Sabbatical – Lying Fallow, Wading in Baptismal Waters

The following is the first entry from Pastor Kent’s Sabbatical blog.  You can check out his blog on the Blogroll or by clicking here.

An old familiar proverb says the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Another version of the same proverb says the journey must begin where you stand.  With the wisdom of Confucius, my father used to tell me no matter where you go there you are.

On May 27 after Sunday’s worship, I begin a several-month, several-thousand-mile sabbatical journey that will take me from worship at our sibling congregation of San Pablo Lutheran Church in Bogotá, Colombia all the way to the Christian worshipping community in Taizé, France.  God-willing, the journey will take me from a concert performance by world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell at the Oregon Bach Festival all the way to a music and worship conference led by well known hymn writer John Bell on the Isle of Iona, Scotland.

I’ll admit, it’s kind of funny to take a sabbatical journey.  After all, the Hebrew word for rested is where we get Sabbath.  But Sabbath is so much more than just taking a nap.

The idea of “sabbatical” and “Sabbath” can be found as early as the second chapter of Genesis.  After God’s Spirit “brooded like a bird above the watery abyss” (translated from Eugene Peterson’s The Message) and after God spoke, named and pronounced the cosmos “good,” chapter two says that God rested, blessed and thus hallowed or ‘made holy’ all creation.  Sabbath is about more than God taking a nap in the shade of a tree because God was tired.  Sabbath has to do with a little bit of distance – a little bit of stepping back from work so what is, can be and in this (according to our holy scriptures) things are made holy and blessed.

Everything needs a break, needs to be “stepped back from” now and then, says God.  After a commandment not to take advantage of a “stranger” (after all, says God, you’ve been a “stranger” yourselves) and before a commandment to observe three festivals per year (the festival of unleavened bread called Passover, the festival of summer harvest called Pentecost and the festival of fall ingathering called Sukkoth), God says in Exodus 23:10-11 to let the land rest and lie fallow and to do the same with yourselves and your possessions.

Sabbath is about letting the work-worn parts of all creation lie fallow.  After all, even God… even God took a rest, stepped back and lied fallow.

It’s funny the way things sometimes fall.  The day that my sabbatical begins just happens to fall on Pentecost Sunday.  Remember Pentecost, it was one of those three festivals back in Exodus that God said to observe.  One of three times throughout the year to intentionally stop and remember and experience the abundance of God’s saving and nourishing grace.

The day that my sabbatical begins also just happens to fall on the thirty-third anniversary of my baptism Image(I’m the one being held just next to the cross in the attached photo taken on May 27, 1979).  How funny, since we as Lutherans say the Christian journey begins and ends with baptism.  No matter where you go, the promise spoken over baptismal waters is there.

I give thanks for your prayers as I begin this journey, which will take me around the world and back to Custer Lutheran Fellowship.  Even as I pray that the next few months might provide you opportunities for Sabbath rest, that you might take a step or two back from work-worn parts of your lives and let them lie fallow.  It’s amazing, after all, how God’s abundant grace often springs up in the fallow places of our lives… with a well-placed promise and some water of course.

Planted by streams

Young trees seem to grow in one of two ways in the Black hills.  The first way is for a single wedge-shaped wing of a pine cone to catch the wind, blow into a crack high on a granite face, land in two teaspoons of dust and grit, and begin growing straight out of the rock.  If you’ve looked at Paul Horsted’s photos you’ll see that some of these tough “rock” trees are well over one hundred years old. 

The other way to plant a tree around here is to lovingly dig a very large hole, fill it with decent top soil, water it generously, wrap the healthy young trunk to keep the rabbits away from the bark, fence it at least six feet high to keep the deer from eating the leaves, water it some more, pray that the hail or wind don’t snap it in two, and then enjoy its blossoms in the spring.

