Pastor Jonathan Linman

Rev. Pastor Jonathan Linman, PhD.Pastor Jonathan Linman begins his fourth decade of pastoral work with his call to lead and to serve as pastor of Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church. Ordained in 1989, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in the inner-city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2001, he became Director of the Center for Christian Spirituality and a Professor of Ascetical Theology at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church in New York City. In 2009, Pastor Linman began his work as Assistant to the Bishop for Faith and Leadership Formation in the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Spiritual Reflections (78)

Since we cannot assemble weekly in person for a full range of experiences of Christian community, I am endeavoring in the first weeks of my pastorate at Resurrection Church to offer weekly spiritual reflections in addition to my Sunday sermon videos. I see these mid-week written reflections as an exercise of my teaching ministry as a pastor, especially during this time of global pandemic and necessary sheltering at home and social distancing. Resurrection Church has a rich tradition of substantive adult Christian Education. These weekly reflections seek to fill, in some measure, the void created by the absence of our Sunday morning adult educational experiences. I long for the return of those Sunday morning offerings in person which feature the substantial gifts of our own members, but for now, I give you what I can in these weekly reflections. These messages also serve to nurture a sense of our Christian community during this time when we are apart.

May God in Christ bless your engagement with these pastoral offerings in the power of the Holy Spirit for your ongoing Christian formation for your journey of faith for such a time as this.

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Sermons (86)

Sermons from Pastor Jonathan Linman

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Week of the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Even amidst the pandemic’s ongoing, persistent disruptions of our routines at home, at work, at school, and at church, we also persist in leaning into a greater sense of normalcy in our congregational life together. Today, I want to invite your reflections with me on some upcoming momentous occasions in our congregation of significance for particular members and families in our congregation.

Funeral for Martha Simpson

The funeral for long-time member, Martha Simpson, will take place at Resurrection Church this coming Saturday, October 23 beginning at 2:00 pm. A reception will follow in our fellowship hall. Martha’s family kindly invites Resurrection members who knew Martha and their family to be present to support them in this time of grief, but also thankful remembrance of life in the light of the gospel. A former pastor at Resurrection, David Schafer, will offer the sermon and otherwise assist at the funeral liturgy. It would be great if our members returned in number to see and greet one of our former pastors, along with Martha’s family to support them at this time. Funerals are occasions not just for family members of the deceased, but for our whole congregation as we remember a life, but also celebrate the good news of Christ’s ultimate victory over death and the grave. Please consider yourself strongly encouraged to attend the funeral this Saturday.

First Communion

On the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost, this coming Sunday, October 24, Ethan Kramer will receive Holy Communion for the first. He will be joined at the communion rail by his mother, Abigail, and his grandfather. Again, this occasion is not just special for Ethan and his family, but for our whole congregation. A First Communion invites us all to consider the wonder and mystery and grace given when Christ’s very self is made known to us in the breaking of bread. I invite you even now to remember your own First Communion. How old were you? What do you remember about that day? How has your experience of the Eucharist changed or stayed the same of the course of the years and decades? Bring these reflections with you to the table this Sunday as we celebrate with Ethan.


A week later after on October 31, two of our youth will affirm their baptism in the rite commonly known as Confirmation. This will take place on the day that we will observe as Reformation Sunday, giving thanks for our own particular Lutheran heritage, but also praying for the day when Christ’s church will be visibly more united for the sake of our reconciling witness to the world. Here again, affirmation of baptism is significant not just for those making their affirmation, and being confirmed. This is an occasion of significance for our whole congregation, for it takes the whole Christian community to raise up persons in faith under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Together, with those affirming their baptism, we will all communally confess our faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Together, we will promise to support those making affirmation and pray for them in their life of faith. Together, we will rejoice with those confirmed: “we rejoice with you in the life of baptism. Together we will give thanks and praise to God and proclaim the good news to all the world.” (Affirmation of Baptism rite in ELW pew edition, p. 236). Think about what you’re pledging to do with and for our confirmands in our communal life as a congregation.

And I invite to think about the day of your own confirmation, when you affirmed your baptism. I, too, was confirmed on a Reformation Sunday in 1976, the year of our nation’s bicentennial celebrations. It was a glorious fall day in my small, Midwestern hometown. The sun beamed brightly in the nave, and the stained-glass windows illuminated the red-colored altar and pulpit paraments in the brilliance and richness of their color. In that room multiple generations of my family were baptized and confirmed, married and buried. In my mind’s eye is see the link of continuity between my baptism, my confirmation, and my ordination to word and sacrament ministry which also took place in that space. You have your own confirmation stories to tell. Remember them. Tell them!

I also invite you to stay after church on October 31, when members of our Education Committee have a special occasion planned for our confirmands during coffee hour time to help them celebrate the day.

All Saints Sunday

I am told that All Saints’ Sunday has been a very special day at Resurrection Church, especially musically, when our usual excellence in worship music has been enhanced the more with special musical performances. While we will not enjoy any extra musical offerings beyond our usual musical routine this year, we will observe All Saints by remembering in prayer those who among our church membership and families who have died in the past year. Kindly offer names of those whom you wish to be remembered on All Saints’ Sunday, November 7 by emailing me: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Barbara Verdile, Our Regular Music Director!

Finally, it’s my privilege to announce officially that our Congregation Council voted at their October meeting on a search committee’s recommendation that Barbara Verdile be hired as our regular Director Music at Resurrection Church. Thanks be to God, and to Barbara who has accepted this invitation. While we have known Barbara and her musical gifts for two years now in her capacity as interim music director, the search committee did engage Barbara in shared discernment about the call we and she sensed for her to serve as our regular church musician. Indeed, we are thankful for this outcome, another expression of our persistence in claiming some normal routine amidst the ongoing effects of the pandemic.

With these vignettes, it should be clear that the usual momentous routines of our Christian life together proceed and insist even during an ongoing crisis season of challenge to those very routines that we hold dear. Thanks be to God for these normal, but profound occasions in our life together.

For Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Pentecost 21/Lectionary 29B, Mark 10:35-45

James and John, sons of Zebedee, also known as the sons of thunder, came to Jesus with a bold, perhaps thunderous, request: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

That’s quite something, but you know what? I applaud their shameless honesty. Because if we are honest with ourselves, many of our prayers can end up sounding like “Lord, please do for us whatever we’re asking you to do.”

