Monthly Archives: April 2022

Monday Matters (April 25, 2022)

Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
-Matthew 6:12 (From The Message, Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the gospel)


Forgive us what we owe to you, as we have also forgiven those who owe anything to us.
-Matthew 6:12  (From J.B. Phillips paraphrase of the gospel)


To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.


Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.


Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.
-Mark Twain


When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines upon you.
-Jon Krakauer,  Into the Wild


Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.
Henri J.M. Nouwen


As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.\\
Nelson Mandela

Enjoy your forgiveness

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
-Matthew 6: 12

Earlier this year, a good friend and spiritual advisor went to be with Jesus. It was always his life goal to be close to Jesus, but I do miss him. He was a great person and a quite successful ad guy. In addition to the award-winning creative work he did for his agency, he lent his talents to churches and non-profits, furthering their missions with wit and wisdom. He did this kind of work for his church in Manhattan. As they charted a course forward through a strategic planning process, he and his team came up with a tagline for the church. The tagline? “Enjoy your forgiveness.” I think of my buddy often, and especially thought of him when we came to this line in the Lord’s Prayer which has to do with forgiveness.

What do you make of it? When it comes to forgiveness, do you think there’s a quid pro quo here? Will we only be forgiven if we forgive others? We can read the prayer that way. Jesus told parables that seemed to warn of forgiveness withheld to folks who had themselves received forgiveness but had denied it to others. I’ll have to admit that such an interpretation makes me a little uneasy. I know there are folks I find really hard to forgive. Some folks I don’t want to forgive. The injury they inflicted actually helps shape my identity. I hang on to the injury. I can get comfortable with that brand of victimhood.

Maybe Jesus’ prayer is more descriptive than prescriptive. Maybe Jesus is not saying “You better forgive or else.” Maybe he’s describing something true about forgiveness, that if we really embrace the fact that we have been forgiven, it will be as natural as the sun coming up to forgive others. We’ll recognize how foolish and unproductive it is to withhold forgiveness, to savor resentments. We’ll see what a waste of mental and spiritual real estate it is to refuse to forgive. Mark Twain put it this way: “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”

Here’s the deal, as I see it. Everybody has a need to be forgiven, by God and by other people. Each day, I fall short of loving God with whole heart and soul and mind. Each day, I fall short of loving neighbor as self. Sometimes that’s true even before my feet hit the floor when I wake up.

And everybody has a need to extend forgiveness. We all have been done wrong, by those we love the most and those who don’t like us much at all. We all have been done wrong by family members, co-workers, clergy and congregants. You get the idea.

And everybody has a need to seek forgiveness. We’ve all inflicted injury on others, wittingly or unwittingly. We may have blocked out the awareness of those interactions, but they are there.

To sum up, we’re all in this together.

So how does this part of the Lord’s Prayer shape not only our belief, but our way of life in the world? How might it guide us this week? I suspect it begins by getting in touch with the amazing grace that we have been forgiven. As Rob Bell says, “There’s nothing we can do to make God love us less.” Sounds a lot like St. Paul, who said in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God. Spend some time this week thinking about the fact that whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been, whoever you are, you are on the receiving end of God’s love. Forgiveness is available in abundant supply. Amazing.

And if and when that sinks in (sometimes I don’t or won’t or can’t realize it), think about just one way you can extend forgiveness. Think about one person to whom you can extend forgiveness, in your heart, and maybe in conversation with them. And once you’ve done that, ask God to bless that person. Then move on to somebody else (at your own pace). If that’s hard to do, maybe think about the ways others have forgiven under extreme circumstances. I have in mind the forgiveness in evidence in South Africa after apartheid, or among the Amish after children were shot, or in Charleston after that horrific attack on a bible study. Or maybe at the foot of the cross where Jesus extends forgiveness to his executioners.

When it comes to forgiveness, it’s easy to think it’s all about guilt and judgment, shame and shortcoming. Maybe we can shift and see forgiveness as path to freedom, indeed something to enjoy. As Desmond Tutu said, there’s no future without forgiveness. Maybe we can enjoy forgiving others as much as we can enjoy having been forgiven. What would life look like this week if we simply celebrated forgiveness?

