Monthly Archives: March 2019

Monday Matters (March 25, 2019)


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

Exodus 3


This morning, I’m thinking of a wonderful elderly parishioner, member of a church in which I served early in my ministry. A wordsmith, her wise insights were made all the more engaging because they were delivered with a beautiful Virginia accent. That woman could stretch out a simple word into a rich, melodic series of syllables. We talked often about liturgy and literature, but what I remember most was what she would say at the communion rail as she received the wafer in outstretched hands. Instead of saying “Amen” as many do, she simply said “Yes.” But that sweet yes went on for a long time. “Yay-yeh-esssss” or something like that.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. We celebrate today the Feast of the Annunciation, recalling the story of the angel who visited the young girl who would become the mother of our Lord, theotokos, God bearer. The story from Luke’s gospel is included above. While I rarely remember sermons (including my own), I do remember a sermon preached on the fourth Sunday of Advent years ago. The preacher posited that maybe the angel visited a few other Galilean homes, approached a few other Nazareth girls with invitation to participate in the special work of the Holy Spirit. Maybe those other young ladies said “No thanks” or “Not me” or “This call is definitely a wrong number” or “I don’t see this as my career path.”

Mary, the mother of Jesus, said yes. It was not without posing the most logical of questions: “How can this be?” Yet in short order, Mary responds: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” In other words, she said yes. With that answer she changed history. She changed your life and mine.

Yesterday, on the third Sunday of Lent, we read about the call that came to Moses via the burning bush. Along with the story of the Annunciation, this story seems to be a key point in scripture, perhaps in the narrative of human history. Moses in the wilderness (We all know about wilderness, don’t we?) is tending his flock, minding his business, when the call comes to him through that burning bush. Scripture tells us that Moses said “I must turn aside and see what this is all about.” That turning aside is huge. What if Moses saw this thing and said: “What was in that soup I had?” or “Have I been out in the sun too long?” or “I need to consult a doctor or a therapist”or “I can’t be bothered.” Instead, Moses approaches that holy presence and says “Here am I.” With that answer he changed history. He changed your life and mine.

Again and again in scripture, God calls ordinary human beings who often say: “This call must be a wrong number.” Often they seem to try to clue God in on why the Holy One is a terrible recruiter: “I’m too young. I’m no public speaker. I’m a sinful human being.” By way of contrast, each in his or her way, Moses and Mary say yes, again to great consequence.

We each have vocation. God calls each one of us. Think today about where and how the call might be coming to you. Are we listening for that call? Are we listening to it? Do we need to turn aside, or do we just keep going? Do we ask “How can this be?” and let it end there? Or are we willing to say yes?

The yes can be a simple action. It may make no discernible shift in world history. It could be a turning aside from daily routine to share God’s love. It could be outstretched hands at the communion rail. It could be the prayer: “Be it unto me according to your will.” It could have consequence we’ll never see in our lifetime.

But it begins with yes, to the God who in Christ says yes to us. Let this Lent be about saying yes.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (March 11, 2019)


‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

-Matthew 25

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

from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer

Meeting Jesus this Lent

As we come to the first full week of Lent, perhaps you’ve decided to give something up for the season, something challenging or something less so. Maybe it’s something with remarkable specificity. One young person I knew gave up blue m&m’s.

Perhaps as alternative or addition, you have decided to take on a spiritual discipline, a way to grow your faith, since the word “Lent” derives from an old English word for spring. Lent is a season for growth. It’s not too late to add something to your practice this season.

This morning, I wanted to draw your attention to a Lenten lectionary, a list of readings for every day in Lent. You won’t find it in the Prayer Book, but you can find it on  (among other places). You might want to use it as a guide. Take five, ten, thirty minutes to read one or all of the readings each day. See what they say about your own spiritual state, your own spiritual journey.

Today’s gospel reading from that lectionary offers a challenging parable from the Gospel of Matthew. Here’s the set up. A king gathers all nations before him, and divides those people as a shepherd would divide sheep from goats. The basis of distinction? How those people treated each other, and especially how they treated those in greatest need. The king speaks of how sheep-like people fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, pastored the sick, visited prisoners. The king said that when those sheep-like folk did that, they were really serving him. Accordingly, they met with commendation.

Flip side, the goats were those who failed to address those needs. Accordingly, those goats met with condemnation.

