Third Sunday of Easter, April 18, 2021
Luke 24:36b-48

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

36bJesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ 42They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43and he took it and ate in their presence.
    44Then Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things.”

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

Just what is virtual reality? This is a question forced upon us by the necessities of the pandemic in concert with increasing availability of technologies which propel us into the realms of cyberspace for more and more of our waking hours.

Life online, our sharing in so-called virtual reality, is a huge elephant in our rooms demanding and commanding attention.

And there are attractive and perhaps even seductive dimensions to the commanding presence of cyberspace, even in the life of the church. Some congregations are reporting growth of participation online, in some cases far more than in person. Reportedly some congregations are receiving new members who have only participated in the life of the church online.

Thus, we are beckoned to begin to wrestle with the nature of virtual reality as it pertains to our Christian, communal life together.

Week of the Second Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It may be some combination of pandemic fatigue, more people receiving their vaccinations, and a more palpable sense that we are seeing light at the end of this very long and dark tunnel of the pandemic, but I am aware of a greater extent of conversational energy in our congregation around the question, “When is Resurrection Church going to open up again for worship and other activities indoors?”

In this week’s message, I offer my own observations on this question, informed by deliberations among our congregational leaders to date. I pray that my thoughts contribute to the ongoing conversation and discernment that will lead to our coming decisions. I offer this pastorally and not prescriptively, for there are many conversation partners, and major decisions in our life together are made communally and not by an individual. As your pastor, I will be among the many leaders that will ultimately make the decision to return to indoor activities.

Which is to say, in terms of our organization and process, conversations about returning indoors have been focused in an ad hoc group formed last summer, the Reopening Planning Group, which now meets monthly to assess where we are in the discernment to reopen in relation to the many complex, moving parts and twists and turns of the pandemic. This group, in its informal capacity, does not make decisions, but offers recommendations to the Congregation Council for their further deliberation and decision-making. It is ultimately the Congregation Council that will make the decisions that will determine the date when we will return to activities indoors in the church.

Taking up now my reflections, it strikes me, first of all, that the word ‘reopening’ is something of a misnomer. Which is to say, our congregation has never been closed. We’ve simply redirected our activities elsewhere than inside the building – principally online and in person outdoors. It’s the building that will be reopened for indoor use, not the congregation!

Second Sunday of Easter, April 11, 2021
John 20:19-31

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

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

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

They say that “seeing is believing.” This adage seems to apply well to so-called doubting Thomas’ desire to see Jesus first-hand. And seeing is the focus of Jesus’ response to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

For all of the decades that I have engaged this passage from John’s Gospel, I have generally focused on the physical dimension of sight, of seeing the risen Jesus first-hand.

This view is reinforced by other New Testament writings that focus apostolic authority on being eye witnesses to all of the events surrounding Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In fact, in the book of Acts, when the apostles seek one to replace Judas, a key criterion is that they need to select someone who also was a first-hand eye witness like the other apostles.

But this year, engaging the post-resurrection account that involves Thomas, I am struck by a wholly different dimension of the text which I generally overlook when I focus on sight.

If I were to give a title to what follows it might be something like, “Touching is believing.”

Easter Week 2021

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

While we would have preferred to be indoors for the fullness of our usual routines for Holy Week and Easter, we were not lacking for rich worshipful encounters with Christ at home and outdoors during the holy days of pandemic year 2021.

Excellent and beautifully crafted resources provided opportunities for worship at home on Palm and Passion Sunday, on each of the Three Days, and on Easter Day, Resurrection of Our Lord. If you engaged the fullness of these bulletins and their outlines and contents for worship, you had what you needed for faithful observances of these Holy Days. I very much hope and pray that you claimed opportunities to explore the riches of these materials. Thanks so very much to Gordon Lathrop and Gail Ramshaw for again providing these resources to the people of God at Resurrection Church, but also for making them available for use throughout the wider church.

Home worship videos also framed our experiences on Palm and Passion Sunday and on Easter Day. Thanks be to God for, and our sincere thanks to, our readers, prayer leaders, singers, other musicians, videographers, and all others who share in the teamwork of putting together these videos for our worshipful edification.

Moreover, we gathered numerous times in person outdoors for worship. Here are the numbers: 30 braved the wet weather for worship outdoors on Palm and Passion Sunday. The combined attendance for the two Maundy Thursday services was 42, even with a cold, blustery wind. 38 braved similar conditions for the two liturgies on Good Friday. 20 were present for our Easter Vigil. And 95 filled the church and parsonage yards on Easter Sunday after a continental Easter breakfast – with thanks to all those who baked and otherwise put together this breakfast offering. These attendance numbers are respectable and encouraging.

But it’s not about the numbers. Rather, it’s about being gathered by the Holy Spirit to plumb the depths in liturgy of the core realities of the Christian faith. Resurrection Church’s nave was bereft of people, in its own way sepulchral and sad. In contrast, our Memorial Garden, more typically a lonely place, was full of life, well-peopled, and served as centerstage, as it were, for the liturgical drama of The Three Days. On Maundy Thursday it was the Garden of Gethsemane, when those assembled, including an ensemble of choir members, gave voice under Barbara’s leadership to Psalm 88, a psalm of lament, recalling Jesus’ prayerful agony in the garden. On Good Friday, the Memorial Garden was Golgotha, where a roughhewn wooden cross was planted after the procession, and worshipers lined up to place votive candles at the foot of the cross, a gesture of adoration of our Lord Jesus who suffered there. During the Easter Vigil, in our mind’s eye, we could see the Memorial Garden as the place of Jesus’ tomb, a place of resurrection.

These liturgical acts had the effect of consecrating in new ways our Memorial Garden, the place of repose for the remains of many of our beloved church and family members. It was most poignant for me to consider the Memorial Garden as a place of resurrection for those who rest there, when Christ returns at the resurrection at the last day to consummate the fullness of the divine reign.

We often take for granted liturgical spaces. But the pandemic’s strictures of forcing us outdoors help us to take a new look at the places where we worship. Recall that in the Gospels’ reporting, much of Jesus’ ministry took place in settings outdoors where the weather inevitably had effects on the goings on. Our nave is warm in the winter, and cool in the summer, that is to say, always comfortable. Then there was the varied weather this past week for our worship outdoors. On the days of greatest solemnity, focused on Jesus’ Passion, the weather was appropriately and fittingly bracing with precipitation and the threat of rain (and even some snow on Maundy Thursday), along with stiff, cold winds. As the fulcrum shifted in the course of The Three Days, when we arrived at the first celebration of resurrection at the Easter Vigil, the weather, again fittingly, had moderated – clear skies, more comfortable temperatures, and the absence of a bracing wind. Thus, we could sense in our bodies climatic conditions that matched the mood of the narratives of Jesus’ final earthly days that we were remembering and liturgically re-enacting.

Additionally, during the solemn silences of The Three Days, worshipers noted the songs of birds and the sounds of wind chimes on neighbors’ porches, providing another kind of accompaniment to our liturgies.

Also of note, we dared to sing again – “All Glory, Laud, and Honor” on Palm and Passion Sunday, Psalm 88 on Maundy Thursday, some chanted portions of the liturgies on Good Friday and at the Easter Vigil, and then the robust singing of “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” on Easter Sunday morning. Indeed, how wonderful it was to give voice in song once again to gospel proclamation after a full year’s hiatus from this central Christian practice. Likewise, how wonderful to hear our choir again in person and live. As I have said, the videos of our choir which Barbara weaves together are quite fine. Choral music live, though, is such a more magnificent gift and aid to proclaiming the good news.

And then, on Easter Sunday, for the church and parsonage yards to be filled with the Resurrection faithful, enjoying coffee and goods baked by the loving hands of our members, was a sight for sore eyes. I’ve never before preached, nor led worship from a house’s outdoor deck, but that location made a fitting chancel for our day’s celebrations. Over the course of the days of Holy Week and Easter, we journeyed from the Memorial Garden on the Potomac Street side of the church to the ground on the Powhatan Street side that contains our “Plot Against Hunger,” our church’s vegetable garden, the donated produce of which benefits those in need in our community. Thus, with this shift in location, and in the joy of and thanksgiving for Christ’s resurrection, our attention was turned to the needs of the world which is our mission field in loving service to our neighbors.

The long and the short of it is that in my estimation, our worship outdoors was not lacking in aesthetic and spiritual poignancy and meaning. The outdoor contextualization in many ways allowed the familiar narratives we heard and re-enacted to speak with new, or at least nuanced meanings, meanings which may have remained hidden and obscure if we were indoors.

Here’s to the spiritual and liturgical silver linings in this year of pandemic deprivation!

In thanksgiving for these opportunities to give new expression to our proclamation that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Resurrection of Our Lord, April 4, 2021
Mark 16:1-8

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

1When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint [Jesus’ body]. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 4When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 6But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 8So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

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

On this Easter Sunday, Resurrection of Our Lord, I have something of a confession to make as your pastor: during my adolescence, I was an agnostic. It may have been the tumult of my teenage years, my need for self-differentiation from my family which was very serious about both faith and life in the church, the influence of my skeptic friends whose parents were on faculty at the local college, or my mother’s struggles with her health – or likely some combination of all of the above. But I was a doubter during my teenage years, from early high school into college.

I recall looking for signs and evidence of the claims made by the Christian faith. Chief among those claims is what we celebrate today: Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

My brother, who also had his own versions of doubts but was older than I and came back around sooner than I did, put in my hands a book entitled, Who Moved the Stone? A Skeptic Looks at the Death and Resurrection of Christ. The book was written originally in 1930 by Albert Henry Ross, who was a British advertising agent and freelance writer.

Like many classic British empiricists, Ross examined the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the Gospels, assuming them to be fully accurate accountings free from any authorial license, looking for evidence, if not to say, proof that Jesus indeed rose from the dead.

What Ross centered on was the stone at the entrance to Jesus’ tomb. In his reading of the accounts, he found no plausible or natural explanation for how it was that the large stone was moved from the entrance to the tomb.

On the basis of the stone being rolled away, Ross argued, if I recall his discourse accurately, that this was proof that something supernatural had happened and that, therefore, Jesus in fact rose from the dead.

While I found the book interesting, it did not convince me then as an adolescent, and it does not particularly interest me today. I’ve come to discover that faith does not need proof.

It’s a long story, which I’m happy to tell at some point, but many other things and people were responsible for my re-awakened faith – including biblical accounts such as the one from Mark’s Gospel appointed for today, namely, Mark’s account of the resurrection.

Holy Week Schedule

The Three Days (April 1-3):

  • Engage our bulletin for worship at home for The Three Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Vigil: pdfThree Days Bulletin
  • Maundy Thursday – Outdoor worship at 11:00 am and 7:00 pm with Confession and Forgiveness
  • Good Friday – Outdoor worship at 11:00 am and 7:30 pm with the Passion According to John, Bidding Prayers, and Procession of the Cross
  • Easter Vigil – Outdoor worship at 7:00 pm with new fire, Easter Proclamation and Affirmation of Baptism

Easter Sunday (April 4):

  • Engage our bulletin for worship at home along with our worship video – links to the bulletin and videos forthcoming this weekend.
    A Continental Easter Breakfast begins at 9:00 am with serving concluding at 9:45 followed by Outdoor Worship at 10:00.

 

Holy Week’s Three Days: A Guide to Worshipful Devotion

Dear Friends in Christ:

In lieu of separate homilies for Holy Week, what follows is a set of suggestions for how you may worshipfully and devotionally engage features of the coming dramatic Three Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter. The Three Days are actually a seamless liturgical drama that occurs over the course of the holy days. Here we journey with Jesus Christ to the Upper Room, the cross, and ultimately the empty tomb. I pray that this guide will be of salutary use to you for deepening your holy encounters with God in Christ in your worship at home and perhaps also in person outdoors at the church.

Palm and Passion Sunday, March 28, 2021
Mark 15:1-39

I am usually inclined on the Sunday of the Passion to let the Passion narrative, this year from Mark’s Gospel, speak for itself.

Thus, what follows is less a formal sermon and more homiletical or spiritual reflections on the Passion.

First, though, a question: Did God will that Jesus should be crucified? Certain theories of the Atonement, of our being made right with God, require such a sacrifice. A righteous God necessarily must demand a sacrifice to atone for human sin. Thus, if we cannot offer the necessary sacrifice, then Jesus could. Jesus’ death on the cross was thus mandated in this theological schema. That’s one view of the Atonement.

