Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 14:22-33 August 9, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

22Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, while he dismissed the crowds. 23And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. 26But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, here I am; do not be afraid.” 28Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

I have a confession to make: I barely know how to swim. For a variety of reasons, I was never taught how to swim as a child. As an adult, I did take swimming lessons, so I know the basics, and can manage to swim, more or less, in a pool. But it is not elegant.

The main issue for me is that I end up flailing, trying too hard. I don’t trust my body’s natural bouncy, and so I don’t relax into the act of swimming. To put it in theological terms, my swimming is works righteousness, trying to save myself by my own effort. My attempt at swimming is not an act of faith alone, of trusting my body’s natural capacities.

Perhaps my situation in the water is not unlike Peter’s in today’s Gospel reading. It’s clear that Peter had trust issues – his fear reveals that. He became frightened when he noticed the strong wind. That’s when he began to sink, and Jesus in the story made the observation, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Ecumenism is Not an Extra”

Dear Friends in Christ:

These midweek reflections serve as a vehicle for my teaching ministry on various topics, but they are also a good way for you to get to know me as a person of faith, and as a pastor. The topics I address inevitably express my priorities in ministry and in mission.

In that spirit, this week I want to address ecumenism, the effort to seek greater Christian unity among the churches. For many Christians today, the ecumenical movement is passé. Many have moved on to other commitments, for example, interfaith dialogue (also a crucial endeavor in our multi-faith world). Others have resigned themselves to the apparent reality that decades of theological dialogues have resulted in disappointing results when it comes to greater visible Christian unity. Still others recognize that new fissures have developed among churches leading to new and renewed divisions. Finally, too many, in my opinion, see ecumenism as extracurricular, a nice and occasional add on to ministry initiatives if one has extra time and energy.

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 14:13-21 August 2, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

13Now when Jesus heard [about the beheading of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Listen again to these words from today’s gospel reading: “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, [Jesus] looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled.” (Matthew 14:19b-20a)

When I read and hear those words, I cannot help but think of the Words of Institution that are part of the prayers of Thanksgiving at the Table when we celebrate the Eucharist.

During this increasingly long season of fasting from Holy Communion, these blessed words seem to echo hauntingly from a distant past. The last time I shared in the Holy Communion was Sunday, March 15, the Third Sunday in Lent. Maybe that was Resurrection Church’s last celebration, too. The last time I presided at Holy Communion was with you on the Sunday that you called me as your pastor, March 1.

So, we’ve been fasting for at least 20 Sundays now. Many of you and I can remember when Lutheran churches more commonly had Communion only once a month. By that count, if that were our practice, we’ve missed four Holy Communions. Some may be old enough or from traditions where Holy Communion was celebrated only quarterly. By that count, we’ve missed maybe one.

Happily, in the recent decades of worship renewal, the Eucharist, along with Baptism, have come to take a more central place in our Christian practice. Thus, our hearts may be stirred by the words of the prophet in today’s first reading from Isaiah: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isaiah 55:1)

Except that we cannot come to the gracious free banquet to eat and drink. So, we are left with our hunger, our thirst, our longing. Hearing the words that Jesus “looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them” – do I receive these words as a tantalizing taunt, or still words of promise?

How do we retain a central place for the sacrament of Holy Communion when we have not celebrated it for 20 Sundays already and counting, and are not likely to celebrate it again anytime soon?

The following straightforward method to devotionally engage scriptural texts is intended to take you deeper into God’s Word, carried on the winds of the Holy Spirit speaking in the Word, that we in the church may be further formed, reformed and transformed for our mission in the world. Each of the following movements, taking place over the course of a thirty minutes to an hour, takes us ever more deeply into the very presence of God known in the gift of the living Word.

Movement One: Preparation

For several minutes, think about what is on your heart and mind, ranging from personal to world events, especially that which you would have God address during this time. Spend some time in prayer, seeking the Spirit’s guidance for giving a living Word to you at this time.

Movement Two: Reading

Read the appointed/chosen scriptural passage slowly and deliberately. During a period of five minute’s silence following, pay close attention to what the passage actually says. What are the key words and ideas and points of the passage? This is the time for studied examination of the passage, discerning the more objective dimensions of its meanings. After this silent consideration, maybe mark or jot down what you think are the most important points of the reading.

Movement Three: Meditation

Read the biblical text a second time. In the five minutes of silence following this reading, meditate on what the passage might mean for you, and for us now in our own day. While the first reading sought the text’s objective meaning, now we turn to more subjective meanings based on and emerging from the insights of the first time of reading. After the silent meditation, maybe jot down in a journal or on note paper what you discern the Spirit may be saying to you, as the Spirit leads us today into all truth through dwelling with God’s Word.

Movement Four: Prayer

Read the passage a third time. In the five minute silent period following this reading, pray the prayers that well up in you, especially the ones that emerge from the previous silent periods and conversations.

Movement Five: Contemplation

Read the passage a fourth and final time. During this last five minute silent time, simply dwell in God’s presence in the power of the Spirit as that presence has been made known in the Word. This is a time to take the leisure to really let the living Word soak in you for your ongoing formation, reformation, and transformation in Christ.

Movement Six: Mission

After the period of silent contemplation, reflect on what your insights in this whole experience may mean for our mission in the world. Particularly, what living Word will we take with you into the world? What Word will we be and do in our ministry in daily life, and as an expression of the church’s mission in the world? Jot down ideas in a journal or on note paper.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “A Brief Introduction to Lectio Divina

Dear Friends in Christ:

A few weeks ago during my Sunday sermon concerning the seeds sown in various soil conditions, I said that I was eager to introduce you to a way of engaging – or being engaged by – the scriptures called lectio divina, or sacred reading. I said that this practice was a great way to really hear and to understand the biblical word, thus, nurturing in the power of the Holy Spirit the conditions for bearing the fruit of the word in our lives for the sake of the world.

In the absence of being able to introduce you to lectio divina in person – far preferable – I want to offer a brief narrative introduction this week so that you can begin to dwell with God’s word in your own devotions at home employing the patterns that characterize lectio divina.

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 July 26, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

31[Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The dominion of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in a field; 32it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches."

      33Jesus told them another parable: “The dominion of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

      44“The dominion of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

      45“Again, the dominion of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

      47“Again, the dominion of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

      51“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” 52And Jesus said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the dominion of heaven is like a householder who brings out of the household treasure what is new and what is old.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Given the pandemic and its interrelated crises, there is so much bad news out there that a new term has been coined: “doomscrolling.” Doomscrolling is when we move from one news feed to the next on the various formats on our devices that proclaim doom and gloom.

