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.

Children categories

Spiritual Reflections (115)

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.

View items...

Sermons (125)

Sermons from Pastor Jonathan Linman

View items...

Week of the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

This is my final Midweek Message to you as your pastor. What started as an outreach effort to make possible some form of contact with you as members during the pandemic shut-down when we could not meet much at all in person has continued for these two plus years as a regular weekly offering. I am glad to have had this occasion to engage in an epistolary form of ministry, which has its own roots in the letters of the New Testament. Now some final words.

This has been a most unusual time, to say the least, to have been in ministry together. I could be tempted to reduce this call to having been the “pandemic pastorate,” given how heavily the global health crisis has weighed on us all and colored so much of what we have been doing in all aspects of our lives. But that kind of reductionism would not be a fair and complete picture of what we have shared. For we have had, in my estimation, many very lovely occasions indeed which express the richness and fullness of Christian community when we are gathered around Christ in word and sacraments.

It has been a privilege to have proclaimed the gospel to you, first via video and then eventually in person on Sundays. You are attentive and engaged hearers of God’s word, and you have kept me on my toes, as it were, as a preacher, because I know from your feedback that you truly have been listening. And we have worshiped so faithfully together, employing a full range of the many resources available to us from our wider church in the service of the praise of almighty God when Christ in fact ministers to us through the word and the sacraments. Likewise, it’s been a joy to have been a teacher in your midst, for again, you are engaged and thoughtful participant disciples, students of our Lord. In many settings we’ve had rich conversations indeed, learning together and growing thereby in faith. These experiences have been a two-way street, for I have learned a great deal from you even as I have attempted to serve as your teacher! Moreover, it’s been a privilege to have walked with you in times when you’ve been in need of pastoral care and of prayer. I have truly enjoyed hearing stories of your life’s journeys and adventures when we’ve been in holy conversation together. Resurrection Church has remarkably gifted and dedicated lay leaders and staff members. I have consistently been impressed with the expertise you have brought to our life together pertaining especially, for example, to the administrative concerns of the church. I do believe that Resurrection Church persists in being an attractive and compelling congregation for qualified pastors seeking a call, even as this setting also presents challenges, as do most all congregations these days, given the tumultuous and ever-changing circumstances in nation and world.

What is left for me to say but thousand, thousand thanks? Thousand thanks to you and to God for the privilege of having served in this season as your pastor. In this mortal life, we never know what time is allotted to us. That’s true in all of our comings and goings, and it’s certainly true also concerning longevity in ministry. The fact that we have only been together for two years and some months does not detract from my cherishing our time together. Words begin to fail at moments like these. I pray that I have been faithful in upholding my side of the bargain in preaching the gospel, in presiding at worship, in teaching, and in offering care and leadership for such as time as this.

I know that it’s also true that I will not have occasion to say goodbye to many of you in person given the nature of summer travel and commitments on your parts. May these words, then, serve as a heartfelt goodbye for those whom I will not see this coming Sunday when our worship will include a rite for the conclusion of this ministry call and when we otherwise say personal goodbyes during the social time following in the parish hall.

Turning now to matters of transition, I have put into the hands of congregation leaders a document that lists particular matters that I had attended to as pastor so that it will be clear going forward who will do what in the coming season without my presence and before there may be an interim or another called pastor to lead and to serve. This document is offered in the service of making the transition as smooth as possible and so that matters of concern have less of a chance of falling through the cracks.

Also, please know that a call committee is being constituted even now and that preparations are being made in the bishop’s office to provide names of pastoral candidates as soon as possible. And Gordon Lathrop has devoted significant time and energy to lining up pastors to preach and preside each Sunday well into the autumn season. It’s also true that other pastors are at the ready to be on call for pastoral care needs. All of this will be further described in the weekly announcements messages that will continue to go out via Constant Contact.

You will note, if you’re present this Sunday for the rite for the conclusion of a call at the end of worship, that my first name will be employed in that rite, and not the title pastor. Beginning at that moment, I should be known to you as Jonathan, a baptized child of God, and not the one who serves as your pastor. It will be essential going forward that appropriate boundaries be maintained in the service of making the way for whoever next will be known to you as pastor. Which is to say, beginning with the end of worship this Sunday, I will no longer be available to you to serve in any pastoral capacity, and I will be steadfast going forward in maintaining those boundaries, again for the sake of honoring the leadership of the one who will succeed me as pastor in this place.

In conclusion, I will forever hold you and this place close to my heart as I give thanks to you and to God for this particular call which now becomes part of the richly textured fabric of my three decades of leadership and service in public ministry. And I will be praying for you as a congregation, especially for the Spirit’s guidance in soon bringing to you your next pastor as you are led into God’s promised future.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thanks be to God.

In Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 12:32-40

Certain phrases from the scriptures tend to ring out with clarity and poignancy depending on the changes and chances of life and where we happen to find ourselves on any given occasion. Today such a ringing phrase may well be, “Do not be afraid, little flock,” which are Jesus’ words to his disciples recorded by Luke in today’s gospel reading.

“Do not be afraid, little flock.” Yes, we do know fear. Times of transition and tumult tend to provoke anxieties. This is my last Sunday with you as pastor. Beginning today you as a congregation embark on a new chapter in your life together. I commence a journey to a new call in Phoenix. All of this with plenty of fear-inducing unknowns.

But there’s more. Who knows what’s going to happen with the next twists and turns of the pandemic and inflation and the war in Ukraine and tensions with China and national politics at home and drought and floods and fires and other extremes that seem to be part of the new normal of climate change? Any one of these crises can make for sleepless nights. And yet the list of that which provokes fear goes on and on.

These are troubled times to be sure. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid. This exhortation joins a great heavenly chorus offered by other divine messengers to fear not. Recalling moments in the beginning of Luke’s gospel, an angel of the Lord tells Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (Luke 1:13) And then the angel Gabriel announces to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31) And so the story in Luke goes.

In these biblical passages, the reason for us not to be afraid is always connected to a promise from God. Each announcement has as a focal point on a conjunction, the word “for,” which serves as a fulcrum tipping into the next phrase of promise, in the case of today’s word from Jesus, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give the dominion [of God] to you.”

Jesus in Luke promises his followers the very dominion of God as the reason for us not to fear. This is good news that serves to relieve our fears.

