Category Archives: Monday Matters

Monday Matters (May 13, 2024)

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Psalm 1

1 Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

2 Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

3 They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.

4 It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes,
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.


This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

The Stream

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. A few centuries later, a desert father named Abba Poemem cranked it up a bit and said: Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.

I hear both statements as challenge. They make us think about where we give our hearts, what we value, where we spend our time, where we draw our strength. What are the resources we tap in our own journey? The implication of these statements is that we sometimes treasure things that will not sustain us. We treasure that which is of no ultimate value. These statements also imply that we have agency in deciding what we value, and where we will seek resources for a meaningful life.

That’s what the first psalm is getting at. It’s included above, and you may have heard it in church yesterday. As the first psalm, it’s been described as a preface to the 149 psalms that follow, an introduction to this remarkable repository of wisdom teaching. Some of it was written 3000 years ago and yet I find the psalms speak as if written yesterday.

As in many places in scripture, this first psalm presents a spiritual fork in the road. The choice was expressed by Joshua as the children of Israel entered the promised land. He said: Choose this day who you will serve. The choice was expressed by Jesus in Luke’s version of the beatitudes which includes blessings and woes, two distinct pathways.

The first psalm speaks of those who are blessed in the ways that they choose to make their way in the world. They choose not to walk or linger or sit in the ways that counter God’s life. Note the verbs: walk, linger, sit. There are all kinds of ways we can live our lives separated from God’s life, some more active than others.

The blessed ones are like a tree planted by a source of water. They have given their heart to that which satisfies their heart. They’re plugged in, meditating on God’s teaching day and night, letting that wisdom permeate all they do.

Compare and contrast with those separated from that life-giving stream. They are not plugged in. Their battery is empty. They have run out of gas. They’re running on fumes. They are like the chaff which the wind blows away. They have no root.

Yogi Berra said: When you come to a fork in the road, take it. As the psalm presents this choice, it is describing two kinds of people. My own experience is that on any given day, I can be both of those folks. Emily Dickinson said that she believed and disbelieved a hundred times an hour. She said it made her faith nimble. I don’t know how nimble my faith is, but I do sometimes try to walk both paths at the same time. Sometimes I plug into the life giving stream. Sometimes I prefer to try to rely on my own grand skill. Is there any hope for conflicted folks, like me?

With all this talk about our agency, a reminder that all is grace. There is a stream that can give us life is a gift. That gift remains available, always. There’s always a way to come back, to take steps on the right path, to plug into the life-giving stream.

What might you do to walk in that blessed way today? What might you do to tap into that loving, life-giving, liberating stream this week?

-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. (Now accepting signups for Fall 2024 cohort)  Sign up now!

Monday Matters (May 6, 2024)

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Psalm 98

1 Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.

2 With his right hand and his holy arm
has he won for himself the victory.

3 The Lord has made known his victory;
his righteousness has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.

4 He remembers his mercy and faithfulness to the house of Israel,
and all the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.

5 Shout with joy to the Lord, all you lands;
lift up your voice, rejoice, and sing.

6 Sing to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the voice of song.

7 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy before the King, the Lord.

8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it,
the lands and those who dwell therein.

9 Let the rivers clap their hands,
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
when he comes to judge the earth.

10 In righteousness shall he judge the world
and the peoples with equity.

O God, whom saints and angels delight to worship in heaven: Be ever present with your servants who seek through art and music to perfect the praises offered by your people on earth; and grant to them even now glimpses of your beauty, and make them worthy at length to behold it unveiled for evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

Name that tune

Is there a song title that captures the way you’re feeling this Monday morning? Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen? You’re so vain (Carly Simon)? Is that all there is (Peggy Lee)? Glory days (The boss)?

I rarely remember sermons, even my own. But I remember a sermon that I heard more than 20 years ago, a sermon on Jesus’ parable about the sower and the seed. It’s the one where a farmer throws out seed on the ground and some of it takes and some of it doesn’t, for any number of reasons. The preacher focused on seed that was carried away by the birds of the air before it could take root. He compared it to those of us who may have had dreams snatched away. He noted the tragedy of people who never have the chance to sing their song in life. Maybe that’s been your experience. Maybe you know people who have had the experience. Maybe life’s challenges made you stop singing your song.

