Fear and Hope in Advent

jellenkc : November 30, 2018 5:46 pm : pastors-blog

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary…”

                                         –Luke 1:30


Then an angel of the Lord stood before them and

                                         the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they

                                         were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not

                                         be afraid…”

–Luke 2:9-10


The angelic word during Advent is—Do not fear!  Easy for an angel to say, we might think.  There are always experiences and events in our lives and in our world that give cause for fear—worries about a loved one who is struggling with serious disease or is facing a difficult challenge; continued turmoil on the world scene and wars that seem to never end; language from leaders that tempts us to fear those who are different in some way than we are—refugees, immigrants, people of a different race or ethnicity or faith.


Yet it is to us, people of faith, that the angelic word comes this Advent—Do not be afraid!  And why should we not be afraid.  Because the Christmas gospel proclaims that in Christ Jesus, the one who made heaven and earth, the one who has created us and called us by name, has become flesh and dwells among us.  This does not mean that we do not feel scared from time to time, or that we do not experience anxiety…such is our lot as human beings.  But it does mean that  a fear that threatens to overwhelm us and paralyze our life can be overcome when we open our lives and spirits to the one who love us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God With Us.


The first Epistle of John puts it this way:


There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out

fear; for  fear has to do with punishment… We love

because he first loved us.

–I John 4:18-19


The one who came among us as one of us has revealed to us the perfect love of God.  And because we are confident that God is with us, understands us, has tasted the fullness of human life, though there are many things that are fearful, we are not overwhelmed by fear.  Instead we are inspired by hope and strengthened by the confident faith that God is with us through all things.


There are many voices in our culture and in our world that would seek to create paralyzing fear within us.  But the angelic voice, the voice of God, rings out clearly for those who have ears to hear:  Do not be afraid!  God is with us!  Listen!

Grace and Peace,


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A Great Cloud of Witnesses

jellenkc : October 26, 2018 4:15 pm : pastors-blog

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also
lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with
perseverance the race that is set before us…
–Hebrews 12:1

Spiritual writer and teacher, Henri Nouwen wrote of an experience he had in Peru at a cemetery on All Saints’ Day. When he entered the cemetery he said that there were literally thousands of people gathered around the graves of their loved ones. They had spread blankets on the ground, covered with bananas and oranges and urpo, a special kind of bread baked especially for that day. Walking to and fro through the cemetary were pairs of “praying boys” who would approach and ask if they could be permitted to pray at the grave of the deceased family member. Nouwen said the sound of the earnestly praying boys was “a strangely pleasant rhythm that seemed to unite all that was happening into one great prayer.” After the boys finished praying, they would open their sacks to receive their compensation for the prayers—a banana, a few cookies, a piece of cake. This scene was repeated over and over again throughout the cemetery.

Nouwen made this observation about his experience:

In front of my eyes I saw how prayers became food and food became prayers. I saw
how little boys who had to struggle to survive received life from the dead, and how the
dead received hope from the little children who prayed for the salvation of their souls.
I saw a profound communion between the living and the dead, an intimacy expressed
in words and gestures whose significance easily escapes our practical and often skeptical

The three day celebration encompassing All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints’ Day, and All Souls’ Day is one of the feasts of the Christian year. It is marked by a reverence for and remembrance of those who have died in the faith and gone before us into the communion of saints. Every year at this time, we observe this ancient feast of the church by lifting up those from our own community of faith who have died in the Lord since the last feast observance.

There are two opportunities for you to participate in this meaningful Christian spiritual practice. On Thursday, November 1st, All Saints’ Day, we will have a quiet meditative vespers service in the chapel at 6:00 pm. This service has been especially meaningful for family members who have lost someone in the last year. It is open to all who wish to participate. On Sunday, November 4th, we will gather to worship God with beautiful worship that focuses on the meaning of All Saints’ Day in the Christian year. We will celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper by intinction. As you come forward to receive the gifts of bread and cup from Christ, you will have an opportunity, if you wish, to light a memorial votive candle for someone special to you who has died and joined the communion of saints. In this way, we connect the communion we share with Christ in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with the great cloud of witnesses, the communion of saints that surrounds and inspires us to dedication and perseverance in our faith day by day. Please plan to join us for this meaningful time.

Grace and Peace,


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Living Into Hope: God’s Future Is Our Future Stewardship Emphasis – 2018

jellenkc : October 2, 2018 11:11 am : pastors-blog

For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes
for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with
–Romans 8:24-25

We live in uncertain times…uncertain for the church, uncertain for our own country, uncertain for the world. This is not unique…people of faith have been living out lives of faithful discipleship in uncertain times for millennia. But each time and place brings its own unique challenges.

In the Southminster community of faith we seek to respond to uncertainty with a resolute hope that God is active in our own lives and in the life of our world. We seek to act with compassion and justice and reconciliation to our neighbors around us in the human family. We also seek to model for the world a community that values nurture and compassion as we relate to one another. We do not do this perfectly, but it is always the hope that we are trying to live into.