What I find compelling is that the Roman Catholic Church has not established an official dogma of the Atonement. That is to say, there are varieties of theological theories of the Atonement out there, none of which, from a Catholic Magisterial perspective, is definitive.

Thus, there is room for a variety of theological perspectives on making sense of Jesus’ death. I happen to think that the crucifixion was the inevitable outcome of the nature of Jesus’ ministry and mission. Jesus was not afraid to speak the truth about God and how this truth would upend human business as usual. Thus, it was inevitable that what Jesus taught and what he did would get him into trouble with the various powers of the world who had the authority to put him to death.

But please note this in the passage from Mark and other versions of the Gospels: the crowds shout, “Crucify him!”

Many blame the Jews for Jesus’ crucifixion, and such blaming has contributed to much Anti-Judaism and Anti-Semitism throughout the centuries.

Others will emphasize that the crucifixion was undertaken only by the authority and power of Roman imperial officials and armies.

But the Roman authorities bowed to the will of the crowds, the mob, who shouted, “Crucify him!”

Where does that leave us? Well, we’re in the crowds. And we are the ones, if we were present, may well have joined the herd mentality and yelled, “Crucify him!”

Week of the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation, 7:00 pm on March 24:

A Zoom link for Wednesday's Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation on Faith Informing Life's Work will be sent via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages, please contact the church office.

Reflections on the Coming Holy Days

Dear Friends in Christ:

As our second pandemic Lent soon draws to a close, we are on the brink of observing and celebrating among the holiest of days in the Christian calendar, namely, Palm and Passion Sunday, The Three Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Easter – and Resurrection of our Lord, Easter Day.

As usual, we will provide resources for worship at home for Sunday of the Passion, The Three Days, and Easter Sunday. Included will be worship videos for Passion Sunday and Easter Sunday. But there will also be occasion for those who desire and are able to worship in person outdoors on each of these occasions.

In whatever ways appropriate to your circumstances, I invite your robust participation in these Holy Days at home and in person, again if you are safely able. For what these days hold forth for us are the central mysteries of our faith centered on the cross and grounded in the empty tomb. The liturgies for Holy Week and Easter make for our personal and direct participation in the sacred drama of these days both at home and outdoors in person, albeit in truncated ways.

We won’t be able to do all of the things called for in our liturgical enactments. Current pandemic protocols preclude, for example, unabridged readings of the Passion stories outdoors, the laying on of hands for individual forgiveness and the washing of feet on Maundy Thursday. Likewise, the abbreviated and partial Easter Vigil outdoors will not feature the multiple readings, though the bulletin for worship at home will include a rather full complement of readings. Most strikingly will be the absence of the holy supper, the Eucharist, on the days we would normally celebrate it.

That said, there will still be plenty of holy liturgical features for our worshipful engagement outdoors – the blessing of palms and a procession with palms and the reading of the Passion from Mark’s Gospel on Passion Sunday; physically distanced individual absolution and the chanting of Psalm 88 at liturgy’s on Holy Thursday when otherwise we would strip the altar of its adornments; a reading of a portion of the Passion according to John, bidding prayers and procession with a wooden cross with opportunity to adore the wonder of this instrument of salvation on Good Friday; lighting of the new fire and Paschal Candle with Easter Proclamation, and Affirmation of Baptism at the Easter Vigil; a continental Easter Breakfast and worship outdoors along with an Easter Egg hunt for children on Easter Sunday. On each of these occasions, I will offer brief homiletical reflections on the readings and on the significance of each day. There may even be a small ensemble leading some singing on some of the occasions, all the while masked and physically distanced as is appropriate during these times.

For those worshiping at home, the worship resources provided for your domestic use will likewise contain as full a set of observances as possible for worshipful use at home. As usual, the Sunday Worship Videos will feature hymns and anthems led by our choir.

All of this, of course, does not add up to what we would do and celebrate in person in our beloved nave and elsewhere on our church property. But while abbreviated and incomplete, the coming holy days and their ritual enactments for our worship will be means through which the Holy Spirit will draw us more deeply into the holy mysteries, again centered in the death and resurrection of Christ. Our observances and celebrations at home and outdoors will be means through which the Holy Spirit will again generate, regenerate, and renew our faith, our trust in the Trinitarian God whom we see most intimately in the face of Jesus Christ whose last days of earthly ministry and mission are featured in the coming holy days.

May God in Christ bless our worshipful engagements in the power of the Holy Spirit for the sake of the world’s life and its healing,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fifth Sunday in Lent, John 12:20-33

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

20Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.
    27Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

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

Spring has sprung. Officially, this year, March 20. This is welcome and good news after a wet, snowy, icy, slushy and cold pandemic winter. And the ground is springing to life – crocuses, daffodils, some first dandelions, and more – all part of the intricate ecosystem just beneath our feet in our yards and parks and greenspaces, a wonder of natural cycles that takes place each year. This is my first early Spring in Arlington, which you have promised me is one of the most gorgeous seasons of the year in this area. I am delighting in this season of renewed life.

What in fact is going on out of sight and under the ground in the soil? What happens to seeds when they are planted? My brief foray into some botanical reading suggests that the seeds we plant are living and they remain alive as they undergo the complex process of germination, of sprouting forth life in new forms which rise up from the ground. In short, seeds that bear fruit are alive.

But the gospel writer John reports that Jesus said this: “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

Neither John nor Jesus were botanists. Moreover, they did not benefit from modern scientific knowledge and understanding. Again, according to my reading, dead seeds cannot germinate. They are dead and remain dead and cannot offer life. Death is death. What’s going on beneath are feet are cycles of life that beget more life. New growth in spring is life from dormancy, not death.

While John and Jesus may not be good scientists from our perspective, they are trustworthy heralds of divine truth, namely, that John’s Jesus points to a different kind of reality beyond natural cycles. In the case in point, that is, in what would befall Jesus, the reality is new life from death, not from dormancy, a truth that confounds scientific wisdom about natural cycles.

Week of the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation, 7:00 pm on March 17:

A Zoom link for Wednesday's Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation on Faith Informing Life's Work will be sent via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages, please contact the church office.

Springtime and Lent and More

Dear Friends in Christ:

In these last few days of winter, Spring has sprung. Winter during the pandemic had its own unique rigors. One of the silver linings amidst the pandemic lock down were the occasions to go outside for walks to enjoy sunshine and fresh air, and that in season. As the pandemic spring entered into summer and progressed into autumn and finally winter with colder days of abbreviated sunlight, I found it more challenging to get outdoors. So, the lock down during winter felt in palpable ways more locked down. Add to that a winter season marked by cold and snowy-icy-slushy conditions, and it was all the more bleak.

Now, however, the days are again longer and brighter. Daylight Savings Time has returned. While it’s still officially winter for a few more days as I write, a change of seasons is quite evident. The rabbits have again appeared in the parsonage yard. The birds are more active. I notice again their song. A falcon has even been hanging out on occasion in the parsonage yard. Given the birds’ increased activity in the yard, I notice that my cats are engaging in their version of screen time, hanging out at the parsonage windows watching “Cat TV” by staring intently at the birds. That the birds are in the yard so much also reveals that the wealth of living things in the soil is springing to life. The birds are seeking out those living things for food. On the botanical side of things, one lone daffodil came into blossom in the parsonage yard earlier this week. Now it is joined by many others and some crocuses.

Living in the parsonage with its yard, I am much more keenly aware of the change in seasons, the rhythms of how the sunlight courses through the day and illuminates different parts of the yard according to season. During my years in New York City, one had to go looking for signs of seasonal change, especially in Spring. Here in Arlington, you cannot miss it.

And for all of this I am thankful, relieved, and given a renewed sense of hopefulness that the rigors of a pandemic winter will soon be behind us. This sense of hopefulness is made the greater by the increased pace and extent of vaccinations against Covid-19.

All of this coincides with Lent. In fact, the English word ‘Lent’ derives from an Old English word, ‘lencten’ which means “spring season.” As the Lenten season draws closer to Holy Week with its Three Days culminating in the festival of Resurrection, our gaze is drawn to the final days of Jesus’ earthly ministry with particular focus on the cross, Jesus’ death and the mystery of the resurrection. “Easter,” itself another word from Old English, also has naturalistic origins associated with the rising of the sun at dawn and connections to a goddess of fertility and spring.

But here’s the thing: as wonderful as extended sunlight, and new plant life and more active animals are, as wonderful as Spring is, all of this pales in comparison to the mysteries of the cross and empty tomb which confound, transcend and supersede systems of nature. The wonders of contemporary science that have given us effective vaccines in the space of a year’s time have their own miraculous feel. But what God has done in raising Jesus from the dead is so much more than modern science.

I am relishing and delighting in all of the signs of life about me in the parsonage and church yards. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all magnificent. But the message that is central to the Christian gospel is so much more. Spring is about life from life, renewal from a state of dormancy. The Christian message is about life from death. And that’s a whole different set of realities than natural cycles. In fact, the gospel breaks open these natural cycles to new promised realities. That’s the wonder of it, the mystery of it, the grace of it, inspiring and reawakening and renewing our trust in it.

Yes, Lent happens amidst Spring. Yes, popular secular and some religious observances of Easter employ symbols of renewed life – eggs and bunnies and flowers – in an effort to communicate the meaning of the season. But the Christian message of the Three Days is about Christ’s victory of resurrected life over death, of breaking and transcending natural cycles of sin and mortality.

Thus, may we be drawn to celebrate the magnificence of the Christian message even as we enjoy the delights of Spring. Yes, bask in the warmth of the sun, to be sure. But may God inspire us to bask ever more in the Son, whose rising knows no setting.

With hopefulness rooted in Jesus Christ, the one who died, and the one whom God raised,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fourth Sunday in Lent, John 3:14-21

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

14“Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son-of-Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    16For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
    17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

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

Thanks be to God, at this point in the pandemic many of us are receiving vaccinations. That multiple vaccines are available at all in just a year is a marvel of contemporary medical science. Historically, it usually has taken many years for vaccines to be developed, tested and approved. Again, thanks be to God.

And here’s the paradoxical wonder of it: a common approach to developing vaccines is to use forms of the virus itself in the vaccine in order to fight the virus. This seems counterintuitive at first and maybe rather scary and dangerous to get this close to a potentially deadly pathogen.

Indeed, the liquid that’s injected into our arms could contain traces and forms of virus. Hence, I gather, the reactions of our bodies to many vaccinations – soreness of the arm and swelling and redness and maybe flu-like symptoms. Our bodies’ immune systems begin to fight the introduction of the foreign matter – and that’s central to how we develop immunity.

Week of the Third Sunday in Lent

Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation, 7:00 pm on March 10:

A Zoom link for Wednesday's Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation on Faith Informing Life's Work will be sent via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages, please contact the church office.

From ‘I’ to ‘We’ – Toward a Shared Vision for Ministry and Mission

Dear Friends in Christ:

On Sunday afternoon, March 7, our newly constituted Congregation Council met via Zoom for our annual retreat, an occasion to look at the bigger pictures of our life together in ministry and mission. The focus of conversation was the set of vision statements that I shared and commented on at our Annual Congregational Meeting in January, and which I have begun elaborating on in some of these Midweek Messages.

The retreat conversation on Sunday began in earnest the movement from statements of vision which I have made as new pastor here to statements that we, our leaders, can embrace together.

The fruit of Sunday’s conversation is a revised set of vision statements that broadly address most facets of congregational life. These are revisions in language and word choice which reflect the sensibilities of this current configuration of Council members.

The Congregation Council will soon continue conversations about processes for how best to share these emerging communal statements of vision with our wider congregation membership, and this toward a fuller communal embrace of shared vision for ministry and for mission. Watch for invitations to participate in future conversations concerning these vision statements.

As the statements of vision are more widely known and embraced in the congregation, we will make plans to begin to live into the statements of vision practically and concretely. I would hope that these statements would guide how we craft Council meeting agendas, so that we do not lose sight of our vision amidst the details of our life together. I would also hope that the statements of vision will guide the work of our congregation committees and our other initiatives. Likewise, I would hope that the statements of vision would inform and focus how our staff members undertake their work. The statements of vision will certainly guide and focus my work as pastor. Moreover, assessment about how well and effectively and faithfully we are living into the statements of vision can serve as the criteria for which our life together can be evaluated.

None of these statements is written in stone. They are and should be subject to change and revision given likely changing circumstances in church and world. And certainly, how we might decide to live into the visions will change from month to month and year to year, again given our ever rapidly changing world.