Some have compared planting pine trees verses decorative trees to planting dandelions verses orchids.  If you’ve ever had a lawn you have noticed that it is quite easy to grow a healthy crop of dandelions.  Orchids on the other hand are so fragile that they require precise temperature, sunlight, humidity, fertilizer, and much tender loving care.  However, those who have happened upon a wild, lady slipper orchid in a remote, Black Hills creek bed will be startled by its beauty.  Sometimes it is well worth the work to create an environment where even an orchid can bloom.

                The book of Psalms begins with the image of the people of God being like a tree planted by a stream of water.   I like to think that the stream sometimes is natural, like rainwater that is funneled into a tiny crack, allowing a tree to grow in a seemingly impossible place.  Other times that stream is created by intensive human work in order that the tree can be grown where we need a tree to be.   There is a place for both dandelion trees and orchid trees in the kingdom of God.

Speaking of trees, we’ve begun our most recent landscaping project at the church.  The front lawn has been torn up and hopefully in the next few days we will have three new trees planted.  We will plant them with love looking forward to beautiful blossoms and a reminder that it is worth the work to create environments where God’s creation can thrive.

Easter Birthdays

My daughter will celebrate her birthday on Easter Sunday this year.  In her ten years of life this is the second time that her birthday has fallen on this most important Christian holiday.  She turned five the last time it happened, and it was the same week that her grandfather had emergency coronary bypass surgery.  That was one memorable birthday party as we gathered for cake and presents in the nearly empty Easter Sunday cafeteria at Sanford Medical Center.  The handful of nurses and other families of patients smiled at a little girl riding her brand new pink scooter around the salad bar.  When Olivia and her similarly young cousins made their way into the lobby for an improvised Easter egg hunt, we were shushed repeatedly by the volunteer at the welcome counter.   Thankfully, Grandpa recovered well and the deep fear of that Maundy Thursday heart attack was replaced by an Easter Sunday party.






The great drama that we reenact each year beginning with Ash Wednesday and leading up to crescendo of holy week gives us a chance to relive and remember the salvation story of Christ being led to a tomb and the great, mysterious party that follows.

I certainly hope that we don’t have a family medical emergency this year surrounding Olivia’s birthday.  I’d just as soon eat our Easter ham with family and friends and enjoy a little birthday party in the quiet of our own home this time.   However, even that birthday in the shadow of the intensive care until five years ago was still a wonderful party.  Because Jesus lives, all our personal Maundy Thursdays lead to a party in the end.


I recently realized that the subscription to a magazine we receive had expired.  I hurried to “renew” it in time so that we didn’t miss an issue.  We were joking at the recent Custer Lutheran Fellowship annual meeting (not your average annual meeting, but then again, not your average congregation either) that someone’s term on one of the ministry teams had “expired” – as if they were salami accidentally left on the counter – but fortunately the individual was willing to “renew” another term on the committee.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “renewal” since Custer Lutheran Fellowship was humbled to receive a National Clergy “Renewal” Grant from the Lilly Foundation.  Through the work of a four person committee (never think that a committee can’t accomplish amazing things!), Custer Lutheran Fellowship was awarded about $36,000 for “renewal” activities.  Much of the funds will pay for a sabbatical for me and my family this coming summer, however about one quarter of the funds are designated for congregational “renewal” activities.  Hopefully, you’ve heard about these activities – a Spanish language learning group; Dakota Road Music leading a workshop, concert and worship the weekend of January 21-22; and an exchange trip from Pastor Jairo Suárez and another lay leader from our sister church, San Pablo Lutheran Church in Bogotá, Colombia.

Our friend, Mr. Webster, suggests that “renew” means “to begin or take up again;” “to make effective for an additional period;” “to restore or replenish;” “to make, say, or do again;” and “to revive; reestablish.”  The bible too has a few things to say about being made new again.  Especially in the letters of the New Testament, it seems as though being found “in Christ” has to do with “renewal” (check-out for example: 2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 3:9-12, Romans 12:1-2). Unfortunately the “in Christ” part reminds us of the difficult mystery that often renewal comes only after a “death.”