Our current realities, not just that there is a global health crisis, but that leaders in various settings are making choices to make matters worse, bring to mind words of one of the stanzas of Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God.” The first line of stanza three goes like this in translation: “Though hordes of devils fill the land all threatening to devour us….”

Hordes of devils filling the land with devouring threat – that seems to me to capture the most publicly evident aspects of the spirit of our age. Where’s the good news amidst all the bad news? Where is there obviously available, public evidence of God’s reign of justice, love, and peace in our current realities? How do we make sense of the apparent absence of the sacred in our very profane world?

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Doing the Work of an Evangelist”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Toward the conclusion of the second letter addressed to Timothy, this instruction is given: “do the work of an evangelist.” The wider exhortative context of the passage is this: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching…. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.” (2 Timothy 4:1-2, 5) While there is a lot to explore in these brief exhortations, today I want to focus on doing the work of an evangelist.

It is common that many Lutherans are shy when it comes to doing the work of an evangelist. Many of us come from Lutheran traditions rooted in the state churches of northern Europe where evangelism was not much of an issue, where birth and baptism made for citizenship and church membership automatically. Certainly, missionary Lutheran pastors were active in planting the church here in North America, but for many Lutherans of northern European descent, the new churches on this continent relied on a steady stream of immigrants to expand the membership rolls of congregations. It is also true that these same churches were passionate about sending missionaries abroad to other countries to do the work of evangelism, of making disciples elsewhere. But for many Lutherans, little attention has been given to evangelistic efforts here at home, resulting in membership losses when streams of Lutheran immigrants from Europe stopped arriving on our shores. Thus, doing the work of an evangelist is not necessarily part of the spiritual DNA of many Lutherans.

It is also true that many Lutherans want to distinguish themselves from other Christian denominations for whom evangelism, even a kind of strident, aggressive proselytism, is central to their self-understandings. Think of people representing these traditions who shamelessly go door to door, or stand on street corners, proclaiming the message of Jesus, but a version of that message that often focuses on hellfire and damnation, biblical literalism, guilt trips, and often particularly conservative social agendas. Many Lutherans understandably may want to distance themselves from such Christian groups.

Meanwhile the apostolic exhortation persists: do the work of an evangelist. How do we do this work faithfully? What methods do we employ? How do we form shy Lutherans in such a way that they are more comfortable talking with others in sharing their faith stories? Once we are able to return to routines that allow us to meet again face to face and in person, I look forward to introducing you to uncomplicated, straightforward formats for holy conversation in the context of which you can grow in your capacities for and comfort levels with sharing stories of how God is present and active in your lives. But how do we engage in evangelistic effort now when we are apart from each other and our social contacts are limited?

To address these questions about evangelism, let us distill it all down to some basics. Doing the work of an evangelist ultimately centers on making a simple invitation, namely, to come and see. Here’s the essential biblical foundation for doing the work of an evangelist: “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” (John 1:45-46)

‘Come and see’ may involve inviting someone to church with you. But since we are not meeting in person, how can we do that? Actually, we have a great opportunity before us born of the crisis of not being able to assemble in person on Sundays. The need to worship at home has presented Resurrection Church with the opportunity to establish a more prominent digital footprint with our weekly Home Worship resources and accompanying videos which are crafted for each Sunday. We now have edited watch-through worship videos that generally last a bit over thirty minutes. We also have the individual video files of sermons and hymns and psalms. Likewise, there are the text format documents of the Home Worship order of service and my weekly sermons. Moreover, our local Synod and our ELCA churchwide organization both produce some compelling videographic resources. There are also occasions when our bishops and other ELCA leaders are interviewed in the national media and links are made available to us.

Each of these resources is a potential tool to help you do the work of an evangelist. In our current physically distanced circumstances, the invitation, ‘come and see,’ may mean sharing links to our weekly worship and other resources with friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members and more. It’s a perfect opportunity for shy Lutherans to become evangelists, for it’s as easy as sending an encouraging email with a link to our resources, a great way during the pandemic to make the classic evangelistic invitation, ‘Come and see.’ Some of our members have reported to me that they are sharing links to our resources which proclaim the gospel. If you are not one of those people, I urge you to go and do likewise – do the work of an evangelist!

It is interesting to note that some ELCA congregations are reporting increased levels of engagement and participation via their digital presence. In many ways, our website and our congregation’s presence on other digital formats have become the new front doors of our church. How do we make the most of these new realities in this time of pandemic-induced sheltering at home as we nonetheless endeavor together to bear witness to Christ? That’s the evangelistic question that presents itself for mission-centered opportunity in this challenging and difficult season of our life together. May God in Christ lead us in faithful and appropriate ways as we respond to the mission opportunities before us.

For Jesus’ sake and in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 July 19, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

      24[Jesus] put before [the crowds] another parable: “The dominion of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. 26So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. 27And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ 28He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The slaves said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29But he replied, ‘No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. 30Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’ ”

      36Then Jesus left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” 37Jesus answered, “The one who sows the good seed is the Son-of-Man; 38the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of God’s dominion; the weeds are the children of the evil one, 39and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. 40Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. 41The Son-of-Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 42and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the dominion of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

We have before us a wonderful parable from Matthew’s Gospel, that of the weeds among the wheat, one of my favorites. In the servants' query about whether or not the Master might want them to pull out the weeds that had been sown among the wheat, the Master offers this punch line: "No, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest..."

I suppose this makes sense from a certain point of view. You don't want to endanger the wheat by inadvertently ripping it up along with the weeds. Having done a bit of gardening in my day I have known that danger firsthand – inevitably some of the flowers get pulled up along with the weeds, especially as they are all tangled together when they are fully grown.

But letting the weeds grow together with the wheat persists in being counter-intuitive in other ways, as we know that this is not a story about gardening, but about the dominion of God. The first impulse is to get rid of the weeds, lest they sully the divinely intended plantings. The parable says, no, let both wheat and weed grow together until harvest time.

But before we stop with this punch line, the parable raises still other issues for us as we let the parable evoke and call forth other implications (and parables at their best and on their own are quite expansive in the meanings that may emerge...).

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Missing Coffee Hour”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Many Lutherans commonly joke that their devotion to church coffee hour makes that social time a third sacrament. It would be easy to dismiss this as mere joking around and reduce the quip to one’s love for coffee. But I believe the attraction to events like coffee hours goes much deeper than the beverage. Casually gathering and lingering in person after the liturgy is an expression, an incarnation of Christian community, of communal bonding, that contributes to our sense of holistic well-being in Christ. Such koinonia – or fellowship as it has been called – occasions our getting to know each other better as we exchange information that reveals who we are to each other. This is in no way superficial. Even talking about the weather can have a certain gravitas in these days of climate change.