The psalm above is chosen for the sixth Sunday in the Easter season. You may have heard it in church yesterday. It’s an invitation to celebrate the possibility of new life. The psalm issues that invitation by calling for a new song, a song to the Lord. So what is the new song that you would like to sing with your life? What does it sound like? What are the lyrics? Minor or major key? And what was the old song?

In the Bible, when amazing things happen, people break into song. One of the oldest pieces of biblical literature is the song attributed to Miriam (Moses’ sister) after the deliverance at the Red Sea (Exodus 15:20, 21). Hannah broke into song after her son, Samuel, was born (I Samuel 2:1-10). Hannah’s song offered a template for Mary’s song, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Mary broke into song when she met with cousin Elizabeth and both of them realized they would bear children, one of them too young, the other too old.

Many of the psalms were songs offered in liturgy, reflecting the range of human experience. For me, one of the most poignant psalms, emerging from the experience of exile, has the children of Israel asking their captors: How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? The fact is, we may feel that our lives unfold in a kind of exile. We may wonder how we can manage a song. We may not feel like singing, thank you very much. And that is precisely when we hear a call to a new song.

Yesterday’s psalm seems to imply that we have a choice about the kind of song we want to sing with our lives. I’m wondering what a song sounds like when it is informed by the news of Easter. It’s a song that would reflect the possibility of resurrection, which means to stand again after one has been knocked down. It’s a song that would include an alleluia refrain, guided by praise of the God of creation. It’s a song that would reflect the joy of a dead end turning into a threshold.

Fact of the matter is, singing helps.

But don’t take my word for it. Whether the new song is metaphor, or an actual piece of music, hear the wisdom of Martin Luther: “My heart, which is so full to overflowing, has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.” Hear the wisdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Music will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.” Hear the wisdom of Leonard Bernstein, particularly apt these days: ‘This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever.” As you think about your own song, pray the collect for artists and musicians printed in the column on the left. Celebrate the healing power of music, the power of a new song.

The old adage has it that the person who sings, prays twice. When we find our song, it stays with us in ways that intellectual propositions, theological constructs, and even brilliant sermons can not. As you make your way through this Monday, as you make your way through the Easter season, as you make your way through life, find your song. Name that tune. And sing it.

-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. (Now accepting signups for Fall 2024 cohort)  Sign up now!

Monday Matters (April 29, 2024)

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Psalm 22:24-30

24 My praise is of him in the great assembly;
I will perform my vows in the presence of those who worship him.

25 The poor shall eat and be satisfied,
and those who seek the Lord shall praise him: “May your heart live for ever!”

26 All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations shall bow before him.

27 For kingship belongs to the Lord; he rules over the nations.

28 To him alone all who sleep in the earth bow down in worship;
all who go down to the dust fall before him.

29 My soul shall live for him; my descendants shall serve him;
they shall be known as the Lord’s for ever.

30 They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that he has done.


This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

Beyond forsakenness

We read Psalm 22 a lot in church. Well, let me qualify that. We read the first 21 verses of Psalm 22 a lot.

The first part of the psalm appears several times in Holy Week, and comes up in the daily lectionary, usually on Fridays, a weekly reminder of the events of Good Friday. The psalm begins with the plaintive prayer: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? It’s a prayer Jesus offered from the cross. The following verses in the psalm describe the deepest kind of suffering, including a break in relationship with God, a profound sense of isolation.

On those days when the church seeks to recall the passion, the suffering of our Lord, the first 21 verses capture that pain. The remaining verses, which were read yesterday in church and which appear in the column on the left, mark a shift in tone. That says something important about our life of faith. It says something important about Easter faith.

When I began parish ministry, the learning curve was steep. I started in a church in a university town. The congregation was filled with some of the smartest, most put together people I’d ever run across. I saved a New Yorker cartoon which captured my feelings at the time. It shows a young man entering a swell cocktail party. The bubble over the young man’s head reads: Yikes! Grown-ups! That was kind of how I felt.

But a memorable lesson of this season of steep learning curve came as I began to get to know members of the congregation. Perhaps because I was newly sporting a clerical collar, they would open up to me about what was going on in their lives. I came to realize that you can scratch the surface of the most put-together person and you will find some area of brokenness, a need for healing of body, mind, spirit, relationship, memory, some acute sense of the suffering of the world. It led me to believe that healing ministries are some of the most important ministries of the church.

