Monthly Archives: March 2024

Monday Matters (March 25, 2024)


Psalm 36:5-11

5 Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,
and your faithfulness to the clouds.

6 Your righteousness is like the strong mountains,
your justice like the great deep;
you save both man and beast, O Lord.

7 How priceless is your love, O God!
your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.

8 They feast upon the abundance of your house;
you give them drink from the river of your delights.

9 For with you is the well of life,
and in your light we see light.

10 Continue your loving-kindness to those who know you,
and your favor to those who are true of heart.

11 Let not the foot of the proud come near me,
nor the hand of the wicked push me aside.

Well of life

Where are you finding strength these days? What resources keep you going? Does it ever feel like you’ve run out of gas, that you’ve come upon a dead end, that your well has gone dry?

As we begin Holy Week, I want to focus on the psalm selected for this Monday in Holy Week, which is included above. It provides beautiful context for the ways that we make our way not only through this week, but also through all of life with all of its challenges. The psalm speaks of the lovingkindness of God, love from which we can never be separated. That love is at the heart of Holy Week, which is to say that it is at the heart of our faith. Here’s the verse from this particular psalm that always catches my attention:

For with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light.

Going back to the questions raised in the opening paragraph: Is it well with your well? A friend who was senior pastor of a large non-denominational church told me that from time his senior lay leadership would come to him with this question: Is it well with your soul? Much has been written about clergy burn-out, about how to keep going in ministry. I know that challenge, yet I don’t need to tell you that that dynamic is in no way limited to clergy. Where do we go to discover the well of life when it feels like our own well has run dry? Maybe you feel like that this Monday morning.

The verse about the well of life makes me think about the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well (John 4). One could imagine that the woman Jesus met there was on her last nerve, at the end of her rope. Five marriages hadn’t worked out. Who knows about the current relationship? She came to the well at an hour when nobody else would be around, suggesting she was being ostracized. Add to that her awareness of the discrimination a good Jew like Jesus might show her. Where was she finding the resources to move forward?

Jesus and this woman get talking about water, about resources for life, about where to access those resources. It’s about a whole lot more than H2O. The woman comes to ask for living water, drawn from a well that will make it well with her soul. Jesus promises and provides that resource.

We come to Holy Week with the same request. How can we obtain life-giving resources when our well has gone dry? Where can we find living water? Where can we find the well of life? Allow this Holy Week to answer those questions. Pray the collect for today which asks that as we walk the way of the cross today, we will find it be the way of life and peace (You can find this collect on p. 220 of the Prayer Book). In the end, as the verse from the psalm says, we will see light. That is our hope for this week, the hope for all of our weeks.

-Jay Sidebotham

Monday Matters (March 18, 2024)


Psalm 51: 1-13

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.

2 Wash me through and through from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.

4 Against you only have I sinned and
done what is evil in your sight.

5 And so you are justified when you speak and
upright in your judgment.

6 Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.

7 For behold, you look for truth deep within me,
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.

8 Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure;
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.

9 Make me hear of joy and gladness,
that the body you have broken may rejoice.

10 Hide your face from my sins and
blot out all my iniquities.

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

12 Cast me not away from your presence
and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again and
sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

Spring Training

A wise priest I admire, who also happens to be a baseball nut, has compared the season of Lent to Spring training. With that in mind, as we await opening day, a word from Francis T. Vincent, Jr., former Major League Baseball Commissioner:

“Baseball teaches us, or has taught most of us, how to deal with failure. We learn at a very young age that failure is the norm in baseball and, precisely because we have failed, we hold in high regard those who fail less often—those who hit safely in one out of three chances and become star players (.333 average), I also find it fascinating that baseball, alone in sport, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.”

Along with baseball, our Christian faith embraces that rigorous truth. We see it in Psalm 51, a portion of which was read in church yesterday and is included above. The psalm surfaces early and often in the season of Lent, attributed to King David. Tradition holds that it was written to express his remorse over failures, egregious sins of adultery and murder, after he was called out by the prophet Nathan. To put it mildly, he did not bat 1000.

I’m not sure how one knows that David is the author. I don’t worry about that, because it points to something true about all of us. We each have occasions when we have messed up. We all stand in vital need of opportunity to start over. That is one of the things that I find compelling about the Christian message. Our faith tells us that there is always opportunity to begin again. Sometimes folks talk about it as being born again. The gospel holds the promise of renewal, a fine thing to think about in the season of Spring.

I find this hopeful dynamic in the baptismal covenant when we promise to persevere in the resistance of evil, affirming that whenever we fall into sin, we can repent and return to the Lord. The operative word in that promise is whenever. It doesn’t say if ever. Our falling short will happen as surely as the sun comes up in the morning. Rigorous truth. The good news is that there is always a way to come back. Failure does not define us. It does not limit us. It does not end our story. We bless the Lord who forgives all our sins. God’s mercy endures forever.

Here’s the verse from Psalm 51 that I find myself rehearsing over and over:

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

The verse is really a prayer, asking God to go to work in us, making a clean heart. That is God’s work, not our own. At the same time, Lent is billed as a season for self-examination. That kind of spiritual audit has revealed that there’s a lot in my own heart that doesn’t feel particularly clean. I’m not inclined to share (or over-share) on the particulars, but trust me, there’s a lot there. And I find a need for a renewal of a right spirit. The prospect of renewal means that I can come back to a healthier place. I may be a miserable offender, but that’s not the bottom line on who I am. That is by no means the end of my story. God can turn that around. I think all that’s needed from me is openness to that good work.