Such prayers understandably emerge often from the circumstances of our acute suffering. If that’s the case, pray those prayers. God will sort it all out. But purely self-centered prayers can also come from our lesser angels, for we enter into the life of faith with many mixed motivations informed by the old, sinful Adam in us. We sinners are prone to a tit for tat kind of spirituality driven by what faith in God can do for us.

Again, let’s be honest with ourselves – some of what motivates our church attendance has a lot to do with our expectations of what we personally might get out of being here.

Pastors are not exempt from this dynamic. In fact, pastors might be more prone to self-serving professional motives than many. Given our fallen state, we enter into pastoral ministry and other forms of leadership in the church in part so that we can be personally fed and egotistically puffed up in one way or another. Religious leadership is very seductive in these ways and can attract a lot of the wrong people for the wrong reasons.

Which brings us back to James and John, among the circle of the closest disciples and leaders. Jesus asked the sons of thunder what they wanted. Again, they were shamelessly honest and asked something over the top in keeping with their nickname. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

That’s quite a request indeed, again revealing the glory seeking that is often behind the motivations to go into public religious leadership.

Jesus was also shamelessly honest in his reply to James and John: “You do not know what you are asking.” Jesus then basically asked them in response: are you able to suffer the things that I am about to suffer?

James and John offered an impetuous, unthinking response: “We are able.”

Jesus then prophetically responds in essence, yes, they’ll undergo suffering in Jesus’ name, but it’s still not Jesus’ authority to grant them to sit at his right or left in glory.

This whole exchange provoked the ire of the other ten disciples who took offense at James’ and John’s pompous request.

In response, Jesus then claimed another occasion to teach the disciples. He said, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers are domineering and lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.”

Gentile rulers, namely the Roman emperors and their governors, were indeed ruthless in their exercise of raw power. They were truly tyrants. Jewish people in Jesus’ day knew this full well from their communal first-hand experience under Roman imperial oppression. Jesus knew tyrannical rule from his time on the cross, a tool of deadly humiliation by those in power.

We’ve seen tyrants throughout human history. And it’s shocking to me today to see how many people in populist, nationalist movements are attracted to authoritarian leaders, so-called strongmen – and yes, they are almost always men….

Jesus, of course, teaches about a different way of leadership. In contrast to the Gentile rulers lording it over their subjects as tyrants, Jesus says, “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

Then in reference to himself, Jesus concludes: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life [as] a ransom for many.”

What does this servant leadership look like in particular? In the case of Jesus of Nazareth, this leadership has the shape of a cross. That Mark refers here to Jesus giving his life as a ransom for many is yet another pointing to the Passion, the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the atoning effects of Jesus’ self-offering on the cross in love.

But we also see poetic expressions of such servant leadership in the servant song in today’s first reading from Isaiah, passages made famous to many of us by Handel’s Messiah. “Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:4-5) Reading aloud these words, I cannot help but hear the music of Handel which adds to the depth, poignancy, and gravitas of Isaiah’s prophetic vision of the suffering servant.

The author of Hebrews, today’s second reading, also reveals the nature of Jesus’ servant leadership, conceived in terms of the priestly nature of Jesus’ ministry, where it reads: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Hebrews 5:7) Christ, as our high priest, a mediator between God and humanity, interceded and intercedes on our behalf, and did and does so with empathy, in suffering with us, expressed in loud cries and tears.

This is what it means for Jesus to exercise servant leadership.

But today’s encounter with Jesus in Mark does not end with what Jesus did. No, Jesus calls James and John and the other disciples – and ultimately us – also to the life of servant leadership.

Here’s what Mark reports that Jesus said to James and John: “The cup [of suffering] that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism [of martyrdom] with which I am baptized, you will be baptized….” These words echo through the centuries to us today, we who claim to follow Jesus.

Here’s the thing, engaging again in a moment of reality therapy: How can broken, sinful people who are still beguiled by the ways of worldly power and glory ever hope to be imitators of Christ in servant leadership in how we go about the business of leadership in the church and in the world?

We, of course, cannot do it on our own. That’s the bad news. The good news is that in Christ, we have help. Jesus endured the baptism of his death on the cross which was transformed into the reality of resurrected life. When we are baptized, we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, and thus receive as a gift Christ’s power in en-Spirited sacramentality, to take up the cross to follow him. In short, Christ Jesus leads the way to and opens the door for the possibility of our servant leadership.

Moreover, when we drink from the sacramental cup, we take in what Christ did when he drank the cup of his own suffering. Because Christ drank this cup, we are emboldened to drink from this cup as well, empowering us when we suffer in Jesus’ name. Likewise, when we eat the bread, which for Jesus was bread of tears on the eve before his death on the cross, we receive from Christ what enabled him and us to persevere through a vale of tears.

Think about what happens when we eat and drink at our meals. Whether it’s meat or vegetable, we take into ourselves in dead form what was a living organism. We ingest all of its nutrients, everything that made for its life and vitality. We cannot live without consuming, eating and drinking, that which once also was alive, even if we are vegans. In meat and vegetable, we consume the energy of the sun in the form of carbon, the energies of which make all of life possible.

Eating and drinking, therefore, even commonly understood in our ordinary, everyday life experience, shares in dynamics that parallel and suggest death and resurrection.

How much more so when it is Christ’s very self that we consume. Christ is the cup from which we drink. In drinking from this cup, we take on the energy of the Son – not the solar entity, s-u-n, but the Son, s-o-n, of the living God.

Wow. That is quite something. So, we are not left without the means through which we can be empowered to engage in servant leadership in our ministry and mission.

Another way of putting it is perhaps this: We are what we eat. When we eat and drink Christ, we incorporate his very presence and power which makes it possible for us, even feebly, to offer ourselves to others in loving service.

Still more, that which is foreign to us, alien to us, apart from us, in drinking and eating, we take in, incorporating that otherness into ourselves to become what had been foreign to us, and then to do what is foreign to our nature, namely, to serve and not to be served.

In this sacramental case, it is God’s alien righteousness, a righteousness not our own, which is Christ’s gift to us, that which we eat and drink.

It’s a marvel. So it is that we proclaim, “for as often as [we] eat this bread and drink the cup, [we] proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26)
Then we also proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Thus, through sacramental means in being bathed in the water of baptism, and in eating and drinking in Holy Communion, we can approximate becoming in fits and starts the servant leaders Christ calls us to be precisely because we take on, incorporate Christ’s very powers, his very dynamism, into ourselves so to do. Again, we are what we eat. Or we become what we eat – as Luther said, little Christs for the sake of the world.

