for the other.

That call to honor is implicit in promises made at baptism, inviting us to seek and serve Christ in all persons. Does it really mean all? It calls us to respect the dignity of every human being. Does it really mean every?

I can’t say that I always understand what the Apostle Paul was thinking, but I have a feeling that kind of covenantal relationship is what he hoped for when he challenged the Roman church members to outdo one another in showing honor. It is indeed a counter-cultural approach in a world that asks “What’s in it for me?” or “What have you done for me lately?”

What would your interactions look like this week if you embraced St. Paul’s challenge, if you tried to outdo one another in showing honor? What would it mean in your office? In your home? In your church? What would it mean to honor the people who wait on you at a store or restaurant? The pushy driver trying to cut into your lane? The relative whose political point of view makes you nuts?

Take the challenge. Outdo one another.

-Jay Sidebotham

Coming attractions: Please note that the entire Episcopal Church will be invited to read Paul’s Letter to the Romans during the season of Epiphany (January and February 2019), as the second round of the Good Book Club, organized by Forward Movement and endorsed by the Presiding Bishop. Fasten your seat belts. Romans renews.


Jay SidebothamContact:
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.

Monday Matters (July 23, 2018)



The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6

Rest a while

A recent poll indicated that nearly half (47%) of parents say that they share fewer meals with their family than when they were growing up. 43% say that they have fewer family meals now than they did five years ago. 57% of parents say that when they do eat a meal together, family members are distracted by technology. I suspect we’ve all been at a restaurant and looked over at another table to see a family together, each on the phone, maybe even texting each other. Maybe that’s your family. It could be mine. (I’ve been known to send an email from my office upstairs to my wife working downstairs.)

In our work with congregations, we find that a busy schedule can be one of things that gets in the way of spiritual growth. We’ve learned that being busy with stuff at church is no guarantee of a deeper spiritual life. In fact, that kind of busy-ness can be an obstacle, an impediment, even an off-ramp.

And while there is no mention of smartphones or social media in the Bible, which is a mercy, the gospel reading we heard in church yesterday does have something to say on the subject, once again proving that scripture is a lively word.

There’s this interesting line in the reading from Mark, printed above, which says that Jesus invited the apostles to a retreat. He called them to a quiet place. Many were “coming and going and they had no leisure even to eat.” I suspect every generation thinks it’s the busiest, the most overworked, the one facing greatest schedule demands. For whatever reason, the apostles were busy being busy, with no leisure even to eat. To my mind, as someone who rarely misses a meal, that is busy. Circumstances were of course different than ours. Maybe they had no leisure to eat because they lived at subsistence level. Maybe they didn’t have leisure to eat because they were scrambling to find money to buy food.

But I’ve always taken this passage as timely. When I get all flipped out about a crowded calendar, I recall that there’s nothing new under the sun. I think of all the times Jesus goes off by himself to pray, to rest. How did he have time to do that? He had a world to save. I imagine Jesus looking at the way we live, regarding it with compassion, seeing us coming and going, as we make life choices that forfeit time to sit and (literally or figuratively) have a meal. The gospels tell us that Jesus looked on the crowd who were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. That could be us.

When I served in midtown Manhattan, at a church on a busy avenue, with as much pedestrian traffic in front of it as any church I know, I used to stand on the top steps at rush hour and watch people go by. On a good day, I’d pray for them. The words from the gospel, the description of harassed and helpless sheep without a shepherd seemed to fit that New York crowd. Sure, many were accomplished. Many were wealthy. They still looked like sheep headed in a lot of directions.

As I noted, our work on spiritual growth has indicated that the busy-ness of our lives can impede spiritual growth. People claim that they simply do not have the time to gather for worship, or to sit quietly each day, or to engage in ministries to help people in need. With work now accessible 24/7, with stores open all the time, with sports practices round the clock, we probably do need greater intention about time for retreat, reflection, stillness, peace.

I’m taken with the call of our Presiding Bishop to commit to practice the way of love. At the recent General Convention of the Episcopal Church, he invited Episcopalians to seven practices that help people move toward a life centered on Jesus. (You can learn more about this invitation and read about these practices at

One of those seven ways: A call to rest. Just like Jesus’ call to come away to a deserted place and rest a while. Maybe summer is a good time for you to do that. Maybe it’s a good time to look at your calendar and consider whether you are busy being busy. Maybe you feel harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. If any of that is true, maybe you need to hear Jesus say to you: Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.

