Monthly Archives: September 2019

Monday Matters (September 30, 2019)


A prayer for the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, observed today:

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

-Genesis 28


When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

-John 1


Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

-Hebrews 13.2


Finally, a favorite angel quote:
Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.


When I was in college, I went through a period of estrangement from my father. My folks had recently divorced and I was not particularly well equipped to handle that. After a while, it became clear that shutting down the relationship was not the best way to go. I invited my father to come to my college to take me to dinner or something. I waited for him at the gate of my ivory-tower campus with more preppies per inch than any place I’d ever been before.

As I waited with apprehension, a young man approached me and started to talk. He may have been homeless. He was unshaven. Clothes were a mess. He could have used a shower. I was pretty sure he was from town and not a student. My defenses were up. I waited for him to hit me up for money. That didn’t happen. We chatted for a minute or two. Then he asked if he could pray for me. He put his hands on my forehead. All I can say was that I felt power. And then he was gone.

Every now and then someone asks if I believe in angels. I don’t always tell the story, but as I fashion an answer, I remember my encounter with this mysterious person. Maybe it was just some crazy religious zealot who happened to show up. But at a moment when I needed a message that I was not alone, I got that message loud and clear. And when I get asked if I believe in angels, I think of this scruffy guy, who looked a lot different than Fra Angelico imagined angels. I answer that I believe in angels. Can’t explain them. But I do believe.

Angel means different things to different people. That person is an angel = pure goodness. I’m no angel = I have messed up. You’re an angel = you did what I wanted you to do. But the translation of the word is simple and expansive. It means messenger.

The Bible is full of stories of angels who show up at key moments to deliver important messages. Sometimes it takes something extraordinary to deliver a message with full force. An angel bars Adam and Eve from the garden, sending the message that they can’t stay in paradise any more. Abraham and Sarah entertain strangers and come to find out they’ve hosted angels who tell them that in their advanced age, they will be parents. They had thought such a thing was laughable. An angel wrestles with Jacob before he experiences reconciliation with a brother he had cheated. An angel comes to Mary to tell her that her young teenage life was about to change, big time. One or two of them break the news that the crucified Lord was not really dead. And on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, we read about angels who fight for right when the world seems to be falling apart.

Maybe we could use some angels right now.

Artists have fun with imagery of angels. This cartoonist enjoys the work of imagination, wondering what they look like. But the real point is that the Holy One seems to find all kinds of ways to get a message across. I take it as a way for us to realize that the gate of heaven is closer than we think, as we read in the book of Genesis (see citation above).

On this feast of St. Michael and All Angels, maybe you can summon up a story about angels. Or maybe you think this is crazy talk. But if you’ve had occasion to get a message from beyond, give thanks for it. Celebrate it. And keep your eyes opened, because you may well have the opportunity to entertain angels without even knowing it.

A minister was once asked if he believed in infant baptism. He answered: “Believe in it? I’ve seen it!” I sort of feel that way about angels.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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


RenewalWorks For Me is a personal guide for the spiritual journey, providing coaching to help individuals grow. It begins with a brief online survey which assesses where you are in your spiritual life. We call it the Spiritual Life Inventory.

Once your responses have been processed, we’ll email a helpful explanation of our findings, along with some tips for improving your spiritual journey. You’ll also be given a chance to sign up for an eight-week series of emails that will offer some suggestions, coaching for how you can grow spiritually, and ways you can go deeper in love of God and neighbor.  Learn more at

Monday Matters (September 23, 2019)


Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

-Jesus, telling a parable as recorded in Matthew 13

Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

-Jesus, preaching the Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in Matthew 6

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

-Paul, writing to the Philippians as recorded in chapter 3
What is important?

After one of those tragic incidents in which a small child was left too long in a hot locked car, a commentator, fumbling for words in a moment of unspeakable sadness, said something like this: “To avoid this happening, leave something important next to the car seat where the child is.” Okay, I am increasingly forgetful and often distracted, but I was not the only one to wonder: What could be more important than that child in the car seat? A smart phone? A lap top? Lunch? Gym clothes? A Starbucks card?

What is important?

