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, June 20, 2021
Mark 4:35-41

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

35When evening had come, Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” 39He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” 41And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

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

Many years ago, I had a wonderful boat ride on a very placid Sea of Galilee while on a tour of the Holy Land with a group of Lutheran pastors. It was idyllic as we celebrated Holy Communion on the boat – a replica of ones Jesus and his disciples might have used centuries ago.

But we were told how storms could suddenly rage down the mountain valleys to turn a normally placid, shallow lake into a churning, dangerous sea.

That’s the kind of storm Jesus and the disciples found themselves in as reported in today’s story from Mark’s Gospel.

In the biblical worldview, the sea was a metaphor for a place of danger, of unknown, malevolent creatures and forces, a symbol of chaos and evil.

Thus, we can find ourselves in storming metaphorical seas on the boats of our lives individually, communally in the church, and in nation and world.

Week of the Third Sunday after Pentecost

Remembering the Emanuel Nine

The Metro D.C. Synod Racial Equity Team invites you to pause on Thursday night, June 17, 2021 at 7:00 PM as we commemorate the 6th anniversary of the massacre of the Emanuel 9, with a communal Bible study via Zoom. Mindful of the deep presence of God at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston South Carolina, we will take the scripture that was part of the bible study in 2015, that night when Dylan Roof was welcomed as a stranger. Rooted in the Word and in small groups, we will ask what was God saying then and what is God saying now.

Dear Friends in Christ:

I am delighted, encouraged, and relieved to report that our Congregation Council has approved our return to worshiping indoors beginning on Sunday, July 4, 2021, almost sixteen months since the beginning of the pandemic’s lockdown. Thanks be to God.

Several factors contributed to our making this decision, including: recently revised and relaxed CDC guidelines concerning vaccinated and unvaccinated persons, the CDC’s official word that the risk of contracting the coronavirus is minimal with surface contacts, the extent of vaccinations among RELC members and persons in our wider communities, the fact that many neighboring churches are now also returning to indoor worship.

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost on July 4th, of course, occurs on a holiday weekend. Our leaders are considering this a kind of “soft” opening so that we can begin to get used to a somewhat altered routine indoors. We will have a more celebratory and perhaps poignant way of marking our return to indoor Christian assembly on a Sunday later in July when we will observe a “Rite for Re-Gathering” developed for use in congregations throughout our wider church.

Here is what you can expect upon our return to worshiping indoors. There will be one liturgy each Sunday beginning at 9:30 am. It will be very much like that which we are currently using outdoors – the full set of readings, communal hymn-singing, intercessory prayer, sharing the Peace of Christ in an appropriately safe way, Holy Communion in both kinds, using our usual baked bread dropped into uplifted palms, and wine offered from a pouring chalice into containers that you will continue to bring from home.

We still ask that you wear masks out of loving concern for and solidarity with younger children who are not yet permitted to be vaccinated and others who, for whatever reasons, have not been able to be vaccinated. Moreover, we will continue to practice physical distancing indoors with seating available in designated pews. Thus, we continue to err on the side of caution as has been our practice throughout the pandemic.

Some congregations are asking that worshipers pre-register to attend worship, observing strict maximum attendance numbers, as well as cordoning off sections of the nave for vaccinated persons in one area and the unvaccinated in another – and more such overly-cautious, in my opinion, measures. Such strictures, it seems to me, add dimensions of stress and anxiety to public worship, which otherwise is best offered in a more relaxed spirit. Moreover, some of the measures taken by other congregations are perhaps antithetical to the ideal of fully inclusive, non-exclusionary worship. Thus, Resurrection Church will proceed in a spirit of trust that worshipers will do the loving and responsible things of wearing their masks and being mindful of appropriately safe distance between people. I have full confidence, based on my experiences of our worship outdoors, that things will proceed among us safely and naturally. Our team of ushers and other worship leaders will also think through and practice our routines of movement indoors in advance of our July re-gathering. Our practice will undoubtedly evolve in nuanced ways as the coming weeks unfold.

It is also important to note that beginning on July 4th, the production of our weekly watch-through home worship video along with the home worship bulletins will be discontinued. In the meantime, as an alternative, we will begin the practice of producing video recordings of our worship indoors, making these available on YouTube and via Constant Contact messages for those still unable to join us for worship indoors and in person. This effort may also evolve to the practice of live-streaming our worship services. Discipline will be undertaken to limit video images only to those leading public worship in the chancel out of respect for the security and privacy of worshipers who may not want to appear on video. In this meantime, we will discern the appropriate and faithful nature of what our congregation’s digital life might be in the future.

The Council’s decision to return to worshiping indoors also paves the way for other groups to begin using our church building again – for committee meetings, occasions for socializing, group events of local community organizations, and more. These groups will need to decide for themselves how and when they wish to proceed to a return to indoor activities in our church building. It may also be that some of our congregation’s meetings and events will be hybrid in nature with some participants being present in person in the church and others Zooming in from remote locations. Time will tell what our “new normal” will be going forward.

The Council’s decision to return indoors also begins a new phase of our life together as a congregation. Who and how many will return to our fold in person with something resembling a more normal routine? How much activity and of what sort will our reconstituted congregation be willing and able to undertake? What, in fact, will be our capacities and energies for mission and outreach to our wider communities? What resources, financial and otherwise, will be available to us moving forward together? These are all crucial questions which don’t yet have answers. But again, time will tell as God in Christ leads us faithfully into an unknown future together in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In Jesus’ name, and thus, with hopeful anticipation,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Third Sunday after Pentecost, June 13, 2021
Mark 4:26-34

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

26Jesus said, “The dominion of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, the sower does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once the sower goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
    30Jesus also said, “With what can we compare the dominion of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
    33With many such parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

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

Many of you who are watching this sermon video or reading the text of this week’s sermon, for one reason or another, have not yet had occasion to be with us in our outdoor church for Sunday worship in person. This is just to let you know that it’s been quite something, a lovely thing, to be gathered again as God’s people and to do so outdoors around our community garden, our “Plot Against Hunger,” which harvests vegetables for those who are hungry in our community.

