Hymn of the Day: “Comfort, Comfort Now My People” ELW 256
Text: John Olearius (1611-1684), tr. Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878)
Tune: FREU DICH SEHR or GENEVAN 42, Claude Goudimel (1505-1572), Louis Bourgeois (1510-1561)
Born into a family of Lutheran theologians, Olearius received his education at the University of Wittenberg and later taught theology there. He was ordained a Lutheran pastor and appointed court preacher to Duke August of Sachsen-Weissenfels in Halle and later to Duke Johann Adolph in Weissenfels. Olearius wrote a commentary on the entire Bible, published various devotional books, and produced a translation of the Imitatio Christi by Thomas a Kempis. In the history of church music Olearius is mainly remembered for his hymn collection, the Geistliche Singe-Kunst, which was widely used in Lutheran churches.
It was one of the largest and most important German hymn-books of the 17th century. The first edition contained 302 hymns by Olearius himself, and marked "D. J. O." They may best be described as useful, being for times and seasons previously unprovided for, and filling up many gaps in the various sections of the German hymn-books. They are mostly short, many of only two verses, simple and easy of comprehension, often happy in expression and engaging, as is today’s Hymn of the Day, and embodying in a concise form the leading ideas of the season or subject. Many were speedily adopted into German hymn-books, and a considerable number are still in use.
The music of Claude Goudimel was first published in Paris, and by 1551 he was composing harmonizations for some Genevan psalm tunes, initially for use by both Roman Catholics and Protestants.
In both his early and later years Louis Bourgeois wrote French songs to entertain the rich, but in the history of church music he is known especially for his contribution to the Genevan Psalter.
Louis Bourgeois composed or adapted this tune for Psalm 42 for the Genevan psalter. The 1564 harmonization by Claude Goudimel originally placed the melody in the tenor. An alternate harmonization with descants by Johann Crüger can be found in the Psalter Hymnal.
Organists will find preludes to this tune under GENEVAN 42 in Dutch works or under FREU DICH SEHR in German works.
Offertory Anthem: “In Night’s Dim Shadows” Robert Lehman (1960)
This is a beautiful strophic setting of the Advent text by Charles Coffin (1676-1749). Robert Lehman is an American conductor, organist, harpsichordist and composer. He has served on the staff of several distinguished churches, including the Washington National Cathedral (of which he is a Fellow), the Princeton University Chapel, and Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, New York City.
In night’s dim shadows lying,
Our limbs fast lock’d in sleep,
to thee, with faithful sighing,
Our souls their vigil keep.
Desire of every nation,
Hear, Lord, our piteous cry;
Thou Word, the world’s salvation,
Uplift us where we lie.
Lord, be thine Advent hasten’d,
Lest sin thy people mar;
The gates which Adam fasten’d —
The gates of heav’n, unbar.
Son, to thine endless merit,
Redeemer, Saviour, Friend,
With Sire and Holy Spirit
Be praises without end. Amen.
Opening Voluntary: “Freu dich sehr, O miene Seele” Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933)
Sigfrid Karg-Elert was a German composer in the early twentieth century, best known for his compositions for pipe organ and reed organ. His 66 Chorale Improvisations for organ, Op. 65, were composed between 1906 and 1908, and first published in six volumes in 1909. The composition was dedicated to "the great organist Alexandre Guilmant". Today’s Opening Voluntary,“Freu dich sehr, o meine Seele,” ("Comfort, Comfort Ye”) Opus 65, No. 5, is from the series. It is a succinct piece in a lilting 3/4 meter marked “Alla Sarabanda” and a good example of Karg-Elert’s text-painting abilities, which are extensive and never timid. In this piece, he is rather quiet and reflective. Notable composers who influenced his work include Johann Sebastian Bach, Edvard Grieg (a personal friend and mentor), Claude Debussy, Alexander Scriabin and Arnold Schoenberg.
Closing Voluntary “Besancon” (People Look East), Wayne L. Wold (1954)
This engaging carol, published in 52 hymnals with various texts, is a French traditional tune, harmonized by Martin Shaw (1875-1958).
Wayne Wold is professor and College organist at Hood College. He is an active composer, author, performer, church musician and clinician, and serves as the director of Music Ministry at First Lutheran Church in Ellicott City, Maryland.
He is also editor and frequent author of a monthly column entitled “Musicians on the Side” in the journal The American Organist. He served on the editorial committee for the hymnal Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
Hymn of the Day: #902, "Come Now, O God"
Text: David Bjorlin, (1984)
Tune: LOST IN THE NIGHT Finnish Folk Tune
The tune lost in the night was David Bjorlin’s inspiration for this Advent hymn of lamentation. Referencing Isaiah 7:10-17, Isaiah 64:1-9, and Matthew 1:18-25, this text was published as part of Bjorlin’s collected poetry, Protest of Praise, of which he says, “True praise is always a protest against all that curses or denigrates the Creator’s world.” In “Come, now, O God,” we can name and make ours the messianic expectations of the Old Testament prophets. They remind us that true protest is, at its core, the courage to envision the world not as it is, but as it can be.
Offertory Anthem: “Thou Shalt Know Him When He Comes”, Mark Sirett (1952)
Mark Sirett is one of Canada’s leading choral composers, fully versed in the craft of choral writing and always bringing something original to his compositions and arrangements. His award-winning works have been performed, recorded and broadcast by leading ensembles worldwide, including Chanticleer, VocalEssence and Elora Singers.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by any din of drums,
Nor his manners, nor his airs,
Nor by any thing he wears.
Thou shalt know him when he comes,
Not by a crown nor by a gown,
But his coming known shall be,
By the holy harmony
Which his coming makes in thee.
Thou shalt know him when he comes.
Opening Voluntary: “Nun komm , der Heiden Heiland” and CLOSING VOLUNTARY “Wachet Auf” Paul Manz (1919-2009)
Paul Otto Manz was an American composer for choir and organ. As a performer, Manz was most famous for his celebrated hymn festivals. Instead of playing traditional organ recitals, Manz would generally lead a "festival" of hymns from the organ, in which he introduced each hymn with one of his famously creative organ improvisations based on the hymn tune in question. The congregation would then sing the hymn with his accompaniment. Many volumes of these neo-Baroque chorale prelude improvisations have been written out and published and are among his most famous organ works, played by church organists throughout the world. Today’s Voluntaries are two of those improvisations.
Hym of the Day: “Holy God, Holy and Glorious” ELW 637
Text: Susan R. Briehl (1952)
Tune: NELSON, Robert Buckley Farlee (1950)
In 1993 Paul Nelson was appointed director for worship in the Division for Congregational Ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He died
on October 28, 2000, after a lengthy disease for which he received a blood and bone marrow transplant. Susan Briehl wrote this hymn text two or three weeks
before he died. Here is how she describes it:
I wrote "Holy God, holy and glorious" not as a hymn text, but as a gift to our friend Paul Nelson as he grew mysteriously weaker and weaker. A theologian of the cross to the end, Paul proclaimed Christ to me and to many in his dying, just as he had in his living. Later, when he invited me to pray the intercessions at his funeral I drew images from this poem for the prayers. Because it was not intended as a hymn I am especially grateful to Robert Buckley Farlee, who was willing to work with this odd meter. The hymn sings what Martin Luther called a theology of the cross. God's glory and majesty are hidden under their opposites. The eternal Word becomes frail flesh in Jesus in whose life, suffering, death, and resurrection we behold God. God's strength is revealed in weakness, God's beauty in what humans despise, God's wisdom in foolishness, and God's life in death.
Organ Voluntaries “Nun danket alle Gott” Jeffrey Honoré (1956) and Toccata “Nu la oss takke Gud” Egil Hovland (1924-2013)
For the Voluntaries today I offer two contrasting settings of the tune “Now Thank We All Our God.” The German hymn text was written by Martin Rinkart in 1636 as a table grace for his family. Johann Crüger, published the melody in the 1647 edition of his Praxis pietatis melica. Catherine Winkworth translated the hymn into English.
Jeffrey Honoré has placed Cruger’s melody, delicately ornamented, over a gentle, quiet accompaniment, creating a reflective setting that is very peaceful. Honoré graduated magna cum laude with a degree in music from the University of Wisconsin. He taught high school choral music in Ripon, Wisconsin. Since 1984, he has worked full time as a pastoral musician in the Catholic tradition, serving parishes in Milwaukee and Phoenix. He also has been the director of the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Choir since the mid-1990s. He remains active in handbell, choral, and organ writing, mainly for the church.
In this exuberant toccata by Norwegian composer Egil Hovland, the hymn tune sounds out in canon between the top notes of rapid finger figurations and the bass notes of the pedal.
Hovland (1924-2013) was born in Råde. He studied at the Oslo conservatory with Arild Sandvold and Bjarne Brustad, in Copenhagen with Vagn Holmboe, at Tanglewood with Aaron Copland, and in Florence with Luigi Dallapiccola. He was the organist and choir leader in Fredrikstad from 1949 until his death. His many works include two symphonies, a concerto for trumpet and strings, Music for Ten Instruments, a set of variations for two pianos, and a lament for orchestra. His sacred works include a Norwegian Te Deum, a Gloria, a Magnificat, and numerous works for organ. He was one of the most noted church composers of Norway.
Offertory Anthem “Welcome Table” Mark Hayes
This is a setting of the African American spiritual "I’m a-Goin'-a Eat at the Welcome Table” arranged by Mark Hayes. Even though this song sings of feasting at the Lord’s table, it is not about the sacramental table alone. We sing this song in hope of the time when, “some of these days,” all will be welcomed to the feast of the Lord at both earthly and heavenly tables.
I'm a-goin'-a eat at the welcome table,
I'm a-goin'-a eat at the welcome table,
some of these days.
I'm a-goin'-a feast on milk and honey,
I'm a-goin'-a feast on milk and honey,
some of these days.
I'm a-goin'-a wade 'cross Jordan's river,
I'm a-goin'-a wade 'cross Jordan's river,
some of these days.
Hymn of the Day: “When Our World Is Rent by Violence” ACS 1052
Text: David Bjorlin (1984)
Tune: FORTUNATUS NEW Carl F. Schalk, (1929-2021)
The music of lament is not always slow and mournful. Sometimes it can be agitated and despairing. Hymnwriter David Bjorlin, a pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, gives us a text in the great tradition of sung lament that goes back to the Psalms. The painful naming of afflictions that beset our world is joined to prayers for justice and relief. The musical urgency of Carl Schalk’s sturdy hymn tune gives strong voice to this plea for justice, mercy, and peace.
Opening Voluntary “Chant de Paix” Jean Langlais (1907-1991)
Jean Langlais was a blind French composer of modern classical music, organist, and improviser. He was born in La Fontenelle, a small village near Mont St Michel, France. He became blind when he was only two years old, and was sent to study at the National Institute for the Young Blind in Paris, where he began to study the organ. From there, he progressed to the Paris Conservatoire, obtaining prizes in organ, which he studied with Marcel Dupré, composition, which he studied with Paul Dukas, and improvisation, which he studied with André Marchal.
After graduating, he returned to the National Institute for the Young Blind to teach, and also taught at the Schola Cantorum from 1961 to 1976. However, it was as an organist that he made his name, following in the steps of César Franck and Charles Tournemire as Organist Titulaire at the Basilica of Sainte Clotilde in Paris in 1945, a post in which he remained until 1987. He was much in demand as a concert organist, and toured widely across Europe and the United States.
Outside music, Langlais was a colorful and charismatic character, for many years living with both his first wife and his mistress (later to become his second wife), and fathering a child at the age of 73.
Langlais died in Paris aged 84, and was survived by his second wife Marie-Louise Jaquet-Langlais.
Offertory Anthem “Lost in the Night” Hal H. Hopson.
This anthem is based on a Finnish folk tune most often paired with this text which appears in 8 hymnals. This is a haunting hymn of longing for morning to come and vanquish the dark night's despair. It comes from the Scandinavian Lutheran heritage through Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). The basis of the hymn is a Finnish love song. The last line can be translated "Are you coming soon?" It can be found in The Covenant Hymnal (1996) at #769 with an English translation that begins "Hide not your face." No other tune in Evangelical Lutheran Worship starts like this one, with an upward minor sixth--which, when coupled to this text, helps to explain the haunting quality.
Hal H. Hopson (1933) is a prolific composer, arranger, clinician, teacher and promoter of congregational song, with more than 1300 published works, especially of hymn and psalm arrangements, choir anthems, and creative ideas for choral and organ music in worship.
Lost in the night do the people yet languish
Longing for morning the darkness to vanquish,
Plaintively sighing with hearts full of anguish,
Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon?
Must we be vainly awaiting the morrow?
Shall those who have light no light let us borrow,
Giving no heed to our burden of sorrow?
Will you help us soon? Will you help us soon?
Sorrowing wand’rers, in darkness yet dwelling,
Dawned has the day of a radiance excelling,
Death’s deepest shadows forever dispelling.
Christ is coming soon! Christ is coming soon!
Light o’er the land of the needy is beaming;
Rivers of life through its deserts are streaming,
Bringing all peoples a Savior redeeming.
Come and save us soon! Come and save us soon!
— Tr. Olav Lee (1859-1943) alt.
Closing Voluntary: “LAUDES DOMINI” (When Morning Gilds the Skies) Robert A. Hobby (1962)
Robert Hobby is an organist, choir director, clinician and composer based in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Hymn of the Day: “For All the Saints,” ELW 422
Text: William W. How (1823-1807)
Tune: SINE NOMINE, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958).
Ralph Vaughan Williams composed SINE NOMINE for this text and published it in the English Hymnal in 1906. Vaughan Williams wrote two harmonizations- one for unison stanzas and one for choral stanzas. The tune's title means "without name" and follows the Renaissance tradition of naming certain compositions "Sine Nomine" if they were not settings for preexisting tunes.
Equipped with a "walking" bass, SINE NOMINE is a glorious marching tune for this great text. Many consider this tune to be among the finest of twentieth-century hymn tunes. Allowing the "alleluia" phrase to enter before our expectation of it is a typical and very effective Vaughan Williams touch.
"For All the Saints" is considered to be William W. How's finest hymn text. Originally in eleven stanzas, it was published in Earl Nelson's Hymns for Saints' Days (1864) with the heading, "Saints' Day Hymn.
Offertory Anthem: “REQUIEM,” Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924)
Puccini wrote this short Requiem – actually the setting of the antiphon to the Introit of the Mass for the Dead – as a commission for the publisher Giulio Ricordi for the fourth anniversary of the death of Giuseppe Verdi (1905).
Requiem æternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Opening Voluntary: “Den Store Hvide Flok,“ John Ferguson (1941)
DEN STORE HVIDE FLOK (also known as BEHOLD A HOST and GREAT WHITE HOST) is a seventeenth-century Norwegian folk tune from Heddal that Ludvig Lineman published in his Aeldre og nyere norske fjeldmelodier (Oslo, 1853). The harmonization in the hymnal is from Edvard Grieg's Opus 30, #10, for male chorus.
John Ferguson is an American organist, teacher and composer. He became the Elliot & Klara Stockdahl Johnson professor of organ and church music at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota, and later became the conductor of the St. Olaf Cantorei
Closing Voluntary: “Vineyard Haven” ("Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart”), Robert J. Powell (1932)
Today we can indulge ourselves when singing E. H. Plumptre’s text "Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart" to the familiar tune, MARION, with its appealing melodic contour and an effective refrain line, followed by Robert J. Powell’s stately organ setting of another one of our great twentieth-century hymn tunes, VINYARD HAVEN, composed by Richard Dirksen in 1974 for the text "Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart" as a processional choral anthem for the installation of Presiding Bishop John Maury Allin at the Washington (D.C.) Cathedral, also known as the National Cathedral. VINEYARD HAVEN was first published as a hymn tune in Ecumenical Praise. Dirksen wrote that the quality of rejoicing was intended to foreshadow the raising of "such 'Hosannas' forever in [God's] presence and with the company of heaven in the life eternal." The tune is named after the town on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, where the Very Reverend Francis B. Sayre, Jr., who was then Dean of Washington Cathedral, had his permanent home.
Robert J. Powell earned his Bachelor of Music in Organ and Composition from Louisiana State University in 1954 and his Master of Sacred Music from Union Theological Seminary School of Sacred Music, New York in 1958. He holds Certificates of Fellow (FAGO) and Choirmaster (ChM) from the American Guild of Organists and is a member of American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers( ASCAP). He has received the Standard Music Award from ASCAP for the last 35 years.
MOTET #3: Jesu, Meine Freude, BWV 227, Johann Sebastain Bach
All of Bach’s six authenticated motets were written between 1723 and 1727 for St Thomas’ Church, Leipzig, where Bach was appointed as director of music in 1723. During this period, Bach composed most of his cantatas, and it seems likely that for ordinary Sunday services he used existing motets from the seventeenth century tradition, reserving his own motet compositions for special occasions.
Four of his six motets were written for the funeral services of prominent members of the St Thomas’ congregation. Jesu, Meine Freude (BWV 227), the longest, most musically complex and earliest of the six, was written in 1723 for the funeral of Johanna Maria Käsin, the wife of Leipzig’s postmaster. It is a beautifully constructed motet, one of the few works by Bach for five-part mixed choir. Unique in its complex symmetrical structure juxtaposing hymn text and Bible text, the motet has been regarded as one of Bach's greatest achievements in the genre. Musicologist and Bach scholar Christoph Wolff suggested that the motet may have been composed for education in both choral singing and theology. It was the first of his motets to be recorded, in 1927.
Motet BWV 227 Jesu Meine Freude
1. Jesu, meine Freude
Jesus, priceless treasure
My heart’s delight,
Jesus, my joy,
Ah how long, ah how long
Must my heart be fearful,
Longing for you.
Lamb of God, my bridegroom,
Besides you there is on earth
Nothing else dearer to me.
3. Unter deinem Schirmen
Beneath your protection
I am free from the raging
Of all enemies.
Let Satan nose around,
Let the enemy be exasperated,
Jesus stands by me.
Lightnings flash and thunders crash,
Even though sin and hell terrify,
Jesus will protect me.
4. Denn das Gesetz
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death
7. Weg mit alle Schätzen
Away with all treasures!
You are my delight,
Jesus, my desire!
Away with all vain honors,
I do not want to hear of you,
Remain unknown to me!
Sorrow, need, the cross, shame, and death,
However much I must suffer
That will never separate me from Jesus.
8. So aber Christus in euch ist
But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of
righteousness (Romans 8:10).
9. Gute Nacht, o Wesen
Good night, earthly existence.
What the world has to offer
Does not please me at all.
Good night, you sins.
Stay far away,
Come no more into the Light!
Good night, arrogance and show!
To everything about you, sinful existence,
I say good night.
11. Weicht, ihr Trauergeister
Be gone, you spirits of sorrow,
For my Lord of gladness,
Jesus, enters in.
For those who love God
Even their grief
Must become pure delight.
Here I may have scorn and derision,
Nonetheless, even in suffering you remain
Jesus, priceless treasure.
Closing Voluntary: “Ein feste Burg” Flor Peeters (1903-1986)
Flor Peeters is, at least among church musicians, the most famous Belgian composer of the 20th century. The most salient feature of his style is its abundant optimism. Influenced by Gregorian chant, Belgian folk music and classical forms, Peeters created music with bright tonalities, enhanced by added notes, that is part of a fabric that freely alternates rhythmically active counterpoint with more introspective lyrical passages. He wrote many kinds of liturgical music including Masses, latin motets, and English anthems.
Hymn of the Day: “Lord Jesus, think on me” (ELW 599)
Text: Synaceus of Cyrene
Tune: SOUTHWELL, William Damen (1540-1591)
This text was written in the early fifth century by Synesius, who lived in Cyrene, North Africa (present-day Libya), during a time that his city was suffering from war and natural disasters. The first stanza, pleading for forgiveness, sounds as if the tax collector could sing it, and later stanzas refer in metaphoric ways to the chaos of Synesius’ society.
— Gail Ramshaw
Damon was a foreign composer resident in England. He arrived around 1566 as a servant of Sir Thomas Sackville. In 1576 he became a recorder player at the Court of Elizabeth I. He was described as having been born in "Luke" and "Lewklande" and, on the assumption that these names refer to Luik or Liège, it has been inferred that he was a Walloon. However contemporary London records describe him as an Italian and a later reference refers to him having been born in "Luke in Italy", i.e. Lucca. His unanglicised name may have been Gulielmo (or Gulielmus) Damano.
Offertory Anthem: “Though All the World Below” Robert Lehman
The tune, Captain Kidd, takes its name from a ballad about the notorious pirate. A somewhat related tune called HONOR TO THE HILLS was published in The Christian Harmony in 1805. It was first published under the name “Captain Kidd” in 1818. Further versions appear in shape note tune books, including The Southern Harmony in 1835.
Through all the world below,
God is seen all around;
Search hills and valleys through,
There he's found.
The growing of the corn,
The lily and the thorn,
The pleasant and forlorn,
All declare God is there,
In the meadows dressed in green,
There he's seen.
See springs of water rise,
Fountains flow, rivers run;
The mist below the skies
Hides the sun;
Then down the rain doth pour
The ocean it doth roar,
And dash against the shore,
All to praise, in their lays,
That God that ne'er declines
The sun, to my surprise,
Speaks of God as he flies:
The comets in their blaze Give him praise;
The shining of the stars
The moon as it appears,
His sacred name declares;
See them shine, all divine!
The shades in silence prove
Opening Voluntary: “Prelude” Henry Sumsion (1899-1995)
Herbert Whitton Sumsion CBE was an English musician who was organist of Gloucester Cathedral from 1928 to 1967. Through his leadership role with the Three Choirs Festival, Sumsion maintained close associations with major figures in England's 20th-century musical renaissance, including Edward Elgar, Herbert Howells, Gerald Finzi, and Ralph Vaughan Williams. Although Sumsion is known primarily as a cathedral musician, his professional career spanned more than 60 years and encompassed composing, conducting, performing, accompanying, and teaching. His compositions include works for choir and organ, as well as lesser-known chamber and orchestral works.
Closing Voluntary: “Now Let Us All Loudly” Heely Willan
This is a setting of the hymn tune “Now Let Us All Loudly,” (Nun preiset alle) by Matthäus Apelles von Löwenstern. Löwenstern’s hymns, thirty in all, are of very varied worth, many being written in imitation of antique verse forms, and on the mottoes of the princes under whom he had served. In the original editions they were accompanied with melodies by himself. When or where they were first published (cir. 1644) is not clear.
Hymn of the Day: “There Is a Longing in Our Hearts” (ACS 1078)
Text: Anne Quigley, b. 1955
Tune: Anne Quigley
This hymn illustrates two sides of human longing for God: it yearns for God’s reign of healing, wholeness, justice, and freedom as it calls for God’s presence within suffering. The musical setting has a steady forward motion, as if to encourage its singers to have confidence in a God who hears and answers prayer. “There is a longing in our hearts” may function as a call to prayer or as the prayers of the worshiping assembly; it can also gather the assembly to worship or call it to confession.