I’ve been going to yoga classes pretty often, hoping to build spiritual and physical strength and balance, an uphill climb. I’m glad to hide in the back row and I’m reluctant to practice if parishioners are present. Last Wednesday morning, I went to a class. I was the only student to show up. I told the teacher she must have something more important to do than just teach one student. She insisted on having the class. Though I didn’t know her, apparently I was important enough to her.

Later that same day, I was celebrant at our weekly noonday eucharist. Only one person showed up. He told me I didn’t have to do the service. He was sure that I must have something more important to do, partly because I can project an image of someone who is really, really busy. His response made me more committed to leading the service, trusting that Jesus meant it when he said he was present when two or three were gathered. In that moment, I could think of nothing more important to do.

Again, what do we consider important? What is worth doing? What matters? Do we even ask those questions, or do we just tackle the to-do list on auto-pilot, without thought for priority or purpose? These are questions each one of us can ask in our own spiritual journeys, where the tyranny of the urgent often suppresses the meaning of the important. They may be questions that get ignored, especially early on Monday morning.

They are questions for the church to consider, especially with the publication of new statistics that show our congregations dramatically shrinking. It would be easy for church folk, for church leaders, to anxiously panic our ways into all kinds of programs. If we just offered better coffee. If the music were just more snappy. If we started talking about politics or stopped talking about politics. We often think that what is most important in the church is more people in the pews, more names on our mailing lists, more pledging units gathered in our annual campaigns. But maybe a more faithful route is to think about growing hearts, one person at a time.

One of the learnings from the research behind RenewalWorks is that leaders of vital congregations focus first on growing hearts, and not on growing attendance or number of pledging units. That’s a counter-cultural way to live. But I have a feeling it’s the way set forth by Jesus.

He told stories to that effect, like a parable about a crazy shepherd who left 99 sheep to go find one stupid lost sheep who chose to wander. That little stupid lost sheep was important.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus noted all the things we worry about: what we should eat or wear or what college we get into or how fast we are promoted compared to our collegemates or co-workers. He said: Seek first the kingdom of God, and all these other things will be added unto you. Seeking first the kingdom of God was important.

We all have lots to do.  We’re all busy. Some of what we do is important. Some of it, not so much. May we be given grace to focus on what is most important, which might well be growing in love of God and neighbor.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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


Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship: A conference especially for those who have worked with RenewalWorks Sept. 30-Oct. 2 Wilmington, NC

Click here for registration and more info


Monday Matters (September 16, 2019)

Psalm 139:1-18:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it. Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed. How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them-they are more than the sand; I come to the end, I am still with you.


If it isn’t true, it ought to be.

I find myself saying that about a number of things, and including the origins of the word “orientation.” Maybe some wiser reader can confirm or debunk, but I’ve been told that the word finds its origin, at least in part, from baptismal services in the first centuries of the church.

These services were held on Easter eve, and they went on for a long time. The liturgy included long lists of renunciations, renouncing every imaginable kind of evil in the cosmos, in our social systems, in our hearts. They also included long lists of affirmations, positive and hopeful statements about how the baptismal candidate intends to live. In the Episcopal liturgy, knowing that many Episcopalians don’t have the stomach for really long liturgies, the number of renunciations and affirmations has been reduced. There are three of each. You can find them on page 302-303 of the Prayer Book.

But here’s the deal. I’m told that way back when, in the course of those early liturgies, the renunciations were said in darkness of night, facing west, the place of darkness, the place where the sun disappeared, a place that at that time people imagined was inhabited by barbarians and stupid people.

When they were through with the renunciations, the candidate would pull a 180 and turn to the east. If the timing of the liturgy was right, the sun was just cracking the horizon. With that turn, the baptismal candidate would turn to the light. That was their new orientation, as in facing the orient, the east. It was about choosing a direction. It was about turning to the light.

The word ‘orientation” has many meanings in our culture. It speaks to human sexuality, as we are called to respect the dignity of every human being. It speaks to the way a home or office building is situated on a plot of land. And in September, as schools and churches start, it speaks of programs of initiation and information and explanation, by which people are oriented, by which they can be told how to move in a forward direction.