-Jay Sidebotham

Thinking about joining the September 2022 RenewalWorks cohort?

Register by August 26th to join us.

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
A cohort of churches is launching the process together this fall. If you’re interested in joining us for the September cohort, you can sign up now!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (April 18, 2022)


Joe Heller

True story, Word of Honor:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer now dead,and I were at a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.
I said, “Joe, how does it make you feel to know that our host only yesterday may have made more money
than your novel ‘Catch-22’ has earned in its entire history?”
And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”
And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”
And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”
Not bad! Rest in peace!”
— Kurt Vonnegut, The New Yorker, May 16th, 2005

Enough is enough

Give us this day our daily bread.
-Matthew 6: 11

We’ve just wrapped up the season of Lent, which leads to a hearty Alleluia. That season is compared to the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. They can be a cranky bunch, and especially when they get hungry. I can relate.

In one of their numerous complaint sessions with Moses, they say they have nothing to eat. Moses takes the matter up with the Lord. The next morning, manna appears, a white substance that is somehow like bread. (The name “manna’ literally means something like “what is this stuff?’) It’s just one of the ways that God provides for them on their journey. Each morning there’s a new supply. Folks were invited to gather what they needed for that day. But if they tried to take more than they needed for the day, tried to save it for tomorrow, the manna spoiled by the next morning. This daily bread was a test of their confidence that God would give them what was needed each day, that there would be enough each day, in that day. They had to believe it was enough.

I’m imagining that experience of the children of Israel may have been on Jesus’ mind as he offered the Lord’s Prayer. The children of Israel were formed as a people in that challenging wilderness process. It can seem like they were never satisfied. (I sometimes refer to them as the “What have you done for me lately?” crowd.) It sometimes seems that whatever was provided for them was not enough. Thank God we’re not like them.

So we learn from them that the anxiety that there won’t be enough is nothing new. If you have ever experienced it, what to do? It’s something with which I wrestle, so here are some practices I’m working on. Not that I’ve figured this out. After all, I did use the word “practice.”

Gratitude: Always remembering to give thanks for what I’ve been given, to count blessings. If it’s helpful, make a daily list of five things, ten things. One rabbi I met had her congregation strive for 100 things a day. If we spent our days thinking about that, it would crowd out room for a good chunk of our anxieties.

Contentment: Listening to what St. Paul has to say on the subject: I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)

Acceptance: Admitting that we are where we are. I know I’ve written in the past about an 8am parishioner in her 90’s, who greeted me at the door each and every week by saying: Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, which is why we call it the present. I guess she thought I needed to learn that. So here we are. Move on from that place.

Service: One of the great stories about scarcity and abundance is the feeding of the 5000. No one knew how the crowd would be fed. There was not enough. Five loaves and two sardines are presented. They are multiplied into a feast with plenty of leftovers. One interpretation is that Jesus miraculously made all that food. Another interpretation is that people had actually brought some food and stopped hoarding and started to share it once they saw that the young boy gave his bag lunch. When we think about hunger in the world (in fact in our own cities) the issue is not that there is not enough food. There is plenty of food to feed everyone. We just need to get better at sharing.

Courage: A mix of bravery and love (courage is related to the French word for heart). It can call for courage to trust that God will provide. It can call for counter-cultural courage to say we have enough. Enough said.

I don’t know if any of these practices will help. I’m working on such things. Some days I am more successful than others. But I do believe we might all be better off if we could recall that enough is enough. Maybe that’s why Jesus wanted us to pray about it.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thinking about joining the September 2022 RenewalWorks cohort?

Register by August 26th to join us.

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
A cohort of churches is launching the process together this fall. If you’re interested in joining us for the September cohort, you can sign up now!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (April 11, 2022)

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Mark 1:15


(Jesus sends out the disciples, saying:)
Cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you. Luke 10:9


But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.
Luke 11:20


Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” Luke 17:21


Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
John 18:36, 37

On earth as it is in heaven

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
-Matthew 6: 10

ILOL. IMHO. LMK. ROFL. These text abbreviations are child’s play compared to my favorite: PBPGINFWMY. Translation: Please be patient. God is not finished with me yet.

