Monthly Archives: June 2021

Monday Matters (June 28, 2021)



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. 
-Philippians 3:10-14

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
-Ephesians 4:11-16

Pointing to Christ

Days are as long as they will be all year. It’s great, isn’t it?

I don’t mean to be a downer, but from here on in, the days get shorter. I’m told there is liturgical significance to this. The Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist took place a few days ago (June 24), near the summer solstice, just when the days are beginning to shorten. Six months later, we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, after which days begin to lengthen, bit by bit. That says something about the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist, an interesting relationship for sure. Each had lots of disciples. Each had a powerful public presence. Each lived out a dynamic call from God. Each sought to usher in the reign of God.

But their relationship can be summed up in one verse from the Gospel of John (3:30). John the Baptist is asked about who he is and who Jesus is. He responds, speaking of Jesus: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (just like the length of days after John’s birth). It’s a witness to the character of John the Baptist, a person of considerable ego strength who also understood humility as right-sized self-awareness. In Christian art, John is often depicted with extended arm and pointing finger. Where does he point? To Christ, and often to Christ on the cross. It’s not about him. In that way, he becomes a guide for us. What would it mean for our lives to point to Christ? We can do it in thought, word and action. We can do it in the affirmation that love wins. We can do it by seeking and serving Christ in all persons.

A few years ago, I was ordained on the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. Sure, it was a date convenient for the bishop, but it was also a day that was important to me because John the Baptist provides an amazing example for ministry. He points to Christ. And that is something I aspire to in ministry, which includes writing these Monday messages.

Which brings me to this bit of news for weekly readers. Starting on July 1, I’m going to take a break from writing each week. I’ve been doing it for about 10 years. I’ll take July and August as a time to refresh and recalculate and reflect on this weekly message. I’ll think about whether the messages have run their course, whether there might be a new direction, whether I should just keep on keeping on. Right now, I’m planning on starting up again in September for anyone who is interested.

I’m honored beyond belief that people have actually read these pieces. I’m well aware that some of my messages have been more coherent than others. It’s been helpful for me to write them for the sake of my own clarity about the mysteries of our faith. A friend who taught composition to college freshmen told me about a time when a student came up and said he had a great idea for a story. The teacher said: “You don’t have an idea for a story until you put it down on paper.” Thank you for the opportunity to put ideas down “on paper”, to share with you each Monday morning.

This break from writing Monday Matters coincides with a shifting role with RenewalWorks. The ministry will now be directed by my two colleagues (Loren Dixon and Samantha Franklin). I’m excited to see what new vision they bring to this work. I will continue to be engaged, serving as advisor and consultant, helping with RenewalWorks as they see best.

As I take a break, let me express my hope that in the work I’ve done, both writing on Mondays and also my work with RenewalWorks, there has been some kind of pointing to Christ. As Alan Gates, predecessor at my church in Illinois (and now bishop of Massachusetts) said: “I never met a motive that wasn’t mixed.” I confess that I wrote in part to gratify ego that someone would actually read them. Folks have often been generous in kind comments. Ego is always part of the picture. Got to watch that. My wife tells me that ego is an acronym. It stands for edging God out.

Having admitted that, we can all make our best efforts to point to Christ, even if there are mixed motives. Thanks be to God for the model of John the Baptist, who was clear about who he was and was clear about who Jesus was (and knew there was a difference).

Let me leave you with this question: How will you point to Christ this week? This summer? How will you do that in thought, word and deed in all the days ahead? See you in September.

-Jay Sidebotham

Ready to help the folks in your congregation refocus on their spiritual journeys?  Join our fall cohort of RenewalWorks participants…

The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.

RenewalWorks – Digital Catalog

Monday Matters (June 21, 2021)



Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
-Richard of Chichester

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
-Thomas Merton

Follow me

At a gathering last week, I was given opportunity to reflect on the spiritual path, and specifically on what it means to try to navigate that path as a follower of Jesus. That led me to think of how many times Jesus meets someone and says: “Follow me.” A bit of research indicated that there are 22 occasions described in the gospels where that happens. I can’t think of anything Jesus says more often. That means it’s probably worth paying attention to.

Jesus called the first disciples saying: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” Note that the gospels never record the disciples catching any fish without Jesus’ help. In this call to follow, Jesus seems to say: “I’ll take who you are and what you do, even if you’re not that great at it.” He puts those disciples to work for the Jesus movement, transforming their vocation to serve the way of love.

