Pastor Jonathan Linman

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

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

As the scriptural witness lives on and continues to form and inform our life together, Jesus continues to appoint us – you, and me – and all the baptized children of God to be sent on missionary journeys to the places Jesus intends to go just as he appointed the seventy in the days of old as we heard in today’s gospel from Luke.

You and I have been on such a missionary journey together for two years, and some months, and now we are parting ways – you remaining here, and I venturing westward for the congregational call in Phoenix to be near my son.

When our paths coincided back in 2019, we said in essence to each other, “Peace to this house!” And I believe that we have shared in that peace, the peace of Christ, during our sojourn together.

And you can be sure that in my leave-taking, I will not be wiping off any dust that clings to my feet in protest of you or of this place.

In keeping with the message from today’s gospel reading from Luke and Jesus’ instructions found therein, we have shared this journey with focus on proclamation in word and deed that the “dominion of God has come near to us.” And we have known the nearness of that dominion, I believe, in our life together.

Now there is another sending, me to Phoenix, and you to whatever is in store in the next chapter of your life together as Resurrection Lutheran Church.

To be sure, we enter into anxious times, both you and I. Thus, Jesus’ words recorded in Luke perhaps haunt us: “Go on our way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals….”

This sounds dangerous and quite austere and minimalist. Will there be enough for the journey? Can we rely on others to give us the provisions we need to survive, if not to thrive? Will there be an appropriate interim pastor available to you at this time? Will there be the pastoral candidates you need for such a time as this? I, too, am embarking on a call to a congregation that has its own share of challenges and struggles amidst a time of significant economic uncertainty and plenty of national and international crises to keep us awake at night.

It’s quite the leap of faith that we are undertaking in our different ways. And our provisions for the journey may at first seem scarce.
In these anxious, uncertain times that we share in our own ways, we may take some comfort in Isaiah’s prophetic words of promise and restoration from today’s first reading: “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for the city, all you love her; rejoice with Jerusalem in joy, all you who mourn over her – that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom. For thus says the Lord: I will extend prosperity to Jerusalem like a river, and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream; and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm, and dandled on her knees….”

What lovely, comforting words: the promise of the restoration of the holy city and with abundance and with a loving embrace as from a mother for her children.

Throughout the many Christian centuries of reading the prophets like Isaiah through Christocentric lenses, seeing Christ in the prophetic word, the church, the body of Christ, has been viewed as a new manifestation of the holy city Jerusalem. This place, this assembly is our holy city.

Thus, when we hear with the ears of faith that we are promised to nurse as at a mother’s breast in this holy city, we may hear overtones of the Holy Supper, the Eucharist, when we eat and drink from the body of our saving mother, Christ.

When we hear that the prosperity of the holy city extends like a river, and that wealth is offered up like an overflowing stream, we might think of the waters of baptism which indeed give us life abundant, grace overflowing without end.

Then, just when we’re overcome with fears of scarcity – will we have what we need? – we come to our senses and realize anew that here in this place is in fact God’s abundance to feed us, to nurse us, to quench our thirst, with plenty left over for us to feed and nourish the nations.

That is good news indeed. Just what we need for times like these.

And if we become overconfident in our own doings as the returning seventy did when they were impressed that the spirits submitted to them in their healing and exorcisms, Christ is here in the word to remind us: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Indeed, our names are close to the heart of God ever since we were claimed as God’s children by name, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit in the overflowing waters of grace at the font.

And likewise, if we run into trouble in Christian community and there is conflict in the life together, as there clearly was at the church in Galatia which Paul was addressing in today’s second reading, the Spirit speaks through the words of the apostle to remind us: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [the controversy that captivated the church in Galatia] is anything; but a new creation [in Christ] is everything!”

Thus it is that in Christ, here in this place, Sunday after Sunday without fail, we are given what we need to be sent on our missionary journeys despite the nagging sense of austerity and scarcity and danger that the logic of the world imposes on us. For once again, in Christ, we have absolutely everything we ultimately need for the journey, whether the journey takes us here or there.

Thus, with our sometimes-feeble faith renewed, we go out on our way to feed the world with the same mother’s milk that we receive here from Christ in the word and in the sacraments ever proclaiming that the dominion of God has indeed come near to us in Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Peter and Paul, Apostles
June 29, 2022

Dear People of God at Resurrection Lutheran Church:

After much prayerful deliberation and holy conversations with many of you individually and communally, I have decided to accept the call to serve as pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona. Thus, with numerous mixed emotions and with a heavy heart, I announce to you my resignation as pastor of Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church.

I am deeply appreciative of the past week and a half, a time that has afforded us occasion to engage together in this final phase of my discernment of call. The conversations and communications we have had together during these days have been enormously helpful and important, even as they have been difficult to undertake. I heard what I believe is a full range of thought and opinion from you, though I am also aware that not everyone claimed the opportunity to be in conversation and that perhaps some may not have spoken the fullness of what was on their hearts and minds. But the net effect of our conversations has been a confirmation of my sense of call to transition to engage the pastorate of Faith Church while also undertaking the daily opportunities of being father to Nathan all in the same geographic locale in central Phoenix. Many of you expressed understanding of and respect for the claims of being dad and pastor, and the desirability of fulfilling these responsibilities in the same place.

During our conversations in the past several days, I also unmistakably heard and felt the weight of the effect this decision will have on you and the congregation, especially with the need to engage in another call process so soon after the process to call me as pastor of Resurrection Church. Thus, my decision has been a difficult one to make, even as the call before me offers promise to reintegrate and reunite the parental and pastoral dimensions of my vocation.

My decision is also difficult because I have such high regard for you individually and together as a congregation. Please know that everything that drew me to serving as your pastor remains in place and my view of you has not changed. That is to say, you and the congregation embody great gifts and promise in the service of God’s mission. Though our time together has been brief, I will forever cherish you and my time as pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church. Therefore, I will grieve deeply in response to my leave-taking.

This letter announcing my resignation is being sent also to the Bishop’s Office of the Metropolitan Washington DC Synod, who will be in contact with Resurrection Congregation leaders about next steps during this time of transition. The Congregation Council and I, in consultation with the Bishop’s Office and leaders at Faith Church in Phoenix, will determination the timeline for the coming weeks and the official termination date of our time together. Thus, additional information is forthcoming.

While our paths are separating, we are nonetheless undertaking together a leap of faith into God’s promised future and whatever is in store for us. May we be emboldened to claim the grace-filled promise expressed in Dag Hammarskjöld’s brief prayer, a prayer that helped draw me to Resurrection Church and a prayer that continues to inform next steps in the life of faith and of service: “For all that has been, thanks; for all that is to come, yes.”

May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Third Sunday after Pentecost, Luke 9:51-62

So many stories in the Bible involve the nomadic nature of human life. The people of Israel spend forty years traveling in the wilderness after their liberation from slavery until at last they reach the promised land.

Jesus’ ministry takes him and his disciples from place to place. The book of Acts and the letters of Paul tell of the missionary journeys of the apostles and their establishing churches in various cities throughout the ancient Near Eastern world.

Indeed, the whole story of humanity is one of migration, of our species’ spread to the farthest points on the planet. Some of this migration has been propelled by curiosity – wanderlust. Most of it has been driven by need, as we continue to see today throughout the world with refugees fleeing war and oppression, famine, and now the ravages of a changing climate.

Ultimately, we are all descended from immigrants. Moreover, our life journeys have taken us from place to place for education, jobs, and more. Many of you have served abroad in your careers in the military or state department and other careers.

I, myself, have lived in eight different states during my six decades. And I will soon make a decision that would result in my journey having taken me to nine states.

Amidst all of this is Jesus’ invitation to us, “Follow me.” Responding to Jesus’ invitation can take us to places that we least expect and on journeys characterized by some itineracy. For as Luke records in today’s gospel, Jesus observed, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”

Jesus said this in response to someone accompanying Jesus on the road, on a journey, who exclaimed perhaps with some naïve exuberance, Lord “I will follow you wherever you go.”

The other exchanges in today’s gospel reveal how the human condition inevitably interferes with Jesus’ invitation to follow him. In the recounting, Jesus bid others on the road to follow him. One person’s response was this: “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Then another bargained, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

Jesus’ response to these folk and their bargaining reveals the uncompromising claims of Jesus’ call to discipleship: “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the dominion of God.” And: “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the dominion of God.”

And yet, on our own, we’re stuck in the ambivalence of competing claims and desires, captive to the reality that we are simultaneously saints and sinners with circumstances that are complicated which make it impossible for us by ourselves to will one thing (the very definition of purity of heart according to Soren Kierkegaard). With our wills in bondage, captive to competing claims, we persist in various forms of ambivalence, again, when we’re left to our own devices.

As for me, it’s the competing claims of my commitments to you as pastor of Resurrection Church and then also the claims of the fatherhood of my son, both of which arguably involve my discipleship of Jesus Christ, my responses to Jesus’ invitation to follow him.

And you have your own stories to tell about difficult junctures in your lives where decisions had to be made, decisions that have great effects on the lives, circumstances, and well-being of others. We tremble at the precipice of making such decisions for good reason, stuck as we are amidst the competing claims of our responsibilities.

But here’s the thing: only Christ, not us, can set his face to Jerusalem, the place of cross and empty tomb, of death and resurrection, without looking back.

And because Christ goes to Jerusalem without ambivalence, hesitancy, or a conflicted will (though he had his moments – “Let this cup pass from me, but not my will, but yours be done, O God”) – because Christ’s face was set to Jerusalem in such a way that resulted in his death and new life, we, then, are liberated by grace, mercy, and forgiveness, and freed from our own bondage to our compromised capacities to follow and to serve. This freedom is ultimately available to us only in Christ Jesus.

So it is that Paul can write in Galatians, today’s second reading, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Which is to say that forgiveness, mercy, grace, and all the blessings that flow from Christ’s death and resurrection are available to us, to you, to me, wherever we happen to be and whether we stay or go in our nomadic journeys of both life and discipleship.

And every Sunday, here, there, or the other place, becomes a new occasion for emancipation, for freedom, for release from our various forms of captivity.
At the font we are given the gift of absolution, of forgiveness, of being set free from our captivity to sin. In this place of the proclamation of the gospel, the word emancipates us, breaking through our conflicted wills, to set our face also to the cross of Christ and the empty tomb, our source of freedom. At the table of the Eucharistic feast we hear again and again Jesus’ own words, “given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sin,” and in eating and drinking receive the reality that the words signify.

I’m drawn in particular to today’s reading from 1 Kings in light of our gospel and second readings which gives us the chance to see the story of Elijah’s call to Elisha through Christian lenses. Elisha was engaged in his work of plowing with a dozen oxen when the call came. Unlike Jesus, it seems Elijah let Elisha return home to say goodbye to his father and mother.

But then in response to Elijah’s call and in quite the dramatic act, Elisha slaughtered the oxen and used the plowing implements, the sources of his livelihood, to start a fire to make a feast for the people so that they could all eat and be fed. Only then did Elisha leave to follow Elijah.

So it is that, following the example of Jesus, who made do with what he had, namely his own body dead, slaughtered, on the tree and alive again out of the tomb, we make do with bread and wine, ordinary gifts of creation, that Christ’s body and blood become for us a feast to feed us for the journey, wherever it happens to take us, that we may also feed a hungry world.

In this place, through these means of grace, is our freedom to do the best we can in our attempts to follow Christ, day by day, one step at a time, trusting in the forgiveness and mercy of God, and using our freedom in Christ to serve our neighbors wherever they are and whoever they may be.

Again, here’s Paul in today’s second reading: “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Thus, journeying in the Spirit, by God’s mercy and grace in Christ, our serving each other and our neighbors beyond these walls, has the possibility of reflecting the features of life in the Spirit, namely, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

May it be so among us as we continue this journey in the coming days, trusting that, whatever the outcomes, Christ’s mercy remains with us, follows us wherever we go, here or there. Thus, we make our way, ever falling into the merciful, loving, forgiving arms of God in Christ, the only source of true freedom. God in Christ help us in the power of the Spirit. Amen.

Message from Pastor Linman
Monday, June 20, 2022

Dear People of God at Resurrection Church:

Yesterday, June 19, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, the people of Faith Lutheran Church in Phoenix, Arizona extended a call to me to serve as their pastor. I have not yet made a decision about this call, for I wish to engage you, the leaders and members of Resurrection Church, in this final stage of my discernment. I take my commitments to you and my call to Resurrection very seriously, and you have not yet had occasion to offer your voice in this communal discernment process.

In the coming days, there will be various occasions for us to be in discerning, holy conversation together about what is before us. This coming Thursday evening, I will meet with our Congregation Council to learn their thoughts and views and feelings and to offer further information. Then also, this coming Sunday, June 26, I propose that we spend time together after worship in the parish hall during coffee hour so that all members of the congregation can have occasion likewise to express their views and concerns. Additionally, I invite anyone who wishes to have a one-on-one conversation with me – in person, on the phone, via email, or Zoom – to let me know so that we can arrange a time and format to be in conversation.

Once we have had these occasions to engage each other, I will offer to you and to Faith Church in Phoenix my decision about call on Wednesday, June 29.

Now a word about what has led us to this point. Earlier in this calendar year, the Bishop of the Grand Canyon Synod invited me to consider the possibility of a call to Faith Church, so I entered into a period of serious discernment. This invitation came as a surprise to me, as I fully anticipated when I accepted the call here that I would conclude my pastoral career with you at Resurrection Church.

Obviously, this is not an ideal time to consider a transition to another call, as it seems that in many ways we have just begun our life together, given how the pandemic has slowed down what otherwise would have been a quicker start to our shared ministry and mission. Please know that my discernment has weighed heavily on my heart and mind, for again, I take very seriously my commitments to you. During my call process with you and continuing to this day, you have been extraordinarily generous, patient, understanding, and supportive, given Nathan’s extended time of recovery from his stroke and now as he grows as a teenager. Nathan’s needs, of course, continue to have prominence in my ongoing discernment of call.

Thus, the possibility of giving expression to my calling both as a father to Nathan and as a pastor of the church in the same locale is profoundly compelling to me. I must confess that during the past couple of years, I have felt an ongoing tension and a divide between these callings, with parts of me focusing on my son in Phoenix and parts of me attending to my pastoral commitments to you, absent a sense of unity within and cohesion between these crucial features of my vocation. Faith Church in Phoenix is a mere four miles from where Nathan lives with his mother, which would enable me to be a consistent presence in his life during these remaining tender years of his growing up. Given the challenges of adolescence amidst an ongoing pandemic with lingering issues related to stroke recovery, and given that our nation and world continue in foreboding crises, Nathan would benefit from having both of his parents available to him on a daily basis in the same part of town.

Now I look forward to hearing more from you, your thoughts and views and concerns, as this communal discernment process draws closer to the time of a decision.

May God in Christ continue to lead and guide us in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman 

 

 

Week of the First Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I had hoped to gain greater clarity at our Synod Assembly about the controversies within the ELCA concerning events in our Sierra Pacific Synod in northern California. Unfortunately, I don’t have many new insights to share that shed definitive light on what is happening there, as the situation continues to unfold.

I risk mispresenting the circumstances and perhaps overstepping my bounds in offering reflections, given that I do not have first-hand knowledge of what is occurring in the Sierra Pacific Synod. That said, I believe that some attempt at a summary is in order. But please know that this is a very complex situation which my summary cannot ultimately do justice to.

Here is a summary: Allegations of the misuse of pastoral authority were made against a pastor who was a mission developer in the Sierra Pacific Synod in an emerging Spanish-speaking ministry. The Bishop of that Synod, who also happens to be the ELCA’s first publicly-known transgendered Bishop, removed the mission developer pastor from his ministry, and did so on a festival day that is dear to Hispanic Christians. This action was received as extraordinarily insensitive and racist in the ELCA’s Hispanic community. Our Presiding Bishop called for an investigation into the actions of the Synodical Bishop. When the investigating team offered their report, our Presiding Bishop declined at first to bring charges against the Synodical Bishop. This decision on the part of the Presiding Bishop was deemed as woefully inadequate by various constituencies in our church, including our Conference of Bishops. Meanwhile, the Synodical Bishop resigned from their ministry as Bishop. However, new concerns about the Synodical Bishop have emerged, and our Presiding Bishop has now decided to engage in disciplinary action against the Synodical Bishop. This decision to pursue disciplinary action has the wide support of the Conference of Bishops. That’s basically where we are now as this controversy unfolds in our church.

Should you wish to engage in further reading about all of this, see the many links below at the conclusion of this message.

Now on to my reflections. This matter is a perfect storm of the conflicting confluence of various realities in our church engaged as we are in mission in a particularly divisive time in our current society. Here is a listing of these complicating realities: the concerns of the LGBTQIA+ community; the Hispanic community within the ELCA and certainly the local mission site; governing documents and policies and procedures of our church which may have embedded within themselves instances and dynamics of systemic racism; the extent to which these policies and procedures were carefully followed or not in these matters; the interdependent, often messy, but still laudable, polity of our church which seeks input from many constituencies – locally, synodically, and nationally – for discernment and decision-making; how all of this affects the nature of the exercise of authority in our church; and finally, how the realities of human sin find their expression in the church at various levels when we inevitably fail institutionally to live up to the theology we proclaim.

One thing that did come out of our Metropolitan DC Synod Assembly was a memorial to advocate for the establishment of a process to review the polity, procedures, and structures of our church through the lenses of diversity, equity and inclusion to discern how the ways we organize ourselves as church inhibit our aspirations to be a more fully welcoming and safe place for all of God’s children. This memorial will be sent to our Churchwide Assembly in Columbus, Ohio in August of this year for consideration there.

As a potential silver lining, this perfect storm holds promise for all of us in the ELCA to take a good, hard look in the mirror to recognize and acknowledge the various ways in which we fail institutionally to live up to the mission of gospel proclamation that God has entrusted to us. Our Lutheran theological sensibilities give us what we need to engage in this kind of reality therapy, to acknowledge fully, forthrightly, honestly, and courageously our brokenness, our need for forgiveness, and our total reliance on God’s grace to be led to ways of enacting our life together that nurture greater justice, welcome, and safety for all people. If only we as the ELCA would draw fully on our own theological tradition as we move forward together in coming months in response to the pain and suffering in the Sierra Pacific Synod and the reverberating effects throughout our church.

Our Synod Bishop, Leila Ortiz, recounted at Synod Assembly the circumstances of her conversion to the Lutheran theological way, having grown up in the Pentecostal tradition. Bishop Ortiz’s theological transformation, which also had profound existential effects on her, occurred in the seminary classroom while studying the Lutheran Confessions. Indeed, it was the discovery there of God’s unconditional, boundless love, mercy, and grace which was life-changing for Bishop Ortiz. Which is to say that we have theological riches to share with the wider world. Moreover, we have theological riches, which by God’s sovereign grace, give us what we need to navigate these stormy waters currently in church and world. By the Holy Spirit’s guidance, may we as a church in our local, synodical, and churchwide expressions, draw deeply on these riches for our healing and for the healing of the nations.

With hope in Christ Jesus via the leading of the Holy spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Sierra Pacific Synod Background Information

From Churchwide
A Message from Presiding Bishop Eaton (English) / (Spanish) RE: Disciplinary Process Initiated
Sierra Pacific Synod: Bishop’s Report to the Church
Presiding Bishop Eaton Listening Session Statement (English) / (Spanish)

From Sierra Pacific
A Letter from Synod Vice President, Gail Kiyomura
Bishop Rohrer Resignation Post (Facebook)
Council Response to Churchwide (Facebook)
Open Letter to DE-MD Synod
Letter from Bishop Rohrer after External Review

From the Listening Panel
Statement from the ELCA Listening Team (English) / (Spanish)

From the Asociación de Ministerios Latinos de la ELCA
O Lord How Long Shall I Cry for Help - Response (Facebook)

From Our Synod
Bishop Ortiz Initial Letter - December 2021
Bishop Ortiz Letter to Rostered Ministers - March 2022

Other Sources
What Happened In the Sierra Pacific Synod - Compiled Resource Page
Washington Post Resignation Article (6/7/2022)
Pastor David Hansen Summary Post (Facebook)
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries Response
Bp. Bill Gohl's Statement at the DE-MD Synod Assembly
Bp. Bill Gohl’s Letter to the DE-MD Synod
Bp. Mike Rhinehart’s Blog Post
The Rev. Hazel Salazar-Davidson Letter to the Elders of the ELCA

Holy Trinity Sunday, John 16:12-15

Listen again to how today’s first reading begins. It’s poetry from Proverbs, personifying and extoling the wonders of Wisdom and Understanding: “Does not Wisdom call, and does not Understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance to the portals she cries out: ‘To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.’”

Tell me. Where is the call and cry of wisdom and understanding today? In my experience of our current culture and the spirit of these times, I can scarcely identify the call and cry of wisdom and understanding. If she is out there calling and raising her voice, it’s drowned out by loud mouths proclaiming anything but wisdom and understanding. On the heights, at the crossroads, beside the gates and entrances to the city, I don’t see her. I don’t hear her.

Can wisdom and understanding really make herself known on Twitter? In sound bytes? On video clips on Instagram or TikTok? Will the algorithms that determine what gets our attention on social media point us in the direction of wisdom and understanding? Do wisdom and understanding garner more clicks and likes and thus more advertising revenue?

Sadly, it seems, no. And we are today impoverished by her absence in the popular imagination and on what appears on our screens and devices. Wisdom and understanding are indeed out there, but we often have to go looking, fighting forever along the way the raging, attention-seeking voices of folly, imprudence, impudence, and thoughtlessness.

This absence of wisdom and understanding takes its toll and weighs heavily on us, individually and collectively as a whole society. I daresay, the absence of wisdom, of understanding surely has a part to play in increasing anxiety and depression. And likewise this absence perpetuates the unwillingness of elected officials effectively to govern. A lack of wisdom and understanding contributes to the unraveling of the whole world, its institutions and organizations. And more and more. It’s a hugely heavy and destructive burden that human beings are forced to carry these days.

The absence of wisdom and understanding in human affairs is nothing new. It’s been part of our broken, sinful, fallen condition all along. And it’s into this foolish human reality that wisdom and understanding personified enters in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, whom we confess as the Christ, God’s anointed one. This is good news!

When we hear the poetry of Proverbs, listening with Christian ears, how can we not but think of Jesus Christ? Here it is again: “I was there when the Lord established the heavens, and drew a circle on the face of the deep, and made firm the skies above, and established the fountains of the deep, and assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress the Lord’s command, when the foundations of the earth were marked out, then I was beside the Lord, like a master worker; and I was daily the Lord’s delight, rejoicing before the Lord always, rejoicing in the Lord’s inhabited world.” (Proverbs 8:27-31a) Doesn’t Christ come to mind in this passage?

When we listen to this poetry, we cannot help but also hear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him.” (John 1:1-3a) How can we not also hear the voice that came from heaven at Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22b)

The wisdom of God that makes for understanding – along with sacred truth, and divine love – emanates from the divine being. And it’s a wisdom made flesh, personified, in the divine word who is Jesus. In Christ Jesus, as an icon, the window is thrown open to see the fullness of God, the face of God. And in the absence of the manner in which Jesus walked this earth millennia ago, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit who continues to guide us into the truth of the wisdom of God, and divine understanding, along with forgiving, gracious love.

These are the mysterious holy realities that we celebrate on this festival of the Holy Trinity on this first Sunday after Pentecost. Thanks be to God.

And, as I keep on saying, because it keeps on being true Sunday after Sunday, here in this place we participate and share in the wise, truthful, loving realities of the three-personed Godhead, whom we confess as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We are baptized into this three-fold name of God and come to share in the life and love of our Trinitarian God through water, word, and Spirit. We take the bread and the cup and give thanks over each, and then come to eat and to drink of the very wisdom of God, Christ’s real presence, sharing thereby also in the life of the Trinity.

We share in divine wisdom and love in words of absolution and in sharing the peace of God in Christ. The wisdom of God is carried from the pages of scripture to our ears and our hearts and minds through proclamation of the word.

And all of this is such good news for us and for our wider world with its voids of wisdom and understanding, truth and love.

These emanations from our Trinitarian God which echo and reverberate in this hall and in our ears and in our bodies continue when we leave this place to return to the world, sent as we are to nurture wisdom and understanding beyond this house in the other places where we engage our ministries in daily life.

But our being sent into a world which clearly is hostile to wisdom and understanding will make for our suffering.

Paul acknowledges as much in today’s second reading from Romans. Paul writes about our having been made at peace with God in Christ through our being justified by faith in this God. We thus stand firm in divine grace. But suffering comes along with all of this, a suffering about which Paul actually confidently boasts: “We boast in our sufferings,” he says, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5) Endurance, character, hope – all fruit and corollaries of God’s wisdom and understanding.

In fact, our share in the suffering of God in Christ is what makes for our wisdom. Here’s what Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God…. Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:18-25) God’s wisdom is foolish by worldly standards. But I’ll take God’s cruciform wisdom any day.

When we’re out in the thick of things in a world hostile to God’s wisdom and understanding, God’s truth and love, we may wonder how in the world we’ll rise to the occasion to offer a countervailing witness.

But then with faith renewed weekly here in this place, we find ourselves moving in the flow of the loving energies proceeding from our Trinitarian God in Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, who has been active here in our midst in our assemblies guiding us into all truth by teaching us and reminding us of Jesus’ words.

And we discover that we can go with that sacred flow, and that we’ll be given the word of wisdom and understanding that we need. According to Luke, Jesus said: “When they bring you before… the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12)

In that light, think of the Christian martyrs, who faced death if they did not renounce their faith in Christ, and yet they remained steadfast in their confession of faith. I have a hard time imagining that I would respond so courageously. And yet, that’s when the power of God in the Spirit steps in to give the word, and the courage to speak it.

So, take heart. Be of good courage. We are not left orphaned, for the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son gives us the needed gifts to make our witness, that through us our Trinitarian God would fill the voids in our hungry, thirsty world with God’s own wisdom and understanding, truth and love – all for the healing of the nations and God’s shalom, and well-being.

All of this and more is what we celebrate on this day, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Week of the Festival of Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

Many of you have read and are wondering about the recent article in the Washington Post concerning the controversy in one of our ELCA synods in California. I plan to write about this next week when I know more after having attended our Metro DC Synod Assembly this coming weekend.

Meanwhile, we will celebrate the festival of the Holy Trinity this coming Sunday, the First Sunday after Pentecost. Thus, I am moved to offer reflections this week on our Trinitarian understandings of God.

First off, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – the teaching that there is one God, and three distinct persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – does not explicitly appear as a concept in the bible. That said, there is plenty in the scriptures which point in the direction of Trinitarian understandings and which formed the foundations for the evolution of Christian thought toward Trinitarian doctrine.

Here are some of the important biblical passages which suggest Trinitarian possibilities:

John 1:1-18, the Prologue to John’s Gospel, proclaims that the divine Word who was made flesh in Jesus Christ was at the beginning with God and was in fact God.

Genesis 1:1-2, the first creation story, speaks of a wind or spirit from God that swept over the face of the waters to bring created order from chaos. When this story is read in connection with John’s Gospel, we may begin to see hints of the Trinity.

Then there are a number of other passages in the Gospel of John appointed for Eastertide in Lectionary year C which are suggestive of Trinitarian understandings. John was written perhaps three generations after Jesus’ earthly sojourn, thus offering us the vantage point of seeing the evolution of theological thinking among early Christians. So, there’s John 10:30, where John reports that Jesus said, “The Father and I are one.” And there’s John 14:9-11 where John reports Jesus saying to Philip, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Moreover, there’s John 16:12-15, which we’ll hear this coming Trinity Sunday, which concludes with these words of Jesus reported by John which described for the disciples the coming of the Holy Spirit: “All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Finally, there’s the Pentecost event recorded in John 20:21-23, “‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit…’” John’s Gospel is, thus, rich with evocations of the beginnings of Trinitarian thought.

Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission, gives us the Trinitarian words we use to this day at baptism: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

Then there are Trinitarian aspects of the stories of Jesus’ baptism by John in the River Jordan. Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:10-11, and Luke 3:21-22 variously report God proclaiming Jesus as a favored Son while the Holy Spirit from God descends on Jesus.

Acts 2:32-33, a moment in Peter’s first sermon proclaiming God’s deeds of power in raising Jesus from the dead, offers Trinitarian hints: “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear."

Then there are the Pauline greetings that are liturgically quite familiar to us which are suggestive of the Trinity. 2 Corinthians 13:13, which concludes that letter, has these well-known words: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Ephesians 2:18 offers this insight: “for through [Christ] both of us [Jewish and Gentile believers] have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Here, like many New Testament passages, the three persons of the Godhead are mentioned.

A great Christ hymn in Colossians (cf. 1:15-17) echoes themes found in the prologue to John. There in Colossians it reads, Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:19 concludes, “For in [Christ] all the fullness of God was pleased to do dwell.” In this hymn, which also sounds creedal, we see perhaps the beginnings of explicitly Trinitarian thinking.

Finally, salutations to believers recorded in 1 Peter 1:2 offer Trinitarian themes as it is there written: “To the exiles… who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance.”

This review of the scriptural witness, which arguably contributed to what would later be understood as the Trinity, is not comprehensive or exhaustive. There’s more in the bible that we could point to and explore in relation to Trinitarian themes. And it is essential to say that none of these scriptural passages add up in a simple kind of math equation to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons. That nuanced and paradoxical understanding would evolve over the course of the next decades and generations of Christian history as the church itself came to be and to develop. But I believe it is true that the scriptural witness laid a solid foundation for what would become our Trinitarian understanding of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Thus, we have the Athanasian Creed (likely dating from the 5th Century) which arguably articulates best, at least in authoritative creedal form, the Christian understanding of the Trinity. Here is a portion of that ancient creed: “Now this is the catholic faith: We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity is unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being. For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another. But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.” And on and on this creed goes, exploring the many paradoxical convolutions of our Trinitarian understandings.

The evolution of Christian thought and understanding is itself a work, I believe, of the Holy Trinity. John reports that Jesus said (and we’ll likewise hear this later this week on Trinity Sunday): 

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, you will be guided into all the truth; for the Spirit will not speak out of the Spirit’s own authority, but will speak whatever the Spirit hears, and will declare to you the things that are to come.” (John 16:12-13) Teaching about the Holy Trinity is one such truth into which we have been guided.

As has been the case throughout Christian history, the Holy Spirit, whom we confess proceeds from the Father and the Son, continues to guide us into all truth, including the truth about the Trinitarian nature of the God who creates, redeems, sanctifies, and more and more – all in a wonderful, sometimes baffling, paradoxical mystery and wondrous dance.

How can we respond and conclude but in words of poetic praise of the Trinity, here in a text of unknown source, translated by Clarence Walworth, the concluding stanza of “Holy God, We Praise Your Name” (ELW 414): “Holy Father, holy Son, Holy Spirit, three we name you, though in essence only one; undivided God we claim you and, adoring, bend the knee while we own the mystery.”

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Day of Pentecost, John 14:8-27

Ancient people, including the ancient Hebrews, had to have wondered about how it came to be that human beings were located all over the place and spoke very different languages. So it is that we have a mythic accounting of this in Genesis, today’s first reading.

Did the Lord in fact come down to confuse the people’s language and to scatter them abroad over the face of all the earth? Probably not. But just because this story is mythic doesn’t mean it doesn’t convey important truths.

The truth was then and is now that human beings inhabit all manner of lands, and they live together in tribal or national or other units with distinctive cultures and languages.

It’s also true that when human beings unite for a common cause, we are capable of great and wondrous things, like figuring out how to live together in cities and to make bricks and use other technologies to construct towers with tops in the heavens.

It’s also true that the same forces which bring us together for good can tear us apart. Notice that it was fear and overstated pride that motivated the building of the city and the erection of the tower. As it’s written in Genesis: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves [there’s the pride or hubris]; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth [there’s the fear].”

What the people feared – being scattered, a fear which pridefully motivated their coming together to build the city and tower – came to pass. They were in fact scattered and more, their languages were confused. Hence the designation, Babel, which in Hebrew means to confuse or confound.

Being scattered and confused is the human truth we know today with our own unique permutations of all of this. More and more humans live in major cities. Our towers ever increase in height and they do literally, in fact, have their tops in the heavens.

Yet even within our cities, there is a sense of being scattered and confused. Even when we speak the same language, we find ourselves divided and confused. Just think of “fake news” and “alternative facts.” We increasingly live in separate cocoons or virtual bubbles with different sets and sources of and criteria for information and truth – even in one nation.
Such scattered confusion has been true for so much of human history. And it’s certainly painfully true of our condition today. And scattered confusion among peoples in society does not make for a sense of well-being. No. It’s full of the weight of sin, and can even lead to death. Some of the murderous rage we’re seeing in massacres is the bitter fruit of our being divided from each other and confused about what it means to live together in community with common cause and shared values.