We see a similar promise made in today’s first reading when the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram, [for] I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
After contesting this promise that he and his wife had not been given their hoped-for heir, the Lord showed Abram the countless stars and offered this further promise: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…. So shall your descendants be.”

According to the account in Genesis, “Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” That is to say, Abram trusted the divine word of promise, and the Lord considered or regarded this trusting response as righteousness, being in right relationship, good standing, with God.

This is another phrase from the scriptures that has echoed importantly in Lutheran history and rings out with divine truth in our ears. “And the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” became part of the scriptural inspiration for the centrality of the teaching of justification by faith, that our trust in God’s gracious promises unites us to God’s mercy and love and forgiveness and blessing which we simply but profoundly await with confidence and receive with gratitude.

This reality also inspired the author of the letter to the Hebrews who expounds on the nature of faith evidenced in the history of the Jewish people. The author of this letter suggests that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith, trust in the trustworthiness of God, is what propels us into an unknown future without fear, or at least less fear….

The phrase “by faith” is used repeatedly in the passage that is today’s second reading.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance… not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time… living in tents…. By faith [Abraham] received the power of procreation, even though he was too old…” (Hebrews 11:8-11)

The phrase “by faith” becomes a kind of mantra that describes the nature of the pilgrimage journeys of God’s chosen and faithful people, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, and on until our present day.

So it is that by faith we also venture on, like the people of old, not knowing exactly what will confront us.

In fact, we as individuals may not reach the promised destinations, as the author to the letter to the Hebrews concludes after listing the examples of faithfulness of the greats of the Hebrew tradition: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” But their heirs did receive the fulfillment of the promises from the God who is faithful and keeps the holy word.
Thus, let us claim and reclaim what is and has been so central to our Lutheran understanding of the gospel, the good news: Sola fide. Faith alone. Faith, not fear.
Let this also be our mantra going forward, even as we part ways.

By faith, you and I now commence journeys apart from each other.

By faith, you enter into the process to call your next pastor.

By faith, I venture Westward to make a new home closer to my son and to take on a new call.

By faith, we endure the craziness of these times in nation and world doing what we can to proclaim in word and deed a different way of God’s justice, mercy, and commonwealth.

By faith, we sell our possessions and give alms, as instructed by Jesus in Luke’s gospel for today, to assist those in need, ravaged by all manner of calamities around us.

Likewise, inspired by Jesus in Luke, by faith, we are dressed for action with lamps lit, ever watchful for the coming of the promised coming one.

And still more, by faith, we make purses that do not wear out, ever focused on the heavenly unfailing treasure which we are called to enjoy even now in this age.

For the dominion of God has in fact been given to us in the inheritance which is the church and its ministries, we who are the body of Christ. Here in this place we are given the very dominion of God, where Jesus is Lord. Christ himself is that dominion. We are given the gift of this dominion, this lordship, when Christ is made known to us in the proclamation of the word, in the waters of baptism, and the breaking of the bread, in the announcement of forgiveness, in the mutual conversation and consolation that occurs among us in community .

Indeed, Christ our master, as in the story from today’s gospel, returns to us week after week and invites us to sit down to eat, and Christ himself serves us with the gift of his very self, such that the dominion of God is so close to us that we can taste it.

Thus, in Christ, and as heirs of Christ’s dominion, by faith and in faith, we have confidence to bid each other adieu and then to continue on our ways by faith to do the work that God continues to entrust to us.

I am moved to conclude with these additional Christ-focused and encouraging words from the author to the letter to the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

May these words ever inspire us, reassure us, encourage us, move us, and propel us into God’s promised future in Christ. Thanks be to God. And thank you. Amen.

 

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 12:13-21

A theme that stands out in today’s readings, both the Gospel and the reading from Ecclesiastes, is that when it comes to human reality, all things come to an end. Endings happen in many ways, with pointed focus finally on death.

The lists of varied endings can be long. We are on the brink of the conclusion of my pastorate here at Resurrection. Decades of relative stability for the privileged in our country seem to be giving way to a new period of chronic instability. We’re all getting older. The pandemic has brought all of this into sharper and poignant relief. And the list goes on concerning the claims of human mortality and finitude.

We see this theme in the parable of Jesus that Luke records that we just heard. The rich man’s land produced an overabundance of crops and goods, so he tore down his barns to build larger ones, and having done so was prepared to sit back, relax, and to eat, drink, and be merry. Except that on that very day, his life would end in death.

Most of us here live with the great privilege of abundance, if not to say overabundance. While this wealth can occasion a life of comparative leisure and opportunity, the work, the toil required to produce and maintain abundance can itself also become a source of great burden for us.

We get a palpable sense of that in today’s first reading from Ecclesiastes where the teacher exclaims: “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23) And a chasing after wind.

And then our lives of overburdened abundance come to an end, sometimes quite abruptly and unexpectedly.

This is the reality of the human condition. We are mortal. We will die. This is the weight of our sinful finitude that can feel so very heavy, and which we go to great lengths to guard against, to keep at bay, even to deny. Here I am reminded of Ernest Becker’s classic work, The Denial of Death, where Becker posits that human society is organized in such a way as to keep the reality of death out of our conscious awareness. Published in 1973, it’s still a classic; because Becker’s insights remain true. No matter how cleverly we try, death catches up with us, and our various worldly possessions and achievements do not change that reality.

Martin Luther summed it up well when on his deathbed his reported last words were these: “We are beggars. This is true.”

Luke reports that Jesus told the parable about the rich man to make the point that life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. This teaching moment came in response to a request by a person in the crowd asking Jesus to convince his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Luke says that Jesus concluded the parable about the folly of abundance only to lose it all to death with these words: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Where does this leave us? So far, both the gospel reading and the passage from Ecclesiastes make for quite the downer that gives us no relief. This bad news is summed up again in the words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” Vanity as in futile, empty, worthless, short-lived, and without meaning.

Is there any good news today? Most certainly, and thanks be to God for three lectionary readings and not just one or two.

Today’s appointed gospel reading leaves us hanging and wondering what it might mean to be rich toward God. Being rich toward God seems to hold the promise of good news. And indeed, we can find that good news in today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians where the apostle elaborates on what it might mean for us to be rich toward God.