Jesus called Matthew the tax collector, simply saying: “Follow me.” Right after that, Jesus went to the local pub with Matthew’s creepy, seedy, duplicitous friends. The clergy of the day passed a resolution condemning such consorting. But when Jesus called Matthew, Jesus seems to say: “I’ll take you where you are, no matter what you’ve done. I’ll meet you with grace.”

Jesus called an unnamed person, saying “Follow me.” The person responded by saying: “I’ll get right on it, but I have some other things I need to attend to first.” (e.g., burying a family member.) It may sound harsh, but Jesus seems to say: “Don’t let the stuff of life get in the way of following me, even the good stuff.” That’s probably something for good church folk to pay attention to, as we fill up schedules with lots of really important and noble things and find we’ve not got time or energy for the relationship of discipleship.

Jesus called a rich young ruler, saying “Follow me.” This young man had done everything right. He was deeply religious. Jesus seemed to like the guy. He commended him for his faithfulness. But Jesus also noted that there was one missing element. The young man had to give up his possessions. Apparently, that was a bridge too far. The young man went away sad, and Jesus seemed sad too. I wonder what happened to the guy.

Most of these stories come early on in the gospels, as Jesus is putting his team together. One of the stories comes at the end of the gospel of John. It’s the story of Jesus’ encounter with Peter. A mirror image of Peter’s three-time denial of Jesus, Jesus asks three times if Peter loves him. Peter affirms that he does love Jesus. He is then commissioned to care for Jesus’ sheep. The episode ends with Jesus saying: “Follow me.” It’s the way that Peter steps into a future that may be unclear. Maybe that’s the way we’re meant to step into the future as well.

If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that we do not know what the future holds. Aspects of the pandemic and coincident crises of economic challenge and racial reckoning may not, could not have been anticipated. As we daily step into an unknown future (Who knows what will happen as soon as you stop reading this?), maybe the best thing for us to do is to hear Jesus’ call to us. He simply says: “Follow me.”

Then we get to figure out what on earth that means. It becomes a reminder that at the core, our spiritual path as part of the Jesus movement, is the truth that we are not alone. It’s an invitation to a living relationship with the Holy One. Jesus comes to us with truth and grace, truth about who we are and the challenges we face, grace to promise presence with us. That relationship, that act of following is about knowing what he teaches, practicing what he preaches. It’s about embracing his call to service, which helps us see who he is. It’s about a life of prayer, which is really conversation which involves as much listening as talking. It’s a life sustained by bread and wine, holy communion.

It’s true that we do not know what the future holds. But in this journey of faith, we claim to know who holds the future. That Holy One leads us in the way of love. All we need to do is follow.

-Jay Sidebotham

Ready to help the folks in your congregation refocus on their spiritual journeys?  Join our fall cohort of RenewalWorks participants…

The mission of RenewalWorks is to help churches (and individuals in them) refocus on spiritual growth and identify ways that God is calling them to grow. Now is a great time to engage this process and chart the course forward. We would love to help you on that journey. Contact us if you would like to learn more about RenewalWorks, or if you have other thoughts and ideas about fostering spiritual growth as we emerge from the pandemic.

RenewalWorks – Digital Catalog

Monday Matters (June 14, 2021)

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

-Psalm 51


Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

-Luke 19:1-10


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.

-The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber


You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.
– Anne Lamott


I’ve been spending a bit of time in New York City of late, which is great. And it has reminded me of an experience I had when living there a few years ago. The observation came on occasions when I was driving a car in the city. I remember coming to an intersection with a green light. I intended to make a turn. Invariably, as I sought to make the turn, there would be a pedestrian taking his or her sweet time to cross the street. I guess it was their right, annoying as that felt. After all, they had a walk signal. There was nothing to do but wait, despite cars behind me beginning to honk. I remember thinking how inconsiderate pedestrians (as a group of human beings) were in New York. Didn’t they realize they were holding up traffic? Couldn’t they pick up the pace? Did they think their slow pace was more important that other people’s schedules, specifically mine?