But it is into this very reality of being scattered and confused that the Holy Spirit was sent on the ancient Day of Pentecost described in the book of Acts. And it’s into this same scattered confusion on this our Day of Pentecost even now in 2022 that the Spirit is sent to us yet again.

The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is the exact opposite of what happened in the mythic story of Babel. The result at Babel was that people were scattered abroad in confusion, unable to understand others who spoke different languages – a centrifugal force of outward motion. The Holy Spirit’s coming results in bringing people together where the languages of the nations, though diverse and different, nonetheless bring about intelligibility and understanding – a centripetal force of movement to the center. Pentecost is a corrective to Babel.

Bringing people together in greater unity and in mutual understanding makes for peace and well-being. It’s full of gospel grace. It’s good news. Here again are the salient moments in the account in Acts which speaks to unity and understanding:

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place…. [a sign of unity among Jesus’ followers]

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? …in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” (cf. Acts 2:1, 4-9) [Clearly the gift of speaking in foreign tongues, given by the Spirit, nurtured understanding on the part of the hearers from all nations who had come together because of all of the commotion.]

What is it about the Holy Spirit that makes for uniting rather than scattering, and understanding rather than confusion? To gain clarity about this question, let’s turn to the gospel reading for today from John.

There we learn that God, the one whom Jesus calls Father, promises send the Spirit as another Advocate, the Spirit of truth. And this Spirit abides with the ones to whom the Spirit is sent. Moreover, this Spirit, this Advocate “will teach [us] everything, and remind [us] of all that [Jesus had] said to [us].” And this results in peace, Christ’s peace, not the world’s peace, and calms troubled hearts and lays fears to rest.

In these ways, teaching and reminding, imparting Christ’s peace, calming fears, the Holy Spirit does the work of uniting us in mutual understanding. Again, this is a corrective and antidote to scattered confusion.

And as I say repeatedly in my sermons, it’s precisely here in this place that the Holy Spirit visits again and again each week and is active teaching us and reminding us of all that Jesus said. It’s here that we proclaim Christ crucified and risen from the dead. It’s all here in word and sacraments where Christ is present through the invocation of the Spirit over water and bread and wine, not to mention the proclamation of the word.

It’s here in this place that the death and resurrection, the ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit blend together into one magnificent fabric, woven together in intimate inter-relatedness, a whole sacred tapestry enacted in human history that reveals the fullness of the presence of our God in Christ Jesus.

In this place, we share in the very Trinitarian life of God. It’s here where we recognize the truth of what Jesus is reported by John to have said to Philip: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me…. And I will ask the Father, who will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” (John 14:9b, 11a, 16) Here in this passage and in this place we see the persons of the Godhead, Father, Son, Spirit, seeds planted toward what would become our Trinitarian understanding of one God in three persons.

It's here in this place that our faith is generated and regenerated for the work that God has entrusted to us. Which is to say, in so far as we who follow Jesus in these latter days are given the gifts of uniting for mutual understanding, we are called and sent to the scattered and confused world to nurture the coming together of disparate peoples toward common understandings.

This mission seems to be an impossibly tall order in our bitterly divided world which is ever more confounded and confused. But our God-given mission is thus all the more crucial as we seek unity and common understanding in our scattered world.

And here’s the wondrous thing: Jesus promises in John that we will end up doing greater works than even he did during his three-year earthly ministry. Here’s what John reported that Jesus said: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:12-13)

We might be tempted to think that we’ll do these greater works on our own. No, that’s not the case. Rather, the greater works remain the result of Christ’s action made possible by his returning to the right hand of God which ushers in a ubiquitous and universal rule throughout time and space, a reign in heaven and on earth, the whole cosmos, for all eternity. And it is the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son who calls together the church as the body of Christ, incarnate throughout the world. The greater works we end up doing as church, as the body of Christ, have everything to do with the universality of the church’s impact in the power of the Spirit acting throughout the world and throughout the ages.

Thus, we pray, veni sancte spiritus, come, Holy Spirit, enliven us for the work you’ve entrusted to us in nurturing greater unity and mutual understanding for healing, that the world would know less Babel, and more the loving, forgiving, gracious truth imparted at Pentecost. For Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.

Week of Easter Seven

Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:

Our explorations of the biblical foundations for Christian worship conclude this Wednesday, June 1 with Gail Ramshaw finishing up her presentations on the lectionary, thus deepening our understanding of the place of the appointed readings in our Sunday worship. Please look in your Constant Contact messages for a Zoom link, that your participation may enrich your worship life for the work in and for the world that God has entrusted to us. If you do not receive our Constant Contact messages, then please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Please note that beginning on June 6, we’ll shift back to our Monday evening Bible Study format with sessions beginning at 6:30. In the coming weeks, we’ll take a look at the lectionary readings for the upcoming Sundays, viewing the readings in relation to each other to see what new horizons of meaning emerge.

“At Pentecost, Thoughts on the Discernment of Spirits”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Since we are on the cusp of celebrating the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus’ followers as recorded in Acts 2, and since we have been living and serving for two millennia in what we might consider the epoch of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, we do well to consider what we mean by the Holy Spirit.

First off, it’s important to recognize that there are all manner of spirits, and not all of them holy. The Apostle Paul acknowledged as much when he wrote about powers and principalities of the world (cf. Ephesians 6:12). We aren’t talking about ghosts and goblins here. Rather, we might have in mind communal energies that transcend particular individuals, as in “team spirit.” Scholars write about zeitgeist, or the spirit of the times. Or some colloquially talk about the “vibe” in the room. The word “ethos” also comes to mind, as in the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community. In these ways, spirit, and perhaps even spirituality, inhabit the realm of quite common and ordinary human experience.

The generic reality of spiritualities invites us then to discern and identify the qualities of the Holy Spirit of the Trinitarian Godhead in the specifically Christian tradition manifest in the church and world. We are not left without help for these considerations. The witness of the Christian scriptures gives us criteria for understanding the dimension of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. These same scriptures also give us lists of qualities which are not of the Holy Spirit of the God made manifest in Jesus Christ. Paul, for example, writes in Galatians that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is marked by the following qualities: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22). In contrast, Paul lists in that same passage qualities which he believes are opposed to the Holy Spirit, namely: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21a).

With such criteria in mind and at hand – and there are other such listings of qualities of the Holy Spirit elsewhere in the New Testament – we are called to engage in the discernment of the spirits of our age, in the church and elsewhere in the world. Etymologically speaking, the Greek word that translates discernment implies a kind of discrimination, making judgments about what is of the Holy Spirit and not. This is not discrimination in terms of injustices against people, rather the identification of what is and isn’t of the Holy Spirit, as in discriminating tastes.

So, with such listings as Paul’s in Galatians, we are given quite clear criteria with which to judge the spirits of our age, again, in the churches and in the world. When it comes to the spirit or ethos or vibe given off by some churches and pastors and preachers today, I think it is abundantly clear that some churches are not living according to the dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit identified by Paul. Many churches today, including Lutheran, but certainly others, embody and express a communal spirit that is more suggestive of idolatry, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, and factions than Holy Spirit qualities of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” When Christian leaders lead by cultivating and stoking people’s anger, fear and grievance, that is simply not of the Holy Spirit. It’s that clear and straightforward. There is no ambiguity. I believe that we are called upon in our day to be more courageous in proclaiming that some churches and Christian leaders are simply not living and teaching and proclaiming according to the dimensions of the fruit of the Holy Spirit as identified in our scriptures.

Then consider the zeitgeist of our wider culture and society. Much of what we endure in the news and on social media and more is held captive by the powers and principalities, the qualities that are opposed to the Holy Spirit, as Paul identifies. “Impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy” – do these qualities not prevail in our current popular social and cultural climate? Do we – even secular persons who are not Christian – not long in our hearts for the humane qualities of the Spirit, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? While these are features of the Christian ethos according to Paul, this listing is also in keeping with secular philosophies which may point to more universal human aspirations.

A lot of what troubles us in current popular culture and society boils down to an ethos that pursues and fetishizes the ways of death in contrast to a culture that promotes life abundant and holistically understood. And I am not reducing this consideration to the pro-life vs. pro-choice controversies surrounding abortion. It’s a far broader and more comprehensive orientation. We as a society seem to be captive to ways that make for death, and actively resist that which makes for life understood as comprehensive, holistic well-being for all.

The Day of Pentecost in the church’s calendar falls on the fiftieth day of Easter. Thus, there is an intimate connection in the Christian tradition between the Holy Spirit’s coming and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is to say, the Holy Spirit’s advent occurs in the context and because of Christ’s death and resurrection. Christian spirituality, thus, cannot be separated from Jesus Christ and what God, the Father, accomplished in and through Christ. What were the proclamatory utterances of Peter and the others at Pentecost, when empowered by the Spirit, but the preaching in the languages of the nations of God’s deeds of power in raising Christ from the dead (cf. Acts 2:11; 22-24; 32)?

To conclude this reflection, then, may the Holy Spirit embolden us to nurture in word and deed a culture of resurrected new life in Christ as a countervailing witness to the ways of death that prevail in so much of society and in too many churches. May the Spirit of God in Christ nurture in us the dimensions of the fruit of the Spirit for the healing of the nations.

God in Christ help us through the encouraging and emboldening guidance of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Seventh Sunday of Easter, John 17:20-26

Have you ever read through the book of Acts, going from story to story, chapter after chapter? It’s quite the wild ride and offers a good bit of reality therapy, not only pertaining to the things of God, but also showing for sordid, sinful human realities. Specifically what I have in mind today is that Acts reveals the extent to which human sin and brokenness compromise even our human attempts at being religious. Today’s first reading from Acts depicts well our mortal plight in seeking to have religious themes and energies serve our greedy ends.

A slave girl has a spirit of divinization which made her a gifted fortune teller, and which in turn made her lucrative in garnering a great deal of money for her owners. There were religious charlatans then. And we know, oh too well, there are such charlatans today seeking to exploit and bend spiritual impulses to sinful ends.

The New York Times and Washington Post have had some compelling columns of late talking about new apps that seek to commodify and monetize people’s spiritual hunger, exploiting natural desires when people these days are not seeking to have these hungers satisfied in churches or other faith communities.

Then there are companies which seek to spiritualize work along the lines of a holy calling, such that the firm becomes church and their products their god. Look at the May 24th edition of the New York Times and the column, “When Your Job Fills in for Your Faith, That’s a Problem.”

Provoked by the massacre of children in Texas this week, the May 25th edition of the Washington Post published a column exploring our tolerance of young children being shot and killed in their schools in connection with child sacrifice, a perverting of religious impulses to appease man-made gods. The author draws parallels between what we allow to happen to children today with ancient cultures that practiced child sacrifice.

And we’ve been reading of late about Kyrll, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who profits because of his relationship with Vladimir Putin. Then there’s the revelations about the Southern Baptist Convention which sought to hide evidence of sexual abuse and predation in that denomination in part to seek to protect itself from litigation, thus preserving their institutional bottom lines.

On go the lists about how religious impulses are corrupted and exploited for profitable ends of one sort or another.
But back now to the story in Acts: The spirit in the slave girl repeatedly cried out over the course of many days, irritating Paul and his companions. Finally annoyed beyond his capacities to endure, Paul exorcised the spirit from the girl: “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.”

This ended the slave girl’s owners’ source of extra income. That loss provoked them to bring Paul and Silas before the authorities who threw them in jail. And on the story goes as we heard it read earlier.

Such is the nature of the messes we get ourselves into as humans in conflicts about religious expression in relation to our own greedy ends. There’s all manner of permutations of how human sin interferes with the integrity of religious expression. It was true in Paul’s time. It’s true today.

But here’s the thing: God works with all of this stuff. In the Acts story for today, God performs a feat that reminds us of Christ’s resurrection. Paul and Silas are in the innermost cell of the jail – like a tomb. An earthquake opens the locked door – not unlike the earthquake recorded in Matthew in connection with the appearance of an angel who rolled away the stone from the tomb. Paul and Silas are thus freed as Christ was freed from bondage and the grip of death.

The story ends up with the jailer of Paul and Silas being given the gift of faith, of belief, in the Lord Jesus through Paul and Silas’ proclamation. And this proclamation results in the jailer being baptized along with his whole household. That’s the kind of thing God does with the messes we create.

Turning to the gospel story for today from John, we find Jesus prayerfully interceding for his followers who were to be sent into the corrupt thick of things in the world. I wonder if the wondrous deeds recorded throughout the book of Acts were the result, in part, of the intercession of Jesus, having ascended to the Father, where Christ continues to pray for his followers. We see the nature of Jesus’ intercessory prayer in today’s gospel reading from John. I trust in faith that Christ continues to pray for us, current day disciples of the Lord, perhaps this same prayer.

And what Jesus prays for is the exact opposite of the kind of thing recorded in today’s reading from Acts with its exploitation of religiosity for sinful ends. Jesus’ prayer is the exact opposite of our ongoing, greedy, profit and power-seeking religious strife.

And Jesus’ words of prayerful intercession still echo through the centuries and across the borders of the nations to our ears this very day. Jesus’ prayer throws open the window on profound divine realities:
Jesus prays in essence that we, his followers, would share in the Trinitarian life of God. And in so doing, that we would discover and embody our essential unity with each other and with God. And that this divine reality is all about God’s agape, unconditional love. And Jesus prays that we would have a share in God’s glory, the kind of glory revealed fully on the cross. And all of this bears the fruit of faith, of belief, on the part of those in the world who come to believe because of our sacred unity with God and each other. Listen to it again: “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe…”

In short, what Jesus prays for is exactly what our sorry world needs. And we in fact are given a foretaste of what Jesus prays for when we gather in Jesus’ name here around word and sacraments. Here in this place, God answers or fulfills in part Jesus’ prayer for his followers. We do in fact share in the Trinitarian life of God and know essential unity in the waters of baptism. We know our oneness as we are gathered around God’s holy word and its proclamation. We eat of one bread and drink from one cup in the meal of Christ around this table.

When we gather in this place, we hear Jesus’ words recorded in the book of Revelation also echoing through the centuries in our ears and made real in what we do here: “See, I am coming soon…” [Coming here I might add] “Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they will have the right to the tree of life and may enter the city gates…” We, having been washed in the waters of the font, enter the gates of the holy city here in this nave as we fix our eyes on the tree of life, the cross, as it moves in procession to the holy place where the word is proclaimed and the meal eaten.

The passage in Revelation goes on: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.’” (cf. Revelation 22:12-19) So it is that we come, to eat and to drink in fulfillment of Jesus’ gracious invitation.

And all of this that we partake in is an antidote to the corruption of human religious impulses. All of this is given us in the service of our healing so that we may be sent as healers into an increasingly desperate world, made ever more despairing with each new incident of murderous madness taking place throughout our land.

Our essential unity in Christ, cultivated right here, is all for the sake of the missionary work to which God sends us in the world. This work, God’s work, our hands, has a purpose: “so that the world may know and believe” that Christ was sent by the Father and is known now among us, the followers of Christ, who are gathered around the tree of life that heals the nations “so that the love with which [God] loved [Jesus] may also be in us and Christ in us” (cf. John 17:26b, adapted).

In faith, hoping against hope, we trust that divine love in Christ will end up having the last word when it’s all said and done. But may it be lovingly so even now when things seem increasingly and ever more maddingly hopeless, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.

Sixth Sunday of Easter, John 14:23-29

In the early months of the pandemic, when we were more or less in full shut down mode, perhaps one of the silver linings for some of us in that upheaval was the gift of a slower pace of life. The comparative absence of activity revealed to many just how busy and complicated our lives were.

But as the months and now years have worn on in the pandemic, the voids have become filled again with activity. For many, in the absence of commuting but now working from home, we have perhaps discovered that there’s more time for more work! There are fewer of the life-giving interruptions of pleasant conversations with colleagues or lunches out and more. In my New York days, I claimed the down time of riding trains to and from work events as the occasion to mentally recharge. That’s no more. What’s left for many is the grind of work and more work as we give in to the craze of workaholism.

I have to confess to you that ministry in the pandemic is not as fun as it used to be because of the comparative absence of regularly and casually seeing people as a natural feature of daily rhythms – in the office at church, in people’s homes, in visits to hospitals and nursing homes. So many of those occasions have been limited because of the pandemic. That remains true today as we continue precautions in relation to ever new, ever more transmissible variants of the virus.

Many, thus, live in exacerbated ways with the tyranny of productivity, of doing, and doing, and more doing. These conditions may also be true for many of you who are retired. Retirees often tell me you’re busier in retirement than you were in your working days!

In reaction to this, many are chronically in fight or flight mode, especially as we confront social horizons continually filled with new crises. The weight of such burdens can become unbearable, and all of this erodes our mental health and quality of life.

In response to such burdens we carry, listen again to Jesus’ good word, Jesus’ gospel word, recorded in today’s reading from John: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

What lovely, compelling gospel words. And there’s more gospel to be heard when we feel that we cannot easily go on with business – or busyness – as usual. Listen again to this: “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” God with Christ in the Spirit – that is, our Trinitarian God – will come to make a home with us! Magnificent!

With still more gospel consolation, John records Jesus as having said this, too: “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” In other words, as Jesus says in John just prior to today’s passage, that he will not leave us orphaned (cf. John 14:18) because of the Spirit’s promised coming.

The long and the short of these gospel words of promise is that Jesus invites us to slow down. To do less. To be more. To be at home with the one who makes a home with us. To discover Christ’s peace, not as the world gives. Trusting all the while there is much blessing to be had by God’s grace and initiative and God’s actions, and not in our own doing and productivity. Focusing on our efforts, for us Lutherans, is works righteousness – when we conclude that it’s up to us and our busy, frantic efforts to concoct blessing for ourselves. That’s not the gospel.

To do less, to be more – that’s what it means to keep Jesus’ word in love. Lovingly keeping Jesus’ word suggests less activity and more sitting there in leisure before Christ in wondrous adoration.

If Jesus promises that he and the Father will come to us to make their home with us, we do well simply to receive this gift in confidence and with gratitude. We are beckoned to be like Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to his every word, and not like Martha, busy in the kitchen.

The biblical Greek for making a home suggests that God will craft an abode with us, that is to say, God will abide with us in leisure, 24/7, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, century after century.

It is in this existential and mental state of abiding where the Holy Spirit, our Advocate, is present to continue to teach us, reminding us of everything that Jesus said to us. And where does the Spirit do this teaching and reminding. Right here, right now in our weekly Sunday assemblies ever since the Spirit was unleashed centuries ago on the Day of Pentecost.

Given the great gift of our gatherings, we do well not to rush through this holy hour. Rather, we take our time, because Jesus Christ takes his time with us.

So it is that we hear in today’s first reading that Paul took his time once he and his companions arrived in Philippi. “We remained in this city for some days,” it says in Acts. Enough time to linger on the Sabbath for prayer outside the city gate by the river. Enough time for holy conversation with the likes of Lydia who ended up being baptized along with her whole household.

Lydia had this to say to Paul and the others: “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon them. The leisure of staying at Lydia’s home no doubt produced many other fruits of the Spirit.

Which is to say that the fruit of the proclamation of the good news ripens for the harvest in God’s good time. Thus, we are beckoned to slow down, to dwell with the word and with each other in our Sunday assemblies and other times we gather.

When we dwell with each other around the sacred word and the sacraments as we do each Sunday, keeping Christ’s word in love, receiving the ongoing instruction of and reminding by the Spirit, then we come to realize that we are given here a foretaste of the promise we heard in today’s second reading, the vision of the holy city of Jerusalem, an eternal dwelling place even in the here and now, made possible by Christ’s death and resurrection.

There is no temple in the holy city, because God and Christ are the very temple we need. And there is no need for sun and moon because God and Christ are all the light we need. The gates are never shut – it’s that safe and secure. It is a city of truth, of purity, without abomination. And there is water aplenty, the water of life flowing from God’s throne through the city streets, and through the ages onto our heads and bodies in baptism. There is in the city the tree of life – Christ’s cross – giving fruit for the nations which we eat and drink in the eucharist. And we’ll see God’s face. And God’s name is written on our foreheads, as when we are sealed with the anointing of the Spirit at baptism.

We enjoy participation in such a reality every Sunday. And if we rush through things, we might just miss it. These blessings are objectively present every time we gather. That’s the truth that we can trust. But if we rush through it all, we may not apprehend in our awareness the full extent of the great gifts given to us week after week.

The call to slow down, to abide in Christ as Christ abides with us is why the Benedictine monks take their time in doing liturgy. That’s why extended periods of silence are embraced in monastic settings. That’s why Benedictine monks are asked to make a vow of stability, a promise to remain in the same community for the duration of their lives.

Maybe we’re called to be a bit more monastic in church. Thus, I invite you to slow down. But I also acknowledge in all honesty: Physician, heal thyself….

In this divine dwelling place week after week, this sanctuary beloved by us where we know and enjoy Christ with each other, the Holy Spirit continues her teaching ministry and that of reminding us of Jesus’ words, renewing and strengthening our faith. Thus, we come not only to recall the words of Jesus, but perhaps also to know and experience the fulfillment in our midst of Jesus’ promise: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

What a gift to our troubled world. What a gift we bring to that world when we leave this place. Or to adapt a quote from St. Seraphim of Serov, “Acquire inner peace [I would say, receive the gift of Christ’s peace] and thousands around you will find their salvation.” May it be so among us for the healing of the nations, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.

 

Week of Easter Five

Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:

Our explorations of the biblical foundations for Christian worship continue this Wednesday, May 18. This week, Gail Ramshaw will begin a series of three Wednesdays on the lectionary, deepening our understanding of the place of the appointed readings in our Sunday worship. A Zoom link for this discussion will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages and wish to do so, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Meditations on the Lectionary”

Dear Friends in Christ:

A major focus of our time together during Sunday worship involves hearing three readings from the Bible and singing a psalm. Once we are assembled and settled, having confessed sin and received forgiveness or having remembered baptism, and having sung the hymns and canticles and having prayed the prayer of the day, we turn our attention to the appointed readings.

Take a moment to reflect on how counter cultural it is for us to sit there – or stand in the case of the gospel reading – to listen carefully to texts written and incorporated into the canon of holy scripture centuries ago. These are ancient texts, far removed from our time and place, and yet we attend to them living as we do in an age obsessed with innovation and saying new things in ever changing ways. Thus, we listen to ancient texts not always easily understanding what they have to say to us in our day.

Questions about this practice may arise. Why so many passages? Why not just narrow it down to focus on one or maybe two readings? And why do we consent to using passages chosen by teams of scholars far removed from our own congregational circumstances? And just what is the lectionary anyway?

These are important questions, and we are blessed to have in our fold a scholar, Gail Ramshaw, who has devoted a great deal of her professional life to studying and to helping craft the lectionary that we use. Beginning this coming Wednesday, May 18, Gail will teach us about the Revised Common Lectionary and its essential place in our life together. And she’ll address the questions we have about the lectionary, thus helping to form us in our enhanced understandings that we may worship with greater intentionality to and with heightened awareness of the grace given to us via the word of God, and the Holy Spirit speaking through that word.

In anticipation of the coming Wednesday evening Zoom sessions on the lectionary, I offer here some of my own thoughts about its importance in our Sunday routines.

First off, the lectionary is a great gift to you, God’s people in this place, because it spares you from me as your pastor imposing on you my favorite Bible passages, passages of my own choice and whim and, at worst, prejudice. In churches that do not employ a lectionary of appointed readings, local preachers have the freedom to choose the Bible passages they preach on, which gives to the local pastor a great deal of power to attempt to shape the theological convictions of people in the local assembly. In contrast, with the lectionary of appointed readings, we are all in this together, you and I as your pastor, as we sometimes struggle to make sense of the divine word for us in the givenness of the lectionary readings. Thus, the lectionary helps to keep preachers humble, since they are not in control of choosing given passages for a given Sunday. In this way, I would argue that the lectionary has a democratizing effect on life together in congregations, even if the lectionary is chosen by others whom we do not know and who are not accountable to us. But those scholars are accountable to the wider church in its many expressions. The appointed lectionary passages do not come to us willy-nilly, but with a great deal of consultation and deliberation, sometimes approved by voting assemblies of God’s people. Again, I believe that the use of the lectionary is more democratic and participatory than local preachers choosing their own favorite Bible passages.

Moreover, the discipline of using the lectionary, particularly the Revised Common Lectionary, gives us the gift of hearing and working through large portions of the Bible than would otherwise be the case if left to singular readings or the limited scope of the proclivities and choices of the local pastor. With its three readings and the psalm, we end up hearing the multiplicity of voices in the Bible and its rich variety of types of literature. The Revised Common Lectionary works on a three-year cycle, with different readings appointed for each different year. We hear readings appointed in an orderly fashion from the Old Testament, from the Gospels, and from other types of New Testament literature. Again, this helps us to get a sense of the Bible as a whole, but not just as a book, but as a compilation of different types of literature set within our worship of God in Christ with attention to its particular liturgical calendar and seasons. As you know, the appointed readings relate intimately and importantly to the themes and events of the church year. So, with the appointed readings alongside our liturgical enactments, we receive Christ himself, who is present in word and sacraments in the gathered assembly of God’s people. The lectionary and its readings help make Christ known to us by God’s grace in the power of the Spirit.

Another gift of the lectionary is that its use becomes a concrete enactment of Christian unity each and every Sunday. We Lutherans like the fact that we are ecumenically oriented. Yet, explicitly ecumenical efforts in which we actively cooperate with other churches are often occasional and tangential to our life together. Except when it comes to the lectionary! The appointed readings we use on Sundays are the same readings used in other Lutheran churches. Moreover, you could visit churches of other Christian traditions on any given Sunday and hear the same or similar readings to the ones we are using. These churches include: Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Moravian, various other Reformed churches and more. Thus, the lectionary and its use become an expression of often elusive visible Christian unity, helping to give some fulfillment to Jesus’ prayer that we might be one so that the world might believe (cf. John 17:20-21).

Speaking now as a preacher, as one who obediently submits to the discipline of attending to all of the appointed readings for Sunday, I love the challenge of the lectionary, for there are readings appointed for any given day that I myself would not have chosen! And yet, I trust that there is a word for us in our day in the givenness of the appointed passages. It’s been my experience that the lectionary never fails to give that needed word. Thus, I love attempting to rise to the occasion of proclaiming God’s gospel word via what the lectionary puts before us week by week.

You who hear me preach will note that I attempt to address each of the appointed readings in my sermons, the first, the second, and the gospel readings, and sometimes even the psalm. In the discipline of having returned to preaching every Sunday again as a parish pastor, I delight in the new horizons of interpretation and meaning revealed when the passages are set alongside each other. Even if my main preaching focus may be the gospel reading, inevitably portions of the first and second readings will help illuminate the meanings of the gospel – and vice versa in relation to the gospel passage and its power to illuminate the other readings as well. In the course of the many months of my current preaching ministry, even after three decades of doing this work, I am still discovering new meanings of old, old stories in large measure because of the call to give attention to each of the appointed lectionary passages on Sundays.

So, you can tell that I am sold on the lectionary! Please join us this Wednesday as Gail Ramshaw takes us still deeper in our understandings of and appreciation for the Revised Common Lectionary. Gail’s efforts in the next three Wednesdays will set the stage for a return to our Monday evening Zoom Bible Studies in June when we will begin to look together at all three of the appointed readings for each upcoming Sunday. Our engaging these passages in communal Bible study will undoubtedly end up informing what I preach on Sundays, giving you all a voice in the proclamation of the gospel which is at its best a community effort.

With thanks to God for the gift of the lectionary that makes Christ known,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fifth Sunday of Easter, John 13:31-35

Let’s do a little thought experiment, a little free association. If I say the word “glory” or the word “glorious,” what images immediately pop into your heads? Take a moment to review what comes to mind.

Maybe some of these images appeared on your mental horizons: Spectacular sunsets. Mountain vistas. Maybe opulent houses, mansions, palaces. Skyscrapers. Other great architecture. Great movies or theatrical productions and concerts. Huge crowds. People with big personalities. Celebrities. And more.

Or let’s try this: what words come to mind that are synonymous with “glory” and “glorious?” Again, take a moment to let those words emerge.

Maybe these words appeared in your mind: Renown, fame, prestige, honor, distinction, kudos, magnificence, splendor, resplendence, grandeur, spectacular. More.

Here’s the thing when it comes to our sinful, human condition: It may well be that some of the images of and words related to glory, and the things and people we associate with these qualities, can turn out to be inglorious, burdensome, death-dealing, the fruit of sin, of pride, greed, of hubris, arrogance, unbridled power and domination…

I can’t help but think of supertall buildings being built in many places in the world today – in New York City, Dubai, Shanghai – symbols and incarnations of extreme wealth inequality and sometimes corruption, of human achievement, but also arrogance and pride and raw power. And then I can’t help but think of the Tower of Babel in the Bible. Towers have a tendency to exacerbate confusion, and they are prone to come tumbling down….

Then there’s Jesus’ way of glory and being glorious. Today’s reading from John’s Gospel is part of Jesus’ so-called farewell discourse with his disciples in which he teaches and prays in their presence in the last hours of his earthly life before his death and resurrection. This discourse recorded by John tries to make sense of Jesus’ ways of being and doing that confound worldly logic.

For the sake of beginning to understand Jesus’ way of glory, listen again to this day’s reading from John: “When Judas had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in God’s own self and will glorify him at once.”
John connects Judas’ departure with Jesus being glorified. What did Judas go out to do? Judas went out to betray his teacher, his Lord, his friend, the action of which would put into motion all of the horrible things that would lead to a horrible death, but also to a mysterious resurrection to new life beyond death. At first glance, how can any of this in any way be connected with common views of glory?

What Judas intends for death, God intends for and uses to give new life. The bad news becomes good news. And it is, in fact, glorious in the logic of God’s intent.

Jesus on the cross: this is what it is for Jesus to be glorified according to John’s gospel. It’s all very inglorious by human standards when you recall some of the words and images that came to mind in the first moments of this sermon.

But I see this kind of cruciform glory that confounds human logic and sensibilities in each of the readings for today. Let’s take another look for the sake of deepening our understandings of our glorious crucified and risen Lord and Savior.

In the reading from Revelation, we hear about a new heaven and new earth, and a holy city, a new Jerusalem. Quite glorious sounding on the face of it.

But this new holy city comes down to us, to our human level, where God will make a home among us mortals that we may dwell with God, and mere mortals will be God’s people. Tears will be wiped from our eyes. Death and mourning and crying and pain will be no more. And there will be water aplenty to quench our thirst.

In popular imagination, glory tends to be up there in the clouds, not down in the lowly and humble places where we have known death and mourning and crying and pain. That God makes a home with us down here is glorious, but in its own cruciform ways.

Then there’s the vision of reconciling inclusion in the reading from Acts in the reported emerging reproachment between Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ. The vision had Peter eating that which was traditionally, religiously unclean. But the voice from heaven proclaimed: “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

This led to the Spirit’s intervention with this instruction which Peter reports: “The Spirit told me… [to] not make a distinction between [the Gentile believers] and the [Jewish believers]. So it was that Gentiles came to be included in what was emerging as the Christian fold. The new way in Christ finds glory in that which had been considered profane, unclean, outcast. Thus, another example of cruciform glory.

Then there’s also Jesus’ new commandment given to his disciples before Jesus’ departure recorded in today’s gospel: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Remember the context for giving this new commandment to love. It was when Jesus stripped himself of his outer garments, and got down on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet – not at all an image of glory from a human point of view. But glorious nonetheless, again, in cruciform ways.

Each example from today’s readings reveals aspects of Jesus’ cross-shaped glory that turns our logic on its head. When we look up for glory, Christ bids us to look down to the lowly places to find that which is truly glorious from God’s point of view.

And the lowly becomes glorious because in Christ God turned the whole world upside by transforming death into resurrected life, by converting bad news into good news, when the law leads to gospel, and by working with sin to make for forgiveness and salvation.

In Christ, by his death and resurrection, the deal is sealed. It’s done. It is finished. Complete. Perfect. Then the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, gives “water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” This water washes over us in baptism at this very font, a humble point of origin for our participation in the glory of God.

Then also, in Christ coming down from heaven, we are invited to the marriage feast as “a bride adorned for her husband.” This glorious reality we know at the eucharistic table, in a humble meal of bread and wine, where metaphorically we recline in lowliness to eat with Christ, he who also ate with those inglorious by worldly standards, namely, outcasts and sinners, widows and orphans.

Through our sacramental participation in Christ, through baptism and eucharist, and the power of the en-Spirited word, we, too, become glorious in cruciform ways.

And leaving this place, having basked in God’s humble, cruciform glory in Christ, we show forth this same glory in our works of loving mercy for and with those deemed most inglorious by worldly standards, loving these our neighbors with the love that Christ loved us, and we offer the gift of inclusion, of welcome, making no distinction between us and them as is so common in the pretenses of our inglorious world.

In this, we share in God’s work of making old things new. And it’s all glorious indeed in the way of the cross.

Our sorry world needs a sense of God’s humble, cross-shaped glory apart from the false and seductive ways of worldly glory that in the end are idolatrous and ruinous of the lives of people and indeed all of creation.