Opening Voluntary: “Pastorale,” Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933)
Sigfrid Karg-Elert regarded himself as an outsider. Notable influences in his work include composers Johann Sebastian Bach (he often used the BACH motif in Bach's honor), Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy, Max Reger, Alexander Scriabin, and early Arnold Schoenberg. In general terms, his musical style can be characterized as being late-romantic with impressionistic and expressionistic tendencies. His profound knowledge of music theory allowed him to stretch the limits of traditional harmony without losing tonal coherence.
Choir Anthem: “Jesus Is Calling” Aaron David Miller
Aaron David Miller is noted for his highly imaginative and creative style, found in his performances, improvisations and compositions. In this piece, he brings to life this much loved text with integrity and beauty.
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me; see, on the portals he's waiting and watching, watching for you and for me.
Refrain: Come home, come home; you who are weary come home; earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling, O sinner, come home!
2 Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me? Why should we linger and heed not his mercies, mercies for you and for me? [Refrain]
3 Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, passing from you and from me; shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, coming for you and for me. [Refrain]
4 O for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me. [Refrain]
— Will Thompson (1847-1909)
Closing Voluntary: “What God Ordains Is Always Good,” Paul Manz (1919-2009)
Paul Manz long served the church as recitalist, composer, teacher and leader in worship. He was Cantor Emeritus at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Luke, Chicago, Illinois; as well as Cantor Emeritus of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was the director of the newly established Paul Manz Institute of Church Music, and was Professor Emeritus of Church Music at Christ Seminary Seminex at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. His musical compositions are internationally known. His organ works are extensively used in worship services, recitals and in teaching.
Hymn of the Day: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing", ELW 886
Text: Charles Wesley (1707-1788)
Tune: AZMON, Adapter: Lowell Mason (1792-1872); Composer: C. G. Gläser (1828)
In 1739, for the first anniversary of his conversion, Charles Wesley wrote an eighteen-stanza text beginning "Glory to God, and praise and love." It was published in Hymns and Sacred Poems (1740), a hymnal compiled by Wesley and his brother John. The familiar hymn "Oh, for a Thousand Tongues" comes from stanzas 1 and 7-12 of this longer text (this pattern already occurs in Richard Conyers's Collection of Psalms and Hymns 1772). Stanza 7 is the doxology stanza that began the original hymn. Wesley acquired the title phrase of this text from Peter Böhler, a Moravian, who said to Wesley, "If I had a thousand tongues, I would praise Christ with them all" (Böhler was actually quoting from Johann Mentzner's German hymn "O dass ich tausend Zungen hätte”). Through this jubilant, partly autobiographical text Wesley exalts his Redeemer and Lord. With its many biblical allusions it has become a great favorite of many Christians.
Lowell Mason adapted AZMON from a melody composed by Carl G. Gläser in 1828. Mason published a duple-meter version in his Modern Psalmist (1839) but changed it to triple meter in his later publications. Mason used (often obscure) biblical names for his tune titles; Azmon, a city south of Canaan, appears in Numbers 34:4-5.
Offertory Anthem: Be Joyful in the Lord, Kathryn Smith Bowers (1948-2020)
Before retirement in 2010 Dr. Bowers served as director of choral studies and coordinator of music education at Webster University for 26 years. During a 24-year-tenure she led the Webster Chorale and Choral Society, in addition to the highly regarded St. Louis Summer Sings series.
Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands!
Serve the Lord with gladness;
Come before His presence with a song.
Know this, the Lord Himself is God;
It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves;
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise.
Be thankful to Him, and speak good of His name.
For the Lord is good;
His mercy is everlasting,
And His faithfulness endures to all generations.
Opening Voluntary: Liturgical Prelude #1, George Oldroyd (1886- 1951)
George Oldroyd was an English organist, composer and teacher of Anglican church music. He composed numerous settings of the mass, but is best remembered for his Mass of the Quiet Hour composed in 1928. It is still part of the repertoire of many English cathedrals and parish churches. Other works include the part song, 'Lute book lullaby', organ works including the Liturgical Prelude played today and pieces for piano and for violin. Oldroyd was an authority on counterpoint, and published The Technique And Spirit Of Fugue: An Historical Study.
Closing Voluntary: Fanfare, Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988)
Kenneth Leighton was a chorister at Wakefield Cathedral and studied at Queen's College, Oxford, graduating with both BA in Classics and BMus having studied with Bernard Rose. In 1955 he was appointed Lecturer in Music at the University of Edinburgh where he was made Senior Lecturer, Reader, and then Reid Professor of Music in October 1970.
Kenneth Leighton was one of the most distinguished of the British post-war composers; over 100 compositions are published, many of which were written to commission, and his work is frequently performed and broadcast both in Britain and in other countries. As a pianist Kenneth Leighton was a frequent recitalist and broadcaster, both as a soloist and in chamber music. He recorded his piano music for the British Music Society and conducted many performances and broadcasts of his own music.
Hymn of the Day: "Founded on Faith", ACS 1048
Text: Paul D. Weber, b. 1949
Tune: FOUNDED ON FAITH, Paul D. Weber
This hymn by Lutheran pastor and church music professor emeritus Paul Weber encapsulates all the facets of the church. It is founded on faith and sustained by grace. It is the place where the gospel is proclaimed and where the sacraments of baptism and communion are administered. It is where we learn and pray and grow in gifts of the Spirit, which we then carry out into the world to serve God and our neighbors in justice and peace. In the Central States Synod of the ELCA, it was the winning hymn to celebrate the five-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation.
Offertory Anthem: From Hymn of Praise: #5 - “I waited for the Lord,” Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), Op. 52, is an 11-movement "Symphony-Cantata on Words of the Holy Bible for Soloists, Choir and Orchestra" by Felix Mendelssohn. It was composed in 1840, along with the less-known Festgesang "Gutenberg Cantata", to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the invention of Johannes Gutenberg's movable type printing system.
After the composer's death it was published as his Symphony No. 2 in B-flat major, a naming and a numbering that are not his. The work lasts almost twice as long as any of Mendelssohn's purely instrumental symphonies.
I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined to me and heard my supplication.
Blessed is the man whose hope is in the Lord!
Blessed is the man whose hope is in him! (Psalm 40)
Opening Voluntary: “Pastorale” Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877-1933)
Sigfrid Karg-Elert regarded himself as an outsider. Notable influences in his work include composers Johann Sebastian Bach (he often used the BACH motif in Bach's honour), Edvard Grieg, Claude Debussy, Max Reger, Alexander Scriabin, and early Arnold Schoenberg. In general terms, his musical style can be characterised as being late-romantic with impressionistic and expressionistic tendencies. His profound knowledge of music theory allowed him to stretch the limits of traditional harmony without losing tonal coherence.
Hymn of the Day: The Canticle of the Turning, ELW 723
Text: Rory Cooney (1952)
Tune: Irish traditional, Rory Cooney, arr.
This paraphrase of the Magnificat by Rory Cooney has a wild flair about it that cries out the radical nature of this canticle. "Let the king beware," for justice will ultimately bring down every tyrant. Cooney saps he "simply wanted to write a setting of the canticle that attempted to capture the revolutionary spirit of the gospel, of a God who pulls down the mighty from their thrones and raises up the lowly.”
Rory Cooney was born in Delaware, Ohio, and studied at St. Mary's Seminary in Santa Barbara, California, St. Mary's Seminary in Perryville, Missouri (BA.liberal studies, 1973), and the Corpus Christi Center for Advanced Liturgical Studies in Phoenix, Arizona (Certificate, 1987). Since 1994 he has been the director of liturgy and music at St. Anne Catholic Community in Barrington, Illinois. Composer of fifteen recorded collections of liturgical music, he has composed over 250 songs, gives workshops on music in the liturgy, has contributed in various institutes to initiation rites and issues of reconciliation, and writes on practical and pastoral aspects
of church music.
STAR OF COUNTY DOWN gives the text the wild flair it needs. The stanzas even get out of hand with syllables flying out of control by differing from stanza to stanza. They suggest a soloist and the whole assembly on the refrain, even though the power of the stanzas beckons everyone to join there too. Here is what Cooney says about his choice of this tune.
“As a Catholic musician, I wanted to have the music be accessible to assembly singing and ensemble playing. Irish folk music, with its narrative milieu of longing for freedom and a sort of "bloom where you're planted" joie de vivre in the midst of penury and oppression, seemed to me to be a natural fit. STAR OF COUNTY DOWN, as far as I know, is a quasi-nationalistic song whose lyrics are about a plot to win over a beautiful girl. The tune is rhythmic and well-known, though, and sung by crowds at rugby matches and the like, so fit the bill for my needs.
Choir Offertory: "Be Thou My Vision" Arnold B. Sherman (1948)
There’s only one tune associated with this text, and that’s SLANE, aptly named for the location at which St. Patrick is said to have defied the orders of King Logaire. This tune comes from an Irish folk song of the same name, and was combined with the hymn text by Welsh composer David Evans in the 1927 edition of the Church Hymnary of the Church of Scotland.
According to mythology, when St. Patrick was a missionary in Ireland in the 5th century, King Logaire of Tara decreed that no one was allowed to light any fires until a pagan festival was begun by the lighting of a fire on Slane Hill. In a move of defiance against this pagan ritual, St. Patrick did light a fire, and, rather than execute him, the king was so impressed by his devotion that he let Patrick continue his missionary work. Three centuries later, a monk named Dallan Forgaill wrote the Irish poem, “Rop tú mo Baile” ("Be Thou my Vision), to remember and honor the faith of St. Patrick. Forgaill was martyred by pirates, but his poetry lived on as a part of the Irish monastic tradition for centuries until, in the early 20th century, Mary Elizabeth Byrne translated the poem into English, and in 1912, Eleanor Hull versified the text into what is now a well-loved hymn and prayer that at every moment of our lives, God would be our vision above all else.
Currently living in Tyler, Texas, Arnold Sherman is a free-lance composer and co-founder of Red River Music. His undergraduate work in music education was done at Montgomery College, Rockville, Maryland, and Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Arnold is the founder and Director of the East Texas Handbell Ensemble.
Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart;
naught be all else to me, save that thou art
Thou my best thought, by day or by night,
waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.
Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise;
thou mine inheritance, now and always.
Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
Ruler of heaven, my treasure thou art.
True Light of heaven, when vict’ry is won
may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heav’n’s Sun!
Heart of my heart, whatever befall,
still be my vision, O Ruler of all.
Opening Voluntary: "Adagio" from Sonata #2 in C Minor, Felix Mendelssohn
Another offering from Mendelssohn’s 2nd Organ Sonata, the contrasting middle movement, with its gently floating melody that is both sweet and melancholic.
Closing Voluntary: "Wareham" (The Church of Christ, in Every Age), Emma Lou Diemer (1927)
William Knapp (1698-1768) composed WAREHAM, so named for his birthplace. A glover by trade, Knapp served as the parish clerk at St. James's Church in Poole and was organist in both Wareham and Poole. WAREHAM’s slightly simplified form appears in nearly all modern hymnals. The tune is easy to sing because of its almost continuous stepwise motion and smooth melodic contour.
Emma Lou Diemer is a native of Kansas City, MO. She received her composition degrees from Yale and Eastman. Her music has been published since 1957 and ranges from hymns and songs to large chamber and orchestral works.
Hymn of the Day: “God, Whose Giving Knows No Ending” ELW 678
Text: Robert Lansing Edwards (1915- 2006)
For its fortieth anniversary celebration the Department of Stewardship and Benevolence of the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A., in cooperation with the Hymn Society of America (now of the United States and Canada) asked for new hymns on stewardship. From about 450 submissions a committee chose ten and published them in a little pamphlet called Ten New Stewardship Hymns (1961). This one by Robert L. Edwards (August 15, 1915-January 15, 2006) was included. Edwards recalls writing the text "in the White Mountains of New Hampshire while we were summering at our cottage in the tiny town of Randolph. It had four stanzas. Like Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Evangelical Lutheran Worship, most hymnals have used the first three with alterations and updated language.
Robert Lansing Edwards was born in Auburn, NY on 5 August 1915. He graduated from Princeton University in 1937. He earned an MA in history from Harvard University in 1938, and a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological University in 1949. He was minister at First Congregational Church, Litchfield, Conn. for 7 years and was minister at Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford, Conn. from 1956 until 1980. He was active in establishing low income senior housing, in prison ministry and with other community endeavors. He wrote several hymn texts as well as four books including Of Singular Genius, Of Singular Grace, a biography of Horace Bushnell, a famous pastor from Hartford; and his autobiography My Moment in History.
C. Hubert H. Parry's RUSTINGTON first appeared in the Westminster Abbey Hymn Book (London, 1897). It was first published in the Westminster Abbey Hymn Book (1897) as a setting for Benjamin Webb's "Praise the Rock of Our Salvation." The tune is named for the village in Sussex, England, where Parry lived for some years and where he died. This is such a distinguished melody and pairs well with this text.
Opening Voluntary: “Toplady” Al Roberts
This hymn text, “Rock of Ages” is usually sung to TOPLADY by Thomas Hastings. Written for this text, TOPLADY was first published in Spiritual Songs for Social Worship, edited by Hastings and Lowell Mason, in 1832. The tune's name comes from the author of the text, Augustus Toplady.
Offertory: From the Rising of the Sun” F. A. Gore Ouseley (1825-1889)
Sir Frederick Arthur Gore Ouseley is a neglected but fascinating character in nineteenth century church music. A precious child, at the age of five, he exclaimed “Only look, Papa blows his nose in G!” His short anthem “From the rising of the sun” has a hymn-like character and the words speak clearly to the listener. The text is from the Book of Malachi.
From the rising of the sun
unto the going down of the same
my name shall be great, among the Gentiles;
and in ev'ry place incense shall be offer'd up unto my name:
for my name shall be great among the heathen,
thus saith the Lord!
Closing Voluntary: “Hornpipe in D” John S. Dixon (1957)
The hornpipe is a dance form played and danced in Britain (and elsewhere) from the late 17th century until the present day. It is said that hornpipe as a dance began on English sailing vessels. This is a fun, active piece.
Born in London, England, John S. Dixon was classically trained in piano and organ. During his school years he was active in music in the Anglican church, and was a founding member of The Southend Boys Choir, one of Britain's foremost youth choirs. He earned degrees from The Queen's College, Oxford University, and Harvard Business School. His composing has flourished since moving to America in 1988, largely through his involvement in the music ministry at Providence Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach, where he is currently organist and composer-in-residence. He has written hundreds of pieces for church and secular use.
Hymn of the Day: “Amazing Grace” ELW 779
Text: John Newton (1725–1807)
Tune: New Britain, W. Walker, Southern Harmony (1835)
The hymn text “Amazing Grace” was written in 1773 by John Newton. Originally a master of a slave-trading ship, he left that life to become an Anglican priest and a tireless abolitionist. Some people resist referring to themselves in stanza 1 as “a wretch,” but we Lutherans join him in acknowledging our sin and praising God for grace, grace, and more grace. We hope that persons who are blind will not be offended when we liken our own situation to theirs. (Gail Ramshaw)
NEW BRITAIN (also known as AMAZING GRACE because of its close association with this hymn text) was originally a folk tune, probably sung slowly with grace notes and melodic embellishments. Typical of the Appalachian tunes from the southern United States, NEW BRITAIN is pentatonic with melodic figures that outline triads. It was first published as a hymn tune in shape notes in Columbian Harmony (1829) to the text "Arise, my soul, my joyful pow'rs" and first set to the "Amazing Grace" text in William Walker's Southern Harmony (1835).
Choir Anthem: “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” Repository of Sacred Music.
Though this hymn has been attributed to Selina the Countess of Huntingdon, John Julian says "conclusively" that the author was Robert Robinson (1735-1790). He was born in Norfolk, England. His father died when he was eight, and his mother wanted him to become an Anglican priest. There was not enough money for his education, so at the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a barber and hairdresser in London. He heard George Whitefield preach in 1755, began a period of spiritual searching, attended the meetings of John Wesley, professed his faith in 1758, and became a minister at the Calvinistic Methodist Tabernacle at Mildenhall in Norfolk. Very soon he organized an Independent congregation at Norwich, in 1759 was baptized by John Dunkham, and began to preach at the Stoneyard Baptist Church in Cambridge, where he was the pastor from 1761 until the end of his life. He accepted that call on the condition that the congregation would practice open communion. Self-taught, he became known for his preaching, counsel, concern for others' views, and religious liberty. His willingness to discuss made him vulnerable to questions about his orthodoxy, which he defended. He left a record of conflicts about hymnody in his congregation, learned Latin and French, wrote widely, and in 1781 was commissioned to make a study of the English Baptists. He edited William Barton's Psalms (1768) and wrote thirteen hymns.
Come, thou Fount of ev'ry blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace;
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
While the hope of endless glory
fills my heart with joy and love,
teach me ever to adore thee;
may I still thy goodness prove.
Here I raise my Ebenezer:
"Hither by thy help I've come";
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
wand'ring from the fold of God;
he, to rescue me from danger,
interposed his precious blood.
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be;
let that grace now like a fetter
bind my wand'ring heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it;
prone to leave the God I love.
Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it;
seal it for thy courts above.
Opening Voluntary: “Prelude on “Amazing Grace’” David Lasky
Since 1981, David Lasky has been Organist and Director of Music at Saint Cecilia Catholic Church in Leominster, Massachusetts, and resides in Hartland, Vermont. In addition to his work as a composer, Mr. Lasky has performed as an organ soloist and in ensembles throughout Massachusetts, and has given recitals at Washington National Cathedral and the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, and at Saint Mary Cathedral in Lafayette, Indiana. He has taught classes and workshops on improvisation and service playing for the American Guild of Organists and for the National Association of Pastoral Musicians.
Closing Voluntary: “Cortège,” Gordon Young (1919-1998)
Gordon Young was an American organist and composer of both organ and choral works. He was born in McPherson, Kansas and educated at Southwestern College (Winfield, Kansas) and the Curtis Institute (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) where he was a student of Alexander McCurdy. After serving churches in Philadelphia and Kansas where he also worked as a radio organist and newspaper critic, Young became the music director at First Presbyterian Church in Detroit. There he was a visible and important presence in the American church music scene. He also taught organ on the faculty of Wayne State University. Young published voluminously, and his organ and choral works were in the catalogs of most major American publishers. Numerous works of his were also issued in the Netherlands, where his music has remained very popular. Cortège is part of his collection of Eleven Organ Pieces, published in 1962.
Hymn of the Day: “Beloved God’s Chosen” ELW 648
TEXT: Susan Palo Cherwien (1953-2021)
TUNE: ANDREW’S SONG, Robert A. Hobby (1962)
Susan Palo Cherwien wrote this "versification of Colossians 3:12-16" in response to a commission by First Lutheran Church, Freeport, Illinois, to honor Twila K. Schock on the occasion of the rededication of the church's pipe organ." In deceptively simple yet elegant language it summarizes the verses in Colossians by enclosing the thankful peace of singing within the community's raiment of love.
Robert A. Hobby wrote ANDREW'S SONG in response to a request from Augsburg Fortress for a tune that would go with this hymn in Cherwien's book O Blessed Spring. Hobby says he "eagerly accepted the invitation" since "the portion of the Colossians 3 text which this hymn paraphrases was read at my wedding." Following Calvin Hampton and David Hurd he felt the hymn "called for a warm, ballad-like treatment…. My efforts resulted in a rather pianistic setting, with slow harmony under the melody and a simple interlude to offer a pause between stanzas." This interlude is included in the Accompaniment Edition of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Hobby says he chose ANDREW'S SONG to name the tune "as a tribute to the English composer Andrew Carter who has so graciously offered me compositional coaching for a number of years."
Opening Voluntary: “UNION SEMINARY,” James Biery (1956)
James Biery is an American organist, composer and conductor who is Minister of Music at Grosse Pointe Memorial Church (Presbyterian) in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, where he directs the choirs, plays the 66-rank Klais organ and oversees the music program of the church. Prior to this appointment Biery was music director for Cathedrals in St. Paul, Minnesota and Hartford, Connecticut.
Biery’s setting of UNION SEMINARY is in 3 parts, or ABA. The A sections are based on a melody that he constructed from the hymn tune. He has changed the rhythm slightly, and has built the melody on the inverted form of the original tune. The middle section, combining the tune in its original key and rhythm with the tune a fifth below and a half-note apart, creates a delightfully off-center canon. Enjoy!
Closing Voluntary: “Earth and All Stars,” Wayne L. Wold (1954)
Currently Professor, College Organist, and Chair of the Music Department at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, and Director of Music Ministry at First Lutheran Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, Wayne L. Wold wrote this setting on “Earth and All Stars,” a tune composed by David N. Johnson (1922-1987) for the text of the same name by Herbert Brokering. (Some hymnals title the tune DEXTER.) It first appeared with the text in Twelve Folksongs and Spirituals (1968) and the next year was included as one of the tunes for this hymn in Contemporary Worship 1: Hymns (1969). It works with the text, "Alleluia! Jesus is risen," but it fits its namesake better for two reasons. First, the stanzas there have an inner refrain, "Sing to the Lord a new song." Second, the melismas on the word "Lord" in the inner refrain and on "mar" of "marvelous" in the refrain itself disappear here so that the tune loses some of its cascading exuberance. The melody in the refrain still grows out of what preceded it and presses higher to a climax, but the syllabic shape of the text clips its wings a bit. Comparing the meters of #377 and #731 illustrates this at a glance.
Gathering Hymn: "Look Who Gathers", ACS 977
Text: Thomas H. Troeger (1945)
Tune: COPELAND, Michael Corzine (1947)
This hymn imagines the assembly gathered for worship, bringing their whole lives with them—their joy and their pain. The text was commissioned by the First Presbyterian Church of Tallahassee, Florida, to honor its pastor, Brant S. Copeland, and was first sung there in October 2000. The tune was created specifically for this text. There might be some who feel unworthy because of their sin, but Jesus assures them they are welcome: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Opening Voluntary: “Schmucke Dich” (Deck Thyself, My Soul) J. S. Bach (1685-1750)
This text is often considered the best and most popular of the Lutheran chorales for the Lord's Supper. The dominant tone is one of deep joy enhanced by a sense of awe. We express joy and praise for "this wondrous banquet" (st. 1), and we show reverence in receiving Christ (st. 2). Thankful for "heavenly food" and drink (st. 3), we rejoice in Christ's love for us and in its power to unite us (st. 4).
Johann Cruger composed the hymn tune specifically for the text. Johann S. Bach used this tune in his Cantata 180; he and many other composers have written organ preludes on the melody.
Closing Voluntary: “When Morning Gilds the Skies” Robert Lind (1940)
Robert Lind studied at North Park College and the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, majoring in organ, composition, and music theory. At the age of 20, he worked with Leo Sowerby and became his assistant at the Cathedral of St. James, Chicago. He succeeded Dr. Sowerby as Organist-Choirmaster at the cathedral two years later. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam era, Mr. Lind entered the publishing world, while continuing to serve various churches in the Chicago area. He is currently Organist at Lord of Life Lutheran Church in Schaumburg, Illinois.
Joseph Barnby (1838-1896) composed the tune, LAUDES DOMINI (“When Morning Gilds the Skies”) for this anonymous German text, a litany of praise to Christ, translated by Edward Caswall (1814- 1878). Tune and text were published together in the 1868 Appendix to Hymns Ancient and Modern and they have been inseparable ever since. The tune's Latin title, which means "the praises of the Lord," is derived from the litany refrain “may Jesus Christ be praised”.
