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.

All Saints, November 1, 2020
Matthew 5:1-12

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

1When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

8“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

9“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

10“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

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

Today, once again, we celebrate all the saints, the countless throngs, the nameless, who themselves are not honored on particular saints’ days at other points in the year. All Saints Day has come to be blended in practice with All Souls Day, November 2, on which day we remember all those others among our family members and friends, especially those who have died in the past year, along with those whom we wish intentionally to call to mind.

Thus, we will incorporate into our prayers of intercession for home worship today a listing of those whom members of Resurrection have requested that we remember.

All Saints is an occasion to look back, to remember those who have gone before us. Our memories may make for wistful nostalgia for perceived better days of yore, particularly when we were united in our lives and routines with our loved ones.

All Saints Day also has a future orientation, when we look for that day when we’ll be reunited with those who have already died in the faith.

Week of the Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost 2020
Prayers for Such a Time as This

Dear Friends in Christ:

I am drawn to call attention to what’s on the minds of most: Election Day is almost upon us, and many may feel like they are on pins and needles. The intersecting crises coinciding with this particular presidential election may seem too much to bear, especially when we have endured so much for so very many months. Given these realities, we need prayer more than ever. Bishop Ortiz invites you to daily prayer, as do I as your Pastor. Our Synod has crafted resources for our prayer during the days prior to and after the election.

Additionally, you may also be drawn to sing if you have a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship at home. Sing or pray through the texts of hymns such as "All our hope on God is founded" (ELW 757) or "God bless our native land" (ELW 891).

Here are excellent collects which I commend for your use at home, again from our Evangelical Lutheran Worship – pray these prayers even as you read them now:

God, our refuge and strength, you have bound us together in a common life. In all our conflicts, help us to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, to listen for your voice amid competing claims, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

O God, where hearts are fearful and constricted, grant courage and hope. Where anxiety is infectious and widening, grant peace and reassurance. Where impossibilities close every door and window, grant imagination and resistance. Where distrust twists our thinking, grant healing and illumination. Where spirits are daunted and weakened, grant soaring wings and strengthened dreams. All these things we ask in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Lord God, you call your people to honor those in authority. Help us elect trustworthy leaders, participate in wise decisions for our common life, and serve our neighbors in local communities. Bless the leaders of our land, that we may be at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, pew edition, pages 76-77)

Our individual prayers may be quite particular and for specific outcomes. But all of our prayers are ultimately most faithfully rooted in the fundamental sacred utterances which emerge from the pages of scripture, to paraphrase them – “Your will, not mine, be done, O God;” “Into your hands, O Lord, we commend our spirits;” “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”

Remember also that when we do not know what to pray or how, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words (cf. Romans 8:26ff.). The Spirit’s prayer is the source of all of our other prayers.

With many heart-felt prayers for our life together in church, nation, and world in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, October 25, 2020
Matthew 22:34-46

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

34When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35and one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question to test him. 36“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”   41Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42“What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 Jesus said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,

44‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet” ’?

45If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46No one was able to give Jesus an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

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

Once more, the religious leaders, this time a lawyer, question Jesus to test him. If you’ve been following these sermons each week recently, you know that this kind of interrogation of Jesus has been going on in the gospel readings Sunday after Sunday.

But I love how the passage ends: “No one was able to give [Jesus] an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask [Jesus] any more questions.” (Matthew 22:46) Maybe we’re done with all of these difficult passages from Matthew which feature religious authorities trying to trap Jesus….

Today happens to be Reformation Sunday, the day when we may be given to a bit of Lutheran triumphalism, an occasion for pride in our Lutheranism. But let’s resist such temptation and be about preaching the gospel of Christ, still with admittedly Lutheran accents.

Today’s readings for the twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost focus a great deal on the commandments, the Law of God.