May the way of Christ’s glory shine forth in all that we say and do, for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia. Amen.

Week of Easter Four

Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:

Our explorations of the biblical foundations for Christian worship continue this Wednesday, May 11. A Zoom link for this discussion will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages and wish to do so, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Reflections on Worship Livestreamed”

Dear Friends in Christ:

There have been some curious silver linings to the clouds of my Covid convalescence, one of which was having occasion to experience first-hand our Sunday worship livestreamed. While I’ve shared with others in the responsibilities for livestreaming our Sunday worship, I’ve obviously not had occasion to participate live online because of my calling otherwise to lead our worship in person. So, on the Third Sunday of Easter, when seminary President Guy Erwin preached and presided on my behalf, I shared in our worship life from a distance – not far at all geographically speaking, namely, next door in the parsonage.

For those in need, I am glad that we make this option available. Some, out of ongoing concern for coronavirus vulnerabilities, still cannot be present with us indoors and in person for worship. Others have temporary circumstances of one sort or another that keep them home or away on Sundays – recovery from illness or surgery, travel for business, generally being homebound, and other sundry reasons that may keep us from church. Worship livestreamed is a point of contact with our life together. It is a connection among our small diaspora of those who for whatever reasons cannot join us in person for worship. It’s not nothing.

Thus, especially as a ministry for our most vulnerable members, I am glad that we livestream our worship. And I am especially thankful for the team of members who expend a great deal of time and energy to make this happen. And given our limited resources and our desires to protect the privacy of those who worship in person in not having their identities revealed to the wider public of cyberspace, the production quality, in my experience, is quite reasonable, especially the quality and clarity of the audio aspects of the livestreaming. Thousand thanks to Steve Black, Paul Bastuscheck, Chris Smith, and their team for their work in providing this current outreach ministry in our pandemic life together.

All of this said, livestreamed worship is no substitute for our worship together in person, in the flesh, together in our nave. I would not want a steady diet of only the tangential participation that livestreaming affords. Especially at the time of Communion, when the video feed was turned off to protect the privacy of communicants going forward to share first-hand in Christ’s presence, I was reminded of those occasions when, as a young child before I was of age to receive the sacrament, I would sit alone in the pew as my mother and father and older brother went to the chancel to receive Christ’s body and blood. I recalled my longing to go up there myself (this was before the now common practice of giving blessings to the little children), but was instead left behind. That’s the memory of experience that came flooding back a week ago Sunday when I could not be present with you, the body of Christ next door, as the church, to receive and to abide with and share sacramentally in Christ! I was filled with desire for incarnate presence of the full sacred body of our Lord made known in the breaking of bread in the in-person community. My consolation prize at that moment was Steve’s beautifully rendered slide images of our building’s compelling stained-glass windows. Engaging those images meditatively helped redeem that moment from the pangs of longing to be present with you – and with Christ – in the flesh.

Worship livestreamed made for me at best a sense of tangential participation, largely as an onlooker from the back of the room – which is literally where our cameras are located up in the balcony. Even if our cameras were located more centrally in the nave and even if I could see all of your faces on the screen, it still would have been the experience of looking on from afar.

Moreover, sitting at home on my sofa with my laptop before me on a coffee table, I found it challenging to participate in worship, singing and speaking the words in the bulletin by myself in the parsonage living room. Maybe that’s just me, but it took some effort to do more than just view the screen. It didn’t seem natural to sing and speak all by myself. It might have helped if others were there with me. And I also found myself easily distracted by other things in the house – for example, what my two cats were up to in their usual playfulness with each other before their lunch. It was better than nothing, and I’m glad I viewed the livestream, but it was still not the fullness of the divine happening that was going on next door.

Still further, livestreamed worship, even at its best, is but another experience online in front of a screen when so much of the rest of our lives is undertaken online in front of screens. Which is to say, think about how comparatively countercultural is our habit of being assembled in person together each and every Sunday morning in a place apart from our homes. Fewer and fewer people do such things together these days on a regular basis, week after week. Yes, many folk attend sporting events in person, or go to the theater, or to concerts, but usually only on occasion and not as a regular, weekly habit. And worship of almighty God at its best and as intended is so much more than a concert or sporting event, which themselves are experiences of being spectators together but not active participants in the drama of what is going on in the room.

My absence a week ago Sunday underscored for me in renewed ways the central importance of the Sunday assembly in person, in the flesh. Worship on the Lord’s Day, the day of resurrection, is the centerpiece and organizing principle of all of Christian life. It is the focal point of our whole week as people of faith, people of Christ. Sunday serves as I imagine how a gyroscope functions – as that which stabilizes our life and helps to maintain equilibrium in forward missionary movement in and for the sake of the world. As such, as THE organizing principle of Christian life, the Sunday assembly best happens in person and together. Livestreamed worship is at most a thin approximation of the fullness of the incarnate reality of what we habitually do on Sundays.

Think of the multiplicity of gifts available to us when we are gathered in person by the Holy Spirit at our beloved Resurrection Church. We’re together in a three-dimensional space and not the comparative two-dimensionality of the experience of the screen. Our building becomes an extension of our embodiment and focuses our attention on the central things and places – the place of the baptismal bath, the place where the word is proclaimed, and the table at which we gather for the meal. Together as the body of Christ, even if our faces are covered with and obscured by masks, we nonetheless give to each other the gift of body language where so much communication takes place, communication that is largely impossible or confusing online. We sing together, we speak together, voices blending in unity in an increasingly divided, compartmentalized, isolated world. We may get wet by dipping our hands into the waters in the font in thankful remembrance of our baptism into Christ. We share the peace, even if it’s in truncated form still because of pandemic safety precautions. We get up out of our seats, making our offering in the plates provided as still more profoundly we move to the place of the table to eat and drink of Christ’s real presence in, with, and under the gifts of bread and wine. We benefit from the discipline of each other’s presence which helps us to stay focused on the central activities of the liturgy. We get to hear and enjoy the live music of our choir and the sounds of the pipes of the organ and sounds of the piano in a space with fine acoustics – in contrast to recorded music which is our more usual norm in life these days. Before and after worship, we enjoy the privilege of one-on-one conversations or holy conversation in small groups which contribute greatly to our well-being in Christ with each other, drawing us palpably together in community. Again, this is all so very counter cultural. It’s a dedicated hour and more away from the screens which otherwise dominate us in our contemporary daily lives. In short, our Sunday routine in person is an astonishing gift.

I know that I am preaching to the choir, as it were, as the vast majority of you reading this prefers what we do on Sundays to occur in person over against the lesser, but not insignificant-in-its-own-ways-option of worship livestreamed. Given the immense benefits of being together in person, I don’t understand the churches which expend undue energies, in my opinion, on attempts at doing church more and more online. What we do by way of livestreaming or other online video recordings should serve to point to and ultimately draw people to the in-person assembly. The tail of a complementary ministry initiative in livestreaming should not wag the dog of the centrality of Christian assembly in person. Anything short of this incarnate gathering is not ultimately faithful to the core principles of the Christian tradition. May livestreaming serve those in occasional, circumstantial need, but more importantly, may these efforts increase in us the desire, as it did for me, to gather in the flesh in Jesus’ name each Sunday.

In thanksgiving to God in Christ for the grace given us week after week on the Lord’s Day,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fourth Sunday of Easter, John 10:22-30

I don’t need to remind you that we are in the midst of and enduring an age of extreme divisiveness in our nation and in our world. As has been the case for so much of human history, these divisions occur in relation to all manner of issues and they have many causes and sources. In the past several days, abortion has again risen to the forefront of our divisions, a painful coincidence on Mother’s Day. But notable and related is also the division among people because of religion.

Take the case of religiously motivated hatred of Judaism and Jewish people. Reported cases of antisemitism have increased dramatically in recent months according to reporting in the New York Times.

So it is that John’s reporting of what Jesus said in the gospel of John about the Jewish people, some of which we heard in today’s reading, lands with an unnerving thud in our midst today. In today’s gospel reading, John reports the Jewish religious leaders enquired of Jesus about whether or not he was the expected Messiah. Jesus answered, according to John, “I have told you, and you do not believe.”

Then John reports that Jesus elaborated in this way – and these are the words that sting: “You do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”

You don’t belong are some of the worst words a human being can hear. Despite our individualistic bents, particularly in Western societies, human beings are social animals and we long to belong.

To be told that you don’t belong is horrible. Moreover, excluding others has historically been the excuse to vilify, dehumanize, enslave and kill others. Exclusion is a source of genocide.

In the first century, there was significant religious controversy when John’s gospel was compiled, a controversy between leaders of Judaism and what was emerging as Christianity. Alas, John’s gospel is filled with polemical references to this controversy. Today’s gospel passage gives expression to that controversy.

And given the divisiveness of our age and the re-emergence of both anti-Judaism and racial antisemitism in our day, I simply cannot pass over the difficulties with today’s texts. Nor do I wish to get hung up on them.

We, in our day, are called to fight against texts like those from John from being misused and abused in the service of antisemitism. Indeed, our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has worked hard at limiting such negative effects in the Christian scriptures even as we have repudiated Martin Luther’s own anti-Jewish writings.

So, in service of seeking greater harmony among religions and among peoples, but also in the service of actually preaching the gospel, let me explore with you what it might mean to belong to Jesus’ sheep, especially on this Fourth Sunday after Easter which is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday.

What Jesus promises to those who belong is lovely and compelling. Listen again to how John gives voice to Jesus’ words: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand….” How beautiful.

And we as tolerant, loving people want this blessing for everyone, don’t we? Perhaps especially those of Jesus’ own religious heritage. We don’t want the Jewish people excluded from the benefits and blessings which come with belonging to Christ.

But a sense of belonging to Christ that focuses only on privileged blessing to the exclusion of those who don’t belong is driven by what I believe are some problematic theological preoccupations common among popular appropriations of the Christian tradition.

It’s common, for example, to view passages such as today’s through the lenses of the saved vs. the damned, those going to heaven and those going to hell. While there is biblical material to promote this kind of dichotomizing thinking, preoccupations with heaven and hell, those saved and those damned, are arguably more the ruminations of medieval theology and Dante’s Inferno than they are of rigorous and faithful biblical and theological scholarship.

While we cannot get too deeply into all of this today in a sermon, we can take a look at the other readings appointed for today for what they might suggest about what it means to belong to Jesus’ sheep.

In short, what is revealed, I believe, is that belonging to Jesus’ sheep is less about privilege and more about responsibility. It’s less about being part of a select, elite in-group and more about a group forgiven and redeemed and called to engage the wider world in the spirit of Jesus’ sacrificial, servanthood ministry.

Look at today’s reading from Revelation, which focuses on a vision of a “multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.” These throngs were crying out and singing praises to God. In the vision, the author wonders who these people are. The answer is this: “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal.”

And while they will no longer hunger and thirst and while their tears will be wiped from their faces, presumably in the great ordeal they knew such hunger and thirst along with scorching heat and many, many tears.

In short, having been washed in the blood of the Lamb, they took up their crosses and followed the Lamb who was also paradoxically their shepherd, and they followed the Shepherd Lamb in the way of suffering for the sake of the world.

Such suffering is not the stuff of belonging to a privileged, elite club which excludes everyone else and relishes their privileged status at the expense of the damned.

Then consider today’s reading from Acts, where Peter raises Tabitha who had fallen ill and then died. Tabitha was known for her devotion to good works and acts of charity in Jesus’ name.

The widows were there weeping – widows being the very ones who were on the receiving end of Tabitha’s goodness and kindness in giving them needed clothing which she had made.

Peter was called upon to kneel and pray and then to raise Tabitha up again. To what end? To be returned to the very widows that Tabitha had cared for and thus to continue her good works and acts of charity in Jesus’ name. In short, Tabitha was raised to continue her loving service of those in need.

Here again, the story is not about the privileges of salvation and restored life, about who belongs and who doesn’t, about who is damned and who is saved. No, not at all.

Belonging to Jesus’ sheep means enduring various versions of slaughter in loving service of our risen Lord. It means going through great ordeals for the sake of such loving service. Being saved for service involves shedding many, many tears. It means being raised by Christ again and again to return to the mission fields to care for the widows and those most vulnerable to being excluded by religious elites.

Given that such ordeals are in store for those who follow Jesus, we may not wish such privileged belonging on just anybody! We ourselves might think twice about belonging to such a sheepfold!

Yes, to be sure, there is great privilege in belonging to Christ, who is our Good Shepherd, who leads us beside still waters, baptizing us into himself through these same waters, and raising us up like Tabitha to share in the victory over death. Christ the shepherd, who is at the same time the sacrificial lamb, restores us, his rod and staff comforting us in the deathly places of the longest fearsome shadows. Christ bids us dine at a sumptuous feast at this sacramental table, where our cups overflow with his grace and mercy even in the presence of any our enemies.

Moreover, Christ is not only our shepherd, but our temple – he who walked in the temple in the portico of Solomon has himself become the temple, the holy of holies in whom we abide like branches to the vine, we who also become temples of the Holy Spirit. More still, Christ’s red blood washes us into brilliant, dazzling cleanliness. And in Christ, who is one with Father, we share in the dance of the Holy Trinity. All of these gifts and blessings generate and regenerate our faith and give us eternal life such that no one can snatch us from the loving, wounded hands of our Good Shepherd.

But all of this blessing is in the service of our offering sacrifices of thanksgiving in love for our neighbors, including perhaps especially those, like the Jewish people, who are persecuted for their own religious convictions, for example, in not claiming Jesus as their promised Messiah. We are called to protect them and their convictions of faith and certainly not to relegate them to the damned.

All of this brings us back to Lutheran ethical sensibilities, and Luther and his great paradox, expressed yet again in his treatise, “Freedom of a Christian.” Yes, by God’s grace in Christ, we are perfectly free, privileged, chosen, belonging sovereigns of all, subject to none – and at the same time in thanksgiving for graced privileges given, we are perfectly dutiful servants of all, subject to all. That’s what it means to belong to Jesus’ sheep. It’s being blessed to be a blessing, and shedding many tears in suffering for the sake of others not so privileged and blessed.

Belonging to Christ is not us vs. them, the saved vs. the damned, but a belonging that calls us to serve our neighbors with the same love and mercy that made us to belong to Christ in the first place.

Such belonging to the Good Shepherd is that which leads to our loving service in Jesus’ name, a loving service that will go a long, long way toward healing the sad and dangerous divisions of our day. God in Christ help us. Amen.

Week of Easter Three

Join Us for the Bible in Christian Worship this Wednesday:

Over twenty persons participated in the first session of this new series which explores how the patterns and content of our Sunday worship are grounded in the scriptural witness of both ancient Hebrew and Christian practices. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact messages and wish to do so, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

“Personal Reflections from Quarantine”

Dear Friends in Christ:

For two full years, I had managed to dodge the Covid-19 bullet. No longer. As I write these words, I have shown improvements each and every day with the diminishment of what from the beginning were comparatively mild symptoms. General fatigue persists with energy levels waxing and waning through the day. And while I currently have tested negative for Covid, erring on the side of caution, I maintain for now the discipline of quarantine for the sake of the health and well-being of our wider community.

Even with a mild case of Covid, I have a sense that the coronavirus is not something to be trifled with, particularly when it comes to its general systemic effects on my whole body’s energy levels and capacities. In a renewed, first-hand way, I am thankful to God for the work of scientists who developed such effective vaccinees and boosters and antiviral medications which likely kept my case mild.

But how did Covid catch up with me? Throughout the pandemic, I have consistently persisted in my discipline of wearing masks in all indoor settings and circumstances, from church to grocery shopping, and have limited my participation in large group activities. What the reality of my infection reveals to me is that guarding or promoting public health is not reduced to a matter merely of individual, personal choice. I chose to err on the side of caution, and yet I still got sick. As individuals we are inevitably participants in a wider community culture, namely, one that has currently chosen to relax safety protocols such as mask-wearing – and this during a phase of the pandemic when a variant of the virus that is even more transmissible than omicron and its first subvariants is increasingly widespread throughout the nation, especially in the Northeast. I’m not engaging in a blame game here, but just observing that we are all in this together, whether we like to admit that or not. What we choose to do or not do together as a society has real life effects and consequences, all up and down the line, on individual lives and on the quality of our life together.

Of course, I cannot determine or isolate the particular set of circumstances that resulted in my exposure to the virus sufficient that I tested positive and became symptomatic. Which is to say, even as I acknowledge the power of our whole communal contextualization, it is still a matter of my individual particularity that resulted in my current illness. I marvel at the fact that during the pre-symptomatic time when I was likely most infectious, my son, Nathan, and my college friend, Chris, and I were together in the parsonage, un-masked and interacting in close quarters. Yet, neither one of them has gotten sick or even tested positive. The body, with its immunities and complicated, interacting systems, is full of wisdom and mystery.

Which is to say, stress and its effects have a lot to do with what we, our bodies, are able to withstand or succumb to. I find it fascinating that I began to experience symptoms the moment that Nathan got on the plane at Dulles Airport Sunday a week ago to return to Phoenix. It’s as if my body was waiting to get sick until my fatherly duties for his visit concluded. Nathan’s spring break time with me happened in the context of the busiest time of the year for pastors, namely, Holy Week and Easter – and this on top of what has already been a stressful two years with the pandemic. I’ve long been wondering when my body would eventually tell me, essentially, “you have no choice now but to take a break.”

It’s noteworthy that past periods of particular stress in my life have commonly resulted in my being on the receiving end of one form of illness or another, at this point, consistently on the milder end of things. Each occasion became its own kind of grace to allow a cessation of stressful circumstances in order to open up horizons for rest and healing and restoration. I am claiming my current case of Covid as one such expression of grace. Clearly not everyone who catches Covid would name it as an odd kind of grace. If my episode were more severe, I wouldn’t either. But in this particular case, I do see the grace – and the warning sign to listen to my body and its wisdom in always seeking a restoration of balance and well-being.

I often joke after Easter Sunday that Jesus vacated his tomb in resurrected new life at least in part so that pastors and other busy church people can enter that womb of the tomb for their own few days of rest toward new life…. So it is that I have claimed my bout with Covid as such an occasion for needed rest, hopefully also toward renewal in this Eastertide for the sake of the work entrusted to me as pastor here.

Enough about me. Thanks for your various expressions of concern. Thanks for your indulgence in reading these personal reflections. I pray that they may provoke you to reclaim a renewed passion to promote and nurture public health in our wider communities. And I pray that my reflections may also inspire you, without first getting sick, to claim your own needed occasions of rest and renewal for restoration in the midst of your busy lives and routines, and perhaps to see moments of God’s grace in unexpected places and circumstances. And I pray that you all may stay well.

I trust that I will be back in your midst soon. Another graced moment in all of this is that I also had the occasion to share in Resurrection’s livestreamed worship for the Third Sunday of Easter, obviously a new experience for me – more on that in next week’s Midweek Message. Meanwhile, my thanks to those who covered for me in my absence – especially Council President, Glen Mason, who took on some additional duties in my absence, Pastor Amy Feira who officiated at the funeral of Malcolm Stark, and Pastor and Seminary President, Guy Erwin, who preached and presided on Sunday.

With ongoing prayers in Jesus’ name for your health and well-being and that of our communities,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of Easter Two

Dear Friends in Christ:

Have you ever wondered how traditions and rituals of Christian worship came to be, and what are the biblical origins of our worship practices? And how about the lectionary with its three appointed readings for each Sunday along with psalm – why do we use the lectionary to ground our time together on Sundays in the scriptures? These and other questions concerning the Bible in Christian worship will be addressed over the course of six weeks in a new Bible Study via Zoom on Wednesday evenings, beginning this Wednesday, April 27 at 7:00 pm. This series will be led by our own members, Gail Ramshaw and Gordon Lathrop, two of our wider church’s foremost scholars concerning worship who have devoted their whole careers to the very questions I have posed here. Even in their retirement, Gordon and Gail continue active lives of scholarship, producing books and other publications and resources to promote the understanding and faithful practice of Christian worship. In fact, both have new books available to us and to the wider church. Gail recently published Much Fine Gold: The Revised Common Lectionary (Church Publishing, 2021), a work which explores the logic and importance of the lectionary for worship and Christian faith formation. And Gordon just put into my hands his new book, The Assembly: A Spirituality (Fortress Press 2022), which explores the Sunday assembly as the foundation for Christian spirituality along with heralding the central importance of gathering in person together in this age of virtual realities which keep us apart and tied to our various screens.

In my own engagement with the scriptures over the course of three decades of public ministry as both pastor and professor, I have marveled at how key biblical passages, in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, reveal the patterns of worship which we continue to practice to this day. Gordon will devote three sessions to exploring some of these foundational texts, namely, Isaiah 25 (a passage of praise for deliverance from oppression with the promise of feasting), Nehemiah 8 (a passage that reveals how God’s people engaged the holy word and feasted together in response to God’s gracious generosity), and Luke 24 (which records resurrection appearances of Jesus, centering on the Road to Emmaus where the risen Christ is made known in the breaking of bread).

Likewise, I have a longstanding devotion to the church’s lectionaries, and I marvel at how the appointed passages never fail to offer a needed word for us in our day. Returning to the practice of preaching every Sunday after an eighteen-year hiatus from such regular preaching on Sundays, I am currently experiencing a renewed delight in the discipline of attending to each of the three main appointed readings for Sundays. Seeing and engaging the passages alongside each other consistently opens up horizons for interpretation and understanding the scriptures in new ways. Gail, in her sessions, will explore how our lectionary uses the Bible on Sunday morning, centering her presentations on some of the appointed readings for the Sundays closest to our Wednesday sessions.

Gail and Gordon’s classes will involve their making presentations, followed by discussion and questions among participants. Have a Bible available for each session. For Gail’s sessions (May 18, May 25, and June 1), you should also have available a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship. This might be a good time to buy one if you do not have your worship book at home. You could also borrow one from church, as long as you return it. ELW includes the lectionary for Sundays in its three-year cycle, along with daily lectionary resources. There is also a section on Scripture and Worship which provides some of the scriptural foundations for our orders of worship for Holy Communion and for Holy Baptism (ELW pew edition, pages 1154-1159).

In short, this new series is a great opportunity to renew and deepen our understanding of why we do what we do each and every Sunday morning, grounding such understanding in the scriptures themselves, the norming rule of our life together.

Please join us! Zoom links will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not on our Constant Contact mailing list, then please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

In Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Second Sunday of Easter, John 20:19-31

On Good Friday, when our choir was singing the Passion according to John by the late Lutheran composer, Richard Hillert, I was struck by how the drama of the music, at least in my experience, brought out and gave expression to the wrenching conflict that was integral to Jesus’ last hours – when he was betrayed, arrested, and brought before both religious and secular authorities and ultimately was executed at the hands of officials of the Roman empire.

The tension of the conflict was palpable to me, and evoked in me a range of emotions – anger and fear and sadness, all evident in a sense of physical agitation.

On this Second Sunday of Easter, on this side of the resurrection, we’re beyond all of that tension and conflict, right? Wrong. Alas. Today’s reading from Acts describes a time very much after Jesus’ resurrection, “when the temple police… brought the apostles…. [to] stand before the council… to be questioned by the high priest” because of their teaching about Christ’s resurrection (cf. Acts 5:27-30).

The temple police? Really? Was that necessary? Why should a holy place require a police force to maintain peace and security?

Such a reality is far from our common experience here and now, at least in this congregation. The closest thing we have to temple police here at Resurrection is our team of ushers who do tell people where to go – but as a gesture of hospitality!

On the other hand, tragically, temple police are not far from contemporary experience. When I visited the temple mount in Jerusalem years ago, with its mosque and Western Wall, a place sacred to both Jews and Muslims, the tension was palpable. Armed Israeli soldiers were everywhere to be seen.

After 9/11 in New York City, it was discovered that the CitiGroup tower under which sat Saint Peter Lutheran Church, where I was a member, was among terrorists’ identified targets. And the church was to have been the soft spot for an attack to bring down the skyscraper. As a result, in those many weeks following 9/11, officers with machine guns were a regular presence in my church on Sunday mornings.

And so it continues to go in our sad, sorry, bitterly divided, and dangerous world.

Think of and pray for the Orthodox Churches in Ukraine, celebrating their Easter today, where hundreds of those churches under the authority of Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, who has been outspoken in his support of Russia’s invasion of and war on Ukraine – a holy war, he suggests, which is a cosmic battle against the perceived forces of evil in the West. Needless to say, this violent conflict is tearing apart the communion among Orthodox Christians and churches. Many churches are now severing ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. This has been and continues to be our sin-filled, captive human reality.

Today’s gospel reading from John finds Jesus’ followers behind locked doors for fear of the Judeans. Older translations say it more starkly and stridently – for fear of the Jews. Such references to the Jews throughout John’s gospel have contributed to centuries of Christian anti-Judaism and in recent centuries, racial antisemitism. John’s gospel has been used through the Christian era to justify attacks on Jewish people – as part of Good Friday observances, and in pogroms, and most tragically, in the Holocaust of the mid-20th Century.

In short, the resurrection of Christ has not miraculously cured the fever in our human hearts and minds. In fact, proclamation of the resurrection of Christ, as we saw in today’s first reading from Acts, has created further divisions among religious people.

This divisiveness weighs heavily on us, especially in the current climate in our nation and world. Don’t you feel torn by it all? I know I do, and on a daily basis.

And yet, it is into these very realities – when we are fearfully behind our versions of locked doors, and in our virtual bubbles and cocoons of the like-minded – where the risen Christ appears again and again, even as Christ appeared to the disciples in that locked room two millennia ago.

And the risen Christ appears again and again with this simple, but profound message: “Peace be with you.” Peace be with you. Peace. Just what we want and need to hear amidst all the fear and conflict and violence and warfare, cold and hot. Peace be with you.

This is a peace offered amidst fear, and resentment and conflict, a peace in fact born of violence and death. That is to say, it’s a peace that is conveyed via Jesus’ wounded hands and side and feet.

Indeed, Jesus revealing his wounds to the disciples is precisely that which authenticated Jesus’ embodied presence as that of the resurrected Christ. Jesus’ wounds made for genuine presence. In the wounds, they recognized their Lord.

So-called doubting Thomas only wanted the same thing that his compatriot disciples got – namely, a presence made genuine by the mark of the nails in his hands and his pierced, wounded side. That’s how Jesus showed himself to the eleven. Thomas simply wanted the same benefit – to see for himself the wounds, but also and at the same time, the embodied, living Christ.

The peace which Jesus offers is intimately connected with these wounds. This peace flows from his wounds. It’s real presence.

Thus, in the connection of Christ’s peace with Christ’s wounds, it’s no naïve, Pollyanna version of peace that Jesus gives. It’s not a peace that glosses over the terrible conflicts and warring violence of our world. Rather, it’s a message of peace that is offered right in the thick of the worst of our fearsome conflicts and divisions and warfare.

And again, to reiterate, this is not a peace that was given only once some two thousand years ago. No, the risen Christ appears again and again behind our varied formats of locked doors – each and every Sunday, here in this place, and other places of Christian assembly throughout the world. In Ukraine. And Sudan. And Syria. And every wounded, warring place that Christians gather on the Lord’s Day.

In fact, we re-enact the scenes with the eleven disciples and Thomas every Sunday. We, too, gather on the first day of the week. We are often locked in our fears, captive, paralyzed, speechless. But Jesus appears in the word, he who is the word of God made flesh, with the same eternal message: “Peace be with you.” These words were written down as signs recorded, according to John, so that we might believe in our messianic risen Christ and enjoy life in his name.

Moreover, when we share the Peace on Sunday mornings – even if now it’s only a bow, or wave, or eye contact, not a handshake or a hug – it is still the very Peace of Christ being made known among us, reverberating through the centuries when we convey the sacramental, sacred peace to each other in simple but profound gestures.

And then we come to the table to eat and drink of Jesus’ wounds, touching them in our very selves, our own bodies, taking them into ourselves that our own wounds may be embraced by Christ’s life-giving wounds. Jesus in the flesh via bread and wine being incorporated into our very flesh for life and healing and reconciliation – that is to say, for peace.

Then, like Thomas, our faith awakened and renewed, we exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus then breathes on us through his word and sacraments imparting to us his Holy Spirit and giving us the same charge that he gave to the original disciples:
“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you…. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” (John 20:21-23)

And then we are sent on our way, full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, to enter again into a world at war in oh so many ways with Jesus’ eternal message of Peace. We also go as church with Christ’s authority to forgive sins and make for reconciliation, for God’s shalom – not just the absence of war, but holistic, comprehensive well-being for all of creation.

In such sending, Christ, who loves us and frees us from our sins by his blood, and makes us to be a dominion, and makes us priests also to serve God (cf. Revelation 1:5b-6a) by proclaiming – albeit imperfectly – in word and deed that Christ is raised from the dead. We give expression to our priesthood in Christ by proclaiming in word and deed, to friend and foe alike, those near and those far away, those on both sides of our many divides, “The Peace of Christ be with you,” for Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.

Easter Week

Dear Friends in Christ:

Holy Week and Easter 2022 were simply splendid in my estimation. And what a privilege and joy, even amidst the gravitas of the days, to have assembled in person and in doors for the fullness of the holy days, from Palm/Passion Sunday to the Three Days – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil of Easter – and then through to Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Day. It is commonly acknowledged that the pandemic, with its upending of routines, has interfered with our sense of time. Thus, it is remarkable for me to realize and now to observe to you that this year’s Holy Week with Easter was in fact my third observance of these days with you as your Pastor. The first year we undertook the observances together but remotely when I was still in Phoenix before I even moved to Arlington. Last year, our observances and celebrations were a combination of worship videos and abbreviated and partial gatherings outdoors. At last, third year’s the charm, we could return to more normal liturgical routines even as our faces were still adorned with masks. I am sure you agree with me that it was wonderful at last to be able to do what we do during these holy days with far fewer impediments. Thanks be to God.

Now that I have experienced the worshipful traditions for Holy Week and Easter first-hand and in person at Resurrection Church, I marvel at the enthusiasm our faithful visibly express in worship, especially during the Three Days. First off, attendance at each of the liturgies was quite respectable for a church our size these days – 34 on Maundy Thursday, 54 on Good Friday, and 35 for the Vigil of Easter. In my experience of other Lutheran congregations, people tend to be a bit shy about sharing in the dramatic re-enactments of the Three Days. At Resurrection last week I experienced worshipers who put their all into gathering outdoors for the blessing of palms and the procession into the church on Palm and Passion Sunday, and who read Luke’s Passion with attentiveness to the word, and who were not shy about having their feet washed on Maundy Thursday, and who lined up for the full length of the center aisle to place lit votive candles before the roughhewn cross on Good Friday, and who with gusto gathered again outdoors for the new fire and blessing of the Paschal Candle and another procession into the church with individual candles lit for the Easter Proclamation, and who rose to the occasion with full assembly participation in the reading from Daniel, and who didn’t mind getting wet during the Affirmation of Baptism at the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. That was quite the run-on sentence, but it is purposively so to reinforce the seamless unity of the Three Days, when one day flows into the other. Then Easter Sunday morning was a grand culmination in resurrection victory, made all the more meaningful in relation to each of the liturgies during the Three Days. It is clearly evident to me that you have been well-formed over the course of many years to be able to share so deeply in the drama of Holy Week and Easter, and for this I am thankful indeed as your Pastor.

When congregations offer the full complement of liturgies during Holy Week and Easter, it is a major undertaking for all hands on deck. Thus, I want to offer thousand thanks to the many who gave generously of their time and talents as a congregational team to plan and execute the liturgical and other events of the past week:

  • Our Worship and Music Committee under Cindy Reese’s leadership, along with others who helped plan the liturgies.
  • Heidi Dech, who did extra work in securing worship leaders for all the services.
  • Rosalie and Heidi Dech who tended to the production of the hard copy bulletins.
  • Our assisting ministers, readers, communion assistants, and other worship leaders who went the extra mile this past week during multiple liturgies.
  • Gordon Lathrop who preached for the Vigil of Easter.
  • Our team of ushers under the direction of Maggie Mount who had extra work to do to make the ceremonial enactments go smoothly.
  • Our altar guild under the leadership of Jeanette Barkley for her and their many extra efforts as well.
  • Patti Mugavero and her team of helpers who painstakingly assembled the floral cross, an annual tradition at Resurrection.
  • Our team who makes Sunday livestreaming possible, Steve Black, Paul Bastuscheck, Chris Smith, and our youth who help with the videography.
  • Tom Mugavero and the Fellowship Committee for arranging Easter Breakfast – how wonderfully normal it felt to eat together at tables indoors on Easter Day.
  • Angie Brooke who oversaw logistics for the Easter Egg Hunt.
  • Our Music Director, Barbara Verdile, our choir, cantors, and other musicians who offered splendid music to mark each of the week’s liturgies.
  • And anyone else whose roles or names I’ve inadvertently omitted!