Caswall's translations of Latin hymns from the Roman Breviary and other sources have a wider circulation in modern hymnals than those of any other translator. This is owing to his general faithfulness to the originals, and the purity of his rhythm, the latter feature specially adapting his hymns to music, and for congregational purposes. His original compositions, although marked by considerable poetical ability, are not extensive in their use, their doctrinal teaching being against their general adoption outside the Roman communion.
Hymn of the Day: “O Christ, the Healer” ELW 610
In 1967, in England, "at a late state in their deliberations the Working Party on Hymns and Songs… felt there was a major sphere of healing (in which mental healing was the prior necessity) not covered." Fred Pratt Green "spent most of the night--in bed--struggling with this theme and produced a first draft by the following morning." In discussions the working party made modifications. Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) omitted the third stanza, substituted "recognize for "diagnose," and changed the last line to "shall reach and prosper humankind." Evangelical Lutheran Worship followed Lutheran Book of Worship, but used Green's last line, "shall reach the whole of humankind.”
This pentatonic tune comes from William Walker's The Southern Harmony (1835), where it was paired with Anne Steele's "So fades the lovely blooming flow'r."
Closing Voluntary: Toccata: Grosser Gott, Matthew H. Corl (1965)
Matthew H. Corl is a graduate of Westminster Choir College, where he received the Bachelor of Music degree in Church Music in 1987. He also studied organ at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, MD, and served as director of music and organist at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Trenton, NJ. Since 1987 Matthew has been organist and associate director of music at First United Methodist in Lakeland, FL, where he directs vocal and handbell ensembles for children and youth. Matthew has been a clinician for workshops and a published composer of works for organ, choir, handbells and instrumental ensembles.
GROSSER GOTT was set to the German versification in the Katholisches Gesangbuch. The German text is a paraphrase of the "Te Deum.” Variants of the tune abound; the version found in the Psalter Hymnal came from Johann Schicht's Allgemeines Choralbuch (1819), and the harmonization came from Conrad Kocher's setting in his Zions Harfe (1855).
Hym of the Day: “Thy Strong Word” ELW 511
Text: Martin H. Franzmann, 1907–1976
Tune: EBENEZER, Thomas J. Williams, 1869–1944; arr. Richard W. Hillert, (1923)
Here we encounter a prophetic response to the word of God by Martin Franzmann. This hymn is not about God's word as gentle living rain or tender love, but about the aspects of the word of God that cleave the darkness, break the light of salvation, bespeak us righteous, break forth wisdom from the cross, and explode into alleluia. It was written in 1954 for Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, at the request of Walter Buszin, professor of liturgics at the time, who asked for a processional commencement hymn to the tune EBENEZER. Franzmann wrote four stanzas related to light in the seminary's motto, "Anothen to Phos"- "Light from Above." They were first sung at the chapel service on October 7, 1954.
For commencement the hymn was not long enough, so Franzmann requested to add another stanza and then yet another until the six-stanza version was completed in 1959. It appeared in the Worship Supplement (1969). Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) kept "thy," "thee," and "thine," made the language inclusive (two instances: in 2, "Lo, on men" to "Lo, on those" and in 6, "Men and" to "mortals"), and changed "life-breathing" in stanza 2 to "life- giving." Evangelical Lutheran Worship kept the version from Lutheran Book of Worship but changed "life-giving" back to "life-breathing."
Ralph Vaughan Williams classed EBENEZER with the world's finest one hundred tunes. Although among the less usual Welsh ones in a minor key, formally it is quite usual: AABA with B moving to the relative major. The triplet is less usual though not unknown to the Welsh. Alan Luff says that "in the Welsh idiom, the triplet is sung heavily and deliberately and there is no great care taken to distinguish between it and the dotted figure elsewhere in the tune.” He also suggests that in Wales this "is a most unsuitable tune for these words. It takes up too much of the 'doubt and sorrow' and not the ‘shining light.' EBENEZER (also called TON-Y-BOTEL ["tune in a bottle"] because of a story with no foundation that it had been found in a bottle that washed up on the coast of North Wales) was composed by the organist and choirmaster Thomas J. Williams in 1890 or 1896, first for an anthem and then turned into a hymn tune. "At the time the anthem was written Williams was a member of a chapel in Rhos, Pontardawe, called 'Ebenezer.' Thomas John Williams was born in Wales and became an insurance man. He studied music in Cardiff with David Evans, wrote hymn tunes and anthems, and served Zion Church and Calfaria Church in Llanelly as organist and choirmaster. Richard Hillert "prepared the keyboard setting from the harmonization written by the composer."
Opening Voluntary: “All Praise to God,” Craig Phillips (1961)
Craig Phillips is a distinguished and popular American composer and organist and Director of Music at All Saints’ Church, Beverly Hills. His choral and organ music is heard Sunday by Sunday in churches and cathedrals across the United States, and many of his works have been performed in concert throughout North America, Europe and Asia. He was named the American Guild of Organists Distinguished Composer for 2012 — the seventeenth recipient of this special award. Dr. Phillips joins an illustrious list that includes past honorees Virgil Thomson, Ned Rorem, Daniel Pinkham, Stephen Paulus and David Hurd.
Closing Voluntary: “Thy Strong Word Did Cleave the Darkness,” Healey Willan (1880-1968)
Healey Willan was an Anglo-Canadian organist and composer, best known for his church music compositions. This quote he used to describe himself suggests he had quite a sense of humor: "English by birth; Canadian by adoption; Irish by extraction; Scotch by absorption." Willan was able to make his livelihood as a composer, an encouraging detail not lost on the young Canadian musicians who followed him.
Today's closing voluntary comes from Willan's three collections of Hymn Preludes, 30 in all, published in 1957. These pieces are based on a well-known hymn or chorale tune. Full and festive, the basic structure is that of a short introduction followed by the phrases of the tune alternating with interludes and offering a richness of harmonic beauty typical of Willan’s compositions.
Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 12:32-40
Certain phrases from the scriptures tend to ring out with clarity and poignancy depending on the changes and chances of life and where we happen to find ourselves on any given occasion. Today such a ringing phrase may well be, “Do not be afraid, little flock,” which are Jesus’ words to his disciples recorded by Luke in today’s gospel reading.
“Do not be afraid, little flock.” Yes, we do know fear. Times of transition and tumult tend to provoke anxieties. This is my last Sunday with you as pastor. Beginning today you as a congregation embark on a new chapter in your life together. I commence a journey to a new call in Phoenix. All of this with plenty of fear-inducing unknowns.
But there’s more. Who knows what’s going to happen with the next twists and turns of the pandemic and inflation and the war in Ukraine and tensions with China and national politics at home and drought and floods and fires and other extremes that seem to be part of the new normal of climate change? Any one of these crises can make for sleepless nights. And yet the list of that which provokes fear goes on and on.
These are troubled times to be sure. But Jesus tells us not to be afraid. This exhortation joins a great heavenly chorus offered by other divine messengers to fear not. Recalling moments in the beginning of Luke’s gospel, an angel of the Lord tells Zechariah, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.” (Luke 1:13) And then the angel Gabriel announces to Mary, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.” (Luke 1:30-31) And so the story in Luke goes.
In these biblical passages, the reason for us not to be afraid is always connected to a promise from God. Each announcement has as a focal point on a conjunction, the word “for,” which serves as a fulcrum tipping into the next phrase of promise, in the case of today’s word from Jesus, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give the dominion [of God] to you.”
Jesus in Luke promises his followers the very dominion of God as the reason for us not to fear. This is good news that serves to relieve our fears.
We see a similar promise made in today’s first reading when the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram, [for] I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.”
After contesting this promise that he and his wife had not been given their hoped-for heir, the Lord showed Abram the countless stars and offered this further promise: “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them…. So shall your descendants be.”
According to the account in Genesis, “Abram believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” That is to say, Abram trusted the divine word of promise, and the Lord considered or regarded this trusting response as righteousness, being in right relationship, good standing, with God.
This is another phrase from the scriptures that has echoed importantly in Lutheran history and rings out with divine truth in our ears. “And the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness” became part of the scriptural inspiration for the centrality of the teaching of justification by faith, that our trust in God’s gracious promises unites us to God’s mercy and love and forgiveness and blessing which we simply but profoundly await with confidence and receive with gratitude.
This reality also inspired the author of the letter to the Hebrews who expounds on the nature of faith evidenced in the history of the Jewish people. The author of this letter suggests that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith, trust in the trustworthiness of God, is what propels us into an unknown future without fear, or at least less fear….
The phrase “by faith” is used repeatedly in the passage that is today’s second reading.
“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance… not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time… living in tents…. By faith [Abraham] received the power of procreation, even though he was too old…” (Hebrews 11:8-11)
The phrase “by faith” becomes a kind of mantra that describes the nature of the pilgrimage journeys of God’s chosen and faithful people, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, and on until our present day.
So it is that by faith we also venture on, like the people of old, not knowing exactly what will confront us.
In fact, we as individuals may not reach the promised destinations, as the author to the letter to the Hebrews concludes after listing the examples of faithfulness of the greats of the Hebrew tradition: “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.” But their heirs did receive the fulfillment of the promises from the God who is faithful and keeps the holy word.
Thus, let us claim and reclaim what is and has been so central to our Lutheran understanding of the gospel, the good news: Sola fide. Faith alone. Faith, not fear.
Let this also be our mantra going forward, even as we part ways.
By faith, you and I now commence journeys apart from each other.
By faith, you enter into the process to call your next pastor.
By faith, I venture Westward to make a new home closer to my son and to take on a new call.
By faith, we endure the craziness of these times in nation and world doing what we can to proclaim in word and deed a different way of God’s justice, mercy, and commonwealth.
By faith, we sell our possessions and give alms, as instructed by Jesus in Luke’s gospel for today, to assist those in need, ravaged by all manner of calamities around us.
Likewise, inspired by Jesus in Luke, by faith, we are dressed for action with lamps lit, ever watchful for the coming of the promised coming one.
And still more, by faith, we make purses that do not wear out, ever focused on the heavenly unfailing treasure which we are called to enjoy even now in this age.
For the dominion of God has in fact been given to us in the inheritance which is the church and its ministries, we who are the body of Christ. Here in this place we are given the very dominion of God, where Jesus is Lord. Christ himself is that dominion. We are given the gift of this dominion, this lordship, when Christ is made known to us in the proclamation of the word, in the waters of baptism, and the breaking of the bread, in the announcement of forgiveness, in the mutual conversation and consolation that occurs among us in community .
Indeed, Christ our master, as in the story from today’s gospel, returns to us week after week and invites us to sit down to eat, and Christ himself serves us with the gift of his very self, such that the dominion of God is so close to us that we can taste it.
Thus, in Christ, and as heirs of Christ’s dominion, by faith and in faith, we have confidence to bid each other adieu and then to continue on our ways by faith to do the work that God continues to entrust to us.
I am moved to conclude with these additional Christ-focused and encouraging words from the author to the letter to the Hebrews: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)
May these words ever inspire us, reassure us, encourage us, move us, and propel us into God’s promised future in Christ. Thanks be to God. And thank you. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: “Faith Begins by Letting Go,” ACS 1004
Text: Carl P. Daw Jr, (1944)
Tune: RATISBON, J. G. Werner, Choralbuch, 1815
This text by Carl Daw, an Episcopal priest and former director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, examines the life of faith. The beginning of the faith journey can feel risky and insecure, even though we trust in God. In the second stanza, faith is likened to an enduring plant whose roots of memory are kept alive in the hope of future fruit. Finally, faith matures in the third stanza, allowing us to reach beyond ourselves and to recognize God even in the ordinary things of life.
Choir Anthem: “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” Peter Lutkin (1858 -1931)
The words of “The LORD Bless You and Keep You’ come entirely from Numbers 6:24-26 (RSV), well known as the priestly blessing and the Aaronic benediction. Martin Bucer and John Calvin introduced the Aaronic blessing to Reformed worship after the example set by Martin Luther's Formula Missae.
Although it appears in at least 47 hymnals this music is more an anthem than a hymn; it was called a "Farewell Anthem with Sevenfold Amen." The popularity of this song can be attributed in part to its use for many years at the end of the weekly radio broadcasts of the Back to God Hour, an international ministry of the Christian Reformed Church.
Orphaned at an early age, Peter Lutkin was raised in Chicago and had his early musical training in the choir school of the St. James Episcopal Cathedral. He studied under prominent organ teachers in Chicago, continued his education in Europe, and earned a doctorate in music from Syracuse University. Lutkin was one of the founders of the American Guild of Organists. He also established the Chicago North Shore Festivals and founded the Northwestern University School of Music, of which he was the first dean. At several different times Lutkin was president of the Music Teacher's National Association. A composer of organ and choral music, he served on the editorial committees for both the Methodist Hymnal (1905) and the Episcopal Hymnal (1918).
The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace,
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious unto you, be gracious,
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you.
Opening Voluntary: Cantilène, Gabriel Pierné (1863-1937)
Gabriel Pierné has been called the most complete French musician of the late Romantic/early twentieth century era. Pierné’s compositional style can be described as very traditional and classical in form while possessing a modern spirit. He was able to eloquently balance his own personal language with the elements of both discipline and instinct. Evidence of his studies with both Massenet and Franck are very apparent. From Massenet he acquired a sense of melody and lightness, while from Franck he developed a sense of structure and consciousness of art, and an inspiration for religious music. Though much of his music is overshadowed by other French composers from his day, it is because his time was devoted primarily to conducting.
Cantilène is the second of Trois Pieces, Op. 29.
Closing Voluntary: “Allegro maestoso e vivace” from Sonata #2 in C Minor by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy born and widely known as Felix Mendelssohn was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor. As a composer he was one of the most influential of the German Romantic period. As an organist, Mendelssohn was well known and respected for his diversified organ improvisations with seemingly endless varieties of new ideas, and this added new dimensions to what one normally heard played on the organ at the time. As one might expect, these qualities are evident in the organ sonatas, which were commissioned in1844 as a set of voluntaries, or preludes, and published in 1845. In fact, all of the music in these Sonatas was composed between August,1844, and January,1845, so it is not surprising to find certain general characteristics appearing, almost like a recurring theme, throughout all six sonatas, which unifies the whole collection.
Week of the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
This is my final Midweek Message to you as your pastor. What started as an outreach effort to make possible some form of contact with you as members during the pandemic shut-down when we could not meet much at all in person has continued for these two plus years as a regular weekly offering. I am glad to have had this occasion to engage in an epistolary form of ministry, which has its own roots in the letters of the New Testament. Now some final words.
This has been a most unusual time, to say the least, to have been in ministry together. I could be tempted to reduce this call to having been the “pandemic pastorate,” given how heavily the global health crisis has weighed on us all and colored so much of what we have been doing in all aspects of our lives. But that kind of reductionism would not be a fair and complete picture of what we have shared. For we have had, in my estimation, many very lovely occasions indeed which express the richness and fullness of Christian community when we are gathered around Christ in word and sacraments.
It has been a privilege to have proclaimed the gospel to you, first via video and then eventually in person on Sundays. You are attentive and engaged hearers of God’s word, and you have kept me on my toes, as it were, as a preacher, because I know from your feedback that you truly have been listening. And we have worshiped so faithfully together, employing a full range of the many resources available to us from our wider church in the service of the praise of almighty God when Christ in fact ministers to us through the word and the sacraments. Likewise, it’s been a joy to have been a teacher in your midst, for again, you are engaged and thoughtful participant disciples, students of our Lord. In many settings we’ve had rich conversations indeed, learning together and growing thereby in faith. These experiences have been a two-way street, for I have learned a great deal from you even as I have attempted to serve as your teacher! Moreover, it’s been a privilege to have walked with you in times when you’ve been in need of pastoral care and of prayer. I have truly enjoyed hearing stories of your life’s journeys and adventures when we’ve been in holy conversation together. Resurrection Church has remarkably gifted and dedicated lay leaders and staff members. I have consistently been impressed with the expertise you have brought to our life together pertaining especially, for example, to the administrative concerns of the church. I do believe that Resurrection Church persists in being an attractive and compelling congregation for qualified pastors seeking a call, even as this setting also presents challenges, as do most all congregations these days, given the tumultuous and ever-changing circumstances in nation and world.
What is left for me to say but thousand, thousand thanks? Thousand thanks to you and to God for the privilege of having served in this season as your pastor. In this mortal life, we never know what time is allotted to us. That’s true in all of our comings and goings, and it’s certainly true also concerning longevity in ministry. The fact that we have only been together for two years and some months does not detract from my cherishing our time together. Words begin to fail at moments like these. I pray that I have been faithful in upholding my side of the bargain in preaching the gospel, in presiding at worship, in teaching, and in offering care and leadership for such as time as this.
I know that it’s also true that I will not have occasion to say goodbye to many of you in person given the nature of summer travel and commitments on your parts. May these words, then, serve as a heartfelt goodbye for those whom I will not see this coming Sunday when our worship will include a rite for the conclusion of this ministry call and when we otherwise say personal goodbyes during the social time following in the parish hall.
Turning now to matters of transition, I have put into the hands of congregation leaders a document that lists particular matters that I had attended to as pastor so that it will be clear going forward who will do what in the coming season without my presence and before there may be an interim or another called pastor to lead and to serve. This document is offered in the service of making the transition as smooth as possible and so that matters of concern have less of a chance of falling through the cracks.
Also, please know that a call committee is being constituted even now and that preparations are being made in the bishop’s office to provide names of pastoral candidates as soon as possible. And Gordon Lathrop has devoted significant time and energy to lining up pastors to preach and preside each Sunday well into the autumn season. It’s also true that other pastors are at the ready to be on call for pastoral care needs. All of this will be further described in the weekly announcements messages that will continue to go out via Constant Contact.
You will note, if you’re present this Sunday for the rite for the conclusion of a call at the end of worship, that my first name will be employed in that rite, and not the title pastor. Beginning at that moment, I should be known to you as Jonathan, a baptized child of God, and not the one who serves as your pastor. It will be essential going forward that appropriate boundaries be maintained in the service of making the way for whoever next will be known to you as pastor. Which is to say, beginning with the end of worship this Sunday, I will no longer be available to you to serve in any pastoral capacity, and I will be steadfast going forward in maintaining those boundaries, again for the sake of honoring the leadership of the one who will succeed me as pastor in this place.
In conclusion, I will forever hold you and this place close to my heart as I give thanks to you and to God for this particular call which now becomes part of the richly textured fabric of my three decades of leadership and service in public ministry. And I will be praying for you as a congregation, especially for the Spirit’s guidance in soon bringing to you your next pastor as you are led into God’s promised future.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thanks be to God.
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Hymn of the Day: “Hope of the World” ACS 1085 Text:
Georgia Harkness, 1891–1974, alt.
Music: Trente quatre pseaumes de David, Geneva, 1551; arr. Claude Goudimel, 1514–1572
Although she was repeatedly denied admission as a seminary student, Georgia Harkness became the first woman to teach theology at an American seminary. She was ordained by the Methodist Church in 1926, but along with all women in that denomination, she was unable to serve as a minister until 1956. This text was the winning entry from a field of more than five hundred submissions in a hymn contest for the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches in 1954, whose theme was “Jesus Christ, Hope of the World.” The tune name comes from the first line of Psalm 12, “Give help, O Lord.”
Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 12:13-21
A theme that stands out in today’s readings, both the Gospel and the reading from Ecclesiastes, is that when it comes to human reality, all things come to an end. Endings happen in many ways, with pointed focus finally on death.
The lists of varied endings can be long. We are on the brink of the conclusion of my pastorate here at Resurrection. Decades of relative stability for the privileged in our country seem to be giving way to a new period of chronic instability. We’re all getting older. The pandemic has brought all of this into sharper and poignant relief. And the list goes on concerning the claims of human mortality and finitude.
We see this theme in the parable of Jesus that Luke records that we just heard. The rich man’s land produced an overabundance of crops and goods, so he tore down his barns to build larger ones, and having done so was prepared to sit back, relax, and to eat, drink, and be merry. Except that on that very day, his life would end in death.
Most of us here live with the great privilege of abundance, if not to say overabundance. While this wealth can occasion a life of comparative leisure and opportunity, the work, the toil required to produce and maintain abundance can itself also become a source of great burden for us.
We get a palpable sense of that in today’s first reading from Ecclesiastes where the teacher exclaims: “What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest. This also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 2:22-23) And a chasing after wind.
And then our lives of overburdened abundance come to an end, sometimes quite abruptly and unexpectedly.
This is the reality of the human condition. We are mortal. We will die. This is the weight of our sinful finitude that can feel so very heavy, and which we go to great lengths to guard against, to keep at bay, even to deny. Here I am reminded of Ernest Becker’s classic work, The Denial of Death, where Becker posits that human society is organized in such a way as to keep the reality of death out of our conscious awareness. Published in 1973, it’s still a classic; because Becker’s insights remain true. No matter how cleverly we try, death catches up with us, and our various worldly possessions and achievements do not change that reality.
Martin Luther summed it up well when on his deathbed his reported last words were these: “We are beggars. This is true.”
Luke reports that Jesus told the parable about the rich man to make the point that life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. This teaching moment came in response to a request by a person in the crowd asking Jesus to convince his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. Luke says that Jesus concluded the parable about the folly of abundance only to lose it all to death with these words: “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”
Where does this leave us? So far, both the gospel reading and the passage from Ecclesiastes make for quite the downer that gives us no relief. This bad news is summed up again in the words of the teacher in Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities. All is vanity.” Vanity as in futile, empty, worthless, short-lived, and without meaning.
Is there any good news today? Most certainly, and thanks be to God for three lectionary readings and not just one or two.
Today’s appointed gospel reading leaves us hanging and wondering what it might mean to be rich toward God. Being rich toward God seems to hold the promise of good news. And indeed, we can find that good news in today’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians where the apostle elaborates on what it might mean for us to be rich toward God.
Here’s what Paul writes: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” In short, Christ is the source of divine richness.
And we have in fact been raised with Christ, even as we have died with Christ. And for us, it is baptism where this all happens. Drowned in the waters of this life-giving flood, we emerge from the torrent with new life in Christ, having been baptized into his own death and resurrection.
There are lots of veiled references to baptism in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, and we have some of that in today’s reading. Paul exhorts the hearers to “put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly,” that is, to be rid of the ways of the old Adam, of sin.
This suggests the renunciations that are integral to our baptismal rites when those to be baptized renounce the forces that defy God and the powers of this world that rebel against God and the ways of sin that draw us from God (cf. Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 229).
It's important to note that our struggle is not so much about heavenly things being up there and earthly ways being down here in a clean, cosmic, spatial dichotomy. No, these heavenly and earthly forces contend right here where we live, all the time. Baptismal life is a struggle in the Spirit against the forces of sin and death.
Thus, Paul in Colossians also points also points to baptism when he writes that we have “stripped off the old self with its practices and [our having] clothed [ourselves] with the new self,” which is our new life in Christ. Indeed, at baptism, we are clothed in the brilliance of Christ often symbolized by the white gowns worn by the baptized.