Thus, in the length and breadth of Christian history, countless saints immersed in word and sacrament have offered to the world their servant leadership in Jesus’ name, servant leader saints like Martin Luther King, Jr, prophet for justice and martyr; Elizabeth Fedde, Lutheran deaconess who served the downtrodden in Brooklyn; Perpetua and Felicity and companions, martyrs; Oscar Romero, martyr; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyr; Jan Hus, martyr; Bartolome de Las Casas, servant of justice for indigenous people; Florence Nightingale, servant in nursing; Dag Hammarskjold, servant in diplomatic service – to name just a few of those whom we commemorate in our Lutheran calendar of commemorations, persons who offered themselves in loving service in Christ-like fashion.

Thus, too, in Christ, and in communion with countless servant saints, we go out into the world enabled, empowered by word and sacrament to lead in our own fledgling versions of serving. Thanks be to God. Amen. 

Friday, 08 January 2021 14:01

The Events of January 6, 2021

Dear Friends in Christ:

On Wednesday morning, the day of Epiphany, I recorded and uploaded my sermon for this coming Sunday, the Baptism of Our Lord. Then Wednesday afternoon happened. What a difference a few hours can make in what I might address in a sermon! Nonetheless, my sermon for Baptism of Our Lord has a relevant and important gospel message for the particularities of our time in the life of the world. Thus, I offer this special message to you concerning the events that occurred on the afternoon of the festival of Epiphany. Consider this message an anticipatory addendum to my Sunday sermon, or even an additional sermon in and of itself.

A popular saying is actually from the prophet Hosea: “For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” (Hosea 8:7a) Words that form speech are carried on the winds from our lungs. Words matter. Words do things; they have enormous power. Words can generate storms. Here’s how the writer of the letter of James (the study of which is the focus of a new congregational Bible Study) says it: “5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.” (James 3:5-10)

Consider the power of a word, the N word, and the social taboo against uttering it. In that word is cruel power to degrade and dehumanize, so much so that people of good will guard against giving voice to this word.

Some might say words are just words. What’s the harm in speaking our minds without editing our speech and choosing our words carefully? Well, we saw the power of words and of speech and their ill effects in visceral, raw, violent display on Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill, when mobs of people, incited by speech from various leaders and on various media, stormed the Capitol building and put a temporary stop to other forms of speech that focused on the peaceful transfer of power, a hallmark of democracy. It was an astonishing and dangerous display, the bitter fruit of months and years of forms of speech that glorified grievance, anger, fear, racism, and more, all forms of speech that serve to destroy, desecrate, to tear down, to end in the ways of chaos and death. Words that deal in desecration and death carry spirits, energies of powers and principalities that are sourced in darkness and evil, in diabolical spirits of deception and false accusation.

But, thanks be to God, that’s not the whole story. Words also serve to create, build up, to nurture life. The first reading for this coming Sunday consists of the first verses of the first creation story in the book of Genesis where “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:2a). A “wind from God swept over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2b). This wind carried the voice of God, the word from God: “‘Let there be light;’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) Once again, words made things happen. In this case, divine words brought light where there was only darkness, order where there was a void of chaos, and ultimately the beautiful created world we inhabit. Such words were full of the creative, life-giving energies of God, that is to say, the Spirit of God.

That same Spirit was active when Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan, the gospel reading for this Sunday from Mark. The Spirit there, “descending like a dove on [Jesus]” spoke a word from God: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:10b-11) As at the creation, this word from God served to proclaim and embody and give full expression to sacrality, love, relationship, good pleasure and ultimately the world’s salvation, its healing balm in Jesus Christ, the word of God made flesh.

Again, words matter. They have consequences. Words can serve to deal in death. They can serve to give and to nurture life. Words can tear down. They can build up. Spiritual energies are carried in words and in speech. Those spiritual energies can be demonic. They can be divine. Words resulting in ideas and policies ultimately give shape to realities all around us, realities that can degrade, and realities that make for well-being.

What are we to do in response to what unfolded on Wednesday afternoon on Capitol Hill? The forces of darkness at work there are not going away. Those forces have been around for centuries, but until more recently these energies inhabited more the fringes of society. Now, it’s as if these forces have been unleashed much more in the mainstream of public speech and popular media. Time will tell the extent to which the forces unleashed on Wednesday will persist and spread or retreat back into shadowy corners. So, again, what are we called upon to do and how are we to respond? As individuals? As disciples of Christ? As a congregation? As a nation? It may be too early to tell and to name concrete, specific actions. Let us be in conversation and communal discernment about the emergent particulars.

But in the meantime, there is some clarity. I believe that we are called upon to use our words and speech to name and call out language that emanates from dark and diabolical places, and to do so boldly and publicly. Too many people of good will have been passive and silent for too long, having the effect of appeasing those whose speech runs roughshod over norms of civility, giving the language of violence free reign that results in deeds of violence.

We can attend to our language and the speech of others at home, in the workplace, in places of commerce, at school, on social media, and yes, in church, nurturing in our own speech and in calling out the speech of others, language that makes for life and sacredness, words that are dimensions of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, namely, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22b-23a)

Vigilant attention to the words we choose is no small thing. It can be hard work, especially when the unseemly spirits in us are inclined to lash out in kind at others whose speech demeans, degrades and desacralizes. Moreover, holding others accountable for their speech also is profoundly difficult and requires a great deal of courage. But it is a sacred calling to take seriously the power of language and its effects for good and for ill. For again, speech results in behavior, in actions, in realities that make for life and for death.

Who knows what the coming days, weeks, months, and years will bring and require of us? Again, time will tell. But we are not left alone in these days and in the sacred work to which we are called. The Word and the Spirit that were present at creation and which were present at the Baptism of Our Lord are also present with us to this very day, at our own baptisms, in our own study of and engagement with sacred words of scripture, in words of forgiveness, in our holy conversations with each other. The Word from God, the Spirit of God, give shape and expression to the words we are beckoned to choose, and to the loving, life-giving speech we are compelled to offer for the sake of the world and its healing. In short, God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is with us, leading us all the way in our holy calling for such a time as this, come what may.

God in Christ help us, our nation, and our world,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Dear Friends in Christ:

I want to let you all know that we just received confirmation that my son's surgery is indeed scheduled to take place tomorrow, Good Friday. This will be major surgery to correct the vascular malformation in Nathan's brain that first caused his stroke. Thus, Nathan, his mother, and I covet your prayers for effective, uncomplicated outcomes to this procedure.