When we gather outdoors around our vegetable garden, we are a living parable, a parable in action, rather like the parables of Jesus recorded in Mark’s gospel passage for today – the parable of scattering seed on the ground and the beloved parable of the mustard seed. As I proceed with this proclamation, I risk allegorizing the parables – a “no, no” according to biblical scholars. Perhaps at my best, my musings will continue the parables’ expansive meanings.

Thus, I invite you to reflect with me. In our “Plot Against Hunger,” our congregation’s gardeners literally scatter the seeds – or plant the seedlings – and they go home to sleep and get up the next morning, and so it goes for the weeks and the months of the growing season.

This earth on our church property produces of itself, the stalks, the head, the grain in the head. Then comes harvest time when our gardeners gather the produce to offer it all to community organizations who then distribute it to those in need.

And even if we are well-versed in botany and all the natural sciences, there is still a good deal of wonder and mystery about how all of this fertile growth happens, just as the parable says. Of the growth, the parable in Mark reports, “the sower knows not how.” And yet it happens, thanks be to God.

Week of the Second Sunday after Pentecost

Dear Friends in Christ:

I’m drawn again to the theme of the garden. The paradise of Eden from which our forebears were expelled in response to disobedience. Gethsemane, the garden of which was watered by Jesus’ tears and bloody sweat. Golgotha, which became the garden where the cross, the tree of life, was firmly planted to flourish for our salvation. Our Memorial Garden, which contains the earthen remains of so many of our loved ones, and which was transformed this year into a stage for the liturgical drama of the Three Days of Holy Week into Easter. And then also our more ordinary garden places – my fledgling plot for flowers at the parsonage, your own places of garden inside and outside of your homes and apartments. And finally, our garden planet Earth.

But my mind is most focused currently on our “Plot Against Hunger.” A year ago, I wrote about our congregation’s community garden, the produce of which is given to feed in wholesome, healthy ways those in need in our community. I turned the theme of gardening into a metaphor for our life together as a congregation during the pandemic period of dormancy or fallowness.

Right now, my imagination is riveted on the “Plot Against Hunger” as a centerpiece and focal point of our gathering place as a reconstituted worshiping assembly. It’s our nave outdoors, as I have shared repeatedly. In this place the seeds of God’s word are planted among and within us via a diversity of scriptural readings. In this place, we are fed with the harvest of fields of wheat and the fruit of the vineyard in our sacred, sacramental meal of Christ’s corporeal, real presence. In this place, the Spirit’s dew descends upon us as we are watered with baptismal remembrance and thanksgiving, as we sing our songs, when we uphold the world in petitions of prayer, and as we extend gestures of Christ’s Peace to each other.

But this place, our community garden which plots against a cruel world’s efforts to hoard garden blessings, depriving so many of just nourishment, this place is also a launching pad back into the world from which we were gathered. It’s an excellent place to hear the words of dismissal, “Go in peace, serve the Lord!” We serve, in part, by feeding those in need. Healthy produce is a central feature of our congregation’s social ministry.

Such sacred serving is undertaken by the loving, caring hands of persons who regularly make an appearance throughout the week to prepare the soil, to plant seeds and seedlings, to weed, to water, to erect protective barriers to keep away hungry rabbits in search of a salad buffet. There is clearly an infrastructure of dedicated volunteers who are quietly organized behind the scenes. They nurture the system of roots hidden below the ground which at harvest time also networks with the system of nonprofit organizations in the Arlington area with whom we collaborate to make certain that the fruit of our garden gets into the right hands and hungry mouths of those who need it most. Thanks be to God for the many who serve the Lord via their tender, loving care for our “Plot Against Hunger.”

But here’s the gospel thing. Like Paul and Apollos, we plant, we water, but God gives the growth (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9). Mostly, at least to the naked eye, our community garden just sits there without much human activity. Again, our volunteers appear only occasionally, though regularly. The season of growth unfolds in its own time, over the course of late spring, summer, and early autumn weeks and months. It’s unhurried, unrushed. This process does not succumb to the anxieties and urgencies of our days. Storms may rage about us. But the garden is still there, even if it be battered by the elements. And if it would become victim of drought or infestation (thankfully, the cicadas are comparatively harmless…), there are other gardens elsewhere to help fill the void.

It strikes me that our “Plot Against Hunger” is a lovely example and incarnation, therefore, of the link between contemplation and social action. In the case of the garden, the unhurried and unharried quality of the growing season will likely result in hundreds of pounds of healthy food that will benefit the hungry and food insecure. This being leads to doing, bearing fruit, the good work of feeding those in need. It is contemplative activity, a doing rooted in being that is ultimately grounded in God’s sovereignly creative initiative.

And this quiet unfolding that leads to fruit-bearing is a call to us as a church to root our activist ministry and mission in the contemplative grounding of our intentional, unhurried engagement with the means of grace in our communal spirituality, our being and our doing rooted in preaching, baptism, eucharist, confession and forgiveness, and the mutual conversation and consolation of siblings in Christ in the family of God – all of this is the soil in which we grow and flourish as persons of Christian faith, that we may freely give ourselves away for the sake of the world.

Thus, by God’s grace, mercy, and action, our garden place of contemplation of Christ in word and sacrament also bids us to slow down, breathe deeply, listen for God’s voice, standing firm in the ground of our faith, all the while trusting that God in Christ does in fact give the growth in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Think on these things the next time we are gathered for the fullness, the feast of our Sunday worship. In fact, we will have occasion intentionally to turn our hearts and minds and our bodies to our “Plot Against Hunger” this coming Sunday, June 13th when our liturgy’s sending will include a rite of blessing for this garden, for those who tend it, and for the people who will benefit from its fruits. Join us outdoors this Sunday at 9:30.