But when it’s all said and done, the only death that ultimately matters has already occurred on the cross of Christ. In that light of Christ’s resurrected new life our own mortal end in death is relativized and pales in comparison, and our own death in the baptismal waters is arguably more significant in the divine, grandest scheme of things than the end that is coming to us all in our own personal deaths.
For, as Paul concludes in today’s passage from Colossians, “Christ is all and in all!” Christ is the cure to that which ails us; Christ is our life beyond mortality, beyond death. Christ is the antidote to the cry of vanity of vanities and Christ is the end of our futile chasing after the wind. Christ imparts to us the richness of God. This is good news indeed.
So, let’s return for a moment to Luther’s dying moments. Reportedly a friend asked Luther when he was stricken ill and was close to death: “Do you want to die standing firm on Christ and the doctrine you have taught?” Luther answered with an emphatic, “Yes!”
And we answer our own “Yes!” whenever we reaffirm and give thanks for our own baptisms into Christ.
In Christ, then, we can relax, eat, drink and be merry with faith renewed and with meaning and purpose, not futility. In fact, it’s at this table where we do truly relax, eat, drink, and are merry in thanksgiving to God for Christ’s gracious abundance, the only abundance that really matters.
And in this Spirit, we are freed from bondage to our many possessions and their claims on us. We are freed to give it all away, not storing up riches for ourselves, but using our abundance to help and to feed others because in Christ we are made rich toward God.
When it’s all said and done, the only inheritance of any ultimate significance is that which we inherit from Christ. Thus, our freedom to give it all away, not giving up our hearts to despair, but finding joy and meaning in our loving service to others.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
In last week’s message, I shared a summary of that which I believe we have accomplished together in mission and ministry with special attention to: getting through the initial crisis of the pandemic; the nature of worship during this season; and faith formation at Resurrection during the time that we have shared. This week, I will focus on our responses to other crises in our wider society and how we addressed them in our congregation’s witness as well as calling attention to our shared visions for mission and the faithful stewardship of our building in welcoming The Village School as a tenant in much of our educational wing.
Before I turn to these themes, though, I want to return to the matter Christian education and faith formation to report to you that as part of the whole fabric of transition at Resurrection Church, our Youth Ministry Director, Amanda Lindamood, will also be departing in early August as a member of our staff. Amanda has done excellent work with creative programming for our youth, including confirmation instruction. Amanda has also been especially effective in heralding a vision of faith formation that is intergenerational and holistic, and she consistently called our attention to matters of social justice that are integral dimensions of our life of faith. Amanda and I have worked together effectively as a team and I thank her for her work here and dedication to this congregation.
During the summer of 2020, amidst the pandemic crisis, our wider society was also riveted by concerns about racial justice. In response to this wider public outcry, our Congregation Council voted to place Black Lives Matter signs on church property as a public witness in support of anti-racism and toward promoting racial justice. Because of concerns about the BLM organization, the placing of signs provoked a critical response among some members of our congregation. I believe that ultimately, we used this crisis as an opportunity for learning and growth on more than one front. One dimension is that we did in fact take up the matter of racial justice in our life together, when a group of committed members of the congregation devoted over a year to the study of Pastor Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. Our working through this book, under Amanda’s leadership, became the occasion to really begin to grapple with racism. Over the course of these many months, those who participated began to learn more fully how to engage controversial issues thoughtfully and with a sense of personal vulnerability. I pray that this time together will continue to serve as leaven for how Resurrection may continue to engage matters of social controversy as an expression of our public witness.
An outgrowth of the Duncan book group was the emergence of the Social Justice Learning Group, led by Charlie and Judy Hughes. Once a month, between ten and twenty members gather after worship to discuss various matters of social justice, facilitated by our own members who have expertise on what is being examined. I find this development very encouraging, and I pray that the Social Justice Learning Group will continue to meet to bear fruit not just in learning but also in taking action to promote a vision of God’s justice for the world.
Another fruit of our beginnings with more directly taking on matters of justice is our new Creation Care Team, under the leadership of Monica Hirschberg, which also meets monthly to promote habits locally in our congregation that make for more environmentally friendly and sustainable practices.
Still another outcome of the crisis concerning the Black Lives Matter signs is the insight that we do well as a congregation to be more widely collaborative when engaging matters of controversy. Members were concerned that the Congregation Council did not consult the wider membership before making the decision to place the BLM signs on church property. Since that time, we have endeavored to widen the circles of conversation when responding to concerns that could provoke controversy.
Yet another fruit of all of this was the decision to replace the BLM signs with a new set of banners above the Washington Blvd. entrance to the church focusing on Micah 6:8 and the charge to “Do justice; love kindness; and walk humbly with God.” Most assess that this witness, rooted in scripture, expresses commitments most can agree on even as it gives words to the kind of identity this congregation aspires to.
Moving on to the stewardship of our building, Resurrection is blessed with a substantial campus that is well-maintained. Like many ELCA congregations, our building was built during an era which called for more space than we currently need. In fact, much of our educational wing is not just underutilized, parts of it are not currently utilized at all. It has been sad to say goodbye to our preschool which had operated in our facility for over twenty years. Likewise, the Clothes Closet was a casualty of the pandemic and this season when volunteers are oversubscribed at home, at work and at church, diminishing our capacity to offer programs. Moreover, the Finnish Language Schools now operate in large measure online. Thus, our facility is crying out for faithful, fruitful utilization. Therefore, it was a gift when The Village School approached us about the possibility of renting a large portion of our educational wing to host their pre-K through 8th grade independent, non-profit, private school. In addition to providing needed rental income to the congregation and making faithful use of our facility which is ideal for this school, The Village School’s presence in our building holds promise to increase the visibility of our congregation in the wider community, an important feature of our public witness which I pray will bear fruit for Resurrection under the leadership of the pastor who will be called in the coming months to lead and to serve toward God’s promised future.
A side benefit to The Village School’s coming was that preparing our spaces for the school inspired a major “Spring Cleaning” of our whole building. A dedicated team of member volunteers expended huge amounts of “sweat equity” in going through our many rooms and storage closets to remove items that we no longer use or have no use for. Many items were donated to other schools. Much also found its way to Goodwill. And even after new homes were found for many things, still when it was all said and done, there were four truckloads of things that simply had to be discarded. As I have written previously, the dynamics of purging our spaces – at home and at church – have the effect of renewing our relationship with our physical surroundings. I believe that such spring cleaning has set the stage for discerning and deciding how Resurrection’s building may in the future serve this congregation’s mission and ministry.
When it’s all said and done, there is a sense in which my pastorate of two plus years has been an “unintentional interim pastorate,” which I believe has further prepared the congregation for whatever is next in mission. Certainly, the pandemic inhibited forward movement into God’s promised future. But our time together has not been wasted time. Another feature of this season focused on crafting the shared statements of vision related to most aspects of our life together. These vision statements emerged in part from the consultant-led congregational study that was undertaken during the interim period after Pastor Ickert’s retirement. While these vision statements may change in the future under the leadership of a new pastor in discerning conversation with congregation leaders, having such statements gives you all a sense of direction and focus, a sense of what is aspired to in Christian community here. Many congregations undertake their activity in a rather ad hoc manner without much attention to where they actually feel called to end up. The shared statements of vision provide a much-needed sense of direction during these tumultuous times in church and world when we are otherwise prone to be blown about by the many crises and opportunities that claim our attention.
To be sure, there was much on my “to do” list as Resurrection’s pastor that was not accomplished. However, our time together has been intense and fruitful in many ways as we have sought to be faithful with the mission and ministry God has entrusted to us for such a time as this. I pray that this message and that from last week provide a good sense of the big picture of what we have in fact accomplished together under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit.
With abiding appreciation yet again in Christ Jesus for the opportunities to lead and to serve at Resurrection Church,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 11:1-13
Luke records that Jesus’ disciples wanted instruction in prayer. I suspect that we could all use some teaching about prayer, especially in a world that so desperately needs it.
So, let’s take a closer look at what we heard just now from the gospel. Luke records that Jesus taught the disciples what to pray when he offered a version of the words that we know as the Lord’s Prayer. So far so good. We can handle that, and in fact pray the words of this prayer weekly, if not daily.
But Luke also reports that Jesus taught the disciples how to pray, that is, in what manner or disposition.
To make this point about the attitude we bring to prayer, Luke records Jesus telling a story about a friend visiting a friend at the midnight hour – precisely when many of our most desperate prayers are offered up – asking for bread to be hospitable to another friend who just showed up for a visit. Luke’s Jesus makes the point that it was not the friendship that got the request for bread fulfilled, but the persistence of the friend’s request is what made the difference.
Jesus in Luke thus advocates for persistence in prayer. What does persistence mean? The New Testament Greek suggests immodesty, or importunity, boldness, pestering, nerve, gall, audacity. That’s the attitude we are instructed to bring to pray.
We get a good sense of such audacity when engaging with God in today’s first reading from Genesis where Abraham negotiates boldly with the Lord concerning the fate of the sinful cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham’s audacious dealing with the Lord results in the Lord changing the mind in favor of mercy rather than punishment if in fact there are ten remaining righteous persons in Sodom.
Listen again for the audacity in Abraham’s manner – when he rightly acknowledged his proper place with humility but nonetheless forthrightly, boldly bargained with the Lord. Abraham says when addressing the Lord:
- “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you!”
- “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.”
- “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more.”
Thus, the story from Genesis gives us a good sense of what persistence in prayer might look like and feel like.
Yet, such persistence, such nerve, such audacity is often hard for us to do without a sense of guilt or feeling that we’ve done something wrong. Who are we to nudge God? Moreover, we may fear God’s wrath if we step out of line in terms of what we might deem a properly respectful attitude of prayer. That is, don’t pray with an attitude! Lest we incur God’s wrath.
And then there’s the inclination to try to protect God from our insolence. That’s more common when we humans try to vilify others for what we of faith may perceive as blasphemous attitudes toward God.
Friends, such fears are the stuff of the old sinful Adam’s ongoing claims on us in my estimation. In my read of today’s lessons such seeking decorum in prayer is not what Jesus in Luke or Abraham in Genesis seem to call for! Jesus and Abraham call for a spirit of shamelessness.
But how do we overcome our hesitancy to pray shamelessly? Let’s let the Apostle Paul speak to us about the true source of our confidence – our faith, our trust – that allows us to pray boldly. Here are Paul’s words from today’s second reading in Colossians: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Paul suggests that it is our rootedness in Christ, which begins at baptism, that establishes our faith, our trust, our living our lives in him, he who is the tree of life from the cross, Christ the vine, we the branches. With such rootedness in him, in word and sacraments, Christ continues to teach us and we abound in thanksgiving. In short, Christ is the source of the faith that is also the source of our shameless persistence in prayer.
In Christ, we need not fear offending God. God does not need to be protected. God in Christ can handle anything we bring. So, just say it; just pray it with boldness. God in Christ will sort it out, even if we feel we’re stepping out of line.
And if we do step out of line, that too God will set aside, nailing it to the cross, our trespasses ever being forgiven again and again for Christ’s sake. The record written against is erased, ever wiped clean. Thus, we can sin boldly, as Luther said, but believe more boldly still.
Moreover, Christ feeds us with his very self when we come to him at this very table begging for bread at our existential midnight hours so that we might be fed to also feed the hungry who are in our midst in our fearful world.
Jesus continued his teaching on prayer in Luke. Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
But we know that we often do not get receive exactly what we asked for. And we know that when we search, we often discover surprises that we did not intend to find. And we know that when a door is opened to us, we may be quite surprised by what and by who we might find on the other side of the open door.
Luke also reports that Jesus invoked good parenting in relation to the nature of God’s response to God’s children at prayer: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask!”
Every good parent knows that we cannot give to our children everything they ask for. That’s simply not good parenting. But good parents do give good gifts to their children.
And the good gift we receive in answer to our shameless asking, searching, and knocking is the Holy Spirit, the very life and breath of God, ultimately everything we need, our very life in God.
Thus it is that Paul writes in Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes [for us] with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26)
The Spirit is always at prayer for us, making possible our own prayers. Which is to say, when the Spirit arrived at Pentecost as recorded in the second chapter of Acts, the Spirit gave all the needed good gifts – namely, proclamation of God’s mighty deeds of power in raising Jesus from the dead, repentance, baptism, devotion to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers (cf. Acts 2:37-42).
What more do we need as God’s beloved children when it’s all said and done?
What we experience here each Sunday is ultimately what we are asking and searching for and why we are knocking. It is life itself, the life of Christ and participation in the life of our Trinitarian God.
Meanwhile, the Spirit also gives us our prayers of intercession. And think about it. These, our prayers each Sunday are audacious. Every Sunday we pray sometimes desperately and with lament for the needs of a sorry church and world. We pray for peace, for justice, for the relief of suffering. And so often those prayers don’t seem to result in the peace and justice and relief that we cry out for. And yet we continue to pray without fail, Sunday after Sunday, year after year, decade after decade. That’s persistence in prayer.
Finally, our prayers of intercession lean in to fulfillment when we act on the fact that our prayers set the agenda for the church in mission. What we pray for is what we’re called to do in our ministries in daily life. When we pray for peace, we then seek to work for peace. When we pray for justice, we do our part in working for justice. When we pray for an end to suffering, we offer a helping hand in one way or another to those in need.
The disciples said to Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” I pray that you now have a better sense of what Jesus in Luke taught, and that your life of prayer might be emboldened with a Spirit of shameless persistence in the freedom of the gospel. Amen.
Hymn of the Day “Lord, teach us how to pray aright” ELW 745
Text: James Montgomery (1771-1854)
Tune: SONG 67, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625)
Written in 1818, and first printed on a broadsheet with Montgomery's "Prayer is the soul's sincere desire;“ “What shall we ask of God in prayer?" and "Thou, God, art a consuming fire ;" for use in the Nonconformist Sunday Schools in Sheffield. This hymn, in full or abridged, is in numerous collections. The variations of text which are found have arisen in a great measure from some editors copying from Cotterill's Selection of 1819, and others from the Christian Psalmist of 1825.
SONG 67 was published as a setting for Psalm 1 in Edmund Prys's Welsh Llyfr y Psalmau (1621). Erik Routley suggests that the tune should be ascribed to Prys. Orlando Gibbons supplied a new bass line for the melody when it was published with a number of his own tunes in George Withers's Hymnes and Songs of the Church (1623). There it was a setting for the sixty-seventh song (thus the title), a paraphrase of Acts 1:12-26. The tune originally had "gathering" (long) notes at the beginning of each of the four phrases. A rather sturdy tune, SONG 67 is built on a few melodic motives.
Week of the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
As my time with you as your Pastor begins to draw to a close, I believe it is important for us to consider what we have accomplished together in the mission that God entrusted to us over the course of these two years and some months.
This season of the church’s history that we have shared has been marked and marred by the realities of the global pandemic. The pandemic was declared shortly after I accepted the call to Resurrection Church in March of 2020, and the pandemic continues even now midway through 2022. While the pandemic’s strictures have inhibited and even prohibited anything approaching a normal churchly routine, certainly one of our major accomplishments is that we have in fact creatively endeavored to be and to do church amidst all of the unprecedented upheaval of these years. This is no small achievement!
While our routines were severely constricted by the pandemic, we nonetheless managed to engage in the usual dimensions of congregational life – worshiping, enjoying occasions for socializing, offering pastoral care, doing the administrative work of the church, and attending to social ministry through generous giving to local and national and international organizations which seek to help those most in need. These expressions of congregational life were not in the fullness of what we are used to, but they did not totally disappear amidst the pandemic.
Central to our life together, of course, is the Sunday worshiping assembly. From March of 2020 until July of 2021 – 16 months – we did not meet for worship in person in our nave, which removed the foundational pillar of what it is to be and to do church. And yet, we found our way, first with the creation of resources for worship at home, not seeking to replicate remotely what we do in the nave on Sundays, but promoting worshipful devotion at home among those with whom we live. This also soon included the crafting of videos intended to complement worship at home, featuring sermons which I recorded often from the dining room of the parsonage, and members reading the appointed lectionary passages and leading prayers from their homes, and Barbara and choir members leading congregational song, even choir anthems which were woven together digitally, creating a unified sound from multiple individual voices, and all of this edited into a seamless whole by our youthful videographers.
Then there was our worship outdoors in conjunction with the bi-weekly gathering of food items for the hungry and food insecure. What started as brief, informal prayer evolved into more complete forms of worship outdoors offered weekly. We started on the Potomac Street side of the church, where our Memorial Garden became a focal point, for example, for abbreviated liturgies during the Three Days of Holy Week. We eventually moved to the Powhatan Street side of the church where the parsonage deck served as chancel, the new brick patio as choir loft, the fence between the parsonage and church yards served as altar rail and the church yard became a nave surrounding our community garden. Here we celebrated the Eucharist for the first time in over a year on the Day of Pentecost in 2021. Finally, on July 4, 2021 we moved back indoors for Sunday worship, masked and physically-distanced, practices which we maintain to this day.
The move indoors also began the initiative of live-streaming our Sunday worship for those unable to be with us in person, increasing our presence in the world of cyberspace. Before the pandemic, Resurrection Church’s footprint in the digital world was modest, focused on our website. Because of the various worship videos which are still available on YouTube, our congregation’s presence online is now more substantial. Some, in fact, have begun to find their way to our congregation because of that presence.
Additionally, our worship and music practices did not remain static during these pandemic years. We engaged in a discernment process which resulted in hiring as our regular Director Music, Barbara Verdile, who had served as our interim organist and choir director. We also purchased, through the generosity of anonymous donors and Memorial funds, and are regularly making use of the new supplement to Evangelical Lutheran Worship, All Creation Sings. Resurrection Church remains uniquely current among other ELCA congregations in my experience in its full use of the many resources for worship available from our wider church. This is truly a hallmark of our life together.
Moving on to other aspects of our life together – who would ever have predicted before the pandemic that Zoom would become such a feature of our congregational life? And yet it has. Even as we have returned to worshiping in person in doors on Sundays, so much of the rest of our congregational life is still undertaken via Zoom – committee and Council meetings, and even our annual meetings, bible studies, as well as midweek worship during Advent and Lent. Such Zoom practices don’t seem to be going away. It may be that Zoom is now a feature of our life together. The Zoom platform has arguably increased numbers who attend bible study and midweek worship. It’s not the same as being in person, but increased participation because of Zoom is a dynamic that we should not discount. Zoom also makes life easier in terms of commuting to and from church, especially for brief meetings. We’ve even begun experimenting with hybrid forms of gathering, with some in person at the church and others participating at home.
Another central aspect of church life is Christian education and faith formation. What started as a pandemic-induced attempt regularly to reach out to members, these weekly Midweek Messages have become one of the significant expressions of my teaching ministry as a pastor. Early on when I began crafting these reflections, I wondered if I would have topics enough to write about each week. But as time wore on, I have found it a marvel that I have never lacked for topics and themes of various sorts to address! I pray that those who have read these messages have found them to be edifying, helpful, and perhaps sometimes inspiring and important to our life together.
Then there have been the various bible studies via Zoom, addressing several different topics over the course of our time together. A major focus of our faith formation efforts has been our attempts to convene all ages together – for bible study via Zoom, and then also monthly outdoors at the parsonage for various creative programs. Children’s Ministry Director, Angie Brook, and Youth Ministry Director, Amanda Lindamood, have continued creatively their ministries, again, largely online in these years. My prayer is that approaches to Christian education and faith formation which include all ages of people together would continue in future months and years, for one might argue that it takes a village to raise up mature persons of faith.
I could go on, and in fact, I will next week when I intend to summarize other hallmarks of our life together as a congregation during my brief pastorate. But I pray that these summarizing thoughts begin to give you a sense of the bigger picture of what we have accomplished together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
With abiding appreciation in Christ Jesus for the opportunities to lead and to serve at Resurrection Church,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Hymn of the Day: “Come and Seek the Ways of Wisdom” ACS 971
Text: Ruth Duck (1947)
Tune: MADELEINE, Donna Kasbohm, (1933)
Drawing upon Hebrew Bible and New Testament traditions, “Come and seek the ways of Wisdom” explores personifications of God as Wisdom. Following the Hebrew Bible’s portrayal of Wisdom as feminine and the New Testament’s description of Wisdom as Sophia, the hymn text uses feminine pronouns throughout as it describes God as Wisdom. The three stanzas allude to traditional characterizations of the Trinity through the lens of Wisdom: she dances as she creates the earth, she is Christ the Word made flesh, and she liberates and leads as the Holy Spirit. A light and rhythmic musical setting brings Wisdom’s dance to life.
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 10:38-42
The gospel writer Luke gives us some of the more beloved, well-known, and provocative accounts of events in Jesus’ life and ministry. One of those, of course, is the story we heard today, the encounter with Mary and Martha.
Martha was distracted by her many tasks. Doesn’t that accurately describe our own age, hitting the nail on the head of what so often ails us? Distracted by many tasks.
With our various devices pinging us constantly with calls, texts, emails, social media notifications and more, how can we help but be chronically distracted by many things? It takes enormous discipline to keep this constant bombardment at bay. More often perhaps we succumb to it. The distractions endemic in our age wear away at our sense of well-being and mental health. It can weigh so heavily.
I have generally read the story of Mary and Martha as an indictment of being overly active or busy. But engaging this passage anew this week, what leaps off the page for me is not Martha the activist, but Martha who was distracted amidst her many tasks. That is to say, it’s not the tasks themselves, but the distraction that’s at issue. And then, too, the worry that accompanies the distraction.
Luke reports what I take as Jesus’ compassionate observation of Martha’s trouble: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things…”
We know from experience that we can be quite actively engaged in our work without distraction and worry. Artists and other creative people – and anybody really – can discover themselves to be in the flow of active, creative engagement, being so engrossed in their activity that they lose a sense of time. That’s being quite fully present and contentedly so. Creative flow is the opposite of worry and distraction.
But these days worry and distraction seem to be more the order of the day than being fully present to and with what and who is before us. In fact, there are powers that be which capitalize on keeping us worried and distracted.
Who will save us from this plight? Of course, we know the answer. The one who saves us is the very one whom Mary encountered, when she was sitting at his feet, listening to what he had to say, the one who addressed Martha with understanding words and this other message that Luke reports: “Martha…. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
The better part which Mary gravitated to and which was not taken from her is Jesus himself. For as Paul assures us in Romans 8, “nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We can make our lists of that which distracts and worries us, but just the same, nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. That is to say, Christ will not be taken from us.
And here’s further good news for us in our worrisome age of distraction: what Mary enjoyed at Jesus’ feet listening to what he was saying is what we’re doing right now, namely, metaphorically sitting here in this place at Jesus’ feet as we are gathered around him in word and sacrament – listening with rapt attention to Christ’s teaching and the teaching about Christ in gospel proclamation, soaking in the life-giving baptismal waters, reclining, as it were, with our Lord at the table. All in this place comparatively free of distractions in contrast with the usual routines of the other days of our week.
Consider this: what is it that we see and encounter here? The story of Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day by the oaks of Mamre may help us understand what we see here in this place, especially when we apply the Christian imagination to this story from Genesis, our first reading.
The heat of the day may have been for Abraham of old the midday time of siesta, a sabbath rest within the day. It’s amidst such a pause in the day that Abraham looked up and saw three men standing near him which became for Abraham a holy encounter, centered on a feast for the mysterious guests who then delivered the promise to Abraham and to Sarah that they would have their desired heir, a son, on whom all the promises of God hinge.