Needless to say, my observance of home worship during this Holy Week will focus on my keeping vigil at my son's side, even as I also intend to share with you in using our congregation's worship resources to mark these Three Days. With Nathan's surgery in mind, I created video files of all of my Holy Week and Easter sermons early, so they are all uploaded and ready to go.

I don't know how many days Nathan will be in the hospital—it all depends on how the surgery and his recovery go. While attending to my son is my first priority in the coming days, I also intend to engage in my pastoral responsibilities as well, keeping abreast of church-related emails and phone messages and also preparing sermons for the next Sundays in Easter.

Thanks in advance for your prayers for us, and may you all have blessed and holy Three Days during these most trying and unprecedented times in the life of our congregation and in the world.

Sent with my own prayer for all of you in our life together.....

In Jesus' name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I had indicated in my midweek message last week that there would not be a message this week because of my time in Phoenix with Nathan. However, our Congregation Council has directed me to communicate with you their initial support for a set of new banners for the Washington Blvd. entrance that would replace the Black Lives Matter sign. Before making a decision about placing new banners, the Council wishes to communicate this possibility to the wider congregation membership and to seek responses to this proposal.

You may recall that I shared with you in a recent midweek message a set of recommendations that I offered to the Council concerning our public witness as a congregation alongside our commitment to becoming an ever more welcoming and inclusive congregation community. Before acting on that set of recommendations, the Council wanted more time to reflect on them. Much of the concern had to do with the Black Lives Matter sign and what might replace it if we were to remove it. In response to that, I developed an amended set of recommendations which offered the suggestion of a set of new banners that would replace the Black Lives Matter sign. What follows is the narrative that I offered to Council at the recent October meeting.

The amendment to the recommendations is actually quite simple: to remove the Black Lives Matter banner from the second-floor windows at the Washington Blvd. entrance and to replace it with a set of three banners (approximately 3x5 feet each) preliminarily designed as pictured below:

mission statement banners

In descriptive summary, this set of banners:

  • Identifies our congregation on the side of the building at the main entrance that does not otherwise prominently name our church;
  • Expresses the biblical language of what I propose to become our congregation’s official, publicly-focused mission statement;
  • Features colorful logos and the websites of our ELCA’s three expressions of the church, that is, our congregation, our synod, and our churchwide organization.

Here are further rationales for approving this recommendation to replace the BLM banner with a new set of banners:

  • I sensed during the conversation at our September meeting a good deal of concern that if we take the BLM banner down, what does that say to our community? This alternative actually says a lot to the wider community about our self-understanding as a church and gives websites where people can go to find a great deal more information.
  • I am called to be Pastor to our whole congregation, which includes people across the spectrum of political viewpoints. My calling to attend to all members of our church is being made more difficult by the ongoing divide in our congregation that the BLM banner has provoked. This conflict has actually grown in some intensity since our return to worshiping indoors. The proposed alternative set of banners may be a compelling compromise to possibly unite people across the political spectrum.
  • Retaining the BLM banner does not necessarily advance our anti-racism efforts. In fact, keeping the banner up may be impeding what will need to be our capacity as a congregation to engage in frank, open, respectful conversation and education about racism and efforts to become anti-racist.
  • I believe that the BLM banners served an important purpose in provoking us to begin to deal with the problem of racism. Now is the time to engage the real work of antiracism formation and community-building as advocated for in the additional recommendations I offered in September. Thus, it may be that the BLM banner has outlived its useful purpose at this point.
  • It is likely the case that we will see membership loss because of the pandemic. Surveys reveal that up to a third of formerly active church members may not return to church at all. Given this, we cannot afford additional membership loss due to the banner controversy. RELC is in major transition as a congregation and is at a crossroads in terms of its future. We need to enter that future as strong as possible in terms of membership numbers and member activity and commitment.
  • Among our approved vision statements, the call to build a deeper sense of community in our congregation is listed as the first priority among the other vision statements. The divisiveness provoked in relation to the BLM banner does not at this point serve our work of deepening a sense of community among our members.
  • The phrase, “do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with God” has a history (dating to the consultant process during the pastoral interim) of being well-received in our congregation as a summary statement of our self-understanding. I believe it communicates to the wider community the kind of message we want to send, inclusive of a passion for justice. Moreover, the phrase is biblical and thus less prone to partisan or ideological misunderstanding.
  • Identifying the websites of our congregation, along with our synod, and churchwide organization, is in keeping with my experience of our congregation as one which embraces our relatedness to the wider of church.
  • Moreover, websites are the new front doors to the church. It’s appropriate that our church’s various websites are named literally at our front door!

Therefore, I offer to you this amended set of recommendations:

  1. That the Black Lives Matter banner be removed and replaced with a three-panel banner with our congregation’s name, statements from Micah 6:8, the logos related to our congregation, synod, and churchwide organization, along with these entities’ website addresses.
  2. That the removal of the signs and placement of new signage be accompanied by communication overseen by the Pastor to the whole congregation clearly expressing the rationale for removing the signs as well as stating a commitment to engage in intentional inclusive community building initiatives in our congregation.
  3. That the Council be directed to make plans for activities that serve to repair, renew, and deepen our communal life together as a congregation.
  4. That the Council furthermore be directed to make plans for activities that also serve to make our congregation more inclusive of the wide variety of races, ethnicities, cultures, and nationalities increasingly represented in the greater Arlington area.
  5. That the Pastor and others engage in teaching in the congregation about the nature of the relationship between church and state from Lutheran perspectives rooted in scripture, the Creeds and the Lutheran Confessions.
  6. That all of these efforts would be inclusive of the widest possible representation of congregation members reflecting and honoring the diversity of opinion that exists in our community.
  7. That amidst and informed by these educational and formational efforts, a policy/protocol statement be drafted in due course that outlines criteria for moral discernment and decision making about the nature of our congregation’s public witness to our moral commitments.

Again, our Congregation Council wanted me to share all of this with you before they make a decision about a new set of banners. It is our strong desire to be more widely consultative in the exercise of leadership in our congregation, in keeping with recommendation 6 above. Your responses will inform the Council’s discernment and decision.