Here’s what Paul writes: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” In short, Christ is the source of divine richness.

And we have in fact been raised with Christ, even as we have died with Christ. And for us, it is baptism where this all happens. Drowned in the waters of this life-giving flood, we emerge from the torrent with new life in Christ, having been baptized into his own death and resurrection.

There are lots of veiled references to baptism in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and we have some of that in today’s reading. Paul exhorts the hearers to “put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly,” that is, to be rid of the ways of the old Adam, of sin.

This suggests the renunciations that are integral to our baptismal rites when those to be baptized renounce the forces that defy God and the powers of this world that rebel against God and the ways of sin that draw us from God (cf. Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 229).

It's important to note that our struggle is not so much about heavenly things being up there and earthly ways being down here in a clean, cosmic, spatial dichotomy. No, these heavenly and earthly forces contend right here where we live, all the time. Baptismal life is a struggle in the Spirit against the forces of sin and death.

Thus, Paul in Colossians also points also points to baptism when he writes that we have “stripped off the old self with its practices and [our having] clothed [ourselves] with the new self,” which is our new life in Christ. Indeed, at baptism, we are clothed in the brilliance of Christ often symbolized by the white gowns worn by the baptized.

But when it’s all said and done, the only death that ultimately matters has already occurred on the cross of Christ. In that light of Christ’s resurrected new life our own mortal end in death is relativized and pales in comparison, and our own death in the baptismal waters is arguably more significant in the divine, grandest scheme of things than the end that is coming to us all in our own personal deaths.

For, as Paul concludes in today’s passage from Colossians, “Christ is all and in all!” Christ is the cure to that which ails us; Christ is our life beyond mortality, beyond death. Christ is the antidote to the cry of vanity of vanities and Christ is the end of our futile chasing after the wind. Christ imparts to us the richness of God. This is good news indeed.

So, let’s return for a moment to Luther’s dying moments. Reportedly a friend asked Luther when he was stricken ill and was close to death: “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther answered with an emphatic, “Yes!”

And we answer our own “Yes!” whenever we reaffirm and give thanks for our own baptisms into Christ.

In Christ, then, we can relax, eat, drink and be merry with faith renewed and with meaning and purpose, not futility. In fact, it’s at this table where we do truly relax, eat, drink, and are merry in thanksgiving to God for Christ’s gracious abundance, the only abundance that really matters.

And in this Spirit, we are freed from bondage to our many possessions and their claims on us. We are freed to give it all away, not storing up riches for ourselves, but using our abundance to help and to feed others because in Christ we are made rich toward God.

When it’s all said and done, the only inheritance of any ultimate significance is that which we inherit from Christ. Thus, our freedom to give it all away, not giving up our hearts to despair, but finding joy and meaning in our loving service to others.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

In last week’s message, I shared a summary of that which I believe we have accomplished together in mission and ministry with special attention to: getting through the initial crisis of the pandemic; the nature of worship during this season; and faith formation at Resurrection during the time that we have shared. This week, I will focus on our responses to other crises in our wider society and how we addressed them in our congregation’s witness as well as calling attention to our shared visions for mission and the faithful stewardship of our building in welcoming The Village School as a tenant in much of our educational wing.

Before I turn to these themes, though, I want to return to the matter Christian education and faith formation to report to you that as part of the whole fabric of transition at Resurrection Church, our Youth Ministry Director, Amanda Lindamood, will also be departing in early August as a member of our staff. Amanda has done excellent work with creative programming for our youth, including confirmation instruction. Amanda has also been especially effective in heralding a vision of faith formation that is intergenerational and holistic, and she consistently called our attention to matters of social justice that are integral dimensions of our life of faith. Amanda and I have worked together effectively as a team and I thank her for her work here and dedication to this congregation.

During the summer of 2020, amidst the pandemic crisis, our wider society was also riveted by concerns about racial justice. In response to this wider public outcry, our Congregation Council voted to place Black Lives Matter signs on church property as a public witness in support of anti-racism and toward promoting racial justice. Because of concerns about the BLM organization, the placing of signs provoked a critical response among some members of our congregation. I believe that ultimately, we used this crisis as an opportunity for learning and growth on more than one front. One dimension is that we did in fact take up the matter of racial justice in our life together, when a group of committed members of the congregation devoted over a year to the study of Pastor Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. Our working through this book, under Amanda’s leadership, became the occasion to really begin to grapple with racism. Over the course of these many months, those who participated began to learn more fully how to engage controversial issues thoughtfully and with a sense of personal vulnerability. I pray that this time together will continue to serve as leaven for how Resurrection may continue to engage matters of social controversy as an expression of our public witness.

An outgrowth of the Duncan book group was the emergence of the Social Justice Learning Group, led by Charlie and Judy Hughes. Once a month, between ten and twenty members gather after worship to discuss various matters of social justice, facilitated by our own members who have expertise on what is being examined. I find this development very encouraging, and I pray that the Social Justice Learning Group will continue to meet to bear fruit not just in learning but also in taking action to promote a vision of God’s justice for the world.

Another fruit of our beginnings with more directly taking on matters of justice is our new Creation Care Team, under the leadership of Monica Hirschberg, which also meets monthly to promote habits locally in our congregation that make for more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices.

Still another outcome of the crisis concerning the Black Lives Matter signs is the insight that we do well as a congregation to be more widely collaborative when engaging matters of controversy. Members were concerned that the Congregation Council did not consult the wider membership before making the decision to place the BLM signs on church property. Since that time, we have endeavored to widen the circles of conversation when responding to concerns that could provoke controversy.

Yet another fruit of all of this was the decision to replace the BLM signs with a new set of banners above the Washington Blvd. entrance to the church focusing on Micah 6:8 and the charge to “Do justice; love kindness; and walk humbly with God.” Most assess that this witness, rooted in scripture, expresses commitments most can agree on even as it gives words to the kind of identity this congregation aspires to.

