Monthly Archives: September 2022

Monday Matters: September 26, 2022


How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
To you whom for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee o’erflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake


Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!
-Matthew 7:24-27

George Burns, comic from a few years back, put it this way: The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible. As a preacher, I take his point. And I have often had that point made to me as I stand at the door and greet congregants at the end of the service.

As we come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, we note a good beginning (the Beatitudes) and a good ending (today’s passage about foundations). But contrary to what Mr. Burns has to say, there was plenty of good stuff in between. Life changing, history shaping material. At its conclusion, the Sermon on the Mount winds up with a challenge to think about our lives. On what are we building those lives? How would you describe the foundation on which you are building your life?

A priest I admire often tells his congregation that suffering is the promise that life always keeps. Maybe that’s a slightly more dire variation of the saying that into each life some rain must fall. The premise of Jesus’ counsel is that the rain and floods and wind will inevitably happen. That’s not in question. The question is how we will be sustained in those moments.

Are we founded on rock or sand? What would a foundation on rock look like? What does a foundation of sand represent? The great hymn, Christ is Made the Sure Foundation, speaks of a life that finds its stability, its strength in Christ. St. Paul spoke about the importance of being rooted and grounded in love. That stands in contrast to a life built on a foundation that can’t handle the storm and ultimately proves itself insufficient to meet the crisis. We don’t have to look far to find lives built on ever-shifting ground, offering perilous illusion of permanence and stability.

Take some time this week to re-read the whole Sermon on the Mount in one sitting. It’s three chapters (Matthew 5-7). The sermon starts strong, by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” which has been translated “Blessed are those who know their need of God.” In the guidance that unfolds before the conclusion is reached, there are all kinds of ways to find a solid foundation. Despite what George Burns had to say, focus on the riches of those verses. Which of those ways speak out to you?

Years ago, when our family was going through a crisis, my mother sat us four kids down and made us begin to memorize the text of the hymn printed above. I thought it was kind of a dumb idea. But she was smarter than I am. Needless to say that was a few years ago. But over the years, the words of that hymn have sustained me, in everything from drizzling rain to torrential downpour to hurricane-force winds. May you find grace to discover a firm foundation, one upon which you can build a life, for this life and the next.

-Jay Sidebotham

Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

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.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort, or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (September 19, 2022)


He does not believe that does not live according to his belief.

-Sigmund Freud

As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

 -Abraham Lincoln

The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I wore black because I liked it. I still do, and wearing it still means something to me. It’s still my symbol of rebellion — against a stagnant status quo, against our hypocritical houses of God, against people whose minds are closed to others’ ideas.

         -Johnny Cash

Lord, Lord

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’
-Matthew 7:21-23

If a preacher like me is not made a little nervous by this passage, maybe enough attention is not being paid. We tend to talk a lot. We work hard at getting the words right. We say “Lord, Lord” in all kinds of ways. In all that chatter, are we doing the will of the Father in heaven?

Evangelicals often say that the key to salvation rests on saying the right thing, articulating just the right statement of faith. Other traditions place hope on words of liturgy said just the right way. I’ve run across preachers and teachers who talk about grace till they’re blue in the face, but practice a religion marked by judgment, ministry that is anything but graceful. Politicians promote religious values and then shape policy that contradicts it. It’s not hard to come up with a list of ways that people say “Lord, Lord” while living lives that say something else.

Perhaps the greater challenge is to think about what it means to do the will of the Father. It’s easy, fun, and often delicious, to point out the hypocrisy in other people (although I find it totally annoying when folks point it out in me). But the more pressing question, and the best way I know to battle hypocrisy is to ask: What do I know of what God wills? Am I focused on that?

I’m starting a list based on what I find in scripture. You may want to add your own ideas.

God wills unity. With divisions in so many parts of society, including those who might say “Lord, Lord,” the gospel of John reveals God’s intention. Jesus prays to his Father and asks that they (his followers) may be one “as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us.” (John 17:21) Jesus doesn’t pray for uniformity or agreement. He prays for something more profound.