I later served for a number of years at a large church in Washington, DC, a church with an active healing ministry, offering prayers for healing and the laying on of hands right after people had received communion. The lines were long. As some of Washington’s most powerful people came to kneel, asking prayers for healing, I confess I would sometimes think: What on earth do you need healing for?

What I’ve learned is that we all come to church bearing the experience of brokenness, an encounter with suffering, a need for healing, the sense that we may have been forsaken.

But that is not the last word. We can turn the corner. We can move beyond forsakenness. We can find a way forward. (I’ll repeat a reference to two books that capture this possibility. Uncommon Gratitude: Thanks For All That Is, by Rowan Williams and Joan Chittister, and Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy by Anne Lamott.)

The concluding portion of Psalm 22 is read in Easter season as a reminder that we are never promised that we can skip the challenges. They are part of life. But those challenges are not the last word. They need not define us or determine our destiny. In many of the resurrection appearances, Jesus makes a point of showing the disciples his wounds. His new life bore those marks. And perhaps those marks only made the joy of resurrection richer. When the psalmist says that his praise will rise in the great assembly, that signals the hope of the Easter season.

As we continue our journey through the Easter season, may it be a reminder that resurrection literally means we can stand again. All will be well in the end. If all is not well, it’s not the end. How can you savor that possibility, that promise this week?

-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. (Now accepting signups for Fall 2024 cohort)  Sign up now!

Monday Matters (April 22, 2024)

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Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;
you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.


This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

Enough already

Years ago, I read a story in the New Yorker, a poem actually, about an exchange between Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller. I may not get all the details right but here’s the gist of their conversation. They were attending a cocktail party at the home of a rich, young investment banker on the end of Long Island. At the party, Mr. Vonnegut leaned over to Mr. Heller and asked something like this: “How does it make you feel to know that this young man made more money last week than you made from your novel, Catch-22?” Mr. Heller responded: “I have something this young man will never have.” “What’s that?” Mr. Vonnegut responded. Mr. Heller: “The knowledge that I have enough.”

We read Psalm 23 in church yesterday, on what has come to be known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s included above. The version from the Book of Common Prayer may vary slightly from the version most people know. That’s a good thing, as it allows us to hear this well-known psalm anew.

There’s much we can focus on in this psalm. What caught my eye anew this week was the first verse, which reads: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. In other words, the Lord is my shepherd and what I have is enough. It echoes the line in the Lord’s Prayer which asks for our daily bread. Not an overabundance, but bread that is sufficient for this day, the knowledge that it will be enough. The pastoral power of this psalm may come from the fact that in much of life, we battle a sense that whatever we have is simply not enough.

How do we come to a place in our lives where we sense that we have had a sufficiency, a gracious plenty?

It begins with an attitude of gratitude focusing on all good gifts around us, instead of focusing on what we might be missing. That grateful heart opens the doorway to contentment, which brings to mind the counsel of St. Paul as he wrote the beloved Philippian church. He spoke about his own sense of contentment, which I could imagine was a challenge for him: “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) In another letter to his protégé, Timothy, he writes: “There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment.” (I Timothy 6:6).

A call for contentment can be complicated in a world marked by deprivation and gross income inequality. The persistent biblical call to work for justice and peace trumps any message of stay in your place. It’s not a message of passivity or helplessness.

But in a culture stricken with affluenza, symptoms being the nagging sense that whatever we have is never enough, an attitude of gratitude leads to contentment which leads us to notice that we have what we need. As the hymn reminds us: All I have needed thy hand has provided. Great is thy faithfulness.

Where do you need to work on contentment in your life? Where does covetousness threaten contentment? And where do you need to embrace holy restlessness, an unwillingness to settle? As you embrace that restlessness, at the same time, remember all that you have been given, with a grateful heart. Remember that the world will tell you it’s never enough. Remember that you have a good shepherd.

-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. (Now accepting signups for Fall 2024 cohort)  Sign up now!

Monday Matters (April 15, 2024)

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Psalm 4

Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause;
you set me free when I am hard-pressed; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

“You mortals, how long will you dishonor my glory;
how long will you worship dumb idols and run after false gods?”

Know that the Lord does wonders for the faithful;
when I call upon the Lord, he will hear me.

Tremble, then, and do not sin;
speak to your heart in silence upon your bed.