Moving on to the stewardship of our building, Resurrection is blessed with a substantial campus that is well-maintained. Like many ELCA congregations, our building was built during an era which called for more space than we currently need. In fact, much of our educational wing is not just underutilized, parts of it are not currently utilized at all. It has been sad to say goodbye to our preschool which had operated in our facility for over twenty years. Likewise, the Clothes Closet was a casualty of the pandemic and this season when volunteers are oversubscribed at home, at work and at church, diminishing our capacity to offer programs. Moreover, the Finnish Language Schools now operate in large measure online. Thus, our facility is crying out for faithful, fruitful utilization. Therefore, it was a gift when The Village School approached us about the possibility of renting a large portion of our educational wing to host their pre-K through 8th grade independent, non-profit, private school. In addition to providing needed rental income to the congregation and making faithful use of our facility which is ideal for this school, The Village School’s presence in our building holds promise to increase the visibility of our congregation in the wider community, an important feature of our public witness which I pray will bear fruit for Resurrection under the leadership of the pastor who will be called in the coming months to lead and to serve toward God’s promised future.

A side benefit to The Village School’s coming was that preparing our spaces for the school inspired a major “Spring Cleaning” of our whole building. A dedicated team of member volunteers expended huge amounts of “sweat equity” in going through our many rooms and storage closets to remove items that we no longer use or have no use for. Many items were donated to other schools. Much also found its way to Goodwill. And even after new homes were found for many things, still when it was all said and done, there were four truckloads of things that simply had to be discarded. As I have written previously, the dynamics of purging our spaces – at home and at church – have the effect of renewing our relationship with our physical surroundings. I believe that such spring cleaning has set the stage for discerning and deciding how Resurrection’s building may in the future serve this congregation’s mission and ministry.

When it’s all said and done, there is a sense in which my pastorate of two plus years has been an “unintentional interim pastorate,” which I believe has further prepared the congregation for whatever is next in mission. Certainly, the pandemic inhibited forward movement into God’s promised future. But our time together has not been wasted time. Another feature of this season focused on crafting the shared statements of vision related to most aspects of our life together. These vision statements emerged in part from the consultant-led congregational study that was undertaken during the interim period after Pastor Ickert’s retirement. While these vision statements may change in the future under the leadership of a new pastor in discerning conversation with congregation leaders, having such statements gives you all a sense of direction and focus, a sense of what is aspired to in Christian community here. Many congregations undertake their activity in a rather ad hoc manner without much attention to where they actually feel called to end up. The shared statements of vision provide a much-needed sense of direction during these tumultuous times in church and world when we are otherwise prone to be blown about by the many crises and opportunities that claim our attention.

To be sure, there was much on my “to do” list as Resurrection’s pastor that was not accomplished. However, our time together has been intense and fruitful in many ways as we have sought to be faithful with the mission and ministry God has entrusted to us for such a time as this. I pray that this message and that from last week provide a good sense of the big picture of what we have in fact accomplished together under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.

With abiding appreciation yet again in Christ Jesus for the opportunities to lead and to serve at Resurrection Church,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 11:1-13

Luke records that Jesus’ disciples wanted instruction in prayer. I suspect that we could all use some teaching about prayer, especially in a world that so desperately needs it. 

So, let’s take a closer look at what we heard just now from the gospel. Luke records that Jesus taught the disciples what to pray when he offered a version of the words that we know as the Lord’s Prayer. So far so good. We can handle that, and in fact pray the words of this prayer weekly, if not daily. 

But Luke also reports that Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, that is, in what manner or disposition. 

To make this point about the attitude we bring to prayer, Luke records Jesus telling a story about a friend visiting a friend at the midnight hour – precisely when many of our most desperate prayers are offered up – asking for bread to be hospitable to another friend who just showed up for a visit. Luke’s Jesus makes the point that it was not the friendship that got the request for bread fulfilled, but the persistence of the friend’s request is what made the difference. 

Jesus in Luke thus advocates for persistence in prayer. What does persistence mean? The New Testament Greek suggests immodesty, or importunity, boldness, pestering, nerve, gall, audacity. That’s the attitude we are instructed to bring to pray.

We get a good sense of such audacity when engaging with God in today’s first reading from Genesis where Abraham negotiates boldly with the Lord concerning the fate of the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s audacious dealing with the Lord results in the Lord changing the mind in favor of mercy rather than punishment if in fact there are ten remaining righteous persons in Sodom. 

Listen again for the audacity in Abraham’s manner – when he rightly acknowledged his proper place with humility but nonetheless forthrightly, boldly bargained with the Lord. Abraham says when addressing the Lord:

  • “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you!” 
  • “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” 
  • “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more.” 

Thus, the story from Genesis gives us a good sense of what persistence in prayer might look like and feel like. 

Yet, such persistence, such nerve, such audacity is often hard for us to do without a sense of guilt or feeling that we’ve done something wrong. Who are we to nudge God? Moreover, we may fear God’s wrath if we step out of line in terms of what we might deem a properly respectful attitude of prayer. That is, don’t pray with an attitude! Lest we incur God’s wrath. 

And then there’s the inclination to try to protect God from our insolence. That’s more common when we humans try to vilify others for what we of faith may perceive as blasphemous attitudes toward God. 

Friends, such fears are the stuff of the old sinful Adam’s ongoing claims on us in my estimation. In my read of today’s lessons such seeking decorum in prayer is not what Jesus in Luke or Abraham in Genesis seem to call for! Jesus and Abraham call for a spirit of shamelessness. 

But how do we overcome our hesitancy to pray shamelessly? Let’s let the Apostle Paul speak to us about the true source of our confidence – our faith, our trust – that allows us to pray boldly. Here are Paul’s words from today’s second reading in Colossians: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” 

Paul suggests that it is our rootedness in Christ, which begins at baptism, that establishes our faith, our trust, our living our lives in him, he who is the tree of life from the cross, Christ the vine, we the branches. With such rootedness in him, in word and sacraments, Christ continues to teach us and we abound in thanksgiving. In short, Christ is the source of the faith that is also the source of our shameless persistence in prayer. 

In Christ, we need not fear offending God. God does not need to be protected. God in Christ can handle anything we bring. So, just say it; just pray it with boldness. God in Christ will sort it out, even if we feel we’re stepping out of line. 

And if we do step out of line, that too God will set aside, nailing it to the cross, our trespasses ever being forgiven again and again for Christ’s sake. The record written against is erased, ever wiped clean. Thus, we can sin boldly, as Luther said, but believe more boldly still.

