Monthly Archives: May 2020

Monday Matters (May 25, 2020)


I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

     -Ephesians 3:16-19

Busily working for the church does not necessarily mean we are being nourished by the life-empowering feast of faith. Being actively involved in the church does not automatically mean we are spiritually growing. Our church work is a loving response of stewardship to serve God’s kingdom as a follower of Jesus. The work, however, can become so overwhelming that we miss the most precious gift the church has to offer. A relationship with God, framed by Jesus’ teachings, is the most transformative gift the church can give our long-serving, dedicated servants of Christ.

-The Rev. Dr. Dawn Davis from the introduction to the Revive curriculum


“Christianity is not about following rules, it is about having a relationship with Jesus.”

I might imagine this quote coming from evangelical brothers and sisters who speak often about having a personal relationship with Jesus. The quote actually comes from Pope Frances. In a homily preached on May 15, he went on to say that such relationship is not a matter of ‘things to do’ – ‘If I do this, you give me that.” He noted: Such a relationship would be “commercial” while Jesus gives everything, including his life, gratuitously.


The theme of relationship is embedded in the service of Holy Baptism in the Book of Common Prayer. The candidate is asked: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Do you promise to follow him and obey him as Lord? Sounds like relationship to me.

I’ve been thinking about how we go about building that relationship. I compared it last week to a car trip, whether God is in on the side of the road, at the service station, in the car with us or maybe behind the steering wheel. That analogy, with its limits, triggered other parables from readers.

One friend said that church leaders, clergy in particular, often get “too caught up with the splash programming or community draw, forgetting that, as Evelyn Underhill notes, God is the interesting thing about religion.” He said it’s like hosting a basketball game and spending all the time on the concessions stand and lighting of the stadium, but just a smidgeon on the actual game prep.

The Rev. Dr. Dawn Davis said that the difference between knowing about God and being in a relationship with God is like reading a recipe instead of enjoying the meal. You can see more of her comments on relationship with God included above. Good stuff.

I myself often marvel that at museums, the gift shop is the most crowded room. Masterpieces go unnoticed. What’s that about? Instead of just experiencing, enjoying the beauty from a creative hand greater than ourselves, we try to possess it, capture it, maybe even limit it, control it. Is there any parallel with religious experience?

What would it mean to deepen a relationship with God? How do we experience such a thing? Experience is a big part of the journey of faith. Along with reading scripture, learning from our tradition, tapping into God-given reason, measuring it all against the wisdom of the community, some kind of experience of God is key to spiritual growth. Otherwise, why bother?

Sure, like anything, the notion of a relationship with God can go off the rails. It can become overly individualistic. You and me and God, and I’m not so sure about you. As in all things religious, we can use the notion to divide or separate if we so choose. Years ago, my sister jokingly (I think) gave me a bumper sticker that read: Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.  Again, scripture, tradition, reason, community can keep us on track.

All of that comes with practice, in both senses of the word. We practice in the sense that we get better, go deeper, the more we do it. That’s true of any relationship, growing as we attend to it. We also practice in the sense that we make it practical. We act on it, which is why spiritual practices matter. We do that through prayer, not only giving God our wish list, but sitting in God’s presence and listening. We do that as we attend to God’s word. It comes with a regular commitment to worship, letting bread and wine feed us. It comes with generosity, being a giver, being of service which is how we come to know God’s character, how we meet Jesus.

Take this week to think about what it means to have a relationship with the Holy One, the living God, with Jesus. What might you do this week to help that relationship grow?

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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



Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

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 (May 18, 2020)


God be in my head, and in my understanding; God be in mine eyes, and in my looking;
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking;
God be in my heart, and in my thinking;
God be at mine end, and at my departing.

-Hymn 694


I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

-John 14:20

Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him-though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said.

-Acts 17:22-28

God in my life

At the door, parishioner greets the preacher…

“Thank you so much for that powerful sermon. When you began by saying ‘Let us pray,’ that really struck me. It made me think about my need to pray, how amazing it is that God wishes us to pray. It was so impactful. In fact, I didn’t hear anything else you said.”

I was reminded of that story in Morning Prayer last week. We begin that service with the confession, and we begin the confession with three words: “Most merciful God.”  For some reason, after reciting that confession many times. I stopped at that first line, meditating on what those three words mean, how much they convey. In those three words, there’s a world of theology. There’s a creed.

Those three words remind me that I am called to live my life not solely as a free agent, as a matter of my own choosing, my own preferences on what it means to be ethical or good or successful. Those choices have everything to do with life lived in a relationship with a living God who calls me to a particular path, a way of life, who calls me to obedience.

The good news, of course, in that three-word creed is that we pray to a God whose quality it is always to have mercy. That opening line suggests an expansive theology of grace through which, as Rob Bell says, there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. As intro to the confession, it also invites reflection on our actions and attitudes. It challenges us to mindfulness, remembering that our lives unfold in God’s presence, that our lives are meant to move into deeper union with God and neighbor, that we have both freedom and responsibility in that relationship. We confess the ways in which we block growth in that relationship. We confess in order to go deeper in love of God and neighbor.