Offer the appointed sacrifices and put your trust in the Lord.

Many are saying, “Oh, that we might see better times!”
Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.

You have put gladness in my heart,
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.

I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep;
for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.


This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

Better times

It amazes me when I read the psalms to find that issues on the psalmist’s mind, expressed several thousand years ago, are issues we face these days. Who among us has not said: Oh, that we might see better times? How do we navigate that sense that things are going off the rails? People have posed these kinds of questions for centuries. Does this psalm, read yesterday in church and included above, have anything to say today, offering ways to navigate the times in which we live?

My wife and I went to hear Anne Lamott speak last week. It was great. She has a new book (her 20th) and her presentation was given on her 70th birthday. (Happy birthday, Anne! You are yourself a gift.) She is a deeply faithful person, even if in her theological reflections she throws in a few expletives. I especially love her take on prayer, by which she says that we only need three words to pray: thanks, help and wow.

That part about asking help is reflected in Psalm 4, and provides a way to approach those times when we wish for better times. The psalm begins by asking God to answer when we call. The psalm asks for help, for mercy.

The psalm carries this warning. Don’t run after false gods or dumb idols. Don’t give your heart to that which will not satisfy your heart. Doing so may feel like a quick fix, but it won’t get you where you want to go. I don’t know what the psalmist had in mind when mentioning dumb idols. What do you think they might be in our context?

The psalm also calls for a good look in the spiritual rear-view mirror, to see how God has acted in the past. The Hebrew Scriptures do that again and again, reminding the people of Israel to remember the ways that God has acted in salvific, healing, miraculous ways. We do that again and again in our prayers at eucharist, when we include a portion technically called anamnesis. That Greek word literally means not amnesia. Not forgetting. When we find ourselves in times of trouble, a dose of faithful retrospection can help us move forward.

The psalm also speaks of the power of silence, with a call to contemplative attentiveness, putting aside our own thoughts. Nicolas Malebranche, an 18th century priest and philosopher, said it this way: Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul. (again, indicating wisdom from another era can help us in our own. There is actually nothing new under the sun.) That kind of attentiveness can be blocked by our hankering for better times. In silence, we can attend to what God has to teach us right now, even as that moment may be filled with challenge. It’s a way of saying “here we are.”

And in the end, it’s about where we put our trust. An old hymn has this refrain: We may not know what the future holds, but we know the one who holds the future. For centuries, trust has been a key issue for people of faith, the confidence that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, even if we don’t experience that reality right this second. That kind of trust is a spiritual practice, something we get stronger in when we exercise it. Based on that trust, we can lie down and fall asleep. We can be at peace.

We may long for better times. But we are where we are. The good news this Monday morning is that God is with us.

-Jay Sidebotham

Monday Matters (April 8, 2024)

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Psalm 40:5-10

5 Great things are they that you have done,
O Lord my God! how great your wonders and your plans for us!
there is none who can be compared with you.

6 Oh, that I could make them known and tell them!
but they are more than I can count.

7 In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure
(you have given me ears to hear you);

8 Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required,
and so I said, “Behold, I come.

9 In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: ‘I love to do your will,
O my God; your law is deep in my heart.”‘

10 I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation;
behold, I did not restrain my lips; and that, O Lord, you know.


This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

Write your own Magnificat

What would you say about the greatness of God? What would be your version of the Magnificat?

Today, in a bit of calendar juggling, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, the day that the angel announces to Mary that she was going to have a baby, the Son of God. The child will be called Jesus, because he will save people. The name means “God saves.” The feast is usually celebrated on March 25, which was the beginning of Holy Week this year. The church therefore transferred the feast until after the first week of Easter is over. So here we are.

Mary models a way to respond to a call from God. In many of the call stories in the Bible, the person receiving the call acts like the call was a wrong number. Moses said that he was not a good public speaker. Isaiah said he was a person of unclean lips. Jeremiah said he was just a kid. Peter told Jesus to depart from him because Peter thought himself unworthy to be called a disciple, to be near Jesus.

And along comes Mary, who does her share of wondering about how this all could be. Reasonable. But then she provides the model for us when we hear God’s call. She says: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

Shortly after she gives her okay, as she visits her cousin Elizabeth, she breaks into song, the Magnificat, which proclaims the greatness of the Lord. That song is a kind of riff on the Song of Hannah, a character in the Hebrew Scriptures, who also breaks into song at the news of the coming birth of a child. Mary’s song also sounds a lot like the psalm printed in the column on the left, which is why that psalm is selected for this day.