Moreover, Christ feeds us with his very self when we come to him at this very table begging for bread at our existential midnight hours so that we might be fed to also feed the hungry who are in our midst in our fearful world. 

Jesus continued his teaching on prayer in Luke. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” 

But we know that we often do not get receive exactly what we asked for. And we know that when we search, we often discover surprises that we did not intend to find. And we know that when a door is opened to us, we may be quite surprised by what and by who we might find on the other side of the open door. 

Luke also reports that Jesus invoked good parenting in relation to the nature of God’s response to God’s children at prayer: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!”

Every good parent knows that we cannot give to our children everything they ask for. That’s simply not good parenting. But good parents do give good gifts to their children. 

And the good gift we receive in answer to our shameless asking, searching, and knocking is the Holy Spirit, the very life and breath of God, ultimately everything we need, our very life in God. 

Thus it is that Paul writes in Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes [for us] with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)

The Spirit is always at prayer for us, making possible our own prayers. Which is to say, when the Spirit arrived at Pentecost as recorded in the second chapter of Acts, the Spirit gave all the needed good gifts – namely, proclamation of God’s mighty deeds of power in raising Jesus from the dead, repentance, baptism, devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:37-42).

What more do we need as God’s beloved children when it’s all said and done?
What we experience here each Sunday is ultimately what we are asking and searching for and why we are knocking. It is life itself, the life of Christ and participation in the life of our Trinitarian God.

Meanwhile, the Spirit also gives us our prayers of intercession. And think about it. These, our prayers each Sunday are audacious. Every Sunday we pray sometimes desperately and with lament for the needs of a sorry church and world. We pray for peace, for justice, for the relief of suffering. And so often those prayers don’t seem to result in the peace and justice and relief that we cry out for. And yet we continue to pray without fail, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, decade after decade. That’s persistence in prayer. 

Finally, our prayers of intercession lean in to fulfillment when we act on the fact that our prayers set the agenda for the church in mission. What we pray for is what we’re called to do in our ministries in daily life. When we pray for peace, we then seek to work for peace. When we pray for justice, we do our part in working for justice. When we pray for an end to suffering, we offer a helping hand in one way or another to those in need. 

The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I pray that you now have a better sense of what Jesus in Luke taught, and that your life of prayer might be emboldened with a Spirit of shameless persistence in the freedom of the gospel. Amen.

Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

As my time with you as your Pastor begins to draw to a close, I believe it is important for us to consider what we have accomplished together in the mission that God entrusted to us over the course of these two years and some months.

This season of the church’s history that we have shared has been marked and marred by the realities of the global pandemic. The pandemic was declared shortly after I accepted the call to Resurrection Church in March of 2020, and the pandemic continues even now midway through 2022. While the pandemic’s strictures have inhibited and even prohibited anything approaching a normal churchly routine, certainly one of our major accomplishments is that we have in fact creatively endeavored to be and to do church amidst all of the unprecedented upheaval of these years. This is no small achievement!

While our routines were severely constricted by the pandemic, we nonetheless managed to engage in the usual dimensions of congregational life – worshiping, enjoying occasions for socializing, offering pastoral care, doing the administrative work of the church, and attending to social ministry through generous giving to local and national and international organizations which seek to help those most in need. These expressions of congregational life were not in the fullness of what we are used to, but they did not totally disappear amidst the pandemic.

Central to our life together, of course, is the Sunday worshiping assembly. From March of 2020 until July of 2021 – 16 months – we did not meet for worship in person in our nave, which removed the foundational pillar of what it is to be and to do church. And yet, we found our way, first with the creation of resources for worship at home, not seeking to replicate remotely what we do in the nave on Sundays, but promoting worshipful devotion at home among those with whom we live. This also soon included the crafting of videos intended to complement worship at home, featuring sermons which I recorded often from the dining room of the parsonage, and members reading the appointed lectionary passages and leading prayers from their homes, and Barbara and choir members leading congregational song, even choir anthems which were woven together digitally, creating a unified sound from multiple individual voices, and all of this edited into a seamless whole by our youthful videographers.

Then there was our worship outdoors in conjunction with the bi-weekly gathering of food items for the hungry and food insecure. What started as brief, informal prayer evolved into more complete forms of worship outdoors offered weekly. We started on the Potomac Street side of the church, where our Memorial Garden became a focal point, for example, for abbreviated liturgies during the Three Days of Holy Week. We eventually moved to the Powhatan Street side of the church where the parsonage deck served as chancel, the new brick patio as choir loft, the fence between the parsonage and church yards served as altar rail and the church yard became a nave surrounding our community garden. Here we celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in over a year on the Day of Pentecost in 2021. Finally, on July 4, 2021 we moved back indoors for Sunday worship, masked and physically-distanced, practices which we maintain to this day.

The move indoors also began the initiative of live-streaming our Sunday worship for those unable to be with us in person, increasing our presence in the world of cyberspace. Before the pandemic, Resurrection Church’s footprint in the digital world was modest, focused on our website. Because of the various worship videos which are still available on YouTube, our congregation’s presence online is now more substantial. Some, in fact, have begun to find their way to our congregation because of that presence.

Additionally, our worship and music practices did not remain static during these pandemic years. We engaged in a discernment process which resulted in hiring as our regular Director Music, Barbara Verdile, who had served as our interim organist and choir director. We also purchased, through the generosity of anonymous donors and Memorial funds, and are regularly making use of the new supplement to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, All Creation Sings. Resurrection Church remains uniquely current among other ELCA congregations in my experience in its full use of the many resources for worship available from our wider church. This is truly a hallmark of our life together.

Moving on to other aspects of our life together – who would ever have predicted before the pandemic that Zoom would become such a feature of our congregational life? And yet it has. Even as we have returned to worshiping in person in doors on Sundays, so much of the rest of our congregational life is still undertaken via Zoom – committee and Council meetings, and even our annual meetings, bible studies, as well as midweek worship during Advent and Lent. Such Zoom practices don’t seem to be going away. It may be that Zoom is now a feature of our life together. The Zoom platform has arguably increased numbers who attend bible study and midweek worship. It’s not the same as being in person, but increased participation because of Zoom is a dynamic that we should not discount. Zoom also makes life easier in terms of commuting to and from church, especially for brief meetings. We’ve even begun experimenting with hybrid forms of gathering, with some in person at the church and others participating at home.