God wills healing and reconciliation. With brokenness of relationship on full display in families, neighborhoods, nations and even churches where people rattle off “Lord, Lord,” one of the key themes in the Lord’s Prayer is forgiveness. Many who say “Lord, Lord” can’t seem to let go of resentment (author included). I sense that the intention of the Holy One is that we move on, look forward, look up.

God wills thanksgiving. With widespread deficit of an attitude of gratitude, people who mindlessly repeat “Lord, Lord” often act as if God owes them something, as if God is lucky to have them on the team. I love the verse from the psalm that tells us what God intends: Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me (Psalm 50:24).

God wills inclusion of those on the edges. With migrants now heartlessly shipped around the country as chattel, often by folks who say “Lord, Lord”, a word from the book of Deuteronomy indicates the divine will: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)

God wills love of God and neighbor. Jesus called it the summary of the law. We express the love of God in worship (with our lips and with our lives). We have opportunity to express love of neighbor all the time, using Jesus’ expansive vision of neighborliness found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). The prophet Micah presented it as a three-point plan: What does the Lord require but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8) Not a bad mission statement for my life.

God will trust, perhaps the ultimate expression of love of God. Too often, religious folks (the “Lord, Lord” crowd) act as functional atheists, relying on their own resources, their own righteousness. Proverbs 3:5 issues a different call: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”

For me, that’s a gracious plenty to work on. While recognizing my own hypocritical behavior, I commit to focus on these holy intentions. How would you describe the will of the Father? How might you focus on that this week, and in the weeks to come?

-Jay Sidebotham

Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

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.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort, or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (September 12, 2022)


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

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

Galatians 5:19-23

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

Matthew 25:37-40

Fruits and roots

You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.
-Matthew 7:16-20

James Forbes, former Senior Pastor at Riverside Church, one of the best preachers I ever encountered, put it this way in a sermon (as best I recollect): It’s about the fruits not the roots.

His point was that what matters is how a life is lived, whether the love of God is brought to fruition in that life. As we come to today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had just finished warning about false prophets, calling for discernment between what is true and what is false. That discernment, he seems to say, will come by looking at the fruits, not the roots. In a few verses, he will continue the theme by saying: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom.”

Too often, we want to focus on the roots. We do it in relationship to religion: What’s your theology? What’s your denomination? To what creed do you subscribe? We do it in other areas of life: Where did you go to school? What’s your zip code? What political party do you belong to? What news programs do you watch? Who are your people?

But our faith indicates that maybe the more important bit of info is not the roots but the fruits. St. Francis of Assisi famously told disciples: Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words. In so saying, he echoed Jesus’ teaching that people would know his followers by the way they showed love to one another. Fruits.

St. Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians, a church that had gotten him hopping mad. In that letter, he sets up a contrast between works of the flesh and fruits of the spirit. Note that he doesn’t talk about works of the spirit. He describes them as fruit. (You can see the list above.) Those fruits grow effortlessly, not the result of works, or what one person described as teeth-gritting Christianity. The fruits are an extension, a reflection, a natural expression of who that person is, someone who has come to know grace in such a deep way that they effortlessly show grace.

They may do so unconsciously. I think of the parable Jesus told later in the gospel of Matthew (25:31-46) about the contrast between sheep and goats brought before the king, who is the judge. The sheep are commended by the judge, because they fed the poor, visited the prisoner, clothed the naked. In so doing, they are told that they had offered those life-giving, loving, liberating ministries to the king himself. The amazing thing is, the sheep did so unconsciously. They ask: Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, sick, imprisoned?

This is not to say that roots don’t matter. A prayer found in the letter to the Ephesians (also above), speaks about the importance of being rooted and grounded in love. Out of that will come fruits that reflect God’s presence and power.

If we are rooted in a mindset that it is all up to us, that we have to prove our worth through our actions, intelligence, income, resume, religious practice, theological or political correctness, those kinds of roots produce fruits that set us apart from one another. Those kinds of roots diminish or even dismiss the power of grace in our lives.

If we are rooted in the love of God, we find our worth, our value, our dignity grounded in the amazing fact that we are made in the image of God and that Christ is present in each one of us and that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, marked as Christ’s own forever. Those roots will then bear a whole different kind of fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control

Think this week about roots and fruits. Where are you grounded? How is that being expressed in your life? What kind of fruit are you bearing?