There’s a similar reminder in the first few words of the Lord’s prayer. It begins: Our Father who art in heaven. There’s a lot of theology in those few words as well. Meditate on all that phrase means. We are called to live our lives, to express our concerns to a transcendent God miraculously engaged in our lives, to a God who exists in that reality we call heaven. Sure, we now see through a glass darkly and don’t know what that celestial reality is like. We get only inklings, but we also claim it as foundational reality for all of life, all our prayers, all our hopes. God, in his heaven, is interested in our daily bread, in our temptations, in our ability to forgive. That’s quite amazing actually.

Maybe all of this sounds basic and obvious. But I know for myself, I often live as a functional atheist, forgetting or ignoring God’s presence. I often refer to a letter that Evelyn Underhill wrote in the 1930’s to the Archbishop of Canterbury. She was concerned about what she observed in the clergy of the day. A key line in that letter: God is the interesting thing about religion and people are hungry for God. I have wondered what compelled her to note that God is the interesting thing about religion. Had the clergy forgotten? I wonder how I might be like those clergy, worrying about to-do lists, about how people perceive and receive me, about temporal measures of success, pushing aside awareness of God’s loving presence, as creator, redeemer, sustainer, forgetting to give thanks for the amazing grace of a most merciful God.

A colleague describes that growing relationship as follows. If our spiritual journey is like a road trip, sometimes we act as if we drive the car all alone. The journey is up to us. Sometimes as we drive, we stop for directions or fuel or snacks, maybe getting a dose of religion to keep us going, but not overdoing it. Maybe God is actually in the car with us in the passenger seat, God as our co-pilot. Or maybe God is actually driving the car and we travel with God leading the way, God at the center. It’s not a perfect analogy, but makes me ask: where is God in my life’s road trip?

A friend once hosted a dinner for co-workers. Most were not religiously observant. She invited them, giving them a heads-up that dinner conversation would be about each guest completing this sentence. God in my life… Much to her surprise, everyone had a story. As you reflect on your life this week, what does it look like to live in the presence of a most merciful God, a Father in heaven? What would you say if you had been invited to that dinner party?


-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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



Consider this great resource for personal spiritual growth during this pandemic (when many of us find ourselves sheltering in place).

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 (May 11, 2020)


Simeon blessed them and said to Jesus’ mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

-Luke 2:34-35

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 

-Matthew 23.37

But kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.

-Barbara Kingsolver, Pigs in Heaven

To love someone fiercely, to believe in something with your whole heart, to celebrate a fleeting moment in time, to fully engage in a life that doesn’t come with guarantees – these are risks that involve vulnerability and often pain. But, I’m learning that recognizing and leaning into the discomfort of vulnerability teaches us how to live with joy, gratitude and grace.

-Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection


So how on earth can I bring a child into the world, knowing that such sorrow lies ahead, that it is such a large part of what it means to be human. I’m not sure. That’s my answer: I’m not sure.

-Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

Mother’s Day

I preached (from a distance) yesterday, which was Mother’s Day. It’s never been my practice to preach about mothers on this day, as much as I loved my own mother. I know other clergy do different things, and my practice has been a disappointment to some over the years. I recall one vociferous parishioner who assailed my wife on the way out of church one Mother’s Day because I had not mentioned mothers in my sermon. God bless clergy spouses. They aren’t paid enough.

It’s not because mothers have not been on my mind and in my heart.  Earlier this year, both my mother and my step-mother transitioned to eternal life. They each had long, full lives, for which we give thanks. I’ve been thinking a lot about both of them in recent days, missing them, thinking I should give them a call, ignoring reminders to send them flowers. It made me think about how motherhood, how parenthood, how any relationship marked by love probably always brings some bit of sorrow with it.

In this heavy season of health and economic crisis, with lots of loss, my thoughts and prayers went out to mothers for all kinds of reasons. I think of mothers of those who have lost loved ones to this virus, and those children concerned about their mothers who are isolated, maybe in nursing homes where they can’t be visited. I think of mothers of 20% of the children in our country who don’t have enough to eat. I’m praying for a mother I know whose son ended his life this past week, a loss beyond imagination. I think of mothers who risked everything, covering hundreds of dangerous miles in the hopes of a better future for their children, who were then separated at the borders, now apparently forgotten in the crush of other news. I think of the mother of a young man in Georgia who died jogging while black. Those are the mothers on my heart this morning. Who is on your heart and in your prayers?