But even in provisional form, the statements of vision promise to provide focus and grounding amidst what otherwise is the swirl of competing demands and needs and opportunities in the complex mission field that we are privileged now to engage.

The time for worship at our Council Retreat centered on the passage from the prophet Ezekiel where the prophet was given a vision of a valley of dry bones which were knit together again along with flesh and sinews and new life breathed into them by the prophetic word of the Lord. The vision birthed proclamation which resulted in new life and restoration for God’s people.

May it likewise be so for us in the community that is Resurrection Lutheran Church.

Respectfully in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Third Sunday in Lent, John 2:13-22

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

13The Passover of the Jewish people was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” 17His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18The Judeans then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?” 19Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20The Judeans then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But Jesus was speaking of the temple of his body. 22After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

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

Jesus turning over the money changers’ tables in the temple in Jerusalem is certainly a dramatic moment, and perhaps quite unexpected from one whom we call Prince of Peace.

John records these words of Jesus: “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

John further reports that the disciples remembered this saying in connection with Jesus, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” Why was Jesus so passionate about what was going on in the temple with those selling animals and with the money changers?

In Jesus’ view, according to John, the temple was not to be a marketplace. It may well have been the case that Jesus was not against marketplaces per se, but that the place of the market was not the temple. Marketplaces had their place, just not in the holy temple set aside for the worship of God.

Buying and selling and changing money may have had the quality of idolatry – of giving over to things of lesser importance a greater prominence than they deserved.

Making the temple of God into a marketplace reveals a disorientation, a disordered quality that Jesus in John could not abide.

Jesus as an observant Jewish person would have been steeped and grounded in the Ten Commandments which are the focus of today’s first reading. These commandments set the record straight about what is most important. The first table of the law focuses on our relationship with God and the second, our relationship with each other.

With the Ten Commandments, if they are kept, all is well and in the proper and good order. Again, making the temple into a marketplace may have broken the letter and spirit of some of the Commandments, particularly concerning idolatry.

But there is also more going on in the gospel reading for today. A lot more.

Week of the Second Sunday in Lent

Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation, 7:00 pm on March 3:

A Zoom link for Wednesday's Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation on Faith Informing Life's Work will be sent via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages, please contact the church office.

“It’s Been a Whole Year”

Dear Friends in Christ:

“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)

It’s been a whole year. On Sunday, March 1, 2020 you voted to call me as your Pastor. On that day, none us anticipated what would be before us. Though the coronavirus was making its way throughout the world, the pandemic had not yet been declared. But by the mid part of March, we all were in lock down. It’s almost been a full year of that unwanted series of events which turned the world upside down. Few at the time had awareness that this would go on for a year, and likely then some.

I’ve never run a marathon. Perhaps some of you have. The author of the letter to the Hebrews employs the image of the race to describe the journey of discipleship in Jesus’ name. Let us remember that we undertook this journey of pandemic deprivation in Jesus’ name. Yes, we were obedient to protocols established by government authorities, but we also began our fast from regular Christian assembly indoors, in person for Christ’s sake out of a commitment to love of neighbor, especially those most vulnerable among us in society, a central commitment of Lutheran social ethics.

Our fasting from central Christian things has been going on almost a year (I keep saying that, because it seems hard to believe). It’s been a marathon, a long race. Signs suggest that we may be entering the last phases of pandemic-related communal deprivation. The vaccination roll out is increasing in pace and extent. And that there are vaccines available at all this quickly is a wonder of contemporary medical science. But we still have a good bit of the race before us, with possible twists and turns and as yet unforeseen obstacles.

Again, I’ve never run a marathon, but I have some history with twenty-mile-long mountain hikes. I recall just how taxing and challenging it was during the last legs of these journeys when my body was on a kind of autopilot to reach the destination.

I need to confess to you that I am exhausted and often feel as though I am running on empty. The social isolation of pandemic discipline is taking its toll on my sense of well-being. Normal pleasures – like going out to dinner at restaurants with friends – are not consistently available. The richness of the DC area is closed off precisely when Nathan (when he visits) and I would love to go on adventures of discovery. Like many of you, working from home at the parsonage means there is little meaningful separation between personal and professional life. I am not at my best at this point in the season of pandemic. In short, I am running the race with quite the limp.

Perhaps you have your own tales of comparative woe at this point in the journey. I offer mine in honesty to invite your own honest, self-assessment of how you are doing.

That said, I also am drawn to offer words of encouragement. Responding to the exhortation of the author of the letter to the Hebrews, we look to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Therefore, as your Pastor, I invite you to set your eyes on Christ if they are not already fixed there, for such focus can draw us forward. Now is not the time to let up, but to persevere in our discipline, continuing on, limps and all. We persevere in the power of the Holy Spirit whose energies we know in our admittedly truncated but nonetheless real encounters with the means of grace – in the reading and proclamation of the word, in our varied times of worship at home, in person outdoors, via Zoom, in words of forgiveness, in our holy conversations with each other.

In this past Sunday’s gospel reading we heard again Jesus’ instruction, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Most of us have to date lived pretty cushy and easy Christian lives in which cross-bearing specifically for Jesus’ sake and the sake of the gospel has not much been asked of us, we who are privileged members of what has been known as the mainline church. But I believe it is true that our decision to refrain from regular Christian assembly has in fact been a very real expression of denying ourselves to take up the cross to follow Jesus. This past year of deprivation from central Christian things has been cruciform indeed. Awareness of this heartens me and renews a sense of purpose and meaning in what otherwise has seemed to be a year often lacking in meaningful, life-giving experiences. I pray that naming our cross-bearing self-denial which began in Lent 2020 and now continues into Lent 2021 edifies you as well.

I thus conclude by returning to the author of Hebrews who also writes this for our encouragement, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

May it be so in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Second Sunday in Lent, Mark 8:31-38

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

31Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32Jesus said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

    34He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

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

Listen again: “[Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” These words constitute one of the passion predictions in Mark’s Gospel, an occasion when Jesus tells the truth about what is before him, giving focus to the nature of his ministry and mission.

Quite importantly, Mark reports that Jesus “said all this quite openly.”

Recall other occasions in Mark when Jesus sternly ordered the followers and others not to say anything about things they had just experienced with Jesus. Just prior to this story in Mark, Peter makes his confession about Jesus, “You are the Messiah.” Jesus response was this: “he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.”

Following today’s story in Mark is the account of the Transfiguration, which liturgically we commemorated a couple of weeks ago on the Last Sunday after Epiphany. Of all the dramatic goings on high on the mountaintop, again Mark reported that “As they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” (Mark 9:9)

But about his suffering and death and promise of resurrection, Jesus was quite open.

Peter, who had just confessed Jesus as Messiah would have none of this. After Jesus spoke of his suffering and death, Peter “took [Jesus] aside and began to rebuke him.”

As if to say, Peter sought to censure, chide, reprove, admonish Jesus for predicting his suffering and death. Or more viscerally, Peter sought to repel or beat back on Jesus for his open prediction of the grave and mysterious things that would happen to him.

Clearly such perceived bad news was not part of Peter’s vision for what the Messiah should be about.

It’s as if Peter was ashamed of a Messiah that would have to suffer and die, as suggested by Jesus’ words that Mark reports at the conclusion of today’s passage: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38)

Which is to say, Jesus rebuked, or pushed back on Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine thing but on human things,” Jesus says to Peter in Mark.

Satan is the one who makes false accusations. By addressing Peter in connection with Satan, Jesus concludes that Peter’s vision of the Messiah is false and sourced in human logic and human expectations, not divine wisdom.

That’s when Jesus then elaborates on the wisdom of God in the presence of Peter and the other disciples and the crowd whom he gathered around himself: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)

Here we have the grand paradox of Jesus’ mission and our discipleship in relation to it. Striving to save our lives, we end up losing our life. Losing our life by letting go is the way to save our life.

Week of the First Sunday in Lent

Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation, 7:00 pm on February 24:

A Zoom link for Wednesday's Midweek Lenten Worship and Presentation on Faith Informing Life's Work will be sent via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages, please contact the church office.

“A Vision for Worship and Music at Resurrection Church”

Dear Friends in Christ:

This message continues the series elaborating on proposed statements of vision for mission and ministry in our life together as a congregation. This week’s focus: worship and music. Resurrection Church has a particularly strong foundation on which to build when it comes to its worship and music practices. This liturgical and musical legacy is one of the major reasons that I was attracted to serving as pastor of this congregation.

It is undeniably clear that inspiring worship and music are hallmarks of thriving, growing congregations. So, here’s the vision statement: I envision Resurrection as a congregation that builds on its legacy of faithful liturgy and musical excellence to offer inspiring worship and music that more fully expresses the global and diverse nature of the Church.

This particular vision has its source in my experience over many years of attending ELCA Churchwide Assemblies in various capacities – as voting member, volunteer, Church Council member, Synod staff member, and visitor. What I have observed over the years is what I a drawn to call the maturing of our church liturgically and musically. The Renewing Worship process, which resulted in the publication of Evangelical Lutheran Worship in 2006, ushered in a new era for us as a church liturgically and musically. Available to us is a wide array of liturgical resources that vary seasonally and support worship for the Sunday assembly as well as a number of different occasions, settings, and circumstances. These resources are not just in the ELW as a book, but are also available in the online platform, Sundays and Seasons, which Resurrection Church also uses.

Musically, recent years have featured tremendous growth in hymnody and other songs, particularly new texts, often wedded to familiar tunes, that express our church’s current theological commitments and sensibilities. Moreover, there is available to us an increasing number of hymns and songs from the wider global and ecumenical communities, from the many nations, that build on and expand beyond classical Lutheran foundations from European contexts.

These developments have been consistently evident at our ELCA Churchwide Assemblies where the liturgies, in my experience, are faithful to the church’s liturgical traditions and these liturgies are carried on music that reflects the global nature of the church with instrumentation that honors diverse practices of many nations and cultures – and it’s all been offered in recent years with excellence and vitality. This is what I envision also at Resurrection Church.

Because our congregation has such a strong foundation on which to build liturgically and musically, my vision for worship and music here does not in any way imply a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” dynamic. Not at all. Rather, I see a continuation of this congregation’s liturgical and musical practices enhanced by a still fuller embodiment and making use of the many resources available to us in the ELCA liturgically and musically.

The particular ways we live into this vision, of course, remain to be seen. However, much will center on the person we end up hiring as our regular Director of Music. Another concrete step toward living into the vision is the planned purchase of a new hymnal supplement from Augsburg Fortress, All Creation Sings, which contains still more liturgical and musical resources that again reflect our wider church’s commitments liturgically and musically.

Other possibilities I see include making still more use of the fullness of the resource that is Evangelical Lutheran Worship, finding occasions in our life together, for example, to pray Morning, and Evening, and Night Prayer, seeking creative ways to remember in worship and prayer those who are remembered in our church’s calendar of commemorations, looking for occasions to celebrate festivals during midweek, and more. We will discern how best to do this together.

This vision for worship and music relates importantly to the vision statement about spirituality and faith practices which I addressed in a previous midweek message. Lutheran spirituality and Lutheran faith practices are principally grounded in the church’s liturgy. When I make reference to inspiring worship and music in the statement of vision, I intentionally chose the word “inspire” with the Holy Spirit in mind (‘inspire’ has at its root the word for spirit), for the Holy Spirit uses the means of grace, Word and Sacrament, to generate and renew our faith for the sake of the world. The Spirit’s activity in the means of grace is cradled by our liturgies and in our music both on Sundays and in our various other gatherings during the week, including our administrative meetings. I also hope that this vision would extend into our homes, where we would not lose what we have experienced during the pandemic, namely, the practice of also worshiping at home, claiming Evangelical Lutheran Worship as a source for domestic devotion alongside our Bibles.

There is much more conversation to be had among our leaders and the whole congregation concerning our emerging shared vision for worship and music at Resurrection Lutheran Church. But I conclude this initial message with some reflection on the centrality of the global and diverse nature of the church, and why it is important for us at Resurrection Church to seek to embody global diversity. Christianity, from its inception, has always been a diverse tradition reflecting the cultures and languages of the many nations. So, our commitment to seeking to reflect in our worship and music this global diversity is not driven by ideological motives, but by seeking to be faithful to what Christianity has always been. Remember that a hallmark of the Pentecost event recorded in Acts 2 is when the Holy Spirit gave Jesus’ followers the gift of proclaiming the good news of Christ’s victory over death in the languages of the nations. Thus, faithful worship and music reflect the global and diverse nature of the whole Christian tradition throughout the centuries and into our present day as the Spirit continues to guide us into all truth (cf. John 16:30).