Many hands make much lighter work, and I thank God for all of you, even as I offer at the same time my thanks to each of our leaders. Liturgy is colloquially understood as the “work of the people.” God’s people were indeed hard at work at Resurrection last week, a very holy week indeed.

As Eastertide continues, this coming Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, we will also mark Earth Day under the planning sponsorship of both our Creation Care Team and Education Committee. Our Sunday worship will conclude with a Litany of Praise for Creation. We’ll adjourn outdoors for the blessing of our community garden – our Plot Against Hunger – even as we pray for our volunteer gardeners. Coffee Hour will be mainly outdoors, and there will be creation care activities for all ages during that time. Please join in!

With thanks to God and to all of you for your faithfulness in worship and in our life together,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Resurrection of Our Lord/Easter Day, Luke 24:1-12

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! This exclamation rolls off our tongues naturally and enthusiastically on this festival day. But the question of the resurrection from the dead is a stumbling block to many when it comes to believing the Christian faith. What exactly happened that made the tomb empty?

In order to begin to respond to such a question, we do well to look carefully at the resurrection stories recorded in the scriptures. Here’s a summary of the salient features and facts of the account included in the passage from Luke’s gospel appointed this year for Easter Day, the Resurrection of Our Lord:

  • The stone to the tomb had been rolled away from the entrance.
  • The body of Jesus was not in the tomb contrary to the expectations of the women who visited there to anoint Jesus’ body with spices.
  • Two mysterious men in dazzling clothes were there who reported that Jesus had been raised from the dead – but this was second-hand information, a report about the resurrection, but not a direct encounter with the risen Lord.
  • The women remembered Jesus’ words about his being resurrected after being put to death, but again that’s just the stuff of recollection of some of Jesus’ words.
  • These circumstances resulted in understandable reactions: perplexity, terror, bowing faces to the ground.
  • The women left the tomb, returned to the other disciples and dutifully reported their experience at the tomb which was dismissed as an idle tale and they did not believe the women’s testimony.
  • To his credit, Peter visited the tomb to see about these things and saw the linen cloths by themselves. He left amazed, but Luke does not indicate that Peter believed.

That’s it. That’s what we’re left with in the story for this our day of celebration.

What’s missing is the direct encounter with the risen Christ. What’s missing also is belief, the faith that leads to the confident confession that Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.

If this is all we had, only indirect, second-hand accounts about the resurrection, we wouldn’t be here to today. If this is all we had to go on, then Paul’s concern expressed in today’s second reading about debates concerning resurrection would ring true about us:

“If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19) This life as we know it holds for us only mortality, finitude, sin – in short, human business as usual.

But Paul remains confident in his proclamation: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)

What gave Paul the confidence of this confession, his belief and faith that Jesus had been raised from the dead? In short, Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus.

Moreover, what gave Peter the confidence to proclaim as he did in today’s first reading from Acts: “We are witnesses to all that [Jesus] did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to al the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41) As an eye witness, Peter had direct encounters with Christ that resulted in faith, the faith to proclaim with confidence that Christ is risen.

But let’s get back to Luke’s account. What was read today leaves us short. But the reports of direct, eye witness encounters with Christ are provided in Luke. In fact, what comes next in Luke is the story of the Road to Emmaus. Let me recount for you the basics of the story: two of Jesus’ disciples are walking along the road on their way to Emmaus, talking with each other, despondent over the events that led to Jesus’ death. Jesus appears on the road with them, but they did not recognize that it was their risen Lord until Jesus broke bread with them. Luke writes: “When he was at the table with them, [Jesus] took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized [Jesus]; and he vanished from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

It was this eye-witness, direct encounter with Jesus at the table where Jesus broke the bread that made for recognition of and faith in the risen Lord. Recognizing the living Christ in the breaking of the bread is first true, direct, first-hand resurrection appearance that Luke records.

So, where does this leave us today with only a partial, second-hand reporting in Luke about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead? The story of the Road to Emmaus is not even featured this year among the lectionary readings for the Sundays in Easter.

The good news is that we don’t need to hear the story of the Road to Emmaus because we re-enact that story each and every Sunday when we break bread at this table. Every Sunday is our Road to Emmaus when we have a direct, first-hand, eye witness encounter with the risen Christ in the same manner as those first two disciples on the same day as the resurrection.

Let that sink in for a moment. Our resurrection encounters in recognizing Christ in the breaking of the bread are the same mode of appearance that convinced those first disciples that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. Wow.

The pattern of encounter that Luke records about the Road to Emmaus is the pattern of what we do here on each and every Lord’s day: we journey together, often despondent about the bad news that’s happening throughout our sorry world; Christ appears in our midst in the reading and proclamation of the word, as Christ “interprets to us the things about himself in all the scripture” (cf. Luke 24:27) as he did with those first two disciples; then we go to the table together where our eyes are likewise opened and we recognize the risen Christ in, with, and under the broken bread and the wine poured among us in churchly community.

The story of the Road to Emmaus ends with the disciples rushing back to the others to let them know how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread. So, too, we leave this place to share similar stories of good news and new life with those who are not here with us.

In other words, Luke’s resurrection account continues in what we do whenever we are assembled by the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. This leaves us with much, much more than this life only as Paul lamented if there is no resurrection. Indeed, because we also know the risen Christ in the breaking of bread, we, like Paul, can offer confident proclamation of Christ’s resurrection.

Amidst the ongoing social isolation of pandemic and political divisiveness, of war, poverty, injustice, and oppression, people hunger for the kind of life-giving encounter in community in person which we enjoy here every week where the ordinary becomes extraordinary in the power of the resurrected Christ, where intellectual stumbling blocks to faith are overcome in living encounters with Christ among us.

So, let’s run with haste to tell others despondent of this life only, inviting them to this place of encounter with the risen Christ. For Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia! Amen.

 

Holy Week

Dear Friends in Christ:

Over the years, commitment to attending services during Holy Week has waned. Yet, the Three Days that are the centerpiece of this week are the crown jewel of the church’s whole liturgical calendar when we participate dramatically and sacramentally in the mysteries of salvation fully revealed in scripture. In our worshipful participation we engage not just the stories, but come to know the very sacred realities to which the scriptural stories bear witness.

The Three Days – consisting of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday – are best understood as one seamless sacred drama enacted over the course of three different days. Hence, we are producing one worship booklet to cover the Three Days.

I urge you, for your edification and spiritual well-being, to come to worship on each of the Three Days beginning at 7:00 pm each evening. Those who participate fully have routinely told me over the years just how powerful it is spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and existentially to be immersed in the richness of the Christian gospel in these liturgies which communicate to us salvation in Christ.

For your prayerful consideration, here again is a summary of what you can expect this week:

The Three Days Commence, Maundy Thursday (April 14): Worship at 7:00 pm, Confession and Forgiveness, Washing of Feet, and Holy Communion with Stripping of the Altar.

The Three Days proclaim and re-enact the drama of Jesus’ last days of public, earthly ministry culminating in his death and resurrection.

Worship on Maundy Thursday begins with confession and forgiveness, and also features footwashing. In obedience to Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, those wishing symbolically and literally to enact such servant love will wash each other’s feet. We continue with Holy Communion, the institution of which is remembered on this night. Worship concludes as the lights in the nave and chancel are dimmed and the altar and chancel are stripped of their adornments as Psalm 88, a psalm of lament, is sung as we recall Jesus’ agonized prayer in the garden. We will then depart in silence.

Good Friday (April 15): Worship at 7:00 pm, with sung Passion According to John and Adoration of the Cross.

We assemble again on Friday evening, continuing the Three Days, where the focal point of our time together in worship is the Passion According to John, which will be sung by our choir. After the sermon and Hymn of the Day, worship continues with bidding prayers in the context of which your silent prayers are invited for the church and world. Then a rough-hewn cross is carried in procession into the nave as we sing of our adoration of Christ who was crucified on that lifegiving tree. Solemn Reproaches are said and the Trisagion (“Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us”) is sung while members of the assembly come forward for various expressions of devotion at the cross, including placing lit votive candles around it. When worship concludes in a darkened church, and all depart in silence.

The Three Days Conclude, Resurrection of Our Lord, Vigil of Easter (April 16): Worship at 7:00 pm, new fire, procession with Paschal Candle, Easter Proclamation, service of readings, affirmation of baptism, and Holy Communion.

We assemble once again on the third of the Three Days outdoors on the Potomac Street side of the church to begin the Vigil of Easter. The new fire is lit, from which the Paschal Candle, is also lit and blessed. The whole assembly follows the Paschal Candle into the church, through the hallways and into the nave where worshipers will receive their own individual candles with light taken from the Paschal Candle. We will gather at chairs surrounding the baptismal font as the Easter Proclamation is sung. A series of readings, recounting major stories of salvation history, is read followed by prayer. Still at the font, we’ll affirm our baptism, confessing anew our faith as we are sprinkled with water from the font. Then the lights will come on, and we’ll sing “This is the Feast of Victory for our God” as we take seats in the pews in the nave for Holy Communion, concluding the Three Days, having run the gamut from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light, from death to new life in Christ.

Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunday (April 17): Worship at 10:00 am. Easter Breakfast begins at 8:30.

We’ll assemble yet again on Easter Sunday, Resurrection of Our Lord. An Easter Breakfast of egg casseroles and breakfast breads begins in the parish hall and outdoors at 8:30 am. At 10:00, we’ll assemble in the nave for a festive celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord in the manner of our usual Sunday Assembly, but with the volume of celebration turned up a bit in honor of the resurrected Christ who is our light, our life, our salvation.

Your share in the joy of Easter Day will be all the more enriched by your having also attended liturgy on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and at the Vigil of Easter!

Again, as your Pastor, I urge your full participation in each of the Three Days.

God in Christ take us together into these paschal mysteries in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Passion and Palm Sunday, Luke 23:1-49

Preaching week after week on passages from Luke, I’ve been struck by how Jesus consistently is found amidst the crowds in Luke’s telling. I’ve called attention to this repeatedly in my sermons in the past months. Beginning from Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River, where Jesus was one among many in the crowd to be baptized, Jesus always seems to end up amidst the teeming throngs of people.

In short, Jesus in Luke loves to be amidst the crowds, and he does his best work right in the thick of things. This proclivity continues to be true in the Passion according to Luke, much of which you just heard read.

Here’s a summary of how the crowds appear in connection with Jesus in Luke’s Passion:

  • At the time of Jesus’ grand entry into Jerusalem, crowds of people spread their cloaks on the road, and the multitude of the disciples praised God with a loud voice, saying “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:36-40) Thus, the crowds begin with great enthusiasm, echoing the song of the angels announcing Jesus’ birth.
  • Later at night, the mood turns darker as a crowd suddenly showed up at the Mount of Olives when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. (Luke 22:47ff.)
  • Then the assembly of the elders of the people were akin to a crowd when Jesus was on trial before the religious council. (Luke 22:66ff.) The religious authorities took a lead in turning public opinion against Jesus.
  • Those crowds clamored saying, “We found this man perverting our nation, forbidding us to pay taxes to the emperor.” (Luke 23:2)
  • Then the crowd insisted, “He stirs up the people by teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee where he began even to this place.” (Luke 23:5) The crowds begin to take on the manner of a mob.
  • After Pilate called together the crowd of chief priests, the leaders and the people (Luke 23:13) shouted all together, “Away with this fellow! Release Barabbas for us!” (Luke 23:18ff.)
  • And the crowds kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21)
  • Despite Pilate’s pleas, they kept urgently demanding with loud shouts that Jesus should be crucified; and their voices prevailed” (Luke 23:23) That is to say, the mob ruled.
  • As Jesus was crucified, the crowds of people stood by, watching (Luke 23:35), a passive stance with no one taking any lead in trying to prevent this travesty. Evil triumphs when otherwise good people do nothing….
  • Finally, after Jesus died and the show was over, Luke reports that “when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). They were there for the spectacle, a perverse form of entertainment, not unlike the crowds of onlookers who were present for lynchings in the history of our own country. All the throngs had to show for their participation was stirred emotions – anger, fear, grievance, a spirit of violence – all indicated by their going home beating their breasts.

In short, the Passion according to Luke reveals the fickleness of the crowds, how they blew hot and cold, starting with great enthusiasm, but then quickly turning on Jesus and ending up with a mob mentality, all riled up with no place for that emotional energy to go except to cause grave damage, ultimately Jesus’ death at the hands of Roman authorities who caved to the mob’s wishes.

Crowds of human beings are like that. We are given to a mob mentality all too easily, as we have been seeing in our own nation and world of late.

But Jesus, true to form in Luke, remains in the crowd, remains for the crowd. The prophet Isaiah, in his suffering servant song in today’s first reading, points us to how Jesus, in public ministry long after Isaiah prophesied, responded to the throngs. Isaiah’s words could be those of Jesus: “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:6)

Indeed, here’s the gospel truth: even if the crowds turn on Jesus, Jesus does not turn on the crowds, but stays right in the midst of the throngs, even the mobs.

The bad news is that crowds are fickle and embody communally some of the most extreme features of human sin, the crowds giving people the permission to act their worst.

The good news is that Jesus is steadfast in his love for the throngs even when they violently betray him in a way which ended up with him being put to death. Jesus simply would not turn on or abandon the crowds to which he was drawn since the first moments of his public ministry at his baptism amidst the throngs of people.

Indeed, for the sake of the crowds, Jesus emptied himself. As the Apostle Paul puts it in the great Christ hymn that is the focus of today’s reading from Philippians, Christ Jesus “relinquished it all, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8)

And there from the cross, Jesus forgave the crowds: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

Still, the crowds forsook Jesus, leaving the spectacle and returning home, again, beating their breasts.

But that’s not the end of the story. In the absence of the crowds, so much more was accomplished in these last hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry, and in the three days beyond. In short, life and death contended, again suggested by the suffering servant song in Isaiah: “Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me.” (Isaiah 50:8) Jesus’ most real, cosmic adversaries with whom he contended were ultimately the mob-like forces of sin and death expressed in the violent energies of the throngs, who were captivated by the powers and principalities of this world about which Paul writes elsewhere.

And when that battle stupendous was over, when God raised Jesus victorious from the grave, then other crowds and throngs would return, drawn by the Spirit of the living Christ, suggested in the Philippians Christ hymn: “Therefore God also highly exalted [Jesus] and gave him the name that is above very name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11) Every knee bending, every tongue confessing is indication of the assembling of another crowd, in this case, of believers.

We are such a crowd gathered here today. We are among the billions over the centuries and now in our current day whose tongues confess that Jesus Christ is Lord as we bend our knees in worshipful adoration to the glory of God.

And in our usual routine, we are sent from this place and this weekly time together, having been fed in word and sacrament, and with our faith thus renewed and strengthened, we go back into the crowds, the teeming throngs, and even mobs of people, with the confession on our lips that Jesus Christ is Lord, expressed not just in our words, but in our deeds of loving, thankful service in Jesus’ name right in the thick of things, where Jesus continues to do his best work. Thanks be to God for the wonder of it all. Amen.

Week of the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Dear Friends in Christ:

We are soon to embark on the holiest of days in the calendar of our Christian life. What follows is narrative description of what you can expect in the coming week.

Midweek Lenten Series Concludes:

Our Midweek Lenten Program via Zoom concludes this coming Wednesday, April 6 at 7:00 pm with a brief service of the word featuring readings from the daily lectionary which complement our Sunday readings. Following worship, Mimi Van Poole will offer reflections and engage in conversation with you on how global experiences have expanded her views of both Christianity and the church. We’ve been hearing about some enriching experiences from those who have offered reflections, and in subsequent conversation, participants have also shared some of their own international experiences of Christianity and the church. Please join us this Wednesday as a concluding feature of your Lenten discipline.

The Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you wish to receive our Constant Contact messages, then please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The bulletin for Midweek Lenten Worship is below:

pdfRELC Lenten Midweek Worship for April 6, 2022

Many thanks to each of our members who has offered a reflection during these Wednesdays in Lent, namely, Wally Jensen, Norm Olsen, Gordon Lathrop, and Mimi Van Poole.

Sunday of the Passion/Palm Sunday (April 10): Worship at 10:00 am, Procession with Palms and Reading of the Passion According to St. Luke.

We will gather outdoors on the Potomac Street side of the church where we will hear the proclamation of the gospel from Luke that recounts Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Prayer will be offered over the palm fronds that will have been distributed to you. The whole assembly will enter the church through the doors and through the hallways into the narthex and then into the nave while singing the beloved hymn, “All Glory, Laud, and Honor.” Then, in the context of our usual liturgy of Holy Communion, three readers will proclaim the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Luke. Then we continue with our liturgy of Holy Communion in our usual ways.

The Three Days Commence, Maundy Thursday (April 14): Worship at 7:00 pm, Confession and Forgiveness, Washing of Feet, and Holy Communion with Stripping of the Altar.

The Three Days – comprised of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Vigil of Easter – is essentially one extended liturgy that proclaims and re-enacts the drama of Jesus’ last days of public, earthly ministry culminating in his death and resurrection.

Worship on Maundy Thursday begins with confession and forgiveness, and also features footwashing. In obedience to Jesus’ new commandment to love one another, those wishing symbolically and literally to enact such servant love will wash each other’s feet. We continue with Holy Communion, the institution of which is remembered on this night. Worship concludes as the lights in the nave and chancel are dimmed and the altar and chancel are stripped of their adornments as Psalm 88, a psalm of lament, is sung as we recall Jesus’ agonized prayer in the garden. We will then depart in silence.

Good Friday (April 15): Worship at 7:00 pm, with sung Passion According to John and Adoration of the Cross.

We assemble again on Friday evening, continuing the Three Days, where the focal point of our time together in worship is the Passion According to John, which will be sung by our choir. After the sermon and Hymn of the Day, worship continues with bidding prayers in the context of which your silent prayers are invited for the church and world. Then a rough-hewn cross is carried in procession into the nave as we sing of our adoration of Christ who was crucified on that lifegiving tree. Solemn Reproaches are said and the Trisagion (“Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal, have mercy on us”) is sung while members of the assembly come forward for various expressions of devotion at the cross, including placing lit votive candles around it. When worship concludes in a darkened church, and all depart in silence.

The Three Days Conclude, Resurrection of Our Lord, Vigil of Easter (April 16): Worship at 7:00 pm, new fire, procession with Paschal Candle, Easter Proclamation, service of readings, affirmation of baptism, and Holy Communion.

We assemble once again on the third of the Three Days outdoors on the Potomac Street side of the church to begin the Vigil of Easter. The new fire is lit, from which the Paschal Candle, is also lit and blessed. The whole assembly follows the Paschal Candle into the church, through the hallways and into the nave where worshipers will receive their own individual candles with light taken from the Paschal Candle. We will gather at chairs surrounding the baptismal font as the Easter Proclamation is sung. A series of readings, recounting major stories of salvation history, is read followed by prayer. Still at the font, we’ll affirm our baptism, confessing anew our faith as we are sprinkled with water from the font. Then the lights will come on, and we’ll sing “This is the Feast of Victory for our God” as we take seats in the pews in the nave for Holy Communion, concluding the Three Days, having run the gamut from sorrow to joy, from darkness to light, from death to new life in Christ.

Resurrection of Our Lord, Easter Sunday (April 17): Worship at 10:00 am. Easter Breakfast begins at 8:30.

We’ll assemble yet again on Easter Sunday, Resurrection of Our Lord. An Easter Breakfast of egg casseroles and breakfast breads begins in the parish hall and outdoors at 8:30 am. At 10:00, we’ll assemble in the nave for a festive celebration of the Resurrection of Our Lord in the manner of our usual Sunday Assembly, but with the volume of celebration turned up a bit in honor of the resurrected Christ who is our light, our life, our salvation.

Please join us for the fullness of this sacred, life-giving drama!

Pondering even now on Jesus’ holy passion,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fifth Sunday in Lent, John 12:1-8

It’s a lovely occasion described in today’s passage from John’s Gospel: Martha and Mary are throwing a dinner party at their place in Bethany to honor Jesus who had raised their brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

Martha, described in Luke as the scrupulous, duteous sister, served. Mary, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet and listened in Luke’s account, takes a full pound – an entire pound! – of costly perfume and anointed Jesus’ feet, wiping them with her hair.

You know that with perfume a little bit goes a long way; less is more when it comes to fragrance. So it was that the entire house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume – this very much in contrast to the stench that John mentioned emanating from the tomb where Lazarus had been for four days before Jesus got there to raise him.

Again, the dinner is a lovely domestic setting, a moment of intimacy among dear, dear friends. Good food, no doubt. Engaging conversation. Expressions of gratitude for Jesus who raised his beloved Lazarus from the dead. Mary’s extravagant outpouring of loving affection with the anointing and with the fragrance of essential oils pleasantly filling the house. Picture in your mind’s eye this appealing occasion….

Then there’s Judas, who also happened to be present, Judas who was already conspiring to betray Jesus to the religious authorities. There he was at the party, a thief who stole money from the common purse kept by Jesus and the disciples. Judas, a conniving cynic who wants to cast a pall over the joyous proceedings: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii, and the money given to the poor?”

Thus, wickedness is also there at the banquet, that lovely occasion. That’s what’s happening inside the house. Outside the house is also wickedness. What precedes this story in John is a plot to kill Jesus because of the miracle of raising Lazarus. The religious leaders called an official meeting of the council to seek ways to put Jesus to death. Jesus, becoming aware of this plot, “no longer walked about openly among the [religious leaders].” (John 11:54). Moreover, “the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him.” (John 11:57)

That’s what immediately precedes John’s story of Jesus at the dinner party at Mary and Martha’s house. What follows today’s story is a plot by the religious leaders to kill Lazarus, not just Jesus.
Inside the house, amidst the lovely smell of perfume, was the stench of wickedness and betrayal. And the house was surrounded by the same, indeed, the whole countryside was thus polluted with conspiracy.

Isn’t this part and parcel of the human condition in our experience, as well? It is painfully too common for lovely occasions among our own family members, friends, colleagues and acquaintances to be tainted by people and behaviors which revel in forms of divisiveness, betrayal and deceit. Isn’t that true? You all can probably name dinner parties you’ve been to where someone says something or does something to ruin the occasion, or at least dampen spirits. Memories of such occasions might be returning to you even as I speak.

It's on such occasions, when ugliness enters the lovely scene, that Jesus claims a teaching moment, in the case of the story today to address Judas at Mary and Martha’s place. Jesus said to Judas, who had accused Mary of wasteful extravagance, “Leave her alone. She bought [the costly perfume] so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:7-8)

Here Jesus, as interpreted and elaborated on by John, casts the whole event of the dinner and sees Mary’s actions as a pointing to Jesus’ death soon to take place. It’s even a foretaste of the Last Supper, where in that case, Jesus washes the disciples feet in parallel fashion to how Mary anointed Jesus’ feet at the dinner with Lazarus. And, of course, the raising of Lazarus is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ own resurrection after having been dead three days in like manner to Lazarus who also was in the tomb a few days.

In these ways, John’s account points to the life-giving conditions that will address head on and ultimately heal and bring an end to the betrayal, the wickedness, the cynicism, the exploitation, the deceit, and more. Those conditions of victory over sin and death are indeed Christ’s death and resurrection.

Jesus’ death and resurrection are the new things that God is up to that the prophet Isaiah describes in what is today’s first reading. Hearkening back to the events of delivering God’s people out of slavery in Egypt in the parting of the sea as a means of escape, Isaiah points to new, future things when he prophesies in the voice of the Lord who “will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honor me, [says the Lord] the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.” (Isaiah 43:19b-21)
Our desert wilderness, where the betraying, thieving Judases lurk, and where even religious leaders conspire in the ways of sin and death, are likewise watered – with the waters of baptism rushing over us once and for all, but also coursing throughout our Christian journey and lifetime.

According to Isaiah even the jackals – wild, predatory dogs that hunt in packs and feed on the flesh of other animals – even the jackals end up honoring God. Likewise, the ostriches – which when faced with danger flop down, stretching their long necks to the ground to hide from other predators – yes, even the timid, danger fleeing ostriches end up honoring God with praise. These animals become metaphors for the broken ones among us in need of life-giving waters flowing from God in our deserts to restore us, refresh us, cleanse us, and quench our thirst.

And speaking of having our thirst quenched, we can also see the dinner at Mary and Martha’s place as a type of Last Supper, pointing to our own Eucharist where at first we seem to host Jesus, but who in fact is our host, as we give thanks for our having been raised in baptism like Lazarus, and as we also share in Christ’s victory over sin and death in a banquet of bread and wine, Christ’s very body and blood.

But like the dinner described in John for today, our own gatherings which remember Christ and celebrate his death and resurrection can be marred by betrayal. Remember that Judas was also present at the Last Supper. Even that most holy occasion was tainted by the presence of sin. Likewise present at our Eucharistic feasts are all the sins and shortcomings of two thousand years of Christian history throughout which the church has failed to honor God’s gracious will, betraying our Lord anew.

We, as the body of Christ, simultaneously saint and sinner, inevitably bring our conflicts and divisions with us to this table. This happens locally; it happens nationally; it happens globally. In terms of racial divisions, for example, Martin Luther King, Jr. observed that Sunday morning is the most segregated day and time of the week when we gather separately in our own ethnic enclaves. So it goes in a church that is both redeemed and broken still.

Yet, we know how the story ends with Christ’s resurrection victory, so that the words of Paul who writes in Philippians give expression to our aspirations: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own….”

Paul continues: “…Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:10-14)

We press on, too, living as we do in these in-between-times, the epoch between Christ’s death and resurrection and Christ’s promised return one day to usher in the fullness of God’s reign, God’s dominion of peace, of commonwealth, of well-being, when the Judas’ and jackals and ostriches of the world are finally tamed.

And what do we do in this meantime? Very simply, we bear witness to Christ by attending to the poor and their needs. So, let’s return to Jesus’ teaching moment with Judas one more time. Again, in John, Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

Indeed, we don’t have Jesus with us in the manner in which he walked this earth two millennia ago because after the resurrection, Jesus quickly returned to the One whom he called Father. But who are we left with? The poor are with us, in whose faces we see Jesus in the least of these who are members of Jesus’ family (cf. Matthew 25:40).

“You always have the poor with you.” This phrase has been used as a cynical justification to let the poor remain poor, condoning their status as a natural state, their fault perhaps.

I don’t read it that way at all. “You always have the poor with you.” I see this as a missionary exhortation from Jesus to continually seek out the poor, to be with them, to accompany them, to feed them with the abundance of our common purse with the same extravagance that Mary used with the costly perfume to anoint Jesus in anticipation of his burial, even as we may also get down on our knees lovingly to wash the feet of the poor as Jesus mandated on the night of betrayal.

So, like Paul, we press on with the guiding winds of the Holy Spirit, giving thanks to God for the sweet fragrance of God’s lavish, extravagant grace by serving and accompanying the poor, for whom God’s heart pours out and in whom we yet again encounter the living Christ. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Week of the Fourth Sunday in Lent

Dear Friends in Christ:

Here are items concerning our life together which merit your attention, consideration, and response:

Midweek Lenten Series:

Our Midweek Lenten Program via Zoom continues this coming Wednesday, March 30 at 7:00 pm with a brief service of the word featuring readings from the daily lectionary which complement our Sunday readings. Following worship, Gordon Lathrop will offer reflections and engage in conversation with you on how global travels and work have expanded his views of both Christianity and the church. We’ve been hearing about some enriching experiences from those who have offered reflections, and in subsequent conversation, participants have also shared some of their own international experiences of Christianity and the church. Please join us this Wednesday as part of your Lenten discipline.

The Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you wish to receive our Constant Contact messages, then please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The bulletin for Midweek Lenten Worship is below:

pdfRELC Lenten Midweek Worship for March 30, 2022

On April 6, we’ll conclude this series when we hear from Mimi VanPoole. Many thanks to each of our members who has offered a reflection.

Get Ready for a Major Spring-Cleaning at Church:

As we prepare to receive The Village School as our tenant in the better part of our building’s educational wing, we will soon embark on a major Spring-Cleaning, as it were, of our church building. All items, including furniture, will need to be cleared from the rooms designated as dedicated spaces for use by the school, with major focus on the former preschool area on the lower level and the several rooms on the north wing of the second level.

There will be much that will need to find homes elsewhere – maybe other preschools or places that could benefit from our items. There will be things that simply need to be discarded because they have outlived their usefulness. There will be items which we will want to keep, and thus, find new storage places for in spaces kept for our congregational use.

All of this gives us the opportunity carefully to discern what is needed for our current and anticipated future mission as a congregation. This allows us opportunity, too, to purge items throughout our church building that no longer serve our mission. Which is to say, I envision this undertaking involving our entire building, and not just spaces dedicated for use by The Village School. In short, this will be a major undertaking which as I have said before will require many, many hands on deck for helping out.

We will soon convene a working group that will oversee these operations, creating priorities lists, a timeline, and a plan for what we will tackle first, doing a kind of triage so that we will begin with what is most urgent and time sensitive and then go on from there to less urgent, but nonetheless important tasks.

If you are interested in serving on this planning oversight group, especially if you have responsibility for ministries and initiatives that have things stored in various places in the church, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of your interest.

Beyond this coordinating working group, there will also be calls for volunteers to help out with the Spring-Cleaning work on designated days in the coming weeks and months. Kindly be at the ready to offer your time and energies when invited to do so!

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found it energizing whenever I’ve undertaken Spring-Cleaning kinds of initiatives in my own homes throughout the years. These efforts have renewed my sense of connection to my personal spaces, and de-cluttering areas consistently contributes to my overall sense of well-being. What is true for our homes is true for our church, particularly when we engage this work with a mind toward discerning what is needful for our life together in our current mission which God has entrusted to us. Again, please be at the ready to join in this important work.

Voting Members Needed for Synod Assembly:

Resurrection Church is in need of two lay voting members (one female, one male) for the annual Metropolitan Washington DC Synod Assembly. This year’s Assembly is planned to be in person and will take place at the College Park Marriott in Maryland beginning on Friday morning, June 10 and concluding by early evening on Saturday, June 11.

Annual Synod Assemblies – especially in person – are wonderful ways to get a first-hand, embodied sense of the wider church and its many ministries and initiatives in service of the mission that God has entrusted to us. Worshiping with several hundred other Lutherans is almost always inspiring in and of itself. Keynote speakers likewise can be inspiring. And it’s lovely to connect socially with others in the Synod in the hallways, at meal times, and other occasions during the two days together.

If you’ve never served as a voting member to Synod Assembly before, consider offering your name. If it’s been several years since you’ve been a voting member, consider stepping forward as well. Your expenses will be paid by our congregation.

If you are interested in or feel drawn to serving as a voting member for the Assembly, please be This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to get more information and to have your questions addressed.

Moving forward in Jesus’ name, and with the guidance of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Fourth Sunday in Lent, Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

The parable of the Prodigal Son is one of best-known stories in our Bible. It’s so familiar that we probably think we have it all figured out.

But the parables of Jesus don’t make for neat and tidy, single-minded interpretations. Rather, Jesus’ parables lend themselves to multiple layers of meanings that are evocative and expansive and not limiting. Thus, I am drawn to exploring with you today the parable of the Prodigal Son in ways that perhaps you’ve not thought of before.

My particular take is actually inspired by Paul’s words in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians: “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

What might it mean that God made Christ to be sin? One traditional interpretation is that Christ took our sins unto himself on the cross bearing our burdens and punishment for us, instead of us. A vicarious satisfaction. That’s one take on it.

But it’s also true that as Emmanuel, God with us, Christ shares the fullness of our humanity, and even if he did not himself commit sin, Jesus of Nazareth nonetheless could not help but experience the full range of human suffering caused by human sin. Sin and the ways of death via the power of the Roman empire put him on the cross where he suffered immensely in his humanity apart from any burden he was carrying on our behalf. That’s another way in which Christ was made to be sin.

To explore all of this further, let’s consider where Christ may be seen in today’s parable of the Prodigal Son. Parables generally serve to point us to Christ. But parables being what they are in conveying unexpected meaning, perhaps we can see Christ where we would not look for him. Maybe Christ appears in the last place we would look for him. One such unexpected turn is perhaps to see Christ in the younger, Prodigal Son himself, one who made himself to be sin.

Listen again to this: After the Father gave the younger son, the Prodigal, his allotted inheritance, that “younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country… [where] he spent everything.”

Reading that with Christ-colored glasses, I see Christ coming from heaven to this earth, a distant country, brimming with the fullness of inheritance from and of God, the one whom Jesus calls, abba, father.
And Jesus in his public ministry and especially at its conclusion, ended up spending everything and in ways that some might at first glance deem as a squandering of the divine inheritance in getting himself into situations and circumstances that ended up with him being killed.

Some might even consider Jesus’ actions in his ministry as dissolute. Dissolute living often focuses on sexual and other kinds of immortality. Well, Jesus did eat and converse with sinners, tax collectors and sometimes, perhaps, prostitutes. This was viewed by the religious leaders as scandalous, dissolute living, if you will.