While coffee hour certainly cannot be considered a sacrament strictly speaking, such events may nonetheless have sacramental overtones and qualities, especially when gospel words are spoken, implied, or embodied when we gather in person and when we live out the grace-filled command of Jesus to love one another.

So it is that I dearly miss coffee hour at church, and other occasions for communal bonding and getting to know each other – lingering at the church doors in conversation, the casual conversations that typically begin and conclude church meetings in person, and the like.

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23 July 12, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

      1That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And in the sowing, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!”

      18“Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the dominion of heaven and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Having lived in intense urban settings for the last 30 years, I am relishing my renewed exposure to the delights of greenery in Arlington. I am especially enchanted by all the trees, how the leaves shimmer in the breeze and the branches wave in the wind. I am fascinated with the intricate structures of trunks and branches and twigs and leaves and how it all unfolds high into the sky. I am drawn to imagine how what is visible is paralleled by root systems as intricate below the ground that we cannot see.

And the wonder of it all – these towering, magnificent organisms, so very essential to the possibility of life on earth, have their origins in comparatively tiny seeds. The contemplation of this wonder causes me to erupt in praise and thanksgiving to our creator God. All the genetic material that makes a tree possible, that makes a tree a reality, is contained in a seed. Wow. Isn’t that magnificent?

Which brings us to the parable of the sower, the focus of today’s gospel reading. Today’s gospel is all about seeds, how they are scattered, and under what conditions they grow and thrive and bear fruit – or not.

God’s word is likened to seeds – scattered, growing, bearing fruit among God’s people.

When you think about it, a word is very much like a seed. Each word contains the potentiality to become what the word signifies, what the word means. The word ‘love’ can lead to the embodied expression of true love. Shouting the word, “stop!” can make people stop. So it is with words.

But sometimes words are just words – talk is cheap, they say. Cheap words are those scattered amidst conditions which inhibit germination, taking root, growing, and bearing fruit.

Still words do in fact sometimes become what they signify. As I am fond of saying, we combine words into sentences which become ideas. And ideas shape policies. And policies become realities governing how we live.

So it is also with God’s word, words which have great efficacy in the power of the Holy Spirit. The prophet Isaiah, in the passage appointed as the first reading today, makes this point:

10For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
      and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
   making it bring forth and sprout,
      giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
      it shall not return to me empty,
   but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
      and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10-11)

What makes the difference between words that are mere words and words which have the power to become the reality to which they point?

Jesus makes this pretty clear in his explanation to the parable of the sower. The seed of God’s word could not take root and bear fruit on the path, on rocky ground and among thorns, and he compares such conditions to conditions of the human heart which inhibit the fullness of growth.

In contrast, the seed of God’s word comes to fruition in the good soil. And good soil is characterized in this way by Jesus: “But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” (Matthew 13:23)

The one who hears the word and understands it bears fruit with a variable, but good yield, a hundredfold, sixtyfold, thirtyfold. Hearing and understanding – that’s what makes the difference between mere words and words that do things and create realities.

Hearing and understanding. How best do we cultivate the conditions in which we can hear and understand God’s word?

One way is to take the time and spend the energy to really dwell with God’s word of scripture – such dwelling is especially opportune at this time of fasting from assembling in person on Sundays for the Eucharist.

I am eager to introduce to you a practice of scriptural engagement that helps us really hear and understand God’s word. It’s a practice rooted in the Benedictine tradition called lectio divina, or sacred reading. Suffice it to say for our purposes here, lectio divina involves reading the same Bible passage multiple times so that you can really listen for and hear the passage’s main points.

Lectio divina is also a method of scriptural engagement that builds on traditional Bible Study, encouraging participants to listen prayerfully and in quiet to what the Spirt may be saying to God’s people in our own day. In these ways, lectio divina helps us understand God’s word, because we hear it more deeply.

But there are any number of ways to engage the scriptures for deep listening and toward deepened understandings. The main point is to slow down when you read the scriptures and really let the words soak into your heart, mind, soul, and body.

So, I encourage you: be about those practices that can nurture the conditions for you to really hear and understand God’s word such that the seeds of God’s word can germinate, take root, grow and bear fruit.

But I leave you with this crucial, final thought: germination, taking root, growing, and bearing fruit are not the result of our efforts, our activity. Rather it is God who gives the growth.

Consider trees once again. They are not mobile in the way animals are. Aside from waving in the wind, trees are stationary. They don’t go anywhere. They don’t do anything in the way we and other animals try to do things. Their growth, their fruit-bearing is emergent, organic; it unfolds over the course of years because of what’s in the seed, even as the trees stay put, growing where they’re planted.

So it is also in the Christian life. We can scatter the seed of God’s word with reckless abandon amidst all types of soil conditions in our lives and in our world. We can attend to the conditions of our individual and communal soil – through deeply hearing and seeking to understand God’s Word. But any fruit that we bear emerges organically through the power of the Spirit acting in God’s word, we merely being the vessels of God’s activity in us. Again, God gives the growth.

Therefore, trust the power of the seed of God’s word planted in you, for it contains everything necessary to become what it signifies, and to accomplish that for which God sent it. To God be the glory. Amen.

Here are some questions for your quiet reflection and/or holy conversation. If you’re watching the video, pause it if you like:

  • How would you describe the “soil conditions” in your life right now in terms of how receptive you are to deeply hearing and understanding God’s word?
  • What would it take to improve those conditions for better hearing and understanding?
  • Where do you see God’s word bearing good fruit in your life and in our world?

God in Christ bless your dwelling with these questions, your reflections, your conversations toward bearing fruit in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Parsonage as Priory?”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Those who pay attention to the background scenes in my sermon videos have noticed more things appearing on the walls in the parsonage dining room and kitchen area where I make the video recordings. Indeed, I am at that point of moving in where I am placing beloved pictures, icons, crosses, and more on the walls, a clear indication that I am making my home out of the house that is this congregation’s parsonage.

Having moved from a 500 square foot railroad apartment in Manhattan (which I viewed as a glorified dorm room) to a four bedroom house that is about six times the size of that New York domicile, I am delighting in all of the space and breathing room. I cannot imagine sheltering in place in what had been my New York City apartment. Needing to stay home here is comparatively agreeable indeed! I am thankful to God for my new home, and I am thankful to you in our congregation who expended the effort and resources several years ago to renovate and expand the parsonage.

But how does a single person, who is generally frugal and modest when it comes to his surroundings, make sense of and perhaps justify living in such a large house, which I have come to refer to as my palatial hermitage?