Seen through Christian lenses, we might liken Abraham to Mary, sitting for holy encounter. Indeed, this passage from Genesis was the inspiration for one of the most famous and compelling icons of the Orthodox church tradition, Rublev’s the “Hospitality of Abraham,” or of the Trinity. In the Christian imagination, the three men, later described in Genesis as angels, come to represent the three persons of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, seated in an arc around a table at which they feast as in the story from Abraham. The oak tree is in the background of the icon.
That tree may be imagined as the tree of life, the cross of Christ. Christ is the central figure of the three in the icon seated at the table, evocative perhaps of our Eucharistic table, where we share in the life of the Trinity. Sarah prepared cakes of choice flour – our sacramental bread. Abraham had sacrificed a calf, tender and good – suggestive of Christ’s own having been offered up on the cross.
In the Christian imagination, this is what we can fancy that Abraham saw in this holy encounter, resting in the heat of the day. And this is what we also see here in this place, when we sit in our version of sabbath rest in the presence of God in Christ, and in the inspiration of the Spirit.
Beyond what we might see in our holy encounter here, what message is it that we hear when we sit as Jesus’ feet in this place? It might include the echoes of the word of the apostle Paul as we heard in today’s second reading from Colossians. Listen again to this wonderful hymn to Christ from the very earliest Christian community, poetry that also sounds like a creed: “Christ is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in Christ all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. Christ himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Christ is the head of the body, the church; Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. For in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Christ to reconcile to God’s own self all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.” (Colossians 1:15-20)
Abraham resting under the oaks of Mamre. Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. Paul in a time apart writing a letter to the church extolling the wonders of Christ. We doing likewise here, our sabbath rest gathered around word and sacraments.
All of this is the antidote to our worry and distraction, freeing us to attend to the one needful thing, namely Christ our Lord, who will not be taken from us.
And from this hour of rest at the feet of Jesus, comparatively free of worry and distraction, with our faith here renewed, we return to engagement with the world in the work to which God has called us, namely, to do the tasks of the servant, Martha, in the life-giving, creative flow of the energies of the Spirit.
And what is the work of Martha? To serve our neighbors in need in loving care as Christ loves us. And that we, like Paul, may extend the suffering of Christ through our own suffering for the sake of the world as we also proclaim the gospel in word and deed. Let it be so among us now and always. Amen.
Week of the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
At our recent meeting, the Congregation Council and I engaged in discerning conversation to determine together my last Sunday with you as pastor. Taking into account the multiple and often competing variables here, with the congregation in Phoenix, and with the complexities of a cross-country move, Sunday, August 7 was decided upon as my final Sunday. This day will come upon us quickly, but it is considered best practice in the church for pastors who announce their resignation to depart sooner rather than later. I announced that I had received a call from the congregation in Phoenix during the week of June 19 and then tendered my resignation as pastor on June 29. Approximately six weeks will have transpired between my resignation and my last Sunday. The common wisdom of current practice is for a resigning pastor to depart within a month or at most two months after the announcement of resignation. Thus, our timeline is in keeping with current practice in the wider church.
Also at our Council meeting, we agreed on a “to do” list of that which I and we will endeavor to accomplish together here for the sake of an orderly departure, efforts which will at their best prepare the congregation to receive its next called pastor. I pledge to do my level best to attend to the many details that will help set the stage for as smooth a transition as possible. Included on the to do list: working with other staff members and committee chairs on any outstanding items; the pastor’s exit interview with the bishop and her assistant for congregations in transition; my drafting a document listing pending matters which will be helpful to Council, an interim pastor, and the next called pastor; making certain that the church records are up to date; arranging for lay members to take on some of the administrative duties in the absence of an office administrator; crafting instruction documents to assist these lay members in their administrative efforts; attention to who will plan and lead worship and attend to pastoral care needs in my absence and, if needed, prior to the arrival of an interim pastor. Of special concern, of course, are the details related to the arrival of The Village School in our educational wing rooms. I am working closely with officials from the school and with our leaders to help to ensure as smooth a transition as possible into this new reality.
Moreover, the Council and I agreed that should need remain for me to be involved in administrative concerns even beyond the date of my formal departure, provision can be made for me to offer administrative help even remotely via Zoom, email, and phone calls until the end of August. There may be some poetic irony to that possibility, because I began my ministry among you remotely from Phoenix even before I moved to Arlington. How curious in these difficult pandemic days that I may also potentially conclude my ministry among you remotely and from Phoenix. The coming four weeks will reveal whether or not such involvements may be warranted.
Also at our last Congregational Council, Bishop Ortiz and her new assistant, Pastor Sarah Garrett Krey, were present via Zoom to outline a likely transition process toward calling a new pastor. The Bishop indicated that the current transition would not require a lengthy interim period. In fact, a new call committee will be convened prior to my departure, and work will begin on updating the congregation’s Ministry Site Profile also before my leave-taking. That timeline sets the stage for the possibility of receiving names of pastors to be interviewed perhaps beginning this fall.
As I mentioned in last week’s message, occasions of pastoral transition make for anxious times in congregational life. I hope that my outlining what is before us and the timelines will alleviate some of that anxiety, especially in my reporting that our leaders and I are committed to attending thoughtfully to the matters before us to make this transition as smooth as possible.
Further word is forthcoming about the events of Sunday, August 7 and how we will mark together at worship and following the conclusion of my pastorate at Resurrection Lutheran Church.
May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us through these days together in the power of the Spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 10:25-37
The question which the lawyer posed to test Jesus is a profound one: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus responded by asking the lawyer another question, and the lawyer ends up correctly answering his own question by summarizing the foundational law of the Hebrew people: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Very straightforward. Not unlike what we heard in today’s first reading from Deuteronomy, which also focuses on keeping the divine law. There it says, “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away…”
Returning to the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer recorded in Luke, Jesus’ reply concerning the answer given summarizing the law is straightforward, but it’s also a zinger. Jesus said, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” Do this, and you will live. Simple, right? Straightforward? Yes. Easy? No.
When it comes to obeying God’s law, it’s easier said than done for us sinful mortals. Undoubtedly knowing this, the lawyer’s defensive reaction is that he wanted to “justify himself.” So do we.
Here, the plot thickens, revealing the sinful dynamics at play in the human heart and mind. The human tendency is to seek loopholes, easy ways out, approaches that help us to see and present ourselves in the best possible light without fully acknowledging our shortcomings.
So it is that the lawyer asks, “And who is my neighbor?” That’s when Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan, or perhaps more aptly, the Merciful Samaritan.
In response to the man robbed and left for dead, the religious authorities, the priest and the Levite, do nothing, passing by on the other side. That response of maintaining their safe distance was undoubtedly in keeping with religious laws concerning purity, prohibitions against getting sullied by contact with those who are unclean. And a bloodied man would likely have been religiously unclean for clergy types of the day. So, they kept their safe distance, maintaining religious purity, and went on their way.
But it was the Samaritan, the foreigner, who came to the aid of the gravely wounded man and not only that, this foreigner went far above and beyond the call of duty in response to the wounded, dying man’s needs.
Moved with pity, with compassion, a gut-wrenching compassion in the biblical Greek, the Samaritan drew near, got up close and personal, became vulnerable, and offered first aid, took the victim to an inn where he took further care of him, and then even gave money to the innkeeper to tend to the man, offering to pay whatever it took to nurse the wounded man back to health. In short, the Samaritan was first responder, ambulance driver, nurse, and insurance plan all wrapped up in one person. That’s what it is to go above and beyond the call of duty.
After telling the story, Jesus again questions the lawyer: “Which of these three, [the priest, the Levite, the Samaritan], then, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” The lawyer replied, again rightly and obviously, “The one who showed him mercy.”
Jesus then said, “Go and do likewise.” And of course, we know from the nature of the story of the Good and merciful Samaritan that virtually none of us consistently does what the Samaritan did. More often than not, we commit the sins of omission of the priest and the Levite in passing by on the other side of all sorts and conditions of people in need. Thus, the story indicts the lawyer, and it indicts us by extension.
The over-the-top response of the Samaritan reveals the honest, truthful reality that we simply do not and cannot consistently and convincingly “go and do likewise” in showing life-giving, healing mercy to those most wounded and vulnerable.
Consider the state of our nation and world. Mercy is in short supply almost everywhere we turn, at least with the news stories that command our attention. Vengeance and cruelty and violence are more the spirit of our times. Yes, there are the merciful responses to our crises, but these are overshadowed by the enormity of the power of vengeance and cruelty which seem to be winning the day.
But of course, there’s also good news, because in Christ there always is. The parables of the gospels are almost always stories that point to Jesus, that reveal the nature of Christ and his mission and ministry.
So, considering the story of the Good Samaritan with a view to Christ Jesus, we may see Jesus as the Merciful Samaritan, he whose approaches to religious authority and leadership, religious teaching and practice, were foreign to the stated religious teaching and leaders of Jesus’ day.
Time and again, Luke and the other gospel writers reveal a Jesus who did as the Merciful Samaritan did in going the extra mile to care for the wounded and vulnerable. In short, Jesus did not pass by on the other side. Dying on the cross, ultimately to be raised from the dead, is anything but passing by on the other side!
Normally, we might likely focus on Jesus riding on the donkey as he enters triumphantly the holy city Jerusalem. But here in this story, we see the wounded man on the animal, and Jesus as a Samaritan, whose approach to religion is foreign even to his kindred people, guiding the wounded one to the inn for hospital care. And in this case, unlike Jesus’ birth when there was no place for the holy family to stay, there was room in the inn for the wounded.
Moreover, on the cross we see a wounded God in Christ paying and repaying whatever is needed, ultimately resulting in the healing, the restoration, the eternal life which the lawyer was seeking. In short, in the Good and merciful Samaritan, we see the fullness of Christ.
In Christ, turning again to our first reading in Deuteronomy, we hear the promise addressed not just to the people of old, but to us, the wounded, for whom Christ is merciful: “The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings,” that “the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, delighting in you.” In Christ, these words of promise are for us, too.
For Jesus Christ is the only one who is obedient to the extent of fulfilling the demands of the law. That is at the heart of the gospel, the good news.
In the light of Christ, we hear and see the other words of Deuteronomy in perhaps a different way. Listen again with Christ in mind: “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.” (Deuteronomy 30:11-14)
Indeed, Christ came down from heaven to be the word of God made flesh to dwell very near to us, full of grace and truth. In the waters of baptism, which bonds us to the baptism of his own death and resurrection, Christ has taken us to his bosom, carrying us over the stormy abyss of the seas of sin and mortality to the other side.
In the meal at this table, we take the word who is Christ into our very mouths in bread and wine, his body, his blood, that this word would dwell in our hearts for us to observe, in the power of Christ.
In short, it is Christ in us, working through us, and in spite of us, who fulfills for us the law of God’s justice.
Thus it is that Paul can say with confidence to the members of the church in Colossae whom he addresses in today’s second reading: “For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God.” (Colossians 1:4-6) For “God has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the dominion of the beloved Son of God, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin.” (Colossians 1:13-14)
That is to say, it is Christ, the merciful one, who draws so near to us that he dwells among us in word and sacraments, who makes it possible to bear the fruit of mercy for the wounded and dying of our world full of robbers. It is God’s work in Christ, our hands in ministries of mercy for our neighbors.
Thus, in Christ, here in this place, and in every Christian place, we get to go and do likewise in being merciful neighbor to the wounded ones here and everywhere. Thanks be to God in Christ. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: “Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service” ELW 712
Text: Albert F. Bayly, 1901-1984
Tune: BEACH SPRING, The Sacred Harp, Philadelphia, 1844
Albert F. Bayly wrote this text in response to a Hymn Society of America search for new hymns on social welfare. It was chosen as the theme hymn for the Second National Conference on the Churches and Social Welfare held in Cleveland, Ohio, October 23-27, 1961. The Hymn Society published the text in Seven New Social Welfare Hymns (1961).
The text begins with recognition of Christ's ultimate sacrifice on the cross and then points to the continuing needs of the homeless, the hungry, the prisoners, and the mourners. Bayly's words remind us of modern refugees, AIDS patients, and famine victims who are as close as our doorstep or who are brought to our attention via the news media. The final two stanzas encourage us to move from Sunday worship to weekday service; such integrity in the Christian life is truly a liturgy of sacrifice, pleasing to God.
Albert F. Bayly was born in Bexhill on Sea, Sussex, England. He received his education at London University (BA) and Mansfield College, Oxford. Bayly was a Congregationalist (later United Reformed Church) minister from the late 1920s until his death in 1984. His life and ministry spanned the Depression of the 1930s, the Second World War, and the years of reconstruction which followed. After retiring in 1971, he moved to Springfield, Chelmsford, and was active in the local United Reformed Church. He wrote several pageants on mission themes, and librettos for cantatas by W. L. Lloyd Webber.
Opening Voluntary: “Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart” Joe Utterback (1944)
This tune, “Moorecambe,” was written in 1870 by Frederick C. Atkinson. The jazz musician, Joe Utterback has published nearly 400 works for piano, choir and organ. He beautifully captures this serene hymn tune with his jazz-inspired harmonies.
Closing Voluntary: “St. Patrick’s Breastplate” Rebecca Groom te Velde
Saint Patrick's Breastplate, a prayer of protection also known as The Deer's Cry, The Lorica of Saint Patrick or Saint Patrick's Hymn, is a lorica. In the Christian monastic tradition, a lorica is a prayer recited for protection in which the petitioner invokes all the power of God as a safeguard against evil in its many forms. The Latin word lōrīca originally meant "armor" or "breastplate." Both meanings come together in the practice of placing verbal inscriptions on the shields or armorial trappings of knights, who might recite them before going into battle. The original Old Irish lyrics of this hymn were traditionally attributed to Saint Patrick during his Irish ministry in the 5th century. In 1889 it was adapted into the hymn I Bind Unto Myself Today.
Rebecca Groom Te Velde is a third-generation professional organist, following both parents and her grandfather. In 1991 she assumed her present position as organist of First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater, OK. She is an active performer, composer, clinician, and adjunct instructor of music at Oklahoma State University.
Offertory: “Unto Thee I Lift Up My Soul” Peter Cornelius (1824-1874)
In Britain to this day, Cornelius's best-known work is "The Three Kings", a song for voice and piano in which the soloist sings "Three Kings from Persian lands afar ...", while from the piano is heard the chorale tune of Philipp Nicolai, Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern ("How brightly shines the morning star") underneath. During his last few years in Berlin, Cornelius wrote music criticism for several major Berlin journals and entered into friendships with Joseph von Eichendorff, Paul Heyse and Hans von Bülow. Despite his long-standing association with Wagner and Franz Liszt (the latter on occasion sought Cornelius's advice when it came to matters of orchestration), Cornelius's relations with the so-called "New German School" of composition were sometimes rocky.
Unto Thee I lift up my soul, let no enemy rise over me.
Thou wilt lead me in Thy truth, Thou the God of my salvation.
Thou rememberest not my sins, nor rememberest my transgressions,
Lord, in mercy think on me, for I trust in Thee.
Unto Thee I lift up my soul, all Thy judgments are before me;
Let The mercy come to me, let Thy kindness be my comfort.
For the entrance of Thy words giveth light and understanding.
Plead my causes, deliver me, for I trust in Thee.
Unto Thee I lift up my soul, make Thy face to shine upon me.
Let the beauty of the Lord, let Thy beauty be upon me.
Let Thy work appear to me, and Thy glory to my children.
Stablish Thou my handiwork, for I trust in Thee.
Week of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
Perhaps the initial shock of the announcement of my resignation as pastor at Resurrection to take another congregational call has begun to wear off, and the realities of this transition are now beginning to sink in more deeply. Even if there is general acknowledgement that my taking a call in Phoenix to be in close proximity to my son is understandable, that does not stop the human reality that this transition nonetheless evokes and provokes a wide variety of reactions and responses. The termination of my call here makes for significant upheaval in the life of our congregation. Understandably, many may be experiencing a full range of responses – shock, disappointment, sadness, anger, a sense of betrayal, anxiety, perhaps for some even relief, and more. It may also be that it would be appropriate to invoke some of the classic stages of grief in relation to our shared time of transition – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.
Please know that I am still available to you for conversation about all of this as you desire. In fact, I am eager to have such holy conversation for the sake of making the most of our remaining days together. Further information is soon forthcoming about the actual date of my leave-taking and what the transition process will look like.
Resurrection Church has been in a state of transition for several years now. And just when life together seemed to be settling in to a new era of stability, my leaving reignites another period of transition. This is made all the more difficult by the realities of the pandemic and the upheaval it has caused for two years and counting. Moreover, national and international crises persist beyond the pandemic. Given so much change in nation and world, perhaps the last place we want still more change is in the church, which we yearn to be an oasis of stability amidst the storms of life.
It is also true that times of pastoral transition disrupt equilibrium in congregational systems. The pastor, as shepherd, has a coordinating role in creatively managing the natural tensions among members and groups within a congregation. When that coordinating role is removed from the system, then it’s natural for there to be some re-emergence of anxiety and perhaps even conflict. That’s true of every congregation, and of every human system.
Thus, the coming weeks and months call for renewed commitments to attending to the qualities that make for healthy Christian communal life. May the words of Paul guide our life together as we engage the rigors of this season of transition: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:12-15)
Please know that you are not alone in whatever sense of upheaval my leave-taking is provoking. Many other congregations are in similar boats, even as the whole ecosystem of the wider church is amidst an era of far-reaching change. And I, too, am not immune from these realities. I have not known consistent circumstantial stability in my life since at least late 2017 when the bishop of Metro New York Synod, my then boss, had to resign because of misconduct. Since that time, it’s been one significant crisis-related transition after another, most especially Nathan’s stroke. I, too, yearn for a return of stability. But the current nature of our world simply may not provide it.
How we are moved to frame this time is crucial for our creatively and faithfully living through it. Thus, I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to see the time before us, when the circumstances of stability and predictability and good order seem to be or are in fact taken from us, as an invitation to still deeper faith in Christ, trusting that in Christ all shall be well, that all is well, recalling the wisdom of Julian of Norwich. May we all be drawn to falling anew into the loving, merciful arms of God in Christ by the nudging of the Spirit, whose embrace is the source of our ultimate stability, a foundational reality that cannot be taken from us, even when the stormy seas of life seem to prove otherwise.
Trustingly – even if haltingly so – in Christ,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
As the scriptural witness lives on and continues to form and inform our life together, Jesus continues to appoint us – you, and me – and all the baptized children of God to be sent on missionary journeys to the places Jesus intends to go just as he appointed the seventy in the days of old as we heard in today’s gospel from Luke.
You and I have been on such a missionary journey together for two years, and some months, and now we are parting ways – you remaining here, and I venturing westward for the congregational call in Phoenix to be near my son.
When our paths coincided back in 2019, we said in essence to each other, “Peace to this house!” And I believe that we have shared in that peace, the peace of Christ, during our sojourn together.
And you can be sure that in my leave-taking, I will not be wiping off any dust that clings to my feet in protest of you or of this place.
In keeping with the message from today’s gospel reading from Luke and Jesus’ instructions found therein, we have shared this journey with focus on proclamation in word and deed that the “dominion of God has come near to us.” And we have known the nearness of that dominion, I believe, in our life together.
Now there is another sending, me to Phoenix, and you to whatever is in store in the next chapter of your life together as Resurrection Lutheran Church.
To be sure, we enter into anxious times, both you and I. Thus, Jesus’ words recorded in Luke perhaps haunt us: “Go on our way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals….”
This sounds dangerous and quite austere and minimalist. Will there be enough for the journey? Can we rely on others to give us the provisions we need to survive, if not to thrive? Will there be an appropriate interim pastor available to you at this time? Will there be the pastoral candidates you need for such a time as this? I, too, am embarking on a call to a congregation that has its own share of challenges and struggles amidst a time of significant economic uncertainty and plenty of national and international crises to keep us awake at night.
It’s quite the leap of faith that we are undertaking in our different ways. And our provisions for the journey may at first seem scarce.
In these anxious, uncertain times that we share in our own ways, we may take some comfort in Isaiah’s prophetic words of promise and restoration from today’s first reading: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for the city, all you love her; rejoice with Jerusalem in joy, all you who mourn over her – that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees….”
What lovely, comforting words: the promise of the restoration of the holy city and with abundance and with a loving embrace as from a mother for her children.
Throughout the many Christian centuries of reading the prophets like Isaiah through Christocentric lenses, seeing Christ in the prophetic word, the church, the body of Christ, has been viewed as a new manifestation of the holy city Jerusalem. This place, this assembly is our holy city.
Thus, when we hear with the ears of faith that we are promised to nurse as at a mother’s breast in this holy city, we may hear overtones of the Holy Supper, the Eucharist, when we eat and drink from the body of our saving mother, Christ.
When we hear that the prosperity of the holy city extends like a river, and that wealth is offered up like an overflowing stream, we might think of the waters of baptism which indeed give us life abundant, grace overflowing without end.
Then, just when we’re overcome with fears of scarcity – will we have what we need? – we come to our senses and realize anew that here in this place is in fact God’s abundance to feed us, to nurse us, to quench our thirst, with plenty left over for us to feed and nourish the nations.
That is good news indeed. Just what we need for times like these.
And if we become overconfident in our own doings as the returning seventy did when they were impressed that the spirits submitted to them in their healing and exorcisms, Christ is here in the word to remind us: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Indeed, our names are close to the heart of God ever since we were claimed as God’s children by name, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in the overflowing waters of grace at the font.
And likewise, if we run into trouble in Christian community and there is conflict in the life together, as there clearly was at the church in Galatia which Paul was addressing in today’s second reading, the Spirit speaks through the words of the apostle to remind us: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [the controversy that captivated the church in Galatia] is anything; but a new creation [in Christ] is everything!”
Thus it is that in Christ, here in this place, Sunday after Sunday without fail, we are given what we need to be sent on our missionary journeys despite the nagging sense of austerity and scarcity and danger that the logic of the world imposes on us. For once again, in Christ, we have absolutely everything we ultimately need for the journey, whether the journey takes us here or there.
Thus, with our sometimes-feeble faith renewed, we go out on our way to feed the world with the same mother’s milk that we receive here from Christ in the word and in the sacraments ever proclaiming that the dominion of God has indeed come near to us in Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: “Lord, You Give the Great Commission” ELW 579
Text: Jeffery W. Rowthorn (1934)
Tune: ABBOT'S LEIGH, Cyril V. Taylor (1907)
Jeffery W. Rowthorn wrote this text in 1978 while he was Chapel Minister at Yale Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut. The text was first published in Laudamus (1980), a hymnal supplement edited by Rowthorn and used at the Yale Divinity School.
This powerful text about the various ministries of the Christian church has two striking features: each stanza includes a quotation of Christ's words (usually from Matthew), and a concluding refrain line turns each stanza into a prayer. Christ's words are applied to the tasks of God's people in the world with a fervent prayer that the Spirit equip the saints to carry out these ministries faithfully.
