Monthly Archives: November 2018

Monday Matters (November 26, 2018)


 Psalm 109:1-3
Hold not your tongue, O God of my praise, for the mouth of the wicked, the mouth of the deceitful is opened against me.
They speak to me with a lying tongue, they encompass me with hateful words.
Despite my love, they accuse me. But as for me, I pray for them.
Matthew 5:44: From Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.
– G.K.Chesterton
Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.
– Mahatma Gandhi

A blessed CyberMonday

I guess this is the day I’m supposed to shop online. So don’t tell my family, but I found a site that has some cheery season’s greetings on t-shirts, gifts that may well appear under the tree at my house. Again, mum’s the word. Herewith a sample of t-shirt messages that caught my eye:

My wife says I only have two faults: I don’t listen and something else.

I’m not arguing. I’m simply explaining why I’m right.

People say I’m condescending (that means I talk down to people)

I’m particularly taken with that last one about condescension. I’ve been thinking lately about the phrase occasionally heard in my neck of the woods. Often people make some snarky observation about somebody. Then they punctuate cutting, critical comments with the ever-popular “Bless their hearts” as if to soften the blow. It doesn’t.

All of which has led me, in turn, to think about what it means to bless other people. I’m thinking of something beyond gesundheit. How do we bless? And why? A friend recently came to me with a question, a quandary. This person was powerless over her own judgmental spirit against someone in her life. She had no illusion that this other person would change. She needed counsel about how to manage her own feelings. What would you have said to her?

I told her I’d pray about it, which is sort of a way of stalling because I didn’t really know how to answer. You see, it’s a spiritual growth edge for me as well.

As I reflected on her heartfelt question, her desire to be more loving, more like Jesus, the answer that came to me (later) had to do with blessing. What would it mean to pray God’s blessing on the person who triggered judgment? What would it mean to pray God’s blessing on people who have done you wrong? Not in a condescending way, but in a way that wished that person well, that recognized that God loved that person without condition, a person made in God’s image.

I’ve heard for years that a way to navigate ill feeling, hurt, resentment toward another person (justified or not) is to pray for that person. That is not some new, power-of-positive thinking idea. It’s not a gimmick, but it can become a spiritual practice. Every time I read Psalm 109, I’m struck with the wisdom of the author who contended with enemies.  The psalmist admits: Despite my love, my enemies accuse me, but as for me, I pray for them.

Jesus may have had that psalm in mind when he preached the Sermon on the Mount. He told his disciples to pray for enemies. I have a feeling that advice was meant more for the person who was called to prayer, and not so much for the enemy. I suspect, in the final analysis, we can’t do much to change attitudes or actions of others, people we know from work, neighborhoods, relatives, political or religious leaders. That kind of change is God’s work.

But we can come to a new place in our own hearts, in the ways we regard them. It usually begins with some awareness that we have been blessed, graced, forgiven ourselves. Jesus came preaching and practicing forgiveness to show us a new freedom. He came to invite us to a place of blessing, not in some condescending way, but wishing the best, wishing healing and wholeness for those who push our buttons, speaking goodness into their lives, maybe recognizing our own part in broken relationships.

Bless you in your day. Bless you in this holy season. May you and I be a blessing this week. And may all those in our lives, those we love and those who drive us nuts, be blessed.

-Jay Sidebotham


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

Monday Matters (November 19, 2018)


The collect for Thanksgiving Day
Almighty and gracious Father, we give you thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we pray, faithful stewards of your great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time.
-Corrie Ten Boom
Our anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strengths.
If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.
-Amit Ray 
Om Chanting and Meditation
There are moments when all anxiety and stated toil are becalmed in the infinite leisure and repose of nature.
-Henry David Thoreau
All I have needed, thy hand has provided. Great is they faithfulness, Lord unto me.

Did you catch the recent interview on the talk show “Faith in Focus“? Stephen Colbert spoke of his shift from atheism to Christian faith. It happened when he was in his early 20’s, working in Chicago. On a cold night someone on the street handed him a Bible, one with an index suggesting particular verses for particular situations. Colbert was at the time dealing with anxiety, so he looked up the verse to address that challenge. He was directed to a portion of the Sermon on the Mount. Oddly enough, that passage happens to be the gospel chosen for this coming Thursday, the Feast of Thanksgiving, one of the few secular holidays that has made its way into the church calendar. Here’s the passage:

Jesus says: Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear….Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, 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.