In Jesus’ name, and for Christ’s sake,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Second Sunday after Pentecost, June 6, 2021
Mark 3:20-35

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

Jesus went home; 20and the crowd came together again, so that Jesus and the disciples could not even eat. 21When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” 22And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” 23And Jesus called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? 24If a dominion is divided against itself, that dominion cannot stand. 25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. 26And if Satan has risen up against Satan and is divided, Satan cannot stand, but is coming to an end. 27But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
    28Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; 29but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—30for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
    31Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

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

We were in fifth or sixth grade when my friend, Danny, introduced me to the verse from the Bible that appears in today’s gospel reading from Mark: “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”

I’m sure I had no idea of what blasphemy meant, but I certainly knew it was not good! Danny was not accusing me, but informing me, maybe giving me a warning. But I was a very scrupulous child and serious about the Christian faith, so it didn’t take much to ignite the flame of fear. The idea of an unforgivable sin set me on a real tailspin for a while. Had I somehow sinned against the Holy Spirit and thus would not be forgiven?
That question with its possible answer was un-nerving to me in my vulnerability as a child who was eager to do the right things.

And that’s exactly how evil works and what evil does – it accuses us falsely, and scripture is easily warped, misused, and abused in the service of evil and its false accusations.

Week of Holy Trinity Sunday

Dear Christian Friends:

For those of us privileged to live in a region where a significant percentage of the population is vaccinated against Covid-19, experts are suggesting that we are seeing the beginning of the end of the pandemic. In fact, the governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia issued Executive Order 79, effective May 28, which lifted state-mandated social distancing and capacity restrictions in accordance with recent CDC guidelines for vaccinated and unvaccinated persons.

Given these realities, our congregation’s Reopening Planning Group has been in conversation to make recommendations to our Congregation Council for their decision about returning to worship and other church activities indoors.

The long and the short of it is that in church and in the wider community, a return to a “new normal” beckons. After a year and more of physical distancing, social isolation, and truncated routines, what will this be like? What will we do and how soon? To what activities will we return? What discretionary things will we decide to no longer include in our routines?

Good questions, these. In the early weeks of the pandemic, I recall writing in these Midweek Messages about the opportunity in what has been our set of intersecting crises of the past year – racial injustice, the economy, the pandemic – to discern what is most important in our lives, and in our life together at church. A new normal should not necessarily be like our old normal if we truly claim the opportunities to assess what’s most important in our lives individually and communally.

And the transition to whatever will be is likely to be gradual – not like the on or off of switching on a light. A personal case in point: while I am fully vaccinated and have been for some time, I still wear two masks, not just one, to go to the grocery store – a matter of mere habit at this point. Also, one of my very favorite things to do in life is to dine at interesting restaurants, of which the DC area has an abundance. That said, I have at this point yet to venture much of anything except occasional take-out from a few trusted restaurants.

After fourteen months, we have gotten used to new routines. Some of the current routines are attractive. Many, though not all, for example, speak of a preference for working from home. Who needs to sit in traffic when you can spend more time with your family in comfortable surroundings? Other aspects of our current reality we would like to jettison sooner rather than later, such as the severe social isolation for many of us.

To state it again, it’s likely that whatever a new normal will be, we are not likely to go back exactly to things as they were. We’ve been having church administrative meetings via Zoom during the year and more of the pandemic. How many future, post-pandemic committee meetings will remain on Zoom? Or in hybrid formats, where some are present in person in the church, while others participate via Zoom? Likewise, perhaps for Bible Studies in our congregation. Numbers of participants in our Bible Studies via Zoom have been higher on that remote format than was the case when people met in person – at least according to the memory of some long-time members of our congregation. It may be that Bible Studies going forward will also be a hybrid format that will include a Zoom option.

All of this is to say that I hope and pray that in future weeks and months we fully and robustly claim the opportunity carefully to discern the particular ways in which we may be called to organize our life together in our congregation, informed by our emerging, shared vision statements to guide planning for our mission and ministry. What congregation activities, initiatives and ministries do we sense a call to reclaim with passion and appreciation? Which such initiatives and traditions might we set aside or lay to rest? What new things might we embrace? These are crucially important questions for our life together in this particular season. As your Pastor, I pledge to ground our coming, discerning conversations and decision-making processes in an understanding of what it truly and faithfully means for us to be and to do church, that assembly of God’s people gathered in the flesh by the Holy Spirit close to communal engagements with the means of grace. May God in Christ lead us in confidently faithful ways in discernment and decision-making in the power of the Holy Spirit.

With such prayer in Jesus’ name and for the sake of the ministry and mission which we share,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

The Holy Trinity, May 30, 2021
John 3:1-17

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

1Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jewish people. 2He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ 3Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the dominion of God without being born from above.” 4Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the dominion of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” 10Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?
    11“Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son-of-Man. 14And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son-of-Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    16“For God loved the world in this way, that God gave the Son, the only begotten one, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
    17“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

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

Last weekend, we returned to the fullness of our sacramental life as a congregation outdoors. On the Vigil of Pentecost, we celebrated the baptism of Axel Norwood Hedberg in the company of his extended family and some members from Resurrection. On the Day of Pentecost, we celebrated Holy Communion for the first time in over a year of fasting from our Eucharistic feasting.

Today’s readings for Holy Trinity Sunday help us make sense of what went on last weekend and what continues in our midst today as we celebrate the worshipful fullness of our life together.

Yes, today’s festival of the Trinity commemorates a doctrine, a teaching about God. But more significantly today’s festival celebrates the realities of the living God as we remember, acknowledge, confess and give praise to the God in three persons whom we’ve come to know through Jesus Christ.

So, let’s delve into today’s readings for the light that they shed on our sacramental life.