Dissolute can also mean unrestrained in behavior that causes disapproval. Well, there were plenty of religious leaders who quite disapproved of Jesus’ unrestrained, bold actions in eating with sinners and tax collectors!

Then, too, and yet again, we have in Luke’s account perhaps a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection in the response of the Father to the return of the younger son: “for this son of mine was dead and is alive again” and in response to the older brother: “this brother of yours was dead and has come to life.” This is biblical code language that points us in the direction of Christ’s death and resurrection.

In these ways, Luke’s account gives us hints to see Christ even in the Prodigal Son.
But what about Paul’s view that God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin? There may be a fuller identification between Christ and the Prodigal Son, and for this I turn to Martin Luther to help us understand this possibility of seeing Christ even in the Prodigal sinner.

I often turn to Luther’s treatise, “Freedom of a Christian,” because that particular writing of Luther’s offers so much to us for understanding Christian basics. This is what Luther says there about how faith unites Christ with the believer in a way similar to how people are joined in marriage. Luther writes: An “incomparable grace of faith is this, that it unites the soul to Christ, as the wife to the husband; by which mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul are made one flesh. Now if they are one flesh, and if a true marriage – nay, by far the most perfect of all marriages – is accomplished between them… then it follows that all they have become is theirs in common, good things as well as evil things; so that whatsoever Christ possesses, the believing soul may take that to itself and boast of as its own, and whatever belongs to the soul, that Christ claims as his…” even sin and evil.

This is understood as a happy exchange between Christ and persons of faith. In faith, we receive all that Christ has and is, and in turn, Christ receives, becomes all that we are, even in our sin. God, thus, made Christ to be sin who knew no sin. This union between Christ and believers helps us perhaps see Christ even in connection with the wanton, sinful behavior of the Prodigal Son.

In the fullness of Jesus’ divine humanity, Christ fully identifies with sinners, so much so that Christ becomes that sinner, and this in order to awaken sinners from brokenness and death, turning them to repentance, to amendment of life, to life from sin and death.

This is perhaps what happens to the Prodigal Son when he comes to himself, comes to his senses, the truth about himself, to return to his father in repentance.

This is what happens when Christ enters into the fullness of our humanity, being “made to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Christ we might become the righteousness of God.” This is the happy exchange Luther writes about. So it is that the Prodigal Son could “come to himself” and return to his father.

Thus, we can variously see Christ perhaps even in the Prodigal. But of course, we also see Christ elsewhere in this story. Certainly, we can recognize the divine love of Christ in the response of the father who “while [the son] was still far off, saw him and “was filled with compassion” and “ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” Another happy exchange.

When it’s all said and done, it seems to me that the parable of the Prodigal Son can be summed up this way: prodigal waste is met with prodigal grace in Christ and in Christ’s full identification with humanity, even becoming sin to make for God’s righteousness in us.

And what’s the meaning of prodigal? Prodigality is to spend resources freely, recklessly with wasteful extravagance. Or prodigality is having or giving something on a lavish scale. Is this not what God in Christ does for us and for the world?

Who is the real prodigal here? Jesus Christ is the Prodigal Son, it seems to me, the son also of a prodigal father who loves and forgives lavishly, recklessly even.

But then what about us? Where do we fit into this story? I see the pattern of our Christian life together in features of the story.

In our sin, we also squander in many ways our inheritance from God. But when the proclamation of God’s word in Christ takes root in us, we, too, come to ourselves and get up to make our confession: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.” We did that here this morning when we started at the font at the very beginning of worship with the order for confession and forgiveness.

And even before we get the words out of our mouths, God in Christ runs to meet us, filled with compassion and arms are flung about us and we are kissed – the kiss of the Peace of Christ. That’s what Christian absolution is like.

Then, still at the font, coming up out of the waters of baptism, a robe – the best one, that is, the baptismal garment – is put on us.

And a feast is called and we come to the table to eat and celebrate, for the one dead is alive again. Christ yes, but we, too, who are raised in Christ by water, word, and Spirit, and who share in the resurrected life of Christ when we eat bread and drink wine at the banquet table where there is music and dancing, and where, like God’s people at Gilgal in the reading from Joshua, we eat “the produce of the land, unleavened cakes… and the crops of the land of Canaan.” (Joshua 5:11b-12)

What a happy exchange here each and every Sunday, our sacramental wedding feast celebrating life from death as we remember with thanksgiving that Christ was made to be sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

But then there’s the problem of the reaction of the older brother in the parable who resented the prodigal generosity of the father in killing the fatted calf in celebration of the return of the one who was lost and now was found, who was dead, but now alive.

The older brother and his reaction in anger and envy is our mission field. Remember how today’s passage began: “Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes [that is, the self-righteous religious leaders of Jesus’ day and our day] were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:1-2)

There are movements on the left and the right extremes of the theological and political spectrums that relish grumbling and which seek to exclude people, to cancel them, to excommunicate those perceived to be impure, unrighteous. That’s what the older brother wanted to do to his younger brother. That passion to excommunicate is what made for the religious leaders’ grumbling.

But not so with the father in the story, and not so with us, we who also have enjoyed the happy exchange with Christ. We are about a different mission.

Listen again to how Paul describes our mission, our ministry: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us through Christ to God, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to God’s own self, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ….” (2 Corinthians 5:17-20a)

As ambassadors of Christ, we are sent to the older brothers and sisters and siblings of this grumpy, grumbling world, those resentful, overcome with grievances, and wanting to exclude. And we are called to coax them into the banquet hall, softening their hearts in the power of the Spirit, that they may sing and dance with us, celebrating new life from death, celebrating our becoming God’s righteousness by God’s grace.

In short, we are sent to reconcile, not to cancel or excommunicate or exclude. What a magnificent mission that God has entrusted to us! Let’s leave this place to encourage everyone to come into the banquet hall where there is feasting in thanksgiving for God’s gracious, lavish, reckless, wanton, forgiving, reconciling, abundant mercy!
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Midweek Lenten Series:

Our Midweek Lenten Program via Zoom continues this coming Wednesday, March 23 at 7:00 pm with a brief service of the word featuring readings from the daily lectionary which complement our Sunday readings. Following worship, Norm Olsen will offer reflections and engage in conversation with you on how global travels and work have expanded his views of both Christianity and the church. We’ve been hearing about some enriching experiences from those who have offered reflections, and in subsequent conversation, participants have also shared some of their own international experiences of Christianity and the church. 27 persons Zoomed in this past Wednesday – please join us this Wednesday as part of your Lenten discipline.

A Zoom link for this service will be sent out via Constant Contact. If you do not currently receive our Constant Contact messages but wish to do so, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The worship bulletin is also available here:

pdfLenten Midweek Worship Bulletin for March 23, 2022

Finally, here are the other Resurrection members who will offer their reflections for the remaining Wednesdays in Lent: Gordon Lathrop on March 30; and Mimi VanPoole on April 6. Many thanks to them for their willingness to hold forth.

“Music at Resurrection Returns this Saturday”

Dear Friends in Christ:

This coming Saturday, March 26 at 4:00 pm, a compelling tradition of our congregation returns after a two-year hiatus because of the pandemic – Music at Resurrection. Our church has a long history of an excellent music program, and the Music at Resurrection series has been an important feature of our music ministry.

Entitled “New Songs for a New Season: A Hymn Festival,” our gathering this coming Saturday will feature songs and texts new to us that are included in the hymnal supplement, All Creation Sings, which is now included in our congregational repertoire and from which we draw for congregational singing on Sundays. Recent decades have seen a flourishing of new songs and new texts for Christian worship. Many of these songs come to us from across the world, giving joyful expression to the global extent of the church. Others are new texts set to familiar tunes which feature voices not previously heard in congregational song. Still other hymns give attention to current theological concerns such as care of creation and honest lament. Represented will be songs and hymns from South Africa, Pakistan, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Korea, and Indonesia, along with North America and Europe. Texts written and tunes composed by women will also importantly be featured.

This hymn festival is an important step in living into one of our shared visions for congregational life and that is to have our worship and music reflect more fully the global extent of Christianity and the church. Led by the choir of Resurrection Church under the direction of Barbara Bulger Verdile, our Music Director, the hymn fest this Saturday promises to be lively and to give expression to theological and spiritual concerns relevant to our current time and circumstances. Each song will be introduced by a brief narrative which places the text and tune in context. The program will last about an hour and will be followed by a wine and cheese reception in our parish hall.

In addition to a goodly number of our congregation members, we hoped to be joined by folk from other Lutheran congregations in the Metro DC Synod, as All Creation Sings has not yet had a formal introduction in our Synod. I hope that you will join us this Saturday afternoon for good and inspiring music and the occasion to socialize after. Add this to your Lenten discipline as well!

My thanks to Barbara and our choir, our Worship and Music Committee under the leadership of Cindy Reese, as well as the Music at Resurrection Committee now under the leadership of Cathy Carr. These persons and committees have had a significant share in planning this event.

May God in Christ bless us as we lift voices in song,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Week of the Second Sunday in Lent

Midweek Lenten Series:

Our Midweek Lenten Program via Zoom continues this coming Wednesday, March 16 at 7:00 pm with a brief service of the word featuring readings from the daily lectionary which complement our Sunday readings. Following worship, Pastor Wally Jensen will offer reflections and engage in conversation with you on how global travels and work have expanded his views of both Christianity and the church.

A Zoom link for this service will be sent out via Constant Contact. If you do not currently receive our Constant Contact messages but wish to do so, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The worship bulletin is also available here:

pdfLenten Midweek Worship Bulletin for March 16, 2022

Finally, here are the other Resurrection members who will offer their reflections for the remaining Wednesdays in Lent: Norm Olsen on March 23; Gordon Lathrop on March 30; and Mimi VanPoole on April 6. Many thanks to them for their willingness to hold forth.

“Council Approves Moving Forward with The Village School”

Dear Friends in Christ:

At the regularly scheduled meeting on March 10, our Congregation Council voted unanimously to enter into a rental relationship with The Village School according to provisions listed on a term sheet (most of the provisions of which were shared with you on the information document I recently made available to the congregation). The term sheet, developed by our church rental working group, and approved by both our Council and the School, will serve as the basis for a legal lease document that will soon be drafted, ultimately to be approved also by our Council and the School.

In further conversations between our congregation and leaders of The Village School, it became clear that the School would benefit from the occasional use of our parish hall (perhaps a couple of times a week) and that our leaders believe it only makes sense for the school to use our hall occasionally, given its fine amenities. Because this arrangement increases the amount of rentable square footage, the rate of rent that the School pays will increase by $500 per month for a total annual rent of $126,000 rather than the previously stated $120,000. Another change to the proposal is that our congregation will retain exclusive use of the room on the second floor, next to the Choir Room, which is used for our Social Ministry purposes, especially our quilters. Other than these two substantial changes, the agreement is basically the same as what was outlined in the information sheet I had made available to you all.

In addition to our seeing to the draft of a lease, to be undertaken by an attorney’s office with whom we’ll contract, Resurrection Church will in the coming weeks mobilize a working group to oversee the removal and disposition of items in the rooms that the School will have dedicated and shared use of. This will be a major undertaking which will require many hands on deck for assistance. Please be at the ready to help out! And again, this work of cleaning out rooms and finding homes for unused items is a task many have long talked about, even before the school possibility presented itself.

Over the course of late spring and early summer (on a timetable soon to be worked out), The Village School will oversee the cosmetic redecoration of spaces available to them as well as a major overhaul of the outdoor playground to accommodate students of all elementary school ages. Then a new school year will commence in late August.

This is a major shift in the life of our congregation, which has stirred our pots, I believe, in very salutary ways. The rental income will be enormously helpful in addressing our shortfalls in giving. We’ve been running about a $5,000 deficit per month in recent months, so we clearly need the income if we are to maintain and meet our current budget. Additionally, the School will give our congregation greater visibility in the community, which can prove to be beneficial to our desire for membership and programmatic growth. And this relationship with The Village School makes for good stewardship of the gift of our fine building.

The Council’s discernment conversations and deliberation toward this decision were greatly aided by the two occasions the whole congregation had to discuss this possibility and raise questions and concerns and to hear from representatives of The Village School itself. Likewise, several have shared particular issues and concerns with me that I have passed along to our church rental working group and to the Council, along with further responses from the School concerning issues raised. Thousand thanks to all who have taken this proposal seriously enough to think through implications of this relationship and to share views, questions, and concerns. I believe that we have attended to all of this with great care. And The Village School has been very responsive to our concerns and flexible in their dealings with our congregation’s leaders.

There are many more details to attend to in the coming weeks and months. Please pray for this new relationship to move forward smoothly without undue complications. And thanks in advance for your patience with living into a reality which is very new to us and our life together.

May God in Christ bless this endeavor according to the divine will and for the flourishing of both Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church and The Village School.

With such prayer even now in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Second Sunday in Lent, Luke 13:31-35

For many of us and for most of our lifetimes, the world’s problems have seemed far away in distant lands. But it seems that ever since September 11, 2001, the world’s problems have arrived on our doorsteps, painfully close to home. At least that’s my subjective experience, since I was just a few miles away from the terrorist attack in New York on that fateful day. The same is true for people in Arlington on that September day twenty years ago.

More recently, it’s been the global pandemic, the coronavirus and its variants that have been as close to us as the very air we breathe. Racial injustice and unrest and resulting protests affected our life together as a congregation when the Black Lives Matter banners were up. The riot at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 took place some 7 or 8 miles from here as the crow flies.

All of this is literally very close to our homes, our church. There seems to be no escaping the current crises. We are right smack dab in the middle of so much of our sorry world’s current troubles. Even war in Ukraine feels painfully close because of the nature of social media these days where so much of the violence is livestreamed.

When it comes to proximity to trouble, we’re in good company, for that’s so often where we find Jesus in the gospel according to Luke. Even at Jesus’ birth, his parents had to escape the clutches of the ruler Herod, who was threatened by the newborn king, and who ordered that all young male children in the region be killed.

The adult Jesus, in his public ministry, again as Luke reports, consistently inserted himself amidst the noisy crowds of people in need, right smack dab in the middle of their troubles. That’s been a striking feature of the stories from Luke we’ve been hearing Sunday after Sunday. Jesus is consistently among the suffering crowds.

And here again today, Herod reappears in threatening ways. As we heard, “some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, ‘Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.”

Jesus is not troubled or threatened by the impending trouble. Concerning Herod’s threat, Luke reports that Jesus said, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”

Herod the fox may threaten to come and lay waste to the henhouse, but Jesus in Luke likens himself to a fiercely protective mother hen in response to foxes like Herod: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…!”

Christ, our mother hen. That’s a lovely, compelling image, a female image of our savior amidst so many biblical images that are male. Picture it: the crowds, all of us, gathered under her protective wings.

Indeed, the Christian witness is that Jesus accompanies us in our troubled places, finds us where we are in the thick of things, amidst all our troubles, without apparent escape, and is present to us to give us comfort, and a hiding place, a place of protection.

And this motherly, protective presence is made possible and is available to us even now because of the arc of Jesus’ public ministry when he himself was in the thick of trouble in his earthly journey. It’s an arc marked by three days. Hear this again: “Listen,” Jesus says in Luke, “I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.”

This, of course, is a reference to the final days of his life, when as a prophet he will indeed be killed in Jerusalem like all the other prophets, and the sacred work is finished when on the third day he rises again. “Today, tomorrow, and the next day [the third day] [Jesus] must be on [his] way.”

The entire trajectory of Jesus’ three years of public ministry, during which he cast out demons and performed cures, parallels the same arc of the last three days of his life. His entire ministry as reported in Luke had this cruciform shape of the three days, from the crowds, to the cross, to the tomb.

This arc of three days marks our lives in Christ as well. Precisely when we find ourselves burdened by the threat of our troubled world and even when we, like the people of old, may be unwilling to receive and maybe even reject the ministrations of our mother hen, Jesus nevertheless finds us amidst our own three-day trajectories of sin and death and toward new life in Christ.

Our lives take on the pattern and rhythms of the three days, where and when our mothering Christ emanating from the Trinity, God in three persons, where Christ makes home with the Father and the Spirit, gives us birth as new children from the womb of the font, a sacramental place of protection where our baptismal garments enfold us like mothering wings over us.
Moreover, the pattern of the three days is manifest when the time comes for us to sing in the Benedictus of the Holy, Holy, Holy at this very table: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.” We sing this song every Sunday. And every Sunday becomes a fulfillment of Jesus’ words of promise in Luke: “And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Well, we say and sing these words, and then when we eat the bread and drink of the cup, we indeed see our crucified and risen Lord, and we receive mother’s milk in the form of bread and wine, the dead but living Christ, his very living, life-giving presence to protect us.

From the vantage point available to us at the font and at the table, we perhaps see the cruciform arc of the three days in today’s reading from Genesis, where Abram is given a vision, and exhorted to not be afraid for the Lord is Abram’s shield who invites him to gaze at the countless stars in the heavens as a sign of the promised blessing of descendants even when Abram and Sarah were well beyond traditional child bearing age.

We perhaps see in that same story from Genesis Christ on the cross in the sacrificed animals cut in two. The blessing to Abram only occurred with a descent into terrifying darkness as on Good Friday amidst the three days: “As the sun was going down,” it reads in Genesis, “a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire and a flaming torch passed between these pieces [of sacrificed animals]. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.’” (Genesis 15:12, 17-18)

From the vantage point of the arc of Christ’s last three days perhaps we see in the smoking fire pot in the Genesis story the new fire at the Vigil of Easter, and the flaming torch as the lit Paschal candle passing between us in the assembly in procession into a darkened church. And yet from the terrifying darkness comes the abundance of blessing, namely, the resurrected Christ, and the gifts of grace, mercy, forgiveness and more that flow from that new life.

Thus it is, sacramentally constituted in the very arc of three days, we discover the truth of Paul’s teaching in today’s reading from Philippians: “The Lord will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” (Philippians 3:21) That is the arc of the Christian life for us, we who are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and receive that new life also in the Eucharist – our humiliation is subsumed into the body of Christ’s glory and by grace we share in that glory.

Thus it is that we can stand firm in the Lord, we who are beloved. (cf. Philippians 4:1)
And in Christ it is all reckoned to us as righteousness. (cf. Genesis 15:6)

Thus it is that leaving this time and place with faith renewed, and in the power of Christ’s presence who continues to enfold us under her mothering wings, we return to the crowds, to all of the world’s troubles, to offer to the most vulnerable the very wings of motherly protection that Christ has given to us, a gift that keeps on giving.

May it be so among us for the sake of all those suffering in our ravaged world. God in Christ help us. Amen.

Week of the First Sunday in Lent

Dear Friends in Christ:

Since there are lots of moving parts in our life together currently, this week’s Midweek Message again offers comments on more than one topic.

Midweek Lenten Series:

First off, our Midweek Lenten Program via Zoom commences this coming Wednesday, March 9 at 7:00 pm with a brief service of the word featuring readings from the daily lectionary which complement our Sunday readings. Following worship, I will offer reflections and engage in conversation with you on how my global ecumenical travels have expanded my views of both Christianity and the church.

A Zoom link for this service will be sent out via Constant Contact. If you do not currently receive our Constant Contact messages but wish to do so, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The worship bulletin is also available here:

pdfLenten Midweek Worship Bulletin for March 9, 2022

Finally, here are the other Resurrection members who will offer their reflections: Wally Jensen on March 16; Norm Olsen on March 23; Gordon Lathrop on March 30; and Mimi VanPoole on April 6. Many thanks to them for their willingness to hold forth.

Resurrection Lutheran Church and The Village School? Additional Thoughts:

This past Sunday, we had occasion to hear brief presentations from representatives of The Village School concerning the school’s educational philosophy. Over forty Resurrection members stayed after coffee hour to engage the three representatives – one of their administrators, a teacher, and a parent. This occasion not only helped us get a better sense of their holistic approach to education, but it also gave us a chance to experience school leaders directly in person as we continue to discern together the possible rental relationship between church and school.

I have been heartened in our various conversations about this possibility that you all are as concerned with the mission of the school in relation to our sense of mission as you are with the particulars of the terms of the rental contract. With that in mind, here are brief theologically oriented reflections on how the school’s educational philosophy intersects with aspects of who we are as Lutherans and with our commitments as a congregation.

On Sunday when we heard from The Village School representatives, here in a nutshell is the basic principle that guides everything they do as a school: every child has unique gifts to be nurtured and cultivated for the sake of their place, their calling, if you will, in the world. Thus, theirs is not a cookie cutter approach to education geared to performance on standardized tests. This view that emphasizes the giftedness of each child is consistent, I believe, with a Lutheran understanding of vocation where we believe that every person has a unique calling from God – not just the religious professionals, but everyone – to be used for the sake of the world in lovingly serving our neighbors.

Additionally, we heard from representatives of The Village School that their curriculum focuses on four broad areas: learning to know (acquisition of basic competence in classic curricular foci like math, reading, science, and more); learning to do (with focus on practical projects); learning to be (with emphasis on character formation); and learning to live together (employing conflict resolution skills toward cultivating tools for civil discourse in life and society). This holistic approach with focus on the whole person in communal relationships is consistent with our own congregation’s current approach to Christian education that emphasizes faith formation of the whole child of God and not just providing information about God. And it’s consistent, it seems to me, with our current focus on intergenerational approaches to faith formation which emphasize interaction within our whole community representing all ages. In fact, in The Village School, the students learn with students of other ages in group interaction.

In short, it seems that there are important points of intersection between aspects of our congregation’s sense of mission and that of The Village School. So, that while the school is not faith-based and will not engage in explicit religious instruction, there are important ways in which our approaches complement each other when it comes to our witness to the wider world in seeking to address people and communities holistically for the sake of the betterment of the world.

I invite your prayers for our Congregation Council’s discerning conversation at their March 10 meeting this week when they will make a decision about moving forward or not with a rental relationship with The Village School. The conversation this Thursday will have been informed by the two occasions the whole congregation has had to discuss this possibility. The specific focus for the decision making will be a term sheet drafted by our church rental working group which outlines the particulars of a rental agreement that, if approved, will form the basis of a lease.

Additionally, the Council’s discernment and decision making will be informed by your input as well. I have written about this possibility repeatedly in these Midweek Messages. A two-page fact sheet which contains most the information that will appear on the term sheet has been circulated via various formats. I have received emails from you and have had conversations with you that have informed the working group’s and Council’s conversations. That said, here is yet another opportunity for you to provide feedback to guide the Council’s conversation and decision this coming Thursday, March 10. Should you have any remaining concerns, observations, and more about this proposal, I urge you to send them This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by this coming Thursday mid-day so that they can be included in what goes before the Council that evening.

May God in Christ lead us in the Spirit in ways in keeping with the divine will.

Reflections on the Retreat for Council, Committee Chairs, and Staff Members

Finally, as if there wasn’t enough going on this past Sunday, newly installed members of our Congregation Council had occasion on Sunday afternoon to meet with the Chairpersons of our various committees along with our staff members to consider particular and concrete ways we will continue to live into our shared statements of vision that guide our life together. This was an important occasion for all of us together to, as it were, see the forest for the trees in our shared mission. Typical meetings are focused on the particular matters at hand. Rare is the occasion to step back to take in the bigger picture in the greater leisure of a retreat-like time together. Our afternoon meeting this past Sunday also was an important guard against the tendency of individuals and committees to operate in the silos of their particular portfolios without the benefit of seeing the extent to which our life together is interdependent and intersecting. Such occasions as our Sunday retreat allow us as the body of Christ, the church, to move together in more fluid motion such that there is indeed movement forward.

May God in Christ continue to lead us in the Spirit for the sake of the mission that God has entrusted to us,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

First Sunday in Lent, Luke 4:1-13

Luke reports that “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan” where he had been baptized by John and where the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove while he was praying.

What does it mean to be full of the Holy Spirit? You may know that my Ph.D. is in the field of Christian Spirituality. Thus, I’ve expended a great deal of time and energy considering what it might mean to be full of the Spirit.

When I taught at the seminary, and in other ministry settings, I often heard students and others say things like, “I really felt the Holy Spirit today.” And I would ask them what specifically did they mean by that? Most could not respond with specifics about the actual qualities or attributes of being full of the Holy Spirit.

For many, to be full of the Spirit is to have strong feelings and passions. Or to be in the Spirit is to depart from an established agenda, as in the freedom of the Spirit.

Spirit, of course, has to do with spirituality. And when it’s all said and done, spirituality these days may mean everything and nothing. Viewpoints are all over the religious maps. Thus, for Christians interested in the question of what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit, we are beckoned back to our original sources, namely the scriptures, the word of God.

There we learn a great deal if we look closely enough, for example, in today’s gospel reading from Luke, the story of the temptation of Jesus by the devil during Jesus’ forty day in the wilderness.

To cut to the chase, according to Luke’s reporting, it seems that being full of the Holy Spirit basically involves being full of the scriptural word of God. For every time the devil presented Jesus with a particular temptation or test, Jesus replied by offering a scriptural passage.

When, in response to the extreme hunger from fasting, the devil said to Jesus, “If you are he Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread,” Jesus answered by citing a portion of Deuteronomy 8:3, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’”

When the devil tempted Jesus with giving him authority over all the dominions of the world if only Jesus would worship the devil, Jesus replied by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13, “Worship the Lord your God; the Lord alone shall you serve.”

When the devil tempts Jesus to jump off the pinnacle of the temple to prove that he’s God’s Son, the devil himself quotes scripture at Jesus, namely, portions of Psalm 91. Jesus counters the devil’s scripture drawing from another passage from Deuteronomy, again in chapter 6, verse 16, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”

Again, this exploration suggests that a principal quality of being full of the Holy Spirit, at least according to Luke, is to be full of the scriptural word of God, that is to say, to have the capacity to draw on God’s word and its strength and its objective claims when times get tough, that is, in times of trial, testing, and temptation.

And this is not about using the Bible as a weapon to proof text our own agendas with bits and pieces of scriptural language. Even the devil engaged in such biblical combat with Jesus by quoting Psalm 91 at him. No, to be full of the word of God is the fruit of long seasons of dwelling with that scriptural word, hearing it in worship, studying it at home, even memorizing crucial passages so that the word is incorporated into us. Then we become, as it were, living concordances such that we can draw from the deep wells of scriptural wisdom even when we are weakest and most liable to fall prey to temptations. In short, it’s not about using scripture as a weapon, but more about employing God’s word as a shield of protection, where the dynamic power of God expresses itself through the scriptures.

The apostle Paul captures the essence of what it means to be thoroughly immersed in the divine word in today’s reading from Romans. Paul writes: “‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart.’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim).” This word leads to confession of belief, that is, to faith, to trust, and faith connects up with justification and salvation such that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (cf. Romans 10:8b-13) All of this results from our abiding in close proximity with the word, on our lips and in our hearts. The intersections between word and the speech of our lips and the deep places of heart and mind are precisely where the Spirit is living and active and present in fullness via the word.

By citing the scriptural word of God from Deuteronomy, Jesus revealed his trust in the divine word, he who himself is the word of God in the flesh. Thus, in essence Jesus called on the name of the Lord which made for Jesus’ capacity to withstand the trials and tests of the devil.

Like Jesus in his wilderness sojourn, we are surely burdened by our own times of testing, trial and temptation in wilderness journeys. Lent, a season of 40 days that parallels Jesus’ own 40 days in the wilderness, is an occasion to gain heightened awareness of our captivity to our own brokenness in the wilderness of our lives when we are most prone to succumbing to temptation.

And it’s clear that our wilderness journeys are not limited to these 40 days of Lent. For the past two years, and now entering into a third year, we have endured crisis upon crisis upon crisis in our troubled world: the pandemic and its upheavals and upending of routines and taking of unthinkably huge numbers of lives; racial injustice that filled the streets with protests; the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression; a riot at the Capitol on January 6 a year ago that almost prevented the peaceful transfer of power after an election; continued divisiveness in our society and world; and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which may usher in a new Cold War or worse.

We are worn down and tired and prone to succumbing to temptations of one sort or another, a big one being the temptation to lose hope for any kind of meaningful future.

But we are not without help in these times of trial. We, too, are full of the Holy Spirit. We, too, are full of God’s word. That is to say, we are full of grace, and the liberating gospel that frees us from captivity to sin, Christ leading the way in our own wilderness journeys, accompanying us as the very word of God made flesh, the power of his Spirit unleashed through that word as a fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection.

Think of our time together on Sunday mornings when we are full of the Spirit by being full of the word. Our whole time together is bathed in the word of God from beginning to end – four readings from scripture; liturgical texts and songs and hymns that are either based on scripture or are often elaborations on scriptural themes. Then there’s the acting out of scriptural stories in our sacramental life together – baptism and baptismal remembrance, absolution, the Eucharist. Our whole time together is modeled on scriptural tradition.

Take for example, the story in today’s reading from Deuteronomy. This passage is basically a set of instructions for worship, for how to give an offering of thanksgiving to the priests of old. These rubrics instruct God’s people to tell again the story of forty years of wandering in the wilderness on the way to the promised land and how God was leading all the way.

Once the story is told again, then the offering of first fruits of the ground can be made to the priest and the people worship God by bowing down. Then all the people together – with the priests and even the aliens residing among the people – celebrate the bounty of God’s blessings.

That’s the basic pattern of what we do here each and every Sunday. We assemble before God; we tell the story of salvation; gifts are offered at this table; and we all share God’s bounty in the richness of a simple meal of bread and wine which makes known to us the real and abundant presence of the resurrected Christ.

And then with our leave-taking back into the world, this abundance is shared also with others, aliens, as it were, not of our fold but who benefit from our generosity in the various community organizations which we financially support.

Do you see the parallels? What we do here reveals, in the spirit of Luke’s gospel, what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit. It is to be so abundantly full of God’s sacred word in Christ that we are strengthened to meet the trials and tests of our wilderness journeys and then to have enough abundance left over to share with everyone, even those beyond our fold.

Thus, full of the Spirit, full of the word, let us continue our wilderness journey in God’s abundance, sharing with all in a needy, desert world. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Week of the Last Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

A variety of matters warrant attention in this week’s Midweek Message during this important season of our life together.

Further Word on the School Rental Possibility

On Sunday, February 27 some thirty Resurrection members gathered for an open forum during which time I offered more information about the possibility of The Village School renting a significant portion of our educational wing. Below is a copy of the information sheet that I made available to participants:

pdfSchool Rental Proposal Information Sheet (PDF)

In addition to providing information, we also engaged in a question-and-answer session which raised a number of very important matters for our church rental working group to consider and for us to address with the co-directors of The Village School. Many thanks to those who offered questions and insights which we had not previously considered. This is enormously helpful to and for our communal discernment.

Quite importantly, there will be an additional opportunity for members of the congregation to consider this possibility this coming Sunday, March 6 after worship at about 11:30 am during which time representatives of The Village School will be present with us to share more information about the school and their educational philosophies and approaches. Please join us for this important occasion.

Ash Wednesday

There will be two identical opportunities for worship on Ash Wednesday (March 2) – 11:00 am and 7:00, pm featuring confession and forgiveness and the imposition of ashes. Join us to begin this year’s Lenten journey.

This Sunday and the Sundays in Lent

The Sundays after Epiphany, because of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, have had a Lenten feel to them because of the need to abbreviate our time together because of the contagious extent of that variant. Our liturgies during the past weeks have had an understated quality. Since Omicron has diminished its claim on us in our area, during Lent we’ll return to more involved services of worship featuring an order for confession and forgiveness to begin the liturgy, more singing, and the weekly inclusion of the Apostles Creed, the creed associated with baptism and baptismal preparation – appropriate for use during Lent which itself is a time to reclaim the centrality of baptism in our Christian life and journey.

This coming Sunday, the First Sunday in Lent, we’ll install members of our Congregation Council and elected officers. We’ll do this during the sending rite when we are propelled out by the Spirit to do the missionary work that God has entrusted to us, which certainly includes the work of our elected leaders in helping to guide our life together for the sake of the world.

Additionally, beginning this coming Sunday, we will return to coffee hour. Coffee will be available in the parish hall, but weather permitting, we’ll seek to enjoy our beverages and each other’s company outdoors.

Watch for announcements of other opportunities to socialize during Lent as well as information about special social ministry initiatives during this holy season.

Midweek Lenten Series

Our 2022 Midweek Lenten Series will once again occur via Zoom on Wednesday evenings during Lent beginning at 7:00 pm. Each occasion will begin with worship, a simplified service of the word featuring readings from the daily lectionary. Worship will be followed by Resurrection members offering reflections on how their experiences of global travel and working and living abroad have expanded their understandings of Christianity and of the church. This thematic focus is in keeping with one of our shared statements of vision which seeks more fully to embrace in our life together, perhaps especially in worship, the global extent of Christianity.

Here is the schedule for the Midweek Lenten Series listing those who will offer reflections followed by conversation with participants: Pastor Linman on March 9; Wally Jensen on March 16; Norm Olsen on March 23; Gordon Lathrop on March 30; and Mimi VanPoole on April 6.