For Colbert, reading that passage was transformational. He stood on that cold street corner and read the entire sermon. He said he felt lightened. He said his life has never been the same. He now never goes anywhere without a Bible.

I suspect that scripture can have that effect on us as well, and maybe especially in this week. Scriptures chosen for Thanksgiving Day point to a way to move beyond anxiety and fear. I’m guessing that these readings were selected because the offering of thanksgiving in some way counters this kind of worry.

I don’t know how you cope with worries, fears, anxieties. They often get the best of me in most unproductive ways. I often fret in the middle of the night about stuff that will happen the next day. Sometimes those concerns never materialize. Sometimes they come out entirely differently than my anxious predictions. Sometimes they make me unpleasant towards spouse and other people I care about. Sometimes they displace things I should probably be worrying about.

I’m taken with the thought that thanksgiving counters anxiety. Such grateful intentionality often begins with a look in the spiritual rear view mirror, seeing where blessings have come in the past. A common practice in many faith traditions is to list a few things for which one is grateful on a daily basis. One rabbi I know told her congregation to list 100 on a daily basis. Just naming those 100 things, when I’ve tried to do it, crowds out space for anxious thought. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot this week. See what emerges for you.

And we don’t need to limit thanksgiving to the fourth Thursday in November. Our principal act of worship, the eucharist, is really a thanksgiving meal. Eucharist means thanksgiving. Every time we participate, we are focusing our lives by giving thanks.

This attitude of gratitude is not denial. It’s not a refusal to admit good reason for concern. It recognizes that hard things come our way. It doesn’t sugar coat the power of those challenges. But it does offer perspective, as a grateful look in the rear view mirror offers a way to look ahead through a much broader windshield, helping us see more clearly where we are and where we are headed, pointing us in a more loving, liberating, life-giving direction.

Blessings in this week devoted to thanksgiving. One of my 100 thanksgivings this week: the opportunity to connect with you on Monday morning, and any attentiveness you extend to my Monday morning ramblings. Thank you. Thank God.

-Jay Sidebotham


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

Monday Matters (November 12, 2018)


A prayer for heroic service:
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.
A prayer for the Feast of St. Martin
Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as self?

The coincidence has never been lost on me. Our nation observes Veterans’ Day on the same day that the church observes the Feast of St. Martin, a patron saint of France, born about 330 in what is now Hungary. His early years were spent in Italy. After a term of service in the Roman army, he settled in France, in Poitiers, whose bishop, Hilary, he admired.

According to legend, while Martin was preparing from transition from life of a soldier to life as a priest (i.e., as he considered his life as a veteran), he was approached by a poor man asking for alms in the name of Christ. Martin, drawing his sword, cut off part of his military cloak and gave it to the beggar. On the following night, Jesus appeared to Martin, clothed in half a cloak, and said to him, “Martin covered me with this garment.”

Martin was unpopular with many of his colleagues, in part because of his strong opposition to their repression of heresy. He was an avid missionary to the pagan folk of the countryside, always a staunch defender of the poor and the helpless. The symbol of his ministry is a goose, because when he was elected bishop, he wisely tried to hide from those who would put him in this new job, as challenging then as it is now. He hid in a barn among the geese, whose honking gave away his hiding place. Next thing he knew: consecration.

Martin died on November 11, 397. His shrine at Tours became a popular site for pilgrimages, and a sanctuary for those seeking protection and justice. I think of him as we observe Veteran’s Day, mindful of the service given by people in authority. Mindful of that Utah mayor serving in Afghanistan who lost his life last week and who spoke of the need to protect our freedom to vote. Mindful of that policeman who ran into the bar last week in California to save young lives. Mindful of a firefighter who left his own house in flames to go defend other peoples’ homes. We are surrounded with a great cloud of witnesses who show us how to put faith to work in the world, whatever our vocation.

One of my favorite passages in the gospels involves the preaching of John the Baptist, a pretty rigorous spiritual coach. He speaks to the crowd, calling them a brood of vipers, and then charms them into a new way of life. So the crowd answers: What shall we do?