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30 July 5, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus spoke to the crowd saying:] 16“To what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another,  17‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.’ 18For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” 25At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

In today’s gospel reading we get a palpable sense of Jesus’ humanity in that he was exasperated with the popular culture of his own day. Jesus’ statements that begin today’s passage seem to indicate that nothing that either he did, or John the Baptist did would satisfy anyone. John was too ascetical and rigorous. Jesus and his followers, in contrast, liked their food and drink too much. Neither John nor Jesus were therefore well-received by the popular majority in their day.

There are some missing verses in today’s lectionary passage. In verses 20-24, left out of today’s reading, Jesus lashes out at the cities of his day that were unrepentant. “Woe to you cities,” he said. Then he named the names of some of those cities. And he warned of coming judgment.

Jesus seems to reserve particular frustration for the wise and the intelligent of his day.

We humans – often those considered most wise and intelligent – can indeed be maddening in the ways we complicate things.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “On Christian Freedom in Lutheran Accents”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Independence Day approaches, a national holiday on which we celebrate freedom from the tyranny of rule by a monarch. The Fourth of July gives us a good opportunity to contemplate what we mean by freedom.

Oh, there is much discourse – civil and uncivil – about the nature of freedom these days. We hear about freedom of speech, and freedom to assemble and to protest. There are movements to generate free markets and free trade, as in efforts to de-regulate businesses, for example. Then there’s academic freedom. And the freedom to choose in relation to reproductive rights. There’s also freedom of religion, as in the right to follow one’s own conscience and to practice one’s faith without the state establishing an official church or tradition. Religious freedom is also taken up in relation not just to worship, but to other practices as well, in health care and commerce, for example. Then there are those who advocate freedom from religion.

It all quickly becomes very complicated with lots of strong feelings and opinions on one side or the other and in between. One person’s exercise of freedom may infringe on the freedoms of others. It is common to hear the phrase, “It’s a free country,” which usually is a retort that essentially means that “I can do anything I darn please.” Thus, we have freedom from the constraint of any rule or regulation. This is freedom as licentiousness.

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 10:40-42 June 28, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

[Jesus said to the twelve:] 40“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. 41Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; 42and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Daily walks in the neighborhood in Phoenix where Nathan’s mom lives were a feature of my routine there. One street was my favorite – it was lined with very tall palm trees and the houses were gorgeous, historic bungalows built around 1915.

I’d walk along, studying the architectural features of these unique houses. One in particular caught my eye. It was not the architecture, but the signs displayed on the house: one sign announced that the inhabitants are members of the block watch; another warned that the property was under video surveillance; a third sign at the door said “no soliciting.” Then there was the fourth and final and largest sign – “Welcome to our Porch!”

I was tempted to knock on their door to enquire if they intended the irony of those signs’ very mixed messages or if the irony was lost on them. I thought better of that, wondering what kind of welcome I would receive….

Most congregations in my experience think of themselves as places of welcome. But working in the Bishop’s office for ten years gave me a chance to visit a lot of our churches and to experience those settings as a newcomer and outsider.

It’s often the case, intended or not, that the welcome given in many of our churches only goes so far and does not include all possible visitors and seekers.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Third Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Beautiful Danger of Christian Community”

Dear Friends in Christ:

As I write this reflection, an ad hoc planning group tasked with discerning when and how our congregation will assemble again in person has met twice. We have read guidelines provided by our Synod and the ELCA Churchwide organization, along with a set of ecumenical proposals for coming together again. Our discernment is also aided by protocols of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Centers for Disease Control, and more. Our conversations and reports from planning group members have been thoughtful and well-considered. What is overwhelmingly clear is that there is no easy, uncomplicated way to undertake gathering in person for worship and other church-related activities as long as the pandemic continues.

But what is perhaps most striking to me is that many of the activities that we cherish and which are central Christian faith practices are some of most dangerous things we can do in terms of the risk of spreading the coronavirus.

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 10:24-39 June 21, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

24“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! 26“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. 34“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Here’s a poignant irony of our days: even as we don masks on our faces to guard against the spread of the coronavirus, one of the significant features of our current crisis is a great unmasking, a revelation of realities that were more hidden, or masked, before the crisis.

What I am calling the inter-related, three-dimensional crisis of the pandemic, economic collapse for many, and racial unrest has revealed in bold relief the fragility of our global economic systems, and the deadly effects of wealth inequality and racial injustice.

It’s as if so many houses of cards have come tumbling down. It begins to seem quite apocalyptic – apocalyptic in the sense of that word’s etymology. Apocalypse comes from the Greek, and it means to uncover or to reveal. In that sense, yes, our days are quite apocalyptic.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Second Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Our Holy Conversations”

Dear Friends in Christ:

As routines begin to emerge in my ministry now that I have been in residence in Arlington for few weeks, I find that I need to remind myself of my own admonition which I introduced in one of these early mid-week reflections – to see the glass of my pastoral life simultaneously as being half full and half empty.

On the emptier side of things, I tend to be preoccupied with what we cannot do together because of our love-of-neighbor response to the pandemic. When I walk through the nave of the church, I grieve that we cannot celebrate the Eucharist, that I cannot preach in person with you who would gather in that space, and that we cannot sing hymns and intercede for the world together. I want to be able to visit you in your homes, and to have meetings in person and without face coverings. In short, I long for more people time and less screen time!

It is very important to give voice in prayerful lament over what we have put into dormancy out of care for those most vulnerable to the coronavirus. But such acknowledgement of grief should not come at the expense of also attending to what we can do in this season of fasting from our usual churchly routines.

Second Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 9:35-38, 10:16-23 June 14, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

35Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; 38therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”


16“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; 22and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Listen again to how Matthew describes Jesus’ response to great gatherings of people: “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

We are seeing crowds now, aren’t we? It started in Minneapolis and has spread to other major cities and even small towns, and now other countries. Some of the largest crowds are now a few miles away in the District of Columbia. A crowd even gathered in my little hometown of Monmouth, Illinois which is not at all known for political activity.

The triple crisis of the pandemic, economic collapse for so many, and racial injustice have combined to result in a spirit of desperation. Ever more people, it seems, feel “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of Holy Trinity Sunday 2020: “Another Look at Home Worship”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Our worship at home continues and will continue for the foreseeable future. Only this past week did we have the first meeting of a re-opening working group. Discernment, decision-making and planning for when and how we will assemble again in person for public worship is in its earliest phase. Meanwhile, another working group has been meeting for the past few weeks to make plans for a single watch-through worship video alongside individual video files to accompany and complement the Home Worship resources that we make available each week.