Thus, as your Pastor, and on behalf of our Congregation Council, I invite your responses to this set of recommendations which has as its initial focus the possibility of new banners for the Washington Blvd. side of our church building. You may This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or schedule a time to talk on the phone or in person one-on-one. I also invite you to share your responses in a more communal setting in person after the coffee hour after worship this coming Sunday, October 17 at approximately 11:45 in the fellowship hall.

May God in Christ continue to lead us faithfully forward under the guidance of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman


Week of the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

This week’s installment covers some miscellaneous territory.

First, These Weekly Messages:

I have been writing these almost weekly columns for seventeen months at this point in our shared life together. It was the pandemic and the fact that we could not gather in person a year and a half ago that motivated me to offer these weekly messages. I understood this platform as a means to engage in outreach to you through the written word, in a fashion that perhaps parallels the letters that comprise so much of the Christian scriptures in the New Testament – not that my musings would ever achieve scriptural status! No, this medium has been a means for you all to get to know me better as your Pastor, especially at a time when our routines were much truncated. Moreover, I conceived of these weekly messages also as an expression of my teaching ministry as a Pastor.

What pertained seventeen months ago still pertains today in many ways. The pandemic continues to limit our life together, even if we are doing more in person, especially with our Sunday worship. There have been times when I have thought maybe I need not write these columns each and every week. Maybe I should transition to twice a month or monthly, or on an as needed basis. But then each week presents new topics that I feel drawn to address in ways that I cannot appropriately address in a sermon or in other forms of teaching and interaction. I keep an ongoing list of possible topics, and circumstances in church and world keep adding to that list. At first, I wondered if there were enough topics to keep me writing week after week. As it turns out, our life together these days supplies plenty to write about.

It occurs to me that these midweek messages are becoming an archival record of my pastorate at Resurrection Church. Thus, these written statements also become part of our congregation’s history at a strikingly unique time in world history. Moreover, these messages are additionally an expression of our public ministry in that they live online and are widely available to those who may find their way to them.

All of this said, I confess that I wonder how many Resurrection members are drawn to reading and engaging these musings on a regular basis. Nonetheless, I persist in affirming and claiming the importance of the midweek message as an integral feature of my current ministry here.

I also want to reiterate an offer I made months and months ago, and that is to invite you to suggest to me topics you would like me to address in coming midweek messages. True correspondence is best a two-way street. I would love to know what’s on your hearts and minds, questions you have about our life together, about our church’s witness in response to our wider world. Don’t be shy in suggesting possible topics to me!

Secondly, Office Hours:

Now that we have embarked on a new program year with something of a return to normal-seeming routines, Office Administrator, Monika Carney, and I have resumed more or less regular office hours when one or the other of us, or both of us, are in the church office in person. These basic hours are Monday-Friday, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm, though there are occasions when meetings, contingencies, errands, or emergencies may take one or both of us out of the office. So, you may want to call or email us before stopping by to confirm that someone will be here.

That said, we welcome your presence in the church building on days other than Sundays. Such casual encounters often result in important conversations about our life together, and also find their way to becoming occasions of Mutual Conversation and Consolation, which I’ve written about previously, and which Luther named as one of the means of grace alongside preaching, baptism, eucharist, and confession and forgiveness as forms of the gospel. When you’re here in the building for whatever sets of reasons, we never fail to gain what I am fond of calling a Christian quorum – “for where two or three are gathered in [Jesus’] name, [Jesus is] there among [us].” (Matthew 18:20) This is the only numbers game worth playing in church…. Please know that I am available to you as Pastor when I am in the office, even as I am available to you as Pastor when I am out and about visiting you in your homes and with you on other occasions of our life together, virtually or in person.

Finally, My Whereabouts This Coming Week:

In order to seek to give faithful expression to my calling as a dad, I will travel on October 6 to Phoenix where I will spend time with my son, Nathan, during his fall break from school, giving us opportunity for quality time together. I’ll return on Wednesday, October 13. During this week away from Arlington, I will continue to attend to my pastoral work remotely, and will be available via email, Zoom, and by phone, working half days and claiming the rest as vacation time. On Sunday, October 10, the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, we will welcome our member, Pastor Gordon Lathrop, as our preaching and presiding minister. Thanks be to God for Gordon’s willingness to serve us in this capacity.

Because of my time in Phoenix, I will take a break from offering a midweek message next week. But these messages will return, to be sure.

With prayerful best wishes to you all in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Pentecost 19/Lectionary 27B, Mark 10:2-16

Today’s gospel reading does not give us any room to avoid saying something about marriage and divorce.

When asked by the religious leaders, the Pharisees, if it was lawful for a husband to divorce his wife, Mark reports that Jesus ultimately rooted his own teaching in what we heard in today’s first reading from the second creation story in the book of Genesis where it states that a man and a woman become one flesh in marriage.

Listen again to how Jesus puts it, paraphrasing Genesis, “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Then Jesus in Mark adds this zinger by way of conclusion about divorce: “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” In short, don’t get divorced.

That teaching hits very close to home for me. I think most of you are aware that I am a divorced man. The dissolution of our marriage, which we undertook carefully, in conversation with spiritual and psychological counselors and with our respective bishops and families, was what we discerned was the best course of action for us. It was an amicable separation that continues to allow for effective teamwork in the parenting of our son.

However, that said, the reality of our divorce weighs heavily on me to this day. In fact, there is not a day that passes that I do not feel the burden of the decision that we made, especially as it pertains to the added complexities of my trying to be a faithful father to our child.

My own particular expressions of human brokenness and sin fall heavily on my shoulders.

But when it comes to Jesus’ challenging teachings, there is not one of us in this room, or in any Christian or mortal assembly anywhere, that can escape the full weight of the divine law and its claims on us.

For several weeks earlier this year our Monday evening Zoom Bible Study engaged the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel where Jesus’ teachings are relentless and leave no one off the hook.

Just to give an example, listen to this one from the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:21-22) And it goes on and on like that for several chapters. The weight of the Law falls heavily on each one of us in our own ways according to our particular sins of commission and sins of omission.

Because of the difficult teachings of Jesus recorded in the gospels, I am so very glad that today’s gospel reading does not end with Jesus’ subsequent teaching that divorced people who remarry commit adultery!

Thanks be to God that the scholars who put together our lectionary readings included the verses about people bringing their children to Jesus so that Jesus might bless the children by laying his hands on them.

In the spirit of “children should be seen and not heard,” and assuming that children are at the bottom of the totem pole and the end of the line, the disciples spoke sternly to the people who were bringing their kids to Jesus.