Rowthorn graduated from Cambridge and Oxford Universities, Union Theological Serninary in New York, and Cuddeson Theological College in Oxford. Ordained in 1963 in the Church of England, he served several congregations in England before immigrating to the United States, where he was chaplain at Union Theological Seminary and a faculty member in liturgics at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, which he helped to establish. He was then elected Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut. The writer of several hymns, Rowthorn was also coeditor with Russell Schulz-Widmar of A New Hymnal for Colleges and Schools (1991). Rowthorn has since moved to Paris, where he is Bishop in Charge of the American Churches in Europe.
Cyril V. Taylor composed ABBOT'S LEIGH in May of 1941 when he was working for the Religious Broadcasting Department of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The BBC had received complaints about the use of AUSTRIA (tune for the Austrian national hymn) during this time of war, a tune then set to "Glorious Things of You Are Spoken." Thus Taylor originally composed his tune for that text. First printed in a leaflet, ABBOT'S LEIGH was published in Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised (1950), Congregational Praise (1951), and the BBC Hymn Book (1951), of which Taylor was editor. No modern hymnal would want to omit this great twentieth-century tune! ABBOT'S LEIGH is named for a village near Bristol, England, where Taylor composed the tune. (Bristol was wartime headquarters for the BBC).
Opening Voluntary: “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus,” John Carter (1930)
JOHN CARTER is a well-known composer with several hundred choral compositions to his credit as well as several musicals, an opera, and a dozen collections for keyboard and organ. He and his wife, Mary Kay Beall, often collaborate as writers and in Music Ministry. He is a recognized clinician and choral conductor, and is particularly noted for his versatile writing style and his long-standing creative productivity.
Closing Voluntary: “Woodlands,” (Tell Out My Soul), J. Wayne Kerr (1958)
WOODLANDS is a perfect match for the bold text, “Tell Out My Soul” with which it is most often paired. Walter Greatorex (1877-1949) composed this tune in 1916, and it was published in the Public School Hymn Book in 1919. The tune's title refers to one of the schoolhouses at Gresham's School, Holt, Norfolk, where Greatorex was director of music
J. Wayne Kerr is well known for his handbell, organ, and choral compositions. He has held positions as a school music teacher as well as a music director for various congregations in Arkansas and Texas. He received his BME from the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and his MM in music theory from the University of Central Arkansas. He became a deacon in 2006.
Peter and Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2022
Dear People of God at Resurrection Lutheran Church:
After much prayerful deliberation and holy conversations with many of you individually and communally, I have decided to accept the call to serve as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Thus, with numerous mixed emotions and with a heavy heart, I announce to you my resignation as pastor of Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church.
I am deeply appreciative of the past week and a half, a time that has afforded us occasion to engage together in this final phase of my discernment of call. The conversations and communications we have had together during these days have been enormously helpful and important, even as they have been difficult to undertake. I heard what I believe is a full range of thought and opinion from you, though I am also aware that not everyone claimed the opportunity to be in conversation and that perhaps some may not have spoken the fullness of what was on their hearts and minds. But the net effect of our conversations has been a confirmation of my sense of call to transition to engage the pastorate of Faith Church while also undertaking the daily opportunities of being father to Nathan all in the same geographic locale in central Phoenix. Many of you expressed understanding of and respect for the claims of being dad and pastor, and the desirability of fulfilling these responsibilities in the same place.
During our conversations in the past several days, I also unmistakably heard and felt the weight of the effect this decision will have on you and the congregation, especially with the need to engage in another call process so soon after the process to call me as pastor of Resurrection Church. Thus, my decision has been a difficult one to make, even as the call before me offers promise to reintegrate and reunite the parental and pastoral dimensions of my vocation.
My decision is also difficult because I have such high regard for you individually and together as a congregation. Please know that everything that drew me to serving as your pastor remains in place and my view of you has not changed. That is to say, you and the congregation embody great gifts and promise in the service of God’s mission. Though our time together has been brief, I will forever cherish you and my time as pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church. Therefore, I will grieve deeply in response to my leave-taking.
This letter announcing my resignation is being sent also to the Bishop’s Office of the Metropolitan Washington DC Synod, who will be in contact with Resurrection Congregation leaders about next steps during this time of transition. The Congregation Council and I, in consultation with the Bishop’s Office and leaders at Faith Church in Phoenix, will determination the timeline for the coming weeks and the official termination date of our time together. Thus, additional information is forthcoming.
While our paths are separating, we are nonetheless undertaking together a leap of faith into God’s promised future and whatever is in store for us. May we be emboldened to claim the grace-filled promise expressed in Dag Hammarskjöld’s brief prayer, a prayer that helped draw me to Resurrection Church and a prayer that continues to inform next steps in the life of faith and of service: “For all that has been, thanks; for all that is to come, yes.”
May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us in the power of the Spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Third Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 9:51-62
So many stories in the Bible involve the nomadic nature of human life. The people of Israel spend forty years traveling in the wilderness after their liberation from slavery until at last they reach the promised land.
Jesus’ ministry takes him and his disciples from place to place. The book of Acts and the letters of Paul tell of the missionary journeys of the apostles and their establishing churches in various cities throughout the ancient Near Eastern world.
Indeed, the whole story of humanity is one of migration, of our species’ spread to the farthest points on the planet. Some of this migration has been propelled by curiosity – wanderlust. Most of it has been driven by need, as we continue to see today throughout the world with refugees fleeing war and oppression, famine, and now the ravages of a changing climate.
Ultimately, we are all descended from immigrants. Moreover, our life journeys have taken us from place to place for education, jobs, and more. Many of you have served abroad in your careers in the military or state department and other careers.
I, myself, have lived in eight different states during my six decades. And I will soon make a decision that would result in my journey having taken me to nine states.
Amidst all of this is Jesus’ invitation to us, “Follow me.” Responding to Jesus’ invitation can take us to places that we least expect and on journeys characterized by some itineracy. For as Luke records in today’s gospel, Jesus observed, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Jesus said this in response to someone accompanying Jesus on the road, on a journey, who exclaimed perhaps with some naïve exuberance, Lord “I will follow you wherever you go.”
The other exchanges in today’s gospel reveal how the human condition inevitably interferes with Jesus’ invitation to follow him. In the recounting, Jesus bid others on the road to follow him. One person’s response was this: “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Then another bargained, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
Jesus’ response to these folk and their bargaining reveals the uncompromising claims of Jesus’ call to discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the dominion of God.” And: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the dominion of God.”
And yet, on our own, we’re stuck in the ambivalence of competing claims and desires, captive to the reality that we are simultaneously saints and sinners with circumstances that are complicated which make it impossible for us by ourselves to will one thing (the very definition of purity of heart according to Soren Kierkegaard). With our wills in bondage, captive to competing claims, we persist in various forms of ambivalence, again, when we’re left to our own devices.
As for me, it’s the competing claims of my commitments to you as pastor of Resurrection Church and then also the claims of the fatherhood of my son, both of which arguably involve my discipleship of Jesus Christ, my responses to Jesus’ invitation to follow him.
And you have your own stories to tell about difficult junctures in your lives where decisions had to be made, decisions that have great effects on the lives, circumstances, and well-being of others. We tremble at the precipice of making such decisions for good reason, stuck as we are amidst the competing claims of our responsibilities.
But here’s the thing: only Christ, not us, can set his face to Jerusalem, the place of cross and empty tomb, of death and resurrection, without looking back.
And because Christ goes to Jerusalem without ambivalence, hesitancy, or a conflicted will (though he had his moments – “Let this cup pass from me, but not my will, but yours be done, O God”) – because Christ’s face was set to Jerusalem in such a way that resulted in his death and new life, we, then, are liberated by grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and freed from our own bondage to our compromised capacities to follow and to serve. This freedom is ultimately available to us only in Christ Jesus.
So it is that Paul can write in Galatians, today’s second reading, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Which is to say that forgiveness, mercy, grace, and all the blessings that flow from Christ’s death and resurrection are available to us, to you, to me, wherever we happen to be and whether we stay or go in our nomadic journeys of both life and discipleship.
And every Sunday, here, there, or the other place, becomes a new occasion for emancipation, for freedom, for release from our various forms of captivity.
At the font we are given the gift of absolution, of forgiveness, of being set free from our captivity to sin. In this place of the proclamation of the gospel, the word emancipates us, breaking through our conflicted wills, to set our face also to the cross of Christ and the empty tomb, our source of freedom. At the table of the Eucharistic feast we hear again and again Jesus’ own words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin,” and in eating and drinking receive the reality that the words signify.
I’m drawn in particular to today’s reading from 1 Kings in light of our gospel and second readings which gives us the chance to see the story of Elijah’s call to Elisha through Christian lenses. Elisha was engaged in his work of plowing with a dozen oxen when the call came. Unlike Jesus, it seems Elijah let Elisha return home to say goodbye to his father and mother.
But then in response to Elijah’s call and in quite the dramatic act, Elisha slaughtered the oxen and used the plowing implements, the sources of his livelihood, to start a fire to make a feast for the people so that they could all eat and be fed. Only then did Elisha leave to follow Elijah.
So it is that, following the example of Jesus, who made do with what he had, namely his own body dead, slaughtered, on the tree and alive again out of the tomb, we make do with bread and wine, ordinary gifts of creation, that Christ’s body and blood become for us a feast to feed us for the journey, wherever it happens to take us, that we may also feed a hungry world.
In this place, through these means of grace, is our freedom to do the best we can in our attempts to follow Christ, day by day, one step at a time, trusting in the forgiveness and mercy of God, and using our freedom in Christ to serve our neighbors wherever they are and whoever they may be.
Again, here’s Paul in today’s second reading: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Thus, journeying in the Spirit, by God’s mercy and grace in Christ, our serving each other and our neighbors beyond these walls, has the possibility of reflecting the features of life in the Spirit, namely, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
May it be so among us as we continue this journey in the coming days, trusting that, whatever the outcomes, Christ’s mercy remains with us, follows us wherever we go, here or there. Thus, we make our way, ever falling into the merciful, loving, forgiving arms of God in Christ, the only source of true freedom. God in Christ help us in the power of the Spirit. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: "The Son of God, Our Christ" ELW 584
Text: Edward M. Blumenfeld, 1927
Music: SURSUM CORDA, Alfred M. Smith, 1879-1971, arr. Richard W. Hillert
Between 1955 and 1957 the Hymn Society of America published ten “New Hymns for Youth by Youth” of which this was the first choice. Its language was gently made more inclusive in the LBW. Edward M. Blumenfeld wrote poetry in high school so he was comfortable writing the text for this hymn. He just barely made the Hymn Society’s thirty-year-old cut for authors.
The tune, Sursum Corda, submitted anonymously for consideration to the committee that prepared The Hymnal 1940, was originally composed for the eucharistic hymn, “Lift up your hearts.” Alfred Morton Smith eventually surfaced as the composer of this tune named for the Latin of the original text, “Sursum Corda.” He is known to have contributed 2 other tunes to the hymn tune literature. “Sursum Corda” is the most popular and is now paired with a wide variety of texts.
Message from Pastor Linman
Monday, June 20, 2022
Dear People of God at Resurrection Church:
Yesterday, June 19, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, the people of Faith Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona extended a call to me to serve as their pastor. I have not yet made a decision about this call, for I wish to engage you, the leaders and members of Resurrection Church, in this final stage of my discernment. I take my commitments to you and my call to Resurrection very seriously, and you have not yet had occasion to offer your voice in this communal discernment process.
In the coming days, there will be various occasions for us to be in discerning, holy conversation together about what is before us. This coming Thursday evening, I will meet with our Congregation Council to learn their thoughts and views and feelings and to offer further information. Then also, this coming Sunday, June 26, I propose that we spend time together after worship in the parish hall during coffee hour so that all members of the congregation can have occasion likewise to express their views and concerns. Additionally, I invite anyone who wishes to have a one-on-one conversation with me – in person, on the phone, via email, or Zoom – to let me know so that we can arrange a time and format to be in conversation.
Once we have had these occasions to engage each other, I will offer to you and to Faith Church in Phoenix my decision about call on Wednesday, June 29.
Now a word about what has led us to this point. Earlier in this calendar year, the Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod invited me to consider the possibility of a call to Faith Church, so I entered into a period of serious discernment. This invitation came as a surprise to me, as I fully anticipated when I accepted the call here that I would conclude my pastoral career with you at Resurrection Church.
Obviously, this is not an ideal time to consider a transition to another call, as it seems that in many ways we have just begun our life together, given how the pandemic has slowed down what otherwise would have been a quicker start to our shared ministry and mission. Please know that my discernment has weighed heavily on my heart and mind, for again, I take very seriously my commitments to you. During my call process with you and continuing to this day, you have been extraordinarily generous, patient, understanding, and supportive, given Nathan’s extended time of recovery from his stroke and now as he grows as a teenager. Nathan’s needs, of course, continue to have prominence in my ongoing discernment of call.
Thus, the possibility of giving expression to my calling both as a father to Nathan and as a pastor of the church in the same locale is profoundly compelling to me. I must confess that during the past couple of years, I have felt an ongoing tension and a divide between these callings, with parts of me focusing on my son in Phoenix and parts of me attending to my pastoral commitments to you, absent a sense of unity within and cohesion between these crucial features of my vocation. Faith Church in Phoenix is a mere four miles from where Nathan lives with his mother, which would enable me to be a consistent presence in his life during these remaining tender years of his growing up. Given the challenges of adolescence amidst an ongoing pandemic with lingering issues related to stroke recovery, and given that our nation and world continue in foreboding crises, Nathan would benefit from having both of his parents available to him on a daily basis in the same part of town.
Now I look forward to hearing more from you, your thoughts and views and concerns, as this communal discernment process draws closer to the time of a decision.
May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us in the power of the Spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Hymn of the Day: "Cast Out, O Christ", ACS 1016
Text: Mary Louise Bringle, b. 1953
Music: CONSOLATION, A. Davisson, Kentucky Harmony, 1816; arr.Theodore A. Beck, 1929–2003
This hymn names many challenges: hate, dread, grief, fear, and shame. We ask Jesus to remove them from our lives. His actions are not confined to those long-ago miracles of casting out demons, calming storms, and entering locked rooms. Rather, Jesus continues to bring life, hope, and health to us today. We pray that our lives may be transformed to spread God’s love and joy to the world. The plaintive yet sturdy tune reflects the bold confidence with which Martin Luther says we loving children are instructed to pray in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer in the Small Catechism.
Week of the First Sunday after Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
I had hoped to gain greater clarity at our Synod Assembly about the controversies within the ELCA concerning events in our Sierra Pacific Synod in northern California. Unfortunately, I don’t have many new insights to share that shed definitive light on what is happening there, as the situation continues to unfold.
I risk mispresenting the circumstances and perhaps overstepping my bounds in offering reflections, given that I do not have first-hand knowledge of what is occurring in the Sierra Pacific Synod. That said, I believe that some attempt at a summary is in order. But please know that this is a very complex situation which my summary cannot ultimately do justice to.
Here is a summary: Allegations of the misuse of pastoral authority were made against a pastor who was a mission developer in the Sierra Pacific Synod in an emerging Spanish-speaking ministry. The Bishop of that Synod, who also happens to be the ELCA’s first publicly-known transgendered Bishop, removed the mission developer pastor from his ministry, and did so on a festival day that is dear to Hispanic Christians. This action was received as extraordinarily insensitive and racist in the ELCA’s Hispanic community. Our Presiding Bishop called for an investigation into the actions of the Synodical Bishop. When the investigating team offered their report, our Presiding Bishop declined at first to bring charges against the Synodical Bishop. This decision on the part of the Presiding Bishop was deemed as woefully inadequate by various constituencies in our church, including our Conference of Bishops. Meanwhile, the Synodical Bishop resigned from their ministry as Bishop. However, new concerns about the Synodical Bishop have emerged, and our Presiding Bishop has now decided to engage in disciplinary action against the Synodical Bishop. This decision to pursue disciplinary action has the wide support of the Conference of Bishops. That’s basically where we are now as this controversy unfolds in our church.
Should you wish to engage in further reading about all of this, see the many links below at the conclusion of this message.
Now on to my reflections. This matter is a perfect storm of the conflicting confluence of various realities in our church engaged as we are in mission in a particularly divisive time in our current society. Here is a listing of these complicating realities: the concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community; the Hispanic community within the ELCA and certainly the local mission site; governing documents and policies and procedures of our church which may have embedded within themselves instances and dynamics of systemic racism; the extent to which these policies and procedures were carefully followed or not in these matters; the interdependent, often messy, but still laudable, polity of our church which seeks input from many constituencies – locally, synodically, and nationally – for discernment and decision-making; how all of this affects the nature of the exercise of authority in our church; and finally, how the realities of human sin find their expression in the church at various levels when we inevitably fail institutionally to live up to the theology we proclaim.
One thing that did come out of our Metropolitan DC Synod Assembly was a memorial to advocate for the establishment of a process to review the polity, procedures, and structures of our church through the lenses of diversity, equity and inclusion to discern how the ways we organize ourselves as church inhibit our aspirations to be a more fully welcoming and safe place for all of God’s children. This memorial will be sent to our Churchwide Assembly in Columbus, Ohio in August of this year for consideration there.
As a potential silver lining, this perfect storm holds promise for all of us in the ELCA to take a good, hard look in the mirror to recognize and acknowledge the various ways in which we fail institutionally to live up to the mission of gospel proclamation that God has entrusted to us. Our Lutheran theological sensibilities give us what we need to engage in this kind of reality therapy, to acknowledge fully, forthrightly, honestly, and courageously our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, and our total reliance on God’s grace to be led to ways of enacting our life together that nurture greater justice, welcome, and safety for all people. If only we as the ELCA would draw fully on our own theological tradition as we move forward together in coming months in response to the pain and suffering in the Sierra Pacific Synod and the reverberating effects throughout our church.
Our Synod Bishop, Leila Ortiz, recounted at Synod Assembly the circumstances of her conversion to the Lutheran theological way, having grown up in the Pentecostal tradition. Bishop Ortiz’s theological transformation, which also had profound existential effects on her, occurred in the seminary classroom while studying the Lutheran Confessions. Indeed, it was the discovery there of God’s unconditional, boundless love, mercy, and grace which was life-changing for Bishop Ortiz. Which is to say that we have theological riches to share with the wider world. Moreover, we have theological riches, which by God’s sovereign grace, give us what we need to navigate these stormy waters currently in church and world. By the Holy Spirit’s guidance, may we as a church in our local, synodical, and churchwide expressions, draw deeply on these riches for our healing and for the healing of the nations.
With hope in Christ Jesus via the leading of the Holy spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Sierra Pacific Synod Background Information
A Message from Presiding Bishop Eaton (English) / (Spanish) RE: Disciplinary Process Initiated
Sierra Pacific Synod: Bishop’s Report to the Church
Presiding Bishop Eaton Listening Session Statement (English) / (Spanish)
From Sierra Pacific
A Letter from Synod Vice President, Gail Kiyomura
Bishop Rohrer Resignation Post (Facebook)
Council Response to Churchwide (Facebook)
Open Letter to DE-MD Synod
Letter from Bishop Rohrer after External Review
From the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos de la ELCA
O Lord How Long Shall I Cry for Help - Response (Facebook)
What Happened In the Sierra Pacific Synod - Compiled Resource Page
Washington Post Resignation Article (6/7/2022)
Pastor David Hansen Summary Post (Facebook)
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Response
Bp. Bill Gohl's Statement at the DE-MD Synod Assembly
Bp. Bill Gohl’s Letter to the DE-MD Synod
Bp. Mike Rhinehart’s Blog Post
The Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson Letter to the Elders of the ELCA
Holy Trinity Sunday, John 16:12-15
Listen again to how today’s first reading begins. It’s poetry from Proverbs, personifying and extoling the wonders of Wisdom and Understanding: “Does not Wisdom call, and does not Understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance to the portals she cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.’”
Tell me. Where is the call and cry of wisdom and understanding today? In my experience of our current culture and the spirit of these times, I can scarcely identify the call and cry of wisdom and understanding. If she is out there calling and raising her voice, it’s drowned out by loud mouths proclaiming anything but wisdom and understanding. On the heights, at the crossroads, beside the gates and entrances to the city, I don’t see her. I don’t hear her.
Can wisdom and understanding really make herself known on Twitter? In sound bytes? On video clips on Instagram or TikTok? Will the algorithms that determine what gets our attention on social media point us in the direction of wisdom and understanding? Do wisdom and understanding garner more clicks and likes and thus more advertising revenue?
Sadly, it seems, no. And we are today impoverished by her absence in the popular imagination and on what appears on our screens and devices. Wisdom and understanding are indeed out there, but we often have to go looking, fighting forever along the way the raging, attention-seeking voices of folly, imprudence, impudence, and thoughtlessness.
This absence of wisdom and understanding takes its toll and weighs heavily on us, individually and collectively as a whole society. I daresay, the absence of wisdom, of understanding surely has a part to play in increasing anxiety and depression. And likewise this absence perpetuates the unwillingness of elected officials effectively to govern. A lack of wisdom and understanding contributes to the unraveling of the whole world, its institutions and organizations. And more and more. It’s a hugely heavy and destructive burden that human beings are forced to carry these days.
The absence of wisdom and understanding in human affairs is nothing new. It’s been part of our broken, sinful, fallen condition all along. And it’s into this foolish human reality that wisdom and understanding personified enters in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we confess as the Christ, God’s anointed one. This is good news!
When we hear the poetry of Proverbs, listening with Christian ears, how can we not but think of Jesus Christ? Here it is again: “I was there when the Lord established the heavens, and drew a circle on the face of the deep, and made firm the skies above, and established the fountains of the deep, and assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress the Lord’s command, when the foundations of the earth were marked out, then I was beside the Lord, like a master worker; and I was daily the Lord’s delight, rejoicing before the Lord always, rejoicing in the Lord’s inhabited world.” (Proverbs 8:27-31a) Doesn’t Christ come to mind in this passage?
When we listen to this poetry, we cannot help but also hear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.” (John 1:1-3a) How can we not also hear the voice that came from heaven at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)
The wisdom of God that makes for understanding – along with sacred truth, and divine love – emanates from the divine being. And it’s a wisdom made flesh, personified, in the divine word who is Jesus. In Christ Jesus, as an icon, the window is thrown open to see the fullness of God, the face of God. And in the absence of the manner in which Jesus walked this earth millennia ago, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us into the truth of the wisdom of God, and divine understanding, along with forgiving, gracious love.
These are the mysterious holy realities that we celebrate on this festival of the Holy Trinity on this first Sunday after Pentecost. Thanks be to God.
And, as I keep on saying, because it keeps on being true Sunday after Sunday, here in this place we participate and share in the wise, truthful, loving realities of the three-personed Godhead, whom we confess as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We are baptized into this three-fold name of God and come to share in the life and love of our Trinitarian God through water, word, and Spirit. We take the bread and the cup and give thanks over each, and then come to eat and to drink of the very wisdom of God, Christ’s real presence, sharing thereby also in the life of the Trinity.
We share in divine wisdom and love in words of absolution and in sharing the peace of God in Christ. The wisdom of God is carried from the pages of scripture to our ears and our hearts and minds through proclamation of the word.
And all of this is such good news for us and for our wider world with its voids of wisdom and understanding, truth and love.
These emanations from our Trinitarian God which echo and reverberate in this hall and in our ears and in our bodies continue when we leave this place to return to the world, sent as we are to nurture wisdom and understanding beyond this house in the other places where we engage our ministries in daily life.