If this baptismal stuff is true, it speaks of direction, and how we as people of faith are to orient our lives. I thought of this in particular on Saturday when in the daily readings assigned by our church, we read Psalm 139. It made me recall my orientation to seminary a few years ago. We were gathered as an entering class to learn about our three year course of study at Union Seminary in New York. We were excited to be there, a place whose history was marked by theological giants. We were on hallowed ground. We anticipated deep, rigorous, erudite study.

In the course of that orientation, we were addressed by the Rev. James Forbes, preaching professor who went on to serve as Senior Pastor at Riverside Church.  He told us he had orienting advice for us. Since I had been out of school for a while, and was not sure I had the academic chops to cut it, I was all ears.

He said in this orientation session: “I have just one word of advice for you: Memorize Psalm 139. It will change your life.” And I thought, “That’s it?” I grew up in a church where we engaged in lots of bible memorizing and little serious biblical scholarship. I thought he’d tell us to study hard. Memorize?

He told us to let this particular psalm be our guide. Let it orient us, in heart and mind. I did commit it to memory at the time and still remember a lot of it. A chunk of it is included above. I commend it to you. Let it guide you this week and beyond. Let it orient you with the promise that God goes with you, knowing you better than you know yourself. Take some time this week to think about how your spiritual life is being oriented, in which direction you are headed. Like those early Christians on Easter morning, turn to the light, remembering what Jesus said: “I am the light of the world.”

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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


Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship: A conference especially for those who have worked with RenewalWorks Sept. 30-Oct. 2 Wilmington, NC

Click here for registration and more info


Monday Matters (September 9, 2019)


The Letter to Philemon, recapped:

In the New Testament book, the Letter to Philemon, we eavesdrop on one of Paul’s personal communications. (It’s not usually nice to read other people’s mail, but it seems canonically correct in this case.) Here’s the story in a nutshell (my version). The apostle Paul is in prison and meets up with another prisoner named Onesimus, a runaway slave who may have stolen money from his master, Philemon. Onesimus has some kind of transformation while in prison, under the mentorship of Paul. When his sentence is up, Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon, not as slave but as friend and brother. Paul not only asks Philemon to accept him, but Paul offers to cover the cost of any loss that Onesimus has incurred. The implication is that reconciliation occurred. Apparently there was a first century bishop named Onesimus. Maybe this was the same guy.  Could be.

A reading from Romans 8:

If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

September 9, 2019

I used to be silently critical of new grandparents who also happened to be preachers. I noticed that as they held forth from the pulpit (that piece of furniture that exists six feet above contradiction), many of them talked way too much about the new addition to the family, as if they had discovered grandparenthood.

Then three months ago, I became a grandparent of an extraordinarily remarkable young person. And let me just say that I think I’ve exhibited remarkable restraint in not sharing at length, every Monday morning, the marvels of this stunning child.

Before he arrived, his parents did something unusual. They asked if we had any suggestions for names. I immediately went biblical. There are a lot of distinctive choices. Zerubbabel. Athaliah. Jeroboam. One day on a long drive, I thought of how few baby boys I’ve known who were named Onesimus. Actually, there are none. I knew that to name a child Onesimus Sidebotham was to invite middle school bullying. So I never put it in the suggestion box. But it’s a great name. It means useful.

I preached on Onesimus yesterday, as he appears in the New Testament letter to someone named Philemon. Apologies to those who heard the sermon, but his story has been on my mind. I gave my version of a recap of what we know about him, printed in the column on the left. Take some time today and read the whole letter. It’s only 21 verses, providing a case study in Christian community. As I thought about this letter’s relevance, there were three things that struck me about his story.

First, it tells us that there is no place that God’s love cannot work. I imagined Paul in prison, slightly obsessive-compulsive missionary, wondering what spiritual entrepreneurial opportunities he was missing as he was in the slammer. What was God thinking? Didn’t God need him to be out and about saving people? But in that place, where church planting was put on hold, Paul mentored one young man. Maybe others. Maybe only him. And maybe that was the reason for the whole time in prison. Is there a place that you think is beyond the reach of God’s love, a place beyond usefulness? It may be a place of challenge or strife. It may be a place of boredom or routine. Could it be that the place where you are right now is the place to which God calls you, the place where God wants you to show and share love? Is that hard to believe?