Here is some of what you can expect as our efforts to support worship at home evolve. First and foremost, we do not intend for you to passively watch the video as you might a TV show or movie. No, not at all! What we wish to encourage is your active participation from beginning to end in ways appropriate to your circumstances and routines at home.

The video will begin with a welcome from me as your pastor, inviting you to individual reflection if you are alone or to be in conversation with others at home concerning that which is on your heart and mind as you enter into the time for worship. This will lead into a meditative musical prelude offered by Barbara to accompany and inspire your active reflections.

The order of service in the video and its content are that which is provided to aid Home Worship each week. We are not producing an alternative worship service to that which we otherwise provide. No, the worship video seeks to complement those resources. Which is to say, your active participation can be enhanced by following along with our resources during the video. I will offer the opening acclamation and greeting. Lay readers will read the lessons. You can join with Barbara in singing the psalm. I will, as usual, proclaim the Gospel reading and offer a sermon.

Following the sermon is another opportunity for your active engagement – an invitation to reflection and conversation at home based on the themes of the readings for the day and the sermon. You may even wish to hit pause on the video to allow for that reflection and conversation. After that you, too, can share in gospel proclamation by singing the Hymn of the Day at home, led by Barbara’s accompaniment and a familiar voice among congregation soloists.

Your active participation continues with the prayers of intercession led by Resurrection members. In the pauses, pray your own prayers. The service draws to a close with another hymn, a closing prayer, and the Lord’s Prayer led by another lay member. Before the final blessing, I will invite you to turn your hearts, minds, and attention to your anticipated ministry in daily life in the coming week. Let the reflections and conversations continue into the day as the video concludes.

So, you see, there will be opportunity for active engagement from beginning to end. The ideas for encouraging dialogical engagement in worship emerge from a book that I wrote several years ago, Holy Conversation: Spirituality for Worship (Fortress Press 2010) in which I apply to the shape of the church’s liturgy the movements of lectio divina, or sacred reading, a meditative and prayerful spiritual practice to engage the scriptures. As my book’s title suggests, dialogue or conversation with ourselves and with each other and with God speaking through the scriptural and liturgical word is an important dimension of worship.

The weekly worship video will be crafted and edited by member, Carson Brooke, whose passions and studies focus on videographic creative work. While there will be sights and sounds from our church building, where we long to return with each other in person, you will also see and hear people helping to lead our worship in their own homes. I will continue to offer my sermons seated in the living room of the parsonage, my new home. Hence, worship at home, an extension of the church as intended and practiced by Martin and Katie Luther and their family.

This weekly worship video is a servant tool, an aid, to nurture your active worship at home. The video is not that worship! It’s simply a tool, a resource that serves to complement the other resources we provide online and in print which all lead to your worship. Please engage these resources in ways that are appropriate to your circumstances and routines at home. We aim to be flexible in what we offer, knowing that your domestic realities are not uniform, even as our resources also seek to nurture our common worship when we are apart.

Please make the most of our resources, again in ways that make for your active, reflective, conversational, worshipful and prayerful presence at home. As I have said before, true worship of God is not a spectator sport!

Worshipfully and conversationally in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

The Holy Trinity, Matthew 28:16-20 June 7, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

16Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s brief Gospel reading is, in effect, Matthew’s version of the Ascension. Jesus doesn’t disappear into the clouds as in Luke. His leave-taking here is implied with his parting promise which concludes the book of the Gospel, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This Great Commission to make disciples among all nations is appointed for the festival of The Holy Trinity because it sets forth what would become the Trinitarian formulation that we use for baptism. It says here in Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

But the Holy Trinity as our understanding of God was not fully developed until after the biblical period. The cues and clues are present in the scriptures, but the understanding of God as one in three persons did not emerge until later in the early years of the church.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Festival of Pentecost 2020: “A Broken Heart over a Conjunction”

Dear Friends in Christ:

My heart breaks for everyone in Minneapolis whose hearts and lives are broken. My heart breaks over the many sad, tragic, and dangerous schisms elsewhere in our divided nation. My heart breaks for our broken world. I am apprehensive about the injustices, inequalities, and unrest in our nation and where it all may lead.

How has it come to this? There are, of course, any number of possible explanations from many and various perspectives and angles. For the purposes of this brief reflection, I want to zero in on one seemingly small, but, I believe, crucial dimension of what ails us, namely, the language we employ in our civic discourse. The words we choose are combined into sentences and paragraphs and narratives to become ideas and philosophies, and ideas and philosophies shape policies and policies shape our realities. In short, word choice can ultimately have profound implications on the course of history.

In particular, I want to focus on one two-letter word, the conjunction, “or” as it is used or implied in many of the debates of our age. It is important to take note of the conjunctions we choose when we engage in civic discourse, for conjunctions serve to build connections, and they can be used to separate, to make distinctions. And they can be misused to create division, and more.

Day of Pentecost, John 20:19-23 May 31, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the festival during which Christians mark the coming of the Holy Spirit which Jesus promised to his followers before his death, resurrection and ascension.

There are in fact at least two biblical accounts of the sending of the Holy Spirit – the one from Acts, chapter two, which is appointed as the first reading for this festival day, the story commonly thought of as THE Pentecost story. And then there’s the one you just heard in the Gospel of John, a story more commonly associated with Easter, as it proclaims a resurrection appearance by Jesus. But a noteworthy feature of this passage is also this: Jesus “breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’”

These two stories share few common features. They are, in fact, radically different accounts of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let’s take a closer look.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Seventh Sunday of Easter 2020: “Tending God’s Garden”

Dear Friends in Christ:

For the past several years, I lived three blocks from Central Park in Manhattan, a wonderful, life-saving gift to the city that used to never sleep. I delighted in visiting that magnificent, magical park as often as I could, but those visits were not the same as having a yard right outside your doors. Which is to say, I need to tell you, I am absolutely loving the parsonage, perhaps especially its easy access to God’s great outdoors. I love to sit on the deck with my morning coffee to visually take in the green of the yard and the church’s vegetable garden and the neighborhood trees. I often pray Morning Prayer on the deck, and afterward daydream about how the parsonage yard might be landscaped with flowers and bushes, and how the parsonage, inside and out, will become, I pray, a place of welcome and hospitality to members of the congregation, to various guests, family members, colleagues, and friends, who visit from in town and out of town. This holy daydreaming is laying the foundation for a vision for my ministry in this place.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, John 17:1-11 May 24, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, 2since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. 5So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed. 6I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

You’ve just heard another set of mind-bending sayings from Jesus’ Farewell Discourse in John’s Gospel. Instead of being directed to Jesus’ followers, in this reading Jesus speaks his words as prayer to God, the Father.