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

The crisis of the pandemic wears on, continuing to lead us to refrain from gathering for worship in person. As Covid cases surge in many places throughout the country, including the Northeast which had the virus under control for a time, and as colder weather will keep people indoors, raising the specter of further outbreaks of illness, it’s hard to imagine in-person, in-door gatherings anytime soon. Perhaps the novelty of our home worship video resources has worn off, for viewership among members of the congregation has decreased steadily in the months we’ve been offering the videos. I am concerned about the devotional well-being of you, God’s people, at home. But every crisis holds promise also for opportunity. Thus, I want to revisit the theme of encouraging worship and prayer at home, in the domestic church, by calling attention to a particular treasure that is readily and literally at hand, namely our book called Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

To be sure, we will continue to provide the varied resources to assist weekly worship at home, resources which draw from the treasury which is Evangelical Lutheran Worship. But there is so much more to discover in the book which can serve your devotion at home.

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, October 18, 2020
Matthew 22:15-22

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

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to Jesus, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then Jesus said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

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

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Or in an older translation, perhaps more familiar in the popular mind, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

According to the commentators I read in preparation for this sermon, this well-known phrase attributed to Jesus is not Jesus’ definitive teaching on the separation of church and state.

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

In our nation’s current hyper-partisan environment, many find it exhausting to talk about church and politics. So, let’s talk about something else. Let’s talk about the church and money instead! Another not so popular topic…. Concerning things financial, for those not always actively engaged in the life of congregations, a common lament is this: “the only time the church contacts me is when they want my money….” This is a sad reality that reduces themes of stewardship and financial giving to meeting the church’s institutional needs.

Autumn is generally the time to gear up for stewardship campaigns, and so it is with Resurrection Church as well. Even amidst the pandemic and its strictures, we will engage something resembling our usual stewardship emphases this fall.

Actually, I don’t, in fact, want to talk about money. Rather I’ll tell a story of generosity. It’s a story that has led me frequently to offer the phrase, “generosity begets generosity.”

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, October 11, 2020
Matthew 22:1-14

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

1Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2“The dominion of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

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

Here we go again, another difficult passage from Matthew’s Gospel. If only the reading for today would have ended with the comparatively good news of the wedding banquet hall being filled with people from the streets, both the good and bad, with everyone having a great time. But no….

We have the last few verses about the guy who shows up at the banquet hall without the proper attire of the wedding robe. Not only is he asked to leave, the king, the banquet host, ordered his attendants to do this to the one who didn’t have the proper uniform: “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

As if that’s not enough, then today’s passage concludes with this zinger: “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew’s audience would likely have heard this parable and allegorical commentary as yet another indictment of the religious leaders of their day, leaders who did not acknowledge or receive Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

But we are not Matthew’s audience. We are members of the church of the 21st Century, trying to be faithful some 1900 years after the time of Matthew. We are 21st Century Christians engaging in ministry and mission built on the foundation of two millennia of biblical interpretation and theological and liturgical tradition.

Given our realities and circumstances, what might we hear, see, and understand in this passage from Matthew? I’ll tell you what I receive in my engagement with this text.

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

The decision by our Congregation Council to place signs – “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate Has No Home Here” – on church property continues to generate energies of response by members, those supportive of the signs’ placement and those opposed. Underneath the particularities of the issues which the signs address is the larger question of the relationship between church and state from a Lutheran perspective. Some believe that the church has no place in politics, that the separation between church and state is absolute, that the church should not preach politics. Others believe that the church has a legitimate role in the political arena.

We live in a time of particularly strident partisan divisions, a time of hyper-heightened political tension, a time when people are absolutely exhausted by all the partisan vitriol. Can’t the church simply be an oasis from such toxic energies? But we also live in a time of intersecting crises – pandemic, social unrest around racism, economic woes – which cry out for some concrete responses from the church beyond charitable giving which seek to address the underlying systemic sources of today’s woes. Our day may be an occasion when not speaking out has the quality of a “sin of omission,” which allows injustice to continue untrammeled. The decision to remain quiet and uninvolved is its own kind of political stance. Which is to say, we cannot ultimately avoid or escape politics as individuals and as a church.

Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, October 4, 2020
2020-10-03 12:00:00

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

[Jesus said:] 33“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40“Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41They said to Jesus, “The owner will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures:

‘The stone that the builders rejected

has become the cornerstone;

this was the Lord’s doing,

and it is amazing in our eyes’?

43Therefore I tell you, the dominion of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of it. 44The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.”

45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because the people regarded him as a prophet.