We’re coming to the conclusion of the season of Lent. In these last days, before we come to Holy Week, prepare for this most extraordinary week by offering the prayer for a clean heart, a renewed spirit. I suspect that there is some way in which every one of us needs that restorative, renewing work. And with that in mind, we can get ready to play ball, spiritually speaking.

-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 (March 11, 2024)


Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22

1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
and his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let all those whom the Lord has redeemed
proclaim that he redeemed them from the hand of the foe.

3 He gathered them out of the lands;
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

17 Some were fools and took to rebellious ways;
they were afflicted because of their sins.

18 They abhorred all manner of food
and drew near to death’s door.

19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

20 He sent forth his word
and healed them and saved them from the grave.

21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his mercy
and the wonders he does for his children.

22 Let them offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and tell of his acts with shouts of joy.

What does it cost to say thanks?

A sacrifice of thanksgiving. A funny phrase when you think about it. It not only appeared in the psalm read yesterday in church (see verse 22 above), but also comes up in a bunch of other places in the psalter. Each time it surfaces, it suggests that this is the kind of sacrifice God is interested in. But how does it square with your associations with sacrifice?

We usually think of sacrifice as something we give up, something we lose, often accompanied by pain and cost. It’s often something that gets put to death, marking the end of some kind of liveliness. It can be violent. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the kind of sacrifice God desires.

In what sense is the offering of thanksgiving a sacrifice? In some ways, an offering of thanksgiving does mark the putting to death of something, i.e, the illusion that we are in control, that what we have comes to us the old fashioned way. We earned it. It’s ours, thank you very much.

When we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, we are putting aside the mythology of self-sufficiency, the pride of accomplishment, the illusion of independence. When we offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, we are remembering the good news that all is gift. All is grace.

St. Paul talked about sacrifice in his letter to the Romans when he said we have been buried with Christ in baptism into death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so too we might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6.4) In the sacrifice of thanksgiving, we put to death a way of thinking focused on the self.

For me, the beautiful thing about the language of the sacrifice of thanksgiving is that it is not ultimately about something dying, something being killed, something ending. It is about a pathway to new life. In the eucharist (Rite I, p. 342 in the Prayer Book, Rite II, p. 363), we offer a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, presenting ourselves, our souls and bodies a living sacrifice, which is our reasonable service. Fed by that sacrifice, we move forward into the world with strength and courage, with gladness and singleness of heart.

A wise bishop offered some advice when I was at a fork in the road. She said that in the decisions we make, in the discernment we do, there is always cost and promise. There is cost in a sacrifice of thanksgiving, the surrender of the notion that the solar system is me-centric. But there is also promise, because our grateful offering of sacrifice to God, our worship, is a living thing, bringing us new life.

As we continue through the season of Lent, consider what it might mean to offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving in your own life, in your daily routine. What are you giving up in order to say thanks? What new life is in store for you as you nurture an attitude of gratitude?

-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 (March 4, 2024)


Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another,
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,
and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands,
and their message to the ends of the world.

In the deep has he set a pavilion for the sun;
it comes forth like a bridegroom out of his. chamber;
it rejoices like a champion to run its course.

It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens
and runs about to the end of it again;
nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

8The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever;
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.

By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can tell how often he offends?
cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me;
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

What’s on your mind?

This Lent, I’ve been reflecting on the Litany of Penitence, which gets read once a year on Ash Wednesday (p. 267 in the Book of Common Prayer, if you want to have a look). I confess that in the past, I’ve not paid a whole lot of attention to it. This year, it has become a way to focus my Lenten intentions.

One of the phrases that has caught my eye is a confession that we have not had the mind of Christ. I’ve been thinking about what it means to have the mind of Christ, and how we might get there.

On a related note, you’ll often hear a preacher begin a sermon with the last verse from the psalm printed above, a glorious psalm heard yesterday in church. The psalm begins with the recognition that all of nature points to the glory of God. It goes on to talk about the power of God’s teaching (the law of the Lord) to renew our spirit. It ends with prayers for the health of our inner life, one of the important themes of Lent.

In its final verse, the psalmist prayers that the words of our mouth and meditations of the heart be acceptable in God’s sight. I want to focus on the meditations of the heart, because I suspect that they have something to do with the mind of Christ. I’ve become fairly adept at watching what I say, filtering, screening. But if some of the things that go through my head were projected on a screen, I’d be in trouble.

So we join the psalmist in praying that we be kept from presumptuous (or willful) sins, that the secrets of our heart be cleansed. We pray that those things won’t get dominion over us. We pray that our meditations be acceptable in God’s sight.

Jesus had this to say about our inner life: What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile. (Matthew 15:18-20) Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells disciples: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also (another bit read on Ash Wednesday). It seems that for Jesus, it’s a matter of the heart, the inner life.

St. Paul wrote about the discipline of attending to the inner life in his letter to the Philippians: Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4.8) Apparently, we are granted agency in what goes through our head.

In the second chapter of that letter, Paul tells us what the mind of Christ is all about. He says: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who, though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, assuming human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)

If you’ve got a monkey mind like me, with all kinds of random (and unsavory) thoughts flashing through all the time, join me in praying this Lent for the mind of Christ. Join in confession that it is not fully realized yet in our experience. And when monkey mind seems to have dominion over us, choose to turn your thoughts to the wisdom of St. Paul, who invites us to have the mind of Christ.

-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.