Week of the Day of Pentecost

Dear Christian Friends:

On the ancient day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit dramatically appeared, Acts reports that the apostles “were all together in one place.” Centuries later, at long last on the Day of Pentecost in 2021, a significant number of the members of Resurrection Lutheran Church were all together in one place in our outdoor worship space to receive the gift once again of the fullness of our worship life together – all of the lectionary readings, the communal singing of hymns, prayers of intercession for the world, the Peace of Christ, the Eucharist, and on Saturday evening at the Vigil of Pentecost, the sacrament of baptism when Axel Norwood Hedberg was made a child of God by water, word, and Spirit. Thanks be to God.

I have engaged the Acts account of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost innumerable times in my life as a preacher and student of Christian spirituality. And the report that they “were all together in one place” is a phrase that is easily glossed over and taken for granted. Not this year when we’ve been scattered from place to place, individually and in our familial pods, but not together in the fullness of Christian practice in person, in one place. For me as pastor, and I trust for you as members of our congregation who were present, it was an immensely moving time to be back together to engage again what we routinely do as church.

And what a place it is, our outdoor space for liturgy! When the features that comprise the church and parsonage yards were planned and constructed, no one envisioned this area as a place for liturgical worship. But the parsonage deck as chancel, and new brick patio as choir loft, and fence as altar rail, and the church yard as nave, the place of assembly – all of this configured to work well for the flow of the service, as we were gathered by the Spirit, to hear and engage the word proclaimed, to share in the holy supper, and to be sent back into the world in loving Christian service.

Then there were the particular, curious coincidences of our worshipful day outdoors. On that first Christian Pentecost, the Spirit made “a sound like the rush of a violent wind.” For us, on Pentecost 2021, it was the fascinating cacophony of the once-every-seventeen-years cicadas. And also, a lovely breeze, indicative of the Spirit as wind, as breath, was moving among us. It was fun for me to watch you as members of the worshiping assembly situate yourselves in the shady areas of the lawn as the sun cast its hot rays on our place of worship, calling to mind the brilliant, divine light of Christ that can at times seem dazzlingly overwhelming. Our gathering hymn was “Like the Murmur of the Dove’s Song” which we sang in the great outdoors where spring birds were making their vigorous song earlier in the morning as I was readying the area for worship. The concluding doxology of the prayer of thanksgiving at the table offered these words: “With your holy ones of all times and places, with the earth and all its creatures, with sun and moon and stars, we praise you, O God, blessed and holy Trinity, now and forever. Amen.” How lovely it was to thank God outdoors in the more direct, palpable company of, if not to say, communion with the whole earth and its creatures and sun and moon and stars.

Speaking personally as your pastor, it was deeply meaningful for me to move about in your midst, sprinkling the water for baptismal remembrance and thanksgiving which marked the beginning of our worship – which connected me with the memory of standing at the baptismal font in the nave of our church to preside at the rite of confession and forgiveness on March 1, 2020, the day when you voted to call me as pastor. Who knew it would take a year and more to return to that ordinary, extraordinary Christian practice of gathering in close proximity to baptismal themes and realities? And also, to move among you to share the Peace of Christ with bows and waves in place of handshakes was another highlight moment. Most significantly perhaps was administering to you the bread of Communion, as my relationships with you deepen even during this time of pandemic social deprivation. For our interactions at last to be grounded in the sacramental administration of Christ’s bodily real presence was its own profound homecoming. There were points during the liturgy which were marked by the nearness of tears – of joy, of relief, of reconnection to our deepest identity as Christians, and for me as a pastor in Christ’s church whose identity is most profoundly rooted in the fullness of word and sacrament. Even after a year and more of fasting from central things, the return to these holy realities felt completely natural.

I hope and pray that my reflections on our time of return to feasting on the fullness of holy things inspires your own musings on our time together – if indeed you were present in person last Sunday. For those who for whatever reasons were not able to join us, I pray that this message will inspire longing for your own return to the worshiping assembly when your circumstances and station in life permit it.

Thanks be to God in Christ in the power of the Spirit for the Day of Pentecost 2021!

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Day of Pentecost, May 23, 2021
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

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

[Jesus said,] 26“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, the Advocate will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
    16:4b“I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. 5But now I am going to the one who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. 7Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send the Advocate to you. 8And having come, the Advocate will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9about sin, because they do not believe in me; 10about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.
    12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When 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. 14The Spirit will glorify me, taking what is mine and declaring it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that the Spirit will take what is mine and declare it to you.”

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

Jesus said to the disciples, “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.” (John 16:12-13a)

I believe that this statement from Jesus recorded by John is among the most important in the Christian scriptures because it points to the evolving and unfolding qualities of the history of the church and of our understandings of the faith.

That is to say, the Spirit of truth has indeed been guiding Christians in the church into all the truth for some two thousand years.

This Spirit guided the church into truth in the development of the canon of scriptures, the books of the Bible that we hold dear.

This Spirit was at work in the early and ancient Councils of the church that led to the articulation of the Nicene, Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds, which are summaries of Christian truth that we still confess and to which we still adhere.

Which is to say, the Spirit of truth nurtured the church’s understanding of Christ as fully human and fully divine.

The Spirit of truth guided the development of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, one God in three persons, a focus for our time together next week on Trinity Sunday, and the name of God into whom we are baptized.

Fast forward a few centuries… I believe that the Spirit of truth was vocal in the dynamics in Christian life that led to the Reformation in the West when the centrality of the doctrine of justification by grace effective through faith was recovered.

Advancing a few more centuries, I also believe that the Spirit of truth helped pave the way for the ordination of women, and the inclusion in the church’s ministries of persons from the LGBTQIA+ communities.

And more. You get the point. These highlights of church history are very much a partial listing of how, I believe, the Holy Spirit has been guiding Christians in the church into all the truth for two millennia, just as Jesus promised as reported in John’s gospel.

This guiding light of truth we celebrate on this Day of Pentecost.