-Jay Sidebotham

Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

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.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort, or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.

Monday Matters (September 5, 2022)


As we give thanks for the life and ministry and witness of Frederick Buechner, and as we mourn his passing (such a loss), some of his thoughts on telling the truth:

Let the preacher tell the truth. Let him make audible the silence of the news of the world with the sound turned off so that in the silence we can hear the tragic truth of the Gospel, which is that the world where God is absent is a dark and echoing emptiness; and the comic truth of the Gospel, which is that it is into the depths of his absence that God makes himself present in such unlikely ways and to such unlikely people that old Sarah and Abraham and maybe when the time comes even Pilate and Job and Lear and Henry Ward Beecher and you and I laugh till the tears run down our cheeks. And finally let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy, of darkness by light, of the ordinary by the extraordinary, as the tale that is too good not to be true because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and lifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have.

from Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale

False prophets

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
-Matthew 7:15

One of my seminary professors, a mentor (and hero) named Christopher Morse wrote a book entitled “Not Every Spirit.” The title takes its cue from a New Testament passage (I John 4:1: Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.). In that book, he made the point that part of the journey of faith, part of the responsibility of Christians, part of the work of discipleship is to evaluate the spirits at work in the world. It presumes that some spirits work counter to God’s purposes, purposes of love. Those spirits can look innocent, wrapped in sheep’s clothing. Underneath there can be danger. Ravenous wolves.

Dr. Morse also talked about the Christian responsibility to commit not only to what we believe but also to what we refuse to believe. As an example, he noted how the theology of apartheid needed its spirit tested. Followers of Jesus needed to reject it. We can apply those principles to our own time. We need to test the spirits, when so much of current public discourse seeks to wrap itself in Christian cloak, or perhaps more precisely, in Christian costume.

It’s tricky stuff. As I think about who I consider to be false prophets, in my experience, it’s usually folks who differ from me on theological, political or social issues. With that in mind, I need to mention again the wisdom of Anne Lamott who said: 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. So what might be the way to tell the difference between true or false prophet? Perhaps more to the point, in a culture that increasingly distrusts institutions and often speaks of fake news and alternative facts, what is the truth? Would we know a false prophet if we met one?

The Gospel of John provides interesting answers. One of the most riveting moments in that gospel for me is the private exchange between Jesus and Pilate, right before the crucifixion. The conversation ends with Pilate’s question to Jesus: What is truth? Jesus seems like he lets the question hang out there, but he’s said a lot about truth already.

Earlier in that gospel, Jesus said you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. History shows that the message of false prophets often has the opposite effect. Curtailment of freedom stifles the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10.

In John 10, Jesus talks a lot about sheep, and who they follow. He contrasts himself, the good shepherd, to thieves and hired hands (a.k.a., false prophets). He invites followers into relationship with him, describing himself as the way, the truth and the life. He provides a guide to discernment. He said: By this will all people know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another. I was at a gathering recently where we sang: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” I got the idea of making a video, playing that song, showing images of Christians (and other religious folks) in our world who preach and practice anything but the love of God. You don’t have to look hard to find them. (For my part, a look in my mirror might well reveal one of those.). Want to help me make that video?

In the prologue to John’s gospel, Jesus the word is described as being full of grace and truth. We need both. The true prophet can provide both.

In my years in the church, I’ve met wonderful prophets. Some, for all their wonderfulness, have disappointed. Some have done harm, revealed to be ravenous. Which for me is all the more reason to do my level best to just hang out with Jesus, to savor his teaching, to follow his example, to celebrate and imitate his grace, to be in relationship with him (whatever that looks like). In my own journey, the eucharist taken regularly is a way to stick close. Rhythms of prayer and reflection on scripture do that. Service to those on the margin does that. What are the ways you do that? Let this week, the start of a new season, be a time to explore that question, to do that tricky and wonderful work of discernment.

-Jay Sidebotham

Interested in RenewalWorks for your parish? Learn more about how RenewalWorks works!

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.
Churches can launch as part of a fall or spring cohort, or go on their own schedule.  Sign up now!!
Learn more in our digital brochure.