A link for Zoom participation along with the bulletin for each Wednesday will be sent out weekly with the Midweek Message.

There’s a lot going on in our life together currently, which is a good and salutary sign of the extent of engagement with the work that God has entrusted to us. I invite your fullest possible participation as an integral feature of your Lenten disciplines.

God in Christ lead us in sacred Lenten journeys under the direction of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Transfiguration of Our Lord, Luke 9:28-43a

Today is Transfiguration of Our Lord, the Last Sunday after Epiphany, when Jesus appears on the mountaintop in dazzling brightness while conversing with Moses and Elijah, two extraordinarily prominent figures in the Hebrew tradition.

Epiphany has been a season of Sundays, each of which has offered its own epiphanies, its own revelations concerning who Jesus is and what his mission is all about.

None of the epiphanies of these Sundays, however, adds up to the fullness of revelation and complete understanding. Even today with Luke’s recounting of the Transfiguration there is an interplay between revelation and mystery, of seeing clearly and at the same time having sight obscured.

Brightness itself, while clarifying and revealing, can be so bright as to cause of kind of blindness, of not seeing.

Consider Luke’s reporting of the cloud on the Mount of Transfiguration: “a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.” This is an occasion of obscurity; clouds obscure things. But then immediately there’s another clarifying word from on high, echoing the voice at Jesus’ baptism which occurred near the beginning of this season of Sundays, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Then we go right back to the obscurity of silence. “And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” Silence is a perfect way to keep things hidden. Thus, we have in Luke’s account the interplay between revelation and ongoing mystery, between clarity and obscurity.

We see this dynamic at play, too, in today’s first reading from Exodus, where Moses returns from his encounter with God, the skin of his face shining with brightness. But then Moses would veil his face before the people to cover the glow.

Still, Sunday after Sunday in the season after Epiphany we have gotten a fuller picture of what God is up to in human history, of God’s interventions with the people of Israel, of God’s work in Jesus of Nazareth.

And that’s true today as well on this Last Sunday after Epiphany. Let’s take a closer look at today’s stories, especially in comparing and contrasting Moses and Jesus after their mountaintop encounters with God.

What Moses reveals, having come down from the mountain after his encounter with God, are the two tablets of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. That’s quite the gift of revelation he brought with him, for the commands serve as the centerpiece of God’s covenant with the people of Israel.

But consider what happens when Jesus comes down from the Mount of Transfiguration. Jesus returns to the great crowds, once again taking his place among them as we’ve seen before in Luke’s account. These are the same crowds with whom he was baptized by John, and the same crowds whom he addressed and healed during the Sermon on the Plain. In Luke, Jesus is all about being with the crowds in person, in his flesh, the Word of God made flesh, according to John’s gospel.

Moses returned from the mountaintop to give the law, abstract principles for covenant life. Jesus returns from the mountaintop to offer the gift of his embodied presence that heals the people. Which is to say that Jesus is in himself the embodiment and fulfillment of the law, not just an abstract principle, but word made flesh whose physical touch heals.

This is what happens in Luke’s telling immediately upon the return from the Mount of Transfiguration: Jesus heals the boy violently possessed by spirits, a healing which astounded the crowds, a healing which revealed the greatness of God seen in Jesus Christ.

In this, we glimpse a greater fullness of Christ and what God is up to in Christ.

Now think about this: What were Jesus and Moses and Elijah talking about when they appeared together on the mountaintop? That’s also revelatory. Luke says that “they were speaking of [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”

Here we have in essence yet another pointing to Jesus’ Passion, his death and resurrection, the culminating and complete revelation of what Christ is all about. Jesus’ departure is coded language for his death and resurrection. We’ve seen such glimpses several times during these Sundays after Epiphany. Now as we soon embark on our Lenten journey to the last days of Jesus’ earthly ministry in Jerusalem – the Three Days of Holy Week – we will have the fullest picture available to us of what God has accomplished in Christ Jesus.

Which is to say, it’s Jesus’ death and resurrection that ultimately make the embodied healings possible that Luke and other gospel writers report. Again, this is no abstract principle of the law – which is not to denigrate the centrality of the law in the Ten Commandments – but it is a fulfillment of that law in the embodied, healing, resurrected presence of Christ.

With that particular vision before us, we don’t have to worry much about obscurity and mystery any longer. Christ dead and Christ raised, that’s the fullness of the revelation. The veil is lifted from our eyes. And in that unveiling in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, we emerge from the captivity to and the burdens of obscurity in our sin into the full light and brightness and freedom of vision of the gospel.

The apostle Paul says as much in today’s reading from 2 Corinthians. There Paul reports that in Christ the veil that Moses used with the people is set aside. And we who are entrusted to the grace of God in Christ in faith also have the veil lifted from our eyes.

As Paul writes, “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Which is to say, not only do we see the fullness of the glory of God in Christ, we participate in that glory. In faith, we become what we see, that is, the image of Christ which is the image of God in the glorious power of the Holy Spirit. In faith, we share in the reality of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

How does this come about? Our transformation comes about through the proclamation of the gospel in word and deed when our faith is generated and renewed. It happens through our baptism into Christ in the name of the Trinity. Our transformation progresses through our sacramental sharing in the body and blood, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. God’s transformative work happens through our becoming and being that body in Christian assembly on this day, the Lord’s Day, week after week, month after month, year after year, from one degree of glory to another.

And then, like Moses coming down from the mountaintop, we leave this place with our faces shining bright with the glow of the presence of God in Christ. Like Jesus we leave this place to return to our version of the crowds, likewise aglow in loving service to those most in need in those crowds.

Through our works of loving mercy of Christ in the Spirit, the world itself, in fits and starts, here and there, begins to be transformed into the image of Christ.

Our sorry world is clouded by fear, and threat and anger and warfare as we are seeing in Ukraine, the frightening implications of which are reverberating throughout the world. How many more crises can our species and all of creation endure?

And yet, our fledgling, loving efforts do, in fact, bring the light of Christ into the terrifying shadows of our world. And as we know a little bit of light, especially that of Christ’s brightness, can go a long way to illuminate the darkest corners.

As Paul writes, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart,” even when things seem disheartening and hopeless.

One by one, may people entombed in the shadows of our weary world see the brightness of the light of Christ in our faces. God help us. Amen.

Week of the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

Last week’s Midweek Message introduced you to the possibility of our renting out a significant portion of our building’s educational wing to a Pre-K-8th grade private, non-profit school. In that message, I began to articulate some of the rationale for possibly engaging in such a relationship. This week’s message serves further to articulate some of the rationale as well as to provide more concrete information that is now available.

There’s a sense in which a new rental relationship is a building project, and building projects in churches tend to focus a congregation’s attention and energies, and at their best such projects can renew a church’s sense of mission. For example, I wrote last week about the importance of purging our building’s spaces of unused and un-needed stuff, which itself can be life-giving, even as a good spring cleaning can liven up our homes.

Then there’s the financial impact of this particular possibility to consider and take seriously. It is true that our congregation’s giving has not matched our budgeted expenses during the time of the pandemic. There continue to be shortfalls of giving in relation to expenses even as we have been worshiping in person again for several months. Budget shortfalls are quite common in congregational life these days, and congregations, especially in urban areas, increasingly turn to other sources of revenue, such as renting out space, to meet expenses. In the case of the particular possibility before us, our congregation could receive a rental fee of $10,000 per month, or $120,000 annually. While we would incur some expenses in renting out our property, those costs will not total $120,000 per year. Which is to say, the rental income would go a long way in addressing our budget shortfalls and would give us resources to use for additional initiatives and ministries.

One such possibility would be to use some of the rental income to employ a part-time building manager or engage a building management firm to help us take care of our whole property when our church building’s routine maintenance needs sometimes exceed our volunteer capacities to handle them.

Additionally, the rental income could also expand our congregations’ already generous practice of supporting local, national, and sometimes international organizations and churches in their efforts to assist those most in need. Think of how such additional revenues could serve any number of ministries and initiatives in the spirit of gifts that keep on giving and blessings that multiply blessings. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities.

Moreover, the proposed agreement with the school would result in immediate improvements to our property at the school’s expense – painting rooms and other cosmetic improvements and a major renewal of the playground space.

In terms of how the property may be shared, this is still in the phase of negotiating conversations, so nothing is as yet set in stone. But the basic idea is that the former preschool space on the lower level would be used exclusively by the lower grades of the school, even as that space was pretty much exclusively used previously by our preschool. So, no big change there. Then on the second floor of the educational wing, the corridor on the north side of the building is proposed to be used exclusively by the school’s upper grades, with some provision for possible occasional use by the congregation. Other rooms on the second floor in the other corridor are currently conceived as shared use spaces. That is, they would be regularly available to the school on school days and during school hours and available for the congregation’s use in the evenings and on weekends. It’s important to note that in current conversations, the following rooms are off the table in terms of possible use by the school: the children’s library, the choir rehearsal room, and the room dedicated to the Finnish School.

Elsewhere in the building, the large room on the lower level where the twelve step programs have met would be available for occasional, as needed, and formally requested use by the school. The outdoor playground will be for the school’s almost exclusive use, but the congregation could request occasional use. Which is to say, the rest of the building is available for exclusive use by our congregation: the nave and chapel, obviously, the nursery room on the first level, the suite of offices and lounge on the first level, our storage and maintenance rooms on the lower level, the church kitchen, the parish hall, and the stage and rooms formerly occupied by the Clothes Closet, which potentially could be spruced up and conceived for use by various social ministry projects. Which is to say, in my estimation, there is plenty of room left for our congregation’s current activities and plenty of space even to grow our number of activities and participants.

The working group that has been meeting concerning this possible rental agreement has addressed various questions and concerns. Here are some conclusions of our investigations. There would be flexibility built into a lease agreement to revisit provisions of the agreement, including rental rates. Increased utility expenses will not be a burden on the congregation’s budget. The school would arrange for their own phone and IT needs at their own cost, along with their own cleaning needs. Our insurance costs would not likely increase in troubling ways and we would not incur tax liabilities. These are the conclusions drawn by the capable persons on our working group on the basis of their own studied considerations and our conversations with the school directors.

Finally, to keep this Midweek Message to the accustomed length, there are intangible but significant benefits to the possible rental relationship with the school. As I indicated in last week’s message, an active church building is a possible magnet for other activities. In contrast, a moribund, unused building also speaks volumes to the wider community. Having a growing private school on our grounds could enhance the visibility of our congregation in the greater Arlington area which is crucial if we want to grow as a congregation. It could be that some of the families associated with the school might be looking for a church home. We would be poised to welcome them, as we as a church would be known to them in ways not possible if the school were not housed in our facility. Even if those numbers are few, that nonetheless opens doors for our membership growth that would otherwise be unavailable to us.

Once again, there will be more to say in future editions of these messages and other announcements. But I urge your attendance this coming Sunday after worship at an open forum, question and answer session, during which time you can ask your questions, express your concerns, and offer your initial assessment of this possibility. Again, that’s this Sunday, February 27th in the Parish Hall following worship. Please join us, as this is a communal discernment process which calls for wide participation of and consideration by our whole congregation.

Cordially in Christ as we engage this journey together for the sake of our share in God’s mission entrusted to us,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Epiphany 7, Luke 6:27-38

Today’s reading from Genesis features some of the culminating moments of one of my favorite stories in the Hebrew Bible, the very compelling tale of Joseph and his brothers.

Long story short, Joseph’s brothers were quite jealous of him – as we know, a very common tendency in human families – and in reaction the brothers betrayed Joseph by throwing him into a pit to be left for dead. Then they thought better of that and ended up selling Joseph into slavery. Joseph was taken to Egypt where he ended up becoming a leader among the Egyptians because of his power accurately to interpret dreams. Famine struck the land and Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt seeking aid only to discover their brother, Joseph, in a position to help them.

Today’s first reading is the moment of reuniting between Joseph and his brothers who were dismayed at recognizing that they were in the presence of the one whom they threw into the pit and sold into slavery.

In a lovely moment in the narrative, Joseph beckoned to his siblings, “Come closer.” And in the intimacy of that closer presence said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life…. So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (cf. Genesis 45:4-8)

This exchange ended in this further intimate moment: “And Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept upon them…” (Genesis 45:15a) I love that image which is evocative to me of our sharing of the Peace in worship, back when we could actually physically embrace each other in reconciling ways.

It’s a wonderful moment of grace. Especially poignant if you think the Old Testament is only about a God of wrath. No, the Jewish tradition and the Hebrew scriptures also reveal a God of mercy, of grace, of forgiveness, of reconciliation, of grace-filled endings to stories.

It’s a story that conveys what I like to call the radical sovereignty of God’s love. Humans intend evil. God intervenes, intending good. God prevails. It all becomes fulfillment of Paul’s conclusion in Romans 8 – “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
Which is to say, the God of the Hebrew people is the God of Jesus, and the God whom we as Christians worship as well. Thus, Christian people, perhaps especially Lutherans, who confess that all of the scriptures ultimately serve to point us to Jesus Christ, can understand Joseph as a type of Christ, a Christ-like figure, who was betrayed by those closest to him, and thrown into a pit and left for dead.

Jesus, too, knew such betrayal by his most intimate followers, and was in fact, killed, and was thrown into the pit of a tomb, only to be raised up by God to new life, even as Joseph, too, was taken from the pit of slavery for a new life of leadership in the land of Egypt.

In short, God uses human brokenness and sinfulness ultimately in redemptive, life-giving ways. And loving life has the last word. That’s the radical sovereignty of God’s love which is possible because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Paul reflects on this divine dynamic in today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians. “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies…. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.” (1 Corinthians 15:36, 42-43)

Paul, here, is talking about the resurrection and its capacity to bring life from death, and likewise, glory from dishonor, power from weakness (of the cross), salvation from sin – and quite significantly for us Lutherans, the gospel from the burdens of the law.

What Joseph’s brothers did was sown in dishonor and weakness. But God used such dishonorable sowing for glory and power. So, too, with Christ. Human beings and institutions sowed their deeds in dishonor and weakness, but God raised Jesus in glory and power.

And, according to Paul, we all have a share in this glory and power. “Just as we have borne the image of the one of dust, we will also bear the image of the one of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49), namely, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord.

We come to bear that heavenly image when we are baptized in the name of the Trinitarian God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, when after the water bath, the deal is sealed with oil on our foreheads with the image of the cross, a restoration of our having been created in the image of God. Thus it is that we bear the image of the one of heaven. It’s on our foreheads.

Only then can we even attempt to undertake the work that God has called us to do, for we can only engage that work in the power and cruciform glory of God.
Which brings us to today’s Gospel reading, Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount, a series of seemingly impossible teachings of Jesus.

Listen again to what Jesus expects of us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” And more: turn the other cheek, giving it up to be smitten, too. “Give to everyone who begs from you.”

This is all summed up in Luke’s telling of the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Moreover, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

Pause to think for a moment about just how counter-cultural this teaching of Jesus was and is. The hearers in Jesus’ day would have been taught the ethic of retribution, of an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. What Jesus teaches is an ethic that is a radical departure from retribution and revenge.

Jesus’ teaching is no less difficult for us in our day when popular culture and many leaders across the spectrum of viewpoints seem to practice a bastardized version of the Golden Rule: “Do to others as they do to you.”

Jesus’ revolutionary ethic to love enemies runs counter to human nature. Our stressed-out days, soon entering a third year of a global pandemic accompanied by all kinds of social upheaval, are bringing out the worst in the human spirit, as there is so much spite and anger and seeking vengeful justice these days.

Folks, captive as we are to the sinful, old Adam in us, we cannot do on our own steam what Jesus beckons us to do. We can try in fits and starts, but there’s generally no consistency. We simply can’t do this kind of stuff on our own! We need help. And we have help.

Here’s what Luke reports that Jesus said, drawing on an image of the marketplace: “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into [our] lap.” All the good stuff is put into a container and it’s pressed down and shaken so the container is completely full, and it’s running over, all the blessings, the gifts.

So it is with God’s love, with God’s grace in Christ Jesus. So it is in the means of grace. In our assemblies, when we gather in this place, we are given gifts – the word, the sacraments, forgiveness, the communal experience of the fullness of Christ’s presence. All of this adds up to the “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” – and yes, it is put into our laps, our bosoms, the folds of our garments where we carry the good gifts back into the world.

Thus fed and fortified, we can attempt to do what Luke tells us Jesus commands.

Thus, operating in the power and cruciform glory of Christ with the Holy Spirit working in the means of grace, we can seek to engage with our neighbors the loving work extolled in Luke’s Sermon on the Plain – a huge countercultural gift in our current social climate which seeks retribution and revenge.

God in Christ help us for the healing of the nations. Amen.

Week of the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

One of the few silver linings of the pandemic’s upending of our lives and routines in church is that it gives occasion to assess who we are as a congregation and what we may be called to do to serve God’s mission. One thing is emerging in clarity and that is that Resurrection Church is not and will not be the same church it was even a handful of years ago. We will not go back exactly to the same routines. Church meetings via Zoom, for example, may be here to stay.

Two additional developments also give occasion to assess where we are, especially in terms of the utilization of our church building. One, of course, is the current closing of the Clothes Closet. The other, also quite significantly, has been the closing of the preschool.

All of this beckons us to discern how best to be good stewards of our church’s building. Our physical homes are extensions of our embodiment as human beings, and thus contribute greatly to how we live our lives. That’s true also for church buildings. While the Sunday School song concludes that the church is not a building, nor a steeple, but a people, it is also true that our church building makes possible our doing the things that constitute us as Christ’s body, the church. Namely, the church building makes possible our comfortably and faithfully assembling around word and sacrament, the event that is church, our worship on the Lord’s Day. While we certainly did church outdoors in the earlier months of the pandemic, nearly all of us would agree that it’s far preferable to worship as we do indoors in our lovely, liturgically accommodating nave!

But the church building also serves other expressions of our mission as well, for example, historically and again, the Clothes Closet and the Preschool. Now that those ministries have concluded their missions, what’s next? Bodies that don’t get much use or exercise tend to atrophy. That’s true for buildings as well. Currently, our church building is grossly underutilized. Our large facility is a gift to us and perhaps the wider community to be used to benefit our communities. But right now, in terms of use, it’s languishing, used only in communal ways on Sunday’s and a few other occasions currently, like occasional congregation events, and cub scout gatherings, and the 12 step groups and Finnish Language Schools once they return in person. Again, we are called to consider well how the fullness of our facilities might best be used in the near and more distant futures to serve the mission to which God calls us.

In the interests of transparency and disclosure, our congregation has been approached by a local private, non-profit, Pre-K-8 school, enquiring of us whether or not we would be willing to rent space to them to house their school. I have been in conversation with the directors of this school, and our Council has created a working group of our members which has also met with the school officials, having generated a host of questions about this possible renting relationship. All of this is in initial conversational phases, but it is also true that these conversations will move as quickly as possible given the school’s needs to communicate with their constituency where they will be located next school year, for enrollment processes for the next school year begin soon.

It is our leaders’ understanding that a decision to rent our space to an outside organization is appropriately made by our Congregation Council. At the same time, we want to be in conversation also with the wider membership of our congregation about this possibility. Thus, my motivation in this message is to let you all know now that these conversations are underway, and that you can expect further information soon once there is more concrete information actually to share. If you have questions and concerns about this possibility, I am happy to respond to you as best as I am currently able.

But I will say for now that the prospect of the better part of our educational wing to be teeming with the vibrancy of some fifty school children is an exciting vision, in keeping, I believe with our congregation’s historic concern for education and in keeping with the character of that part of our building which itself is built on the model of schools. Fully utilized buildings are magnets for other possible activities. Busy buildings attract attention. And we need such attention if we want to grow in numbers of people and programs.

Moreover, the possibility of sharing our space with another entity will require that we determine how best our building serves our own mission and activities. An initial review of our space and how it may be shared between the church and school reveals that there will be plenty of dedicated church space for us to undertake our own current activities and even to expand those activities. We have plenty of room to grow, even if we would be allowing a school primary and sometimes exclusive use of many of our rooms in the education wing.

Here's another important opportunity for us to ponder as we imagine shared space in our facility. Buildings, like our homes where there’s sufficient room, tend to attract a lot of stuff that gets stored in closets and other spaces. As is the case with our homes, it’s also true for churches. Church buildings accumulate a lot of stuff! And much of this stuff doesn’t get used and yet stays put sometimes for decades. Sharing our church spaces with a school will force us to do some good ol’ fashioned spring and summer cleaning, purging our spaces of things that have not been used and likely will never be used to serve our ministry and mission. Such clean-up, clear-out efforts can have a satisfying, salutary effect on our life together, even as it’s satisfying to engage in such spring cleaning at home.

There is a lot more that I will say about the rationales to commend our possible renting out a good bit of our educational wing, but I’ll save that for future editions of my Midweek Message, again, when I and we know more concretely the specifics of this proposal. For now, I simply want to call your attention to this, to let you know that you’ll be hearing more, and to invite your conversation with me and with the Council – and yes, there will be scheduled occasions for such conversation. For now, I invite your prayers that God in Christ will guide our conversations among ourselves and with the school interested in renting our space, that the Holy Spirit would faithfully shepherd us in this process to outcomes that accord with the divine will.

Prayerfully in Christ, that our building may always faithfully serve God’s mission,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Epiphany 6, Luke 6:17-26

Once again in Luke’s gospel we find Jesus amidst the throng of the crowds. Recall what I observed on Baptism of Our Lord, if you happened to be here that Sunday: Luke reports that Jesus was one of many standing in line to be baptized by John. Jesus was one among a crowd, not seeking to separate himself from others in the throng.

In today’s reading, Jesus is amidst the people again. Luke says: “Jesus came down with the twelve and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people” from all over the place. He came down. And stood with – not over or aside from, but with. And it was a level place. A level playing field, if you will. Jesus among the multitudes.

This is the context for Luke’s version of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Plain. Luke’s version stands in contrast to the beatitudes in Matthew’s gospel, where it’s the Sermon on the Mount which featured Jesus leaving the crowd to go up the mountain to address the disciples only as his audience. In Matthew, Jesus sits – a kind of speaking ex cathedra? – and the disciples come to him. In Luke, Jesus stands with the many, having come down to them on their level.

Moreover, here’s why the crowds gathered – to hear Jesus and to be healed of their diseases, that those troubled with unclean spirits would be cured. Luke reports that those in the crowd tried to touch Jesus, knowing that healing power came out of him.

Again, as I observed in the sermon on Baptism of Our Lord, it’s all so visceral, physical, embodied – very much in keeping with the concerns of Luke, who was a physician according to tradition.

This earthy context is crucial to understanding the nature of Luke’s version of the beatitudes. In Luke’s telling, it’s “blessed are you who are poor” – not poor in spirit as Matthew tells it. And in Luke, it’s blessed are you who are hungry now. Just plain hungry, literally empty stomachs, not those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, which is a metaphorical understanding of hunger in Matthew. And in Luke, blessing is for those weeping, a more visceral and immediate expression than Matthew’s mourning, which may occur without much demonstrativeness.

Luke also adds a series of “woes” to the beatitudes, something Matthew does not include. “But woe to you who are rich… Woe to you who are full now… Woe to you who are laughing now….” All of this pronounces judgment now on those whom the world would identify as the blessed ones. For the perceived blessed, they get woe. They get divine judgment, the burden of the law’s claims on them, and a prophet’s condemnation. We in our privileged circumstances may also feel the sting of such judgment.

But for those who suffer in all kinds of visceral ways, those whom the world would identify as cursed and full of woe, in Luke’s telling, they are blessed. Moreover, there’s the exhortation for the poor and hungry and weeping and the hated, reviled, and defamed to “rejoice” and “leap for joy.”

The gospel, the good news is precisely where we would least expect to see it. Blessed, or graced, are the ones who seem cursed. Cursed are the ones who seem blessed. This is quite the reversal of the wisdom of the world.

How can there be such rejoicing and joy for those named in the Lukan beatitudes who know such current suffering? And how can it be that the rejoicing is for now and not some future date? How does this logic of reversal work?

The answer to these queries is all about the one standing in the midst of the suffering multitudes, namely, Jesus, the Christ, from whose body comes power for healing. Now. Mediated through human contact, through touch.

Luke, of course, writes with the 20/20 hindsight of knowledge of Jesus having been raised from the dead. So, Luke’s account here in the Sermon on the Plain is a kind of foretelling of the resurrection and the powerful, healing effects of Jesus’ embodied new life on the plight of the suffering crowds. As a Passion prediction, the Jesus whose power goes out from him to heal in this part of Luke’s story-telling, is ultimately the resurrected Christ.

And this Jesus assures those whom he addresses, “for surely your reward is great in heaven.” This statement gives us occasion to ask, where is heaven? And when does heaven occur? The common answers are that heaven is somewhere up there and the when is after we die. But are those the only plausible answers? I’d suggest that heaven is wherever the resurrected Christ happens to be and whenever Christ is made known. Now and in the age to come.

Which is to say that the heavenly reward Jesus describes is something available in him at the present time. Hence the occasion to rejoice and leap for joy even now.

For Christ’s resurrection changes everything and turns the logic of the world upside down. Without Christ’s resurrection, it’s all for naught. At least that’s Paul’s conclusion in today’s reading from 1 Corinthians:
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.” (1 Corinthians 15:17-18a) But Paul concludes with confidence: “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” (1 Corinthians 15:20)

This is the rock-solid confession on which we bet and build our lives. This is the reality to which the multitudes were drawn, a reality seen in the person of Jesus Christ whom they tried to touch for healing.

It’s ultimately the same reality that the prophet Jeremiah extols when he says, “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:7) This in contrast to those who are cursed, “who trust in mere mortals and make mere flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord.” (Jeremiah 17:5b)

The blessedness that Jeremiah talks about and the blessedness that Jesus refers to in the beatitudes in Luke have to do with the quality of trusting in God. That is to say, it’s about faith, which in essence, is trust. Sola fide. Faith alone. Trust in the living God of the Hebrews. Trust in the living Christ whom God raised from the dead.

In Christ, this faith releases the power of God. In Christ, this faith makes for life. In Christ, this faith heals.

I love the image Jeremiah offers, again in today’s first reading. The blessed ones who trust in the Lord are “like a tree planted by water sending out its roots by the stream.” (Jeremiah 17:8a) Here, seen from the perspective of Christ’s death and resurrection, I cannot help but imagine that the tree is the cross, our tree of life. A tree that is fed by waters and feeds waters, with roots which course with life flowing to and from the source of all life, the word of God made flesh who was at the beginning, at creation.

Our source of life is both the tree of the cross and the primordial living waters, the waters of baptism. And with the image of such a tree planted near or even in the waters, I can’t help but think of our baptismal life in terms of hydroponics!

Think of it. Hydroponics. That is, a form of cultivation in which vegetation is planted in nutrient rich water such that plants can bear high yields of fruit quickly and year-round. Water as soil. Think of our life in Christ, our baptismal life, as a kind of hydroponic cultivation, we who are continually nourished by baptismal waters feeding us the nutrients of Christ’s resurrected life now and always. Given the promise of this reality, of course we rejoice and leap for joy.

And then, too, we are also fed with the nutrients of Christ’s body and blood in a simple meal of bread and wine, at which we rejoice, we give thanks – for the words for rejoice and Eucharist share the same root in Greek, and it’s the word for joy.

Moreover, it’s in the meal where we reach out to be touched by the living Christ mediated through gifts of bread placed in our hands and wine put to our lips. And power goes out from this embodied, sacramental meal to heal us. Of course, we’ll rejoice and leap for joy at this.

And then we go on our way rejoicing back into the world, back into the crowds and multitudes, standing with them on level ground, a level playing field, bringing with us the power of the living Christ in healing ways through our loving service with and for our neighbors.

In our ministry as a congregation, may such life-giving energy flow from Christ through us, we who are his body, the church, for the benefit of the multitudes who clamor for healing. May they be touched by Christ through us. Amen.

Week of the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

A new initiative at Resurrection Church is the formation of a Creation Care Team. This is a response to one of our shared visions for mission and ministry, and that is that we see Resurrection as a congregation which engages in communal moral discernment about social issues in keeping with ELCA priorities. Over the course of the past several months, one theme regularly percolated in conversations with members of the church in addition to concerns about racism and our pledge to engage in anti-racism work, and that is environmental justice, or care for creation. Yes, this concern is provoked by the specter of climate change, whatever its causes, as weather-related catastrophes of one kind or another are increasing exponentially across the world. The concern is also in keeping with the sensibilities of our congregation community dating back several years, for example, with the establishment of our community garden, our Plot Against Hunger, which utilizes the gifts of creation for the benefit of those most in need. But creation care is also a significant feature of biblical and Lutheran theological concerns, a theme and focus that I believe we are called in these days to embrace ever more deeply and proactively.

In thinking biblically about this commitment to creation care, let’s begin at the beginning. In the story-telling about creation in the book of Genesis, one of the common refrains in response to each day of creation is “and God saw that it was good” – that is, all of the things that are comprehensively constitutive of a well-ordered creation are affirmed as good. But this created goodness was tarnished by the fall. Humans have shared in this tarnishing of creation since the earliest days. In response, calling attention to the hope and promise that are in us via the resurrected Christ Jesus, the apostle Paul has this to say in his letter to the Romans, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:19-23) In short, Christ’s resurrection promises are not just for human beings, but for all of creation in its various and wonderful, though depleted, embodied expressions.

In thankful and hopeful response to the promises of God in Christ, we are thus called to engage in the care of creation, even when things seem dire and hopeless as they may today. In response to the query, “what would you do today if you knew that the world would end tomorrow?” Martin Luther reportedly said, “I would plant a tree.” There is no evidence that Luther actually said this, but the sentiment is in keeping with our hopefulness as Lutherans in Christ Jesus. For Lutherans, Christ’s resurrection changes everything, including our relationship to creation. Central to Lutheran ethics is love of neighbor in thankful response to God’s gracious, forgiving love. This neighbor love arguably extends beyond humans to include all of God’s creatures, including the earth itself, since we all exist in profoundly interdependent ecosystems. This interdependence, I believe, is a feature of the Eucharist, when gifts of bread and wine, fruits of creation, are made available in the power of the divine word and the Spirit to convey the real, even bodily presence of the resurrected Christ. Thus, having shared in the resurrected life of Christ in the meal, we leave the sacramental table to go into the world – all the world – empowered for our loving and caring stewardship of the good earth that has been entrusted to our human stewardship. Creation care is eucharistic living as we continue to offer thanksgiving for all the blessings of this good earth in our loving service.

So it is that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, in the early years of its existence rather presciently affirmed a social statement on the environment entitled, “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice.” Here’s a link to this social statement passed by the ELCA Churchwide Assembly in 1993. Climate Change was not on the daily radar screens of most people in 1993, so I consider our church’s affirmation of creation care even three decades ago a proactive prophetic stance rather than a reactive one.

Thus, the formation of our congregation’s Creation Care Team, a move affirmed by our Congregation Council in recognition of the passions among members for these themes, is very much in keeping with our biblical and theological commitments and those of our national church. Members of the Creation Care Team invite your participation – for further conversation and discernment and then also decision-making about the kinds of activities we may engage in as a congregation. Nothing is prescribed or set in stone. We are at the beginning stages of what our creation care initiatives may be in future months and years.

That said, here is some of what you might expect to see going forward. During worship, on Sunday and other occasions, preaching, prayers, and hymnody may touch on creation care, along with confession and lament for our share in its tarnishing as well as commitment to further care for creation. Likewise, creation care may be a highlight for education and faith formation programs and events. Concerning our stewardship of our church building and grounds, we will be in discernment about choices that lessen our negative impact on earth and promote greater environmental sustainability. In terms of children and youth ministry, we may emphasize with our younger ones themes of sustainable and faithful stewardship of the environment, particularly since our children and youth will bear the brunt of further environmental degradation. And then likewise, in terms of our public witness beyond the congregation, at home, and in our wider communities, we may promote best creation care practices in our homes and otherwise seek also to collaborate with other community groups in their creation care efforts.

Again, how in particular we move forward with creation care initiatives is up to us to discern and decide together, collaboratively. Thus, I invite you to join in the conversation and to consider participating in the work of our new Creation Care Team. If you are interested in joining in the conversation and in this work, please reach out to me as your Pastor, and I’ll get you connected.

With abiding hope in the risen Christ in the promise of restoration for all of creation,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Epiphany 5, Luke 5:1-11

I always marvel at the stories of the call of Jesus’ disciples, and the reported immediacy and totality of their response. Listen again to what we just heard in Luke’s report: “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.” Mark’s version of the story adds the word “immediately” – “immediately they left their nets and followed [Jesus].” (Mark 1:18)

If indeed the telling is as it actually occurred without editorial hyperbole, it is a remarkable thing so quickly, so completely to leave everything to follow Jesus.

That leads me to ask, what would it take for me, for you, for us to make such a life-course-altering transition in our lives?