Second, there is no person God’s grace cannot use. That’s true of Paul, whose early days were spent persecuting the Jesus movement. Quite a turn-around. That’s true of Onesimus, who had done something to end up in prison. That’s true of many biblical characters who hear God’s call and think it’s a wrong number. Moses wasn’t a good speaker. Isaiah had unclean lips. Jeremiah was a kid. Peter was a self-confessed sinner. Mary asked “How can this be?” It may be that you have little idea how God could actually use you. But as Monday morning dawns, I bet there will be all kinds of opportunities in this day to do God’s work. If you can’t think of any, ask the Holy Spirit to show you some.

Third, there is no relationship beyond God’s redeeming power. Paul came to know of a broken relationship between members of the community. He used his influence, his wisdom as an old man, to build a bridge, to heal a relationship, to make a way forward. That’s what the community does at its best, bringing people together. And in the power of the Jesus movement, that kind of healing power can take place in families, in work places, in friendships, in churches, in nations, between races. How might you be Onesimus-ian in that situation? How might you be useful?

When Paul wrote about God’s love in Romans 8, he envisioned that love as bigger than we could ever imagine. You can read a bit of that vision in the verses from Romans printed in the column on the left. Use it as confirmation that wherever you are, whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever mess you face, God’s love has a way of finding a way. Maybe that’s why the first Christians were called people of the way.

You may not want to change your name to Onesimus, but God knows you are useful.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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


Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship: A conference especially for those who have worked with RenewalWorks Sept. 30-Oct. 2 Wilmington, NC

Click here for registration and more info


Monday Matters (September 2, 2019)

Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is.
-Sigmund Freud
The Collect crafted for Labor Day
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Readings selected for Labor Day:
-Ecclesiasticus 38:27-32a
-Psalm 107:1-9
-1 Corinthians 3:10-14
-Matthew 6:19-24
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.
1 Corinthians 3:10-14

St. Paul and Sigmund Freud: Love and work

It’s Labor Day, one of the few national/secular holidays that has crept its way into the church calendar. So somebody somewhere sometime thought that Labor Day has something to do with our faith. What might that something be?

Each year, this holiday (a.k.a., holy day) asks people of faith to think about the work we are given to do, why and how we do it. There are prayers and readings chosen for the day. I’ve printed the collect for the day in the column on the left. Note how it indicates that in our work we are interconnected with others, whatever that work may be.

The readings chosen for the day have a lot to say about work. You might want to look them up. I’ve noted citations in the column on the left as well. A reading from Ecclesiasticus points to the variety of work we do. In the gospel passage, an excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus challenges disciples to think about why they are working, and what they treasure. (Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.)

And then there’s a brief passage from St. Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth. He wrote to this community, an unruly group, often squabbling with each other the way church folks still squabble. Nothing new under the sun. As the apostle coaches them, he talks about the work they’ve been given to do. For him, that work in its great variety is a matter of building on a foundation. It brings to mind what Sigmund Freud said about work and love. He said: “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.”

All of which makes me think about our foundations. On what are we building our lives? Freud said that love and work are the foundations, the cornerstones. St. Paul takes it a step further, asking us to consider where love and work find their foundation in the construction of our lives. On what are love and work based?

For those of us swimming in the stream of the Jesus movement, we need to recognize not only that our lives are built on love and work, relationships and effort. In St. Paul’s words, we need to see that our love and work, our relationships and efforts are based on a person we commit to follow. To riff on a favorite hymn: Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone.

So take some time on this day off to think about your own life, about your relationships and about where you apply effort. Think about how love and work provide a cornerstone, a foundation for you. And think about what it means to have Jesus as foundation for love and work. In my early Monday morning meandering, here are a few answers: Christ as foundation means we build our lives on grace. It means we build our lives on service. It means we build our lives on humility. It means we seek to be a peacemaker. It means we attend to the outsider. It means we practice forgiveness, and I do mean practice, because at least in my case, I need to get better at it. It means that we see that love of God is inseparable from love of neighbor. It means a new way of life.

Newsflash: There are other foundations on which we can build our lives. Hear what Jesus is saying: Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.

-Jay Sidebotham


Jay Sidebotham

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

Register Now!

Leading for Discipleship: A conference especially for those who have worked with RenewalWorks Sept. 30-Oct. 2 Wilmington, NC

Click here for registration and more info