But our being sent into a world which clearly is hostile to wisdom and understanding will make for our suffering.
Paul acknowledges as much in today’s second reading from Romans. Paul writes about our having been made at peace with God in Christ through our being justified by faith in this God. We thus stand firm in divine grace. But suffering comes along with all of this, a suffering about which Paul actually confidently boasts: “We boast in our sufferings,” he says, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Endurance, character, hope – all fruit and corollaries of God’s wisdom and understanding.
In fact, our share in the suffering of God in Christ is what makes for our wisdom. Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God…. Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:18-25) God’s wisdom is foolish by worldly standards. But I’ll take God’s cruciform wisdom any day.
When we’re out in the thick of things in a world hostile to God’s wisdom and understanding, God’s truth and love, we may wonder how in the world we’ll rise to the occasion to offer a countervailing witness.
But then with faith renewed weekly here in this place, we find ourselves moving in the flow of the loving energies proceeding from our Trinitarian God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, who has been active here in our midst in our assemblies guiding us into all truth by teaching us and reminding us of Jesus’ words.
And we discover that we can go with that sacred flow, and that we’ll be given the word of wisdom and understanding that we need. According to Luke, Jesus said: “When they bring you before… the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)
In that light, think of the Christian martyrs, who faced death if they did not renounce their faith in Christ, and yet they remained steadfast in their confession of faith. I have a hard time imagining that I would respond so courageously. And yet, that’s when the power of God in the Spirit steps in to give the word, and the courage to speak it.
So, take heart. Be of good courage. We are not left orphaned, for the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son gives us the needed gifts to make our witness, that through us our Trinitarian God would fill the voids in our hungry, thirsty world with God’s own wisdom and understanding, truth and love – all for the healing of the nations and God’s shalom, and well-being.
All of this and more is what we celebrate on this day, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Week of the Festival of Pentecost
Dear Friends in Christ:
Many of you have read and are wondering about the recent article in the Washington Post concerning the controversy in one of our ELCA synods in California. I plan to write about this next week when I know more after having attended our Metro DC Synod Assembly this coming weekend.
Meanwhile, we will celebrate the festival of the Holy Trinity this coming Sunday, the First Sunday after Pentecost. Thus, I am moved to offer reflections this week on our Trinitarian understandings of God.
First off, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – the teaching that there is one God, and three distinct persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – does not explicitly appear as a concept in the bible. That said, there is plenty in the scriptures which point in the direction of Trinitarian understandings and which formed the foundations for the evolution of Christian thought toward Trinitarian doctrine.
Here are some of the important biblical passages which suggest Trinitarian possibilities:
John 1:1-18, the Prologue to John’s Gospel, proclaims that the divine Word who was made flesh in Jesus Christ was at the beginning with God and was in fact God.
Genesis 1:1-2, the first creation story, speaks of a wind or spirit from God that swept over the face of the waters to bring created order from chaos. When this story is read in connection with John’s Gospel, we may begin to see hints of the Trinity.
Then there are a number of other passages in the Gospel of John appointed for Eastertide in Lectionary year C which are suggestive of Trinitarian understandings. John was written perhaps three generations after Jesus’ earthly sojourn, thus offering us the vantage point of seeing the evolution of theological thinking among early Christians. So, there’s John 10:30, where John reports that Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” And there’s John 14:9-11 where John reports Jesus saying to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Moreover, there’s John 16:12-15, which we’ll hear this coming Trinity Sunday, which concludes with these words of Jesus reported by John which described for the disciples the coming of the Holy Spirit: “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Finally, there’s the Pentecost event recorded in John 20:21-23, “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’” John’s Gospel is, thus, rich with evocations of the beginnings of Trinitarian thought.
Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission, gives us the Trinitarian words we use to this day at baptism: “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…”
Then there are Trinitarian aspects of the stories of Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan. Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11, and Luke 3:21-22 variously report God proclaiming Jesus as a favored Son while the Holy Spirit from God descends on Jesus.
Acts 2:32-33, a moment in Peter’s first sermon proclaiming God’s deeds of power in raising Jesus from the dead, offers Trinitarian hints: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear."
Then there are the Pauline greetings that are liturgically quite familiar to us which are suggestive of the Trinity. 2 Corinthians 13:13, which concludes that letter, has these well-known words: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
Ephesians 2:18 offers this insight: “for through [Christ] both of us [Jewish and Gentile believers] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Here, like many New Testament passages, the three persons of the Godhead are mentioned.
A great Christ hymn in Colossians (cf. 1:15-17) echoes themes found in the prologue to John. There in Colossians it reads, Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:19 concludes, “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to do dwell.” In this hymn, which also sounds creedal, we see perhaps the beginnings of explicitly Trinitarian thinking.
Finally, salutations to believers recorded in 1 Peter 1:2 offer Trinitarian themes as it is there written: “To the exiles… who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance.”
This review of the scriptural witness, which arguably contributed to what would later be understood as the Trinity, is not comprehensive or exhaustive. There’s more in the bible that we could point to and explore in relation to Trinitarian themes. And it is essential to say that none of these scriptural passages add up in a simple kind of math equation to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons. That nuanced and paradoxical understanding would evolve over the course of the next decades and generations of Christian history as the church itself came to be and to develop. But I believe it is true that the scriptural witness laid a solid foundation for what would become our Trinitarian understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Thus, we have the Athanasian Creed (likely dating from the 5th Century) which arguably articulates best, at least in authoritative creedal form, the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Here is a portion of that ancient creed: “Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity is unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another. But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.” And on and on this creed goes, exploring the many paradoxical convolutions of our Trinitarian understandings.
The evolution of Christian thought and understanding is itself a work, I believe, of the Holy Trinity. John reports that Jesus said (and we’ll likewise hear this later this week on Trinity Sunday):
“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak out of the Spirit’s own authority, but will speak whatever the Spirit hears, and will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:12-13) Teaching about the Holy Trinity is one such truth into which we have been guided.
As has been the case throughout Christian history, the Holy Spirit, whom we confess proceeds from the Father and the Son, continues to guide us into all truth, including the truth about the Trinitarian nature of the God who creates, redeems, sanctifies, and more and more – all in a wonderful, sometimes baffling, paradoxical mystery and wondrous dance.
How can we respond and conclude but in words of poetic praise of the Trinity, here in a text of unknown source, translated by Clarence Walworth, the concluding stanza of “Holy God, We Praise Your Name” (ELW 414): “Holy Father, holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name you, though in essence only one; undivided God we claim you and, adoring, bend the knee while we own the mystery.”
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Day of Pentecost, John 14:8-27
Ancient people, including the ancient Hebrews, had to have wondered about how it came to be that human beings were located all over the place and spoke very different languages. So it is that we have a mythic accounting of this in Genesis, today’s first reading.
Did the Lord in fact come down to confuse the people’s language and to scatter them abroad over the face of all the earth? Probably not. But just because this story is mythic doesn’t mean it doesn’t convey important truths.
The truth was then and is now that human beings inhabit all manner of lands, and they live together in tribal or national or other units with distinctive cultures and languages.
It’s also true that when human beings unite for a common cause, we are capable of great and wondrous things, like figuring out how to live together in cities and to make bricks and use other technologies to construct towers with tops in the heavens.
It’s also true that the same forces which bring us together for good can tear us apart. Notice that it was fear and overstated pride that motivated the building of the city and the erection of the tower. As it’s written in Genesis: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves [there’s the pride or hubris]; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth [there’s the fear].”
What the people feared – being scattered, a fear which pridefully motivated their coming together to build the city and tower – came to pass. They were in fact scattered and more, their languages were confused. Hence the designation, Babel, which in Hebrew means to confuse or confound.
Being scattered and confused is the human truth we know today with our own unique permutations of all of this. More and more humans live in major cities. Our towers ever increase in height and they do literally, in fact, have their tops in the heavens.
Yet even within our cities, there is a sense of being scattered and confused. Even when we speak the same language, we find ourselves divided and confused. Just think of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” We increasingly live in separate cocoons or virtual bubbles with different sets and sources of and criteria for information and truth – even in one nation.
Such scattered confusion has been true for so much of human history. And it’s certainly painfully true of our condition today. And scattered confusion among peoples in society does not make for a sense of well-being. No. It’s full of the weight of sin, and can even lead to death. Some of the murderous rage we’re seeing in massacres is the bitter fruit of our being divided from each other and confused about what it means to live together in community with common cause and shared values.
But it is into this very reality of being scattered and confused that the Holy Spirit was sent on the ancient Day of Pentecost described in the book of Acts. And it’s into this same scattered confusion on this our Day of Pentecost even now in 2022 that the Spirit is sent to us yet again.
The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the exact opposite of what happened in the mythic story of Babel. The result at Babel was that people were scattered abroad in confusion, unable to understand others who spoke different languages – a centrifugal force of outward motion. The Holy Spirit’s coming results in bringing people together where the languages of the nations, though diverse and different, nonetheless bring about intelligibility and understanding – a centripetal force of movement to the center. Pentecost is a corrective to Babel.
Bringing people together in greater unity and in mutual understanding makes for peace and well-being. It’s full of gospel grace. It’s good news. Here again are the salient moments in the account in Acts which speaks to unity and understanding:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place…. [a sign of unity among Jesus’ followers]
All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? …in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (cf. Acts 2:1, 4-9) [Clearly the gift of speaking in foreign tongues, given by the Spirit, nurtured understanding on the part of the hearers from all nations who had come together because of all of the commotion.]
What is it about the Holy Spirit that makes for uniting rather than scattering, and understanding rather than confusion? To gain clarity about this question, let’s turn to the gospel reading for today from John.
There we learn that God, the one whom Jesus calls Father, promises send the Spirit as another Advocate, the Spirit of truth. And this Spirit abides with the ones to whom the Spirit is sent. Moreover, this Spirit, this Advocate “will teach [us] everything, and remind [us] of all that [Jesus had] said to [us].” And this results in peace, Christ’s peace, not the world’s peace, and calms troubled hearts and lays fears to rest.
In these ways, teaching and reminding, imparting Christ’s peace, calming fears, the Holy Spirit does the work of uniting us in mutual understanding. Again, this is a corrective and antidote to scattered confusion.
And as I say repeatedly in my sermons, it’s precisely here in this place that the Holy Spirit visits again and again each week and is active teaching us and reminding us of all that Jesus said. It’s here that we proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead. It’s all here in word and sacraments where Christ is present through the invocation of the Spirit over water and bread and wine, not to mention the proclamation of the word.
It’s here in this place that the death and resurrection, the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit blend together into one magnificent fabric, woven together in intimate inter-relatedness, a whole sacred tapestry enacted in human history that reveals the fullness of the presence of our God in Christ Jesus.
In this place, we share in the very Trinitarian life of God. It’s here where we recognize the truth of what Jesus is reported by John to have said to Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…. And I will ask the Father, who will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (John 14:9b, 11a, 16) Here in this passage and in this place we see the persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, Spirit, seeds planted toward what would become our Trinitarian understanding of one God in three persons.
It's here in this place that our faith is generated and regenerated for the work that God has entrusted to us. Which is to say, in so far as we who follow Jesus in these latter days are given the gifts of uniting for mutual understanding, we are called and sent to the scattered and confused world to nurture the coming together of disparate peoples toward common understandings.
This mission seems to be an impossibly tall order in our bitterly divided world which is ever more confounded and confused. But our God-given mission is thus all the more crucial as we seek unity and common understanding in our scattered world.
And here’s the wondrous thing: Jesus promises in John that we will end up doing greater works than even he did during his three-year earthly ministry. Here’s what John reported that Jesus said: “Very 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. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:12-13)
We might be tempted to think that we’ll do these greater works on our own. No, that’s not the case. Rather, the greater works remain the result of Christ’s action made possible by his returning to the right hand of God which ushers in a ubiquitous and universal rule throughout time and space, a reign in heaven and on earth, the whole cosmos, for all eternity. And it is the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son who calls together the church as the body of Christ, incarnate throughout the world. The greater works we end up doing as church, as the body of Christ, have everything to do with the universality of the church’s impact in the power of the Spirit acting throughout the world and throughout the ages.
Thus, we pray, veni sancte spiritus, come, Holy Spirit, enliven us for the work you’ve entrusted to us in nurturing greater unity and mutual understanding for healing, that the world would know less Babel, and more the loving, forgiving, gracious truth imparted at Pentecost. For Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: “O Living Breath of God” ELW 407
Text: Osvaldo Catena (1920-1986), tr. Gerard M. Cartford (1923)
Tune: VARVINDAR FRISKA, Swedish folk tune
This Pentecost hymn by Osvaldo Catena was first published in Camcionero Abierto, vol. 4 (1979). Gerhard M. Cartford translated it for Libro de Liturgia y Cántico (1998), through which it comes to Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
Osvaldo Catena was a Roman Catholic priest who dedicated his life to living and working among the people of the slum areas of Santa Fe, Argentina. He was a gifted musician and wrote many of the songs that have renewed Latin American liturgy. When Catena was appointed a liturgical adviser for the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), he had already begun using Argentine folk music in worship. He said, “I realized the music I used was like a strange language I spoke. People did not understand me. So I thought Liturgy could be a way to understanding, since it is the expression of the community praying as it sings. That is how I began composing my first songs for the Mass. We organized a choir…and in that group a process of reflection took place, for the vocation of a musician is not just something intimate and personal, but also the voice of the whole community. Music became the accompaniment of life.”
Gerhard Cartford was born in Madagascar, the son of missionary parents. He spent the years 1950-1951 doing research on Ludvig Lindeman and folk music in Oslo, Norway. That played into his doctoral dissertation ten years later, Music in the Norwegian Lutheran Church: A Study of Its Development in Norway and Its Transfer to America, 1825-1917. Dr. Cartford says this very popular "Swedish folk tune" VARVINDAR FRISKA may be Norwegian or may best be described as Scandinavian. In the Norwegian Norsk Salmebok in a slightly different version it is referenced as a Swedish folk tune. Pablo Sosa says it was probably taken by Catena from a collection of songs in Spanish by the Austrian musicologist Kurt Pahlen, where it is given as a "Norwegian children's song.
Choir Anthem: Unless you Lead Me, Love/Thomas Keesecker
Keesecker's setting of poetry by 13th cent. mystic Mechtild of Magdeburg invites us to dance and sing with the love that created the world. The music is not simplistic in its message or writing, and this anthem is a wonderful combination of metaphor, poetry, and beautiful melodic writing.
Mechthild of Magdeburg’s ideas are inspiring in their own right, but are all the more amazing considering the era she lived in (1207-1282) – a time from which women’s voices are mostly lost in the mists of time. What seems today as a literary jewel, was a “stone of offence” back then, because a FEMALE Beguine composed writings with a theological content in vernacular German and not in Latin, and she referred to a divine authorization for her mission. Her criticism of church dignitaries, religious laxity and claims to theological insight aroused so much opposition that some called for the burning of her writings. How fortunate we are that her words survive so we can bask in her reflected light.
Thomas Keesecker has served as a musician in Lutheran and Roman Catholic parishes in Virginia, Montana, and Maryland. His award-winning choral music has been published by several publishers. His studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Catholic University School of Music in Washington, D.C. prepared him for a career in which he has mixed classical technique and jazz improvisation. During the last decade, he has explored the nexus of creativity and healing and its implication for liturgical musicians.
I cannot dance, Lord,
unless you lead me.
If you want me to leap with abandon,
You must intone the song.
Then I shall leap into love,
From love into knowledge,
From knowledge into enjoyment,
And from enjoyment
beyond all human sensations.
There I want to remain,
yet want also to circle higher still.
Organ Voluntaries: March Upon Handel’s “Lift Up Your Heads,” Alexandre Guilmant (1837-1911)
Félix-Alexandre Guilmant was a French organist and composer. He was a student of his father, then of Jacques-Nicolas Lemmens, he became an organist and teacher in his place of birth. In 1871 he was appointed as organist of la Trinité church in Paris, a position that he held for 25 years. From then on he followed a career as a virtuoso; he gave concerts in Europe as well as in the USA. Guilmant created the Schola Cantorum in 1894 with Charles Bordes and Vincent d'Indy. In 1896 he succeeded Charles-Marie Widor as organ teacher of Conservatoire de Paris. With André Pirro, he published a collection of scores, Archives des Maîtres de l'Orgue (archives of the masters of the organ), a compilation of the compositions of numerous classical French composers in ten volumes, from 1898 to 1914. He proceeded in the same manner for foreign masters of the organ, publishing l'Ecole classique de l'Orgue (Classical School of the Organ),
Guilmant was an accomplished composer, particularly for his own instrument, the organ. His organ repertoire includes his 18 collections of Pièces dans différents styles (Pieces in Differing Styles), of which today’s Voluntary is a part.
Week of Easter Seven
Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:
Please note that beginning on June 6, we’ll shift back to our Monday evening Bible Study format with sessions beginning at 6:30. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sundays, viewing the readings in relation to each other to see what new horizons of meaning emerge.
“At Pentecost, Thoughts on the Discernment of Spirits”
Dear Friends in Christ:
Since we are on the cusp of celebrating the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ followers as recorded in Acts 2, and since we have been living and serving for two millennia in what we might consider the epoch of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, we do well to consider what we mean by the Holy Spirit.
First off, it’s important to recognize that there are all manner of spirits, and not all of them holy. The Apostle Paul acknowledged as much when he wrote about powers and principalities of the world (cf. Ephesians 6:12). We aren’t talking about ghosts and goblins here. Rather, we might have in mind communal energies that transcend particular individuals, as in “team spirit.” Scholars write about zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times. Or some colloquially talk about the “vibe” in the room. The word “ethos” also comes to mind, as in the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community. In these ways, spirit, and perhaps even spirituality, inhabit the realm of quite common and ordinary human experience.
The generic reality of spiritualities invites us then to discern and identify the qualities of the Holy Spirit of the Trinitarian Godhead in the specifically Christian tradition manifest in the church and world. We are not left without help for these considerations. The witness of the Christian scriptures gives us criteria for understanding the dimension of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. These same scriptures also give us lists of qualities which are not of the Holy Spirit of the God made manifest in Jesus Christ. Paul, for example, writes in Galatians that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is marked by the following qualities: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). In contrast, Paul lists in that same passage qualities which he believes are opposed to the Holy Spirit, namely: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21a).
With such criteria in mind and at hand – and there are other such listings of qualities of the Holy Spirit elsewhere in the New Testament – we are called to engage in the discernment of the spirits of our age, in the church and elsewhere in the world. Etymologically speaking, the Greek word that translates discernment implies a kind of discrimination, making judgments about what is of the Holy Spirit and not. This is not discrimination in terms of injustices against people, rather the identification of what is and isn’t of the Holy Spirit, as in discriminating tastes.
So, with such listings as Paul’s in Galatians, we are given quite clear criteria with which to judge the spirits of our age, again, in the churches and in the world. When it comes to the spirit or ethos or vibe given off by some churches and pastors and preachers today, I think it is abundantly clear that some churches are not living according to the dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit identified by Paul. Many churches today, including Lutheran, but certainly others, embody and express a communal spirit that is more suggestive of idolatry, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, and factions than Holy Spirit qualities of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When Christian leaders lead by cultivating and stoking people’s anger, fear and grievance, that is simply not of the Holy Spirit. It’s that clear and straightforward. There is no ambiguity. I believe that we are called upon in our day to be more courageous in proclaiming that some churches and Christian leaders are simply not living and teaching and proclaiming according to the dimensions of the fruit of the Holy Spirit as identified in our scriptures.
Then consider the zeitgeist of our wider culture and society. Much of what we endure in the news and on social media and more is held captive by the powers and principalities, the qualities that are opposed to the Holy Spirit, as Paul identifies. “Impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy” – do these qualities not prevail in our current popular social and cultural climate? Do we – even secular persons who are not Christian – not long in our hearts for the humane qualities of the Spirit, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? While these are features of the Christian ethos according to Paul, this listing is also in keeping with secular philosophies which may point to more universal human aspirations.
A lot of what troubles us in current popular culture and society boils down to an ethos that pursues and fetishizes the ways of death in contrast to a culture that promotes life abundant and holistically understood. And I am not reducing this consideration to the pro-life vs. pro-choice controversies surrounding abortion. It’s a far broader and more comprehensive orientation. We as a society seem to be captive to ways that make for death, and actively resist that which makes for life understood as comprehensive, holistic well-being for all.
The Day of Pentecost in the church’s calendar falls on the fiftieth day of Easter. Thus, there is an intimate connection in the Christian tradition between the Holy Spirit’s coming and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is to say, the Holy Spirit’s advent occurs in the context and because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christian spirituality, thus, cannot be separated from Jesus Christ and what God, the Father, accomplished in and through Christ. What were the proclamatory utterances of Peter and the others at Pentecost, when empowered by the Spirit, but the preaching in the languages of the nations of God’s deeds of power in raising Christ from the dead (cf. Acts 2:11; 22-24; 32)?
To conclude this reflection, then, may the Holy Spirit embolden us to nurture in word and deed a culture of resurrected new life in Christ as a countervailing witness to the ways of death that prevail in so much of society and in too many churches. May the Spirit of God in Christ nurture in us the dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit for the healing of the nations.
God in Christ help us through the encouraging and emboldening guidance of the Holy Spirit,
Pastor Jonathan Linman
Seventh Sunday of Easter, John 17:20-26
Have you ever read through the book of Acts, going from story to story, chapter after chapter? It’s quite the wild ride and offers a good bit of reality therapy, not only pertaining to the things of God, but also showing for sordid, sinful human realities. Specifically what I have in mind today is that Acts reveals the extent to which human sin and brokenness compromise even our human attempts at being religious. Today’s first reading from Acts depicts well our mortal plight in seeking to have religious themes and energies serve our greedy ends.
A slave girl has a spirit of divinization which made her a gifted fortune teller, and which in turn made her lucrative in garnering a great deal of money for her owners. There were religious charlatans then. And we know, oh too well, there are such charlatans today seeking to exploit and bend spiritual impulses to sinful ends.
The New York Times and Washington Post have had some compelling columns of late talking about new apps that seek to commodify and monetize people’s spiritual hunger, exploiting natural desires when people these days are not seeking to have these hungers satisfied in churches or other faith communities.
Then there are companies which seek to spiritualize work along the lines of a holy calling, such that the firm becomes church and their products their god. Look at the May 24th edition of the New York Times and the column, “When Your Job Fills in for Your Faith, That’s a Problem.”
Provoked by the massacre of children in Texas this week, the May 25th edition of the Washington Post published a column exploring our tolerance of young children being shot and killed in their schools in connection with child sacrifice, a perverting of religious impulses to appease man-made gods. The author draws parallels between what we allow to happen to children today with ancient cultures that practiced child sacrifice.
And we’ve been reading of late about Kyrll, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who profits because of his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Then there’s the revelations about the Southern Baptist Convention which sought to hide evidence of sexual abuse and predation in that denomination in part to seek to protect itself from litigation, thus preserving their institutional bottom lines.
On go the lists about how religious impulses are corrupted and exploited for profitable ends of one sort or another.