Week of the Seventh Sunday of Easter

Congregational Conversation for Input: Vision Statements for Mission

At the annual congregational meeting in January, Pastor Linman presented his proposed statements of vision to guide ministry and mission at Resurrection Lutheran Church. Subsequently, the Congregation Council at its annual retreat engaged the vision statements and suggested editorial revisions such that the statements begin to articulate a shared vision for mission and ministry. Now the membership of the congregation beyond its elected leaders is invited to offer their input into these statements to nurture a still wider embrace of shared vision. Toward that end, members are invited to another occasion for conversation about these vision statements. This will take place via Zoom on Wednesday, May 19 at 7:00 pm. The Zoom meeting link will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you are not receiving our Constant Contact mailings, then please contact the church office.

A copy of the current version of the vision statement is available below:

pdfShared Visions for Strategic Ministry and Mission (March 2021)

Returning to Holy Communion on the Day of Pentecost – Some Reflections

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Last week, I offered a detailed narrative account of what you can expect, logistically speaking, when we return to the celebration of Holy Communion this week, outdoors, on the Day of Pentecost. Today, in anticipation of this celebratory return, I am drawn to offer reflections of a more biblical, theological, and spiritual nature and quality.

I believe that it is significant and fitting that our celebration of the Eucharist will resume on the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost, of course, is its own festival which marks the coming of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts 2. But liturgically, Pentecost also serves as a culmination of the fifty days of Easter which feature engagement with biblical narratives that recount appearances of Jesus after the resurrection.

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 16, 2021
John 17:6-19

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

[Jesus prayed:] 6“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; 8for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

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

You know me well enough as a preacher now to recognize that I am captivated by words, and how significant words in the appointed Sunday readings command our attention. Two weeks ago, it was the word “abide” that continued to echo. Last week, “joy” drew our attention.

This week, it’s the personal pronouns in today’s gospel reading from John: I, you, we, they, mine, yours, their, and on and on.

I have a sense that I have focused on personal pronouns in a previous sermon with you. But today, as far as I am concerned, we cannot escape attending to the personal pronouns in the passage from John, because according to my count, there are some 90 forms of personal pronouns in this comparatively brief passage of 14 verses. Generally, a word is significant if it’s used more than two or three times. Again, there are about 90 forms of personal pronouns in today’s gospel. That’s huge.

John records Jesus addressing God in prayer in this passage, a prayer he prayed in the presence of his disciples during the lengthy farewell discourse in John that occurred on the night of Jesus’ betrayal.

Listen again, briefly, to get a sense of the extent and significance of the presence of personal pronouns here: “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.” (John 17:6)

And again, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11)

It’s normally pretty easy to overlook personal pronouns in discourse. In doing Bible study, pronouns may not be the first words one examines for discerning the meaning of a passage. But not in this reading for today with 90 forms of personal pronouns.

Evening Prayer via Zoom on Ascension of Our Lord, Thursday, May 13

Please join us at 6:30 pm this coming Thursday, May 13 via Zoom for Evening Prayer on Ascension of Our Lord. The Zoom meeting information will be distributed via Constant Contact. If you do not receive our Constant Contact mailings, please contact the Church OFfice.

pdfEvening Prayer, Ascension of Our Lord, May 13, 2021

“Holy Communion Outdoors – What You Can Expect”

Dear Christian Friends:

Throughout Eastertide, we continue to proclaim that Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

And now we are also approaching the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, May 23, at which time and outdoors we will also resume the celebration of Holy Communion. Thanks be to God! This is an outcome for which so many have longed for many long months. The last time I presided at a liturgy of Holy Communion was March 1, 2020, the Sunday you voted to call me as pastor. Loving concern for those most vulnerable to the coronavirus motivated our fast from central things during the pandemic, not least of which has been the Eucharist.

However, given the extent of vaccinations in our region, the decreasing numbers of cases, serious illnesses and deaths in our area, along with official word from the CDC that there is a very low risk of infection from contact with surfaces, leaders at Resurrection Church among the Worship and Music Committee, the Reopening Planning Group, and the Congregation Council have determined that it is safe to return to the Eucharist, albeit outdoors.

Several members have enquired of me what to expect in terms of the particulars of celebrating Holy Communion outdoors in ways that are appropriate, safe, and faithful to Christian tradition.

First off, we will still need to wear our masks – even those fully vaccinated. Likewise, we will continue to observe physical distancing. Hard copy bulletins with everything you need for worship will be provided to outdoor worshipers. In addition to worship outdoors, the bulletin for worship at home will continue to be available on Sundays along with the weekly watch-through video and individual video clips. This we pledge to do to accommodate those who do not yet feel able to return in person at this time, even if it’s outdoors.

Secondly, the Congregation Council has determined that outdoor worship will begin at 9:30 am each Sunday, beginning on Pentecost, May 23. This earlier time, when it is cooler in summer, reflects the reality that in coming weeks, worship at noon will be in the full heat of the day. 9:30, I am told, is also a time in keeping with Resurrection’s history of summer worship.

You can also expect a liturgy that more fully resembles the complete Sunday service we are used to. That is, what we’ll begin doing on May 23 will be substantially longer than the fifteen-minute truncated service we’ve been doing outdoors for several months. Which is to say, we encourage you to bring your own lawn chairs or picnic blankets since you may not want to stand the whole time for a more lengthy worship service! We will also likely provide a limited number of folding chairs from the church for those who don’t have lawn chairs to bring.

Moreover, beginning on Pentecost, all Sunday worship outdoors will be held on the parsonage side of the church. We will no longer meet on alternating Sundays on the Potomac Street side. This way, you won’t have to wonder where we are assembling. However, collection of food items every other week, twice a month, will continue to take place, but on the parsonage side.

In order to preserve the integrity of the Revised Common Lectionary and the diversity of scriptural voices it expresses, we will hear all of the appointed readings for coming Sundays. Additionally, there will be communal singing of hymns and worship songs, punctuating important parts of the liturgy. While I don’t plan to offer a lengthy Sunday sermon, my homiletical response to the readings will be more than the brief reflections I have offered in our truncated outdoor prayer services. We will continue to pray the full prayers of intercession each Sunday.