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

It’s been two decades since I’ve preached each and every Sunday, especially to the same audience week after week. For several Sundays in a row, we’ve heard particularly challenging readings from the Gospel of Matthew. Week after week, it’s been a steady diet of difficult texts. Now, as a preacher, I love the challenge of preaching the gospel in response to passages that seem lacking in good news. But Matthew has been relentless. Today’s reading is yet another challenging passage.

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

What is prayer? Now, that’s a huge question and an enormous topic that cannot be fully addressed in a comparatively brief message. But here are some initial thoughts.

Lutherans have not listed prayer as a distinct means of grace, a way in which the gospel of Christ is made known to us. Lutherans name as forms of the gospel baptism, the Eucharist, preaching, absolution, and sometimes mutual conversation and consolation. But this certainly doesn’t mean that Lutherans don’t pray. Rather, I would suggest that we are called to engage the means of grace prayerfully.

But what is prayerful engagement? For me, a foundational biblical statement on prayer is found in the letter to the Romans, where Paul writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26) Some ancient authorities add to this verse “for us” – “that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.” Insofar as the Holy Spirit is given to us at baptism, and that our bodies are thus “temples of the Holy Spirit” (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19), and insofar as the church is the body of Christ through which the Holy Spirit breathes and is active, there is a palpable sense in which the Holy Spirit both prays in us as individual members of Christ’s body, and prays among us communally as the church. Seeing this reality as foundational, prayer as a faith practice serves to call our attention to and perhaps makes us increasingly aware of the prayerful intercession of the Holy Spirit going on all the time within us and among us. Only by the Holy Spirit’s action can we achieve the apostle’s exhortation to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

In short, the Spirit’s prayer for us and in and among us and our own attempts at prayer are a common thread running through the means of grace, binding them together as manifestations of the effective, saving gospel for us and for the world through the power of the Spirit. Thus, we preach prayerfully, and prayerfully engage the sacraments and confession and forgiveness, and engage in prayerful, holy conversation.

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 21:23-32

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

23When Jesus entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” 24Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.

      28“What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the dominion of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.”

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

Scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew was written somewhere around the year 80 in the Common Era, a generation and more after the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It was ten years after the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in the year 70. So, the time when Matthew was written was a time of tremendous social and religious upheaval.

Because of the destruction of the Temple, Judaism was beginning its emergence from a faith tradition focused on the Jerusalem Temple to an orientation centered on local synagogues. What would become known as Christianity was beginning to emerge as a faith tradition in its own right. The people in what we call the Holy Land still suffered under Roman imperial rule. In short, the latter part of the first century was a revolutionary kind of time. It’s this context of social and religious upheaval that helps us understand what’s going on in the gospel reading for today. The Gospel writer, Matthew, records a confrontation between chief priests, elders and Jesus, who was teaching in the temple. Shortly before this passage in Matthew, Jesus had just overturned the money changers’ tables, driving them out of the Temple.

Naturally, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day questioned his authority to do what he was doing in the Temple.

It’s easy for us to be critical of the chief priests and the religious elders. But let’s put ourselves in their shoes. They were only trying to protect their inherited religious traditions and traditional lines of religious authority.

Midweek Message from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

If you’ve been to the church or driven by recently, you will have noticed signs on our church property: “Black Lives Matter” and “Hate has No Home Here.” The placement of these signs was the result of a vote by our elected leaders who serve as members of the Congregation Council. Not unexpectedly, these signs have stirred some controversy among some members, as well as some in our neighborhood community. There are those who support the placement of signs, and those who oppose our church making such visible statements.

But they are signs of the times. I cannot speak for the Council either as individual members or as a body, but my sense is that the intertwined crises of our days in our nation evoked significant energy to say something, to begin to address the concerns of our day.

I have written before that we live in apocalyptic-seeming times – especially when you consider the etymology of the word apocalypse, which has to do with uncovering, unveiling, revealing. The crises of the pandemic, of protests resulting from a long line of people of color dying at the hands of police officers, and of economic hardship of Great Depression proportions for many – these crises have in common that in each case, persons of color often suffer the most. This set of realities reveals that racism in many forms persists as a deep and abiding problem in our nation. It is time to confront racism head on and to seek racial justice in ways faithful to the gospel.