So what does “renewal” look like to you? …a day off? …a hike to Little Devil’s Tower? …a week at home? …or maybe in Jamaica? …a good night’s sleep? …a few uninterrupted hours with your partner? …or with a good book? …or just alone? …in silence?

There is often a sense of “getting away from” something or someone or somewhere as we talk about “renewal,” but sometimes it’s just as much about “getting in touch with” something or someone or somewhere that’s been lost.  In all of it though, there seems to be a simple reality that comes with a recognized need for “renewal” – we are people who expire.  We don’t “last” long without certain things.  We get thirsty and need a renewing drink of water.  We get hungry and long to be satisfied.  We work too hard and yearn for Sabbath.  We are dust and without the renewing breath of life, to dust we shall once again return.

The season of Lent begins with this reminder on Ash Wednesday.  This Lent, you might ask what ways you yearn for renewal? …in your life? …in your health? …in your body? …in your mind? …in your spirit? …in your relationships? …in your community? …in the whole cosmos?

Someone once told me: “Not working is part of your job too” and quoted the commandment regarding Sabbath-keeping to back it up.  May we remember that “renewal” is part of the fabric of who we are.  May we be reminded that God’s gracious gift of “renewal” is part of the fabric of salvation as much as anything else.  And may you be renewed like a salami sandwich left on the counter, which ends up in the compost heap and turns into new soil that feeds the seeds of spring.

CLF Helps with Flood Relief

A small group from Custer Lutheran travelled to Minot, North Dakota (Pastor Kent’s hometown) to help clean up following one of the worst floods that city has ever seen.  About one in three homes was overtaken by flood waters and some spent over a month submerged.  Five members of Custer Lutheran Fellowship spent a couple of days helping in a few homes as well as helping members of Augustana Lutheran Church (which also serves Minot State University with a Lutheran campus minsitry).  Here’s a video of some of the work that was done at Augustana where workers hauled out moldy sheetrock from basement classrooms:

Here’s a picture of the days work – everything you see on the side of the street was hauled out by hand…

Many thanks to those who came and to those who included the group in their prayers.  It’s another example of Custer Lutheran Fellowship living out the ELCA’s motto… “God’s Work.  Our hands.”

The Spiritual Life and “to do” lists

Many years ago I was talking to my sister Nancy about a sermon that we had just heard.  I can’t remember what the pastor said, but I do  remember that Nancy didn’t find enough practical advice in the pastor’s words.  My sage advice was the following:  “Did you expect the pastor to tell you how to achieve spiritual perfection in ten easy steps?”  She responded, “Actually, I’d rather be told in three steps or less.”  We both laughed.

In the assigned epistle reading for this coming Sunday, Paul gives a twenty-one point list to the people of the congregation at Rome. He doesn’t promise spiritual perfection in his advice, but he certainly is practical.   Romans  12: 9-20 goes like this.

  1. Let love be genuine;
  2. hate what is evil,
  3. hold fast to what is good;
  4. love one another with mutual affection;
  5. outdo one another in showing honor.
  6. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.
  7. Rejoice in hope,
  8. be patient in suffering,
  9. persevere in prayer.
  10. Contribute to the needs of the saints;
  11. extend hospitality to strangers.
  12. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
  13. Rejoice with those who rejoice,
  14. weep with those who weep.
  15. Live in harmony with one another;
  16. do not be haughty,
  17. but associate with the lowly;
  18. do not claim to be wiser than you are.
  19. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.
  20. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19
  21. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God;

When I read this list, I thought it would make a good refrigerator magnet to hang next to grocery list and artwork by the kids.  Sometimes the spiritual life means a quiet prayer for a loved one.  Sometimes it is simply following a “to do” list.  May your spiritual live be lofty and down to earth at the same time.

ELCA gathering for Churchwide Assembly

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the denomination to which Custer Lutheran Fellowship belongs, will be gathering this week for its biennial assembly.  To follow the legislative actions of the assembly, watch live video of sessions, and to find out more information about the event you may click on this link.