The good news is that Jesus was indignant about the disciples’ seeking sternly to turn the people and kids away. I am heartened that Jesus’ indignation can ultimately be a source of good news for us, of gospel and not just law!

Here again is what Jesus had to say: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the dominion of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the dominion of God as a little child will not enter it.” Then Jesus took the little children “up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”

At first glance, that only little children can receive the dominion of God seems like a proof text for our practice of infant baptism. But, of course, we cannot leave it at that.

For us adults, metaphorically speaking, what might it mean for us to receive and enter the dominion of God as little children? What might it mean for the dominion of God to belong to little children? What’s so significant about being a little child? Or being like a little child?

A couple of Sundays ago we first saw Jesus in Mark extol the virtues of a little child. Today we have an opportunity to go deeper.
Little children are:

  • Largely helpless on their own. They are radically dependent and need the loving care of parental others.
  • Immensely receptive, sponge-like in their capacities to learn loads of new information with innate curiosity. The German phrase that Luther uses in the Small Catechism, that is usually translated “what does this mean?” is was ist das? This German phrase is better understood as a child’s question, “what’s that?” – giving expression to the little child’s innate curiosity.
  • Resilient and strong – I remember my amazement when I first held my son, Nathan, as a day-old infant and just how strong he was when he arched his back.
  • Innocent, pure, uncomplicated, unburdened by decades of complexities and layers of things we adults add to situations, relationships, circumstances.

In short, when you add together all of their qualities, it seems to me that little children are quite capable of faith, of trust, in its most elemental and primal and visceral forms.

That is to say, Jesus teaches in Mark that to receive and enter into the dominion of God, faith, conceived as trust, is prerequisite, and little children are well poised for faith, to be trusting. It’s in their nature. And all of the qualities I listed about what it is to be child-like serve the ultimate end of faith, of trust.

Faith makes for the open door for our entry into God’s dominion, God’s reign. Or as we Lutherans are fond of saying, we are justified, made fit for entry into God’s dominion, by God’s grace as a gift, effective through faith. In short, it’s justification by faith.

Thus, adults are called upon to confess that when it comes to God and things divine, we never escape being little children. We are invited to acknowledge this reality in greater humility. We do well to allow the carefully constructed façades of adulthood be stripped away that we might become more child-like.

In fact, the process of growing older does a lot of that stripping away for us as we return more and more to child-like status. In my late father’s last years, when Alzheimer’s disease robbed him of vitality and capacities, he became more and more child-like, even to the point of enjoying the company of a stuffed animal whom he named “Buddy.” I saw this as charming, and not a cause for pathos, as dad was giving expression to the child-like qualities that make for receptivity to the dominion of God.

But even in years of health and vitality, Jesus, recorded in Mark, invites us to claim our status as little children in the eyes of God.

Again, I am much relieved that these grace-full verses about receiving the dominion of God in child-like faith follow immediately on the heels of the devastating-to-me- law-filled teaching about divorce. In acknowledging honestly my sin-stained frailty, I am freed by mercy to claim my radical dependence on God and God’s forgiveness and grace.

But there’s additional good news in today’s readings. The author of Hebrews, in our second reading, extols the virtues of Jesus Christ in language that sounds both like a hymn and a creed. “We do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (Hebrews 2:9)

Then the author concludes: “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:10)

And here’s the wonderful, life-saving kicker: “For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters…” (Hebrews 2:11b) Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. Jesus is not ashamed to call us siblings.

Because Jesus is not ashamed of us – as divorcees, as sinners of all manner of other stripes – we are freed from being ashamed of ourselves, shamelessness being another quality of little children!

In Christ’s shamelessness for us we can claim without shame our own child-like dependencies and ultimately child-like faith in all humility, honesty, simplicity, and more.

What a healing gift for our shamed and shameful world, that we are able in Christ and by his Spirit, to engage each other in renewed child-like simplicity, receptivity, trust. Communities marked by such child-like qualities are leaven in the loaf of our wider society, inviting others also to rediscover their child-like qualities that soften the edges of our cruel, adult world. Maybe then we can finally learn how to play nicely together as all God’s children.

So, when you come forward to receive with thanks the Eucharistic gifts in bread and wine, Jesus’ very self, I invite you to imagine you’re being fed by our Mother Christ, as the medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich, would put it, appropriately, faithfully, offering female, matronly images for Christ. Claim the orality of receiving into yourself the sacred bread and wine as an adult version of the child at the mother’s breast to receive all the nourishment needed for growth and flourishing. Imagine yourself cradled in Christ’s loving arms with his hands laid on you in blessing.

And when you leave this room and pass the water-filled font, remember that this vessel with its water is the womb that gives us all birth as God’s children. And with that awareness go back into the world in renewed child-like faith to be leaven for the healing and thriving of all of God’s children. Amen.

Week of the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I have previously written in these midweek messages about our congregation’s shared vision statements to guide our mission and ministry. A draft of these vision statements was first presented to you at our annual congregational meeting in January of this year. The Council then edited and prioritized the statements at their annual retreat earlier this year. That version was then made available to you as a congregation during this past summer. Virtual and in-person events were scheduled over the course of the summer to receive additional feedback about the vision statements. At its meeting in September, the Council voted to approve the current draft of the statements. Now we embark on the task of making specific, concrete plans to live into the statements of vision to chart a course for our life together.

The vision statements are intended to guide the planning and work of the Council, of committees, staff members, and me as Pastor. The eleven statements of vision are not intended for the wider public. It’s an internal document essentially. So, what about a simple statement of our vision for mission and ministry that is geared toward a wider public? That was one of the questions that came up repeatedly during conversations about the several vision statements.

Yes, I do believe that we need a simple, succinct statement that reflects who we are and what we intend to become as a congregation. And I believe that such a statement is precisely what we would offer the wider community, on our website, on signs or banners, and more. And I believe that we have the source for such a statement, one that is scriptural, namely, Micah 6:8, “[The Lord] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Distilling it down to a simpler form, this is the essence: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with God.

This verse from the Hebrew prophet Micah was featured prominently in the congregation’s self-study reports that were generated as part of a process with a consultant during the interim period that preceded the process to call a new pastor. I am told that there was a good deal of appreciative energy around Micah 6:8 in that it seemed to sum up nicely Resurrection’s self-understanding as a congregation as well as its aspirations for its future.