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 20:1-16

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

[Jesus said:] 1“The dominion of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. 5“When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. 6And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ 7They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ 8“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ 9When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

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

If indeed the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, which we just heard, is about God and God’s dominion of heaven, God is not fair. God is not fair by the measure of typical standards of human fairness and justice.

Children are generally well attuned to and quite vocal about a sense of fairness, about everyone getting their fair share. If one gets a smaller portion of the birthday cake, they will quickly call out the unfairness of it all. A child’s sense of fairness lives somewhere in all of us who are adults. It doesn’t quite go away. Nor should it for the sake of how we organize ourselves in human society. But as we well know, the scriptural witness reveals that God often operates according to a logic different from our own. We see this going on in today’s first reading from Jonah, where Jonah is angry enough to want to die because God ended up withholding divine punishment from the people of Nineveh and graciously spared them. Jonah wanted to see the punishment. God’s logic of grace and mercy ran afoul of Jonah’s more judgmental, they-should-get-what-they-deserve sensibilities.

We also see the conflict between divine and human logic in the gospel parable for today. From the human take on fairness, it’s astonishing that the laborers who arrived at 5:00 in the afternoon, very close to quitting time, would receive the same wage as the laborers who arrived first thing in the morning, and who worked hard all day in the scorching heat. It’s just not fair.

When the grumbling turned into a confrontation with the landowner, the landowner had this to say: “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” Another translation reads, “Or do you begrudge me my generosity?”

Again, God’s justice does not operate by the same logic as typical systems of human justice. For God’s justice is rooted in justification. Not self-justification as we might frame it and often practice it, but justification by God’s grace effective through faith, a divine economy in which there is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor. God’s grace is given to us all as a gift apart from what we do, how hard we work, or what time of day when we show up to do that work.

Dear Friends in Christ:

Given all that’s going on in nation and world, it can be challenging to maintain one’s healthy perspective on our current circumstances in life. In fact, with all the roiling news stories that clamor for our attention, I find it easy to lose perspective on the bigger picture, getting lost also in the details and daily demands of to do lists. My vantage point can too easily narrow to the point where I miss seeing things from the perspective of a more divine vantage point.

How can we seek to keep a healthy and sacred perspective on our lives and all that is happening in world? Let me share with you some of what I do to try to maintain perspective. I offer this in the spirit of Martin Luther who wrote a letter about his prayer life to his barber, “A Simple Way to Pray,” where he told Master Peter, the barber, this is how I do it.

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 18:21-35
September 13, 2020

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

21Peter came and said to [Jesus], “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

 

      23“For this reason the dominion of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

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

Today’s gospel is a continuation of explorations of forgiveness and reconciliation that form the focus of Matthew, Chapter 18. Remember what we heard last week: Jesus in Matthew laid out a three-step process for reconciliation. He spoke of the power of prayerful agreement, gave divine authority to all of the disciples to forgive sins, and promised that he would be among two or three who gather in his name. The message was all about the reconciling power of Jesus’ followers being together.

Because forgiveness and reconciliation are such challenging realities in the human family since we are still in bondage to our fallen state, because we still struggle between being saint and sinner, there is much more to learn and to understand about forgiveness.

Dear Friends in Christ:

A week after I took up residence in Arlington in mid-May, I devoted my midweek message to listing the various activities going on at Resurrection Church even amidst the pandemic’s necessary, love-of-neighbor inspired restrictions on congregation activities in person. We’re still in that same boat, largely sheltering at home.

Now that we are on the cusp of beginning what would normally be a new church program year, I want to revisit the question, “What’s happening at church?” I offer this for your encouragement and to proclaim that we continue to be and to do church, even if it’s still in limited ways.

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 18:15-20
September 6, 2020

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

[Jesus said to the disciples:] 15“If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

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

The first portion of today’s Gospel reading made it into the constitution for congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The three-step process outlined here in Matthew for holding members of the church accountable for their sins is the foundation for the process outlined in Chapter 15 of ELCA congregation constitutions on the “Discipline of Members and Adjudication.” Chapter 15 of our constitution ends up listing many more steps than three.