We can leave this as a rhetorical question for now so that we can turn our attention to the biblical passages appointed for today and what they have to say about the question. Each of today’s readings is a story of call, of God calling servants to do God’s work. In the first reading from Isaiah, it’s the call of the prophet Isaiah. In the second reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul references indirectly his story of call on the road to Damascus while addressing the church at Corinth. And, of course, today’s gospel from Luke recounts Jesus’ call of his first disciples.

Each call story ends with a total redirection in the lives of those called, Isaiah, Paul, Simon Peter and the other disciples.

A common theme in each story that provoked the abrupt change is a dramatic encounter with the divine. For Isaiah, it was the vision of the Lord sitting on the throne, high and lofty, with seraphs (the highest order of angelic beings) attending to the Lord, calling to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of the glory of the Lord.” Those words should sound familiar because we sing them every Sunday at this table. This holy drama ultimately resulted in Isaiah’s response to God’s call – “Here am I; send me!”

Likewise, Paul, on the road to Damascus was struck blind temporarily and heard Jesus’ voice. This sacred encounter finally led Saul, persecutor of the church, to become, Paul, another apostle sent to proclaim the gospel he had tried before to eradicate.

Then for Simon Peter and the others, it was the dramatic and surprising catch of fish, a sacred sign, a miracle, that ended in their leaving everything to follow Jesus.
But here’s the thing. The dramatic encounters with God are merely the beginning of the story, not the end, and not even the point. The point of the dramatic sacred encounter is simply to get the attention of the ones called – Isaiah, Paul, Simon Peter and the others.

If we leave it at the drama, without recognizing the other aspects of the call stories, then we’re left with something resembling a prosperity gospel or simply religious entertainment. If we stop with “the pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke,” then we’re going to try to replicate those experiences again and again – hence, perhaps, the churches that in their worship seek to put on a good show for the audience Sunday after Sunday.

Or let’s take the great catch of fish. If we’re stuck on the drama of this sign, then we’ll want to follow Jesus as a means to gain, maintain, and perpetuate our prosperity. Jesus can make us wealthy. Just look at all those fish. Jesus, follow us, and together we’ll make tons of money. That is to say, we’re left with some form of prosperity gospel.

But again, the sacred drama is not the point, only the attention getter. What comes next in each story is the recognition of the sinful limitations of the ones called in distinction from the utter holiness of God that the dramatic encounter reveals.

Here’s what Isaiah said in response to his holy encounter: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” – this is an acknowledgment of individual and social or communal sin and shortcoming.

Then there’s Paul who said, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, Christ appeared to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

Finally, Simon Peter. When he saw the boats begin to sink because of the incredible catch of fish, Simon Peter “fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’”

In short, holy encounters, however they come to us, serve to get our attention, and they reveal our mortality, our finitude, our fallenness in comparison to God’s glory.

But that, too, is not the end of the story. Next comes the communication of God’s grace, God’s forgiveness, God’s embrace.

In the case of Isaiah, this happened through the mediation of one of the seraphs. “Then one of the seraphs flew to [Isaiah], holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched [Isaiah’s] mouth with it and said: ‘Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.’” This is a striking moment of forgiveness, of absolution.

For Paul, formerly Saul, it was the visit of Ananias whom God sent to Paul after he was struck blind that conveyed God’s grace. According to the report in Acts, “[Ananias] laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength.” (Acts 9:17b-19a) Paul in today’s second reading summarizes all of this theologically in this way: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and God’s grace toward me has not been in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:10a)

In the case of Simon Peter, Jesus himself offered the grace with these simple, reassuring words: “Do not be afraid.”

So, thus far, we have holy encounters that are attention-getting that reveal our sinfulness which we acknowledge and then grace and mercy are offered. Then, and only then, is the commission, the sending, and finally the acceptance of the call with the resultant leaving everything to follow where God calls.

To Isaiah, the voice of the Lord said, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then Isaiah’s response once again, “Here am I; send me!” And Jesus’ invitation to Paul actually came to Ananias: “Go, for [Saul] is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before the Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) This is a commission which Saul who becomes Paul passionately accepts. And then, finally, there’s Jesus’ commissioning of Simon Peter and the others: “from now on you will be catching human beings.” So it is that they left everything to follow Jesus.

So, in sum, what does it take to leave everything to follow Jesus? A holy encounter that opens us to acknowledge our sin, to receive God’s mercy and grace, and then God commissions and sends us on a mission. Then finally is our response of leaving everything behind to engage our calling, our ministry in and for the world.

The pattern revealed for Isaiah, Paul, Simon Peter and the other disciples is the same for us even now in these latter days.

It is likely the case that few of us have had the kind of dramatic God encounters described in today’s readings. It is also likely that the stories we have received in the Bible have a lot of added editorial hyperbole. The historical reality may be that Isaiah and Paul and Simon Peter had more mundane experiences, not unlike ours.

That said, I believe that we can recognize in our lives the patterns we have discerned in today’s call story readings. We do occasionally have those attention getting experiences that draw us to consider the transcendent bigger picture, major life events that we cannot ignore. And these experiences may result in our compunction and humility, honest appraisals of our frail humanity that are followed by profound experiences of divine grace. And this results in a recognition of God’s call, which issues forth in our response in re-directing our lives for the sake of the world.

In twenty-five or so years of working with candidates preparing for ordained ministry, I’ve seen this kind of pattern again and again in their reported stories of call. Maybe you recognize similar patterns in your own life.

But it’s also true that our Sunday worship follows this pattern. It is here in this place, this time of assembly, that we are encountered by God, and confess that we are a people of unclean lips, but then receive grace – “your sin is blotted out” – and we sing “Holy, holy, holy” along with the seraphs, and the hot coals are touched to our lips in the form of bread and wine. And here we also discover that our ship of the church is filled abundantly with gifts, not unlike the huge catch of fish for the disciples. And then we hear the call and respond, “Here am I; send me!” Here we are; send us! And our lives are redirected to be sent from this place to serve the world in need with our abundance. The fact that you are here Sunday after Sunday, month after month, year after year, is a sign that holy encounter has redirected your life in fundamental ways to keep you coming back for more.

May our eyes and ears of faith be opened such that we can more fully apprehend the truth that what happened to Isaiah and to Paul and to Simon Peter and the others also happens to us, here in this place, and in our lives.

And all of this in service of our share in Jesus’ passion to be fully present with people in need in life-giving ways in our desperately suffering world. Amen.

Week of the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

In the social commentaries I read, more and more authors are bringing up the question of our nation being on the brink of another civil war of one sort or another, so divided are we as a nation. No longer are the divisions the stuff of policy debates. Rather, one side demonizes the other with ad hominem vitriol, hateful speech that often reduces the other to sub-human categories. These dynamics are at play on the extremes of both the right and the left today. Moreover, the genuine pursuit of truth is lost in the service winning fights by any means necessary, of “owning the libs” or “cancelling” perceived right-wing offenders. This divisive climate is amplified exponentially by social media platforms online, arguably a new wrinkle in our day concerning the age-old human problem of social strife and speaking ill of each other.

Christian people are caught up as well in this zeitgeist, this spirit of the times. It seems that many Christians, again on both the left and the right, prefer a muscular, combative Jesus who turns over the tables in the temple rather than a Prince of Peace who turns the other cheek and teaches the Golden Rule.

What might Martin Luther have to say about all of this? Well, first off, it’s important to acknowledge honestly that Luther did not consistently practice what he preached and taught. He was caught up in the vitriol of his own age and often employed ad hominem language to denigrate his opponents. I’ve often said of late, “Thank God Luther did not have access to Twitter” – given how he expressed himself in tracts and elsewhere, I can imagine that his tweets might cause even the most extreme Twitter users to blush.

That said and honestly acknowledged, Luther did and does offer sound teaching to guide us today, and a lot of this centers on what he had to say about the Eighth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” I believe I’ve written before about Luther’s views on the Eighth Commandment, but it bears some revisiting given the fevered pitch of discourse where we find ourselves currently in our national life together.

Here again is Luther’s explanation to the Eighth Commandment in his Small Catechism: “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”

Luther also reflected on the meanings of the Eighth Commandment in his devotional guide, the Little Prayer Book. Here is his listing there of examples of breaking the Eighth Commandment: “Whoever conceals and suppresses the truth in court. Whoever does harm by untruth or conceit. Whoever uses flattery to do harm, or spreads gossip, or uses double-talk. Whoever brings a neighbor’s conduct, speech, life, or wealth into question or disrepute. Whoever allows others to speak evil about a neighbor, helps them, and does nothing to oppose them. Whoever does not speak up in defense of a neighbor’s good repute. Whoever does not take a backbiter to task. Whoever does not speak well about all neighbors and does not keep silent about what is bad about them. Whoever conceals the truth or does not defend it” (Martin Luther, “Little Prayer Book,” in The Annotated Luther: Pastoral Writings, Volume 4, Mary Jane Haemig, ed., Fortress Press, 2016, p. 174).

Then, Luther also offers reflection on how to keep or fulfill the commandment, not just how we tend to break it. This additional, complementary word is very much in keeping with his approach in his explanations to the commandments in the Small Catechism which include both ways of breaking the commandments and ways to keep or fulfill them. Here is what Luther says in the Little Prayer Book about fulfilling the Eighth Commandment. We fulfill this commandment when we offer “a peaceful and beneficial manner of speech which harms no one and benefits everyone, reconciles the discordant, excuses and defends the maligned, that is, a manner of speech which is truthful and sincere. Here belong all precepts concerning when to keep silent and when to speak in matters affecting our neighbor’s reputation, rights, concerns, and happiness” (ibid., p. 177).

There’s a sense in which Luther’s words speak for themselves in terms of their applicability to our current circumstances. We can clearly see how Luther’s listings indict persons across political spectrums, technological platforms, and other forms of speech. Thus, I need not name names in terms of who or what circumstances Luther’s wisdom applies to. For to name such names in this brief message of one-way communication runs some risk of violating the spirit of the Eighth Commandment about bearing false witness! You yourselves can do that math in the silence of your hearts and minds. Suffice it to say that despite Luther’s own failures to live up to what he had to say on the Eighth Commandment, his teaching has enormous implications for helping us to asses and guide discourse among us today. For so much of the strife of our current national climate has to do with our relationships to the Eighth Commandment, the ways we break it, the ways we fail to fulfill or keep it, in our discourse with and about others.

It may be that most of us in polite Christian community, those who don’t occupy extreme, outspoken positions on the far left or far right, may feel that we do pretty well when it comes to the Eighth Commandment. But Luther does not let us off the hook either. That’s what I find most striking in some of his statements in the Little Prayer Book. Here again is what Luther writes, this for the sake of reiteration and reinforcement. Those who break the bearing false witness commandment include: “Whoever allows others [emphasis mine] to speak evil about a neighbor, helps them, and does nothing to oppose them. Whoever does not speak up in defense of a neighbor’s good repute. Whoever does not take a backbiter to task.” That is to say, we also break the Eighth Commandment when we sit on the sidelines allowing all the vitriolic rhetoric to continue without challenging it. Such sins of omission certainly include me, and perhaps you as well.

That is where I’ll leave it for today. In short, by way of conclusion, all of us share in some responsibility for the divisive, de-humanizing qualities of discourse in today’s society, including the many of us, myself included, who tend not to speak up when we encounter others engaging in behaviors that end up bearing false witness against our neighbors – on Facebook, Twitter, at family gatherings, in church at coffee hour, at our places of work, and more. What our omissions leave us with is the reality summed up in a quote commonly attributed to the eighteenth-century Irish philosopher and statesman, Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.”

God in Christ give us courage to speak truth in love in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Epiphany 4, Luke 4:21-30

The gospel writer, Luke, once again provides particularly vivid snapshots of the human condition in his narration of the events of Jesus’ ministry. Today we see the fickleness of the people of his hometown, Nazareth, in response to his public reading of scripture and his subsequent commentary.

Oh, how quickly they turned! At first, as Luke reported, it was that “All spoke well of [Jesus] and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

Then Jesus opened his mouth again with further commentary, perhaps in response to their query, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”

What Jesus said next provoked the ire of the hometown crowd. Luke says that “when they heard [Jesus’ further statements], all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove Jesus out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.”

Wow. But there you have it: the fullness of what human beings are capable of, perhaps especially in relation to those closest to us, with whom we are most familiar. Hence the saying, “familiarity breeds contempt.”

What exactly caused their rage? Maybe they got mad when Jesus said, perhaps sarcastically, “Doctor, cure yourself!” Or when he acknowledged that “No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown.” Or maybe it was when Jesus recounted the stories of how aliens received divine truth more willingly than the chosen ones. Or maybe hometown crowds want their own to be chaplains to the status quo and not rock any boats. And on and on.

But the long and the short of it is that Jesus begins his public ministry in the thick of the human condition of brokenness and sin. It is precisely this reality that he has come to address and ultimately to redeem.

Jesus told the truth to the people in his hometown, revealing their willful incapacities to receive that truth, the truth about himself.

Ultimately what Jesus is about is the gospel, the good news. But you cannot get to the good news without first hearing the bad news. That’s the gospel way.

We get a sense of this reality in today’s first reading recounting the call of the prophet Jeremiah when the Lord reassuringly said to a young, doubting Jeremiah, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over realms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow…” but also graciously “to build and to plant.” The plucking up and pulling down, the destroying and overthrowing happen before the building and planting. These are words of law and gospel, of judgment and grace, of death and of life.

So it was that Jesus had to confront the hometown crowds with the truth of the law’s claims and not just offer words of gracious gospel consolation, which is what the people wanted – they wanted a cheap grace and not a costly grace, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would put it centuries later.

But the crowds raged at the truth. This rage in defensive reaction to truth telling is a common feature of the human predicament.

We see this today in defensive, denying reactions to truths about all sorts of things, about the coronavirus and climate change and racism and wealth inequality and more. There is angry denial of truth on all points of the political spectrum, from left to right and points in between. It’s the human condition!

Oh, and there is so very much rage, as there was in Jesus’ hometown. And the powder kegs seem poised to blow at any moment now on the right of us and on the left of us. We feel the weight of these burdens big time, and people sensitive to these dynamics are no doubt kept up at night.

Yet, and again, it is precisely the rage of the crowds that Jesus enters into.

But in today’s gospel reading, we are also told that “Jesus passed through the midst of [the raging crowds] and went on his way” – precisely to continue his ministry in earnest leading up to the last days of that ministry in Jerusalem.

Which is to say, the incident at the hometown Nazareth synagogue, when the crowd wanted to kill Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry, is a foreshadowing of the end of Jesus’ earthly life when the crowds would finally prevail in sending Jesus to his death via the authority of the Roman empire to execute people. In Nazareth, it was the brow of the hill on which the town was built where they sought to send Jesus to his death. At the conclusion of Jesus’ ministry on earth it was a different hill, namely, Mount Calvary. Golgotha.

But even there, Jesus ultimately passed through the raging of the crowds, if not to say, passed over them from death to life in resurrection, from the cross to the empty tomb.

Thus, through his own death and resurrection, Jesus becomes our Passover as well, our means of passing through the raging of humanity’s sinful brokenness, from death to life, from raging divisiveness to ways of engagement that are more life-giving and reconciling.

Our baptism into Christ in the name of our Trinitarian God, our eating and drinking of Christ’s presence at the table, our communal immersion in the sacred word in proclamation, study, and devotion, the absolution when we confess, our accountability-seeking but grace-filled conversations with each – all of this makes for the means through which we in Christ pass through our broken, human raging passions, to find ourselves in a transformed communal landscape.

Our second reading for today reveals the qualities of this new place, this new way in Christ. It is the so-called love chapter in First Corinthians, commonly read at weddings. But the love that the apostle Paul refers to is not reduced to the love between partners in a marriage. No, it’s more about life together in the church, in Christian community and assembly.

It is the love that we know in Christian community that prevails, love that wins the day in response to our raging. And not just any old love, but agape, the unconditional love of God that transcends human capacities. This is the divine love that is the passageway through our raging passions to a still more excellent way.

Listen again to the highlights in 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8a, 13) Oh, what a gift this love is to our raging world.

God’s unconditional, agape love finds fulfillment in Christ Jesus, on his cross and from his empty tomb. His death, his resurrection, prevail and have the last word, as full expressions and embodiments of God’s great love for us. And when it’s all said and done, we can try love instead of rage only because God first loved us.

Such gracious words come on the heels of truth-telling and the difficult, damning words which we must also hear. Thus, it is a tough love. A costly grace.

God’s trustworthy promise is this: when it’s all said and done, our violent defensive reactions to the hard word of the law will not ultimately prevail against or prevent the fulfillment of the word of gospel grace.

Our faith, our trust in this promise renewed, may we not waver and lose hope, and let us love one another as God in Christ first loved us, and all of this for the sake of calming the rage in our troubled world.

Amen. Let it be so. Amen.

Week of the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

Many people, perhaps especially pastors, dread annual congregational meetings. They may be burdened by the sense that annual meetings are only all about the “business” of the church, that is, the legal and organizational requirements of congregations as non-profit organizations. Indeed, there are such administrative matters to attend to, like electing new Council members and passing budgets, and so on.

But I am not among those who dread annual meetings, for I see them as occasions, not unlike state of the union addresses by presidents, when both chambers of Congress, and indeed, much of the nation turns its collective attention to the big picture of how things are going in the nation. For me, annual meetings are state of the church occasions, times to assess the quality of our life together as a congregation.

But before I get to the big picture of assessing the state of our congregation in light of this past Sunday’s annual meeting, I don’t want to leave too quickly the administrative side of things. Doing the “business” of the church is indeed important, for administrative matters serve the primary mission of the church to proclaim the gospel of Christ. In fact, we could not engage in our mission to proclaim Christ if it weren’t for the well-run, behind-the-scenes organizational systems that ungird our capacities to herald the gospel.

And as I am fond of saying, as I did in a message after last year’s annual meeting, and quoting a friend and former colleague, “good administration is good pastoral care.” So, I came away from the 2022 annual congregational meeting of Resurrection Lutheran Church with a renewed sense that we are in good hands administratively. Our congregation is well-ordered, its systems carefully attended to. And all of this happens because of the care and attention, competence and expertise, of a cadre of strong lay leaders who stay on top of things administratively. Having been around the block a few times as a member of a synodical bishop’s staff, I’ve seen too many congregations in administrative upheaval and disarray, and such conditions radically diminish the quality of life in congregations and inhibit the church’s mission. Resurrection Church is not one of those congregations. The caring attention to the administrative life of the church was much in evidence among our leaders who were panelists at our Zoom annual meeting, but they are supported by teams of people behind the scenes who also offer their wisdom, passion, and expertise.

One of the stated desires that appeared in the consultant’s report on our congregation during the interim period prior to you calling me as your Pastor was the hope that Resurrection Church might involve still more fully the laity in the moving forward of the church in and for mission. It strikes me that we are currently doing a rather commendable job of being a congregation that makes the most of lay leadership in the service of our divine calling.

Moreover, such sharing of leadership in teamwork is enormously beneficial to me as your Pastor, for when lay leaders exercise faithfully their respective ministries, especially perhaps responsibility for the “business” aspects of the church as a non-profit, that frees me to attend more diligently to what are the central foci of my particular calling as Pastor, namely, exercising oversight of the preaching and teaching and worship ministries of the church. I am heartened by the division of labor that has evolved among us over the course of my almost two years of serving as your Pastor, and it is a privilege to serve in a shepherding and coordinating capacity the collaborative team that we have become together.

In terms of raising up new and additional lay leaders to serve our mission, there’s always some anxiety on the part of those recruiting and nominating folk, for example, willing to serve on the Congregation Council. Will there be enough people to serve our needs? Yet, when it’s all said and done, people step forward, perhaps reluctantly at first given their busy and complex lives, but they do make themselves available to serve. Thus, we elected this past Sunday an excellent slate of new Council members.

Likewise, in terms of the financial status of our congregation, there is consistently also some anxiety about giving failing to match budgeted needs. But by year’s end, with the common practice among many, myself included for the charitable giving that I do beyond the church, people also step forward by the end of December with gifts that reduce what otherwise had been a running deficit throughout the year. Yes, our giving has not been matching budgeted expenses, but the shortfall has not yet been catastrophic, and there are reserves sufficient at this time to meet deficits. We are also just beginning to explore ways to generate income beyond gifts of members, likely via renting some of our space to other organizations. All of this is to say that Resurrection Church continues to be on a solid financial footing and is a well-resourced congregation to serve Christ’s mission in and for the sake of the world – a mission reflected by the particularly generous amount of money we devote each year to a wide array of organizations that seek to alleviate the suffering of those in need.

So, given the ways we fulfill the maxim that “good administration is good pastoral care,” Resurrection Church is poised in the coming months of 2022 to have the capacity earnestly to live into our shared visions for mission and ministry. Such statements of vision provide the criteria to assess and evaluate the bigger picture of the state of the church with a focus on its mission. Recall that at our annual meeting in 2021, I introduced to you statements of vision that I generated as your Pastor. Over the course of the months of 2021, these “I” statements evolved into becoming “we” statements, informed by the insights of our wider membership, and approved by our Congregation Council. I am glad for the conversations we have had about these vision statements over the past year, and I am heartened by the conversations we have been having and will continue to have in coming months to bring to concrete expression ways of making our visions realities on the ground to serve our ministry and mission as a congregation.

The ship of this church has a better idea of where it is headed, guided by the statements of vision, and inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit working also through our administrative life, which again is the servant of our mission.

The long and the short of it, by way of concluding these reflections on the 2022 annual congregational meeting of Resurrection Church, is that despite the constraints of the pandemic and the challenging realities that make congregational life difficult these days, the state of our church is, in my assessment, strong and solid and faithful.

By God’s grace, may this continue to be so, for Jesus’ sake,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Epiphany 3, Luke 4:14-21

There are some astonishing moments in the scriptures which reveal the continuity between the present and ancient past, especially in what we do here when we are gathered on the Lord’s Day for worship.

Today’s first reading from Nehemiah is one of those astonishing moments. Here are salient summary points from that reading: The priest Ezra brings the book of the law before the assembly so that all, both men and women, could hear with understanding. They were assembled early in the morning until midday. All ears were attentive to the reading from the book of the law. When the book was opened, everyone stood up. Ezra blessed the Lord. The people responded with their amens and uplifted hands and then their bowed heads in worship. The law was read and interpretation was given, so that the people understood the reading (cf. Nehemiah 8:2-3).

Does this sound familiar? It should, for it’s essentially what we do here on Sunday mornings in great continuity with our cousins in the faith, the people of Israel, dating from ancient times.

Then there’s this other telling and poignant moment in today’s first reading: “For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law.” (Nehemiah 8:9b)

The law does that to us humans; it reveals our shortcomings, our times of breaking the law, and our failure to keep the law. The law reveals what God expects of us. When we take a moment for self-examination, we begin to name the particular ways in which we have fallen short. That’s the nature of confession. Thus, the faithful wept when they felt compunction for their sins.

So it is that we hear the law in our own Sunday readings from the scriptures. The law’s demands, for example, are suggested in today’s second reading, that from First Corinthians where Paul reveals the essential unity we have in Christ and our interdependence with each other. This is wonderful teaching full of good news. But, reading between the lines, the reality is that Paul would not have needed to write about our unity in the church if there was not also disunity. Indeed, the thrust of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians indicates that there were in fact dissentions in the church at Corinth. Hence, Paul’s reminder of the call to unity and to honoring all the different people who comprise Christian community. For the people were divided and didn’t honor each other. And so it continues to this day. We hear this as a message to us as well.

Then we turn to today’s gospel reading from Luke where we also are confronted with the realities of human failure in relation to God’s lawful expectations. Jesus, very much in keeping with the practice revealed in today’s passage from Nehemiah, goes to his hometown synagogue to read publicly from the book of the prophet Isaiah and then to give brief commentary on the passage he read.

What Jesus read from Isaiah reveals the brokenness of human community, that there are the poor who languish without good news, that there are those held captive who cry out for release, that the oppressed cry out for freedom, that we all long for and need the forgiving jubilee of the year of the Lord’s favor. In short, what Jesus read from Isaiah reveals our brokenness and that we are in need of a savior, namely, him.

When we are forthrightly confronted with these realities of both breaking the law and failing to keep it, and we are honest with ourselves, of course we weep, and cry out to God for help, for mercy, for release from our captivity to sin.

But then there’s this other remarkable moment in today’s first reading from Nehemiah. The priest Ezra says to the people assembled – listen to this: “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep…. Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:9b-10)

Lest we think that the Old Testament contains only harsh words of God’s judgment and we need the New Testament to hear words of grace, comfort, and consolation, please think again. What are these words of the priest Ezra but words of merciful grace? Of forgiveness? Of justification for unrighteous sinners?

So it is that Jesus, in keeping with the grace-filled traditions of his forebears, offered words of grace and mercy in the words of the prophet Isaiah as he was reading and interpreting in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.

Reading from the prophet Isaiah, Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

When he finished reading, there was this compelling, dramatic moment in Luke’s telling. Jesus rolled up the scroll and gave it to the attendant. Jesus sat down in apparent silence with the eyes of all in the synagogue fixed on him.

Then Jesus gave a very brief sermon of merely nine words, interpreting the scripture he just read aloud: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Indeed, we see the fulfillment in Luke’s wider telling of the story. Yes, the Spirit of the Lord came to Jesus when he was praying after his baptism by John in the River Jordan.

Yes, through that baptism, Jesus was anointed to do God’s work. And yes, the Lord sent Jesus to do that work. More fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise in Jesus.

And his work was indeed to bring good news, to proclaim release and recovery of sight, to free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

At this point in Luke’s narrative, Jesus is just beginning his public ministry. He announces his vision for that ministry inspired by the words of Isaiah. And from this point on, again in Luke’s orderly recounting, Jesus will fulfill the promise of God’s word in Isaiah by living into the vision in proclamation and in deed, in actions which result in freedom and sight and the Lord’s favor. This was good news back then. It’s good news for us now.

Let’s go back to where we began with our consideration of the continuity with and parallels between now and the ancient Jewish practices of holy assembly recorded in Nehemiah.

Ezra the priest invites the people to eat the fat and drink sweet wine. And on their way also to provide for those for whom nothing has been prepared.

Again, this should sound familiar to us. Because we also turn from hearing both the demands of the law and also the good news of freedom and release to find our way to the banquet table, the Lord’s table, where we, too, eat the fat and drink the wine of the eucharist. And when we leave this table, it is our custom to bring this same communion to those who are homebound, for whom nothing has been prepared.

In all of this, we, too, enjoy and know the realities which Jesus proclaimed in his very brief sermon, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Yes, this fulfillment happens in our hearing, but it also goes beyond this place and this hour when we are sent back into the world to proclaim, in continuity with Jesus’ own ministry, good news and release and recovery of sight and freedom and the time of the Lord’s favor.

Today, after this liturgy, we will have our congregation’s annual meeting when we’ll hear reports of what we’ve done in the past year, but also explore what we intend to do in the coming year, namely as we seek to live into our vision for mission and ministry, encapsulated by the words of another prophet, namely Micah: “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God.” (cf. Micah 6:8).

The words of the prophet Isaiah charted the course for Jesus’ ministry, the words creating a roadmap for the way forward for him. Likewise, for us. Micah 6:8 becomes our missionary roadmap. For in Christ, by the power of his death and his resurrection, we are graciously freed, awakened in faith, led by the Spirit, and in thanksgiving to God, we leave this place to seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God for the sake of the world.

May these sacred words be fulfilled in our hearing and in our doing. Amen.

Week of the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

January 18, the Confession of Peter, begins the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, 2022. What started as a small prayer movement among Episcopal Franciscans and Catholics in the Hudson River Valley north of New York City in 1908 has over the decades become an international observance embraced by millions and sponsored by the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches and the Catholic Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, an octave encouraging daily prayer observances, begins on the commemoration of the Confession of Peter and concludes a week later on the day of the commemoration of the Conversion of Paul, an octave bracketed by the celebration of two major figures of the Christian tradition who represent different strands of our faith tradition. Peter was one of Jesus’ disciples who was among the first-hand, eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection, and who became one of the twelve original apostles, and a central figure among the twelve. Paul, on the other hand, as Saul, a persecutor of the early Christian movement and its believers, had his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and thus came to this new movement in a way very different from the twelve original apostles. Paul struggled to have his apostolic authority accepted during the days of his public ministry.

These differences could have taken Christianity in very different and divided directions. But the basic rapprochement between Pauline and Petrine factions in the early days preserved early unity in the emergent church even amidst its sometimes-conflicting diversity. There is an icon in the offices of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in the Vatican that features Peter and Paul embracing each other. That is an image which captures the unifying spirit of the ecumenical octave of this week. It is indeed appropriate that the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity should begin and conclude with commemorations of Peter and Paul, a celebration of and aspiration for unity in diversity.

Each year materials for marking and celebrating the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity are developed by different ecumenical councils in various regions of the world. Materials for 2022, published nationally by the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute in New York, were crafted by the Middle East Council of Churches in Beirut, Lebanon. This year’s theme is based on Matthew 2:2 – “We saw the star in the east, and we came to worship him.” Here is further elaboration on this theme from the website of the Graymoor Institute: “Today, more than ever, the Middle East needs a heavenly light to accompany its people. The star of Bethlehem is a sign that God walks with his people, feels their pain, hears their cries, and shows them compassion. It reassures us that though circumstances change and terrible disasters may happen, God’s faithfulness is unfailing…. The journey of faith is this walking with God who always watches over his people and who guides us in the complex paths of history and life. For this Week of Prayer, the Christians of the Middle East chose the theme of the star that rose in the east for a number of reasons. While many Western Christians celebrate Christmas, the more ancient feast, and still the principal feast of many Eastern Christians, is the Epiphany when God’s salvation is revealed to the nations in Bethlehem and at the Jordan. This focus on the theophany (the manifestation) is, in a sense a treasure which Christians of the Middle East can offer to their brothers and sisters around the world.”

Here is a link, should you wish to participate in a live, online observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It begins at 12:00 pm (Noon) Eastern on Wednesday, January 19.

And here is a link to official Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 2022 materials to support your daily prayers for greater visible unity in the church.

As I have written to you before, I am a devoted ecumenist and am committed to promoting the greater visible unity among Christian churches, and this for the sake of our witness to the world rooted in Jesus’ prayer recorded in John’s Gospel: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21) I, therefore, see ecumenical work as central to the mission of the church and not as an optional, extra thing to engage in if we have time and inclination.

Ecumenical involvements, ranging from local to national and even international initiatives, have consistently been key features of my public ministry for over three decades. Thus, it’s been a disappointment to me that Arlington has no apparent current, active, formal ecumenical association of churches and church leaders. I would otherwise be an active participant in such a group. Thus, I will continue to endeavor informally to reach out to colleagues in neighboring congregations in future months, pandemic permitting, seeking to build some meaningful ecumenical relationships locally. Nationally, I continue to serve as the Lutheran co-chair of the Lutheran-Methodist Full Communion Coordinating Committee.

Additionally, I am heartened by Resurrection Church’s own history of and current expressions of ecumenical commitments. My predecessor, Pastor Scott Ickert, is a committed ecumenist, well-known for his involvements synodically and nationally. And we have a number of members whose current professional and personal passions include involvement in various forms of ecumenical work.

Meanwhile, Resurrection families, like many Christian families today, embody their own versions of ecumenical commitments and realities. We have several mixed church families, especially Lutheran-Catholic, and it gladdens my heart that these families find ways of honoring the other spouse’s own churchly commitments by participating in activities of their spouse’s churches. And it’s especially delightful to me that some of our most active participants at Resurrection are officially members of other churches!

This is perhaps an expression of what is known in ecumenical circles as “spiritual ecumenism,” that is, when commitments to the greater visible unity of the church are lived out in personal and practical ways at local levels.

Thanks be to God for such witness to the unity we in fact enjoy in Christ Jesus, an embodied fulfillment in part of our prayers for Christian unity this week and throughout the year.

Praying along with our Lord that we may all be one – for the sake of the world,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Epiphany 2, John 2:1-11

I’m sure that you’ve attended your fair share of weddings and wedding receptions. And I have no doubt that some of those wedding festivities are more memorable than others for a host of reasons.

As a pastor, I could tell you some tales of unusual experiences at wedding banquets. The pulpit is obviously not the place to do that!

But today we have the story of the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, its own compelling and usual tale. According to the gospel writer John, this is the first event Jesus attended just days after he began his public ministry. Jesus was there with his new disciples along with his mom.

In John’s telling we have this fascinating exchange between Jesus and his mother at the banquet. I can picture Jesus and Mary off to the side observing the proceedings and making comments to each other in the familiarity of a mother-son relationship:

Mary: “They have no wine.”

Jesus: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.”

Then Mary to the servants [sensing perhaps what might happen next having pondered in her heart the mysteries about her son for his entire life]: “Do whatever he tells you.”