When we started RenewalWorks, a ministry with congregations, I told people there was an invisible tattoo on my forehead which read (in elegant typeface): Work-in-progress. I’ve been told that at some point I have to stop calling the work a pilot project. These thoughts were prompted by today’s line from the Lord’s Prayer. After addressing the one whose name we seek to hallow, we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. It suggests a holy work-in-progress. God is not finished with us yet. I’m grateful for that.

I once had a young child ask me a question after I preached a sermon on heaven. He asked: Is heaven a place or a feeling? I fumbled through a typical Episcopal answer, like “It’s both.” Or “What do you think?” But whatever, however, wherever it is, it is its advent for which we pray.

The Lord’s Prayer suggests that heaven is the place where God’s will is completely done, where all that resists God’s gracious will has been set aside. In my limited imagination, it is the place where we will finally be able to fulfill the great commandment to love God with whole heart and soul and mind, and to love neighbor as self. Talk about a work in progress. In my imagination it is the place where relationships that have been broken can be healed. Where does your imagination take you?

I take it as holy coincidence that we come to this part of the prayer as we begin Holy Week. The week is filled with questions about what kind of kingdom we’re looking for, what kind of king Jesus might be. Jesus spoke a lot about the kingdom (random sampling above), and he spoke in mysterious ways. It is coming. It is here. It is out there. It is within. It is very much a work in progress, as parables indicated, often with mysterious beginnings and small starts like a mustard seed growing into a tree expansive and inclusive enough to provide a place for all the birds of the air. All of them.

In Jesus’ last days (which we observe this week), all kinds of questions about his kingship surfaced, beginning with the procession on Palm Sunday, when crowds hailed him as king. Pilate asked point blank: Are you a king? Jesus responded: My kingdom is not of this world. It’s not what you’ve been expecting. Those who ridiculed and tortured Jesus made fun of his claims to kingship. They didn’t understand. In the end, Pilate insists on a sign on the cross that declares that Jesus is a king.

And so we sing: The king of love my shepherd is. The kingdom for which we pray is marked by love. As Michael Curry repeats: If it isn’t about love, it isn’t about God. The cross that stands at the end of this week shows us what love looks like. Words of compassion, forgiveness, hope and trust are spoken by Jesus in that crucial moment, with arms stretched out on hard wood to draw us into his saving embrace.

Take this Holy Week as an opportunity to pray for God’s kingdom to come, on earth as in heaven. The news of the day tells us we are not there yet, in oh so many ways. That prayer can be offered not only with our lips but with our lives, as we realize that we are indeed a work in progress, that we have left undone those things that we ought to have done. In each day there are opportunities to grow in love of God and neighbor, a step at a time, a step closer to heaven. Holy Week is a grand time to take those next steps.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thinking about joining the September 2022 RenewalWorks cohort?

Register by August 26th to join us.

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
A cohort of churches is launching the process together this fall. If you’re interested in joining us for the September cohort, you can sign up now!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (April 4, 2022)

Your assignment, should you accept:


Write a few sentences about what it means to you that God is addressed in prayer as a parent.


Write a few sentences about how you envision heaven. A city in the clouds? A frame of mind? An eternal weekend with relatives you don’t particularly like? A never-ending church service? The ultimate place of healing of relationships?


Write a few sentences about how you understand what it means to hallow something.


Write a few sentences about your hopes for a world in which God’s name would be hallowed.


If you take up this assignment (all may, none must, some should), no need to show it to anyone. But that might be exactly what you want to do. It may be a moment of accountability that will help you grow in spirit, and help you in your observation of Holy Week, and help somebody else.


So prayer is our sometimes real selves trying to communicate with the Real, with Truth, with the Light. It is us reaching out to be heard, hoping to be found by a light and warmth in the world, instead of darkness and cold. Even mushrooms respond to light – I suppose they blink their mushroomy eyes, like the rest of us.


Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
-Matthew 6: 9

I have a friend who told me he would only come to my bible study if there was no homework. He probably won’t like this Monday Matters.

After one of her first sermons in a new church, a friend got a call from a parishioner to offer feedback on her sermon. The caller commended the preacher, but said that her frequent references to Jesus in her sermon was not the way they talked in that church. Let that sink in.

I was reminded that in our work with congregations, we find that many Episcopalians define themselves in terms of what they are not, and more to the point, who they are not. As we discuss questions of faith, they will often tell me that that is not how Episcopalians speak. When that happens, one of our wise counselors tells folks: “If that’s not your language, what is your language?”

We’ve been reading Jesus’ teaching about prayer. It could be easy to focus on the things we’re not supposed to do in prayer, e.g., make it showy, make it a public spectacle, go on and on. As we continue in reflection on the Sermon on the Mount this morning, we find that Jesus gets very specific about how we should pray. He offers what we have come to know as the Lord’s Prayer, a prayer included in every liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer.

In Luke’s gospel, the Lord’s Prayer is offered in response to the disciples’ request that Jesus teach them to pray. The disciples ask for a prayer, noting that John the Baptist had given his disciples a prayer. (Luke 11.1) It seems like that prayer given to those disciples was a mark of their identity, a sign of who they followed, a sense of who they were. There are other prayers that do that kind of thing. The Serenity Prayer, attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, provides a sense of identity for the recovery movement. The prayer attributed to St. Francis (“Make me an instrument of your peace…”) provides identity to any number of communities. Is there a prayer that reflects your identity?

With that question in mind, let’s dive into the Lord’s Prayer, bit by bit.

Our Father: The prayer begins by noting who we are talking to. The prayer implies at the outset that this is about relationship, a relationship of a particular kind. It is not the prayer of king and subject, slave and master, employee and boss, judge and defendant. It’s the personal relationship of parent and child. And while in our broken world the parent-child relationship is not always marked by love and care, can we presume that Jesus intended the most loving, gracious relationship, maybe like the father in the parable of the prodigal son?

In heaven: It’s a prayer that speaks of location, offered to a Father in heaven. That says to me that heaven is not some far off place, but much more accessible than we might think. I have a feeling we’ll talk more about how we understand heaven next week.

Hallowed be thy name: On one level, it’s a declarative statement, a way of acknowledging God’s holiness, God’s greatness. We can translate the word hallowed as set apart as sacred, or consecrated. When I studied at Union Seminary, I learned of an Old Testament professor so deeply honored by students that they took off their shoes and left them in the hallway outside the lecture hall to honor this holy man. How much more might we honor the God of creation?

(As something of an aside, I heard of a child in one of our parishes who thought the prayer began: Our Father which art in heaven, how did you know my name? Maybe that child really knew something about the mystery that calls us to this hallowing.)

There’s another way to read this prayer to hallow God’s name. It’s an expression of hope, that God’s name would be increasingly hallowed in a world where that is not the case. I can’t help but think that if God’s name were hallowed among all people, however that name is understood, that our world would be in a better place. That is not necessarily a prayer for people to become religious, because it seems that some of the most religious people are the ones who miss the boat, in Jesus’ estimation. It’s simply a prayer that all people will recognize that our common life unfolds in the presence of a power greater than ourselves, a power whose character is love.

Take this upcoming week as a chance to get ready for Holy Week. Reflect on your own relationship to God, your vision of heaven, your understanding of hallowing God’s name, what it would mean for our global community. If you feel so inclined, take on the homework assignment in the column on the left as a way to prepare for this important week in our common life.

-Jay Sidebotham

Thinking about joining the September 2022 RenewalWorks cohort?

Register by August 26th to join us.

RenewalWorks: Helping churches focus on spiritual growth

RenewalWorks is about re-orienting your parish around spiritual growth. And by spiritual growth – we mean growing in love of God and neighbor.
A cohort of churches is launching the process together this fall. If you’re interested in joining us for the September cohort, you can sign up now!
Learn more in our digital brochure.