Then I would park the car and instantly become a pedestrian. Role reversal. And when I came to an intersection, I would take my sweet time crossing the street, even if it frustrated drivers and elicited honking. It was my right. I remember thinking how inconsiderate drivers were (as a group of human beings). And why were they driving anyway? Too good for a bus or subway? Didn’t they care about their carbon footprint?

All of which is to say that I noticed how easy it is for me to make judgments about other people. Beyond that, it is easy for me to regard the other as opponent. In many ways, it’s my default position. I suspect I’m not alone in that. Weirdly, in my case, in a matter of minutes, I became the person I had previously viewed with disdain.

Travel of all kinds will do that, whether it’s in an airport or in traffic. Road rage shows that to be true. If I’m late for a plane, I’m angry if they don’t hold the door open for me. But if I’m on time for the plane, I’m angry if they hold the door for someone else who should have been on time. If I’m made to wait a little bit on line at a store, I can make all kinds of judgments about the capabilities and character of the person behind the cash register. Maybe Covid has exacerbated the crankiness. But it’s always been there.

A similar dynamic happens on social media. It’s easy to express anger, irritation, fueled by some prejudice, some broad stroke perspective on the other. There’s often a thoughtless, thuggish character to these communications, even among church folk. Our political system does that on steroids these days, fueled by news channels that paint in broad strokes. It happens in churches of all places. We make judgments about people of other denominations, theological slants, liturgical preferences, worship styles, dress codes. All of these tensions and divisions happen at least in part because there is no real meaningful human interaction, no relationship, no place for empathy, no effort to listen, no practice of compassion (which literally means suffering with). As St. Paul asked: who will deliver us?

My observations from the streets of New York remind me of what Jesus said in the king’s English: Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye shall judge, ye shall be judged. (Matthew 7:1) If we live life in a judgmental frame of mind, we may well find judgment visited upon us.

But is there an alternative? The baptismal covenant helps. Seek and serve Christ in all persons. Respect the dignity of every human being. The teaching of Jesus, echoed throughout the New Testament, helps. That teaching issues a call to love not only our friends but our enemies.

Remember the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who apparently ripped off a lot of his neighbors. (The story is printed in the column on the left.) He met Jesus and his life turned around. But as Jesus grabbed lunch with Zacchaeus, the religious leaders of the day criticized, judging Zacchaeus and Jesus in the process. Jesus responds: He, too, is a son of Abraham.

What would it all look like if we could view each other, in traffic, in church, in households, in the body politic, if we could treat each other as Abraham’s children, each and all of us flawed, each and all of us blessed by God? Can you join me in working on that this week?

-Jay Sidebotham

RenewalWorks: Connect is a monthly online conversation series with Jay Sidebotham, Director of RenewalWorks and other thought-leaders exploring ways to continue the work of spiritual growth. These discussions are especially helpful for those who have participated in RenewalWorks, but anyone interested in cultivating spiritual growth is encouraged to join.
Our monthly conversations will resume in September. Recordings of past sessions can be viewed here. Past presenters include:
  • Doyt Conn
  • Dawn Davis
  • Ryan Fleenor
  • Jerusalem Greer
  • Scott Gunn
  • Chris Harris
  • Rob Hirschfeld
  • Edwin Johnston
  • Lisa Kimball
  • Tina Pickering
  • Tim Schenck
  • Stephanie Spellers
  • Claire Woodley
  • Dwight Zscheile

Be sure to receive the Zoom invitation by joining the RenewalWorks: Connect email list. Click here to join.

Monday Matters (June 7, 2021)

An excerpt of a poem by Howard Thurman

Our little lives, our big problems – these we place upon Thy altar!
Brood over our spirits, Our Father,
Blow upon whatever dream Thou hast for us
That there may glow once again upon our hearths
The light from Thy Altar.
Pour out upon us whatever our spirits need of shock, of lift, of release
That we may find strength for these days –
Courage and hope for tomorrow.
In confidence we rest in Thy sustaining grace
Which makes possible triumph in defeat, gain in loss and love in hate.
We rejoice this day to say:
Our little lives, our big problems – these we place upon Thy altar.

The Collect for the Holy Eucharist, p. 252 in the Book of Common Prayer

God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

From Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved

As a Christian, I am called to become bread for the world: bread that is taken, blessed, broken and given.

As those who are chosen, blessed, broken and given, we are called to live our lives with a deep inner joy and peace. It is the life of the Beloved, lived in a world constantly trying to convince us that the burden is on us to prove that we are worthy of being loved.”