Another central aspect of church life is Christian education and faith formation. What started as a pandemic-induced attempt regularly to reach out to members, these weekly Midweek Messages have become one of the significant expressions of my teaching ministry as a pastor. Early on when I began crafting these reflections, I wondered if I would have topics enough to write about each week. But as time wore on, I have found it a marvel that I have never lacked for topics and themes of various sorts to address! I pray that those who have read these messages have found them to be edifying, helpful, and perhaps sometimes inspiring and important to our life together.

Then there have been the various bible studies via Zoom, addressing several different topics over the course of our time together. A major focus of our faith formation efforts has been our attempts to convene all ages together – for bible study via Zoom, and then also monthly outdoors at the parsonage for various creative programs. Children’s Ministry Director, Angie Brook, and Youth Ministry Director, Amanda Lindamood, have continued creatively their ministries, again, largely online in these years. My prayer is that approaches to Christian education and faith formation which include all ages of people together would continue in future months and years, for one might argue that it takes a village to raise up mature persons of faith.

I could go on, and in fact, I will next week when I intend to summarize other hallmarks of our life together as a congregation during my brief pastorate. But I pray that these summarizing thoughts begin to give you a sense of the bigger picture of what we have accomplished together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

With abiding appreciation in Christ Jesus for the opportunities to lead and to serve at Resurrection Church,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 10:38-42

The gospel writer Luke gives us some of the more beloved, well-known, and provocative accounts of events in Jesus’ life and ministry. One of those, of course, is the story we heard today, the encounter with Mary and Martha.

Martha was distracted by her many tasks. Doesn’t that accurately describe our own age, hitting the nail on the head of what so often ails us? Distracted by many tasks.

With our various devices pinging us constantly with calls, texts, emails, social media notifications and more, how can we help but be chronically distracted by many things? It takes enormous discipline to keep this constant bombardment at bay. More often perhaps we succumb to it. The distractions endemic in our age wear away at our sense of well-being and mental health. It can weigh so heavily.

I have generally read the story of Mary and Martha as an indictment of being overly active or busy. But engaging this passage anew this week, what leaps off the page for me is not Martha the activist, but Martha who was distracted amidst her many tasks. That is to say, it’s not the tasks themselves, but the distraction that’s at issue. And then, too, the worry that accompanies the distraction.

Luke reports what I take as Jesus’ compassionate observation of Martha’s trouble: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”

We know from experience that we can be quite actively engaged in our work without distraction and worry. Artists and other creative people – and anybody really – can discover themselves to be in the flow of active, creative engagement, being so engrossed in their activity that they lose a sense of time. That’s being quite fully present and contentedly so. Creative flow is the opposite of worry and distraction.

But these days worry and distraction seem to be more the order of the day than being fully present to and with what and who is before us. In fact, there are powers that be which capitalize on keeping us worried and distracted.

Who will save us from this plight? Of course, we know the answer. The one who saves us is the very one whom Mary encountered, when she was sitting at his feet, listening to what he had to say, the one who addressed Martha with understanding words and this other message that Luke reports: “Martha…. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The better part which Mary gravitated to and which was not taken from her is Jesus himself. For as Paul assures us in Romans 8, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We can make our lists of that which distracts and worries us, but just the same, nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. That is to say, Christ will not be taken from us.

And here’s further good news for us in our worrisome age of distraction: what Mary enjoyed at Jesus’ feet listening to what he was saying is what we’re doing right now, namely, metaphorically sitting here in this place at Jesus’ feet as we are gathered around him in word and sacrament – listening with rapt attention to Christ’s teaching and the teaching about Christ in gospel proclamation, soaking in the life-giving baptismal waters, reclining, as it were, with our Lord at the table. All in this place comparatively free of distractions in contrast with the usual routines of the other days of our week.

Consider this: what is it that we see and encounter here? The story of Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day by the oaks of Mamre may help us understand what we see here in this place, especially when we apply the Christian imagination to this story from Genesis, our first reading.

The heat of the day may have been for Abraham of old the midday time of siesta, a sabbath rest within the day. It’s amidst such a pause in the day that Abraham looked up and saw three men standing near him which became for Abraham a holy encounter, centered on a feast for the mysterious guests who then delivered the promise to Abraham and to Sarah that they would have their desired heir, a son, on whom all the promises of God hinge.

Seen through Christian lenses, we might liken Abraham to Mary, sitting for holy encounter. Indeed, this passage from Genesis was the inspiration for one of the most famous and compelling icons of the Orthodox church tradition, Rublev’s the “Hospitality of Abraham,” or of the Trinity. In the Christian imagination, the three men, later described in Genesis as angels, come to represent the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, seated in an arc around a table at which they feast as in the story from Abraham. The oak tree is in the background of the icon.

That tree may be imagined as the tree of life, the cross of Christ. Christ is the central figure of the three in the icon seated at the table, evocative perhaps of our Eucharistic table, where we share in the life of the Trinity. Sarah prepared cakes of choice flour – our sacramental bread. Abraham had sacrificed a calf, tender and good – suggestive of Christ’s own having been offered up on the cross.

In the Christian imagination, this is what we can fancy that Abraham saw in this holy encounter, resting in the heat of the day. And this is what we also see here in this place, when we sit in our version of sabbath rest in the presence of God in Christ, and in the inspiration of the Spirit.

Beyond what we might see in our holy encounter here, what message is it that we hear when we sit as Jesus’ feet in this place? It might include the echoes of the word of the apostle Paul as we heard in today’s second reading from Colossians. Listen again to this wonderful hymn to Christ from the very earliest Christian community, poetry that also sounds like a creed: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Christ is the head of the body, the church; Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Christ to reconcile to God’s own self all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)

Abraham resting under the oaks of Mamre. Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. Paul in a time apart writing a letter to the church extolling the wonders of Christ. We doing likewise here, our sabbath rest gathered around word and sacraments.

All of this is the antidote to our worry and distraction, freeing us to attend to the one needful thing, namely Christ our Lord, who will not be taken from us.