I have been aware of the presence of Micah 6:8 in our life together during the many months of my pastorate with you thus far. But I did not want to rush our shared communal discernment to simply assume that Micah 6:8 would form the basis for our publicly stated vision. But the more I have lived with this verse in our life together in relation to what is happening in the wider world, the more I am convinced that Micah 6:8 is indeed an appropriate, straightforward guiding statement for us as a congregation. It says in a few words that which I discern is what we want to communicate to the wider world.

To ground our further consideration, here’s some brief, initial reflection and commentary on the three simple, but profound, statements.

Do Justice:

Any talk of justice among Lutherans needs to relate understandings of justice to God’s justification of us sinners, namely, that we are justified by God’s grace as a gift effective through faith, apart from our works, even of pursuing justice. Justice and justification share the same root in English, and they are related theologically. God’s justice is a merciful justice, motivated by love. Our seeking to do justice, to do the works that make for justice among people and nations, is rooted in and emerges from our having received with thanksgiving God’s merciful and forgiving justice to and for us. Thus, out of thanks for grace given, we get to do justice in serving our neighbors in love. We don’t have to do justice in order to get right with God. In true Christian liberty, which is a freedom for the other, we seek to do justice with no strings attached. Moreover, in Christian freedom, pursuing justice is wide open and can take many different forms depending on our social context, its needs and opportunities. This theological way of thinking about justice is not ideological. I sense in members at Resurrection a concern about social justice and the importance of this theme for our public witness and initiatives as a congregation. But I also recognize, affirm, and celebrate that there is great deal of opinion in our congregation about what specifically pursuing justice might mean, with varied opinions representing the spectrum of political views from right to left and in the center. We will discern together what it means to do justice, and to be forgiven by our just, but merciful God. For we envision Resurrection as a community of moral discernment seeking ways to make public witness to the calls of God’s justice.

Love Kindness:

Doing justice by itself can have rough edges – all law and no gospel. Thus, the importance of following the invitation to do justice with the plea to love kindness. Love. Kindness. Two magnificent words, theological and otherwise. Our love of kindness emerges from God’s loving kindness. We love because God first loved us (cf.1 John 4:19). God’s justice is merciful, and thus, kind. We are kind because God is kind and merciful to us. Love is passionate. Thus, we have a passionate love for kindness, a disposition in scarce supply in our wider culture, nation, and world. Loving kindness is therefore a marvelous witness to our unkind world. Kind people are leaven in the loaf of communities, helping them to rise to a kinder level of communal engagement. Importantly, I have experienced Resurrection as a kind and respectful community of people. Moreover, working to build an ever-deepening sense of community among us, the fruit of loving kindness, is the first prioritized vision statement among our set of visions. Loving kindness advances such community building efforts.

Walk Humbly with God:

Walking with God. God walking with us. This also captures central elements of our envisioned life together, rooted in and growing from the centrality of the Sunday worshiping assembly, our education and formation programs, our desired outcome for a rich spiritual life together. We are on a journey with God, and God is not finished with us – hence the central importance of ongoing education and formation our whole life long, God ever walking with us as we walk with God. And we endeavor to do all of this humbly. Humility is another disposition, like kindness, that is in short supply in our current nation and world. Despite the prominent worldly positions many of our members hold or have held in their careers, I experience Resurrection as a comparatively unassuming, that is to say, humble congregation. And we can endeavor to further this humility, again, in witness to a world in need of greater humility.

Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with God. In brief, these simple statements are descriptive of our life together, but they are also aspirational in that we do not live and abide perfectly in our capacities for justice, kindness, and humbly walking with God.

So it is that I offer to you my recommendation that Micah 6:8 would ground and guide our simple statement of vision that we offer the wider world in our various forms of public witness.

I’d love to hear from you, and to learn your reaction and response to this recommendation that we ground the summary statement of our life together in Micah’s call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. Please don’t be shy about sharing with me your thoughts.

In Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman


Pentecost 18/Lectionary 26B, Mark 9:38-50

One of the gifts of the Bible is its realism, that its stories reveal so much honest truth about the human condition. Today’s readings are no exception.

In the first reading for today from the book of Numbers, Moses is burned-out by the burden of trying to manage an unwieldy rabble of a flock, the Israelites. Just when Moses is ready to throw in the towel and quit, the Lord instructs Moses to gather seventy of the elders of Israel to share with Moses the burden of leadership.

There were criteria for identifying these leaders and proper credentialing was needed. But Eldad and Medad did not exactly obey these instructions about who was eligible to gather and where, and they went about prophesying on their own apart from the tent of meeting. Joshua, son of Nun, an assistant of Moses, caught wind of this and reported to Moses, “My lord Moses, stop them!”

Thus, we see the honest truth about the all too typical and painfully human dynamic of the in group and out group. Who is included? Who should be excluded? Who has the authority to speak and who doesn’t? There are all kinds of permutations of this very human dynamic.

We see the in-group vs. out-group reality in today’s gospel reading as well. The disciple, John, said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

Once again, it’s the us vs. them thing. During my years as an undergraduate major in anthropology, I was taught about the evolutionary importance for survival of a clearly identified in-group, a tribe, with clearly delineated rules for who procreates with whom, who can safely live in the confines of the village, and who would be excluded and considered the out-group, the other.

This ancient dynamic continues to this day. And while it has healthy functions, the in-group/out-group dynamic is also corrupted by human sin and brokenness.

Honoring the importance of tribe can easily devolve into tribalism. We see this manifest in the blowback reactions in many nations to the recent realities of globalism – especially populist movements of nationalism in many countries.

Tribalism easily becomes xenophobia, fear of the outsider, the other, and racism, and is a major locus of human sin, and the ills of society.
I marvel at how much of my current suffering revolves around the divisiveness of our age. We see the us vs. them energies on TV and social media and read about it in the papers. We experience divisiveness at school, at work, and even in our churches. These realities make for daily burdens that I carry. I feel their weight. You also undoubtedly know of such burdens.

Jesus, of course, breaks open all of this. Jesus says in Mark in response to John’s desire to stop the other casting out demons in Jesus’ name, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.” And then Mark reports that Jesus offers that quotable quote that has found its way into popular discourse: “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

In last Sunday’s gospel, we saw how Jesus welcomed the child in the midst of the disciples, children being at the bottom of the totem pole. This week we see in Mark that Jesus welcomes one perceived by John to be an outsider, the other, the stranger. Jesus makes a witness against xenophobia, fear of the other, the outsider, the one not among the twelve and others explicitly following Jesus. Jesus sees the perceived outsider as an insider. It’s all quite radical from a more typically human point of view.