Respectfully in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

First Sunday in Lent, Mark 1:9-15

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

9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
    12And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
    14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

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

I’m struck by the destructive-creative energies explicit or implied in the readings for today.

The flood that destroyed all living things on the face of the earth save for Noah and his family and the animals on the ark is the context for today’s first reading in Genesis. That destruction was the matrix for the promise of a restored creation after the flood, and the covenant between God and Noah and descendants that never again would the world be destroyed by a flood.

The symbol of the covenant is the rainbow, a lovely meteorological effect and lightshow that can often follow destructive, severe weather.

In the passage from 1 Peter, today’s second reading, Jesus’ suffering and death in the flesh are featured prominently along with Christ’s resurrection and this in connection with baptism in connection with the flood – all of this destructive energy resulting in new creation. Even baptism is a drowning, but it’s an ending that births new life in Christ, a major move from a kind of destruction to new creation.

Then there’s the dramatic language in the brief passage from Mark’s Gospel. Listen again to the words and phrases that are full of energy that’s anything but peaceful and calm:

  • “And just as [Jesus] was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.”
  • “And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.”
  • “He was in the wilderness forty day, tempted by Satan”
  • “And he was with wild beasts.”
  • “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’” (cf. Mark 1:9-15)

Heavens torn apart; the Spirit driving Jesus out into the wilderness; temptation by Satan; wild beasts; John’s arrest.

Again, sense the weight of these negative, perhaps destructive energies.

They can describe our current circumstances and realities:

  • We, too, find ourselves amidst worlds torn apart, especially now in our beloved country.
  • People in cutthroat competition for limited resources are driven by many and various energies, some quite destructive.
  • The pandemic landscape can seem like a wilderness in our social isolation without the infrastructure of our usual routines.
  • Temptations can abound in our lives in times like these.
  • Some might suggest that Satanic or diabolical, destructive forces are at play in our temptations.
  • Wild beasts of perhaps more metaphorical varieties lurk about. But isn’t also true that the coronavirus is a kind of wild beast?
  • Powers and principalities continue to arrest not just bad actors, but others striving for the good causes of justice.

These are precisely the realities which Jesus entered in his earthly life and ministry to proclaim good news that the dominion of God has come near.

These are precisely the realities where Jesus still enters to find us and to rescue us.

This rescue by Jesus has its dramatic expression in our own baptisms.

Baptismal themes are an undercurrent throughout today’s readings, with the recounting of Jesus’ own baptism in the gospel of Mark, but again also quite notably when the author of 1 Peter connects baptism with the days of Noah and the flood: “God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you – not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.” (1 Peter 3:20b-22)

When we are baptized in the name of the Trinity, we are flooded with water. Even if it’s just a sprinkling, it’s still a flood that drowns the old Adam of our sinful state. Coming up out of the water is our rebirth in Christ and into Christ’s body. Baptism is a kind of destruction that leads to new creation.

In the water, with the word and the Spirit, the destructive forces are transformed into creative forces both in our lives and for the life of the world.

Which is to say, the Spirit whose energies drive the creative realities of baptismal regeneration is the same Spirit who drove Jesus into the wilderness and then into ministry in Galilee. That same Spirit drives us also into the wilderness of our days and circumstances for our own share in God’s mission of rescue.

This mission of ours in and for the sake of the world may have the effect of yet again of seeming to tear the heavens apart and may propel us into places that don’t feel safe, places of temptation and wild beasts, perhaps even the risk of arrest.

The mission field can be fraught, but that’s precisely where we are called to echo the words of Jesus’ proclamation in the presence of our neighbors, “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near, repent, and believe in the good news.”

All of this makes for an appropriate way indeed to begin our journey of Lent, our second Lent in this season of prolonged pandemic.

With faces set to Jerusalem, the place of cross and empty tomb, and our eyes fixed on the fonts which make for redemptive flooding, the dynamism of the Spirit’s energies mark our life together and drive us forward for the sake of the world. Amen.

And now for your reflection and holy conversation at home:

  • In what ways perhaps have you known the dynamics of destruction that can lead to new creation in your journey of faith, in your spiritual life?
  • What kinds of wilderness do you find yourselves in?
  • What good news might you proclaim to those whom you find there?

Ash Wednesday, February 17:

Worship at Home – click below for access to the bulletin for home worship on Ash Wednesday

pdfAsh Wednesday Home Worship Bulletin 2021

Outdoor Worship in Person with Confession and Signing with Ashes – 11:00 am and 7:00 pm near the Potomac Street entrance to the church.

 

Dear Friends in Christ:

I offer this reflection for your devotion on Ash Wednesday in lieu of a sermon.

Nathan, my son, was born on Transfiguration Sunday in 2009. When he was but three days old, we brought him to the chapel of General Seminary where I was a faculty member for the liturgy on Ash Wednesday. Thus, Nathan’s first time in church, even before baptism, was the solemn occasion that begins Lent. My child’s first liturgical experience was having ashes signed in the shape of a cross on his little forehead. Talk about a poignant experience for a new father to hear the words of the presiding minister directed to my newborn, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It brings tears to my eyes yet again even as I type these words.

Who knew that ten years later, while still a precious young child, Nathan would have a near fatal stroke caused by a vascular malformation that was likely congenital? Which means that even on that Ash Wednesday when he was three days old, Nathan carried in his flesh the condition that would have caused his death at a tender age if it weren’t for quick and effective surgical intervention.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Each of us carries in our flesh the conditions of human mortality. Ash Wednesday is an occasion to remember and acknowledge with complete, naked honesty this stark reality. Each of us one day will die.

Transfiguration of Our Lord, February 14, 2021, Mark 9:2-9

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

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
    9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

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

Today is the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the last Sunday after Epiphany. Each Sunday in this season has offered up epiphanies, revelations that help us better understand Jesus and his sacred mission.

Today’s passage from Mark begins, “Six days later….” Well, six days after what? Six days after Jesus’ prediction of his passion, his suffering and death and his call for his followers to take up their cross to follow him – itself a major revelation in Mark about Jesus and his mission.

This passion prediction is the narrative context for Jesus’ ascending the high mountain apart with Peter, James, and John.

Once on the heights, Jesus was transfigured before them, “his clothes becoming dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”

The Greek word that’s commonly translated “transfigured,” is the word from which we get metamorphosis, which arguably might be better translated here as “transformed.” That is, Jesus was transformed before them. He underwent a metamorphosis.

Transfiguration suggests simply a change in appearance, a surface level reality. Transformation, or metamorphosis, suggests a more essential change, as when a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly.

Transfigured or transformed, however you might understand it, it was still a pretty amazing thing – clothes dazzling white beyond any and all earthly efforts at bleaching, at whitening.

Moreover, Mark reports that Jesus was engaging in conversation with both Elijah and Moses, two of the most significant figures in Hebraic history. I wonder what they were talking about…. But one thing is clear from the story is that Jesus is revealed as having a prominence in keeping with and ultimately exceeding that of Elijah and Moses.

The event was so amazing, so terrifying to the disciples who accompanied Jesus up the high mountain that Peter was left to stammer out a suggestion: “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings (or booths), one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” An odd statement, out of the blue.

Mark reports that Peter said this because he did not know what to say since he was so terrified.

Then to add to the drama, a cloud overshadowed them all and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Perhaps this was the same voice that made the announcement at Jesus’ baptism – “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” At the baptism, the voice was directed to Jesus. Here the voice and announcement are directed at the disciples.

As quickly as all of this came to pass, after the voice spoke from the clouds, everything vanished and became as normal again. Suddenly, the dazzle was gone, as were the cloud and voice, as were Moses and Elijah. It was just Jesus again with Peter, James and John.

So, what was this all about? What was the epiphany, the revelation, portrayed in Mark’s recounting of the Transfiguration?

Week of the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

This week’s message continues a series in which I elaborate on emerging visions for our life together as a congregation. The first, and I would argue, central statement concerning such vision for ministry and mission at Resurrection Church focuses on spiritual vitality, faith practices and spiritual experiences. Those who study congregational health acknowledge that thriving, growing congregations are marked by spiritual vitality.

Here, therefore, is my statement of vision concerning spiritual vitality: I envision Resurrection as a congregation that seeks to incorporate into all of its activities – including business meetings – various faith practices that make it possible for all regularly to experience the presence of our gracious God in Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

On first blush, this statement of vision may seem obvious, straightforward and simple, perhaps even simplistic. Of course, church activities should include faith practices that cultivate spiritual experiences. However, in my experience of churchly routines, living into this vision with intentionality and robustness is quite difficult indeed. Attempting to do so is perhaps one of the most counter-cultural and, in a sense, subversive things that so-called mainline Christians can undertake.

Lutherans, in my experience, tend to be pretty shy about going public with their personal faith experiences. We may be reluctant to give expression with others to what’s going on spiritually deep inside ourselves, and we may conclude that faith is more of a private matter. That may be, but there are those occasions when, for the sake of proclaiming the gospel, we do well to share our experiences, to give testimony to what God may be up to in our lives. Doing so is a first step in our evangelistic efforts which may lead to membership growth, another one of the vision statements for our life together.

Sermon + Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Mark 1:29-39
February 7, 2021

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

29As soon as Jesus and the disciples left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
    32That evening, at sundown, they brought to Jesus all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
    35In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38Jesus answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” 39And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

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

There are some compellingly evocative words and realities offered in passing in today’s gospel, things seemingly incidental to the telling of the story. They make for today’s epiphany, or revelation, as we near the conclusion of this season of epiphanies.

Here’s the essence of the recounting that reveals the evocative words: Jesus and his disciples, after teaching in the synagogue, entered the house of Simon and Andrew where Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever.

House. Bed. Fever. Let’s take those in turn to set the stage for what comes next in the story, and what comes next for us.

Week of the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

Those who were present for our congregation’s annual meeting on January 24 had occasion to read and hear me comment on the eleven vision statements that are guiding my approach to ministry and mission at Resurrection Church. As I reported, my hope is that the “I” statements which guide my own ministry can in due course become “we” statements which the whole congregation can in some edited form embrace for our life together. Toward that end, I here offer some additional comments on how these vision statements came to be along with thoughts on how I see them being used in the future.

First off, why so many statements? Shouldn’t we have one simple statement of vision? Maybe. It may be that the process of engaging multiple vision statements will naturally lead to a singular statement that we can craft together. However, in my experience of seeing such singular statements from congregations over the years, brief statements of vision can simultaneously say everything and nothing. Also, I did not want to spend too much time word-smithing a singular vision statement. I have found that some congregations spend more time crafting the words of such statements than doing the work of mission to which the statements point. Let’s have just enough clarity of focus to be able to move forward in getting things done.

My approach in developing the statements was to review and consider rather comprehensively our life together, giving specific attention to particular areas of ministry that congregations normally embody and are constitutionally mandated in many cases to attend to.

Also, as I suggested in my oral reporting at the annual meeting, the vision statements emerged from my study of the reports of consultants that Resurrection engaged during the interim period prior to calling me as pastor. I aim to give voice to many of the concerns and hopes offered in those reports. Additionally, the statements were the fruit of conversations I’ve had over these early months of my ministry here with several leaders of the congregation. The statements likewise emerged from my own observations and discernment of the needs and opportunities set before us as a congregation in this place at this time. Finally, the statements reflect the particular skill sets and experiences and passions that I bring to you as a pastor.

How will the vision statements be used? The statements are designed with change in mind, often building on solid foundations already laid, but growing beyond those foundations into a future that requires something other than church business as usual. The statements intend to lean toward adaptive change and not just technical change, for the ways we have done church in previous generations may not be what is called for in our current realities. Or it may be that the traditions on which church practice have been founded need to be rediscovered and renewed for the current day, peeling back layers of practice that have inhibited the originating truth of Christian practice from singing forth with clarity.

So, the statements invite some straining forward in ways perhaps counter-cultural to what we may as church have typically done. In coming weeks, I plan to dedicate many of these midweek messages to elaborating on each of the vision statements to reveal what they mean for possible transformational change.

As the Congregation Council takes up the vision statements at their coming annual retreat, it may be that shared “we” statements will be different from what I envision or how I express the visions. It may be that the Council will offer additional statements of vision from what I have offered. This is part and parcel of the collaborative approach to ministry that is dear to my heart and faithful, I believe, to the cooperative nature of Christian community.