And from this hour of rest at the feet of Jesus, comparatively free of worry and distraction, with our faith here renewed, we return to engagement with the world in the work to which God has called us, namely, to do the tasks of the servant, Martha, in the life-giving, creative flow of the energies of the Spirit.

And what is the work of Martha? To serve our neighbors in need in loving care as Christ loves us. And that we, like Paul, may extend the suffering of Christ through our own suffering for the sake of the world as we also proclaim the gospel in word and deed. Let it be so among us now and always. Amen. 

Week of the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

At our recent meeting, the Congregation Council and I engaged in discerning conversation to determine together my last Sunday with you as pastor. Taking into account the multiple and often competing variables here, with the congregation in Phoenix, and with the complexities of a cross-country move, Sunday, August 7 was decided upon as my final Sunday. This day will come upon us quickly, but it is considered best practice in the church for pastors who announce their resignation to depart sooner rather than later. I announced that I had received a call from the congregation in Phoenix during the week of June 19 and then tendered my resignation as pastor on June 29. Approximately six weeks will have transpired between my resignation and my last Sunday. The common wisdom of current practice is for a resigning pastor to depart within a month or at most two months after the announcement of resignation. Thus, our timeline is in keeping with current practice in the wider church.

Also at our Council meeting, we agreed on a “to do” list of that which I and we will endeavor to accomplish together here for the sake of an orderly departure, efforts which will at their best prepare the congregation to receive its next called pastor. I pledge to do my level best to attend to the many details that will help set the stage for as smooth a transition as possible. Included on the to do list: working with other staff members and committee chairs on any outstanding items; the pastor’s exit interview with the bishop and her assistant for congregations in transition; my drafting a document listing pending matters which will be helpful to Council, an interim pastor, and the next called pastor; making certain that the church records are up to date; arranging for lay members to take on some of the administrative duties in the absence of an office administrator; crafting instruction documents to assist these lay members in their administrative efforts; attention to who will plan and lead worship and attend to pastoral care needs in my absence and, if needed, prior to the arrival of an interim pastor. Of special concern, of course, are the details related to the arrival of The Village School in our educational wing rooms. I am working closely with officials from the school and with our leaders to help to ensure as smooth a transition as possible into this new reality.

Moreover, the Council and I agreed that should need remain for me to be involved in administrative concerns even beyond the date of my formal departure, provision can be made for me to offer administrative help even remotely via Zoom, email, and phone calls until the end of August. There may be some poetic irony to that possibility, because I began my ministry among you remotely from Phoenix even before I moved to Arlington. How curious in these difficult pandemic days that I may also potentially conclude my ministry among you remotely and from Phoenix. The coming four weeks will reveal whether or not such involvements may be warranted.

Also at our last Congregational Council, Bishop Ortiz and her new assistant, Pastor Sarah Garrett Krey, were present via Zoom to outline a likely transition process toward calling a new pastor. The Bishop indicated that the current transition would not require a lengthy interim period. In fact, a new call committee will be convened prior to my departure, and work will begin on updating the congregation’s Ministry Site Profile also before my leave-taking. That timeline sets the stage for the possibility of receiving names of pastors to be interviewed perhaps beginning this fall.

As I mentioned in last week’s message, occasions of pastoral transition make for anxious times in congregational life. I hope that my outlining what is before us and the timelines will alleviate some of that anxiety, especially in my reporting that our leaders and I are committed to attending thoughtfully to the matters before us to make this transition as smooth as possible.

Further word is forthcoming about the events of Sunday, August 7 and how we will mark together at worship and following the conclusion of my pastorate at Resurrection Lutheran Church.

May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us through these days together in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 10:25-37

The question which the lawyer posed to test Jesus is a profound one: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus responded by asking the lawyer another question, and the lawyer ends up correctly answering his own question by summarizing the foundational law of the Hebrew people: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

Very straightforward. Not unlike what we heard in today’s first reading from Deuteronomy, which also focuses on keeping the divine law. There it says, “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away…”

Returning to the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer recorded in Luke, Jesus’ reply concerning the answer given summarizing the law is straightforward, but it’s also a zinger. Jesus said, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” Do this, and you will live. Simple, right? Straightforward? Yes. Easy? No.

When it comes to obeying God’s law, it’s easier said than done for us sinful mortals. Undoubtedly knowing this, the lawyer’s defensive reaction is that he wanted to “justify himself.” So do we.

Here, the plot thickens, revealing the sinful dynamics at play in the human heart and mind. The human tendency is to seek loopholes, easy ways out, approaches that help us to see and present ourselves in the best possible light without fully acknowledging our shortcomings.

So it is that the lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” That’s when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, or perhaps more aptly, the Merciful Samaritan.

In response to the man robbed and left for dead, the religious authorities, the priest and the Levite, do nothing, passing by on the other side. That response of maintaining their safe distance was undoubtedly in keeping with religious laws concerning purity, prohibitions against getting sullied by contact with those who are unclean. And a bloodied man would likely have been religiously unclean for clergy types of the day. So, they kept their safe distance, maintaining religious purity, and went on their way.

But it was the Samaritan, the foreigner, who came to the aid of the gravely wounded man and not only that, this foreigner went far above and beyond the call of duty in response to the wounded, dying man’s needs.

Moved with pity, with compassion, a gut-wrenching compassion in the biblical Greek, the Samaritan drew near, got up close and personal, became vulnerable, and offered first aid, took the victim to an inn where he took further care of him, and then even gave money to the innkeeper to tend to the man, offering to pay whatever it took to nurse the wounded man back to health. In short, the Samaritan was first responder, ambulance driver, nurse, and insurance plan all wrapped up in one person. That’s what it is to go above and beyond the call of duty.

After telling the story, Jesus again questions the lawyer: “Which of these three, [the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan], then, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer replied, again rightly and obviously, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus then said, “Go and do likewise.” And of course, we know from the nature of the story of the Good and merciful Samaritan that virtually none of us consistently does what the Samaritan did. More often than not, we commit the sins of omission of the priest and the Levite in passing by on the other side of all sorts and conditions of people in need. Thus, the story indicts the lawyer, and it indicts us by extension.

The over-the-top response of the Samaritan reveals the honest, truthful reality that we simply do not and cannot consistently and convincingly “go and do likewise” in showing life-giving, healing mercy to those most wounded and vulnerable.