In Luke 3:10-14, John answers. “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none, and whoever has food must do likewise.” Hated tax collectors asked what they should do. Rather than telling them to quit their jobs, he tells them to do their jobs with integrity. “Collect no more than the amount prescribed to you.” Soldiers come to him and ask what they should do. Rather than telling them to quit their jobs, he tells them to do their jobs without abusing their authority. “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Maybe there’s a Monday message in the witness of St. Martin, in the witness of heroic people in our own time, in the witness of John the Baptist. Maybe the message sounds like this: Do the thing you’ve been given to do today with kindness, integrity, justice, mercy. Bring grace to that place. Work for peace. Open your eyes to those around you in need. Maybe you’ll see Christ.

-Jay Sidebotham


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

Monday Matters (November 5, 2018)


 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

-Matthew 5:16

To be a saint is to be human because we were created to be human. To be a saint is to live with courage and self-restraint. To be a saint is to live not with hands clenched to grasp, to strike, to hold tight to a life that is always slipping away the more tightly we hold it; but it is to live with the hands stretched out both to give and receive with gladness. To be a saint is to work and weep for the broken and suffering of the world, but it is also to be strangely light of heart in the knowledge that there is something greater than the world that mends and renews. Maybe more than anything else, to be a saint is to know joy.
-Frederick Buechner, from The Magnificent Defeat

The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you. There’s only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too.
-Frederick Buechner
God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.
-Soren Kierkegaard

Vessels of grace/lights of our generation

The last few days provided ample opportunity to think about saints. All Hallow’s Eve (Halloween, a.k.a., sugarfest) led to All Saints’ Day (Thursday), then on Friday, All Souls’ Day, bringing us to Sunday, and one more turn at the Feast of All Saints, observed in church with great fanfare and some of the greatest hymns of our tradition, IMHO.

All of it made me think about what makes a saint, and whether I in fact want to be one too. Religious leaders at the helm of religious institutions are not distinguishing themselves in recent days (Understatement alert). It’s no wonder that “nones” and “dones” are among the fastest growing group of folks in terms of religious affiliation. When people say “I’m no saint,” it may not bespeak humility as much as disclaimer. “Don’t accuse me of being one of those religious types. Don’t link me with that hypocritical or judgmental or puritanical streak.” It brings to mind the wisdom of H.L. Mencken who noted that a puritan is someone who is unhappy because somebody somewhere is having a good time.

Thoughts about saints took me to the Prayer Book and one of the prayers which can be included in the eucharist when we remember a saint. Here’s how the Prayer Book describes a saint, They are vessels of grace and lights in their generations.

So think with me about what it means to be a vessel of grace. Someone at least familiar with grace? Someone who holds or carries grace with them? Someone brimming, maybe overflowing with grace? Who do you know who fills that bill, who lives life in the conviction that all is gift? Give thanks for that person in your life. And then listen to your own life. What kind of vessel are you, am I?

With this image of vessel in mind, sainthood does not come as moral accomplishment, a spiritual A+. Sainthood comes as gift, as grace, as we allow ourselves to be filled with the unconditional love of God, as we remove obstacles to that kind of inspiration. Are we open to being that kind of vessel, being that kind of instrument?

As I toyed with that question, it got me thinking about what kind of vessel I might be. It’s a mixed bag at best. If I’m not a vessel of grace, what else is going on? A vessel for righteous certitude and moral superiority, in terms of theology, ethics, politics, fashion, table manners? A vessel for resentment? A vessel for ego? A vessel for indifference or complacency? The bottom line: I suspect we all are vessels for something. It might as well be grace.

But that’s not all the Prayer Book says about sainthood. It claims that grace is not just for our own enjoyment. A saint is not only a vessel of grace. Saints also serve as lights in their generations. Sainthood is intended to make a difference in the world. The toxicity of discourse in our current political season shows the need for less of that heat and more of saintly light. How do we let that light shine? If I’m not shining a light on my generation, am I adding to the darkness? Am I fogging things up? Do I obscure God’s graceful presence in the world? Sometimes, way too often, I suspect that I do, wittingly and unwittingly.

I end up with a pretty expansive view of sainthood. Sainthood is open to anyone who will be a vessel of grace, and a light in their generation. And that happens Monday by Monday. How will you and I be such a vessel this day, this week? How will you and I be a light to our generation?

-Jay Sidebotham


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