Once the Congregation Council has had a chance to offer their input toward fine-tuning articulations of vision, then I envision that we would come back to the wider membership of the congregation for further conversation and discernment and understandings, again, in the service of the collaborative nature of our life together. We shall see what formats will be appropriate for such wider sharing.

While the pandemic in some ways inhibits us from moving forward quickly and bolding toward living into the vision statements, in other ways our current circumstances allow us the occasion to see the forest for the trees, as it were, giving us the space to envision bigger holy pictures. The pandemic’s upending of our life together also may free us from clinging unduly to old ways of doing things since we’ve not been doing a lot of usual things in these many, many months. This comparatively fallow period may lead us to conclude that maybe we don’t need to do some things anymore the way we did them.

What’s missing thus far with the vision statements are the “how to’s,” the particular ways through which we will decide to live into the statements of vision. These “how to’s,” again, are for us to discern and determine together in coming seasons. And these particular concrete steps may change from month to month and year to year. I envision that the Council and committees and other groupings and individuals would keep the vision statements ever before them to guide their planning, work, initiatives and activities. I craft my own reports as pastor to the Council, for example, following the categories addressed by my vision statements, and I give updates each month on how I am attempting to live into the visions.

Short of the consummated reign of God, we will never live perfectly our visions for mission and ministry, but rather more likely in fits and starts. And we may never quite get there, just as Moses himself never got to the promised land. Even so, shared vision will guide us forward together into God’s promised future.

May God in Christ lead us faithfully and courageously in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Mark 1:21-28

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

21Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25But Jesus rebuked the spirit, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of the man. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ 28At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

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

On this Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, what is the epiphany, the revelation, in this season of epiphanies? What I see is this: the nature of divine teaching authority, especially the teaching authority of Jesus.

Jesus visited the synagogue in Capernaum to teach. Jesus’ listeners “were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority….”

In current popular culture, astonishment is not necessarily the first word that comes to mind when we might think of those who have the authority to teach.

Perhaps that was the case in Jesus’ day as well, since Jesus’ teaching with authority apparently contrasted with the kind of teaching other religious leaders engaged in.

In our own day, teachers are only recently being rediscovered as some of the unsung, underpaid heroes of the pandemic lock downs and schooling online as they have heroically risen to the occasion to attend to the educational and emotional needs of our children across the country.

More often, there seems to be a significant undercurrent of mistrust of those with authority to teach, and maybe more expansively, a mistrust of authority and authorities broadly speaking. For authorities have too often in our day abused the responsibilities and powers entrusted to them.

Week of the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

On Sunday, January 24, 2021, beginning at 11:00 am, Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church conducted its first-ever Annual Congregational Meeting via Zoom, a necessity given our pandemic circumstances. As a newcomer to Resurrection Church, I am drawn to share with you what this annual meeting revealed to me as a pastor who has observed lots of congregations in action over the years.

When it became clear that an annual meeting via Zoom would involve logistical and constitutional complexities, our lay leaders’ first and healthy impulse was to seek wisdom from the wider church in consultation with synod staff who directed us to another congregation in the Metro DC Synod who had successfully held their annual meeting via Zoom. Three cheers for a churchly perspective that honors and sees value in our life together in the wider church! Many congregations in my experience are inclined simply to go it alone.

What’s also abundantly clear to me is that we have a team of very gifted lay leaders who bring to bear on our life together as a congregation their wisdom and experience from their professional careers and training. This is lay ministry at its best when gifts from secular contexts are deployed for the sake of the effective and faithful operation of the church. These gifts include expertise in computer technologies, digital communications platforms, finance, law, politics, management, personnel, and more.

Moreover, our lay leaders do not employ their gifts as virtuoso soloists, but as members of a team, seeking out the full participation of other gifted people. This teamwork includes gifted staff members who have also risen to the occasion to creatively engage their ministries remotely and on Zoom. In the organizational world, it’s a salient feature of churchly organizational life to balance the efforts of volunteers alongside staff members – many nonprofits are more staff driven – but the nature of our churchly life is to draw heavily on the time and talents of volunteers.

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Mark 1:14-20

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

14Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the dominion of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” 16As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for human beings.” 18And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19As Jesus went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20Immediately Jesus called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

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

Listen again to the message from today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31)

In essence, Paul is saying don’t get too invested in things as they are, whatever your circumstances in life happen to be. For the present form of this world is passing away…. It sounds all too familiar, and strikes literally perhaps too close to home. Transition, rapid change, radical upheaval, foreboding circumstances all seem to characterized the zeitgeist, the spirit of our times.

It is into this kind of fraught world that God calls and sends God’s servants. God sent Jonah to the great city Nineveh to proclaim the word of God’s judgment, a calling that Jonah at first resisted and fled. Nineveh was not a righteous place. Like many big cities, it was full of corruption or generally evil ways, as the passage for today suggests.

The context for the call of Jesus’ disciples in today’s gospel reading from Mark is the arrest of John. John had boldly and forthrightly proclaimed divine judgment, particularly for the religious and political leaders of his day, again, an indication of the kind of fraught setting into which the disciples were called.

It’s this world of danger and instability where Jesus says to Simon and Andrew, James and John, “Follow me.”

It’s a world of danger and instability into which God calls us as well.

Week of the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

We were eager to leave behind 2020, an unprecedentedly fraught year with multiple, inter-related national crises. The calendar is a human construct that helps us order our lives and routines. The world does not magically change when the calendar changes over to a new year. And so it is, our crises remain, and actually have worsened in some ways.

The attack on the Capitol on the Day of Epiphany, January 6, 2021, was profoundly unsettling and becomes more so with daily new revelations about the nature of that attack. Daily case rates and deaths from the coronavirus continue to grow in scary and tragic ways. The specter of the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus that is even more easily transmissible looms on the horizon. The rate of vaccinations and the availability of vaccines are matters of great concern, even as there is great hope that vaccines are available at all this quickly into the course of the disease.

For many, there is hopefulness in a new administration in the federal government, though, given the enormity of the crises in politics, concerning racial justice, the pandemic and the economy, what realistically can a new administration do, and how quickly, to diminish the trauma of the crises of our age? Then there’s climate change which may ultimately prove our other crises to pale in comparison. 2021 will be a rough ride, as hopefulness and foreboding collide.

It may be helpful to point out from an historical perspective that the post-World War II decades for many of us in the United States, with comparative prosperity and stability, have been the exception in most of human history. Now we, the privileged, are beginning to know and experience the kind of precarious life circumstances that most in our species have known and experienced all along. Cold comfort perhaps.

Where, then, do we turn for warm and genuine comfort? How do we cope when crises become chronic? These questions may be more challenging to address during this time of pandemic social isolation, when we are deprived of the benefits of incarnate Christian community in the worshiping assembly in person and have not been able to be strengthened by the Holy Communion. There is a sense in which the church currently has been driven underground, not by persecution as in the earliest centuries of the church, or by the dangers of movements like the Third Reich in Germany that drove Dietrich Bonhoeffer to lead an underground seminary. Our being underground today is the result of our choice in gospel freedom to love and serve our neighbor by fasting from our assemblies.

Second Sunday after Epiphany, John 1:43-51
January 17, 2021

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

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

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

During the process for electing a new synodical bishop in Metro New York Synod in 2019, I recall a quip from one of our conference deans during a conversation about we needed in a new bishop. She said, and her words stick with me to this day, “God does not call the equipped; God equips those whom God calls.”

Those are reassuring words to me in these days of ministry during the pandemic, especially beginning a new call here with you at Resurrection Church when we are not even meeting in person.

Frankly, there are days when I do not feel equipped to undertake this kind of ministry. Who knew that I would in essence become something of a “TV preacher”? Who knew that so much of ministry would take place via computer technologies? None of us were trained in seminary to do this kind of ministry.

And all of this is happening during a time of unprecedented crises in our nation when we would benefit greatly from being together in person, face to face, to craft our responses to these crises.

While I may not feel equipped for this work in this season, I do have a call from the church to this mission field, a call extended by you as a congregation in keeping with the wider church which is an embodiment of God’s external call to me to lead and to serve.

“God does not call the equipped; God equips those whom God calls.” In fits and starts, I am in the process of being equipped for this work, for such a time as this.

Week of Baptism of Our Lord

Dear Friends in Christ:

With our Annual Congregational Meeting soon upon us, we will elect new members of our Congregation Council. Then a newly configured Council will elect from its ranks a new Council President. The Nominating Committee of Council members going off Council has struggled to surface a sufficient number of willing nominees to replace them. Perhaps it’s the pandemic in which all of our routines are upended, but the challenge of finding new leaders for our Council is of concern to me.

Vital, robust congregations have a large team of active and effective lay leaders. Despite the pandemic inhibiting my full view of the congregation as a whole, it is abundantly clear to me that Resurrection Church is blessed to have a large number of gifted leaders. We have members who are leaders in their own professions who can then bring these gifts to bear on our congregational life. But it is also clear to me that our members are busy professionals who are stretched thin by their responsibilities at work and at home. It is also true that many of our congregational leaders have been at their stations in our life together sometimes for decades. And many of them are tired and may long for fresh faces to step up to the plate.

I’ve been around the block enough times in the church in my own various capacities to know that what we face as a congregation is common among most congregations these days. In fact, I was involved in a consulting process with one of the largest and most vibrant congregations in the Pittsburgh area, the cream of our congregational crop – and the refrain I heard even there was that “the same few people end up doing most of the work most of the time!”

I’ve also been around the block enough to know that church-related business meetings can tend to be wearisome. Notably, there were the faculty meetings when I was a seminary professor. I used to quip that I loved dearly each of my faculty colleagues, but put us together in the same room and the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Then there were the synod staff meetings – which sometimes ran all day – when I was a Bishop’s Assistant. We inevitably surrendered our time and energy to the most difficult congregations and pastors who probably did not require that degree and extent of our attention.

You all likely have similar meeting experiences at work and with other organizations to which you belong. Why on earth would you want to volunteer to have the same kind of wearisome experiences at church business meetings when you long for church to be a place of oasis from all of that “business as usual”?

Baptism of Our Lord, Mark 1:4-11
January 10, 2021

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

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “After me the one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

    9In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

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

As we begin a new year, it is fitting perhaps that we have as our first reading for today the first verses of the Bible which commence with the very familiar words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” (Genesis 1:1).

But then listen again to the first half of verse 2, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Sometimes I wonder if we’ve gotten to that point again in our sad, sorry world.

Formless void and darkness. It feels that way sometimes when I read, hear and see the news. What a list. A variant of the coronavirus that is more contagious seems to be sweeping the globe. The roll out of vaccinations is going much slower than anticipated and needed. Institutions and organizations reveal their incapacity to deal meaningfully with our crises. I sometimes refer to our current circumstances as a world as the age of the great unraveling when so many institutions and traditions and norms and alliances are breaking apart. Formless void and darkness indeed.

Moreover, since we have the first part of the creation story as a first reading, it’s natural to be drawn to contemplate the condition of our whole earth, our ecosystem itself, the loving object of God’s creation in the beginning.

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Evening Prayer on the Day of Epiphany via Zoom

Please join us for live worship via Zoom as we pray Evening Prayer on the Day of Epiphany, Wednesday, January 6 at 7:00 pm.

  • The Zoom link is available via Constant Contact mailings. If you are not receiving Constant Contact mailings from the church office, then please contact the church office.
  • Here is the bulletin: pdfEpiphany Evening Prayer for January 6, 2021
  • To ensure a worshipful spirit that minimizes background noises, kindly participate in spoken responses at home and singing the hymn with your device’s microphone on mute. Thank you.

Children’s Epiphany Pageant at Home

From their homes, our children tell the story of the visit of the Magi. The YouTube link is available in this week's Constant Contact edition of the Midweek Message. If you are not receiving Constant Contact mailings from the church office, then please contact the church office.

Out of respect for our children's privacy and parents' wishes, please do not post this video to any social media platform, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, etc.

Dear Friends in Christ:

I have written on topics with a lot of gravitas during these months of the pandemic, when our world and routines have been turned upside down. Thus, for the sake of contrast and a bit of a break, I am drawn to engage a theme which is lighter, but still arguably profound.

Now that the weather has turned colder, I am spending less time outdoors and a lot more time inside, delighting in the spaciousness of the parsonage after years of cramped apartment living in New York.

You’ll perhaps recall from a previous midweek message that I fancy the parsonage as something of a priory, a little monastery, which I envision as a place of hospitality for members of the congregation and other guests. Well, given the required social isolation of our pandemic times, I am essentially in this place as a hermit, living a solitary life until such time when we can all be in community in person again as a congregation. Then I will be free to invite more people for gatherings in this hospitable place that is the parsonage.