-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 (July 16, 2018)



A favorite hymn text about the church: Hymn #51 in the 1982 Hymnal

We the Lord’s people,
heart and voice uniting, praise him who called us out of sin and darkness into his own light, that he might anoint us a royal priesthood.

This is the Lord’s house, home of all his people, school for the faithful, refuge for the sinner, rest for the pilgrim, haven for the weary; all find a welcome.

This is the Lord’s day, day of God’s own making, day of creation, day of resurrection,
day of the Spirit, sign of heaven’s banquet,
day for rejoicing.

In the Lord’s service
bread and wine are offered, that Christ may take them,
bless them, break and give them to all his people, his own life imparting, food everlasting.

Summer reading assignment

Ah, July in Texas. What a great idea!

Actually, it was great. I’ve just come back from a small gathering in Austin. About 1000 bishops and deputies, and a host of others like me showed up for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Our time together was marked by lots of meetings (What’s church without meetings?), lively conversations, healthy debate, shared learnings, great fellowship, joyful reunions, vats of guacamole, and compelling liturgy, including preaching by our Presiding Bishop and others. I continue to give thanks and praise to God for the ministry and witness of Michael Curry, who inspires us with the loving, life-giving and liberating message of Jesus.

All of it got me thinking about the church: What is the church really about? What is it for? Is it an institution whose time has come and gone? Does it have a future?

We should always be asking those questions. A mentor put it this way. In every generation, the church needs to ask whether it is doing and being what it is called to do and be. Statistics indicate a transitional time for the church in our culture. That makes some folks anxious or fearful. I take it as opportunity to think creatively about our call. This guiding question for me in my ministry comes from Brian McLaren: Is the church a club for the elite who pretend to have arrived or a school of disciples who are still on the way?

The vision of church as school, the belief that a synonym for disciple is student with Jesus as instructor leads me to give a summer reading assignment. For the next few Sundays, our lectionary will offer selections from the New Testament letter to the Ephesians. It has become one of my favorite books, as it speaks of the mystery, marvel, miracle of the church. It speaks of blessing, inheritance, hope and call. Mostly it speaks of grace and how we respond to it.

Take this summer to read, mark, learn, inwardly digest what this letter has to say about the church, and your place in it. I believe the whole letter can be summed up in these few verses,

Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God- not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.

These verses tell us that it begins with God’s grace, that our place in the community is not a reflection of our spectacular religious achievement, but is the outgrowth of original blessing. Our life in the church only makes sense as we see that all is gift. How would this week shift if you carried with you this notion of amazing grace?

It goes on to say that we are given gifts for a purpose. We are God’s workmanship, the result of God’s creativity, created for good works. How would your week shift if in whatever you do, you recall that you are God’s creative work, intended for expressions of gratitude and generosity, the response to grace?

It goes on to say that God has called us to a new way of life. God has prepared a way for us, good works in which we are meant to walk. How would your week shift if you woke each morning and asked God to show you clearly the path God would wish you to walk?

There will be no written book report on your summer reading (although if you want to send your comments to me, I’d love to see them). Rather the report will be your life, as people see your good works and give glory to God in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

-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 (July 9, 2018)


Proverbs 11:17

Those who are kind reward themselves, but the cruel do themselves harm.

Luke 6:35,36
Jesus said: But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Colossians 3:12
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

I Corinthians 13:4
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant.

And then there’s this from the Dalai Lama whose birthday was last Friday:
Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.
My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

The Courage of Kindness

I wasn’t particularly excited about seeing the movie about Mr. Rogers. A goofy comedy or something with themes Jurassic or Jedi would have interested me more. But we heard good things about the movie, and my spouse (way more spiritual evolved than I am) really wanted to see it. So I went. Good husband award.

I was surprised by how it moved me. For someone like me who overly indulges in the toxicity of 24/7 news, it provided an antidote that fed the spirit. The movie is aptly titled “Won’t you be my neighbor?” That’s something I can imagine Jesus asking.

Not that I was asked, but I could suggest an alternative title for the movie. It would be “The Courage of Kindness.” Other members of my family had apparently paid more attention to Mr. Rogers over the years. For me, the movie served as introduction. The little I had known about his show had left me unimpressed with its unpolished simplicity, its quiet, slow pace, its fairly crude production value. As Saturday Night Live demonstrated, it was easy to mock.

I hadn’t realized how brave Mr. Rogers was. He saw a need and followed his instincts to offer a show that was not in the least flashy, a show which so clearly affirmed the dignity of children, a show that took children seriously. In a gentle way, he addressed issues of racial segregation. He spoke honestly about exclusion, about family break-ups, about violence, about death. In the face of all that, he preached grace, the inherent value of each person. I left the movie impressed with the powerful courage of his kind of kind spirit. Who knew?