There’s much that is remarkable about this parable. One of the features that always strikes me is the element of surprise for sheep and goats. The sheep who served those in need are surprised when the king said that their ministry to the marginalized was as if it had been done to him. Sheep are surprised. It’s clear that the sheep were not doing their ministry in order to win favor with the king. Similarly, the goats had no idea they were dissing the king when they dissed those in need.

Truth be told, there is a bit of sheep and goat in each one of us, but take this reading for this Monday in Lent to see how it can help your faith grow. Look for the opportunity to see Christ, to meet the king, in those in greatest need. It’s something that our baptismal covenant encourages us to do. (See the promise included above). And it can be challenging, because Christ often comes very well disguised. Nadia Bolz-Weber, slightly profane evangelist puts it this way: I think God is wanting to be known. And my experience of God wanting to be known is much more in the person who is annoying me at the moment rather than in the sunset.

This season, guided by scripture, including today’s parable, perhaps you can give up your reticence to reach out to someone in need. Maybe you do that out of fear or sloth or focus on self. Give that up.

And perhaps you can take on some ministry of service. We don’t have to look very far to find someone in need. Maybe just across the dining room table or in the next cubicle. In doing so, it may well be that we meet Christ. You may well find that we are serving the king.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (March 4, 2019)


If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!

-II Corinthians 5:17-6:3

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea;
There’s a kindness in God’s justice, which is more than liberty.

There is no place where earth’s sorrows are more felt than up in Heaven;
There is no place where earth’s failings have such kindly judgment given.

There is welcome for the sinner, and more graces for the good; There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in His blood.

For the love of God is broader than the measure of our mind;
And the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.

If our love were but more simple, we should take God at His word;
And our lives would be thanksgiving, for the goodness of our Lord.

-A favorite hymn text

Last week, I was coming home late on a Saturday night, eager (okay, anxious) to get back for Sunday morning. Our plane took off from Charlotte. As we approached destination (the Wilmington airport), fog precluded landing. We returned to Charlotte, hoping we might try again. Then that flight was canceled. I took my place on a long line at the customer service desk to see if I could get on another flight that night. Experience told me I’d be on that customer line for a while. I imagined I might be spending the night in the airport. That’s happened before. Fun.

As I stood near the end of that long line, an airline employee approached out of the blue. She asked a few of us to follow her. We passed several gates to arrive at her desk where she managed to get me on a flight home that night. She didn’t need to do that. She was not on duty at customer service desk, the front lines where angry anxiety gets directed at airline employees. She could have minded her own business, kept her head down, not dealt with us cranky passengers like me.

But she didn’t. She chose to be of service, not because I was worthy, or because I had status, or because I was different from anyone else. It was truly a random act of kindness. It was grace. Interesting enough, her grace, mercy and kindness made me a bit more gentle with the other angry, anxious folks in the terminal. And there were a few of them.

Grace stands at the heart of our faith. But I find that when I try to describe grace, theological categories seem thin compared to stories of grace, e.g., an airline parable like I’ve told. Examples. Anecdotes. Maybe that’s why Jesus told parables. The prodigal son. The good Samaritan. The lost sheep. The lost coin. Workers who get paid a full day’s wage even though they worked only five minutes. Maybe that’s why Jesus came to live among us, full of grace and truth. We know grace when we see it.

What are your stories of grace? When have you known grace? When have you shown grace?

We come this week to the season of Lent. I don’t know what words you associate with the season. Often people describe it as forty days to feel more miserable than thou. We are dust. We are worms. We are wretched. We are unworthy. May I suggest an alternative approach? Think about what Lent has to do with grace.

A favorite verse that you may hear on Ash Wednesday comes from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. He calls that community to reconciliation. He celebrates the possibility of new creation. And he tells the Corinthians: Don’t accept the grace of God in vain. That verse always catches me up short. A part of me wonders why anyone would take the grace of God in vain. Why would I?

Then I remember a sociology experiment conducted a few years ago on a busy Manhattan corner. A guy got a bunch of $20 bills and tried to hand them out. Just give them away. No condition. No obligation. He was stunned to find out how many people would not accept them. There must be a hitch.

Part of the broken human condition is that there is something inside of us that acts that way. It’s a part that refuses to accept God’s gifts, either because we take it as a sign of weakness, or we can’t believe we’re worth it, or because we’re too busy.

Grace is at the heart of our faith, so it must be at the heart of the season of Lent. As you make this journey over the coming weeks, think about ways you can open your heart to the grace of God. Explore those ways in which you resist it, or take it in vain, or take it for granted. And if you can think about the ways grace has come to you, see how you might show it and share it in a world starved, I mean starved for grace.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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