Listen again to some of this and try to wrap your mind around what Jesus says: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me…. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them…. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:6-8, 10, 11b)

You get all that straight? Clear as crystal? It’s this kind of discourse from Jesus in John that undoubtedly paved the way years later for the development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – one God, but three distinct persons of the Godhead.

Sermon for Ascension Day, Luke 24:44-53 May 21, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

44Then [Jesus] said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” 50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Ascension Day is a major festival in the Christian calendar, but it usually doesn’t get much attention in our churches in the United States. In some places in Europe, Ascension Day is still a national holiday – but people there who get a day off work and school are probably not paying much attention to the religious significance of this holy day either. So, what’s this day all about? In brief, today we celebrate Jesus’ return to his Father, his ascent into heaven, the logistics of which I chalk up to mystery.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Sixth Sunday of Easter 2020: “What’s Going on at Church?”

Dear Friends in Christ:

I am delighted to be writing this piece in my home office at the parsonage here in Arlington. At long last, I am in residence among you, even if we cannot generally enjoy interactions in person. Despite these most unusual circumstances, I am doing now what I always do in a new call, namely, getting a sense of what is going on in ministry in this place. Because of the pandemic, and in a manner similar to the coronavirus, which is itself hidden to the naked eye, a lot of ministry at Resurrection right now is not particularly visible to everyone. But things are happening – perhaps in truncated form – and many of the essentials of Christian life together are being undertaken even apart from our ability to assemble on Sundays and at other times. Here is a snapshot of what I have witnessed in just the few days since I arrived in Arlington.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, John 14:15-21, May 17, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

15“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s Gospel reading is a portion of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples, when he attempted to give them a sense of what was coming next for himself and for them.

For the disciples, this discourse prepared them for Jesus’ death, resurrection, and his return to the Father. For us, coming as it does in the latter part of Eastertide, this passage prepares us for the remembrance of Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, which we will celebrate this coming Thursday with additional Home Worship resources.

Either way, Jesus prepares the followers for the reality of his departure, at least in terms of their experience of how Jesus walked this earth as one of us. In order to set the stage, what Jesus gives the disciples and us is more mind-bending teaching about who he is and what comes next.

But the moment in today’s passage that most draws me in is this, when Jesus says: “I will not leave you orphaned.” When I hear these words of promise from Jesus, tears often come to my eyes. The words tap into primordial fears – common to humans – of being left behind, abandoned, alone. These precious words give some relief, or maybe a sense of safety to grieve those occasions when I have felt let behind.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Fifth Sunday of Easter 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

As a seminary professor and then as a Bishop’s Assistant, I spent a heck of a lot of time in front of computer screens for the past 18 years – as is the experience also of so many of you. This was a lot of time away from direct contact with people. One of the attractions of a return to a congregational pastorate has been the promise of more people time, face-to-face, in real life. Obviously, such people time is currently not an option.

I knew that my return to ministry as a pastor of a congregation would involve more screen time than was the case when I left the parish back in 2001. As it turns out, because of the pandemic, virtually all of my new ministry efforts are mediated by some form of technology. No doubt many of you also have experienced a huge increase in the amount of time you spend interacting with people via technology. Our technologies can be great servants of our varied activities, but perhaps things seem quite out of balance right now, when it may appear that we are servants of our technologies and not the other way around.

Fifth Sunday of Easter, John 14:1-14 May 10, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” 8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. 12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today’s gospel passage begins well with beloved, comforting words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled…” This is a perfect statement of promise for where we find ourselves amidst global pandemic when there are so very many troubled hearts for so very many good reasons.

But then right after this reassurance, Jesus launches into some very confusing prose about where he is headed – back to his Father – and what is in store for Jesus’ followers.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Fourth Sunday of Easter 2020: “Thoughts on Home Worship”

Notice of Home Worship on Ascension Day:

Resources for Home Worship will be available for the Festival of the Ascension of our Lord on Thursday, May 21. Join us at 7:30 pm that day to mark this important festival. The Home Worship order of service will be complemented as usual by a sermon and musical accompaniment.

Dear Friends in Christ:

We’ve been at this for seven weeks now, and it’s certainly going to continue for longer than we want: worshiping at home, unable to engage in perhaps the most fundamental Christian practice, assembling in person at church for worship on the Lord’s Day.

In the earliest days of Christianity under persecution, the church was driven underground – but the faithful still assembled in house churches. Our home worship is not driven by persecution. Rather, it is a loving act of hospitality to our neighbors to promote the greatest possible well-being for the greatest number in the human family – to attempt to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic, as it is said.

How do we make the most of this unwelcome suspension of our principle Christian act of being gathered by the Holy Spirit as a congregation on Sundays? In response to this crisis and opportunity, leaders at Resurrection Church have crafted resources for Home Worship, which, if you did not know it, have gotten national and international attention, and are distributed widely by our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Fourth Sunday of Easter, John 10:1-10 May 3, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday which features the beloved 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…” Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a major feature of John’s Gospel and is included among the many “I am” statements that appear in John. For example, Jesus says: “I am the vine.” “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” “I am the good shepherd.”

There’s another “I am” statement of Jesus in John, and it’s the one that takes center stage in today’s gospel passage. Jesus says, “I am the gate.” It’s interesting that on this Good Shepherd Sunday, Jesus as Good Shepherd is only implied in the passage chosen as today’s gospel.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D
Week of the Third Sunday of Easter 2020: “Fasting from the Feast”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Lenten fasting is supposed to be over. We are marking time now in Eastertide, the season of feasting. “This is the feast of victory for our God,” we love to sing. Except that we aren’t feasting. Because of the pandemic’s necessary social distancing, we cannot gather to share the principal feast of the resurrection, the Holy Eucharist. We persist in fasting from this feast.

But that’s not all. There are so many ways in which we continue to fast:

  • We are fasting from gathering as church, and with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.
  • We fast from what had been our usual daily routines, and too many from their very livelihoods.
  • Many are fasting from their weekday commutes.
  • We are on a fast when it comes to consumer spending on non-essentials.
  • We are fasting from sports and other forms of entertainment that involve crowds—going to the movies, to the theater, to the symphony, to the gym, to restaurants, and more.
  • This listing of the features of our fasting could go on and on. You can create your own list, and I encourage you to do so. It’s as if the entire human family throughout the world is on a fast in order to maintain the kinds of circumstances in which we can seek to limit the extent of infections from the coronavirus.