Except that I am not totally alone. I am joined by two others, namely, my now nine-month-old kittens. To take up the priory theme again, perhaps it is that I am novice master to two young ones in formation. The kittens are obviously not in formation to become monks, but full-grown cats. And their formation is a wonder of nature to behold.

In writing about animals, I run the risk of anthropomorphism, that is, attributing human traits to the animals in our care. Acknowledging that risk, I cannot help but share with you some of the delight in the discovery of what it’s like to live with not one, but two adolescent, teenage cats.

Second Sunday of Christmas, January 3, 2021
John 1:1-18

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

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

    6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, ao that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

    10He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

    14And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15(John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ ”) 16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

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

Lurking constantly in our conscious and unconscious minds, often deep in the human psyche, is the fear of scarcity, and the question, “Will there be enough?”

This question has haunted our species, surely, since our hunting, gathering days. Perhaps most often in human history the concern has been having enough food.

Scarcity is indeed a reality. In fact, our current abundance of material and other comforts is a relatively recent phenomenon. Most of human history has been marked more by minimal availability of food and other kinds of insecurity.

Even amidst abundance, people go hungry. In this time of pandemic-induced food insecurity, witness the long, long lines now at food banks throughout the country, people who are going hungry because of lost jobs and diminished wealth due to the effects of the pandemic.

But the pernicious thing is that the fear of scarcity nags and gnaws at the psyches even of those, like most of us engaging this sermon, who have plenty.

Week of the First Sunday of Christmas 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

In my youth, I had natural 20/20 vision. When I became an adult, that’s when I needed corrective lenses for a return to 20/20 visual acuity. Metaphorically speaking, it is also true that many times children and youth see things with greater truthfulness than adults. This is especially the case when it comes to matters of fairness, if not to say justice. Young people see clearly when portions are not divided evenly, and they are not afraid to speak up. Adults become distracted with many things and responsibilities which may hinder us from seeing our complex circumstances clearly. Or maybe we see things, but remain respectfully timid or passive about calling out what we see.

We are in the final days of the year 2020, a year which has seen many profound crises, a year which most, it seems, wish would just go away, not to be remembered or endured any more. Let this year be swept away from our mental, perceptual landscape we might say. Yet, this has been an unforgettable year. Nor should we forget it. It’s curious to me that in my fairly extensive reading of current social commentary, not many, at least in my reading, have made much of the play on words – 20/20 vision in the year 2020. (If in your reading, you’ve come across such word play, let me know where you saw it and when, for I’d love to know!) Maybe such linguistic play is too trite for the kinds of things I tend to read.

But I think it’s true that the year 2020, with its many inter-related crises, has provided the kinds of corrective hermeneutic lenses to enable us to see clearly realities that were perhaps more hidden – albeit in plain sight – before this year. In previous writings as your pastor, I’ve described this year as having apocalyptic aspects and dimensions. As I have observed before, apocalypse, etymologically speaking, has to do with unveiling, revealing deeper truths for all plainly to see.

First Sunday of Christmas, December 27, 2020
Luke 2:22-40

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

22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

    25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

    29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
        according to your word;
    30for my eyes have seen your salvation,
        31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
    32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
        and for glory to your people Israel.”
    33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

    36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

    39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

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

Todays’ gospel reading reveals, first of all, the devotion of Mary and Joseph to their Judaism and its practices, in this case, in bringing the child Jesus to Jerusalem for the rite of purification and to offer a customary sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” in dedicating their first-born son to God.

But this story also features the devotion of Simeon and Anna in waiting and watching for the coming of the Messiah.

Church tradition has focused mostly on Simeon and his song, the nunc dimittis, which is a centerpiece of daily prayer at night – “Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people…” (ELW, p. 324)

But it’s also crucial to focus on what else Simeon says, words more penetrating and perhaps foreboding than his song of rejoicing. Simeon in Luke adds this in speaking to Mary: “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)

That’s a heavy message for parents to hear, especially at Jesus’ very young age when people tend to focus on the innocence of babies and their being protected from the dangers of the world. Simeon’s words here are perhaps the first prediction, or at least suggestion, of Jesus’ Passion, his death and resurrection, in Luke’s gospel.

Moreover, Simeon suggests in Luke that this child, this Jesus who is light for revelation to the nations, and glory for Israel, will also stir some pots and trouble some waters in his living, and teaching and ministry. There will be opposition to him, the sword of pain will pierce mother Mary’s soul, and something about this Jesus will pierce through our self-deceptions to reveal our often-sinful inner thoughts.

Which is to say that Jesus will be a truth teller, and telling the truth will lead to trouble, as it often does, perhaps especially in the outing of people’s deeper, typically sinful and sinister motivations.

Nativity of our Lord, December 24-25, 2020

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us…” (John 1:14a) That’s one of the most compelling phrases in the Christian Bible, in a sentence summing up a crucial feature of the Christian message, that the Word that is God became human in Jesus of Nazareth.

This good news is central to what we celebrate on Christmas, the Nativity of our Lord Jesus who was born to Mary, God’s Word made flesh even as a baby.

But words become flesh all the time. Think of some of the phrases employed to describe people and their conditions and dispositions: “they are a stiff-necked people;” “some are hard-headed;” “others are hard-hearted;” still others may be pains in the you-know-what.”

Yes, these are metaphors, but it is also true that we carry in various regions of our bodies, in our flesh, meanings, memories, experiences, in short, words. Butterflies in the stomach, or worse, upset stomachs and ulcers, are signs of the stress and anxiety we carry, words and stories of worry we carry as symptoms in bodily regions.

We may well carry in the pits of our stomachs the voids, the literal pains of grief at having lost loved ones. Those loved ones have names, which, of course, are words. Words that make sentences and stories describe many of the physical pains we carry. Some call it psychosomatic, conditions hard, if not impossible sometimes, to diagnose. But the pains are real, as are the experiences we hold in our bodies and the stories we tell about them.

Our very bodily postures, being hunched over, for example, can reveal the burdens we carry and help tell the story of our struggles. Facial expressions speak volumes. Our eyes can reveal to some significant extant what’s going on in our hearts and minds, eyes being windows into the souls as some say.

Our bodies and our physical symptoms often tell the story of human failure to keep God’s will, God’s law. Our symptoms, when they are the result of cruel things that people do to each other, communicate the ill effects of sin in our lives and the realities of our finitude and mortality. It can feel like a lot of bad news in our flesh.

So yes, words become flesh all the time. The miracle of Christmas is not that a word became flesh in symptoms that we carry. No, Christmas is all about which Word becomes flesh, namely, the Word that is Godself in Jesus of Nazareth.

This Word lived and lives among us. The biblical Greek translated as “lives” in the prologue to John’s Gospel has to do with a booth, a tent, a tabernacle, but it’s used as a verb in John. That is to say, the Word of God tabernacled or tabernacles with us, or pitched a tent with us to accompany us on our life’s journeys.

And with this wonderful Word of good news, we receive the gifts of other words made flesh in the person, in the body, the visage of Jesus who is for us the face of the living God, the creator of all things.

These words of additional good news that Jesus carries in his flesh? Other words that are reported in the first chapter of John, the final reading for today:

  • Life
  • True light
  • Power that we might become children of God
  • Glory
  • Grace
  • Truth

These are good words, divine words which also live among us, dwell with us, made flesh in the church which is the body of Christ. Yes, the divine Word still is made flesh among us, still tabernacles with us, pitching the tent to join us on our journeys in the often-frail, imperfect, but nonetheless sacred realities of our life together in the church.

In the Christian life, Jesus’ words of good news find the words of bad news which we carry in our bodies and supersede them to tell a different story, even in our flesh.

In rigorous engagement with the scriptures, sacred words and stories find the deep places in our bodies for our healing, for our salvation, for the relief of what ails us. That’s why beloved biblical stories like the ones we hear at Christmas continue to speak with relevance and power even a couple thousand years after they were first written.

In the sacramental life of the church, in the gift of the Eucharist, that great gift of Christmas that, alas, we are not receiving this year, we literally incorporate the Word of good news into ourselves, eating and drinking the Word so that it may find us in our deepest places of need to begin to make us whole.

Moreover, Words of good news are made flesh in the holy conversations among God’s people, as we tabernacle together in the life of our congregation, giving words of grace and forgiveness to each other along the way.

Mary carried in her body the divine Word of Christ for nine months to give birth to this Word in and for the sake of the world. Mary is the model par excellence of Christian discipleship. Which is to say that we as current day disciples are also called to carry in our bodies divine words of grace for the sake of the world, to birth good news with others in our walk of faith and ministries in daily life, in our words and in our deeds.

In such ways via the presence of God’s people in the world, the gift of Christmas, of God’s Word made flesh, keeps on giving today even in our very troubled times.

Good Christian friends, rejoice therefore. For this is all good news indeed, on Christmas and every day. Amen.

Advent Evening Prayer

Please join us for live worship via Zoom as we pray Advent Evening Prayer this coming Wednesday at 7:00 pm.

  • The Zoom link is available via Constant Contact mailings. If you are not receiving Constant Contact mailings from the church office, then please contact the church office
  • Here is the bulletin: pdfAdvent Evening Prayer Bulletin for December 23, 2020
  • To ensure a worshipful spirit that minimizes background noises, kindly participate in spoken responses at home and singing the hymn with your device’s microphone on mute. Thank you.

Dear Friends in Christ

As you receive this reflection, we’re just a day beyond Winter Solstice, the official beginning of winter, the time with the least daylight of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. As I’ve gotten older, Winter Solstice has taken on increasing significance for me, because these days I seem more attuned to the effects of light and dark, of day and night on my dispositions. While I am drawn to the stillness of night and the contemplative evocativeness of darkness and its own magnificent beauty, I prefer the light, especially in winter. Perhaps I carry in my body the experience of generations of Scandinavian ancestors who endured long winters of freezing, snowy days with precious little sunlight. Even at the point of the Summer Solstice, when the daylight begins to fade at the start of summer, I become a bit wistful and am aware of a hint of foreboding of the coming winter of deep night. In contrast, I rejoice at the Winter Solstice, because then the fulcrum tips and the days start to become longer, even as winter officially commences.

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020
Luke 1:26-38

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

26In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin woman engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28And the angel came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by the angel’s words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his dominion there will be no end.” 34Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

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

Today’s gospel reading is the story of the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel brought the news that Mary would mysteriously become pregnant by the Holy Spirit to give birth to a most holy child indeed.

The chronology here is out of step on this Fourth Sunday of Advent as we approach the Christmas birth anniversary in just a few days. The other festival commemorating the Annunciation happens on March 25, nine months before Christmas, in keeping with the nine months of typical human pregnancy before giving birth.

Advent Evening Prayer

Please join us for live worship via Zoom as we pray Evening Prayer on the Wednesdays in Advent at 7:00 pm.

  • The Zoom link is available via Constant Contact mailings. If you are not receiving Constant Contact mailings from the church office, then please contact the church office.
  • Here is the bulletin: pdfAdvent Evening Prayer for December 16, 2020
  • To ensure a worshipful spirit that minimizes background noises, kindly participate in spoken responses at home and singing the hymn with your device’s microphone on mute. Thank you.

 

Dear Friends in Christ:

What a time to share in my first holiday season in Arlington – during the pandemic. Had Nathan not had his stroke in the autumn of 2019, I may well have begun my pastorate with you about this time a year ago. The grand plan was to have been in place in time for me to celebrate Christmas 2019 with you as your new pastor. The best laid plans of mice and mortals….

So here we are now, unable to gather in person during a most precious time of the year known for such gatherings. Even if we were able to worship indoors, in person with proper precautions, those precautions would preclude singing Christmas carols. A Christmas Eve service devoid of favorite hymns for Christmas would indeed be a much diminished and perhaps sad experience.

Our Advent Evening Prayer services via Zoom have been devotional lifelines for the 15 or so persons who participate. We are planning a special worship video to accompany the Home Worship resources we provide for Christmas – suitable for use either on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day. This resource will be in a lessons and carols format with six readings appointed for Christmas and six pieces by the choir along with six Christmas hymns, this, in addition to a homily and prayers of intercession.

At its recent meeting, the Congregation Council commended the possibility of a very brief Christmas Carol sing in person, outdoors, physically distanced with masks at 4:00 pm on Christmas Eve. Or if that is not feasible should the infection rates worsen dramatically in northern Virginia by Christmas and if the weather is inclement, our plan B is a carol sing by Zoom followed by a time for conversation with each other, a kind of virtual “coffee hour.” Watch your Constant Contact messages for what we will do as the day approaches.

