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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Dear Fellow Followers of the Way:

jellenkc : June 1, 2018 2:37 pm : pastors-blog

Paul in writing to the Romans says:  “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with brotherly affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints, practice hospitality.”   (Romans 12: 9-13)  The writer of Hebrews reminds us in chapter 13:2 “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”


We are called throughout the Bible to practice hospitality with one another and with strangers.  We do this in a variety of ways.  The Evangelism committee has been sending out postcards to our neighbors to invite them to various events at the church.  Mark Ball has had more recitals and concerts hosted here so people can enter into our space and hopefully be drawn back.  We have worked to publicize events on Facebook to help spread the word to friends of friends about what goes on at Southminster.


As part of reaching out to people, the Session voted in April to add a statement of inclusion to the bulletin and to our electronic communications.


Southminster Presbyterian Church welcomes and celebrates the human diversity and unity that God gives us in Christ. We welcome individuals of every age, race or ethnicity, nationality, gender, gender identification or expression, ability, sexual orientation, and economic circumstance to participate fully in the life of the church.


Southminster is a member congregation of the PC (USA) and is affiliated with More Light Presbyterians.


For some people this statement may seem obvious.  Of course we welcome anyone who comes.  But for someone who is looking for a church, particularly if you have felt excluded by the church or by others in society, it can be comforting to read a statement like this to know you can find welcome.  It is also a reminder to all of us that we are called to welcome all of God’s children to join us in ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.  May we all strive to live out the welcome that Christ gave to all those he met and welcome everyone who comes.


Grace, Mercy and Peace


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Fellow Followers of the Way

jellenkc : April 27, 2018 4:56 pm : pastors-blog

This time of the year, I frequently hear the youth comment about how busy they are.  I remember when I was teaching, that this time of year felt like a downhill sprint to the end of the school year.  April and May seem to just get busier and busier.  This month, I have felt busier and busier.


As we near the close of Pastor Jeff’s first month of sabbatical, I have found that the extra meetings I attend and the addition of more preaching and teaching and visiting have left me tired.  While I have enjoyed the new opportunities, I have also discovered a need to attend to self-care more diligently.


I am drawn back to the book, The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel, a Jewish author and scholar who taught Ethics and Mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

Published in 1951, The Sabbath speaks to the Jewish understanding of God’s commandment to keep the 7th day of the week holy.  Heschel speaks to human desire to have more within the material world, but often it is at the sacrificial of time, which is at the heart of our existence.


“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space.  Six days a week we
live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to
holiness in time.  It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in
time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of
creation to the creation of the world.”


Heschel calls us to remember to live into our being and not our doing.  Seeking to commune with the mystery of the divine by taking time to encounter the holy. He talks of humanity needing to realize that the world was brought into being without our help, creation is not dependent on us.  However, we are dependent on the Creator, the one who called us all into being.  Sabbath is the way we stop and seek to care for our relationship to God.


As we enter what seems to be a season of perpetual and often frantic busy-ness, I invite us all to seek time of Sabbath, of holy rest.  Find a day, or an afternoon or even an hour that you can stop and breathe in the wonder and the mystery of God.  Find time that you can be. A time where you can be defined as a child of God and not by the task at hand.


Grace, Mercy, and Peace,


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The Sacred Journey through Holy Week

jellenkc : March 23, 2018 5:06 pm : pastors-blog


                           The church does not pretend, as it were, that it does not know what will happen

                           with the crucified Jesus.  It does not sorrow or mourn over the Lord as if the

                           church itself were not the very creation which has been produced from his wounded

                           side and from the depths of his tomb.  All through the services the victory of Christ

                          is contemplated and the resurrection is proclaimed.

–Thomas Hopko


                       Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and

                      be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after

                      three days rise again.  He said all this quite openly.

–Mark 8:31-32


As Jesus began to re-define for his disciples the meaning of Messiah, the Christ, he taught them about the suffering road that would lead to salvation and new creation and he spoke about the mystery of the resurrection from the dead that would follow.  The disciples could not hear and receive the message about the resurrection from the dead because they were too horrified and offended by the message of the cross.  Peter rebuked Jesus after being taught about how God was acting through Christ to bring salvation and new life into the world.  Jesus understood that, through Peter, the voice of the tempter, the deceiver, was speaking to him once again.


As we walk the last days of our Lenten journey together, we move from the ironic triumphant strains of Palm Sunday, to the table of the last supper and the sacrament of bread and cup, to the agonized prayer to take the cup away in the garden of Gethsemane, to the intensity of the betrayal, denial, arrest, and trial of the Lord.  Finally we come face to face with the unimaginable suffering of Jesus on the cross.  All through this journey, we are cognizant of the wounds and brokenness of the world in our own time and place, of the sufferings of so many of God’s children in our world.  We see anew that the cross proclaims God’s entering into the suffering of the world, even unto mortal death.


But we do not behold the Savior on the cross, or contemplate the sufferings of so many in our present time as people without hope and in despair.  We do so as people of the resurrection faith, as Easter people.  And so we ask the Holy Spirit for the courage and the fortitude to contemplate the cruelty and suffering of the cross, to confront the cruelty and sufferings of our present time, but we do so with great hope, joy even, knowing that God has overcome the ultimate power of sin, evil, and death in the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Like the disciples on Easter morning, we struggle to understand and believe the great mystery of the resurrection, even as we ask God to empower us to be a part of the continual birthing of the new creation that resurrection began.  I look forward to walking the sacred journey of Holy Week with you once again.

Grace and Peace,



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