‘You are the Beloved’, and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being – ‘You are the Beloved.”

What did you miss?

Yesterday in church, we observed the Feast of Corpus Christi. It’s a good follow-up to Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, with its focus on God’s holy presence with us in the eucharist.

Yesterday in church, I celebrated the eucharist for the first time in too many months. That was after 30 years of celebrating the eucharist multiple times each week. It was moving to stand at the altar again. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it, or how important it was to me. Truth be told, I was a bit nervous about stepping into that presiding role again, wondering first if I would remember what to do, and second, wondering if I would melt.

We can never forget the pain inflicted by this pandemic over the past months. First and foremost, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost. Months ago, on my office wall I hung a copy of the front page of the NY Times the day they printed just a portion of the names of the first 100,000 who died. It was shocking. I didn’t want to get used to that shock. We’re now approaching 600,000 in this country and countless more around the world. Taking that all in is beyond comprehension. Stop right now for a moment of silence in remembrance.

And that is only one aspect of the loss. Children have lost a year of school. I suspect they’ll always be affected by that loss. Children in communities that lacked resources have been especially hard hit. Brave healthcare workers and others who kept us going will be shaped by this experience. There’s been widespread economic upheaval. As I walk the streets of New York, so many livelihoods have been taken away. Amidst it all, it has been a year of racial reckoning that causes us to realize how much we are missing as a community

Amidst the loss and longing, there are lessons. There are glimpses of what we have come to see as important. Community. Kindness. Care. There are discoveries about what we have missed. There are glimpses of new and deeper meanings that I hope will bring me to a new place in the days ahead. What have been those discoveries for you? For me, one of them is appreciation of the eucharist in my own spiritual life.

As I was thinking about the eucharist, my thoughts turned to the four verbs in the liturgy. The bread is taken, blessed, broken and given. (For a beautiful, wise and gracious exploration of these verbs, pick up Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved.)

I have missed taking the bread. In the eucharist, we place something basic, everyday at the center. After Covid, as we come back, maybe we can learn to see all of life as something we can offer to God for holy transformation.

I have missed blessing the bread. In the eucharist, we ask God to bless that very basic thing, to make it holy. It is God’s work. After Covid, as we come back, maybe we can learn to see all of life as an opportunity for God’s blessing. Perhaps we can extend that blessing to others, especially those who drive us nuts or wish us ill.

I have missed breaking the bread. In the eucharist, we recognize that God works in us in our brokenness, in our need for healing, a need that is universal. After Covid, as we come back, maybe eyes will be opened wider to the brokenness that surrounds us, and see that crack as a place for God’s light to shine through.

I have missed giving the bread. In the eucharist, we share that which is taken, blessed and broken. After Covid, as we come back, maybe we can grow in generosity. As the liturgy for ordination puts it, we nourish God’s people from the riches of God’s grace. Not our own grace, our own magnificence, but the boundless grace of God, broader than the measure of our minds.

Take time today to think about what you’ve missed. Maybe it has to do with your spiritual life, in one way or another. Maybe not. As you reflect, say prayers for those whose loss has been greatest. Then take time to think about what you’ve learned. This kind of reflection is a way of citing what we value. Those lessons provide opportunity for hope, as we make our way back into community. It’s hope that this season of brokenness will lead to new life, that it will be blessed and shared, as in the words of Howard Thurman, we place our lives and problems on God’s altar.

-Jay Sidebotham

Hybrid Church: A Way Forward

Join us for a conversation with the Rev. Tim Schenck
Wednesday, June 9 from 7-8pm EST

We’re all figuring out how to move forward, as we shift from the social distancing that has marked the past year and a half. What will the next chapter look like for our churches? How will we as church leaders navigate days ahead? What will we hold onto? What will we let go of? What have we learned? What will be different from the past? What will be the same?

We’re grateful that the Rev. Tim Schenck has agreed to be our presenter. He brings a distinctive mix of wit and wisdom to everything he does, and we’re excited that he will lead us when we meet on June 9.

RenewalWorks: Connect seeks to gather folks who want to continue to explore spiritual growth as priorities in their congregations. All are welcome.

Be sure to receive the Zoom invitation by joining the RenewalWorks: Connect email list. Click here to join.