In a few short weeks, we will be asking you to consider how you can commit yourself to the ministry we share together in 2019. Our ministry depends on your prayerful commitment of financial support, time, and your creative gifts as we seek to live into hope together. With each of us contributing out of our blessings, God will use us in life-giving ways for the gospel.

Here are some highlights of the upcoming Stewardship Emphasis:

For three Sundays, October 14, 21, 28, we will reflect together on the ministry of stewardship, guided by the words of the apostle Paul from the 8th chapter of his Epistle to the Romans.
Sunday, October 14th – Stewardship Celebration Dinner
Please join us for table fellowship with your church family. Stewardship packets will be distributed at this gathering and we will hear a short presentation on some exciting new ministry initiatives coming over the next months and year.
Sunday, October 21st
This Sunday gives us an opportunity to reflect on the role money plays in our faith life. Why is it that Jesus had so much to say about our attitudes and orientation to money and wealth? What does it mean to be faithful with the financial resources with which God has blessed us?
Sunday, October 28th – Pledge Dedication Sunday
This Sunday we joyfully dedicate our 2019 pledges to God and ask God to bless us as we seek to use them faithfully for ministry in the coming year.

We need the support and participation of everyone in our community of faith to serve Christ and our neighbors to the best of our ability. I invite you to be actively engaged with our time of Stewardship reflection over these next few weeks. It is important to the future of our community of faith and our world as we seek to live into hope!

Grace and Peace,


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The Grace of a Sabbatical Revisited

jellenkc : July 17, 2018 9:31 am : pastors-blog

On July 5th I returned to my office of 19 years at Southminster Presbyterian Church after the grace of a three-month sabbatical from my regular duties, a gift given to me by all of the members of Southminster Presbyterian Church.  The sabbatical was indeed a time of rest and renewal, reading and study and writing and thinking.  I am grateful.


For those of you who may be interested I offer just a few “teasers” from some of the things I was thinking about during my time away.


  • I read a book entitled Visual Culture which explores in a theoretical way the development of visuality as a way of apprehending, understanding, and interpreting our culture and our life experiences—from painting to photography to the advent and proliferation of screens of all kinds, TV, computers, as well as all the graphic devices which many carry around with them all the time. I spent time thinking about all of this from the perspective of Christian ministry as we look to the future of the church over the next few decades, from worship life and the proclamation of the Word to our efforts at Christian Education.  It is clear to me that visuality…and the ability to use visual images will be critical to reaching coming generations effectively.


For in concentrating solely on linguistic meaning, such readings

deny the very element that makes visual imagery of all kinds

distinct from texts, that is to say, its sensual immediacy.

It is that edge, that buzz that separates the remarkable from

the humdrum.  Such moments of intense and surprising visual power evoke, in

David Freedberg’s phrase, “admiration, awe, terror and desire.”

This dimension to visual culture is at the heart of all visual events.


Let us give this feeling a name:  the sublime.


  • Another book I read is entitled Journey to the Common Good, by Old Testament scholar and widely respected lecturer Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, GA. Written in 2010 with eye to our time and place, this book explores God’s work to create a world in which the common good is the ethic which governs human community.  He looks at the central Hebrew Bible story of the Exodus as well as the prophetic ministries of Jeremiah and Isaiah.  This paragraph illustrates how he connects these scriptural explorations to the present time:


The great crisis among us is the crisis of “the common good,” the

sense of community solidarity that binds all in a common destiny–haves

and have-nots, the rich and the poor.  We face a crisis about the common

good because there are powerful forces at work among us to resist the

common good, to violate community solidarity, and to deny a common



These two books, as well as three others, provided a lot of provocative ideas for me as I think about our common ministry to serve Jesus Christ as we journey together into the future.

Grace and Peace,


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From the Associate Pastor

jellenkc : June 15, 2018 3:28 pm : pastors-blog

Christian worship gives all glory and honor, praise and thanksgiving to the holy, triune God. We are gathered in worship to glorify the God who is present and active among us—particularly through the gifts of Word and Sacrament. We are sent out in service to glorify the same God who is present and active in the world. (Directory for Worship – 1.0101)


Dear Fellow Followers of the Way:

Several people have made comments to me about the Communion liturgies we have been using in May and June.  Most of the comments have been positive and people have liked the interactive nature of the congregational responses, particularly in song.  When Mark Ball spoke about liturgy a few weeks ago as the work of the people, it reminded me of Soren Kierkegaard’s metaphor of theater.


Kierkegaard asserts that the members of the congregation are the performers and the pastors, choir, liturgists, and other worship leaders are the prompters reminding the performers of their lines.  In this metaphor, Kierkegaard places God as the audience, and to an extent that is true, however, God is present and active in our worship.  Worship is a time for all of us to give praise and glory to God and it is an opportunity to encounter the divine presence.


I invite you this summer to come to worship ready to work.  Join in the work of the people and participate in the rituals of worship.  This is a way that we set aside time to serve God, to take seriously our understanding of the “priesthood of all believers.”  Come to worship understanding that the word worship is a verb, it is an action.  Worship of God is something that no one can do for you and it is best done together.


See you on Sunday!!


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