But here’s the thing. Jesus is not the only one doing this. Moses offers welcome, too, in today’s story in Numbers. Concerning Eldad and Medad whom Joshua wanted Moses to stop from prophesying, Moses retorted, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Reading the scriptures from a Christian viewpoint, from the vantage point of Jesus Christ’s teaching and ministry, the vision of the dominion of God is inclusive. It is multinational, multicultural, multiracial. It is ecumenical. It is unity in diversity.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the intersection where all of the world and its troubled peoples meet. In our human brokenness, the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross draw the whole world to himself and ultimately to God with focus on the pronouncement by Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Then the empty tomb three days later inaugurates a new reality in which the xenophobic us vs. them dynamic does not have the final word. Then on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit enables Jesus’ followers to proclaim God’s deeds of power in the languages of all the nations, and this proclamation births a new order that is the church, a universal church that has come to include folk from all people across the globe.

In the waters of baptism, we share unity in Christ with all the baptized, a life-giving torrent that breaks down walls that divide. This is a unity that persists and insists foundationally, objectively, even as the gospel is proclaimed in a wide and wild diversity of languages and cultures and nations. Again, it’s unity in diversity.

[As an aside, I have this ecumenical fantasy that somehow all the churches of a particular city would share one, single place of baptism to signify this unity that we have in Christ. What a lovely witness that would be to our divided world!]

Indeed, us vs. them, the in-group/out-group dynamic is short-circuited by the unifying waters of baptism. But we also share unity at the holy sacramental table – one bread, one cup – which is why we Lutherans practice a generously open invitation to Communion.

But this side of the consummated reign of God, our communion is imperfect, our unity is not complete in our practice. There does indeed persist the problem of false prophets doing their thing in Jesus’ name, a reality which Jesus himself names. In final words of warning in Matthew’s gospel, it is reported that Jesus said, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.” (Matthew 24:4-5)

So how do we tell the difference between those genuinely acting in Jesus’ name and those disingenuously? Elsewhere in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-16a) You will know them by their fruits.

We get a good glimpse of the genuine fruit that comes from Jesus Christ in the marks of Christian community described in today’s second reading from James. There we read that the fruit of genuine Christian community includes: cheerful songs of praise; intercessory prayer for those who suffer; elders of the church who pray for the sick and anoint them with oil; confession of sins to each other with the assurance of forgiveness; reconciliation with those who wander from the truth. When we see these things happening in Jesus’ name, we can be assured of the authenticity of Christian witness.

But here’s another mark, another fruit of genuine Christian community: our wounds, our bodies, our selves, that are maimed in one way or another. Because of the ongoing struggle between tribalistic ways of the old Adam, and the radically inclusive ways of our being new creations in Christ, we suffer, we end up wounding each other and ourselves, and thus, we enter into life in the dominion of God wounded and maimed. At least that is what Mark suggests when he records Jesus’ admonitions that are central to today’s gospel passage: “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.” And so, too, with our feet and our eyes (cf. Mark 9:43-48).

Because of the ongoing claims of human sin and brokenness, we inevitably perpetuate the age old us vs. them problems and we get maimed. But the good news is that we enter into the life of God’s dominion even with our wounds, even as Jesus still displayed his own wounded hands and side on the other side of the resurrection.

Thus, in Christ, he who died and he who was raised, despite our trials and tribulations, our faith is awakened, quickened, renewed and strengthened such that we can seek to fulfill Jesus’ exhortation that concludes today’s reading from Mark: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” In our mission and ministry as a church, we get to be salty, seasoning and preserving the life of the world even as we seek peace with one another and pursue it.

In Jesus’ name, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are salty and seek to do the things that make for peace, for Christ’s sake. Amen.

Week of the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

As we have now embarked on a new year for Christian education and faith formation programs, I want to call your attention to an emerging new reality among us in our congregation. And that is that you can expect to see more programming that is intended to include persons of all ages together. This promises a more intergenerational approach to Christian education and faith formation.

Why this new, emerging approach? First off, Christian assembly is for all persons together. The Holy Spirit does not call us to affinity groups of the like-minded, or to interest groups inclusive only of those in similar circumstances or age groups. No, the Holy Spirit gathers all of us together at the same time and in the same place. This is what we attempt to embody in our single liturgy of Holy Communion on Sunday mornings. I believe that other programs, initiatives, and events of our congregation should emerge from, grow out of, and parallel our usual Sunday assemblies.

Thus, you will be invited to programs that formerly might have only been targeted to children or youth, but which now intend to draw persons of all ages – and not just the parents of the children and youth involved! You can, for example, expect to see more confirmation-related events that include whole families, and not just our confirmands. Moreover, you will be given resources intended for use at home – with your whole families, however they are configured. Martin and Katie Luther saw home life as domestic church, as Christian assembly in microcosm in ways that emerge from and parallel and reinforce life together in the whole church.

In addition to such approaches being faithful to and in keeping with our whole liturgical assembly on Sunday morning, there are other reasons for more intergenerational initiatives in our life together. Another is that nurturing a deeper sense of Christian community in our congregational life is identified as the first priority of our set of newly approved by Council vision statements to guide our mission and ministry together. Intergenerational approaches to Christian education and faith formation can serve to build community both here at church and in your homes.

Moreover, we live during a time when people are ever more increasingly subdivided into ever smaller groups until we risk being atomized and reduced to our radical individuality. We labor in silos in our places of work. Professional endeavors become ever more specialized such that experts may fail to see the forest for the trees. We risk becoming in our wider society collections of isolated individuals who are alone even if we are together, quite often with our faces glued to the blue-lit screens of our devices. Bringing people of all ages and all circumstances together can literally have healing effects for us physically, socially, emotionally, spiritually.

Another reason for an intergenerational approach to Christian education and formation is that it is just plain fun and life-giving. On those occasions when I have participated as an adult in activities typically designed for kids, I have found it liberating to, for example, get down on the floor with others to imagine, to play, to color, or whatever the activity happens to be. Play is not just for kids. And for children and youth, it can be compelling for them to see in adults the capacity for playfulness.

So, you see, there are many compelling reasons for us to offer programming intended to draw together persons of all ages and varied circumstances in our life together as a congregation.

Look in the announcements in coming weeks for news of such new opportunities.

Seeking deeper community in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

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