Lutherans believe that any spiritual exercise is to be undertaken voluntarily in the freedom of the gospel. Except that our global fasting is not actually free, especially in jurisdictions which mandate social distancing by law. Nor is the current abstinence motivated by faith, but by concern for public health. Many are beginning to chafe under these restrictions on life and livelihoods – note the protests that are happening in our nation and in other countries.

I must confess that I’ve never been one to do much fasting in a traditional sense. Honestly, I cannot remember ever having given up anything for Lent. Rather, I generally take on more devotional exercises during Lent. Fasting has not been on that list. Of course, I’ve engaged in medical fasts before blood tests and surgical procedures, but that’s very different from spiritual fasts in the service of the life of faith.

Why do people of faith fast? There are several reasons, but for our purposes here, one of the main goals of a fast is to break a particular routine and its claims on us for the sake of seeing the bigger picture. The absence of something dear to us, from which we fast, opens up the circumstantial and mental horizons to see the “forest for the trees,” as it were, to gain a new or renewed vantage point on our habits and how they shape and form our lives. Awareness is heightened in the absence of that which we have given up.

In popular spiritual practice, fasting often involves foods—giving up chocolate for Lent is a common example. But there are any number of different kinds of fasts. Going on a retreat is a fast from our usual daily routines. Insofar as monastic retreating has been and is a major feature of my spiritual life, perhaps I am more into fasting than I realize.

Fasting can be a useful way for us now to try to make sense of the various prohibitions and kinds of abstinence we are currently enduring in trying to limit the spread of the coronavirus. So, the question for us under the authority of the gospel is this: how do we make the most of this ongoing season of fasting, individually and communally, for the sake of our well-being and that of the whole world?

In short, we can claim this prolonged, comprehensive time of fasting as an opportunity to take stock of what had been our lives and routines, and to consider what “normal life” on the other side of the pandemic might look like, again in our individual lives, and in the life of our nation, and indeed for the existence of our whole species. That is, let the theme of fasting frame how you try to find meaning during this pandemic, in the service of discerning what feasting might look like after the fasting is over.

Maybe we will not be drawn to feast as extravagantly as we did in the past. Maybe we’ll choose to arrange our routines and our whole society very differently in our future compared with the time before Covid-19.

I am fascinated by and drawn to any number of columnists in the New York Times and the Washington Post and other publications who are asking in their writing these big picture kinds of questions. I encourage such reading to be part of your routine during these days of unwanted fasting as you try to figure out what on earth is going on.

If we have the circumstances which permit reflection – again, not everyone has such privilege right now – may we not squander this opportunity to discern through the guidance of the Holy Spirit a vision for the future, again in both our individual and communal lives, that more resonantly embodies the values of God’s justice and God’s commonwealth for all.

With prayerful best wishes in Christ Jesus, that we make the most of this time,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Third Sunday of Easter, Luke 24:13-35 April 26, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to Luke. Glory to you, O Lord.

13Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ. The Road to Emmaus is absolutely my favorite story in the whole Bible. I remember my discovery of the significance of this narrative when years ago I had the “aha!” moment of realizing that Jesus was made known to the disciples in the breaking of the bread.

My epiphany was that the risen Christ is finally recognized when he shares in the Holy Supper with his disciples. It’s the same way we recognize our living, risen Savior in Holy Communion. This, then, establishes an unmistakable continuity between the first Easter two millennia ago and our sacramental practices in our own day. Wow! I still marvel at this.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.
Week of the Second Sunday of Easter 2020 + “Half Empty? Half Full?”

You have your own unique experience of the pandemic. That is to say, there is no one-size-fits-all, universal story to tell. As a New Yorker for eighteen years, that was also my experience of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and of the city’s sets of experience of Superstorm Sandy. While each occasion affected New Yorkers profoundly, it’s a huge city, and wide swaths of the population suffered more or less, depending on proximity to the calamities. As I hear now from colleagues and friends in New York City, this wide range of experience is also true of the pandemic. For those in the most directly affected communities, the reality is apocalyptic, horrific. For the majority of the city’s population, though, greatly disrupted life goes on, albeit in surreal ways.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was to have been at a church meeting just a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center. At the last minute, I opted not to attend, not in any way knowing what would soon befall the city and world. Had I traveled to lower Manhattan that morning, I would have been one of those dust covered survivors in the streets when the second tower collapsed. Likewise, with Superstorm Sandy, I lived in a part of Manhattan which escaped the devastating ravages of the winds and flooding. Just a few blocks away, though, it was an entirely different story and thus experience.

In short, I was privileged, lucky. This is proving to be true now at this point with the pandemic. I am privileged through your generosity, for example, to serve in a profession which allows for telecommuting – though I dearly long to be with you all in person! Yet, at the same time, this pandemic deeply affects me, resulting in my own particular experiences of suffering. Each one of you is suffering the pandemic in your own ways, too. You have your own stories to tell.

Second Sunday of Easter, John 20:19-31 April 19, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Alleluia. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” 24But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” 26A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” 30Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Listen again to how this passage from John’s Gospel begins: “When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews….”

I love John’s Gospel, but I am deeply troubled by the numerous polemical references to the Jews throughout John. Sadly, tragically, this Gospel has been used throughout the centuries to advance the scourge of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism.

Concerning the intended meaning of this verse, it might be more accurate to say that the disciples feared the religious leaders and authorities, not all Jewish people. In fact, the disciples were themselves Jews.

Easter Sunday, Matthew 28:1-10 April 12, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia. We make this song, even as the chaos of pandemic wreaks havoc all around us. Still, Christ is risen indeed.

The holy gospel according to Matthew. Glory to you, O Lord.

1After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Because we’ve been awash in words throughout Holy Week (this is my fifth sermon in the space of a week!), I’m going to preach on one word from Matthew’s account of the resurrection. The single word in the New Revised Standard Version is this: “Greetings!”

Easter Vigil, John 20:1-18 April 11, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

“Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” This simple phrase conveys a defining moment of the account of the resurrection in John’s Gospel. “Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’” (cf. John 20:1ff.)

There’s something profound about hearing your name, especially from the lips of someone near and dear to you.

I very much look forward to learning your names, especially when I can be in ministry with you in person. Learning your names is one of my top priorities as I begin my pastorate at Resurrection Church, because there is something powerful about knowing and being known by name, especially by people who care.

It’s very different from the many occasions when computers can mine data to figure out our names, allowing people anonymous to us to be on a first-name basis with us on junk mail and during sales calls, all the while trying to convey a sense of familiarity when there is none. Using our names in such ways is offensive as ever larger, anonymous, impervious organizations intrude on our lives.