Those are the programmatic plans for our congregation this Christmas, the skeleton, as it were, of our planned celebrations. But what about the qualitative dimensions of our preparations during these remaining days of Advent and of our observance of Christmas? How do we make the most of our truncated celebrations both in church and in the wider secular society?

It seems to me that an opportunity before us is to reclaim the holidays as Holy Days. The pandemic has indeed upended our lives and routines for many months. Now it’s doing the same with this season. The opportunity in this time of crisis has always been to refocus on what is most important in our lives. There have been such silver linings for the privileged amidst the coronavirus’ ravages among those most afflicted.

I have to confess that I do not miss the usual holiday commotion that often inundates and obscures the reasons for the season. Perhaps it’s a function of my advancing age, but as each year passes, I have less and less patience for the commercialized franticness that accompanies the wider society’s observance (or appropriation?) of Christmas. I just cannot do the shopping, the partying, the busyness, the noise of the way the wider society has engaged the holidays the way I used to.

Frankly, I am drawn to the simpler, perhaps more subdued spirit of the season this year. It’s as if the clutter has cleared from the horizon opening up vistas to see again the holiness of these days – again, reclaiming the holidays as holy days.

Which is to say, in our perhaps less cluttered schedules this season, there is more occasion and room for devotional engagement, and for sitting quietly, prayerfully in holy contemplation of the mysteries of the Word of God made flesh in Jesus the Christ, whose birth among mortals we celebrate at Christmas.

Moreover, there are twelve days of Christmas to look to, and on many of those days, there are particular lesser festivals and commemorations in the church’s calendar: Stephen, Deacon and Martyr (December 26); John, Apostle and Evangelist (December 27, transferred this year to the 29th since the 27th is a Sunday); The Holy Innocents, Martyrs (December 28); Name of Jesus (January 1st). That you may observe these days devotionally, I commend again for your use More Days of Praise: Festivals and Commemorations in Evangelical Lutheran Worship by our own member, Gail Ramshaw, who offers both information about these occasions and suggestions for prayer, praise, and singing on these days.

Thus, we have opportunities before us during the coming Holy Days, a seasonal observance perhaps unlike any others in our lifetimes. By God’s grace and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may we be led to make the spiritual most of the days before us in the comparative simplicity induced by the pandemic. I, for one, and for example, have claimed more occasions just to sit quietly with the cats as together we gaze contemplatively at fires in the parsonage fireplace, now made safely functional again after a liner was installed in the chimney (for which I give thanks). Fire is primal and elemental. Sitting before the hearth calls to mind millennia of human beings gathered before fires in tribal villages. The fires before me in the parsonage living room also call to mind the new fire lit at the Easter Vigil, expressing Christ’s victorious light in conquering the night of death. Gazing at the fire is a grounding experience as a human being, but also transcendent as we celebrate the divine, eternal light of Christ.

May you find such occasions for devotion in the coming Holy Days.

Prayerfully in the warming, saving light of Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Third Sunday of Advent, December 13, 2020
John 1:6-8, 19-28

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

6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

    19This is the testimony given by John when the Judeans sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20John confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23John said,

    “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,

    ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said.

    24Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

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

There are many compelling verses among the readings appointed for today, passages full of en-Spirited energies. But the one that draws most of my attention is this, when John the Baptizer responds to the queries of the Pharisees about his identity and what he was up to: “Among you stands one whom you do not know…”

John said this of Jesus, “the one who [was] coming after [him]; the thong of whose sandal [he] was not worthy to untie.” (cf. John 1:26-27)

The religious leaders who were sent to John to interrogate him about who he was were not at the time curious about Jesus. They wanted to know if John was the Messiah. And if not the Messiah, then a return of Elijah. And if not Elijah, then one of the other prophets.

John answered no to all of the above. Then the religious leaders asked with perhaps some exasperation: “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John’s response was to quote the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

That says a lot, but it’s still not a very direct or straightforward answer which no doubt only added to the frustration of the leaders who needed to know.

There’s a lot of mystery, vagueness and uncertainty in the atmosphere of the reading for today from John’s Gospel.

There was a lot of mystery and uncertainty in the religious milieu of John’s and Jesus’ day and decades later when John’s Gospel and the other Gospels were written. In Jesus’ day, there were various religious movements in Jewish territory occupied by the Roman Empire. By the time John’s Gospel was written, the temple had been destroyed altering the nature of Judaism and Christianity was beginning to emerge. All of this change made for social and religious turmoil and uncertainty.

There’s a lot of mystery and uncertainty today all around us amidst the changes and chances of life in the twenty-first century. We live this everyday in one way or another. And reports of change and turmoil fill headlines in the 24 hour news cycles.

In uncertain times, it is human nature to seek after certainty. Enquiring minds want to know. We want to be in control. Knowing and understanding helps this sense of feeling in control.

Advent Evening Prayer

Please join us for a new venture of live worship via Zoom as we pray Evening Prayer on the Wednesdays in Advent at 7:00 pm:

  • The Zoom link is available via Constant Contact mailings. If you are not receiving Constant Contact mailings from the church office, then please contact the church office.
  • Here is the bulletin: pdfAdvent Evening Prayer Bulletin for December 9, 2020
  • To ensure a worshipful spirit that minimizes background noises, kindly participate in spoken responses at home and singing the hymn with your device’s microphone on mute. Thank you.

 

Dear Friends in Christ:

Advent is perhaps my favorite season of the church year, though I love them all. When I talk with pastor colleagues, they often agree that Advent is their favorite season, too. Why is that? Speaking for myself, part of Advent’s appeal is that many of my favorite hymns are appointed for this season – “Prepare the Royal Highway,” “Rejoice, Rejoice Believers,” “Comfort, Comfort Now My People,” “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You?” But it’s not just the hymns.

Another compelling feature is that Advent is one of the liturgical times of the year that has a decidedly future focus. Yes, one major aspect of Advent is preparation for and anticipation of Christmas when we celebrate the Word having been made flesh long ago. At the same time, though, Advent also looks to Christ’s coming again in a future determined only by God, a coming that promises to usher in the fullness, the completeness of God’s reign, God’s dominion in Christ Jesus. It’s a promise of a new heaven and a new earth. For the frustrated idealist in me, such a promised future engenders a renewed sense of hope for a better world in which all of God’s children and creatures will know God’s sholom, sacred and holistic well-being, the divine commonwealth. Looking for a healthier, more whole world is especially poignant this year, 2020, which many report that they are eager to leave behind.

Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2020
Mark 1:1-8

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

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

    “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
        who will prepare your way;
    3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
        ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
        make straight the paths of the Lord,’ ”

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “After me one who is more powerful than I is coming; the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I have baptized you with water; but the one who is coming will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

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

Like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread, I want to share with you how I am drawn to receive the power of the holy scriptures and how they find their way into the deep places of our lives for our healing.

Advent Evening Prayer

Please join us for a new venture of live worship via Zoom as we pray Evening Prayer on the Wednesdays in Advent at 7:00 pm.

  • The Zoom link is available via Constant Contact mailings. If you are not receiving Constant Contact mailings from the church office, then please contact the church office.
  • Here is the bulletin: pdfAdvent Evening Prayer Bulletin for December 2, 2020
  • To ensure a worshipful spirit that minimizes background noises, kindly participate in spoken responses at home and singing the hymn with your device’s microphone on mute. Thank you.

 

Dear Friends in Christ:

One of my early midweek messages, written just after I had taken up residence at the parsonage in mid-May, offered reflections on the natural seasons and growing cycles in relation to our life together as a congregation. This message was inspired by my devotional time sitting on the parsonage deck literally watching our garden grow, Resurrection Church’s “Plot Against Hunger,” which generates fresh produce for the benefit of those in need in our area.

At that time, our garden was just in the process of being planted. It was important and life-giving for me to engage on occasion our volunteers who offered their expertise and labor in our garden. This was an important way for me to begin to get to know some of our members outdoors, maintaining a safe distance during the pandemic.

Preparing and planting the garden also inspired my reflection on our life together as a congregation during this most unusual time of refraining from what congregations do, namely, congregate in person. In that midweek message early in my time here, I reflected on the importance in gardening of fallow seasons and of periods of dormancy, times for the ground to regain its nutrient-rich capacities, times to envision and prepare for the next growing season. I concluded that such fallow and dormant periods are an essential dimension of the whole gardening endeavor, and I suggested that our church’s pandemic-induced dormant period was a time for envisioning what our life together as a congregation might be in this emerging new period of Resurrection’s mission and ministry.

The seasons come and go. I arrived in the spring, have enjoyed the summer, and now we’re entering the waning days of autumn, anticipating the beginning of winter on the day of solstice around December 21. In terms of the church’s seasons, I took up residence during Eastertide. We celebrated Pentecost and have plowed our way through the entire season of ordinary time after Pentecost. Now it’s Advent, a new year liturgically speaking.

First Sunday of Advent, November 29, 2020
Mark 13:24-37

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

Jesus said: 24“In those days, after that suffering,

   the sun will be darkened,

         and the moon will not give its light,

   25and the stars will be falling from heaven,

         and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26Then they will see ‘the Son-of-Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then the Son-of-Man will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It is like someone going on a journey, who leaving home and putting the slaves in charge of their own work, commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the lord of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36or else coming suddenly, the lord may find you asleep. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

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

“Almighty God grant us a quiet night and peace at the last.” That’s how Compline, or Night Prayer, begins. Compline is the last prayer office of the day in the monastery before monks return to their cells for sleep. Night Prayer begins the period of Great Silence, when no talk is undertaken until silence is broken the next morning.

This opening statement of Night Prayer asks for a good night’s rest. But it also points to the end of life, our death. Each day in the monastery spiritually is a mini life cycle when retiring for bed is a symbol of our own death.

Another version of the opening sentence of Night Prayer is more abrupt: “The Lord Almighty grant us a peaceful night and a perfect end.”

The remembrance of our mortality is a healthy feature of the Christian spiritual life, especially when such acknowledgment deepens our faith and trust in almighty God. Night Prayer is not just for monks – we can pray it, too, and there is an order for Night Prayer in Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Likewise, we all, not just monks, need reminders of our mortality to be spiritually healthy.

Week of Christ the King 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

Thanks to all who responded to our recent survey concerning our life together as a congregation during this difficult time of the pandemic. Paul Bastuscheck, who faithfully oversees our Constant Contact communications efforts, has helpfully summarized the results of this survey to members of the congregation. His overview is as follows:

“A survey was administered to RELC Members by email on November 1 and they were given one week to respond. There were 44 total respondents. Overall participants felt that RELC was doing a good job adapting to a virtual worship-at-home format. What they said they missed the most was social interaction of in-person worship and a sense of community. People indicated that they wanted more connections with fellow members with virtual coffee hours, and introducing more Zoom groups to attend. Respondents also indicted they wanted more outdoor, socially distanced worship, communion and ways to meet in-person with Pastor Linman and other members. When asked, 55% of members said they would be willing to return to indoor worship with safety precautions. 68% of members also indicated that they would not be interested in a virtual 5K run for Thanksgiving.

Members generally gave Pastor Linman good reviews and appreciated the way he has guided the church during the past 8-months. Many also indicated that they wanted more in-person outreach to get to know the pastor better. Ideas included Virtual Zoom meetings, phone calls, in-person socially distanced meetings using the front porch of the parsonage, walks in the neighbourhood and Pastor led classes in appropriate formats.”

I am glad for this helpful overview and summary even as I am thankful for the particular comments of individual respondents. These responses both in summary and in particular will guide my own discernment about how we can undertake life together in Christ in the coming weeks and months. Some very good ideas were offered in the responses, even as the survey results will also serve as a foundation for future creative ideas and approaches.

Here is a listing of some current and future plans for initiatives which address many of the concerns and desires expressed in people’s responses. Some of what follows was already in the planning works. Other items are new possibilities based on the survey results.

Christ the King, November 22, 2020
Matthew 25:31-46

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

Jesus said: 31“When the Son-of-Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the dominion prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and the devil’s angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

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

Today is the culminating day in the church year, the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Christ the King, when we are invited to contemplate the nature of Christ’s reign and rule.

So it is that the gospel reading appointed for today is the parable of the judgment of the nations, where the Son of Man in glory separates, as it were, the sheep from the goats, rewarding some and sending the others to punishment. In wonderful ways, appointing this parable for Christ the King turns upside down our expectations concerning kingship, monarchial rule.