This could easily be played as a humorous moment in the gospels, a comedy duet, but the exchange also sets the stage for the first of Jesus’ public signs which revealed his glory, namely, when he changed water into wine after the bridegroom’s wine gave out.

We’ve all known those disappointing parties where there’s not enough food and drink. Or the eats and drinks are of poor quality and not very satisfying. Or there’s enough of the good stuff to make a good first impression and then an abundance of cheap food and drink to get people drunk so they don’t notice or care much about the poor quality. And on and on.

Bear with me. This is not a sermon about social etiquette and good party planning, but about Jesus Christ and how he addresses the human condition with good news.

Here’s the thing. The way of the world is the way of the banquet which runs out of wine. That’s the human condition. In our finitude and mortality, it’s the way of scarcity and limited resources. And in our sin, we seek to hide the realities of our limitations.

Sometimes we engage in anxious deception of the kind that the late 19th Century economist and sociologist, Thorstein Veblen (an alum my alma mater Carleton College) termed conspicuous consumption, that is, acquisitively flaunting luxury goods and services as a way of showing status in overstated and impractical ways – theologically speaking, a sin of pride.

Surely our overstated, relentless pursuit of consumer commodities masks our fears of our limitations, our ultimate poverty when it’s all said and done. The fear weighs on us and is a source of what ails so much in society, as we consume ourselves to oblivion, perhaps extinction as a species. Eventually we’ll run out of wine…. Our pandemic supply chain struggles reveal the reality of our limits in un-nerving ways.

But this is precisely the reality Jesus addresses when he changed water into wine, something common into something extraordinary. Despite his hour having not come, as John reports Jesus having said, Jesus enters the scene of the wedding banquet by providing abundance, the best of created goodness, more wine to replenish the supplies.

The miracle of Jesus turning water into wine is described by John as a sign. The Greek word shares the root for the word and thing and practice, semaphore, a system of sending messages by code. A sign is a distinguishing mark, or token, or portent that points beyond itself to different reality, in this case, transcendent realities.

The sign that Jesus offered was quite something. I don’t know how much wine the bridegroom started with, but what Jesus did was produce anywhere between 120 and 180 gallons of wine (six stone water jars each holding twenty or thirty gallons). That’s as much as perhaps 900 standard bottles of wine! That’s a lot of wine for quite the party. That’s abundance, not scarcity. It’s an amount that is not likely to give out.

And the wine that resulted from Jesus’ intervention was of an excellent quality and vintage, the best of God’s good creation. The steward said to the bridegroom, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

This was the sign that revealed Jesus’ glory. Again, we’re not talking about Jesus and his mom going into business as wedding planners and consultants. Not at all. This wasn’t about the wine in and of itself. Nor was the sign about the miracle. Rather the sign pointed to Jesus himself and to a different time in his life, namely, when his hour would come, the hour when he would be glorified at the end of his life.

Here we have at the very beginning of his public ministry according to John a foreshadowing of the end of that earthly ministry. For Jesus’ glory in John ultimately is his being lifted up on the tree of the cross at that right hour, namely, the final hours of Jesus’ earthly life.

The sign offered at the wedding in Cana of Galilee occurred on the third day since the inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry after he had called his first disciples. When we hear that phrase, with the 20/20 vision of post-resurrection hindsight, we cannot help but also hear “on the third day he shall rise again.” That’s when the real party begins, the feast which knows no end, the best wine saved for last that doesn’t give out.

It's noteworthy that John’s gospel does not explicitly recount the story of Jesus’ baptism. But here we have featured in this story six stone water jars intended to be used for the Jewish rites of purification. Is this not for us believers an allusion to the waters of baptism which purify us?

Further, John’s gospel also does not include an account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper at the Last Supper. John emphasizes Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in the Last Supper segment of the story.

But that doesn’t mean that John’s gospel isn’t eucharistically sacramental. In the story of the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee we go from water to wine, metaphorically in some poetic, non-linear sense, from baptism to Eucharist, for the Eucharist with its good wine is likened to a wedding feast. At the wedding feast at Cana Jesus himself is the good wine that does not give out, the very wine we imbibe at this our sacramental table conveying Jesus’ real presence, his real self.

This is good news that signals the reality of the eternal abundance of God’s good creation, the fruit of field and orchard. And it was and is glorious to behold. The revelation of Jesus’ glory inspires faith – “and his disciples believed him.”

Yes, it’s glorious also for us to behold. We see Jesus’ glory in baptism. We see Jesus’ glory in the Eucharist where the best wine, Christ himself, quenches our thirst and that of all believers throughout the world and for all time, endlessly. Amen!!

In this sacramental light, I invite you to hear portions of today’s first reading from Isaiah as a kind of invitation to the communion table: Come to the table, for “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her… for the LORD delights in you…. So shall your builder marry you, and as one rejoices in marrying one’s beloved, so shall your God rejoice over you” (cf. Isaiah 62:3-5). This kind of blessing is what this table of feasting is about!

And when we leave this foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet to return to our homes and venues of engagement with the world, in God’s generous abundance, we offer varieties of gifts, varieties of services, varieties of activities all inspired by the one Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Jesus himself.

And to a hungry, thirsty, needy world, a world scared to death of scarcity and limitation, we give gifts of abundant wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles (that is to say, more signs to Christ), prophecy, discernment of spirits, various kinds of tongues and the interpretation of the same – all for the common good.

Come to the feast, enjoy the best wine who is Christ. Leave in joy to quench the thirst of a dry and parched worldly landscape. Amen. 

Week of the First Sunday after Epiphany, Baptism of Our Lord

Dear Friends in Christ:

A number of persons have recently asked me why we use the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer in our public worship on Sundays. There’s been sufficient energy around this topic that I am moved to write about it in some significant detail to offer a fuller rationale for using the translation of the Lord’s Prayer that we do on Sundays.

First off, I want to recognize and affirm the power of language that we know by heart. Most of us are more familiar with the older translation of the Lord’s Prayer that continues the use of “thy” and “thine,” more archaic expressions in English that do not generally appear in everyday speech. Knowing the Lord’s Prayer by heart in the version we have grown up with speaks to the power of particular language expressions to form us and to carry deep spiritual and theological meaning for us. We may embody decades of associations and experiences with particular formulations of language that continue to speak powerfully to us. Thanks be to God for the power of God’s word in our lives in the particularities and perhaps peculiarities of language expressions.

But God’s living word is not limited to particular translations. In fact, as you well know, the Lord’s Prayer did not come down from on high in King James Version English. The origins of the Lord’s Prayer date back to traditions prior to Jesus, namely, the Kaddish, a prayer of praise in the Jewish tradition that hallows God’s name. In Jesus’ day and in the very early days of the church, the Lord’s Prayer would have been offered in Aramaic, then the common vernacular. Even the New Testament gospels (Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4) render somewhat different versions of the Lord’s Prayer in English translations from the Greek, and the biblical versions of the prayer in English bibles are not exactly what we pray on Sundays.

Moreover, the Lord’s Prayer has come to Christian people also in the languages of the nations throughout the centuries. My forebears prayed the Lord’s Prayer in Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish. Your ancestors likewise would have prayed the prayer in their various mother tongues. All of this variety in translation adds to the richness of God’s living word; it does not detract from or diminish the power of sacred meaning.

Which is to say, human languages are not stuck in time. They change and evolve over the course of generations. Continuing to pray the Lord’s Prayer using a translation that continues some archaic expressions does not robustly acknowledge the fluid nature of human language. More significantly perhaps, continuation of older forms also does not fully acknowledge and honor that God’s word continues to be living and active, such that the timeless truth of the divine word is also expressed in new and renewed ways that make sense to speakers of ordinary language in our own day.

Recall that Martin Luther was passionate about proclaiming the gospel in the vernacular of ordinary people. Hence his turn to use German as the language of liturgy and not Latin. Likewise, passion for making the gospel available in everyday language informed his translation of the Bible into German. Our use of the version of the Lord’s Prayer that is more in keeping with current speech continues the Lutheran passion for vernacular expressions of the gospel, trusting that God’s voice is indeed living and active in the ordinary language employed in liturgy and in prayer.

To get to the particular points of the contemporary vs. traditional version of the Lord’s Prayer, the differences in the translations center on the following points: your vs. thy/thine; sins vs. trespasses (or debts if you’re a Presbyterian); trial vs. temptation. Otherwise, the versions of the prayer are quite similar. On the question of your vs. thy/thine, I’ve already raised the question of the continued use of archaic expressions in the liturgy. The evolution of liturgical expressions in English was such that a more King James style of liturgical language was modified already at least half a century ago. For us Lutherans in North America, that focused on the introduction of the Lutheran Book of Worship in our circles in 1978. Which is to say, the contemporary version of the Lord’s Prayer, developed by an international, ecumenical consultation on liturgical texts in English, has been around for fifty years. So, referring to the translation as contemporary is something of a misnomer. Many have been using this translation for the majority or all of their lives. Lutheran Book of Worship gave the option of either version of the Lord’s Prayer, the last hold out when all other liturgical language was revised from its more King James style orientations. Evangelical Lutheran Worship also gives the option of either version. At Resurrection Church, as your Pastor exercising my pastoral responsibility for the public worship life of the church and exercising my teaching office, I desire that our liturgical language be consistently in a vernacular of ordinary speech. Hence my decision as Pastor for our public use of the version of the Lord’s Prayer in ordinary but nonetheless dignified and sacred speech.

But there are other important points to be made to illustrate the importance of the common usage of terms. Let’s take up sins vs. trespasses (or debts). Most people arguably associate the word “trespasses” with transgressing property boundaries, as in “No Trespassing” signs. That’s not quite what we generally have in mind when we ask to be forgiven in the Lord’s Prayer. Likewise, if it’s “debts” and “debtors,” we associate those expressions with financial obligations. Thus, “forgive us our sins” is more immediately understandable to most people, especially those new to the faith, who may not have grown up in the Christian tradition, precisely the folk we would hope and pray will also populate our worshipful gatherings.

Now, quite significantly, consider the theological implications of trial vs. temptation in Lord’s Prayer translations. Asking God to “lead us not into temptation” has very different theological meaning than pleading that God would “save us from the time of trial.” First off, I believe that we would affirm together that a loving God whose will is for our well-being would not intentionally lead us into temptation. Luther himself acknowledges this in the Small Catechism and his exposition of the meaning of this petition of the Lord’s Prayer. Luther’s explanation is this: “It is true that God tempts no one, but we ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may be attacked by them, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.” If the meaning of this petition of the Lord’s Prayer is as Luther suggests, why not use a translation that more clearly expresses that meaning? Thus, “save us from the time of trial” is the more compelling and theologically faithful translation. “Save us from the time of trial,” also more faithful to the Greek, additionally roots the Lord’s Prayer in the eschatological concerns of both the early and contemporary church, acknowledging that we live and serve in the latter days between Christ’s first and final comings, a period marked both in the Bible and in our historical experience by the faithful enduring various trials for the sake of Christ and our Christian witness. Christians for centuries have questioned the translation “lead us not into temptation.” It’s noteworthy that Pope Francis has also recently asked that Christians not use the translation that prays “lead us not into temptation.”

So, this has been an exploration in some significant detail of the rationale for my decision as Pastor to use the vernacular translation that we do in public worship on Sunday mornings. You may be moved in your own devotions to employ the older translation. But our public use of the more current, vernacular version of the Lord’s Prayer, in sum, is in keeping with Lutheran sensibilities for proclaiming the gospel faithfully and in the vernacular; it’s an expression of our ecumenical commitments in that the newer version was developed in ecumenical consultation; and its use also has an evangelistic thrust in the spirit of loving our neighbors in making good news in Christ more accessibly intelligible to those who may not yet know the old, old story. I invite your generosity of spirit to acknowledge and celebrate the power of God’s living word in the varieties of ways and translations it comes to us.

Seeking to be kept steadfast in God’s word,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Baptism of Our Lord/Epiphany 1, Luke 3:15-17, 21-22

A striking thing to me in today’s gospel reading, appointed for Baptism of Our Lord, is how Luke matter-of-factly narrates Jesus’ baptism: “Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized…”

It’s almost as if Jesus’ baptism was an afterthought for Luke. Given Luke’s rendering of this event, mentioning it almost in passing, I picture Jesus simply as one among many in the crowds of people being baptized. Other gospel writers zero in on the singularity of Jesus’ baptism. Not so with Luke.

Thus, in Luke’s telling, I see in my mind’s eye the waters of the Jordan River teeming with people of all kinds, sinners, tax collectors, the poor, the rich, soldiers, and others. And there was Jesus in the midst of the hoi polloi.

That’s a great image to convey concretely the theological affirmation of Jesus as Emmanuel, God with us – in this case as a person in the crowd, standing in line with many others of all stripes to be baptized by John.

Again, in my mind’s eye, there they all were in the water together, bodies touching bodies no doubt, Jesus immersed in dirty waters without the benefit of chlorine.

It’s all so viscerally physical, embodied. Thus, it’s also striking that Luke makes a point to say that the Spirit descended on Jesus in bodily form like a dove.

This happened after the baptism when Jesus was praying. Prayer is often understood as a spiritual, dis-embodied kind of activity. Indeed, prayer can be one of those points of contact between the immaterial and material when the heavens are opened to us.

But Luke insists that the ethereal Spirit came in bodily form amidst Jesus’ prayer.

How seemingly ordinary, if not profane, that the Spirit would take bodily form like a dove, one of the common, everyday animals that was among the teeming menagerie on Noah’s Ark during the flood and which Noah deployed in the service of determining whether or not the flood waters had receded.

But all of this is the point – Jesus with us among the crowds being baptized in the earthy, dirty water. And even the ethereal Spirt coming to rest on Jesus in bodily form. It’s all in keeping with John’s affirmation that the Word became flesh to dwell among us, to pitch a tent with us, full of grace and truth, even amidst unclean waters that somehow, by God’s grace, end up cleansing us.

And the striking features of Luke’s telling of Jesus’ baptism is also in keeping with the earthiness of Luke’s narrating the whole story of Jesus. Luke, among the gospel writers, has a heart for the earthy, the sacred finding expression in the ordinary, the physical, the visceral, the lowly, even the unclean. Tradition has it, after all, that Luke was a physician, one focused on bodily realities.

The good news is that Jesus’ baptism among the crowds sacralizes our bodily earthiness, claiming in sacred ways even our dirtiness. Our baptism into him, into his earthy, physical, death and resurrection restores our earthen sacredness, the ultimate goodness of bodily creation, one of the main points of one of the creation accounts in the Book of Genesis.

Think also of this: We just celebrated Epiphany and the Magi who brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the holy family. The gift of myrrh points to Jesus’ death, for myrrh was ointment for the anointing of dead bodies. There is nothing more visceral, and unpleasantly so, than a corpse. But Jesus’ death, which the gift of myrrh foreshadows, along with Jesus’ bodily resurrection, redeems, makes holy even our own death, even our own lifeless bodies.

Thanks be to God for those of us – all of us – who are weighed down, feeling the burdens of our broken, ailing bodies. This is all good news for us, we who also struggle to see the holiness of teeming crowds of ordinary people who these days can erupt too easily into violent, raging mobs.

Jesus was baptized to inaugurate a ministry with the crowds of sinners, which as Luke reports, John the Baptizer described in this way: “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. With a winnowing fork is in hand, he will clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, burning the chaff with unquenchable fire.” That’s the essence of Jesus’ ministry, according to John, separating wheat from chaff which is to be burned.

Thus, our being baptized into Christ means being baptized with fire not just with water. Baptism into Christ, our Messiah, means that we are blown with the winds of the Spirit that separate our wheat from our chaff. And it’s our chaff, our unusable husks, that are burned with unquenchable fire.

This fiery word sounds like a threat, and it is a judgment, our being held accountable for that which in our lives does not bear good fruit.

But the fiery ordeal of our baptism into Christ is also a promise, and good news, as suggested by the prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” (Isaiah 43:1b-2)

The Spirit’s winnowing of us, that is, the holy winds as at creation blowing onto us to separate the chaff from our wheat, that which is unusable, unhelpful, sinful from that which bears fruit, this winnowing is ultimately gospel grace that generates and continues to renew our faith, our trust in a messianic judge who also is the compassionate, merciful God of love.

Which is to say, when it’s all said and done, as the prophet Isaiah assures us, the fire does not consume us, the fire does not damage us, but rather purifies us, justifies us by grace. Yes, this may hurt, but it’s for our healing and being made whole once again toward becoming and bearing the fruit of wholesome grain to feed a starving world.

And when it’s all said and done our fruit is ultimately sourced in the fruit that was born on the cross, our tree of life, a tree watered by the dirty torrents of the River Jordan when Jesus was baptized among the crowds, among us, when the Spirit descended in bodily form, for our salvation.

And with all of this, God is well pleased. Amen.

Week of the Second Sunday of Christmas

Evening Prayer via Zoom on the Day of Epiphany, January 6

Join us for Evening Prayer via Zoom on the Day of Epiphany this coming Thursday, January 6, at 7:00 pm. A Zoom link will be distributed via Constant Contact. Here is a link to the bulletin for the service that you may actively participate in worship – consider printing this out or having access to it electronically along with Evangelical Lutheran Worship if you have a copy at home.

pdfEpiphany Evening Prayer for January 6, 2022

“Still Planning to Worship in Person, Indoors”

Dear Friends in Christ:

In response to the skyrocketing number of Covid cases in our region because of the Omicron variant, our congregation’s Reopening Planning Group met last evening to discuss the status of our current routines for assembling in person for worship indoors.

Ours was a long and thoughtful discussion, but the group reached near consensus to continue to worship on Sundays in person indoors with some modifications to our current practice.

First, here’s elaborating word on the rationale to continue worshiping in person even amidst the current surge in Covid cases. In terms of the dynamics of the pandemic, we are not where we were a year ago. That is to say, with vaccinations and booster shots and the promise of anti-viral pharmaceutical treatments, most vaccinated people (which seems to include the vast majority of our congregation membership) are not as vulnerable to serious cases of Covid that require hospitalization and may end in death. Moreover, the Omicron variant seems to result in comparatively mild cases of Covid for most people, affecting mainly the upper respiratory system and less-so and less dangerously, the lungs. Epidemiologists are now recommending that we pay more attention to hospitalization rates and numbers of deaths with less attention paid to the sheer number of cases of Covid reported. Thus far, hospitalization and death rates in relation to the Omicron surge are not yet catastrophic. These realities informed our resolve to continue to worship in person on Sundays.

Another dynamic that led to the decision to continue to worship in person is that attendance on the Second Sunday of Christmas (January 2) was 55 when many of us expected attendance in the 20’s or 30’s given the current Omicron-related surge in case numbers in our area. That suggested to our Reopening Planning Group that there is a critical mass of Resurrection members resolved to claim and continue our current routine of Sunday worship in person. The numbers of those committed to worshiping in person are such that the theological principle of Sunday worship reflecting the comparative fullness of Christian community is sufficiently honored, at least in our estimation.

Clearly, whether or not one worships in person in church on Sundays has a lot to do with one’s tolerance for risk at this point in the pandemic. Which is to say, we wish to honor those committed to risking worship in person. But we also want to honor those whose tolerance for risk, dependent on any number of complicated variables, precludes their worshiping in person on Sundays at this time of the Omicron surge. That is to say, no one should feel pressured to attend worship on Sundays, even those who may have leadership responsibilities for worship, including ushers, altar guild members, assisting ministers, readers, choir members, and more. Please know that we respect and honor decisions to refrain from attending worship at this time, and we’ll make due with those who are present on Sundays to lead our worship, even as we seek new volunteers to step forward to assist in leadership. If you’re with us in person on Sundays, consider yourself invited to offer yourself for various leadership roles!

If you happen to be unvaccinated, we strongly suggest getting vaccinated. If you have not yet had a booster shot, we encourage you to get one if you are eligible. Doing so indicates your commitment to the common good. If your moral discernment has led you not to be vaccinated, you may wish to refrain from public worship in person at this time, again, to honor the wider common good.

For those who must refrain from worshiping in person at this time, the livestreaming of our services remains an option (though there will be occasion on some future Sundays when we may not have the personnel to attend to the livestreaming needs). If you are in need of pursuing the livestreaming option, we ask that you at home participate as fully as possible in the worship, reading and singing the assembly’s responses, and not just watch a video.

So, that’s a summary of the rationale for continuing to worship in person at this time. Please know that the Reopening Planning Group will continue to monitor the most current news about the pandemic. We are poised to modify our responses and practices according to our understandings of the most current realities on the ground.

Here now is a summary of what will be our modified approaches to worshiping in person on Sundays:

Masks are still required. Moreover, we ask that you wear an N95 mask or double-mask with a cloth mask atop a surgical mask.

Please be mindful of the occasions when you need to remove your mask, especially during Communion, limiting the length of time that the mask is off. For example, you may consider receiving the bread and then the wine only to consume both with mask off when you step aside from the Communion ministers.

Physical distancing remains in effect. In fact, you’ll note that every other pew is again roped off to promote appropriate distancing. Please be especially mindful of maintaining space between each other.

Singing will largely be limited to the hymns for the time being.

Alas, coffee hour in the fellowship hall is suspended for the time being. While it is wonderful to socialize with each other, that has been the time when interaction has been physically closest and masks have been off when eating and drinking, a particularly risky combination. When the weather becomes more accommodating, we may consider having coffee outdoors.

We are hopeful that all of these modifications to our practice will be short-lived, as medical experts are at this point predicting the Omicron surge may reach its peak in mid-January, tapering off after that point. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, may God in Christ continue to lead us in ways faithful in this challenging season in the power of the Spirit,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Second Sunday of Christmas, John 1:1-18

Our Christmas worship thus far has featured the stories from Luke’s Gospel about the birth of Jesus and then also the narrative of Jesus’ visit to the temple in Jerusalem at age 12. All of this has been in keeping with the character of Luke’s gospel, which promised to offer an orderly account of the events of Jesus’ life.

Today we turn from a more empirical accounting of events of Jesus’ birth and childhood to a more theological interpretation of these events featured in the prologue to John’s Gospel. “And 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.”

Jesus was and is in John’s understanding the very embodiments of God’s word which existed already and was part of the whole world’s coming into being at creation – this is admittedly a great deal more abstract than a baby in a mother’s arms.

But the point is that in these latter years of this thus-far two-thousand-year epoch, the eternal word of God came into this world of God’s creation to become one us in the fullness of both humanity and divinity.

All of this happened in and for this world. What were the characteristics and conditions of this world into which the word of God entered in the flesh?

According to Jeremiah in today’s first reading, the world that the prophet addressed was one characterized by exile in which there was much weeping and mourning and sorrow, stumbling along crooked paths. People were scattered. There was much languishing.

That’s the language the prophet Jeremiah employed to describe the condition of the exile of God’s people. But that chosen language also describes the condition of the world in which we find ourselves.

Of all the descriptive words, I am most drawn to the theme of languishing. Much has been written about this state of being during these pandemic days as we soon enter into the third year of this global upheaval, made still more intense and acute by the Omicron variant of the virus.

Languishing, according to those who have written about it, is not a state of diagnosable depression strictly speaking. And it certainly is not one of thriving or flourishing. Sociologist Corey Keyes coined the term languishing as the opposite of flourishing. Languishing is characterized by apathy, restlessness, feeling unsettled, or having a lack of interest in life and activities that used to bring joy. Stagnation, monotony, and emptiness also describe languishing. Languishing sounds quite similar to ennui.

The Word who is Jesus Christ enters our languishing world to pitch a tent with us.

And yet, we may not even recognize this good and holy word, nor believe it. Indeed, the gospel writer John in today’s passage suggests the world into which God’s word was sent to become flesh did not know that word. And many did not accept the word. It was a world of shadows and night, bereft of the benefits of the light the word brought.

So, too, in the world of our day, as we languish in night’s shadows often without recognizing the ongoing, eternal word among us, failing thus to trust that word.

Even so, God’s word breaks into this world with good news, a salutary message, a gospel that makes for flourishing, the opposite of languishing.

Listen to the language of today’s scriptural readings that describe the nature of God’s intervention in this world by way of both the prophetic word and the divine word that became flesh.

“With consolations I will lead them back,” we hear in the reading from Jeremiah. The prophet continues speaking the word of the Lord: “I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble.” “They shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.” “Their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.” “I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness instead of sorrow.” Even the priests will have their fill of fatness “and my people shall be satisfied with God’s bounty.”

That is not the language of diminishment and languishing. Rather, the opposite, again, that of flourishing. These are words of promise and return from exile.

Then listen to the language from Ephesians in today’s second reading. Let these words wash over you, we who live in a needy, diminished, languishing world: We are promised every spiritual blessing; are destined for adoption; and all of this according to God’s good pleasure and will, glorious grace, freely bestowed; with riches of grace lavished on us; occurring in the fullness of time, God gathering up all things in Christ; accomplishing all things according to divine counsel and will. (cf. Ephesians 1:3-14)

Likewise, John’s gospel offers language of flourishing and thriving beyond languishing. The word that takes flesh is full of grace and truth. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” “[And] to all who received [the word made flesh] who believe in his name, he has given power to become children of God” born of the will of God.

These are lovely, wonderful words. But what difference do these good messages concerning God’s good, fleshly word make? Has the world really changed since the word became flesh two millennia ago? What we know of and experience in the world is more in keeping with the prevalence and persistence of exiled languishing.

Perhaps the word becoming flesh is less about changing the world and more about introducing or revealing realities in this world that we cannot otherwise see.

The power and significance of God’s word is perhaps that this word guides us to perceive reality that our unbelief prevents us from seeing. The coming of God’s prophetic word and the word becoming flesh make for hermeneutic shifts giving us the eyes of faith to see reality as it really is from God’s perspective.

It’s the same world, but we come to see realities through faith that were otherwise hidden in our languishing.

Maybe we can say that it’s a matter of seeing is believing and then also believing is seeing.

Seeing Christ, we perceive God, and then come in faith to see how God sees. That makes all the difference. Or as John reports: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.”

Consider our circumstances in Christian assembly here in this place. Water in the font is just that – water – in the shadows of the world’s darkness. But by word and the Spirit in faith, such water is integral to our becoming God’s children.

From the perspective of the world’s shadows in unbelief, words are mere words. From the perspective of faith, words accomplish what God intends in proclamation and in absolution, making us forgiven children of God.

From a merely worldly perspective, the bread we eat and the wine we drink at this table are just bread and wine. In faith, we apprehend that our sacramental meal contains the fullness of Christ’s presence.

And this change of perspective in seeing scared flourishing amidst languished diminishment can indeed make for real change in a real world when we become God’s word in deed in loving service to neighbors in need.

If the word was at the beginning in creation, that word is likewise living and active in creative ways in our own time, now through us – once again, God’s work, our hands.

To get a sense of how Christian perspective has changed the world, as a case in point, consider the radical idea of God’s word becoming flesh, central to Christian thinking. This theological affirmation introduced an equalizing dynamic in the world of ancient hierarchies such that we have come to affirm the sacredness of all persons, which was not the case in ancient thinking. We take it for granted that all are created equal. But this basic affirmation arguably has roots in basic Christian understanding of God becoming one of us in Christ.

In the word, dwelling with the word, we become the realities to which the word points, which the word signifies. This is yet another gift to all of creation at Christmas.

And all of this makes all the difference for the world into which the word became flesh. Thanks be to God. Amen.

First Sunday of Christmas C, Luke 2:41-52

Just yesterday we were celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus. Today, at least according to our appointed lectionary readings, Jesus is already 12 years old. These kids, they do grow up quickly!

The story of the boy Jesus in the temple is the only account in the scriptures of Jesus’ childhood. This episode also conveys in striking ways Jesus’ humanity and that of his parents, Mary and Joseph.

As we heard in Luke’s gospel, Jesus stayed behind after the customary family trip to Jerusalem to observe Passover and he found his way to the temple where he engaged and was engaged by the teachers there.

Mary and Joseph assumed that Jesus was among family members heading back home. Then, to their shock, they discovered that Jesus was missing. Mary and Joseph headed back to Jerusalem and when they found Jesus, they had a poignant, but typically human encounter with their son. Mary said to Jesus, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.”

Jesus is 12. He’s an adolescent. And if we take his humanity seriously, and we must if we are to be faithful to our theological affirmation of the fullness of his humanity alongside his divinity, Jesus engages in some very normal behavior revealing self-differentiation from his parents.

Jesus said, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

This response baffled his parents: “they did not understand what he said to them.” Indeed, sometimes we simply do not understand our children. But differentiating from our parents is a completely normal and expected part of growing up.

Like all human children, Jesus was in formation to become an adult. Adolescence is that rocky road between childhood and emergent adulthood when hormones rage within us.

Jesus at 12 also knew the tumult of this period of life – again, we must acknowledge that if we take seriously Jesus’ humanity. To put it plainly, he was going through puberty. Maybe you’ve never heard a pastor acknowledge that about Jesus in a sermon before!

A crucial element of this rough and tumble of maturation to adulthood is to claim and be claimed by our callings to become who we are meant to be. And part of this involves separation from parents. It’s just the way things are for us human beings. All of us go through it. Jesus did, too.

Like the boy Samuel in today’s first reading, Jesus was being prepared for what lay before him when he took up the mantle of his public ministry at about age 30.

But here’s the thing about human parenthood: we don’t always want to let go of our children and our own particular visions of what we want them to become. Martin Luther’s dad wanted him to become a lawyer. Instead, Luther became an Augustinian Friar and studied Old Testament. Most of us can tell such stories.

Parents can hold on too tightly, though, often trying to live through their children, maybe trying to redeem themselves in their children’s achievements. The old sinful Adam finds its ways even into our attempts at parenting.

The long and the short of it is that the rough and tumble of formation toward what we will become is indeed a difficult road for children and for their parents.

It was true for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It’s true for us.

But here’s the good news: God is not absent from all of this. Indeed, we Lutherans affirm that God has a vocation, a calling, for each and every one of us.

This was certainly true in Jesus’ case. Mary and Joseph were getting major indications of this all along. According to Matthew, an angel visited Joseph in a dream telling him that Jesus to be born of Mary would redeem people from their sins. Gabriel visited Mary to announce the great things that would become of Jesus. The shepherds, too, reported the good news of great joy of the angels’ message to Mary. All of this served to reveal God’s vocation for Jesus, God’s only Son.

But it’s not just Jesus who has a divine call. Again, according to Martin Luther, God calls each of us. That’s a centerpiece of our Lutheran heritage. God has a vocation for all people lovingly to serve neighbors in need in many and various ways according to who they are in their unique configurations of gifts differing.

When we are drawn to embrace the particularity and uniqueness of holy vocations, especially those of our children, then we can begin to let go of our parental needs to control and we can more willingly abide in the mystery of the unfolding of our children’s lives.

Mary certainly came to this kind of embrace. Luke records that she more than once “treasured all these things in her heart,” in the case of today’s reading, Jesus’ time in the temple with the teachers. With this Luke reports that Jesus “increased in wisdom and years, and in divine and human favor,” with Jesus’ calling unfolding according to God’s intent.

But even when Mary was treasuring all of this in her heart, this did not make the road any easier to travel. For when Jesus was presented in the temple years earlier than his time with the teachers at age 12, the old seer Simeon said to Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the intentions of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:24-35)

The sword piercing the soul is perhaps hinted at even in the reading for today when Jesus was 12 in the temple.

Jesus’ family traveled to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover – a foreshadowing, perhaps, of when Jesus, decades later, would keep the Passover with his disciples to inaugurate his own Passion, ushering in for us the paschal mysteries, his and our Passover from death to new, resurrected life, a set of events that most definitely pierced Mary’s soul.

And then there’s the reference in today’s gospel passage where Luke chooses language that also points us to Jesus’ Passion and ultimately the resurrection: “After three days [Joseph and Mary] found Jesus in the temple.” After three days. After three days, he rose again, his resurrected body becoming a new temple for us all. Yet another revelation of what would become of Jesus according to divine intent.

Thus, even on the First Sunday of Christmas during these twelve full days of celebration and feasting we have a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the telos, the culmination and fulfillment of Jesus’ divine and human vocation, his calling from God, the one whom he calls Father.

This Jesus, he who died, he who was raised by God, also forms us in our life-long callings – our children and ourselves – all of this undertaken in our communal life as Christians.

Even as Samuel wore the little robe that his mother made for him each year, we, too, are clothed with Christ’s love, as Paul suggests in our second reading for today. We are clothed with the garment given to us when still wet from our baptisms into Christ.

Thus, in Christian community, we, the chosen ones, holy and beloved, are clothed with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” for the sake of bearing with one another and forgiving each other, the peace of Christ ruling in our hearts.

All of this made possible by our dwelling richly with the word of Christ in our worshipful and studied gatherings as we teach and admonish each other in wisdom and with gratitude as we “sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God, ever giving thanks to God, the Father, through Christ. (cf. Colossians 3:12-17).

And all of this in service of our God-given callings lovingly to serve our neighbors in need in and for the sake of the world. Amen.