None of this goes on a Hallmark card. It may feel like a downer on a Monday morning. But love and suffering seem to go together. That’s in the Bible, in the story of Moses’ mother (Exodus 1) who in a dramatic act of faith, courage and self-sacrifice set her baby in a make-shift boat in the river, letting him go, trusting him to God’s care. I think of Hannah who couldn’t have children until late in life and when her child, Samuel, arrived, she turned him over to a life in the temple, giving him over to God’s care. (I Samuel 3) I think of the words that came to Mary, mother of our Lord, from Simeon in the temple (included above). Simeon says that as a mother, a sword will go through Mary’s heart. It’s central to our faith, with its crucial moment at that place where love and sorrow flow mingled down. We sing as we survey the wondrous cross: Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

All of which is to say that we give thanks for the ministry of mothers, even when on occasion they drive us nuts. (Part of why I hold back on preaching about mothers, is that there are many complicated relationships between parents and children, some healthy, some not so much.) But we also recognize that mothers know better than anyone that when we open our hearts, we let pain in. When it comes to any expression of love, there is cost along with promise. In the midst of it all, we hear story after story about how grace abounds, overcomes, supersedes. With that in mind, maybe preachers don’t need to talk about mothers in sermons. The mothers themselves preach the finest sermons, thank you very much.

As we give thanks for mothers, as we did this past weekend, perhaps we can be mindful of those whose motherhood bears pain this day, and aim towards a world where that pain can be relieved. Is there anything you can do this week towards that end? Begin with prayer.

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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

Monday Matters (May 4, 2020)


O day of peace that dimly shines, through all our hopes and prayers and dreams. Guide us to justice, truth and love, delivered from our selfish schemes. May swords of hate fall from our hands, our hearts from envy find release, till by God’s grace our warring world shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

-Hymn 597, Hymnal 1982

It is better to rely on the Lord than to put any trust in flesh. It is better to rely on the Lord than to put any trust in rulers.

-Psalm 118:8,9

Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!”

-John 16:31-33
When you expect the world to end at any moment, you know there is no need to hurry. You take your time, you do your work well.
-Thomas Merton
Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
-John Lennon (among others)

Apocalypse now

I was talking with a wise friend last week. She noted that a number of her friends had commented on the beautiful weather we’ve been having here in North Carolina. It has indeed been stunning. But she wondered: Is it distinctively so? Maybe it’s always been this nice. Maybe we just didn’t notice.

That same day, I heard a radio interview with a religious scholar about the times in which we live. He was not a person in the stream of Christian thought, but he referred to apocalypse, a persistent theme in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I don’t know what associations you have with the word. First thing that comes to mind for me is absolute destruction, the end of the world, movies with things blowing up, space ships destroying cities, nuclear devastation, climate reigning terror in floods or hurricanes or fires. That’s obviously a big part of what the word apocalyptic means.

This religious scholar reminded me that the word comes from the Greek apokalyptein, which means to uncover, reveal. Break the word down: apo (off, away from) and kalyptein (to cover, conceal). It’s why the last book of the Bible is referred to as either the Revelation of John or the Apocalypse of John. There’s a sense in which an apocalypse suggests the pulling back of a theater curtain to see something new, to see the action. There’s a whole body of writing in the Bible that is referred to as apocalyptic literature, showing us something we hadn’t seen before, revealing truth that can be scary but can also bring hope for days ahead.

All this may be more than you want to tackle early on a Monday morning, but stay with me. I’ve been thinking of the Easter sermons I’ve heard in recent weeks. As I shelter in place, my inner church-geek surfaces so that I’ve listened to sermons and teachings from all kinds of churches. A few questions have come through repeatedly: How was the resurrected Jesus revealed to folks? What did it mean to see him? What did it mean to recognize him? Were they the same thing? How did folks come to discover that his presence has been with him all along? How was he apocalypsed?

Surely, there is doom and gloom associated with apocalypse. These days, so many in our world face that doom and gloom due to the current health crisis. People near and far are going through hell, experiencing first hand the familiar understanding of the word apocalypse. More lies ahead. Lord, have mercy. We are called to pray for them, with them, in word and action.

But another thing is happening. People are discovering holy presence in new ways, in the midst of the challenge. That presence is being revealed. It is being apocalypsed. I’ve seen it in simple things: Basic kindness in traffic or at grocery stores. We’ve become a lab for love of neighbor. Families dining together, putting down phones and actually conversing. Watching Sunday church together over pancakes. Gardens tended, celebrating beauty. Prayer as one of many spiritual practices bringing sustenance. An admission of a hunger for community. A recognition of love of liturgy.

Casting a broader vision, we see the courage (bravery + heart) of health care workers, retired doctors heroically running towards the epicenter from all over the country, like firemen running towards burning building, reckless generosity of funds. All of it is a revelation of what is important and what is not. I’m wondering what is being revealed to you in this time.

These days, there’s talk of going back to the way things were, to normal, whatever that was. My guess is that will not happen. Perhaps it shouldn’t. Biblical apocalyptic visions speak of a new heaven and a new earth, tears wiped away, lion and lamb living in peaceable kingdom, neither a child nor an old person victim of illness. Perhaps, without knowing exactly what that will look like, we can move towards that new life and find it a place where equity and compassion, service and community, faith and love become more real. Are you ready for that to happen? How might you be part of it this week?

What are you noticing these days? What is being revealed? What are you expecting in these apocalyptic times?

-Jay Sidebotham

Jay Sidebotham

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