I find it unfortunate that the focus in the constitution is primarily on discipline and not reconciliation. Moreover, some read the three steps in Matthew’s Gospel as a prescription for excommunication, a process that leads to severing unrepentant members of the church from participation in the life of the church.

Dear Friends in Christ:

Martin Luther was a prolific writer. He wrote about an astonishing array of topics. Unlike another major reformer, John Calvin, Luther did not compose volumes of a systematic theology. Rather, Luther’s writings were more ad hoc, addressing concerns of his day in church and world in the form of treatises, letters, pamphlets, sermons, and more. Quite germane to our own day, Luther wrote a piece on “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” in 1527, ten years after he posted the Ninety-Five Theses. This writing was a response to a pastoral colleague who enquired about what a faithful response to plague may be, for an epidemic was ravaging parts of Germany at the time. Then as now, persons of means could escape the more urban epicenters of virus to rural enclaves.

Some of what Luther has to say in his writing on the plague is quite dated, for example, reflecting medical knowledge of his day that does not accord with our current-day scientific understandings. We might also object to Luther’s conclusion that the plague is part of God’s judgment on humanity. Nevertheless, there is much wisdom that still rings true today. Here is what I learned from Luther in re-reading his reflections on faithful responses to deadly plague, wisdom that continues to be instructive for us in our own time of pandemic. [Quotes from Luther are from “Whether One May Flee from a Deadly Plague” found in The Annotated Luther, Volume 4, Pastoral Writings, Mary Jane Haemig, ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016) – available in our church library, and page references below are in parentheses.]

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 16:21-28 August 30, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

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

21From that time on, [after Peter confessed that Jesus was the Messiah,] Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

      24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

      27“For the Son-of-Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son-of-Man coming in his dominion.”

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

“Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering…, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” This is one of the moments in Matthew’s Gospel when the narrative turns our attention to Jesus’ death and resurrection, occasions known as Passion Predictions.

Peter’s response to Jesus’ revelation of coming suffering was this: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” This was a perfectly natural response. Peter had high regard for the one whom he confessed as Messiah and Son of the living God. He was personally invested in Jesus and in his perception of Jesus’ mission. Who would want Jesus or anyone whom we love and respect to endure suffering and death?

Here again is Jesus’ reply to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Jesus turned and spoke these words directly to Peter, even if Jesus is otherwise addressing Satan, who may have been speaking through the vessel that was Peter. You, Satan, Peter, are a stumbling block – or scandal, suggested by the word in biblical Greek.

The issue is that Peter is not yet understanding the divine nature and logic of Jesus’ mission, a logic that defies typical human understanding: “for you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”

What a juxtaposition from “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!” last week to “Get behind me, Satan” this week. But such is the nature of the frail human beings with whom God entrusts participation in the sacred mission. The Bible is filled from cover to cover with such figures, such leaders, such chosen broken vessels.

Dear Friends in Christ:

I’ve written on at least a few occasions that there is no single, universal experience of the pandemic. Each of us endures the rigors of this extended time of crisis in unique ways, according to our varied circumstances and personalities. In the truthfulness of self-disclosure, my biggest struggles personally are the social isolation, since I live by myself, and also wondering when next it will be safe for travel so that I can see my son. Not knowing when that will be is unsettling to say the least.

Professionally, again to be honest with you, my struggle centers on my vocational identity as a pastor – what the word pastor means – in relation to our current circumstances. Pastor is from the Latin, meaning shepherd. A shepherd has a flock, a gathering of sheep, together in a place, the sheepfold or the grazing pastures. It is deep in my vocational DNA to want to tend those in my care, not just one on one, but as a community. That we cannot gather, that we cannot assemble as has been usual custom throughout the Christian millennia on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, persists in being unnerving to me, especially since I have no history with you at all as a gathered flock! A congregation congregates, it gathers. The church is ecclesial, from the Greek and Latin, meaning more or less to call out for the calling together. We cannot now safely undertake this basic Christian practice of assembling in person. To preclude such a fundamental Christian reality is like removing the foundation of our household of faith. I cannot tell you how disorienting this is to me as a pastor.