Yes, we shall also return to the sharing of Christ’s Peace – but alas, no handshakes or hugs at this time, please. You may want to bow to your neighbors in Christ, or wave to them, or offer some other appropriate, faithful, but physically distanced gesture.

As for the offering, that detail has not yet been settled on, but we are not likely to pass offering plates among those assembled on the church lawn. A more likely scenario is that an offering basket will be available at the fence separating the parsonage and church yards where you can place your offering as you come forward for Communion.

During the time of offering, a table, the one that resides on the parsonage deck, will be set for Holy Communion. A choir or ensemble may offer music during this time from their place on the new, brick parsonage patio. The assisting minister and I, as presiding minister, will cleanse and sanitize our hands prior to handling the bread and wine. And as I have written previously, the fence separating the church and parsonage yards will serve as a communion rail.

Which is to say, what will be the particulars for receiving the Eucharist? We intend to offer Communion in both kinds, the baked bread that Resurrection has normally used in recent years, and also the wine. A piece of the blessed bread will be dropped into your hands, palms up – with no physical contact occurring between presiding minister and communicants. The blessed wine will be administered via a specially made stoneware chalice with a pouring lip. The assisting minister will pour the wine into a receptacle, which for safety purposes, you will need to bring from home. For ease of pouring, you are encouraged to place your receptacle, such as a small juice glass, on the top of the fence – there is ample room and a flat surface for that. If you do not wish to receive the wine, you need not. You will receive the fullness of Christ’s presence in, with, and under the bread only. Gluten free hosts will be available as usual for those who need that option.

Ushers will help you find your way to the fence/altar rail in ways that are appropriately physically distanced. Couples and families may commune together as a pod, but separate from other individuals, couples and families, lining up, standing, at the fence/altar rail. Those administering Communion will work their way down the line at the fence/altar rail. When you receive the bread and wine, you can make your way, physically distanced, back to your place on the lawn. After all have communed, the liturgy will conclude in the usual way.

What about inclement, rainy weather? Bring an umbrella!

So, this is what we propose, beginning on Pentecost, Sunday, May 23 at 9:30 am. As has been our experience with worship outdoors in recent months, I suspect that our routine will evolve in ways that help us fine-tune the details. While we are trying to anticipate and cover all details, there will be inevitable glitches. Kindly be patient with us as we live into this new reality of the greater fullness of worship outdoors.

But most significantly, and to reiterate, thanks be to God that Christ will once again soon gather us to himself in the fullness of Word and Sacrament!

With such thanks to God in Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 9, 2021
John 15:9-17

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

[Jesus said:] 9“As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in my Father’s love. 11I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. 12“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”

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

“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” This is a lovely saying of Jesus that John records in his gospel.

Who doesn’t want joy that is complete? I’ve noticed a lot of commentary in the things I read on those who research happiness, scholars trying to explore just what happiness is. Researchers conclude that happiness is an elusive phenomenon and very difficult to define and challenging consistently to experience.

Finland was recently once again determined to be the happiest nation on earth – much to the mystification, apparently, of the Finns who admit to being often rather melancholy.

It may be that happiness research is driven by the fact that we seem to live in a particularly joyless era, made the more so by the ill effects of this long-lasting pandemic. Thus, questions of joy, of happiness, of contentment are front and center in these days.

Just what do these terms mean? For example, is joy the same as happiness?

Week of the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

We recently celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday, which inspired some musing on my part on the current state of seeking to shepherd, as pastor, the flock that is Resurrection Lutheran Church.

A year ago this month I took up residence in the parsonage, making my move from Phoenix and New York. I recall wondering then if I could find a convincing, helpful parable about a shepherd for whom the whole flock is scattered. There are such biblical stories about scattered sheep, and then there’s the parable about the shepherd leaving the 99 to seek the one lost sheep. What about the flock that is fully scattered, quarantined as individuals and families in their own homes throughout the area? How can one seek to shepherd a congregation that does not congregate in person?

That was then, and this is now. Which is to say, while we are not yet worshiping indoors, we are in fact now congregating in person every Sunday outdoors for worship and conversation and to give expression to our social ministry with those in need in collecting from members food items twice a month for distribution through AFAC. Sunday in these respects and in limited measure has become Sunday again, that is, the Lord’s Day that features the worshipful assembling of God’s people in person, in our case currently outdoors. This warms a pastor’s heart. Thanks be to God!

And shepherding initiatives as pastor also include the weekly sermon (video and text) and these midweek messages and our Zoom Bible studies, Evening Prayer during Advent, Lent and on festivals also via Zoom, virtual administrative meetings, care-giving via phone calls, emails, visits in person, and more. All such activities and the conversations that happen amidst them constellate to make for the work of a shepherd, a pastor. Thanks be to God.

At this point in our life together, I have a sense that solid pastoral relationships are building with the core of active members of the congregation. This number seems to be around one-hundred people and some more. But our membership records suggest that Resurrection Church has more than four-hundred persons on the books. Which is to say, there are still many members of the flock who have not yet congregated again, and that is a matter of concern to me. I have listed about one hundred additional persons named in our directories who have not been present for any of our in-person or Zoom gatherings.

Being a pastor, a shepherd, is deeply part of my personal, spiritual, and vocational identity, and pastors long to engage the flock. Not being able to connect with the fullness of the flock that is Resurrection Church disquiets me, unsettles me. So it is that I have been seeking the “lost sheep.” This effort centers on and is organized by reaching out to members on the anniversaries of their baptisms. This initiative has been quite revealing, resulting in some good conversations that allow me to better know both individuals and families. But it has also been true that when I call some of the phone numbers available to me, not infrequently I find that the numbers are no longer in service. Likewise, many emails bounce back indicating that we don’t have the most recent contact information for many. Moreover, some phone messages and emails are met with no reply at all.

