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.

Week of Baptism of Our Lord

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

Evening Prayer on the Day of Epiphany via Zoom

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

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

Children’s Epiphany Pageant at Home

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the First Sunday of Christmas 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nativity of our Lord, December 24-25, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent Evening Prayer

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent Evening Prayer

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

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

 

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayerfully in the warming, saving light of Christ,

Pastor Jonathan Linman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent Evening Prayer

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

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

 

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent Evening Prayer

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

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

 

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

   the sun will be darkened,

         and the moon will not give its light,

   25and the stars will be falling from heaven,

         and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of Christ the King 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week of the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost 2020

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Friends in Christ:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pastor Jonathan Linman

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?