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 16:13-20 August 23, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

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

13Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son-of-Man is?” 14And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the dominion of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then Jesus sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

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

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The answers were all over the map: John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, one of the other prophets.

And so it has been throughout the centuries. Enormous amounts of time, energy, scholarship, ink, and more have been expended for two millennia on the question of who Jesus is.

This question led to the Christological controversies and debates in the early church about the divinity of Jesus in connection with his humanity.

The question of Jesus’ identity was a driving force behind what would become the three principal creeds of Christianity, the Nicene, Apostles’ and Athanasian Creeds.

Closer to our own day, we’ve had the various “Quests for the Historical Jesus,” efforts to identify which sayings in the Gospels are more likely to have been original to Jesus.

Then think of sacred art through the centuries and the many and various ways that Jesus has been depicted in various historical periods and amidst various nations, ethnicities, and cultures. The gospel writer Matthew has Jesus raising the question in a more personal way to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” In this way, the question is not just a remote theological curiosity that scholars, theologians, historians might debate from a neutral distance. No, Matthew’s Jesus seems to intend that Jesus’ followers have some existential skin in the game. Again, who do you say that I am?

It’s at this point that Simon erupts with his confession: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

This confession of faith about the identity of Jesus results in a name change for Simon, son of Jonah. Name changes in the scriptures have significance in imparting new identity and purpose. Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah in relation to God’s covenant promises to them. Jacob becomes Israel after his sacred wrestling match. Saul becomes Paul after his conversion on the road to Damascus.

Matthew’s Jesus gives a new name to Simon when he exclaims, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” The name Peter involves something of a pun, as in petra or petrus, which means rock.

This statement recorded in Matthew about the rock on which Jesus will build his church has also resulted in enormous discussion and debate in the church throughout the centuries. “On this rock I will build my church.”

Who or what exactly is the rock? Is it Peter, the person? Is the rock the confession of faith about Jesus being the Messiah, the Son of the living God? Is the rock, in fact, Jesus himself as the Son of God?

As you can imagine, Christians have answered this rock question variously throughout the ages. For some, the focus has been on Peter, which helped pave the way for viewing Peter as the first Pope and a resulting focus on the Petrine succession of Bishops of Rome, popes, throughout the centuries.

Other Christians among various protestant groups would emphasize the rock being Christ. Lutherans themselves have answered variously, but with some significant emphasis on the confession of faith as being the rock.

There is no way in a brief sermon to explore the ins and outs of the biblical, historical, and theological debates about who the rock is. That’s best reserved for a Bible Study and not a sermon.

Thus, for our purposes here, I’d like to cut to the chase with my response. Is the rock Peter? Is the rock Peter’s confession of faith? Is the rock Jesus Christ himself? My answer is, “Yes. All the above.” The rock is Peter. The rock is the confession of faith. The rock is Christ.

I will say that my Lutheran sensibilities are drawn most to the rock being the confession of faith in Jesus as Son of the living God. But people make such confessions. Confessions of faith don’t happen without people doing the confessing. So, Peter as person of faith is crucial.

Moreover, when we are talking about the rock on which the church is built, elsewhere in the scriptural witness Christ is identified as the rock. There are several references to Jesus being the stone which the builders rejected but who now is the chief cornerstone. And Christ is the spiritual rock from which we drink (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:4). The church as the body of Christ is built on the rock which itself is Christ.

So, again, the answer to the “who is the rock” question is for me all of the above. The Christ event is too rich and complex and mysterious for single, easy answers, even as the various individual and particular depictions of Jesus in art and history and theology fail to capture the entire, wondrous mystery. Thus, we benefit from a rich array of features of Jesus’ identity as the Christ, the son of the living God.

Well, there you have it, my touching briefly on a number of theological points that have been central to Christian identity for so far two thousand some years. There’s a lot packed into these few verses from Matthew’s Gospel.

Why explore all of this now in this sermon? I don’t do it as a theologian or historian or as a teacher primarily. I explore all of this with you as a person of faith, first of all, and then as a pastor who is called to nurture your depth of faith life as persons in my care.

That is to say, as your pastor, I want you to know some of the rich history and theology that have emerged over the centuries from the biblical witness so that your faith can be enriched, so that you can answer the question, “But who do you say that I am?” with a sense of the wisdom of the centuries.