It’s doubtful that any of us will receive a call from God as consequential as the call that came to Moses or Mary. But each one of us has a vocation. On a daily basis, we need to decide how we RSVP to God’s invitation to us, an invitation to be part of the Jesus movement, part of the saving, healing work God intends to accomplish in the world. How will we say yes?

A part of the answer, so fitting in this season of Easter, is to proclaim the greatness of God, to recognize the amazing grace that God calls each one of us to be part of the work of salvation.

Take time on this day in the Easter season to reflect on the greatness of God. Sing that old hymn, “How great thou art.” Give praise and thanks for God’s great wonders and plans for us (Psalm 40:5). And let that proclamation of God’s greatness, your own personal Magnificat, set the stage for doing God’s work in the world.

Join Mary in saying: Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.

-Jay Sidebotham

Monday Matters (April 1, 2024)

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Psalm 16:8-11

8 I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave,
nor let your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy, and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.


This year, Monday Matters will focus on wisdom conveyed in the treasures of the book of Psalms. We’ll look at the psalms read in church before Monday Matters comes to your screen.

Asking for directions

I was reflecting on the different ways, over the course of my life, that I would get directions. Younger readers may not believe that glove compartments were crammed with maps and atlases, telling us where to go. At some point, mapquest emerged, providing a print out of where to turn right and where to turn left. That felt like great breakthrough. Now someone talks to you, telling you that in ten miles you need to take an exit. For those of us of a certain age, such guidance would have been unthinkable in earlier days. But however it comes to us, we all need direction in life.

We’ve completed the journey through the season of Lent. We’ve walked the way of the cross through Holy Week. Yesterday we arrived at the Feast of the Resurrection. The celebration of Easter may feel like we’ve reached a destination. Phew. But the journey continues, as we begin making our way through the season of Easter, 50 days that help us reflect on the path ahead.

For this Monday in Easter Week, we read from Psalm 16 with a promise (See the psalm above) Speaking of the Holy One, the psalmist says: You will show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy. All of which is to repeat that the spiritual journey continues. There’s always more. And so we need guidance along the way. Where will we find the guidance for next steps?

There are a variety of ways we find our way spiritually. For all of us, there are probably wrong turns that we make. The news of resurrection is that a living Christ provides the guidance we need. In coming days, we’ll read from Jesus’ last words to his disciples in the Gospel of John. We’ll see how he prepares them for the time when they don’t see him in person. He says that the Holy Spirit will come and guide them into all truth.

We claim such guidance is still available for us. It’s one of the things we celebrate in the Easter season as we make our way towards Pentecost when the Spirit comes to the church with that promised direction. I’m wondering if you’ve had the sense of the Spirit guiding you along the way.

Guidance for the spiritual journey can come in many ways. A good starting place is simply to do some listening, to set aside time in the rhythm of your life to sit in silence.

I’ve tried over the years to listen with the ear of my heart, as St. Benedict suggested. What’s your gut say? What brings you joy? What just doesn’t feel right? Frederick Buechner said that the place where God calls you is the place where the world’s deep hunger and your own deep gladness intersect. So we listen with our hearts.

That in turn means that one of the ways we are guided is by service to the world’s needs. Those needs are all around us, appearing in great variety. Clarity of direction can come as we get outside ourselves, seeking and serving Christ in all persons.

In my own journey, I find guidance in connection with scripture. There are plenty of passages I don’t quite get. Some I don’t like. But repeatedly, I find that these ancient words speak to my circumstances and provide a pathway forward.

God places us in community so that we can bounce ideas off each other and get direction. In communities where there are deep connection, we can find people who can speak the truth in love to us. (If you’re looking for a good book on discernment, consider getting a copy of Listening Hearts.)

And of course, we can return to a basic tool of discernment offered by Presiding Bishop Michael Curry who said that if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.

In this beautiful psalm, we find a promise that we will be guided in the way of life. May God give us grace in this week, in this Easter season and beyond to claim that promise for our own spiritual journeys. Happy Easter. And traveling mercies.

-Jay Sidebotham

Monday Matters (March 25, 2024)

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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)

3-1

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


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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)

3-1

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.