In short, the message becomes clear that Christ’s throne as ruler is not in some gilded palace. No, Christ’s throne is down and dirty among the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the naked, the sick, the prisoners – in short, among the least of those who are members of the Son of Man’s family.

Week of the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

We’ve been undertaking worship at home for some eight months now. Given the trajectory of the pandemic in what is clear is a nationwide intensified outbreak, we are likely to be worshiping at home for some time to come, even as we are also now holding brief services outdoors every two weeks in conjunction with the collection of food for the AFAC food pantry.

Worship at home is for many of us a solitary venture, even if we share common resources. I engage the materials by myself on Sunday mornings just before turning my attention to creating a first draft of my sermon for the next Sunday. I preach by myself in the pastor’s office in the church focused on the tiny blue-gray dot that is the camera lens on my laptop computer.

You may have your own solitary practices at home, or do home worship with your spouse or your family as a “pod” safely protected, but disconnected from others in our congregation. Even if your family, as a small gathering, worships together at home, it cannot compare with our full assemblies that we have known and enjoyed on Sunday mornings – and will again, we pray, sooner rather than later! It can seem so long ago….

So, we undertake worship at home separated from each other as a congregation. But providing resources for worship at home is far from a solitary endeavor. In fact, it is very much a communal effort of members and staff at Resurrection Church. Some members have wondered with me about how our home worship resources are crafted and produced. It is indeed a labor-intensive effort that is a focal point for our life together as a congregation, even if those efforts are largely unseen by most members of our church.

By way of illustrating the communal nature of this endeavor, here’s a description of how we put it all together to make the home worship resources available to you each week. Hymns are chosen well in advance and orders of worship are drafted under my care and in consultation with members of the Worship and Music Committee. Our Office Administrator, Monika Carney, then puts the well-crafted bulletin together. Member, Gordon Lathrop, conceived the basic order of worship that we employ even before I arrived on the scene as pastor. He also writes weekly the brief summary paragraph in the bulletin that helpfully weaves the themes of the lectionary readings together for our reflection. Member, Gail Ramshaw, beautifully crafts our prayers of intercession which speak to the current needs and opportunities of our days in church, nation and world, drawing on the themes of the lectionary passages for each Sunday. I should also say that Gordon and Gail’s resources are made available to everyone in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and are used in some cases even internationally.

Member, Kim Harriz, is the one who makes the calls to secure other members to serve as readers and leaders of prayer. She has done an excellent job of recruiting a wide and diverse representation of RELC members, sometimes whole families, and sometimes members who have not taken leadership roles in worship before. Our member readers and prayer leaders then create their video recordings to be uploaded for editing for the home worship video.

Our interim music director, Barbara Verdile, creates her lovely musical meditations and renditions of the psalm in our church’s nave. She also rehearses with our choir each week, and choir members then generate their own individual video and audio recordings of the hymns and anthems which are then sent to Barbara who weaves it all together for a single, ensemble choral experience online.

Once the individual video files are created by me, our readers and prayer leaders and Barbara and our choristers, then one of our videographers – either members Carson Brooke, Daniel Cuesta or Lizzy Schoen – puts the video and audio files together, editing it all into the watch-through video which accompanies the bulletin materials, and individual video files.

Also accompanying the resources for home worship are Angie Brooke’s weekly children’s messages and Amanda Lindamood’s weekly resources for faith formation at home. I commend these resources for use by adults, too, as they are salutary not just for our children and youth!

Once the resources are compiled, Barbara and I take a final look at the worship video, suggest any editorial changes, and ultimately approve it for distribution. That’s when member Chris Smith makes our many resources available on our church website and member Paul Bastuscheck crafts a message with links to the materials in the Constant Contact message that goes out to our members. Office Administrator, Monika, also sends out hard copies of our home worship resources to those members who do not have access to computers or internet.

So, you can see that crafting and compiling and sending our home worship resources each week is quite the team effort, again, largely unseen by most congregation members. I’ve tried here to give a comprehensive overview of the work we do each week. Kindly let me know if I have overlooked any parts of the process and any of the participants!

Thus, I want to thank our unsung heroes of home worship at RELC for their many, many efforts, for all the hours and energy expended over the course of these eight months and counting. Thousand thanks to our many worship team leaders and those in the choir who sing and the many members who have served as readers and prayer leaders! And thanks be to God for these efforts. It is popularly said that the word “liturgy” can basically be understood as “the work of the people.” This reality is very much conveyed and embodied in the many members who offer themselves in the service of our current practices of worship at home. It’s far from a solitary endeavor! It’s also true that many hands make for lighter work, for which I am thankful.

My prayer is that this recounting of what goes into making our home worship resources available each week will deepen and enhance your experience and practice of worship at home. My prayer is also that your awareness of the communal nature of our shared efforts will help you feel connected with other members of our congregation even when worship at home might otherwise be a rather solitary endeavor that happens apart from our longed-for assemblies in person.

With deep and abiding appreciation in Christ Jesus for all who lead and serve our home worship life,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Pentecost 24A, November 15, 2020
Matthew 25:14-30

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

Jesus said: 14“For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ 21His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 22And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ 23His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ 24Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ 26But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 28So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. 29For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. 30As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ ”

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

Today is our stewardship Sunday when we ask to receive in various ways and formats your pledges to financially support Resurrection Church in the coming year. On first glance, what a perfect coincidence it is that today we have the parable of the talents from Matthew as our gospel reading for the day. A talent in the Bible is an ancient unit of weight that measures value. So, a biblical talent is more about money than about a gift or skill, as in the way we use the word ‘talent’ in English.

A once-over-lightly reading of the parable of the talents suggests that it prescribes a strategy for investment. Those entrusted with talents by the wealthy man who went away on a journey were not instructed what to do with their talents. They had to take their own initiative. Two of the three servants invested their talents and made more talents. One dug a hole and buried the talent. The first two were rewarded. The last who hid the talent was condemned.

The seemingly clear message? Be bullish with your talents and your investment strategies. Be bold and you’ll win, and you will be rewarded by the wealthy man upon his return. In contrast, timidity has no place in the divine investment scheme of things. In fact, timidity will be punished.

Week of the Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost 2020
“Some Results are In – Now What?”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Well, we know some of the results of the recent elections. We have a president-elect, though some dispute that. The Senate remains up for grabs in terms of which party holds the majority. We do not yet know how transitions will proceed. Unknowns persist.

But one clear outcome of the elections is the revelation of the extent of apparent divisions in our nation, how evenly divided we are even down to razor thin margins in some areas. Red states and blue states. Urban and rural. Coasts and the country’s midsections. White and persons of color. Republican and Democrat. In the minds of many, winners and losers. A house divided cannot stand…. What remains to be seen is what our current divisions may lead to in the coming weeks, months, and years.

It may well be that the extent of our divisions is at some level actively curated by various entrenched interests that seek to divide the populace in the service of the protection of their interests. Divide and conquer as an age-old strategy which various “powers that be” have enacted across the globe throughout the centuries. Keeping people on edge is good for ratings and thus advertisers. Keeping people anxious and angry is the most seductively easy way to lead, and this is true on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum.

But I wonder if our country’s people are as divided as various media would have us believe. If we could turn down the volume on the cacophonous political rhetoric, again on both sides of the spectrum, if we could strip discourse of ideological labels and jargon, again on both the left and right, I wonder if we could discover more common ground.

Pentecost 23A, November 8, 2020
Matthew 25:1-13 

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

Jesus said: 1“Then the dominion of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ 7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ 9But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ 10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Sir, sir, open to us.’ 12But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

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

Seasons are changing all around us. Autumn is definitely in the air. The days are shorter and cooler. Winter is coming.

We’ve just had our national elections, ending seemingly interminable seasons of campaigning. Whatever the forthcoming final results and other outcomes of the elections, this will be a new season in our life together as a nation.

We are also entering a new season with the pandemic as the weather cools and people are spending more time indoors. Covid cases are surging throughout the world and nation, where we are in the midst of a third wave of the disease.

In the rhythms of the seasons of the church year, we are also approaching the end of an annual cycle. A new liturgical calendar will begin on the First Sunday in Advent at the end of this month.

Week of the Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost 2020
“Formation for Our Witness to the World – Especially Now”

Dear Friends in Christ:

As you receive this message, we await the outcome of the elections. Whatever the results will be, the days, weeks, and months that lie before us will undoubtedly present us with challenges on many different fronts. We will need to be well-equipped for offering to the world confident, hopeful Christian witness. Thus, our particular season in our life together as church and nation calls for intensified efforts concerning adult Christian education and formation. Being formed in the faith for the work that God has entrusted to us for the sake of the world is not just for children and youth, especially now. Thus, I am committed as your Pastor to shepherding occasions and resources for adult Christian education in our congregation. I envision Resurrection as a community in which people of all ages and in varieties of family circumstances routinely engage together in various opportunities for Christian education that not only inform the mind, but form the heart and character for our ministry in daily life. The world needs our mature, faithful Christian witness that has been well-formed by lifelong Christian education.

These weekly messages from me are one way that I seek to live into a vision for expanded ministries of education and formation. I intentionally address a wide array of topics that reflect the comprehensive nature of our ministry and mission. I am most heartened when you engage me in conversation with your responses to these messages – via email, in person, on the phone. Let’s be in dialogue. Disagree with me when you feel moved, and don’t be afraid to let me know. I delight in such engagement, as it affords me the opportunity to elaborate on topics, going beyond where I can go in just a couple of pages of essay. I also welcome your suggestions of topics for future messages.

Another expansion of opportunities for adult education and formation are Bible Studies that incorporate lectio divina as a format for engaging the scriptures in studied and devotional ways that attend to both head and heart. In addition to a group that meets with me via Zoom on Thursday mornings at 11:00 every other week, a second and newer group meets on Monday evenings at 6:30 to explore Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. To date, about 15 people – a very heartening number – have committed to joining in this conversation. And I am pleasantly surprised that lectio divina as a format for engaging scripture works rather well via Zoom. It’s not too late to join in these opportunities – see specifics in the weekly announcement message.

Also heartening is the commitment to exploring racism in our church and nation and how we can be better formed to seek an end to this injustice. About 15 Resurrection members have committed to participating in monthly discussions of Pastor Lenny Duncan’s book, Dear Church: A Love Letter From a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the U.S. Because of the provocative nature of Pastor Duncan’s prophetic witness, we incorporate prayerful, spiritual practices into these discussions to keep us tethered to the peace of God which rests within us and among us as we move forward in conversation. In addition to these monthly book discussions, there are also the monthly Friday evening film screenings on works which also seek to widen our horizons about racism. These film screenings are intentionally intergenerational. Again, see the coming announcement messages for further information.

Furthermore, we have a number of members who are very capable teachers. While I may shepherd our adult education and formation initiatives as Pastor, I am certainly not the only one who will teach. As one shining example, consider our member, Gail Ramshaw, who has written voluminously in the service of the church and its witness over many decades. Since we just celebrated All Saints Day, and I have recently commended to you our Lutheran calendar of commemorations of the saints, I call to your attention a book that Gail wrote which helps us derive spiritual benefit from the many commemorations on our calendar: More Days for Praise: Festivals and Commemorations in Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Augsburg Fortress 2016). This lovely work contains information about each person commemorated along with devotional aids to help us gain a palpable sense that we are indeed surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as we run the race that is set before us, ever looking to Jesus, to whom the saints point.

In short, we are attending to the life of the mind and heart at Resurrection Church, even when we cannot meet in person, so that we can be formed to proclaim a word of healing and hope to the world. I don’t think I’m misreading things, but I sense a good deal of energy and desire for occasions and resources for adult and intergenerational education and formation. Again, the number of participants is heartening to me, as are the resources and persons available to us. I also look forward to opportunities to expand on these current offerings. I am especially interested in exploring new formats for engaging in communal discernment about topics which generally create a lot of tension in our wider society. My prayer is that Resurrection Church in community will embody the kind of loving, respectful dialogue that is typically absent in other civic arenas currently. May our congregation grow to be a model for such respectful dialogue, especially when we can agree to disagree and still remain in genuine Christian community. For the church, as an embodiment of the dominion of God in Christ, is not a club for the like-minded. Rather, the church is inherently a very diverse community united in Christ for the world’s healing and salvation.

May God in Christ guide us in our holy conversations to form us for the work that God has entrusted to us for the sake of our broken world,

Pastor Jonathan Linman