All of this leaves me wondering about the nature and extent of our congregational flock. Who really constitutes this fold at this point? How many of the people I don’t yet know will return once we are worshiping in person in doors again? How best can I and we go about reaching out to the folks whom we know but who have not yet been present at our various pandemic-restricted events in person and online?

Toward generating creative responses to these questions and concerns, the Outreach and Membership Support Committee and I are convening a group to brainstorm about how to proceed in identifying whom we know to be missing in our gatherings and seeking the most up to date and preferred contact information.

In the meantime, you also can greatly assist in this effort by letting me know now members you are wondering about who have not been present in one way or another since the pandemic began. Kindly reach out to me so that I can reach out to them!

Finally, and most significantly, may Christ, the Good Shepherd, lead and guide us in faithfully tending the flock entrusted to us for the sake of our mission in and for the world.

Prayerfully, under the shepherding care of Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021
John 15:1-8

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

[Jesus said:] 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2My Father removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit my Father prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7“If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

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

If we took the time to read again this passage from John’s Gospel, engaging it slowly, savoring it, what words would stand out and continue to echo, reverberating in our minds and hearts?

Surely one such word is ‘abide.’ Listen again to Jesus’ words reported in John: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me…. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

The word, ‘abide,’ appears 8 times in this brief passage, clearly an important word in John.

Abide. What does it mean? If we allow our minds free play, other related words appear on our mental horizons which help reveal the meanings of abide – to remain, wait, delay, dwell, remain behind, survive, expect, to suffer, stay, continue, endure, last, pause, reside, sojourn, stand firm. And more perhaps.

Abide is an Old English word. And the New Testament Greek word also has many the senses of the words I just listed.

What’s striking to me is just how countercultural it is to abide. Abiding involves slowing down, staying in one place for a while.

Our fast-paced, multi-tasking contemporary world and its routines seem to demand the exact opposite of abiding.

We are today beckoned to live like humming birds in almost constant motion, flitting from one thing to the next.

Scholars and pundits and we in our common experience are beginning to become increasingly aware of the toll our multi-tasking busyness is taking on our mental and physical well-being.

Week of the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Eastertide continues as we continue to proclaim that Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Our Sunday morning worship outdoors in person has been an admittedly modest diet of what our usual orders of worship offer. For the sake of the safety of erring on the side of caution, we have limited our worship to an order for confession and forgiveness, the Prayer of the Day, a single reading from the lectionary, some brief homiletical comments on the reading, the prayers of intercession, Lord’s Prayer and final blessing. All of this takes place in about fifteen minutes’ time, about a quarter of what is a typical Sunday morning service.

Now that we have a solid track record with the safety of these outdoor gatherings and given that the weather is moderating to make being outdoors more pleasant and comfortable, it is now time for us, I believe, to begin to engage the greater fullness of our liturgical assemblies. My conversations with many of you reveal that you also concur with this view.

In coming weeks, therefore, watch for a further evolution of our orders for worship outdoors – the inclusion of the full set of lectionary texts, more congregational singing of hymns, a more involved homily, safe ways to share the Peace of Christ, and most notably, thanks be to God, safe ways to celebrate Holy Communion.

We have had a long suffering fast from the central things in Word and Sacrament. This we did motivated by love for our most vulnerable neighbors. We still honor these commitments, but now with the knowledge that we can, in fact, undertake the greater fullness of our liturgical life outdoors safely and appropriately.

In fact, we need this greater fullness for the sake of our individual and communal well-being in faith. Just as fasting from food in our diets should not be a long-term venture for the sake of our physical health, we likewise benefit spiritually from what God in Christ has to offer in the full range of the means of grace. Moreover, we are beckoned to be more fully fed so that we may feed others in Jesus’ name in the power of the Holy Spirit. For the sake of the world, and the divine mission entrusted to us, our days of leanness should begin to come to an end.

Indeed, Eastertide is a season of feasting. Therefore, let us begin to return to keeping the feast! Furthermore, the Day of Pentecost approaches, that festival day on which the Holy Spirit’s coming birthed the new order of life in the church, where “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42) We do well to pursue the fullness of our ordered Christian lives.

In addition to pointing to the coming of our more complete liturgical celebrations outdoors and in person on Sundays, I also want to speak to the “fellowship” dimensions of our times together on Sunday mornings. Yes, it’s lovely to socialize and to connect with each other again. But please know that we engage each other not merely as a social club, but as the body of Christ, we who are members of and therefore integral to that body. We greet each other and converse with each other in Jesus’ name.

I know from my growing experience with you that many of our conversations with each other on Sundays become occasions of Mutual Conversation and Consolation among God’s family. Remember that Martin Luther included such holy conversations among the means of grace alongside preaching, baptism, Eucharist and confession and forgiveness. Thus, it is a holy thing indeed to be in blessed conversation with each other. These conversations are not ancillary but integral to Christian community. Let us not miss or overlook the holiness of our ordinary encounters with each other in Jesus’ name when we gather outdoors on Sundays.

As your pastor, I cannot emphasize enough how crucially important these conversations are to me, charged as I am to care for you, members of the flock that is Resurrection Church. These conversations are central to my work as a pastor. Especially as I am comparatively new to you, our Sunday morning conversations in person are among the principle means through which we are getting to know each other. What happens in person is far richer and more nuanced than what transpires in email exchanges, on Zoom, or even during phone conversations. It’s also true that our conversations outdoors contribute to our spiritual and emotional well-being, especially during these pandemic days of social isolation. So it is that I am available to you about an hour before the time for worship, and then for some time afterward.

So, join us on the parsonage side of the church this Sunday for worship, first and foremost, in our substituted outdoor place of Christian assembly – where the parsonage deck is our chancel, the patio serves as choir loft, the parsonage yard fence functions as an altar rail, and the wider yard becomes our nave. In Jesus’ name, for Christ’s sake, in the power of the Holy Spirit active in Word and Sacrament, this place is holy ground indeed!