Consider the state of our nation and world. Mercy is in short supply almost everywhere we turn, at least with the news stories that command our attention. Vengeance and cruelty and violence are more the spirit of our times. Yes, there are the merciful responses to our crises, but these are overshadowed by the enormity of the power of vengeance and cruelty which seem to be winning the day.

But of course, there’s also good news, because in Christ there always is. The parables of the gospels are almost always stories that point to Jesus, that reveal the nature of Christ and his mission and ministry.

So, considering the story of the Good Samaritan with a view to Christ Jesus, we may see Jesus as the Merciful Samaritan, he whose approaches to religious authority and leadership, religious teaching and practice, were foreign to the stated religious teaching and leaders of Jesus’ day.
Time and again, Luke and the other gospel writers reveal a Jesus who did as the Merciful Samaritan did in going the extra mile to care for the wounded and vulnerable. In short, Jesus did not pass by on the other side. Dying on the cross, ultimately to be raised from the dead, is anything but passing by on the other side!

Normally, we might likely focus on Jesus riding on the donkey as he enters triumphantly the holy city Jerusalem. But here in this story, we see the wounded man on the animal, and Jesus as a Samaritan, whose approach to religion is foreign even to his kindred people, guiding the wounded one to the inn for hospital care. And in this case, unlike Jesus’ birth when there was no place for the holy family to stay, there was room in the inn for the wounded.

Moreover, on the cross we see a wounded God in Christ paying and repaying whatever is needed, ultimately resulting in the healing, the restoration, the eternal life which the lawyer was seeking. In short, in the Good and merciful Samaritan, we see the fullness of Christ.

In Christ, turning again to our first reading in Deuteronomy, we hear the promise addressed not just to the people of old, but to us, the wounded, for whom Christ is merciful: “The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings,” that “the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, delighting in you.” In Christ, these words of promise are for us, too.

For Jesus Christ is the only one who is obedient to the extent of fulfilling the demands of the law. That is at the heart of the gospel, the good news.

In the light of Christ, we hear and see the other words of Deuteronomy in perhaps a different way. Listen again with Christ in mind: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)

Indeed, Christ came down from heaven to be the word of God made flesh to dwell very near to us, full of grace and truth. In the waters of baptism, which bonds us to the baptism of his own death and resurrection, Christ has taken us to his bosom, carrying us over the stormy abyss of the seas of sin and mortality to the other side.
In the meal at this table, we take the word who is Christ into our very mouths in bread and wine, his body, his blood, that this word would dwell in our hearts for us to observe, in the power of Christ.

In short, it is Christ in us, working through us, and in spite of us, who fulfills for us the law of God’s justice.

Thus it is that Paul can say with confidence to the members of the church in Colossae whom he addresses in today’s second reading: “For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.” (Colossians 1:4-6) For “God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the dominion of the beloved Son of God, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” (Colossians 1:13-14)

That is to say, it is Christ, the merciful one, who draws so near to us that he dwells among us in word and sacraments, who makes it possible to bear the fruit of mercy for the wounded and dying of our world full of robbers. It is God’s work in Christ, our hands in ministries of mercy for our neighbors.

Thus, in Christ, here in this place, and in every Christian place, we get to go and do likewise in being merciful neighbor to the wounded ones here and everywhere. Thanks be to God in Christ. Amen.

Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Perhaps the initial shock of the announcement of my resignation as pastor at Resurrection to take another congregational call has begun to wear off, and the realities of this transition are now beginning to sink in more deeply. Even if there is general acknowledgement that my taking a call in Phoenix to be in close proximity to my son is understandable, that does not stop the human reality that this transition nonetheless evokes and provokes a wide variety of reactions and responses. The termination of my call here makes for significant upheaval in the life of our congregation. Understandably, many may be experiencing a full range of responses – shock, disappointment, sadness, anger, a sense of betrayal, anxiety, perhaps for some even relief, and more. It may also be that it would be appropriate to invoke some of the classic stages of grief in relation to our shared time of transition – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

Please know that I am still available to you for conversation about all of this as you desire. In fact, I am eager to have such holy conversation for the sake of making the most of our remaining days together. Further information is soon forthcoming about the actual date of my leave-taking and what the transition process will look like.

Resurrection Church has been in a state of transition for several years now. And just when life together seemed to be settling in to a new era of stability, my leaving reignites another period of transition. This is made all the more difficult by the realities of the pandemic and the upheaval it has caused for two years and counting. Moreover, national and international crises persist beyond the pandemic. Given so much change in nation and world, perhaps the last place we want still more change is in the church, which we yearn to be an oasis of stability amidst the storms of life.

It is also true that times of pastoral transition disrupt equilibrium in congregational systems. The pastor, as shepherd, has a coordinating role in creatively managing the natural tensions among members and groups within a congregation. When that coordinating role is removed from the system, then it’s natural for there to be some re-emergence of anxiety and perhaps even conflict. That’s true of every congregation, and of every human system.

Thus, the coming weeks and months call for renewed commitments to attending to the qualities that make for healthy Christian communal life. May the words of Paul guide our life together as we engage the rigors of this season of transition: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)

Please know that you are not alone in whatever sense of upheaval my leave-taking is provoking. Many other congregations are in similar boats, even as the whole ecosystem of the wider church is amidst an era of far-reaching change. And I, too, am not immune from these realities. I have not known consistent circumstantial stability in my life since at least late 2017 when the bishop of Metro New York Synod, my then boss, had to resign because of misconduct. Since that time, it’s been one significant crisis-related transition after another, most especially Nathan’s stroke. I, too, yearn for a return of stability. But the current nature of our world simply may not provide it.

How we are moved to frame this time is crucial for our creatively and faithfully living through it. Thus, I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to see the time before us, when the circumstances of stability and predictability and good order seem to be or are in fact taken from us, as an invitation to still deeper faith in Christ, trusting that in Christ all shall be well, that all is well, recalling the wisdom of Julian of Norwich. May we all be drawn to falling anew into the loving, merciful arms of God in Christ by the nudging of the Spirit, whose embrace is the source of our ultimate stability, a foundational reality that cannot be taken from us, even when the stormy seas of life seem to prove otherwise.

Trustingly – even if haltingly so – in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Page 1 of 18