All of this in our tech-based experience is very much in contrast with those precious times when the beloved other names us by name. That’s sweet. Hearing our names from family members and friends, people with whom we are close, can make all the difference.

Good Friday, John 18:1-19:42 April 10, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Perhaps you’ve just had the fortitude to read through and engage the two heavy chapters that comprise the Passion according to John.

It’s a lot of words in a very dramatic story. Amidst the interweaving features of the narrative of Jesus’ last hours before his crucifixion, I listened for prompts of the energy of the Holy Spirit as I read the Passion, and was drawn to and captivated by Pilate’s question to Jesus, “What is truth?”

Jesus had just told Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”

That’s when Pilate asked him, “What is truth?”

It’s a compelling question in our day in the life of the world. Consider Stephen Colbert’s comic explorations of “truthiness.” Or the whole Post-Modern, De-Constructionist movements in the academy that call into question the possibility of truth that is not historically and culturally contextualized such that truth is thus always relativized.

Think of “fake news” and the erosion of trust in science and the word of experts. And on and on.

“What is truth?” – it’s abundantly clear that’s a salient question in our age.

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

Maundy Thursday April 9, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Greetings in Christ on this holy, Maundy Thursday as we begin our worshipful engagement from home during these Three Days, a high point of the liturgical year in our Christian life together.

Let us pray. Gracious God in Christ, as we again share in the drama of Holy Week, but this year from our homes, take us nonetheless deeply into the mysteries of our salvation through your Word and the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

From the Gospel of John, appointed for Maundy Thursday (cf. John 13:1ff.): Jesus “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

In other words, Jesus did not practice safe social distancing.

Passion/Palm Sunday, Matthew 26:14-27:66 April 5, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Greetings in Jesus’ name on this Palm and Passion Sunday! Surely we miss our palm fronds and branches on this day, and the procession, the exuberant singing and dramatic readings of the Passion narrative. We miss crying out, Hosanna, echoing the cries of God’s people to our Lord through the millennia.

The cry of “Hosanna!” has perhaps poignant meaning for the whole human family on Palm and Passion Sunday 2020, the year of pandemic, our global health crisis – for the meaning of “Hosanna!” in Hebrew is something like, “Save us, we pray! Help us! Rescue us!”

Surely that is the cry of our hearts this day.

My sermon is based on the Passion according to Matthew – which is far too lengthy to read to you now! But I hope that you’ve had a chance to read the Matthew passage on your own devotionally.

As always: God, take us deeply into your holy word, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I begin with a real-life anecdote. A few weeks ago, I was contacted by my credit card company who informed me that someone made an unauthorized purchase using my card number – a $650 expenditure with a big box retailer in Minnesota. I am glad for my credit card company’s vigilance, but it saddens me that such protections need to be in place and that the internet is teeming with bandits and thieves, not unlike the dangerous highways and byways of old when safe passage was threatened by robbers.

This got me to thinking about the pervasiveness of human sin and its effects – sin not as a philosophical or theological notion, but as an empirical, historical reality. Think of how much time, energy, money and effort are expended in response to human misdeeds, or what we might call sin.

Dear Friends in Christ:

Grace and peace to you in Jesus’ name! I am crafting this statement to you on the first day that I am officially your Pastor. How I wish I were in Arlington to greet you at the door of the church on Sunday mornings. How I would rather be writing this letter in the pastor’s study at the church office. But here I am in Phoenix, Arizona….

Given these unusual circumstances in which I begin my call at Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church, I want to provide for you a sense of how I intend to spend my time in ministry with you from a distance. In consultation with Council President, Mike Burmeister, I have developed a listing of my beginning priorities as Pastor – all of this, of course, is subject to change and addition, depending on need and opportunities.

Lent 5, John 11:1-45 March 29, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

“When Jesus saw [Mary] weeping, and [those] who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘Where have you laid [Lazarus]?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. So [they] said, ‘See how he loved him!’ But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’ Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ Many of [those] therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

“Jesus began to weep.” In the Revised Standard Version, the phrase is even more terse, simply two words: “Jesus wept” – the shortest verse in that English translation of the Bible.

Jesus wept for his friend, Lazarus, and for his family and wider social circle.

Jesus weeps for us, too, perhaps especially now during this time of global upheaval with the pandemic.

Lent 4, John 9:1ff. March 22, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

Greetings in Jesus’ name! Here we are in uncharted waters as we endeavor creatively to be and to do church in this time of upheaval with the global pandemic. Preaching alone to a camera is a first for me. So, may God in Christ bind us together in these new formats so that we may continue to proclaim the gospel. Let this new venture begin as we are led by the Holy Spirit ever more deeply together into God’s word.

The holy gospel according to John. Glory to you, O Lord.

“As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ which means Sent. Then he went and washed and came back able to see.”

The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.

Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Keep your distance – at least six feet. And don’t touch your face.

Dear People of God at Resurrection Church:

First off, I want you to know that I am delighted that you called me to be your pastor! Also, when I phoned my son, Nathan, later in the afternoon of the Call Sunday, his mother reported that he had a big grin on his face as I shared with him the good news of my call. My abiding thanks both to the members of the Call Committee and to the Congregation Council for shepherding a faithful process which resulted in my call to lead and to serve at Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church.

After my weekend with you all at Resurrection, I immediately made arrangements to move to Arlington on March 21, but then Covid-19, now declared a pandemic, intervened. “The best laid plans of mice and mortals….” Each time I have taken concrete steps to become your pastor, a crisis has interrupted the journey! On first blush, one might say that all of this is not meant to be. But I believe such a voice could well be that of the tempter, and not the divine voice. The paths that God’s call takes us on are seldom easy, uncomplicated ones. The biblical witness, from beginning to end, is rich with stories of harrowing holy journeys. The difficulties of the paths we are traveling together, thus, give as much evidence of the sacredness of what we’ve undertaken as anything else.

My birthday is February 14, Valentine's Day. This year it was also Ash Wednesday. I don’t normally think about the full circle of life on my birthday, however this trio had me reflecting quite differently this year.

We don’t know the time for when we will be born and we don’t know the hour when God will call us home. It just happens, in His time. What we decide to do during that time is what matters most.

Sunday, January 14 was our service day. Every year over the Martin Luther King weekend the children and youth come together to work on a service pro-ject. This year our focus was on service to others.

Our Confirmation and High school youth came together and made 24 loaves of Communion Bread. It’s great when our youth can come together and strengthen their bonds and work on a project that benefits others. In this case it benefits our church. With 14 youth in attendance, the kitchen looked pretty clean when it was all over. Thanks to the adults that mixed and mingled with the youth as they were mixing the dough for our Communion Bread and mingling among friends.