This wisdom was entrusted to Peter, and through generations of apostolic witness and teaching, it’s been entrusted to us as well. And we, too, have been given the keys of the dominion of heaven.

And we, like Peter, have been given this promise that “the gates of Hades [that is, the powers of death] will not prevail against [the church].”

That is good news indeed when the forces death can seem at times all around us.

Let me leave you with this final statement of good news. Jesus in Matthew exclaimed, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

That is to say, Simon didn’t come up with his confession of Jesus as son of the living God on his own. No, that confession of faith is itself a gift of God. Even as our own faith is also God’s gift to us.

Linger with these grace-filled, wondrous, healing, saving mysteries. Amen.

And as you linger, you may want to ponder these questions:

  • So, who do you say that Jesus is?
  • How do you experience the rock in your journey of faith?
  • What difference does your confession of faith make in your life and work?

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “How We Do Holy Communion Speaks Volumes”

Dear Friends in Christ:

Words are inadequate to capture how much I miss our weekly celebrations of Holy Communion. The Eucharist, of course, is central to Christian life and practice, and it is a pillar of my own piety, the removal of which during the pandemic has thrown out of balance my Christian faith practice and has diminished my sense of spiritual well-being. As a pastor in Christ’s church, I long to preside at the holy table again. As one of the baptized, I yearn for the gift of Christ’s real presence made available to the whole assembly of the faithful via earthly gifts through the word and the Spirit.

So, if Holy Communion is so central and important, why not just do it? Why not get back to the practice of Holy Communion by any means possible? These are complex questions which invite careful exploration. Indeed, Resurrection’s Reopening Planning Group is attending to how it may be that we could celebrate Holy Communion during the pandemic when we would worship again in person. A central challenge is that the way we have administered the Communion – breaking pieces of the blessed bread and placing into the hands of communicants and passing a common cup from which we all drink – is deemed unsafe from a public health perspective. Thus, we are forced to consider different ways of accomplishing the logistics of sharing bread and cup.

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Matthew 15:22-28 August 16, 2020
The Rev. Jonathan Linman, Ph.D.

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

21Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24Jesus answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

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

If I were to give a title to last week’s sermon concerning Peter’s fear of walking on the water, and Jesus’ reported quip, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” it would be something like “The Paucity of Faith.” Or maybe, “The Scarcity of Faith.” Today we hear the story of the Canaanite woman, a foreigner, and as a contrast, I might give the title for today, “The Audacity of Faith.” The stories contrast greatly.

Spiritual Reflections from Your Pastor, For Such a Time as This
Week of the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost 2020: “Discerning Meaning in this Desert Sojourn”

Dear Friends in Christ:

This is dragging on and on, our sojourn in the desert wilderness of sheltering at home during the pandemic. I had anticipated the possibility that by now we would see less ambiguous light at the end of the tunnel and have greater clarity about when we would assemble again for worship and other church activities in person. However, given the pandemic’s severity now in other parts of the country and the unpredictable twists and turns of the coronavirus and its ravages, along with the ever-shifting responses to the pandemic by authorities and the populace, it is impossible to predict what will happen next and when. Our congregation’s Reopening Planning Group has carefully set the stage and made detailed plans for when we would again assemble in person, but we do not yet know when we will be in a position safely to implement these plans for reopening.

Each and every time I pass by the nave of our church building on my way to my office, I feel a twinge of the pain of sadness that the only time I have yet exercised leadership as a preacher and presiding minister in that room and with you assembled there was on the Sunday you voted to call me as pastor, March 1. Given the experience of such aching void, I was curiously heartened when Michelle Obama revealed her experience of low-grade depression during this time. Each of us has our own experience of this pandemic and its effects on our lives. As our Bishop Ortiz has said, we may not be in the same boat, since our circumstances vary, but we are in the same stormy sea – or in the same desert wilderness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Movement One: Preparation

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

Movement Two: Reading

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

Movement Three: Meditation

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

Movement Four: Prayer

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

Movement Five: Contemplation

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

Movement Six: Mission

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For Jesus’ sake and in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worshipfully and conversationally in Jesus’ name,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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