But back now to the story in Acts: The spirit in the slave girl repeatedly cried out over the course of many days, irritating Paul and his companions. Finally annoyed beyond his capacities to endure, Paul exorcised the spirit from the girl: “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”
This ended the slave girl’s owners’ source of extra income. That loss provoked them to bring Paul and Silas before the authorities who threw them in jail. And on the story goes as we heard it read earlier.
Such is the nature of the messes we get ourselves into as humans in conflicts about religious expression in relation to our own greedy ends. There’s all manner of permutations of how human sin interferes with the integrity of religious expression. It was true in Paul’s time. It’s true today.
But here’s the thing: God works with all of this stuff. In the Acts story for today, God performs a feat that reminds us of Christ’s resurrection. Paul and Silas are in the innermost cell of the jail – like a tomb. An earthquake opens the locked door – not unlike the earthquake recorded in Matthew in connection with the appearance of an angel who rolled away the stone from the tomb. Paul and Silas are thus freed as Christ was freed from bondage and the grip of death.
The story ends up with the jailer of Paul and Silas being given the gift of faith, of belief, in the Lord Jesus through Paul and Silas’ proclamation. And this proclamation results in the jailer being baptized along with his whole household. That’s the kind of thing God does with the messes we create.
Turning to the gospel story for today from John, we find Jesus prayerfully interceding for his followers who were to be sent into the corrupt thick of things in the world. I wonder if the wondrous deeds recorded throughout the book of Acts were the result, in part, of the intercession of Jesus, having ascended to the Father, where Christ continues to pray for his followers. We see the nature of Jesus’ intercessory prayer in today’s gospel reading from John. I trust in faith that Christ continues to pray for us, current day disciples of the Lord, perhaps this same prayer.
And what Jesus prays for is the exact opposite of the kind of thing recorded in today’s reading from Acts with its exploitation of religiosity for sinful ends. Jesus’ prayer is the exact opposite of our ongoing, greedy, profit and power-seeking religious strife.
And Jesus’ words of prayerful intercession still echo through the centuries and across the borders of the nations to our ears this very day. Jesus’ prayer throws open the window on profound divine realities:
Jesus prays in essence that we, his followers, would share in the Trinitarian life of God. And in so doing, that we would discover and embody our essential unity with each other and with God. And that this divine reality is all about God’s agape, unconditional love. And Jesus prays that we would have a share in God’s glory, the kind of glory revealed fully on the cross. And all of this bears the fruit of faith, of belief, on the part of those in the world who come to believe because of our sacred unity with God and each other. Listen to it again: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe…”
In short, what Jesus prays for is exactly what our sorry world needs. And we in fact are given a foretaste of what Jesus prays for when we gather in Jesus’ name here around word and sacraments. Here in this place, God answers or fulfills in part Jesus’ prayer for his followers. We do in fact share in the Trinitarian life of God and know essential unity in the waters of baptism. We know our oneness as we are gathered around God’s holy word and its proclamation. We eat of one bread and drink from one cup in the meal of Christ around this table.
When we gather in this place, we hear Jesus’ words recorded in the book of Revelation also echoing through the centuries in our ears and made real in what we do here: “See, I am coming soon…” [Coming here I might add] “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city gates…” We, having been washed in the waters of the font, enter the gates of the holy city here in this nave as we fix our eyes on the tree of life, the cross, as it moves in procession to the holy place where the word is proclaimed and the meal eaten.
The passage in Revelation goes on: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.’” (cf. Revelation 22:12-19) So it is that we come, to eat and to drink in fulfillment of Jesus’ gracious invitation.
And all of this that we partake in is an antidote to the corruption of human religious impulses. All of this is given us in the service of our healing so that we may be sent as healers into an increasingly desperate world, made ever more despairing with each new incident of murderous madness taking place throughout our land.
Our essential unity in Christ, cultivated right here, is all for the sake of the missionary work to which God sends us in the world. This work, God’s work, our hands, has a purpose: “so that the world may know and believe” that Christ was sent by the Father and is known now among us, the followers of Christ, who are gathered around the tree of life that heals the nations “so that the love with which [God] loved [Jesus] may also be in us and Christ in us” (cf. John 17:26b, adapted).
In faith, hoping against hope, we trust that divine love in Christ will end up having the last word when it’s all said and done. But may it be lovingly so even now when things seem increasingly and ever more maddingly hopeless, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: “Thine the Amen” ELW 826
Text: Herbert F. Brokering (1926)
Tune: Thine, Carl F. S chalk, (1929)
Herbert Brokering wrote this hymn text at Holden Village, the retreat center for renewal in the Cascade Mountains near Chelan, Washington. It was the tenth hymn he wrote in as many days in the summer of 1981. Each morning Walter Bouman led a Bible study, and on the following morning it was reviewed through the singing of a hymn by Brokering, who said, "We sang each study the following morning. This hymn is on the great eucharistic theology in Revelation. It was to be a then to the now."'The "Now" refers to Jaroslav Vajdas "Now the silence" (#460). The hymn comes to Evangelical Lutheran Worship through With One Voice (1995).
At this same Holden Village summer session in 1981, Carl Schalk was the composer for Brokering's hymns. He remembers the schedule like this. "After each morning's Bible study by Walter Bouman, Herb Brokering would fashion a new text, which he had to have finished by about noon that day. I had to write a tune and accompaniment by about three in the afternoon since I had to get it to the print shop, which closed at four in the afternoon, for duplication so we could use it the following morning. This pattern continued each day for two weeks.” One day Schalk mentioned to Brokering that since he (Schalk) had set a text by Jaroslav Vajda called “Now" that Brokering might write one called "Then." Within a day or so Brokering "had written a text in which almost each line began with 'Thine. Thus the idea of Then' became ‘Thine.' The tune was published with this text as an anthem in 1983 and in Christians, Awake! A Hymn Supplement (1989). It appeared in the same year in The Carl Schalk Hymnary
(1989), where it was called THEN. The name was subsequently changed to THINE.
Opening Voluntary: Reflection on Savannah, David Blackwell (1961)
David Blackwell is an award-winning composer and freelance arranger, writer and editor. Undoubtedly one of our finest educational writers, his music is published in the UK and US and performed worldwide. We begin the final service of the Easter season with his setting of the hymn tune “Savannah,” or “Love’s Redeeming Work Is Done.”
The original tunne was composed by Johannes Thommen, (1711-1783). Born in Switzerland, Johannes Thommen was a pietist. He traveled through Scandinavia singing hymns and accompanying himself on his 10-string guitar. He contributed to the Zion's Harp, a collection of hymns and songs.
Sending Voluntary: VICTORY (The Strife Is O'er, the Battle Done), Michael Helman (1956)
To close the Easter season I’ve chosen a setting of “The Strife Is O'er, the Battle Done.” Its tune, VICTORY, comes from the choral mass Magnificat Tertii Toni by the Italian Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, specifically from the “Gloria Patri.” The opening phrases of the Gloria were adapted by William Monk into the tune we sing now. He also added the final “alleluias” to this very popular hymn.
Michael Helman is currently Director of Music/Organist at Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral, Florida. Prior to moving to Florida in 2006, Michael was Director of Music/Organist for fifteen years at St. Paul’s United Methodist in Wilmington, Delaware.
Sixth Sunday of Easter, John 14:23-29
In the early months of the pandemic, when we were more or less in full shut down mode, perhaps one of the silver linings for some of us in that upheaval was the gift of a slower pace of life. The comparative absence of activity revealed to many just how busy and complicated our lives were.
But as the months and now years have worn on in the pandemic, the voids have become filled again with activity. For many, in the absence of commuting but now working from home, we have perhaps discovered that there’s more time for more work! There are fewer of the life-giving interruptions of pleasant conversations with colleagues or lunches out and more. In my New York days, I claimed the down time of riding trains to and from work events as the occasion to mentally recharge. That’s no more. What’s left for many is the grind of work and more work as we give in to the craze of workaholism.
I have to confess to you that ministry in the pandemic is not as fun as it used to be because of the comparative absence of regularly and casually seeing people as a natural feature of daily rhythms – in the office at church, in people’s homes, in visits to hospitals and nursing homes. So many of those occasions have been limited because of the pandemic. That remains true today as we continue precautions in relation to ever new, ever more transmissible variants of the virus.
Many, thus, live in exacerbated ways with the tyranny of productivity, of doing, and doing, and more doing. These conditions may also be true for many of you who are retired. Retirees often tell me you’re busier in retirement than you were in your working days!
In reaction to this, many are chronically in fight or flight mode, especially as we confront social horizons continually filled with new crises. The weight of such burdens can become unbearable, and all of this erodes our mental health and quality of life.
In response to such burdens we carry, listen again to Jesus’ good word, Jesus’ gospel word, recorded in today’s reading from John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
What lovely, compelling gospel words. And there’s more gospel to be heard when we feel that we cannot easily go on with business – or busyness – as usual. Listen again to this: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” God with Christ in the Spirit – that is, our Trinitarian God – will come to make a home with us! Magnificent!
With still more gospel consolation, John records Jesus as having said this, too: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” In other words, as Jesus says in John just prior to today’s passage, that he will not leave us orphaned (cf. John 14:18) because of the Spirit’s promised coming.
The long and the short of these gospel words of promise is that Jesus invites us to slow down. To do less. To be more. To be at home with the one who makes a home with us. To discover Christ’s peace, not as the world gives. Trusting all the while there is much blessing to be had by God’s grace and initiative and God’s actions, and not in our own doing and productivity. Focusing on our efforts, for us Lutherans, is works righteousness – when we conclude that it’s up to us and our busy, frantic efforts to concoct blessing for ourselves. That’s not the gospel.
To do less, to be more – that’s what it means to keep Jesus’ word in love. Lovingly keeping Jesus’ word suggests less activity and more sitting there in leisure before Christ in wondrous adoration.
If Jesus promises that he and the Father will come to us to make their home with us, we do well simply to receive this gift in confidence and with gratitude. We are beckoned to be like Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his every word, and not like Martha, busy in the kitchen.
The biblical Greek for making a home suggests that God will craft an abode with us, that is to say, God will abide with us in leisure, 24/7, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, century after century.
It is in this existential and mental state of abiding where the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, is present to continue to teach us, reminding us of everything that Jesus said to us. And where does the Spirit do this teaching and reminding. Right here, right now in our weekly Sunday assemblies ever since the Spirit was unleashed centuries ago on the Day of Pentecost.
Given the great gift of our gatherings, we do well not to rush through this holy hour. Rather, we take our time, because Jesus Christ takes his time with us.
So it is that we hear in today’s first reading that Paul took his time once he and his companions arrived in Philippi. “We remained in this city for some days,” it says in Acts. Enough time to linger on the Sabbath for prayer outside the city gate by the river. Enough time for holy conversation with the likes of Lydia who ended up being baptized along with her whole household.
Lydia had this to say to Paul and the others: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon them. The leisure of staying at Lydia’s home no doubt produced many other fruits of the Spirit.
Which is to say that the fruit of the proclamation of the good news ripens for the harvest in God’s good time. Thus, we are beckoned to slow down, to dwell with the word and with each other in our Sunday assemblies and other times we gather.
When we dwell with each other around the sacred word and the sacraments as we do each Sunday, keeping Christ’s word in love, receiving the ongoing instruction of and reminding by the Spirit, then we come to realize that we are given here a foretaste of the promise we heard in today’s second reading, the vision of the holy city of Jerusalem, an eternal dwelling place even in the here and now, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.
There is no temple in the holy city, because God and Christ are the very temple we need. And there is no need for sun and moon because God and Christ are all the light we need. The gates are never shut – it’s that safe and secure. It is a city of truth, of purity, without abomination. And there is water aplenty, the water of life flowing from God’s throne through the city streets, and through the ages onto our heads and bodies in baptism. There is in the city the tree of life – Christ’s cross – giving fruit for the nations which we eat and drink in the eucharist. And we’ll see God’s face. And God’s name is written on our foreheads, as when we are sealed with the anointing of the Spirit at baptism.
We enjoy participation in such a reality every Sunday. And if we rush through things, we might just miss it. These blessings are objectively present every time we gather. That’s the truth that we can trust. But if we rush through it all, we may not apprehend in our awareness the full extent of the great gifts given to us week after week.
The call to slow down, to abide in Christ as Christ abides with us is why the Benedictine monks take their time in doing liturgy. That’s why extended periods of silence are embraced in monastic settings. That’s why Benedictine monks are asked to make a vow of stability, a promise to remain in the same community for the duration of their lives.
Maybe we’re called to be a bit more monastic in church. Thus, I invite you to slow down. But I also acknowledge in all honesty: Physician, heal thyself….
In this divine dwelling place week after week, this sanctuary beloved by us where we know and enjoy Christ with each other, the Holy Spirit continues her teaching ministry and that of reminding us of Jesus’ words, renewing and strengthening our faith. Thus, we come not only to recall the words of Jesus, but perhaps also to know and experience the fulfillment in our midst of Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
What a gift to our troubled world. What a gift we bring to that world when we leave this place. Or to adapt a quote from St. Seraphim of Serov, “Acquire inner peace [I would say, receive the gift of Christ’s peace] and thousands around you will find their salvation.” May it be so among us for the healing of the nations, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: “O Blessed Spring” ELW 447
Text: Susan Palo Cherwien (1953-2021)
Tune: BERGLUND, Robert Buckley Farlee (1950)
The images of “O Blessed Spring” draw the singer into the seasons of life with warmth and beauty. Many hymns have a theological treatise to prove. Each stanza advances information like a legal case that culminates in a closing argument in the final stanza. By contrast, each stanza of “O Blessed Spring” unfolds like a bud into a blossom. The singer comes to the final stanza, not with the triumph of a well-made theological argument, but with a sense of wonder that comes from glimpsing sacred mystery.
A baptismal image was the source for “O Blessed Spring.” Susan Palo Cherwien describes her inspiration: “Above the baptismal font in Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Minneapolis hangs a striking bronze sculpture by the late Paul Granlund, a sculpture which embodies the image of John 15:5 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches.’ Granlund cast a tree with four branches depicting the four ages of human life, with Christ as the central trunk. This bronze provided the structure for the text ‘O Blessed Spring,’ the words of which are woven around a central Christ image.”
In stanza two of the hymn, Mrs. Cherwien equates the “summer heat” with “youthful years” and “uncertain faith, rebellious tears.” During the season of autumn (stanza three), the limbs of the tree are ripe with “heavy harvest.” This season offers “beauty, wisdom, love.” Stanza four explores the season of winter where “We breathe our last, return to dust.” Yet, “in Christ, our souls take wing”; thus the lifecycle is complete in the “promise of spring.” The final stanza introduces a baptismal, sacramental tone, the original inspiration of the hymn, in “this blest mystery” as
Word and water thus revive
And join us to your Tree of Life.
Mrs. Cherwien is a freelance writer and musician. She received her bachelor’s degree in church music and voice from Wittenberg University, her Abschlussprüfung (final examination) in voice from the Hochschule der Künste Berlin, and a Master of Liberal Studies from Mundelein College, where she focused on spirituality, ritual, and the arts.
Though in the ELW this text is paired with another tune, the poet originally wrote the text so that it would fit the melody O WALY WALY, an English folk melody.
Choir Anthem: Creator Spirit By Whose Aid, Vernon Hoyle (1948)
With a text by John Dryden (based upon Veni Creator Spiritus), Vernon Hoyle gives us a broad, grand anthem in the English cathedral style.
Curiously The poems of Dryden show high excellence in fields widely different from another. He was for years the leader of the English stage, a writer of tragedy, comedy, and tragi-comedy. Though the gross immorality of his dramas has long made them unreadable, his influence on poetry has been enduring. His name has recently assumed a new importance to the students of hymns, from a claim made on his behalf in regard to a considerable body of translations from the Latin published after his death. Until recently, Dryden's known contributions to hymnody consisted of only three pieces, the best known of these the translation of “Veni Creator.”
Vernon Hoyle was born in Hatfield, South Yorkshire. In his sundry capacities as chorister, organist, choral director, composer, arranger and editor he has been active in Anglican church music for over fifty years. His compositions and arrangements, many of which are published, comprise educational works and choral music, much of this for the Anglican church.
Opening Voluntary: “Easter Hymn”, Michael Bedford
As Eastertide nears its completion, I hope you will enjoy a few quiet moments with a meditation on the usually boisterous “Jesus Christ is risen today.”
Michael Bedford is Organist/Choirmaster Emeritus of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After 50 years in the church music business, and 25 of those years at St. John’s Church, he is now retired. Currently he serves as President of the American Guild of Organists. In his spare time he continues to compose and write mystery novels.
Closing Voluntary: “Dance: Gaudeamus Pariter” Mary Beth Bennett (1954)
Today’s Closing Voluntary is a setting of the hymn tune Gaudeamus Pariter, by Johann Roh (1487-1547), which leads us to speak of pseudonyms. Johann Roh was a native of Bohemia. Roh was his name in Bohemian, but when he wrote in Latin he called himself Cornu, and when he wrote in German, he called himself Horn. In the ELW, this tune is paired with the text “Come, You Faithful, Raise the Strain.”
Mary Beth Bennett is a recognized performer, improviser and composer living in historic Richmond, Virginia. She serves on the adjunct music faculty of the University of Richmond, and is Director of Music Ministries at Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Gloucester, Virginia.. She has previously held various positions in Washington, D.C., including at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Week of Easter Five
Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:
“Meditations on the Lectionary”
Dear Friends in Christ:
A major focus of our time together during Sunday worship involves hearing three readings from the Bible and singing a psalm. Once we are assembled and settled, having confessed sin and received forgiveness or having remembered baptism, and having sung the hymns and canticles and having prayed the prayer of the day, we turn our attention to the appointed readings.
Take a moment to reflect on how counter cultural it is for us to sit there – or stand in the case of the gospel reading – to listen carefully to texts written and incorporated into the canon of holy scripture centuries ago. These are ancient texts, far removed from our time and place, and yet we attend to them living as we do in an age obsessed with innovation and saying new things in ever changing ways. Thus, we listen to ancient texts not always easily understanding what they have to say to us in our day.
Questions about this practice may arise. Why so many passages? Why not just narrow it down to focus on one or maybe two readings? And why do we consent to using passages chosen by teams of scholars far removed from our own congregational circumstances? And just what is the lectionary anyway?
These are important questions, and we are blessed to have in our fold a scholar, Gail Ramshaw, who has devoted a great deal of her professional life to studying and to helping craft the lectionary that we use. Beginning this coming Wednesday, May 18, Gail will teach us about the Revised Common Lectionary and its essential place in our life together. And she’ll address the questions we have about the lectionary, thus helping to form us in our enhanced understandings that we may worship with greater intentionality to and with heightened awareness of the grace given to us via the word of God, and the Holy Spirit speaking through that word.
In anticipation of the coming Wednesday evening Zoom sessions on the lectionary, I offer here some of my own thoughts about its importance in our Sunday routines.
First off, the lectionary is a great gift to you, God’s people in this place, because it spares you from me as your pastor imposing on you my favorite Bible passages, passages of my own choice and whim and, at worst, prejudice. In churches that do not employ a lectionary of appointed readings, local preachers have the freedom to choose the Bible passages they preach on, which gives to the local pastor a great deal of power to attempt to shape the theological convictions of people in the local assembly. In contrast, with the lectionary of appointed readings, we are all in this together, you and I as your pastor, as we sometimes struggle to make sense of the divine word for us in the givenness of the lectionary readings. Thus, the lectionary helps to keep preachers humble, since they are not in control of choosing given passages for a given Sunday. In this way, I would argue that the lectionary has a democratizing effect on life together in congregations, even if the lectionary is chosen by others whom we do not know and who are not accountable to us. But those scholars are accountable to the wider church in its many expressions. The appointed lectionary passages do not come to us willy-nilly, but with a great deal of consultation and deliberation, sometimes approved by voting assemblies of God’s people. Again, I believe that the use of the lectionary is more democratic and participatory than local preachers choosing their own favorite Bible passages.
Moreover, the discipline of using the lectionary, particularly the Revised Common Lectionary, gives us the gift of hearing and working through large portions of the Bible than would otherwise be the case if left to singular readings or the limited scope of the proclivities and choices of the local pastor. With its three readings and the psalm, we end up hearing the multiplicity of voices in the Bible and its rich variety of types of literature. The Revised Common Lectionary works on a three-year cycle, with different readings appointed for each different year. We hear readings appointed in an orderly fashion from the Old Testament, from the Gospels, and from other types of New Testament literature. Again, this helps us to get a sense of the Bible as a whole, but not just as a book, but as a compilation of different types of literature set within our worship of God in Christ with attention to its particular liturgical calendar and seasons. As you know, the appointed readings relate intimately and importantly to the themes and events of the church year. So, with the appointed readings alongside our liturgical enactments, we receive Christ himself, who is present in word and sacraments in the gathered assembly of God’s people. The lectionary and its readings help make Christ known to us by God’s grace in the power of the Spirit.
Another gift of the lectionary is that its use becomes a concrete enactment of Christian unity each and every Sunday. We Lutherans like the fact that we are ecumenically oriented. Yet, explicitly ecumenical efforts in which we actively cooperate with other churches are often occasional and tangential to our life together. Except when it comes to the lectionary! The appointed readings we use on Sundays are the same readings used in other Lutheran churches. Moreover, you could visit churches of other Christian traditions on any given Sunday and hear the same or similar readings to the ones we are using. These churches include: Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Moravian, various other Reformed churches and more. Thus, the lectionary and its use become an expression of often elusive visible Christian unity, helping to give some fulfillment to Jesus’ prayer that we might be one so that the world might believe (cf. John 17:20-21).
Speaking now as a preacher, as one who obediently submits to the discipline of attending to all of the appointed readings for Sunday, I love the challenge of the lectionary, for there are readings appointed for any given day that I myself would not have chosen! And yet, I trust that there is a word for us in our day in the givenness of the appointed passages. It’s been my experience that the lectionary never fails to give that needed word. Thus, I love attempting to rise to the occasion of proclaiming God’s gospel word via what the lectionary puts before us week by week.
You who hear me preach will note that I attempt to address each of the appointed readings in my sermons, the first, the second, and the gospel readings, and sometimes even the psalm. In the discipline of having returned to preaching every Sunday again as a parish pastor, I delight in the new horizons of interpretation and meaning revealed when the passages are set alongside each other. Even if my main preaching focus may be the gospel reading, inevitably portions of the first and second readings will help illuminate the meanings of the gospel – and vice versa in relation to the gospel passage and its power to illuminate the other readings as well. In the course of the many months of my current preaching ministry, even after three decades of doing this work, I am still discovering new meanings of old, old stories in large measure because of the call to give attention to each of the appointed lectionary passages on Sundays.
So, you can tell that I am sold on the lectionary! Please join us this Wednesday as Gail Ramshaw takes us still deeper in our understandings of and appreciation for the Revised Common Lectionary. Gail’s efforts in the next three Wednesdays will set the stage for a return to our Monday evening Zoom Bible Studies in June when we will begin to look together at all three of the appointed readings for each upcoming Sunday. Our engaging these passages in communal Bible study will undoubtedly end up informing what I preach on Sundays, giving you all a voice in the proclamation of the gospel which is at its best a community effort.
With thanks to God for the gift of the lectionary that makes Christ known,
Pastor Jonathan Linman