It made me think about how much we need the courage of kindness in our world. So I cracked open my Bible and was surprised at the number of times the virtue of kindness comes up. I listed a few references to kindness above. One in particular strikes me: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven us. (Ephesians 4:32) I read in that a call to live life mimicking the kindness of Christ, who called the children to himself when adults were trying to silence the children or shut them out. Jesus took the children in his arms. He blessed them.

Speaking of blessings, a number of years ago, I was introduced to a blessing which I use at the conclusion of liturgies, a blessing which has spread widely. It goes like this:

Life is short and we do not have too much time to gladden the hearts of those who travel with us. So be swift to love and make haste to be kind. And God’s blessing be with you.

It’s remarkable how many people relate to this blessing. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s the rigorous realism that life is short. It may also be that phrase: Make haste to be kind. We could do worse than to wake up each morning and think about how soon kindness can be demonstrated. Opportunities abound.

Our culture is experiencing a drought of kindness. The crudeness of politicians and pundits tempts us to respond in kind. The spirit of Jesus invites us to another way. Jesus said: Don’t respond in kind. Be kind. Treat each other with grace and forgiveness. Affirm the dignity of all persons, especially children.

What would it mean this week for you and me to make haste to be kind? What might it look like to share that spirit not in the reluctant way I went to the movie, but recognizing that there is remarkable power when we practice the courage of kindness.

-Jay Sidebotham

Note to readers:
I wrote this post after I saw the movie last week. Then on Friday, I read an excellent column by David Brooks, published in the NY Times, all about the meaning of this movie. I commend it to you. I wish I’d written it.


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 (July 2, 2018)


Churches should always be two things simultaneously: schools for saints and hospitals for sinners. On the good side, they ought to be schools, helping to draw out of us our best, teaching us the skills and practices that helps us in imitation of our Lord, to be humble, loving and wise. At the same time, in an acknowledgement of the broken place where each of us starts, it ought to be a hospital. There is much sickness in us that needs to be healed on our way to sanctity and it will take time. In any church, we are always going to be surrounded with other recovering sinners like ourselves. Among the great gifts we can give each other is to release the temptation to grumble at each other’s brokenness.
-Christopher Martin
The Restoration Project, a wonderful book published by Forward Movement. Buy it.

Pray for the church. Pray for our country.

Gracious Father, we pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. Amen.

This is one of my favorite prayers in the Prayer Book (page 816). It’s a prayer for the holy catholic church, which I take to mean the church around the world in all its diversity, everyone from Baptist to Presbyterian to Pentecostal to non-denominational to Roman Catholic to Orthodox and my personal fave, Episcopal, to name just a few.

What I love about the prayer is how it begins with rigorous realism, the recognition that the church always stands in need of renewal and reform, maybe even resurrection. It’s a reminder that the institution is not an end in and of itself. It is an instrument for people to come to know the love of God powerfully and graciously expressed in Jesus. It’s a reminder that the church exists to remind the world that love is the way. The prayer acknowledges that the church sometimes does that well, and sometimes, not so much. When it falls short, as it often does, the church needs to change

And we all love change, right?

This prayer has been on my heart as many people wing their way to Austin for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Austin in July. Good idea. The convention will meet from July 5-13. Join me in prayers for this gathering. I’m praying that it will be an occasion where the church grows in its ability to share the news that love is the way.

This prayer has also been on my heart in this week that includes Independence Day, a civic holiday included in the church calendar to give thanks for our nation. There is much to give thanks for in this noble experiment called the United States. There is much to love about our country. And we have a lot to work on. We could apply this prayer to our nation, praying that we will be filled with truth and peace. We can most certainly pray that where there is corruption or error or anything amiss, that we can move forward together.

This week provides opportunity to think about the character of our nation, as the occupant of the Oval Office asks us to consider what makes a nation great. As I think about families being divided, that question has triggered my recollection of what Nelson Mandela said: The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children. As I think about toddlers in cages, I think about what Doestoevsky wrote: The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.

The fact is, we have work to do as a church and as a society. Join in prayer for our church gathered in Texas to figure out what it means to be the Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement.

And join in prayer for our nation, as divisions mount. Use the collect for Independence Day if that is helpful. It’s printed below. We have much to celebrate in our common life, in church, in nation. We’ve got a lot to work on.

The Collect for Independence Day

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

-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.