Appreciatively in Christ with hopeful anticipation,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 25, 2021
John 10:11-18

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

[Jesus said:] 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

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

This day in Eastertide is Good Shepherd Sunday. Hence the inclusion in today’s readings the beloved Psalm 23 – “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters….” And on this wonderful psalm goes.

It does sound wonderful, doesn’t it? To lie down in green pastures. Picture that in your mind’s eye, occasions when perhaps you have laid yourself down in a meadow on a bright, sunny, warm day genuinely to relax and to be at peace.

The language sounds so gentle. The image so compelling. To lay oneself down for a nap or a good night’s rest after a long, hard day.

But lying down has other not so pleasant connotations. As when our beloved ones are laid to rest after death. Or in my Pittsburgh days where and when cremation was not common and visitation in funeral homes was the norm to view someone “laid out” in the coffin. Enquiring about which funeral home to visit, members routinely asked me, “Pastor, where is he or she laid out?”

Another unpleasant connotation is when something or someone is laid off or laid aside, laid down to be forgotten.

Or take the bedtime prayer that I grew up with – and maybe you did, too: “Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Wow. What an early childhood lesson in mortality to pray that prayer every night…. When my niece and nephew were young, my brother and sister-in-law changed the “if I should die before I wake” part to this: “guide me through the starry night, and wake me when the sun shines bright.” That’s much more palatable to our sensibilities.

But in a culture that routinely avoids the subject of death, maybe childhood lessons in our mortality are not such a bad thing (but maybe not in a child’s prayer every night just before bed).

Week of the Third Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

“Mi casa es tu casa” – “My house is your house.” This is a phrase that expresses welcome and hospitality. But in my case, as your pastor living in the church’s parsonage, my house literally is your house. Resurrection Church holds title to the property. I am simply the privileged long-term guest in this great gift of a house. But this house has been made to become my home, and there is a distinction between house as a thing and home as a more existential quality of being.

Thus, it’s been my privilege now on two occasions – Easter Sunday and yesterday, the Third Sunday of Easter – to welcome you to the features of my home outdoors, namely, the deck, a new brick patio, and the yard shared by parsonage and church, along with our garden, the “Plot Against Hunger,” which is now sprouting new growth thanks to the ministrations of our gardeners.

As our response to the pandemic continues to evolve, we are now worshiping outdoors each Sunday – twice a month on the Potomac Street side of the church in conjunction with the food collections for AFAC to benefit those in need in our community, and the other Sundays on the parsonage side of the church. Thanks be to God for occasions safely to worship in person each week.

It’s not a perfect parallel, nor should it be, but it strikes me that there are aspects of our outdoor arrangement that are evocative of typical church interiors. The elevated deck is not unlike a chancel, where the table there could become something of an altar table. The new brick patio twice has served as a choir loft. The fence separating the parsonage yard from the church yard could be viewed as a chancel rail. And then the wider expanse of the church yard, centered in the garden, has served as the nave for the gathering of the assembly. Those who have shared in the recent worship events there have found the arrangement salutary.

Members and friends who have gathered at the exterior threshold of the parsonage have helped us to begin to live into the vision that I hold dear, and that is that your parsonage, my home, will be a place of hospitality for the congregation and for those traveling to and through Arlington from wider worlds. Indeed, our gatherings for worship have included occasions for hospitable conversations among those congregating, a wonderful way to stay connected safely and masked in person during these pandemic days.

I look for the day with eager anticipation when those who gather on the deck and patio and yards can enter the indoors of the parsonage where you will also encounter a place of beauty and hospitality, the “hearth” of the kitchen and dining area and a little “chapel,” which is a dedicated place for prayer, study, and holy conversation.

These worshipful and social occasions outdoors are beginning to make our life together feel more normal as we gain a track record demonstrating the safety of these gatherings, thus making some tangible progress toward returning indoors in due course.

There are still a number of you in our congregation whom I have not yet had occasion to meet for meaningful conversation. Our Zoom “Meet and Greet the Pastor” events were helpful some many weeks and months ago, but that format just didn’t gain traction perhaps because of people’s understandable Zoom fatigue. When I reach out to members by phone on baptism anniversary days, more often than not I find only an answering machine on which to leave a message. Thus, to those I’ve not yet had occasion to meaningfully engage, I extend a heartfelt invitation to you to join me and other congregation members on the parsonage deck and patio, or on the other AFAC Sundays on the Potomac side, for conversation in advance of our regularly scheduled outdoor worship services. I am present at least an hour before the service time. It would be great to make the most of these times to get to know you better!

Moving forward together in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Second Sunday of Easter

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easter Week 2021

Dear Christian Friends:

Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed. Alleluia!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Week Schedule

The Three Days (April 1-3):

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

Easter Sunday (April 4):

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

 

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Fifth Sunday in Lent

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

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

Reflections on the Coming Holy Days

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fifth Sunday in Lent, John 12:20-33

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Fourth Sunday in Lent

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

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

Springtime and Lent and More

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fourth Sunday in Lent, John 3:14-21

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Third Sunday in Lent

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Third Sunday in Lent, John 2:13-22

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Second Sunday in Lent

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

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

“It’s Been a Whole Year”

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Second Sunday in Lent, Mark 8:31-38

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the First Sunday in Lent

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

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

“A Vision for Worship and Music at Resurrection Church”

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

First Sunday in Lent, Mark 1:9-15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They can describe our current circumstances and realities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now for your reflection and holy conversation at home:

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

Ash Wednesday, February 17:

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

pdfAsh Wednesday Home Worship Bulletin 2021

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

 

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Mark 1:21-28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Third Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Mark 1:14-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Second Sunday after Epiphany

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of Baptism of Our Lord

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Evening Prayer on the Day of Epiphany via Zoom

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

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

Children’s Epiphany Pageant at Home

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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